The unity of dulia and latria: Karl Rahner's philosophy and theology as a resource for a theology of intercession

Patricia Ann Sullivan, Marquette University


The traditional Catholic practice of veneration of the saints as examples, "fellows," and intercessors (Lumen Gentium , 51), while still observed liturgically, does not seem to factor significantly in the consciousness or lived faith life of many of today's Catholics, even while it remains a barrier in dialogue with some Protestants. In contemporary discussions of sainthood many theologians set aside issues of intercession and its invocation, as well as petitionary prayer generally, to focus exclusively on the lives of saints as paradigms of holiness. Karl Rahner did not. His theology of symbol provides a key to understanding how veneration of those whose lives reflect near-perfection in love can "communicate" grace to us. Because their existential commitment has been made firm in death, our love of the neighbor-saints who image Christ results in a unity with him which is "explicit and definitively complete" (Rahner, "Why and How Can We Venerate the Saints," Theological Investigations VIII). Rahner's doctrine of "anamnesis" includes this aspect of the unity of the mystical body with its head, and it thereby shows how veneration of the saints (i.e., dulia) is a response to the offer of the grace of Christ which is worship of God (i.e., latria). Intercession is a manifestation of the mediator's activity in the communion of saints. The philosophical notion of intentionality can be instructive in illuminating these operations of nature and grace in intercessory activity, without recourse to "popular" notions of the past which are not consonant with contemporary sensibilities of theology, philosophy, science, or culture and without danger of "abuses, excesses or defects" (Lumen Gentium , 51). And a view of intentionality which considers the importance of the affective dimension alongside cognition and volition affirms God as the ultimate desire and object of all of our activity by virtue of that which Rahner named the "supernatural existential." Human intentionality responds to the saintly symbols of Christ's victory and our hope under the influence of God's graciousness in his sovereignty and freedom but without violation of human free will, allowing his transformation of nature, even most dramatically.

Recommended Citation

Sullivan, Patricia Ann, "The unity of dulia and latria: Karl Rahner's philosophy and theology as a resource for a theology of intercession" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3093151.