Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger
at the Second Vatican Council
"It is not I who who have changed, but others."Well, yes and no... I read an interesting book a few weeks ago by former priest and Australian Catholic activist Paul Collins titled God's New Man: The Election of Benedict XVI and the Legacy of John Paul II. The book did a good job of describing the the cross-currents pulling at the Church in the past few decades, highlighting the struggle for ascendancy between the competing theologies of Karl Rahner and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Karl Rahner, probably the most important peritus at Vatican II, is generally recognized as the most influential Catholic theologian of the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, however, his name is hardly heard anymore, and the theology of Balthasar (who was not invited to the Council as a peritus) now seems to hold sway.
-- See extended quote from The Ratzinger Report
In this 2003 article, John Allen laid out the differences between them succinctly:
In Philosophy 101 one learns that all of Western thought, in a certain sense, can be divided into followers of Plato and of Aristotle. Likewise, the basic options in Roman Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) can be expressed in terms of a choice between two German-speaking sons of Ignatius Loyola: Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar.
If the Rahnerians held the upper hand for the first 20 years, the Balthasarians dominate today, at least in terms of official Church teaching and policy...
Expressing the difference between Rahner and von Balthasar is not easy, but one way to do so is in terms of attitudes towards “the world.” Rahner stressed the presence of grace at the deepest level of every human being — the so-called “supernatural existential.” Von Balthasar saw an “analogy of being” between God and humanity, which placed more distance between the two and thus left room, he felt, for greater realism about sin. Rahner was a basic optimist about culture, so much so that von Balthasar once accused him of negating the necessity of the crucifixion. Rahnerians tend to take Gaudium et Spes as their charter, while Balthasarians often see that text, and especially subsequent interpretations of it, as dangerously naïve.
Balthasar's theological outlook is shared somewhat by Pope Benedict, who left the international theological journal Concilium (of which Rahner was among the original founders, and Ratzinger was a contributor) to start the rival journal Communio, along with Balthasar.
As for the original issue - whether Joseph Ratzinger changed in his views or not... Yes and no. I think it's undeniable that in his younger days he was more progressive than he is now. His views on the liturgy, episcopal conferences, and the local church in relation to the universal church have certainly changed in ways that have been documented. On the other hand, he's always been an Augustinian in his outlook. He, like Balthasar, has always had a keen awareness of humankind's sinfulness, and has passed mixed judgement on the optimism expressed in the the Vatican II document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes).
In the years after the Council, he went on to teach at the University in Tubingen in Germany, and almost everyone agrees that the major turning point for him was the period of student unrest that swept Europe in 1968, when radical students mocked him and ran amok in his classroom. Here is someone who claims on her blog to have been directly responsible (it's fascinating... I've always wondered just who the heck was responsible).
All of this is well-known, of course, and not really in dispute by anyone. What I find interesting in the excerpt from Collins' book is the reaction that his Tubingen colleague, Hans Kung, had to the whole incident with the students. He recognized the student shenanigans as the antics of spoiled baby-boomers, and with the unrepentant exception of the blogger mentioned above, so does Paul Collins. His remarks on that generation ring true in a wry way, and are probably represented no better than in the money-grubbing commercials being done by ex-60's icon Dennis Hopper.
So what happened to the progressive theologian of Vatican II who was eventually to become inquisitor and then pope?
In 1966, Hans Kung was dean of the Catholic theology faculty at Tubingen. He says he was anxious to build up a kind of stellar group of theologians that included Rahner and Ratzinger. Rahner never came, but Ratzinger did. He seemed the ideal choice. Kung says: `Although he is only 37, he enjoys great respect, as his career so far shows. He has his own direction of research and at the same time he is very open to contemporary questions-a basis for good collaboration. I had also found him personally congenial at the time of the Council' (Memoirs). Just three years later, in summer 1969, Ratzinger resigned and left for Regensberg. Why? Kung says, `Time and again people puzzle over how so gifted, friendly, open a theologian as Joseph Ratzinger can undergo such a change: from progressive Tubingen theologian to Roman Grand Inquisitor' (Kung - Memoirs).
Rahner gives Hans Kung a piece of his mind at the Council
Kung has his own theories, but before we look at those let us try to understand it from Ratzinger's own perspective. In one sense he would argue that others have changed and that he has remained steadfast. In one way that is true. There is a consistency between the pre- and post-Council Ratzinger. He always remained an Augustinian. For him the world, especially a culture divorced from faith, has little or nothing to offer the church. That is why he never supported the Council document on `The Church in the Modern World'. It all sounded too optimistic, too convinced that the world could teach the church. Although he only makes passing reference to him, what Ratzinger really objected to was the remote but pervasive influence of the thought of the Jesuit paleontologist and cosmologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in the document. The French Jesuit's optimistic vision of the world and of the whole process of material evolution moving towards greater spiritual complexity and a kind of cosmic consummation in Christ was regarded as unrealistically optimistic and lacking any real sense of the fallen human condition by the future CDF prefect. For him the world needed a redemption that could only come from Jesus' crucifixion. Divorced from this, the world had nothing to offer, and could often explode in what were essentially demonic outbreaks.
This was why Ratzinger reacted so badly to the student radicalism and riots of 1967-68. These occurred right across the United States, Europe, especially in Paris, and also in Britain and Australia. The riots culminated for the sheltered academic theologians of Tubingen in April-May 1968 when their radicalized students adopted Marxist terminology to describe the New Testament as an exploitative text and the death of- Jesus on the cross as a `sado-masochistic glorification of pain'. Ratzinger says he was horrified, and no doubt he was. He says that he increasingly came to see this lack of respect for authority and the constant demands for more rights, for example gay rights, as symptomatic of an abandonment of Catholic teaching and moral standards. Kung adopted a much calmer viewpoint. He saw student radicalism for what it was-delayed adolescence-and treated it as such. Revolting students were certainly a dreadful nuisance, but nothing more. Of course, most of these same student `radicals' were to go on to become neo-conservatives, captains of industry and comfortable 'baby boomers' whose selfishness is well known. These are the people who now insist on charging their own children to go to university after getting a free tertiary education themselves. But by any objective standards, Ratzinger's response to student radicalism in 1968 seems very much like a massive overreaction. Despite the student revolt, at Tubingen he was still able to write what is generally considered his masterpiece, his Introduction to Christianity (1968), an exposition of the Apostles Creed.
The year 1968 also saw the publication on 24 July of' the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. This was the Vatican's response to the contraceptive pill. The Pope's teaching against the pill caused a storm of protest right across the Catholic world, especially in developed countries where the use of contraception was already widespread. So Catholics could not avoid the issue. Theologically, the Humanae Vitae affair confronted the church with the question of the status of non-infallible (Paul VI made it clear that this was not an infallible decision) but authoritative papal teaching that was ignored and even directly rejected by the very people to whom it was directed. As a result, the church today is still confronted not by the question of contraception (most people of fertile age have made up their own minds on this issue), but the status of non-infallible papal teaching power, the 'ordinary magisterium' as it is called.