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Sunday, December 08, 2013

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) ...

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[...] 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.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Jack Hartjes said...

This post reminds me of the words of Fannie Lou Hamer during the civil rights struggle: "We have to realize just how grave the problem is in the United States today, and I think the sixth chapter of Ephesians, the eleventh and twelfth verses help us to know what it is we are up against. It says, ‘Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, and against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. This is what I think about when I think of my own work in the fight for freedom."

She could have drawn a picture of a struggle against individual bad guys. But I think the way she put it, even with its mythology, it is more accurate. The things that Paul says we are to fight against are not floating above us in some world of their own. They are realities existing in flesh-and-blood instances at particular times and places, but not limited to any one or combination of these. The same thing that fighters for black rights fought and won some victories against appears again recently when an American soldier is hazed and driven to suicide because he is Chinese. The same thing that found expression in Roman military, economic, and religious imperialism at the time of Jesus appears again in economic ideologies, of left or right, with their military support, of our day. One identical material thing can’t appear in two different places at the same time or two disconnected stretches of time. That’s practically a definition of materiality. Whatever these realities, these powers, are, though they always come materially embodied, they’re more than material. Among the many names that Paul used for them is “angel.”

A source for similar thoughts about angels is Leslie Newbegin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, in a chapter called “Principalities, Powers, and People.”

6:47 AM  

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