Incomprehensibility–Good Thing Or Bad Thing?

Today’s National Catholic Reporter reports that an “international group of prominent Catholic theologians have called the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality ‘incomprehensible’ and and are asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people” in preparing for the bishops’ meeting next year in Rome.  Leaving aside the question of which Vatican department is competent to decide who possesses sexual expertise, there is a more fundamental issue at stake.  Is incomprehensibility a problem?

German theologian Karl Rahner, who was a leading figure among the European theologian “experts” at Vatican II, wrote in his “Investigation of the Incomprehensibility of God in St. Thomas Aquinas” that God’s incomprehensibility is due to “the disproportion, even in the case of the beatific vision, between the self-communication of the infinite God…and the finite character of the beholder on the other, who remains limited even when raised up by grace and the light of glory and given the capacity to have the beatific vision.”  This might initially seem disheartening, mightn’t it?  But Rahner assures us that we only “find the reality we call faith, hope and love” when we surrender ourselves “unconditionally to this incomprehensibility as the true source of [our] own fulfillment” (Theological Investigations, vol. 16, 244-55).

Suffice it to say that the theologians’ statement, which originated in Louvain, Belgium, is addressed to what they see as bad incomprehensibility.  Pope Francis has rattled some cages, making some apprehensive and others expectant.  The October 2014 synod of bishops seems likely to be when rubber meets road with readily comprehensible loosening of restrictions on divorced and remarried Catholics.


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