Christology in the Key of Middle C (pt. 3)
Though Hunsinger here does not relate this middle Christology to the low-high dichotomy with which I have been working. But clearly a third way is in view here. Middle Christology is maximal, in a certain sense: Jesus is unique, at least as the only perfect member of the species. His specialness, however understood, does exercise an effective role in human salvation.
| Portrait of Karl Rahner by Letizia Mancino Cremer,|
wife of Karl Rahner´s nephew Christoph Cremer.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
If this framework is presupposed, then perhaps we can understand the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the perfection, within a concrete human life, of this capacity for self transcendence. Jesus is the unique individual who enjoys unimpeded communion with God. Every moment of his existence is lived out in total submission in love and obedience to the infinite horizon of mystery that is God. Perhaps the life of the Savior can also be related to the overall history of human self transcendence within a modern evolutionary understanding of world history. (Rahner develops these ideas in numerous places, but they are conveniently -- if rather densely -- summarized in his Foundations of Christian Faith, chapter 6.)
To recap my last post: von Balthasar worries that Rahner has mitigated the classic view (at least, the classic Western view) that Christ's death is an expiatory sacrifice that atones for an ineluctable human guilt -- a concrete, unique moment in history that decisively alters the human situation.
Rahner's Christology, on the face of it, seems to fit the description of a middle-C position, as Hunsinger defines it. But for Rahner, matters are not so simple; for he is an ecclesiastical theologian of a high order and he affirms the dogmatic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, as a matter of principle. Along with this commitment goes a high view of the ancient church councils and theologians who articulated and defended the doctrine of the Incarnation. As I read Rahner -- and I'm far from being an expert, though I benefited greatly from a Rahner seminar with the late Anne Carr -- he is trying to reconcile classical views of Christ's person and work with his modern transcendental view of human nature. In this view, Rahner is attempting a mediating Christology -- that is, a position that embraces both the dogmatic tradition and the reframing of that tradition to address particularly modern concerns.
Nonetheless, it seems to me, one cannot avoid the logical and existential decision posed by Hunsinger's analysis, the question posed by von Balthasar to Rahner: Does this position mitigate the objectivity of the atonement? Moreover, is an account of the atonement that situates soteriology in a transformation within the human subject as such adequate to address the plight of the human situation. This question is both deep and complex, and I scarcely have begun to scratch the surface in these short posts. All I have done is raise the questions. There is a certain rubric to which I often find myself returning: I once heard a superb historian of Reformation theology, Susan Schreiner, say that the work of the Reformers, with their fixation on the theologia crucis only makes sense for folks who are desperate. How desperate was Karl Rahner? More to the point, how desperate are you and I?