Karl rahner

When in 1951 the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Chalcedon was commemorated, Karl Rahner wrote an article "Chalcedon - End or Beginning?"1 Rahner pleaded for "beginning" because - as he wrote - the knowledge of God can "only be genuine, only make blessed, in the knowledge of his incomprehensibility: at that point, then, in which comprehension and the determining limits of what is known are jointly transcended in the Incomprehensible and the Unlimited." And he continues:

Because every truth of the God who reveals himself is given as a way and an incitement to the closest immediacy of communion with him, it is all the more an opening into the immeasurable, a beginning of the illimitable. The clearest and most distinct formulation, the most sanctified formula, the classic condensation of a centuries-long work of the Church in prayer, reflection and struggle concerning God's mysteries: all these derive their life only by the fact that they are no end but beginning, not goal but means, only one truth which makes us free for the - ever greater - truth

And yet, even admitting the relativity of formulations, we have to maintain that the pronouncements of the Council of Chalcedon are normative points of orientation for the Christian churches and their theologies until today, so that we cannot convincingly talk about Jesus Christ, if we bypass them. Therefore, also the declaration Dominus Iesus lives from the memory of the teachings of this council (cf. nr. 6 and 10). It is the conviction of Christianity that God became man in Jesus of Nazareth and thus has become a member of humankind as it lives forth in history. What in the togetherness of God and man = non-God, eternity and time, transcendence and immanence in a para

1 Reprinted as Current Problems in Christology, in K. Rahner, Theological Investigations. Vol. I, pp.149-200; quote: p.149 (with some minor changes).

dox way was joint together in the person of Jesus, is originally testified in the New Testament of the Church. From that time on it has been reflected again and again as the great astonishing and incomparable miracle and mystery, and found expression in the Council of Chalce-don in until now unrivalled and unsurpassed formulas. That is the reason that since then they have been the decisive norms in the Church.

(1) "the same truly God and truly man"

(2) "one and the same Christ - in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation"

(3) "two natures in a single person and a single subsistent being"

It might be worthwhile to read the classic text in full length:2

So following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body, consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning.


Since the first formula - "truly God, truly man" - and also the third one - "two natures in a single person" - are mostly conceived as positive statements, for too a long time it remained rather unnoticed that the decisive judgment concerning both formulas is negative. In view of their abiding-paradox assertion Gregor M. Hoff - like Walter Kasper

2 Quoted from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. N.P.Tanner, I, p.86.

- rightly speaks about the "paradigm of a negative Christology."3 The four attributes "no confusion, no change, no division, no separation" appear like four landmarks which indicate the tension of "truly God, truly man." Where things are confused, one of the two natures will be removed, and either being God or being man will be curtailed or even abandoned: We end up in "monophysitism." In the time of the council the divinity of Christ was stressed in a way that his humanity got damaged and almost disappeared. In our days the situation is reversed: Emphasis is put more on Christ's humanity which leads to the loss, at least a weakening of his divinity.

The attribute "no change" we can leave aside. A discussion would lead to a more detailed debate of the concept of God. We would have to ask for God's ability to suffer and would come to the question: How "apathetic" is God really?4 Also the attribute "no division" does not need to be discussed here because in a way it can be treated together with the other attribute "no separation"

An attempt to avoid "confusion," however, can be seen in the opposite trial of a partial separation, not only distinction of the two natures. At first glance arguments of plausibility seem to call for such a solution. Jesus of Nazareth as a human being is already finite by birth and death, and is provided with all limitations of a created being (cf. Do-minus Iesus nr. 6, 7). Therefore, he is limited in his intellectual power and in his concrete ways of acting. Today's debate is mainly concerned with the problem of preexistence of Jesus Christ, with the tension between the eternal Word and the entrance of Jesus of Nazareth whom we confess to be the Christ, into history. The same tension of time and

3 See G.M. Hoff, Chalkedon im Paradigma Negativer Theologie, in Theologie und Philosophie (Frankfurt) 70 (1995) pp. 355-372. J. Sobrino, Christ the Liberator. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2001, p. 291, remarks similarly: "Chalcedon was respectful of the reality and therefore did not attempt to make the how of the relationship between the two natures comprehensible. Furthermore, the four adverbs are defined in the negative, which means that the conciliar definition states what does not happen in the union of the nature, but not what positively does. In doing so, it abandons any positive explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ, but it does provide positive pointers to it."

4 See J. Sobrino (note 3), pp. 265-274, who elaborates on the God-suffering relationship as it was debated in the time of the council of Nicaea; see on God's suffering also H. Waldenfels, Gott. Auf der Suche nach dem Lebensgrund. Benno: Leipzig 2nd 1997, pp. 60-72.

eternity shows up again where the relation of the Spirit Creator and the manifestation of the same Spirit of the Father and the Son in the Spirit of Jesus come into consideration (see nr. 12). Here the question is: Is there not an activity of the Word and the Spirit of God as such, which surpasses the activity given with the Spirit of Jesus?

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