God's special activity in the world: A study of Karl Rahner's theology of mysticism

Lisa Schwebel, Fordham University


For Rahner the experience of God can be mediated in such "special acts' as visions, revelations and miracles. These acts are "special" in the sense that while they do not take place apart from or outside of the normal framework of grace, they constitute a distinct mode of the experience of God. In these events the subject's transcendental orientation to God is realized in a radical and spiritually transforming way. These events are not, however, unambiguous. Contrary to the popular, and to some extent traditional theological view that a vision or revelation is authenticated by the external physical phenomena that accompany it, Rahner maintains that many of the objective order events offered as evidence of the authenticity of a revelation may be explainable by natural, especially natural parapsychological, powers. For this reason, Rahner calls for a study of the relationship between parapsychological and mystical phenomena. As Rahner anticipates, an analysis of para-psychological powers--clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, and precognition--reveals that neither the inherent form nor the content of a revelation provides immediate proof of its divine origin. Most, if not all, alleged "special events" can be seen to occur in circumstances where supernatural aid (i.e., in the sense of divine intervention) is not only not claimed, but also not warranted. Rather than show that these events are not genuinely of God, they force us, Rahner says, to reconsider the meaning of the term "special acts." Thus, for Rahner, the meaning of a "special" event does not lie in the particular event itself, but in the meaning of reality as signified by the event. In shifting the emphasis in special acts away from questions of demonstration and onto questions of meaning and purpose, Rahner provides us with a theological model for examining special events, and practical criteria for discerning their authenticity.

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Recommended Citation

Schwebel, Lisa, "God's special activity in the world: A study of Karl Rahner's theology of mysticism" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9715520.