Prolegomenon to a doctrine of providence: A critical assessment of Karl Rahner's contribution

Howard James Ebert, Marquette University


This dissertation examines the potential of Rahner's theology to provide a viable framework for a contemporary understanding of the doctrine of providence. The study presumes that a credible expression of the doctrine must respond to the serious problems posed by modern historical consciousness as presented in Langdon Gilkey's critique of the classical concept of providence. Gilkey's critique parallels in significant ways objections leveled by critics, particularly Mark Lloyd Taylor and Johann Metz, against Rahner's transcendental theology. Chapter One outlines the fundamental challenges posed by modern historical consciousness for the doctrine of providence. Chapter Two is an exposition of the major components of Rahner's theology that impact his theology of history: theological anthropology, doctrine of God, theology of creation and freedom. The chapter proposes five hermeneutical cues important for interpreting Rahner's statements on providence. Chapter Three identifies distinctive interpretive twists which characterize Rahner's statements on providence. These twists suggest five constructive guidelines that Rahner's transcendental perspective contributes toward a doctrine of providence. Rahner's view of petitionary prayer and of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises provide two case studies of his position. Chapter Four assesses the capacity of Rahner's theology of providence to respond to Gilkey's challenges to the classical concept of providence and Taylor's charge that Rahner's affirmation of the classical assertion regarding the essential immutability of God is inconsistent with the basic thrust of his transcendental approach. Chapter Five evaluates Metz's charge that Rahner's focus on the transcendental nature of the individual and conceptualist tendencies within his thought prevent Rahner from developing an adequate theology of history. This chapter argues that attention to the concerns of Gilkey, Taylor and Metz requires a more explicit development of the sociohistorical moment required by the transcendental method itself. A constitutive component of the sociohistorical moment is an active appropriation of the insights of sociology of knowledge, particularly ethnomethodology and critical theory. The development of the sociohistorical moment within Rahner's transcendental approach is crucial if it is to serve as a framework for contemporary expressions of providence.

Recommended Citation

Ebert, Howard James, "Prolegomenon to a doctrine of providence: A critical assessment of Karl Rahner's contribution" (1992). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9305996.