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Thursday, February 18, 2010

David Hart, Karl Rahner, angels & demons

Reading something today by David Bentley Hart reminded me of something I'd read once by Karl Rahner, and brought up some questions .... are we part of a hierarchical cosmos with angels good and bad intermediaries between us and God, or does God deal directly with us? Does Jesus, predated (on Earth, anyway) by angels, undo the need for them? Or does everything still work together in some kind of combo system? What I read didn't answer my questions really but it was interesting.

First David Hart, from The Doors of the Sea (p. 65) ....

"In the New Testament, our condition as fallen creatures is explicitly portrayed as a subjugation to the subsidiary and often mutinous authority of the angelic and demonic "powers," which are not able to defeat God's transcendent and providential governance of all things, but which certainly are able to act against him within the limits of cosmic time. This age is ruled by spiritual and terrestrial "thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers" (Col. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 2:8; Eph. 1:2; 3:10), by the "elements (stoicheia) of the world" (Gal. 4:3), and by "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), who -- while they cannot ultimately separate us from God's love (Rom. 8:38) -- nevertheless contend against us: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12) ...."

And now Rahner who, being a Jesuit with a discernment of spirits pov, should have a pretty interesting take on angels/demons. The book of his in which I'd read about angels was Encyclopedia of theology: the concise Sacramentum mundi (Google Books link), but it was just too hard to transcribe what I'd read, so I thought instead I'd post some of a very long article about Rahner's theology, just the bit that summarizes Rahner's thought on angels and demons ....

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Demythologization in the theology of Karl Rahner
Theological Studies, March, 1994 by Michael D. Barnes

Angels and Demons

Rahner applies this same line of thought to belief in angels and demons and arrives at conclusions that demythologize the belief. He worries that, on the one hand, the Fourth Lateran Council seems to have declared formally that angels do exist,(66) but that, on the other hand, this belief appears too easily to be mythological.(67)

The Bible is unclear, Rahner says, acknowledging one of his sources for theology, Christian Scriptures. In the Bible there sometimes are beliefs based on "primitive ideas," that are urgently in need of demythologization." In saying this, of course, he is relying on modern beliefs and methods of biblical interpretation. He continues to appeal to Scripture, though, to make the further point, that if there are angels and demons they have an intrinsic relation to the cosmos. He bases this claim on the scriptural references to principalities and powers whose apparent role in ancient belief, including that of Paul, was precisely as rulers of aspects of the universe.(68) Rahner appeals also to Thomism, which defines matter not as bits and pieces of stuff, but as materiality, as the one "field" of the cosmos, as the aspect of time-space extension that is characteristic of the universe as God created it. Here is another way to affirm the commonality of all that is created. If angels and demons exist, he says, they too are part of the natural world.(69) His analysis is one of how reasonable it is to believe in angels, "within the scope of natural knowledge,"(70) the kind of knowledge that is appropriate for what is part of the natural universe.(71)

He explores possibilities widely. He seriously entertains the idea that angels and demons do not exist.(72) But he tries out an almost science-fiction scenario as an alternative, that angels may be a name for "eschatological beings" that do not yet exist but, will come into existence in the future as the product of continuing cosmic evolution. He defines angels then as "regional subjectivities," i.e. as modes of transcendental consciousness which are not linked to the cosmos through the kinds of bodies that humans have, but, analogous to the human soul-body form of life, have a special connectedness to certain regions of cosmic reality.(73)

After this speculative exploration of what is conceivable about angels, Rahner returns to the question of what is actual: Do angels really exist?(74) He rejects miracles as evidence, as one might expect from his theology of miracles. He looks instead for natural structures in the universe that could be explained best by postulating some sort of "regional subjectivity" that could be called angels. His modest conclusion is that it would be at least possible that the natural order, without a mythological interpretation, as he puts it, could include something like angels.(75)

In individual passages his wording sounds as though his primary concern is to determine the existence and nature of angels as part of traditional Christian belief. But the background concern, one that wins out in the end, is to reinterpret and, if necessary, abandon the belief if it cannot be successfully demythologized and naturalized. Modestly, Rahner never concludes that belief in angels, and demons also, is so intrinsically mythological that it can no longer stand. But the strongest support he gives to the belief in the end appears in the form of advice to avoid a "primitive rationalism" that denies the possibility of any "creaturely subjectivity" above the human.(76) Whether this possibility has already or will become actual in the history of the universe is something he cannot say but which, he believes, still presents the danger of mythological thought.

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(66) Investigations 19.252. (67) Ibid. 250. (68) Ibid. 252, 255. (69) Ibid. 258. (70) Ibid. 260. (71) In this article "On Angels" Rahner also offers a theory about revelation, namely that it consists only of what is true of the truly Supernatural, which is God alone. Thus only beliefs about God, Trinity, Incarnation, and possibly a few other unspecified beliefs can be part of revelation, strictly speaking. Knowledge of all else, even angels if they exist, is therefore part of natural knowledge. The way to know if angels really exist is to use the natural sciences! (72) Investigations 19.260. (73) Ibid. 265. (74) Ibid. 266-67. (75) Ibid. 274. (76) Ibid.

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3 Comments:

Blogger victor said...

Angels and demons, I believe truly exist and with Christ on our side where only one of our cells might hold but a sliver of His Cross we can dare(66 Investigations.

We simply need to let Christ lead the way and not worry about "IT". He's incharge of our pass, future and He'll compress "IT" for U>S in our present as a present that His Father will personally give to us in Time.

I hear ya! Sure He will Victor but forgive me cause all that comes to mind right now is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Here's Your Mother!

I'm Thirsty!

Forgive them Father!

"IT" is done!

And have you been drinking again Victor?

Come on crystal, "IT" is Lent time is "IT" not?

Peace :)

6:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

I mostly try not to think to much about angels/demons :)

2:46 AM  
Blogger victor said...

I hear ya! Victor you forgot!

From this day forth, you'll be in paradise with me.

Hey crystal, don't let my wife hear ya!

Relax Victor! I meant maybe the next time around! :)

Peace

8:41 AM  

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