Karl Rahner on angels
- angel from the Basilica of Santa Croce
My latest book from the library is Karl Rahner's Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi . It's quite a tome (1800+ pages). The book has entries on hundreds of alphabetically arranged topics, some of which have been written by Rahner and some which have been written by others. Here's a bit from the entry on angels, which Rahner wrote (pp. 11-13) ...
[...] The Thomistic speculation regarding the metaphysical essence of angels (DS 3607; 3611) is an opinion which one is free to hold or not. At all events their relation to the world, which is both material and spiritual, must be thought of in such a way that they are really understood to be "principalities and powers" of the cosmos in virtue of their very nature and do not merely intervene in the world by arbitrary decision contrary to their real nature, and in certain cases out of sheer malice.
Further speculation in scholastic theology about their spiritual nature was based on neo-Platonic philosophical theories about non-material pure spirit and is not theologically binding. The same probably applies to the natural superiority of the angelic nature to man. All such theses, when they claim theological validity, go beyond the basis of all dogmatic angelology and the limits it sets to our knowledge of the angels. Similarly the classification of the angels, which like everything created are rightly to be thought of as different in nature from one another, into definite "choirs" and "hierarchies" is arbitrary and has no real foundation in scripture.
Angels exist, but are merely creatures .... Angelology makes it clear that the evil "principalities and powers" are a condition of the supra-human and relatively universal character of evil in the world and must not be trivialized into abstract ideas, but at the same time that these supra-human and relatively personal principles of wickedness must not be exaggerated in a Gnostic or Manichean way (as often happens in unenlightened popular piety) into powers opposed to the good God who are almost his equals in might. They are not God's rivals, but his creatures. And as with man, even evil freely chosen in a definitive state is the purely relative corruption of a natural, permanent being who has a positive function in the world; for something absolutely evil would be self-contradictory.