Date of Award

Summer 1998

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Masson, Robert

Second Advisor

Rossi, Philip

Third Advisor

Misner, Paul


In the intellectual world of Karl Rahner, imbued with categories carried over from Thomistic philosophy, what is there at the end is in a way present at the beginning. The reality of the act is present beforehand in its potency; the child somehow is the man; the world's redemption in Christ is present at its creation, to which it is ultimately oriented; and the final triumph of God's goodness over evil in human history is already accomplished, if only dimly realized at any one historical moment. Continuing in this mode, one could say that this dissertation was already taking shape long ago when I was a graduate student in philosophy and pondering the possibility of treating religion more as a formal system and less as a collection of facts. It was there as that possibility began taking shape as the philosopher accompanied the sojourner down the road of spiritual renewal, with its deepening prayer and self-understanding. It was there as I somewhat naively wrote in my application to Marquette's doctoral program that linguistic philosophy was a better tool for theology than either the philosophers or the theologians allowed. Finally, it was there as my enthusiasm for George Lindbeck's cultural-linguistic approach to doctrine run up against Robert Masson's impatience with Lindbeck's treatment of Rahner. So I went off to read Rahner. Essay after essay, I read Rahner and wrote abstracts and argued with the texts and then with myself; eventually the texts won, and I became convinced that Rahner was saying more than his critics acknowledged, more even than some of his admirers and commentators had dealt with. Lindbeck's criticisms of Rahner, particularly in the context of his linguistic-cultural approach to doctrine, was a direct descendent of an issue in Anglo-American philosophy whose treatment is normally quite technical, the problem of the Cartesian ego. I was familiar with this problem from my days as a philosophy student, and dealing with the problem as an issue in the thought of Karl Rahner was immediately appealing. It would give me the opportunity to immerse myself in the thought of one of the most influential figures of the twentieth-century Roman Catholic Church. It would give me the opportunity to utilize my previous training in philosophy that had proved surprisingly hardy. It would also provide me with the opportunity to tum the naive insight of the graduate school applicant about the usefulness of linguistic philosophy into an appropriately theological project. While the Anglo-American version of this problem is unique, the issue itself is of broader interest. What a human person is and how to understand his or her relationship to a formative social, historical, and cultural context is a question that crosses virtually all academic boundaries, and the spectrum of possible answers is reflected in the social, economic, political, and religious diversity of the contemporary world. Indeed, Rahner is not the first thinker to believe that the most important, most characteristic endeavor of human beings is the question of humanity itself. The tools and tasks of this dissertation may strike some as excessively narrow or overly technical, but the theological and moral vision to which it is oriented is not.



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