Maurice Blondel and Karl Rahner on the possibility of a primary experience of God: A comparative analysis

Jean Smith Liddell, Fordham University


At stake today, in a deeply secularized culture, is the credibility of belief in God and Christian practise and belief. Maurice Blondel, a Nineteenth Century Catholic philosopher, and Karl Rahner, one of the great Catholic theologians of the Twentieth Century, present arguments which make theoretical and theological sense of the notion of a primary experience of God, avenues which reveal the presence of God in ordinary life.^ In L'Action(1893), Maurice Blondel develops his understanding of the "volonte voulante," the primordial will, which exerts the force of life within a person and offers the possibility of fulfillment if the person freely harmonizes her "volonte voulue," free will, with this inner drive. According to Blondel, this dynamic interaction of wills reveals the presence of God, the "one thing necessary."^ Karl Rahner, in his Foundations of Christian Faith, stated that the human person revealed God's own design and destiny for the human race. He constructed a theological anthropology which described the person as transcendent, responsible and free, situated in time, space and history, united with others in community and endowed with a spiritual nature oriented towards the full mystery of life, God. In the construction of this anthropology, and in Rahner's specific reference to the obediential potency and supernatural existential of human existence, he built a theological foundation for the possibility of a primary, or in his words original, experience of God.^ Two significant characteristics of both Blondel's and Rahner's theology are their recognition of historical consciousness and their personalist approach to theology. Historical consciousness allows for change, in belief and practice. To acknowledge and experience the presence of God, meant for Blondel the recognition of the necessity of growth and development throughout life. For Rahner, it held the person to follow a road marked by darkness, chaos and eventual death, sustained by their constant efforts to live in hope, faith and love. And in conclusion, their work reveals the true possibility of a primary experience of God. This primary experience becomes foundational, lasting a lifetime as a source of strength and challenge; it coexists with all other experiences, including religious faith, and it promotes the continuous transformation of the human person. ^

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Recommended Citation

Liddell, Jean Smith, "Maurice Blondel and Karl Rahner on the possibility of a primary experience of God: A comparative analysis" (1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9225970.