Via Media

Via Media

Word from Rome

First, on Karl Rahner

A high-profile March 4-5 international conference at the Lateran University seemed to subtly conclude that Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit who was perhaps the best-known theologian of the 20th century, was an orthodox Catholic.

If you weren’t aware that Rahner’s orthodoxy was in question, you haven’t been following which way the winds are blowing.

He also discusses the recent appointments to the International Theological Commission, (go there for the full list), which includes

Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., teacher of dogmatic theology at the New York archdiocese’s St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, New York


Reader Tim wants to remind me that back when I blegged for orthodox Catholic sisters who don’t wear habits, he sent me her name – she had been a professor of his. I did try to reach her, but was unable to. Here’s more about her, quoted in Allen’s column:

“She is an accomplished conservative theologian who recently served on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. She is well known for having switched her views on the ordination of women in mid-career, now supporting the Vatican position. Her arguments have been based on credible historical and systematic conversation. More importantly she has remained active in the Catholic Theological Society of America, attending meetings and serving on the board. I have always offered Sara as a model of responsible conservative Catholic scholarship willing to engage in dialogue.”

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posted March 12, 2004 at 3:47 pm

Aquinas, too, had to have his orthodoxy defended.

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posted March 12, 2004 at 4:04 pm

Well, I hope these theologians are right, rather than such “post-Christian” thinkers as Thomas Sheehan, on whose interpretation Rahner’s theology is an incoherent and unorthodox mess:

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Patricia Tryon

posted March 12, 2004 at 8:20 pm

Does this mean that sites like who seemingly live to impugn the orthodoxy of Karl Rahner and other responsible theologians (the names of Raymond Brown and Donald Senior are two that come quickly to mind) will start taking it back?

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posted March 12, 2004 at 9:06 pm

I was a student of Sr. Sara, when she was at Mundelein Seminary before she moved to NY. She is one of the finest teachers I have ever studied with. I am so happy and proud that she has been named to the ITC.

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Tim Ferguson

posted March 12, 2004 at 10:59 pm

cool – I had Sr. Sara as a prof at Mundelein (I was pleased as punch to see myself listed as “reader Tim” above – I’m famous!). She is excellent, isn’t she? I did not know until today that she had moved to New York, I think she’s still listed on the Mundelein website. Good luck with your studies.

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posted March 13, 2004 at 9:50 pm

Most of Rahner’s detractors that I have met haven’t read him. The man’s as Catholic as the Pope…actually as Catholic as the last four popes.
The restorationists have yet to learn that history cannot be reversed, nor can toothpaste be put back into the tube. They can impugn Rahner as much as they like. His works speak for themselves. And unless they start burning books, his works will live on.

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Kevin Miller

posted March 14, 2004 at 10:35 am

I’ve actually read a decent amount of Rahner. In a nutshell, I’d say he’s somewhere between “as Catholic as the Pope,” and deserving of having all his books burned. For one thing, one’s view of him can reasonably depend on whether one is talking about his earlier or later works, and also on the topic on which one happens to be looking at him. At his best, Rahner can be pretty darn good, and I think great theologians like de Lubac and Balthasar thought as much. At his worst, though, he can range from unsuccessful, through misleading, all the way to outright unCatholic.
Rahner has, unfortunately, been done no favors by supporters who distort his work – and also by detractors who misunderstand or misrepresent what he actually taught. Some of his supporters, though, AND some of his opponents, know his thought pretty well.

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posted March 14, 2004 at 4:24 pm

No theologian is infallible. St. Augustine is a doctor of the Church, but his views on predestination are hardly mainstream. St. Jerome is a doctor of the Church and some of his views on women and marriage were just wrong. Not all of Rahner’s work is of the same caliber, but it is all very thought-provoking.
Heaven help us from theologians who see everything clearly. Humility is the only real point of entry to theology. Those who already know it all make the worst theologians.

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Kevin Miller

posted March 14, 2004 at 6:19 pm

And I think the best of theologians are indeed characterized by humility, among other things. Sometimes, though, a Rahner gets himself into trouble by not being humble enough to recognize that he is not the Pope.

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posted April 13, 2004 at 1:35 pm

Sara wrote me a recommendation which was crucial in my admission to doctoral studies in theology in Ireland. I had her as a professor back in ’92. She is brilliant, and, dare I say it, maternal in her approach to students, very much a nurturer. I haven’t thanked her adequately. Now that she is advising the pope, I doubt she will have time to read this.
By the way, just a bit of trivia, for those who enjoy useless information: the Missionary Servants of the Blessed Trinity, Sara’s order, have never worn habits. They were founded to work in an area where there was extreme anti-Catholic prejudice, and wore a style of ‘garb’, which included the triangular pin they all still wear now. So, not wearing a habit is their ‘traditional habit.’

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