In the mid-20th century a movement arose among certain German and French Catholic theologians to reform the Neo-Scholasticism in Catholic thought and teaching. (that is, the 19th century, modern-era revival of the original medieval Scholasticism, ie, the influence of St.Thomas Aquinas’ writings in theology and philosophy.) This loosely based movement of Catholic theologians became known, and criticized, as the Nouvelle Theologie, or the “New Theology.” They themselves, however, generally preferred the term Ressourcement, or a “return to the sources.” The main thrust of the movement was to develop a theology by returning to the original sources of Scripture and the Church fathers, a positive theology, to not shun the modern world, to have a more critical attitude towards Neo-Scholasticism, and to anthropologize theology. Some of the theologians often associated with the movement included 20th century Catholic luminaries as Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jean Danielou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Karl Rahner. Their ideas became a strong counter-balance to the well-entrenched neo-Scholastic ideas of the 19th century Catholic thought. Moreover, their movement and their ideas carried a strong impact in the writings and reforms enacted in the Second Vatican Council. For that reason alone we should seek to understand their origins and impacts upon modern Catholicism in the post-conciliar world, a post-mortem analysis if you will. Yet, even though they had great influence in the Church Council and were among the preeminent Catholic theologians of the 20th century, they were not without criticism. Critics, such as French Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, accused them of not “returning to the sources” but of starting a “new theology” disguising within it the errors of Modernity, Relativism, and Positivism. This criticism is not without merit. Pope Pius XII even issued an encyclical in 1950, Humani Generis, “The Human Race,” primarily in response to and criticizing the Nouvelle Theologie and warning against the dangers of Modernism’s influence upon theology. Nevertheless, many of the reforms promulgated by Vatican II were influenced by their ideas, which liberalized and modernized many aspects of the Church and the liturgy; focused on Ecumenicalism and the call to holiness for the Laity. Following Vatican II, the Nouvelle Theologie movement basically broke into two camps of divergent ideas, one more progressive and one more traditional, the spirit of which are still at work.
Karl Rahner is typically bunched into the more progressive camp. His primary body of work is his vast 24 volumes of “Theological Investigations.” Yet, as great as a Catholic thinker that he was, not all of his ideas or theological writings are considered orthodox, in fact, just the opposite. Some of his theological notions have been spurned as a watering down and a trivializing of orthodoxy, and been outright rejected. He is often criticized for theories such as the Transcendental-Anthropological Method and Anonymous Christians, that some argue relativize the truths of Christianity. He also studied under the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and was influenced by his Existentialism. In his own defense, Rahner claimed to absolutely not contradict the Magisterium of the Church at all, but simply, he tried to view it in a new light. For better or for worse, he had a tremendous impact on the Council and the post-Conciliar world of Catholic thought. [As a note, this article is in no way an endorsement of all of his views and ideas.]
On the other hand, there are certain aspects of Rahner’s writings that are appealing, such as his emphasis, in line with Jesuit Ignatius spirituality, that God can be found everywhere in everyday life. As he wrote, God can “come to meet us in the streets of the world.” Harvey Egan referred to this as Rahner’s “mysticism of everyday life.” He referred to Jesus Christ as the primordial sacrament (“Ursakrament”), and the Church as the basic sacrament (“Grundsakrament”). Yet, according to Rahner, grace is everywhere. Again, this is an area that he has been criticized for by traditionalists. This “uncreated grace” manifests itself throughout history and is at work with mankind everywhere. He says, “The simple and honestly accepted everyday life contains in itself the eternal and the silent mystery, which we call God and his secret grace, especially when this life remains the everyday.” The sacraments themselves are the explicit, ecclesiastical and historical manifestations of this sanctifying grace through the person of Jesus Christ. They are still decisive, efficacious acts for the salvation of the individual. The Church sacraments are the “epiphanization” of the sacraments of everyday life. He views the sacraments and the liturgy as specific manifestations, of this grace found everywhere, as the climax of salvation history.
Rahner believes these should not be seen as isolated interventions of grace into our lives but symbolic expressions of this “liturgy of the world,” that is, God’s continual self-communication everywhere and our free acceptance of it. According to Rahner, the liturgy of the Church is the real symbol of the liturgy of the world. In this sense, God can be encountered in the banality of life, in its repetitious cycles, and every day routines, or in his words, “is seen by man in his dreary existence only through a haze, obscured by the banal ordinariness of life.” In this, Rahner concludes, we Christians, must become “mystics” of ordinary life, partaking in the “experiential grace” of the absolute mystery of God. Even the “most common small things” has the “imprint of the eternal God.” He continues, “People who place their small time into the heart of eternity, which they already carry within, will suddenly realize that even small things have inexpressible depths, are messengers of eternity, are always more than they appear to be, are like drops of water in which is reflected the entire sky, like signs pointing beyond themselves, like messengers running ahead of the message they are carrying and announcing the coming of eternity..” The mysticism of everyday life encompasses even the most humble of actions, such as working, eating, sleeping, sitting, walking, laughing, etc. Every moment of every day has the potential to be an encounter with God. Rahner considers this the “more excellent way” of love that St.Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, where love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor.13:7) To Rahner, there is nothing profane in the ordinary, but when we surrender in everything to the mystery of God, His Spirit will be with us in our everyday life. So, whether you appreciate his writings or think he borders on heretical, Rahner at least beautifully captures the idea of living with God and for God in our everyday existence.
What follows are excerpts from one of Rahner’s meditations called “God of My Daily Routine.”
“I should like to bring the routine of my daily life before You, O Lord, to discuss the long days and tedious hours that are filled with everything else but You.”
“Look upon us men, who are practically nothing else but routine.”
“What will become of me, dear God, if my life goes on like this? What will happen to me when all the crates are suddenly swept out of the warehouse? How will I feel at the hour of my death? Then there will be no more “daily routine”; then I shall suddenly be abandoned by all the things that now fill up my days here on earth. And what will I myself be at that hour, when I am only myself and nothing else? My whole life long I have been nothing but the ordinary routine, all business and activity, a desert filled with empty sound and meaningless fury. But when the heavy weight of death one day presses down upon my life and squeezes the true and lasting content out of all those many days and long years, what will be the final yield?”
“..the genuine yield of my ungenuine life will be only a few blessed moments, made luminous and living by Your grace.”
“That’s why I now see clearly that, if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary daily life. If I should try to flee to You by any other way, I’d actually be leaving myself behind, and that, aside from being quite impossible, would accomplish nothing at all. But is there a path through my daily life that leads to You? Doesn’t this road take me ever farther away from You? Doesn’t it immerse me all the more deeply in the empty noise of worldly activity, where You, God of Quiet, do not dwell?”
“Do I come into Your presence just because this life has revealed its true face to me, finally admitting that all is vanity, all is misery?”
“O God, it seems we can lose sight of You in anything we do. Not even prayer, or the Holy Sacrifice, or the quiet of the cloister, not even the great disillusion with life itself can fully safeguard us from this danger. And thus it’s clear that even these sacred, non-routine things belong ultimately to our routine. It’s evident that routine is not just a part of my life, not even just the greatest part, but the whole. Every day is “everyday.” Everything I do is routine, because everything can rob me of the one and only thing I really need, which is You, my God.”
“But on the other hand, if it’s true that I can lose You in everything, it must also be true that I can find You in everything. If You have given me no single place to which I can flee and be sure of finding You, if anything I do can mean the loss of You, then I must be able to find You in every place, in each and every thing I do.”
“Thus I must seek You in all things. If every day is “everyday,” then every day is Your day, and every hour is the hour of Your grace. Everything is “everyday” and Your day together.”
“Only through Your help can I be an “interior” man in the midst of my many and varied daily tasks. Only through You can I continue to be in myself with You, when I go out of myself to be with the things of the world.”
“It is only the love of You, my Infinite God, which pierces the very heart of all things, at the same time transcending them all and leaping upwards into the endless reaches of Your Being, catching up all the lost things of earth and transforming them into a hymn of praise to Your Infinity.”
“In Your love all the diffusion of the day’s chores comes home again to the evening of Your unity, which is eternal life. This love, which can allow my daily routine to remain routine and still transform it into a home-coming to You, this love only You can give. So what should I say to You now, as I come to lay my everyday routine before You? There is only one thing I can beg for, and that is Your most ordinary and most exalted gift, the grace of Your Love.”
“Touch my heart with this grace, O Lord. When I reach out in joy or in sorrow for the things of this world, grant that through them I may know and love You, their Maker and final home. You who are Love itself, give me the grace of love, give me Yourself, so that all my days may finally empty into the one day of Your eternal Life.”