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The Anonymous Christian As Described By Karl Rahner – Essay

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Published: Wed, 12 Apr 2017

I would like to first start by giving a short biography of Karl Rahner as described by the Karl Rahner Society. He was born in Freiburg, Germany, on March 5, 1904 and died in Innsbruck, Austria, on March 30, 1984. He entered the Jesuit order in 1922 and he was one of the most influential theologians in the Vatican II era. His essays covered a broad range of topics; most of these issues were what concerned the Catholics from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. His essays provided many resources for both academic and pastoral theology.

He was quite popular in his native German-speaking countries through his teaching, lectures, editorial labors and membership in learned societies. He was published in international publications like Concilium. He had a large collection of works 1651 publications (4744 including reprints and translations); He also enjoyed a positive reception of his contributions by many Protestant thinkers. Rahner’s influence became more evident after his service as an official papal theological expert from1960 to 1965 before and during the Second Vatican Council.

To understand how Rahner arrives at his concept of the anonymous Christian, it is important to understand the basis of ideas of Rahner. He was greatly influenced by Immanuel Kant, Heidegger, and the Belgian Jesuit Joseph MarĂ©chal. The basis of Rahner’s thoughts comes from a vision of the world being a profound area of “God’s self-communication.” Rahner’s first two books were Spirit in the World and Hearer of the Word. Rahner’s position, as written in his essays, was deeply rooted in the Ignation way of thinking, believing that God is in all things, sacramental piety, and devotion to Jesus and the Catholic doctrine.

Rahner addresses the anonymous Christian in an interview provided to Rev. Norman Wong Cheong Sau in an article titled Karl Rahner’s Concepts of the ‘Anonymous Christian’ an Inclusivist View of Religions, he provided his personal definition of anonymous Christian to Rev. Sau interviewer:

We prefer the terminology according to which that a man is called an ‘anonymous Christian’ who on the one hand has de facto accepted of his freedom this gracious self-offering on God’s part through faith, hope, and love, while on the other he is absolutely not yet a Christian at the social level (through baptism and membership of the Church) or in the sense of having consciously objectified his Christianity to himself in his own mind (by explicit Christian faith resulting from having hearkened to the explicit message). We might therefore, put it as follows: the ‘anonymous Christian’ in our sense of the term is the pagan after the beginning of the Christian mission, who lives in the state of Christ’s grace through faith, hope, and love, yet who has no explicit knowledge of the fact that his life is orientated in grace-given salvation to Jesus Christ.”

A non-anonymous Christian for lack of a better term or a declared Christian is someone who has accepted Christ and lives with the grace of God’s grace, love, hope and understanding. This person declares himself a Christian, was baptized and lives by God’s laws. Rahner bases his belief in the anonymous Christian as someone who lives a Christian lifestyle but has not yet declared himself a true Christian.

By declaring oneself a true Christian, according to Rahner, you must be baptized, attend mass and pray in the traditional standardized way. This of course, includes living by God’s laws and living in a Christ like manner. This person declares themselves a Christian in every way, the way they talk, the way they pray and their absolution from original sin. A good example of the declared Christian would be Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa acknowledged that she lived in the Grace of God and followed his words and teachings. She accepted Jesus as her way to God. In believing that Jeus Christ is the only way to God would be to think in an exclusivist manner. According to Rahner there is more than one way to reach God. This would be the Inclusivist view. It accepts that Jesus is but only one way to God, but acknowledges that there are others.

Rahner talks of the supernatural salvation for people who live in God’s grace without the acknowledged title of Christian. The Inclusivist view is what has led to Karl Rahner’s description of the anonymous Christian. According to Rahner it is not necessary to be a declared Christian to work your way to God. In Pope John Paul II’s visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb The Pope put flower petals on the grave and said that followers of other religions can be “saved by Christ” without being converted. This gave some popularity to Rahner’s claim that any man who practices a religion or acts according to natural law and is blessed by God’s grace is an anonymous Christian, even if he does not wish to admit it. Gandhi was a perfect example of this anonymous Christian, although he did not call himself a Christian by name he lived in a Christ like manner, followed his religion faithfully and exercised Christian attitudes to others, thereby living in God’s grace.

There is a quote in the Rahner Reader on Page 75 that best describes the awareness utilized by Gandhi in being called an anonymous Christian, “The mind of even the anonymous Christian is raised to the supernatural order by the grace of Christ, philosophy is not purely “secular” activity. The best of modern philosophy should be considered the self-reflection of a mind to which God has revealed himself implicitly through his grace.”

This quote described the grace given to Gandhi through his self awareness and through his thought process that leads to his Christian like beliefs. Although, again, not being a declared Christian, Gandhi, would be considered an anonymous Christian as his beliefs and life style brought him into the grace of God.

Of course, any person can become an anonymous Christian; it is based on their beliefs and their way of thinking, and their supernatural salvation. If a man’s reason is that which leads him closer to grace then as per Rahner, “The anonymous Christian – whether they know it or not, whether they distinguish it from the light of their natural reason or not – are enlightened by the light of God’s grace which God denies no man.” Being a Christian is not a prerequisite to receiving God’s grace. According to Rahner, God’s grace is open to all men.

Presented in Rahner’s Reader is a passage about exploring new lands, Christ’s message can still be heard. Although, the inhabitants may not understand Christ or his word it does not mean that they are not living in the grace of God. “The Western World, during it’s wonderings into strange lands while carrying Christ’s message, always encounters a world in which Christ’s grace has long been at work even though not called by its own name.” (Rahner 80) Basically what Rahner is saying here is that no matter where we travel we can find anonymous Christians. He believes that God’s grace is at work in many lands, places where the inhabitants may not even have heard of Jesus Christ or of God Himself.

Rahner has a very open mind, in the exclusivist view the only way to God is through Christ. Rahner is exemplary of the inclusivist view. I agree with Rahner that to be near God does not necessarily mean that we must only accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. There are many people that live a good life, are Christian like in all of their ways but they do not worship Jesus the same as Christians. Many people in many lands are blessed by God’s grace. Many of the people of Israel, although Jewish, still live a life that is graced by God. They pray, the exhibit Christian like atitudes,

Jewish people can live a righteous pious life and through reasonable intelligence believe that they are righteous, and imagine God telling them that no matter how good of a life they lived they could not get into heaven or be awarded the gift of his grace. This is where Rahner’s anonymous Christian theory believes that although they are not considered Christians, they still can receive God’s grace and love.

To sum up Karl Rahner’s position of the anonymous Christian, anyone can be an anonymous Christian; it only takes the act of living as a Christian and not the explicit declaration of being a Christian. “Grace exists by affecting a spiritual, personal substantiality, by being the divinizing condition of the latter, and hence presupposes and incorporates into itself the whole reality of this person as the condition of its own possibility and makes it part of the factors o fits own concrete being” (Rahner 75)

In other words grace exists by the actions of people and the actions are a part that makes up the whole. Therefore, it is the actions of the people that decide if they are worthy of God’s grace. The world is full of anonymous Christians. Some we may recognize by name such as Gandhi and others are the anonymous faces we pass everyday on the street. But we are not able to pick them out except by their actions because even their worshipping or non worshipping habits cannot help to pick out those worthy of God’s grace.


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