The Kenosis of Christ Revisited: The Relational Perspective of Karl Rahner


1. Introduction

The early hymn of Philippians describes beautifully the descent of Christ. The theological term kenosis originates with this hymn, referring to the Greek verb κενοω, here translated as ‘emptied himself’:

[He]…who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Philippians 2:6–7).

During the first centuries the church fathers turned to this hymn and the term kenosis in their efforts to define christological doctrines leading up to the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The opposing views in this discussion; with Monophysitism on one side and Nestorianism on the other, are presupposed as the historical background for a more recent controversy on the same issue. From the 17th century on, the notion of kenosis has again been exploited in different ways to explain how Christ emptied himself of some of his divine attributes. In this article we draw attention to Karl Rahner's contribution to this debate, suggesting that his view offers a different perspective focusing on self-emptying as an act of giving and receiving. In so doing, we are revisiting an exploration that seems not to have reached its conclusion.

The Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904–1984) was one of the most influential theologians of his time. Writing mostly in the form of essays, he touched on a wide variety of topics, theological as well as philosophical.[1] Rahner wrote many influential essays on Christology.[2] A major source for this present article, however, is the book Foundations of Christian Faith (1974, henceforth: FCF), where Rahner's Christology is presented more comprehensively and more according to what we may call ‘the late Rahner’.[3]

Rahner is known for his ‘transcendental’ approach to theology; he claims what we need is a ‘transcendental Christology’.[4] This calls for a brief clarification of how Rahner uses the term ‘transcendental’. According to Immanuel Kant, the term ‘transcendental’ refers to an investigation of the subject's constitution, of what comes before knowing. What is discovered in that investigation are known as the transcendental conditions of the possibility of experience, which can be called the ‘horizon’ behind experience. For Kant we have no way of getting knowledge beyond space and time; the term transcendental as a term for the horizon behind our experience functions as the barrier to any other kind of knowledge. For Rahner the term is used in a variety of ways, sometimes the reverse of this Kantian meaning.[5] Following the etymological meaning of ‘transcend’, he uses the term more as an invitation than a barrier – an invitation to transcend the categorical and to discover that particular objects are gifts pointing towards an infinite horizon beyond all particular objects, whose source is given already with the constitution of the human being in creation. Although Rahner also employs the term transcendental in the formal, Kantian sense, we need to keep in mind this material sense, referring to our inner openness, reaching out beyond all that is finite.

In this article I analyze aspects of Rahner's anthropology and Christology in order to grasp his idea of the self-emptying of God and the self-surrender of the human being. I put Rahner in dialogue with Wolfhart Pannenberg, who similarly makes kenosis central in his Jesus, God and Man.[6] The final section suggests that Rahner's relational view of kenosis derives from his Ignatian Spirituality.

Rahner is among those Catholic theologians who made an effort to rethink theology without leaving behind ecclesial orthodoxy. The Chalcedonian formula about the two natures of Christ was among the doctrines he wanted to retain, but which nevertheless needed to be developed further and expressed in new ways.[7] Rather than pursuing Rahner's detailed reflections on the question of consubstantiality, I prefer to center on kenosis, following Rahner's transcendental approach. My thesis is that for Rahner the kenosis of Christ is better explained in terms of fundamental attitudes than as relinquished attributes. In this sense his view of kenosis can be described as relational. This view is developed through a close reading of several texts,[8] but also from the fact that when Rahner takes up kenosis specifically, this occurs most often in the context of a theology of the cross.[9] This leads implicitly to the question whether the kenosis of Christ is absolutely unique, or whether it reflects also an ultimate way for our relating to God and as such models the Christian way of living. We are therefore confronted with a twofold challenge: the Chalcedonian impasse and ‘a theology of the cross’ as a possible way of living, presented as two perspectives on kenosis: The self-emptying of God and the self-surrender of the human being. There are several important questions we must raise with regard to both of these aspects, as we will show shortly. First kenosis must be opened up through Rahner's central notion of God's self-communication.

2. God's Self-Communication and the Duality of Kenosis

The notion of God's self-communication refers to Rahner's central conviction that God has created human beings so that they may receive God-self in their inmost being.[10] God has from the beginning of creation communicated God-self to humanity, to the individual person. This is one aspect of God's kenosis. Rahner's explication of this is found in Hearer of the Word, where he develops further the philosophical ideas put forward in his first book, Spirit in the World. Only by taking into account Rahner's later developed Christology, however, is it possible to appreciate the full meaning of his anthropological insights. This claim is founded on his own statement that ‘Christology is at once the beginning and the end of anthropology’ (‘Christology’, p. 185). In order to understand the concept of God's self-communication, we therefore have to look at the particular human being in which this communication has been completely fulfilled. The mystery of the Incarnation, the humanity of Jesus, and his death and resurrection, is the axis and the starting point for a theological anthropology. These mysteries are for Rahner the ‘primary phenomenon of faiththe self-emptying of God, his becoming, the kenosis and genesis of God himself.’[11] What does it mean that the God-self is both kenosis and genesis? Is God subject to change in this emptying and becoming? What happens to the human being in whom this is taking place? In attempting to unfold this mystery, Rahner's writing is saturated with words such as surrender, becoming, abandoning and renunciation, and this kenotic language is related to the human side as well as to the God-self.

To better understand God's self-communication and the duality of the kenotic language, I outline several of Rahner's attempts to develop a transcendental Christology. The premise for this Christology is an understanding of the human being as an existence that of necessity transcends him/herself, and all other objects as well, towards an unlimited horizon, which Rahner identifies with God. This transcendental constitution means that the human being necessarily reaches out towards this mystery, and the source for this thrust is God communicating God-self ontologically to the subject.[12] The communication of the divine is mediated in freedom and must be accepted or rejected in freedom. From this necessary arc of transcending, it follows that the human being hopes for unity with the one towards whom the transcending is directed (FCF, p. 208). This hope is borne by God's self-communication and is at the same time an effect of God's grace, and of the human being's acceptance of this grace, whether consciously or not. However, it also belongs to the human experience that this hope is threatened by sinfulness; it therefore appears only ambiguously in concrete situations. From this comes the need for an irreversible and absolute mediation of God's self-communication; God's offer must have been totally and freely accepted at least once within our history for the world to be affirmed by God as God's own. Rahner puts it this way:

… the categoriality of God's irreversible offer of himself to the world as a whole, which allows this irrevocable offer to be present historically and which mediates to us the hope which corresponds to this offer, can only be a man who on the one hand surrenders every inner-worldly future in death, and who on the other hand in this acceptance of death is shown to have been accepted by God finally and definitively (FCF, p. 211).

There are various aspects we could attend to in Rahner's transcendental Christology; I restrict mine here to kenosis. In the first quote God's self-communication is presented as a kenosis and genesis in the self-emptying of God that takes place in the Incarnation; this is the first of our two perspectives on kenosis. In the second quote Jesus is presented as the one who fulfills the hope and meaning which belong to the human being's essence. He does this when he surrenders every inner-worldly future to death; in his acceptance of death, he and the world with him are ultimately accepted by God. This corresponds to the second perspective on kenosis, deriving from a theology of the cross. This duality of perspectives reveals that for Rahner kenosis deals with the relationship between God and God's creature. I will now examine the differences and possible similarities between those two perspectives in Rahner's writings. Subsequently I will examine more critically the aspect of self-emptying implied by the Incarnation, before discussing its implications for the attitudinal kenosis of Christ.

3. The Kenosis and Genesis of God as Self-Differentiation

When stating that the Incarnation is the kenosis and genesis of God-self, Rahner points to two significant markers that have become significant for the debate on kenosis. First he claims that in the course of his self-emptying God becomes human; this leads to the question whether God is subject to change. The second is a possible two-fold meaning for genesis: Is it referring to God's becoming human in Jesus, or is it also pointing at creation as such?

The historical debate on kenosis did not slacken during the 19th century. In his influential book Jesus, God and Man, Wolfhart Pannenberg discusses the last century's various efforts to resolve the kenotic dilemma.[13] I will take up briefly what Pannenberg sees as two opposed directions, before returning to Rahner and his contribution to the discussion.

One formula which influenced many theologians was offered by Thomasius about 1860. He suggested that the Son gave up the relative attributes of divinity while retaining the immanent perfections, such as holiness, truth, and love (Pannenberg, p.352). The debate was thus maintained along the axis of the Chalcedonian opposition between the two natures in Christ. The intention was to preserve the humanity of Christ through attention to Jesus' gradually developing self-consciousness (Pannenberg, p. 353). Karl Barth later rejected this approach, focusing rather on the power and free will of God manifest in the Incarnation. God's assumption of the human in Christ is an act of free love, but this does not mean that God is emptying God-self. The opposition between the divine and human is maintained, though God invites the human into community. Pannenberg rejects Barth's Christology at this point because the sort of unity Barth retains is only a functional, and not a personal, unity. In the subsequent quest for reconciling the Chalcedonian dilemma, Pannenberg appreciates Rahner's concept as ‘superior to all other usage of the term today’ (Pannenberg, p. 362). He is referring here to the concept of self-differentiation implied in Rahner's notion of God's self-communication. Still Pannenberg believes some questions remain unsolved when it comes to the self-emptying of God. Let us first examine how Rahner's transcendental thinking leads to the concept of self-differentiation, before taking up Pannenberg's critique.

God became man[14] – these three words are Rahner's starting-point in Foundations of Christian Faith when he outlines the mystery of Incarnation – the self-emptying of God. He describes God as unfathomable mystery, and the human being as likewise a mystery. This stressing on the mysterious is important to keep in mind when interpreting Rahner; he maintains the incomprehensibility and the total difference of God. He thus asks: what does it mean that God became man? More basically, what does it mean that God really became something other than God?[15] The first question is answered with a high value attributed to a human being; the human being becomes ‘the cipher of God’; he/she is the self-expression of God (FCF, p. 224). For Rahner this is the starting-point for understanding the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation:

If God himself is man and remains so for all eternity; if therefore all theology is eternally anthropology; if it is forbidden to man to think little of himself because he would then be thinking little of God; and if this God remains the insoluble mystery: then man is for all eternity the expression of the mystery of God which participates for all eternity in the mystery of its ground (FCF, p. 225).

This quote presupposes the previously presented understanding of the human as created to receive God's self-communication. The high value of the human is furthermore not only related to its being created, but to its vocation to becoming the expression of the mystery of God. Through the self-communication of God, the human participates in the divine – God is constantly giving/ expressing the divine in and through the human. This self-giving is an important aspect of the kenosis we are examining. It is first of all manifested in the Incarnation, which is seen historically as the event that establishes and opens up this mystery for the rest of the world.[16] Theologically, this leads to the second question posed above: How is it possible for God to become something, since the word become indicates a change in God? This would not be consistent with the traditional belief in God as immutable. Rahner of course realizes this dilemma, but argues:

It is the question as to how to understand the truth that the assertion of God's immutability may not make us lose sight of the fact that what took place in Jesus as becoming and as history here in our midst, in our space, in our time and world, in our process of becoming, in our evolution and in our history, that this is precisely the history of the Word of God himself, his own becoming (FCF, p. 220).

Rahner's point of view is taken from below. Since what we know as God's salvific act has taken place on our human side of reality, we must conclude that God has crossed the unbridgeable abyss and is no longer the unreachable ‘other’. Does this mean that God has changed? Rahner avoids answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question; he instead offers a dialectical solution: He who is not subject to change in himself can himself be subject to change in something else (ibid.).

By this statement Rahner intends to maintain the immutability of God. He attributes to God the eternal act of establishing something different, but God-self is not becoming subject to this difference. This ability is a prerogative for God: God can create and God can empty God-self, which means that God ‘communicate[s] himself in his own reality without losing himself in this communication’ (FCF, p. 121). God remains the same incomprehensible one, and at the same time in the act of self-emptying God becomes something in the other: ‘God gives away himself, poses the other as his own reality’ (‘Incarnation’, p. 114).

On the side of the other, God's self-emptying causes ontologically a participation in the divine. However, when Rahner speaks radically about God communicating the divine reality to the human, he is careful to state that this conceptualization is to be understood dialectically and/or analogously (FCF, p. 121). Despite the ‘divinizing’ effect in human beings, they are still to be understood as finite (FCF, p. 120). While God becomes the most intrinsic element of the transcendental movement of the human being, God as the absolute ‘remains absolutely beyond and absolutely untouched by this transcendental movement’ (FCF, p. 122).

Pannenberg thinks that Rahner in this manner of thinking adapts the Hegelian concept of self-differentiation.[17] Rahner was himself aware of the similarities with Hegel, but insisted he is not a Hegelian.[18] The concept of self-differentiation is related to the perception of objects, where the ego in the perception of the other is said to become identical with the other, but in the return to itself, the ego differentiates itself from the other.[19] With Hegel, the idea is that God ‘as the absolute concept or absolute subject … lives in himself and produces the world through the dialectic of his self-differentiation …’ (Pannenberg, p. 362, n. 92). Pannenberg compliments Rahner for the way he uses this concept to explain the self-emptying of God; however, in spite of constituting a significant contribution to the Christological debate, he believes it retains some flaws. The analogous concept of the (human) self-differentiation of the ego is not adequate, since it is derived from a human experience in which there is neither a self-satisfied subjectivity nor creativity in the strict sense (creatio ex nihilo). The problem for Pannenberg is that it is only in the inner-Trinitarian life one may see this identity with the other as absolute. Rahner therefore takes a radical leap when he suggests that this identity occurs in a creaturely and finite reality which no longer can be said to be God's absolute reality. ‘The decisive question’, says Pannenberg, ‘is how “the other” established by God, after it has once become radically other over against God in creation, can again be united to God, reconciled with God’ (p. 363). He is aware that in answer Rahner points to the human being's open transcendence towards God as absolute being; however, this is for Pannenberg not sufficient. He claims that Rahner ‘has smoothed out the distinction between God and creation by means of the concept of the Spirit’. According to Pannenberg, then, the self-emptying of God only partly resolves the kenotic dilemma because it is not sufficiently related to the anthropological understanding of openness towards God. He further questions whether Rahner avoids Hegel's dilemma of containing God within the concept, ending in an empty metaphor of self-differentiation.

To this extent, I follow Pannenberg. The effort to maintain the immutability of God in his self-emptying may be helped by analogy, but is firstly informed by faith. Only in the light of faith may we also see the parallel between Incarnation and creation.[20] Rahner therefore speaks of his understanding of the self-emptying of God as a means to understand Incarnation; without thereby intending to describe fully the mystery or the nature of God.[21] With this reservation in mind, I argue against Pannenberg's conclusion that Rahner's understanding of the self-emptying of God is ‘remarkably unrelated’ to the idea of the openness of man. In doing so, I will start by quoting a longer passage from the essay Pannenberg refers to as containing Rahner's basic position.

The indefinable nature, whose limits – ‘definition’ – are the unlimited reference to the infinite fullness of the mystery, has, when assumed by God as his reality, simply arrived at the point to which it always strives by virtue of its essence. It is its meaning, and not an incidental activity which could perhaps be left aside, to be that which is delivered up and abandoned, to be that which fulfils itself and finds itself by perpetually disappearing into the incomprehensible. This is done in the strictest sense and reaches an unsurpassable pitch of achievement, when the nature which surrenders itself to the mystery of the fullness belongs so little to itself that it becomes the nature of God himself. The incarnation of God is therefore the unique, supreme, case of the total actualization of human reality, which consists of the fact that man is in so far as he gives up himself (‘Incarnation’, pp. 109–110).

This passage presupposes God's self-communication as described above. Let us return to this broader picture for a moment. In our brief account of the transcendental approach we noticed how Rahner sees Christology and anthropology as mutually interdependent. The self-emptying of God is explained from the side of Christology, but not without reference to anthropology. It is not possible to say anything about God without at the same time referring to anthropology; for Rahner it is the Incarnation that is the axis through which the mystery of the relationship between God and the human being is to be understood. The human nature of Jesus is one part of this broad picture, and according to Rahner this nature is constituted not only to receive God, but also to express God as God – self.[22] This requires a response on the part of the human. For this reason it is crucial to look also at the human Jesus to appreciate the duality of kenosis. For Rahner it is not about relinquishing attributes, but rather about giving and receiving. God establishes something in the other that is to be accepted and acted on. Jesus, as the receiver, on his side demonstrates the free act of surrendering to the mystery, surrendering to the Father in obedience and trust. Rahner sees this attitude as the fulfillment of human nature, as a climax of the development from matter to spirit.[23] In Jesus there is a unity between ‘nature and its self-realization’ that has God as its source (‘Incarnation’, p. 109, n. 1). But, given free will, the actualization of this unity requires a dedication and active self-surrender on the part of the human. The Spirit and the power to act are therefore given, but even Jesus had the free will to refuse and not surrender.[24]

We have so far discussed the self-emptying of God into the human, which according to Rahner is not about God renouncing attributes, but involves rather a communication of the divine to the human. In his debate with Rahner, Pannenberg concludes that this view on kenosis ‘loses the radicality of self-relinquishment’ (p. 363). I agree with this statement, insofar as the radicality might consist in a diminishment or change in God's essence. On the other hand, Rahner's approach opens up another category of radicality, seen as a call for human kenosis. My claim is that the self-emptying of God in/through Jesus Christ is only one side of the coin, and that it is only through the life and death of Jesus that the other side is revealed and the kenosis of Christ thereby accomplished. God is not dependent on the human to be God; however, the self-communication of God is not accomplished without a response. This provides a basis for describing kenosis as relational, pointing as well towards a central aspect of human kenosis.

4. The Human Kenosis

In the thinking on kenosis after Thomasius, the term was used to explain the consubstantiality of Christ, saying that Logos had relinquished some of its divine attributes. Understood in this way, kenosis could not be transferred to the human sphere, since the human is clearly not in a position to renounce divine attributes; it would make no sense to speak of a human kenosis. We have seen, however, that Rahner also speaks of God's self-emptying through the category of giving; likewise, the accepting of this gift is seen as an act of self-surrender to God, the gift and the giver. This reinterpretation establishes kenosis as a relational concept, and might serve as an explanation as to why Rahner so frequently uses kenotic language when describing our relationship to God.[25]

In order to grasp what human kenosis implies, recall that Rahner sees the human as transcendent, as always reaching out towards God. We have pointed also to Rahner's transcendental Christology, saying that self-transcendence towards the immediacy of God had to take place in at least one person before it could have universal significance. This happened when the absolute immediacy of God was actualized through Jesus Christ: ‘… the Incarnation itself is already an intrinsic moment and a condition for the universal bestowal of grace to spiritual creatures’.[26] Although every person has the freedom to accept or reject this grace, Rahner seems to think that acceptance to some degree is almost universal, whether conscious or not.

There are several other features of Rahner's anthropology that suggest a universal aspect to human surrender. According to Rahner it is only through a total surrendering to God that one ‘returns to self’ and so becomes a proper subject.[27]

In abandoning itself to the mystery, the human being is returning to itself, realizing the self: ‘It is its very meaning … to be that being who realizes himself and finds himself by losing himself once and for all in the incomprehensible.’[28] Rahner sees this abandonment not only as the meaning, but also as the essence of a human being's nature. This was demonstrated in the kenosis of Christ: ‘The Incarnation of God is the unique and highest instance of the actualization of the essence of human reality, which consists in this: that man is in so far as he abandons himself to the absolute mystery whom we call God’ (FCF, p. 218). In other words: to be is to abandon oneself. If it is the essence of human being to abandon oneself, then kenosis becomes the fulfillment of human nature. Nevertheless, this kind of abandonment is not always a conscious relationship with God; since it is seen as essential to the human nature, it must accordingly be interpreted as universal. The implied universality of Rahner's approach provides a first perspective on human kenosis: the human being is constituted to abandon itself to the mystery called God.

Rahner's universalistic view of the human relationship with God has met with considerable objection. One is that Rahner's positive view on human nature tends to evade the need for divine revelation. If God is ‘always already present’ as the transcendental condition of the human being, what is the difference between this kind of ‘natural revelation’ and the historical revelation of God becoming man in Jesus? This critique, coming from Hans Urs von Balthasar and Johann Baptist Metz among others, represents a challenge to Rahner's transcendental approach that cannot be treated fully here.[29] Philip Endean suggests that while von Balthasar understands revelation in the particular form as an epiphany of the transcendent, Rahner rather sees the historical moment of revelation as a ‘pointer towards an ever greater transcendence’.[30] The human openness is reaching out for this fullness of transcendence because of the hope revealed through Jesus Christ. As I understand Rahner, he sees the Christ-event, the cross and the resurrection, as the pointer and the power drawing all people towards God. The ‘natural’ revelation in the human being is thus conditioned by the Christ-event. In the following we will see that the appeal for a human kenosis is a challenge to let this event elicit a radical following of Christ in the concrete individual, thus overcoming the sin expressed as a lack of love and a consequent rejection of God. Moreover, the perspective of a human kenosis might also meet the criticism from von Balthasar that Rahner reduces faith ‘to a bland and shallow humanism’. He argued that the theology of God's self-communication as universal makes Christ's cross superfluous, and thus found Rahner's approach too weak to be able to provide a motivation for a radical following of Christ, including also readiness for suffering.[31] This criticism might meet with assent if we limited Rahner to the single perspective of transcendentalism; I argue, however, that Rahner's theology should not be separated from his spirituality, and from what Rahner specifically calls a theology of the cross. We will then find that, in encountering Jesus Christ, human kenosis becomes radical and challenging, personal and relational; in this we find Rahner's second perspective on human kenosis, through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality.

5. Ignatian Spirituality

Rahner's spiritual writings are based on Ignatian Spirituality, the name referring to Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus. This spirituality has in recent decades expanded far beyond traditional Catholic groups, partly because of the increase of ecumenical retreat-houses offering adapted Ignatian retreats.[32] Ignatian spirituality focuses on a conscious and personal relationship to God, modeled on and involved in the life and death of Jesus. Jesus' attitudes are to be attended to and followed; a conscious and personal relationship with God requires a conscious self-surrender of another order than the transcendental surrender we have encountered so far. The radical following of Christ and the self-surrender required is motivated by a personal encounter with Jesus. The source of this spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises[33], a series of meditations and contemplations organized into four ‘Weeks’.[34] The intention of the Exercises is ‘the overcoming of self and the ordering of one's life on the basis of decisions made in freedom from any ill-ordered attachment’ (Exx 21). Through becoming deeply involved in the life and death of Jesus, the ‘retreatant’ is confronted with the challenge of commitment and self-sacrifice. Hence, at the root of Ignatian Spirituality there is a call for a human kenosis. It is worthwhile noticing that even though this spirituality is centered on a theology of the Cross; it does not focus on the Cross as ‘an instrument of martyrdom’.[35] Thus the possible suffering involved is not something to glorify; it is rather a question of a personal encounter with Christ, eliciting an increased consciousness and a willingness to be obedient to the will of God.

Rahner's writings reflect this Ignatian Spirituality both explicitly and implicitly.[36] In his book Spiritual Exercises, he offers reflections particularly related to Ignatius' Exercises. We here meet the issue of self-surrender several times. One example is when the retreatant, after having meditated for some time over one's past life, is challenged through the exercise of The Call of the King (Exx. 91–100). By meditating on Jesus as a king who needs help to conquer the world, one's readiness for possible suffering is tested. The attitude of the follower is tested before any decision regarding a concrete way of following is taken. Ignatius indicates the ‘direction my choice should follow, since he speaks of insults, injuries, poverty, and so forth’,[37] but only provided that God is actually calling in this direction, because the issue is, right to the end, to search for the will of God. One should not have any preferences, whether for sickness or health, friendship or insult – the question at stake here is rather readiness. At this crucial and decisive point in the Exercises it is, according to Rahner, ‘the readiness for the kenosis of the Lord Jesus Christ’ that should be revealed.[38] It is notable that Rahner here uses the word kenosis as expressing a radical following of Jesus Christ. To be ready for this kenosis means to be prepared to go wherever God wants one to go, taking the risk of possible suffering and even death. This clearly shows that human kenosis is for Rahner not restricted to the unthematized, transcendental abandonment to the mystery; an encounter with the historical Jesus evokes a radical and concrete challenge. It also shows that Rahner regards the kenosis of Christ to be something else and something more than relinquishing divine attributes, as discussed above; it is rather about the way of life and the attitudes we find in the Gospel narratives about Jesus. The humanity of Jesus is thus to be seen as the primary key for understanding human kenosis. By being involved in his life – and death – one is partaking in his surrender, which is to be seen as the only way to the unity with God towards which the human being is always reaching out. In this way self-surrender and human kenosis is for Rahner the transcendental, unthematized constitution of the human being that becomes thematic and radical when confronted with the historical Jesus Christ.

6. Unity and Love

Throughout this article it has been stressed that kenosis is rooted in God's self-communication, which in the human Jesus reached a climax, thereby fulfilling human nature. The radical implications of this event must be seen as the theological basis for the spirituality described above. The following of Christ, unfolding through meditations and contemplations as in the Spiritual Exercises, is not to be seen only as a pious exercise or reduced to a mere moral imitation.[39] It becomes an essential and ontological unity between the human and divine because of the Christ-event. This unity is not static or necessitating; it is a relational unity dependent on a free commitment.

In his essay ‘Rahner, Christology and Grace’, Philip Endean shows how the radicality of this unity is expressed through Rahner's theology of grace and is reflected in his writings on Ignatian Spirituality.[40] Rahner understands our growth in grace, our individual response to the call, as having an impact on the unity as a whole, and thereby even on the humanity of Jesus. ‘If the incarnation is the central event in the world's history, it determines our understanding of everyone else's identity’, says Endean. Not only does Rahner see the world as the ‘life-space’ for God, but also the human person is situated in this world in order to make the adventure of love possible through a ‘life and existence shared with the Word made human’ (Endean, p. 288). Endean then demonstrates how Rahner takes this even further, suggesting that ‘there is a sense in which our growth here and now in the life of grace enriches Christ's own humanity’ (ibid.). He quotes a passage from Rahner's Spiritual Exercises:

In the Incarnation, the Logos emptied himself into his human nature, which is essentially orientated to the ‘thou’ of other human beings (wesentlich auf das mitmenschliche Du angewiesen ist). If human persons are to find their own existence, they need those who are human with them genuinely to be other, to be different, i.e. precisely not clones (Doppelgiinger). Human beings find their own perfection only in the otherness of those who are human with them, an otherness acknowledged, affirmed and sheerly loved. This applies also to Christ, indeed especially so. Of him too we must say: through the Word made human loving human beings [sic!] as others and because they are others, he too attains the fullness of this nature. He becomes what he is meant to be in his humanity, in a true historical presence, only – really only – through his being our brother and affirming our validity as others.[41]

Besides expressing the essential unity of Christ with all humanity, this passage also affirms an interpretation of the self-emptying of the Logos as relational and as an act of love. Because kenosis is basically love, the concrete following of Christ is accomplished in one way or another through a love of the other. By this loving, Christ's humanity is enriched as well; because in him humanity is assumed and fulfilled as an ongoing process.[42] This is in line with Rahner's understanding of the unity of the love of God and the love of neighbor. His interpretation of the double commandment is pertinent for understanding human kenosis; we will touch only on a few aspects here.[43] In the effort to grasp the mystery of love, Rahner points to the need to distinguish between love as an explicit mode of action and what he calls the ‘unconceptualised transcendental horizon of action’:

The transcendental horizon is, on the one hand, the subjective possibility for the individual object to show itself at all; it is, as it were, the system of co-ordinates within which the classified object is given its place and which makes it comprehensible. On the other hand, the transcendental horizon is that which is itself given only in the encounter with the object of a concretely historical experience.[44]

Rahner here builds on the structure of the subject which makes it possible to classify and comprehend objects, while it simultaneously is dependent on those objects. Without the encounter of the other, no transcendental experience can come to be. Love is grounded in this encounter of the other, and as such is ‘the all-embracing act of man which gives meaning, direction and measure to everything else’.[45] The source of this love is God; because God in his self-communication is the ground of the human being, his grace is empowering the act of love in the depths of its being. Rahner regards this basic act to be

elevated supernaturally by a self-communication of God in uncreated grace … Hence the one basic human act, where it takes place positively, is the love of neighbour understood as caritas, i.e. as a love of neighbour whose movement is directed towards the God of eternal life (p. 241).

This movement is essentially the same movement which we previously called self-surrender or abandonment. The freedom of rejecting or accepting God's self-communication is in the encounter of the other expressed respectively as love or hatred of neighbor. Hence, human kenosis consists in an acceptance of God's love that becomes the source for surrendering to the other in unconditional love.

7. Conclusion

The analysis of the relational character of human kenosis has led us back to the transcendental starting-point and the duality of kenosis. The kenosis of Christ was described from two different perspectives: first, the kenosis and genesis of God in the Incarnation, and second, the self-surrender of Jesus leading to his suffering, death and resurrection. As Rahner sees Christology and anthropology to be mutually dependent, it follows that his interpretation of the humanity of Jesus informs his overall view on a human being's relationship with God. The assumption of human nature is interpreted ontologically, which is the theological basis for Rahner's interpretation of the double commandment of love. In the unity of the love of neighbor and the love of God we find a twofold movement of human kenosis: the first is the basic surrender, the acknowledging of God as the infinite ground, and the acceptance of our human finiteness leading to death as the final surrender to God. Secondly, through this basic surrender the person is empowered by God's grace, enabling a genuine love for the neighbor. Such unconditional love for the other is simultaneously understood as being united with God in Jesus. In this second case the content of the term kenosis has been reinterpreted radically. It is still centered on the Incarnation and the self-emptying of God, but rather than focusing on consubstantiality, it has become a matter of genuine love between Creator and creation, a love to be received and to be emptied forth.