Karl Rahner's accomplishment consisted in putting Catholic philosophy and theology on a transcendental footing. The undertaking spanned some fifty years, from his matriculation in philosophy at Freiburg University in 1934 to his death at Innsbruck in 1984. From beginning to end, the driving force behind the project was the seriousness with which Rahner regarded the transcendental turn in modern philosophy.
Rahner’s program unfolded in two stages, the first philosophical and the second theological. (Only the former is the focus of this essay.) The first stage occupied him from 1934 to about 1941 and found expression in two works, Geist in Welt (1939) and Hürer des Wortes (1941). The first of those two texts marshaled central elements of the work of Kant, Rousselot, Mare´chal, and Heidegger for the goal of reformulating Thomism – its epistemology, philosophical anthropology, and metaphysics – as transcendental philosophy. In the second stage, which occupied him from the 1940s onward, Rahner used the transcendental Thomism of the first stage as the basis for rewriting Catholic doctrine as transcendental theology.
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