Pluralism and the theological methods of Karl Rahner: A critical assessment

William Fay Vendley, Fordham University


This dissertation studies and evaluates the theological methods of Karl Rahner in relationship to his understanding of the problems posed to theology by today's pluralistic world and consequent theological pluralism. Rahner's writings reveal that his analysis of the causes of today's theological pluralism proceeds on two different levels. One level deals with the historical pluralism of the present. Another level of analysis examines the underlying metaphysical structure of human being and reality in general. This dissertation maintains that these two levels of analysis are related, the latter grounding in an intelligible way contemporary experience of the world, and the former actually manifesting within itself the dynamic structure of reality. Confirmation of the relationship between Rahner's two levels of analysis is found in his notion of "gnoseological concupiscence." According to Rahner, the impact of today's gnoseologically concupiscent situation upon theology is twofold. First, it results in a breakdown of understanding and communication among today's plural theologies. Second, theology fragments into diverse and specialized studies. As a consequence, access to the intelligibility of the unified whole of faith appears blocked by the usual methods of fundamental theology. Rahner recommends dialogue as the method by means of which the plural theologies should strive for an understanding of each other and suggests that theology can be worked out in terms of a first level reflection. Such a theology attempts to articulate itself in relationship to those aspects of the human subject which are both prior to and make possible the pluralistic experience of reality. This dissertation argues that there exists a fundamental deficiency in Rahner's contribution to the question of dialogue. Moreover, Rahner's first level of reflection does not offer assistance to the theologian in his or her attempts to deal directly with the plural sciences. The inability of Rahner's methods to respond fully to the problems of pluralism relates to his emphasis on the limits of human knowers and the ineffectiveness of teamwork in today's situation of interdisciplinary fragmentation. The inability of Rahner to integrate relevant sciences within theology can be traced to methodological limitations inherent to Rahner's theological foundation, specifically the structure of his metaphysical anthropology. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

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Recommended Citation

Vendley, William Fay, "Pluralism and the theological methods of Karl Rahner: A critical assessment" (1983). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8802369.