Tag Archives: Karl Rahner

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 1 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“The State of Christology in the Present Age”

Presiding Bishop John Allin introduces John Macquarrie to the House of Bishops’ gathering. In this first of five presentations over five days, Macquarrie subsequently outlines his entire lecture and previews each of the five areas of christology that he will examine. Christ is at the center of our faith, and seeking to understand Christ — that of christology — is always a central task. Christology, as a discipline, is in a state of transition, he believes, owing to the fact that classic christological theology took an abrupt turn as a result of Enlightenment-era theological thinking. Christology became subservient to Deistic, natural religion and its two-fold axis of reason and experience. He touches on the theological thought of Kant, Schleiermacher, and like humanistic christology. And he presents his own approach to christology as one that begins with the humanity of Christ and then reaches to his deity. He believes we ought understand “who Christ is” through analysis of “what Christ does”. Overall, in his entire five-part lecture, Macquarrie seeks to address the questions of christology that contemporary thought has raised and contemporary theology has attempted to explore.

keywords: Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Chalcedonian definition, Reformation, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Enlightenment, Rationalism, Deism, natural religion, Immanuel Kant, evil, Friedrich Schleiermacher, liberal-Protestantism, Edward Schillebeeckx, sin, bliss, christological heresies, Bishop Charles Gore, Bishop John Robinson, Hans Küng, two-natures doctrine, legend, mythology, Apostles’ Creed, New Testament, St John’s Gospel, Synoptic Gospels, biblical criticism, Divine Logos, humanity of Christ, Nicene Creed, docetism, incarnation, metaphysics, one substance, Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Bultmann, value judgments, existentialism, magic, eucharist, medicine, immortal substance, atonement, interpersonal relations, human solidarity, Vatican II, polemic versus dialogue

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

Do we really understand “trinity”?

Over the weekend, I wrote a short paper on the doctrine of the holy Trinity for my systematic theology course. As I studied the assigned reading, what came to mind was a notable comment I had read previously by Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (from his book, The Trinity):

Should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.

Let me translate: he is saying that in practice, the doctrine has not been useful. And if we stopped employing the doctrine, much of Western Christianity would not bat an eye, and our theology would not suffer (the Eastern Orthodox churches would be a different story altogether). Those are very strong words from Rahner. Is he correct? Furthermore, he continues,

[The doctrine’s] function … is not clearly perceived. It is as though this mystery has been revealed for its own sake, and that even after it has been made known to us, it remains, as a reality, locked up within itself. We make statements about it, but as a reality it has nothing to do with us at all.

Or simply, people just don’t “get” trinity. They don’t understand it — and his point is that this is not the fault of ordinary Christians. Rather, the fault here lies with the Church and the lack of clarity about the doctrine in the West. Without clarity about the subject, our teachers can’t teach the subject, and our theologians can’t think clearly about the subject.

So again I ask, is Rahner correct? Do we just not get “trinity”? Is it at best something we in the West talk about out of obligation (such as when we make the Sign of the Cross), and at worst little more than a source of confusion?

Or perhaps most importantly: is this doctrine understood in the pews?


Further reading from Akenside Press:

(1) the data sheet, “The Holy Trinity” (1-pg PDF).
(2) the pamphlet, “The First Four General Councils and the Development of the Dogma of the Incarnation” (8-pg PDF).