No interpretation is perfect. However, when the problem in an interpretation lies at its root, the result is a wrong interpretation, not a less than perfect one.
Lonergan, Von Balthasar and particularly Karl Rahner researched and wrote at genius level, their minds learned, sharp, brilliant. One can certainly benefit from many insights and meticulous investigations found in these scholars’ works. However, theirs is not a plausible interpretation of St. Thomas, but a set of super-intelligent “Thomistic” excuses for their own Kantian doctrine.
Was this their intention? Not necessarily. In interpreting someone else’s doctrine, it is not unusual to read too much of our own preconceived ideas into someone else's words: this is what may have happened to Rahner, Lonergan and Von Balthasar in interpreting Aquinas. In other words, perhaps these scholars, mistakenly but inadvertently, found their own Kantian doctrine in Aquinas’ text. Now, how could three such geniuses so totally miss the point? In the end, regardless of what these three scholars meant to produce, we must acknowledge what they actually did produce: a Kantian misinterpretation of Aquinas.
What is the point of labeling these authors as Kantian? It is not about kicking anyone off the soccer field, but about having every player wear the correct jersey, in order to avoid confusion about who is on which team. Rahner, Von Balthasar and Lonergan are on Kant’s team, in the most radical way, but have been wearing St. Thomas team jerseys and have been scoring against St. Thomas’ team for almost a century, making the game difficult. Can St. Thomas’ team win, even so? Can a Middle Age team beat Kant’s modern team? Let the game be fair, at least, and we will see.
This research intends to show a Kantian influence in Transcendental Thomism, particularly in Rahner, Lonergan and Von Balthasar. What is meant by a Kantian influence is a certain attitude regarding the problem of the universals, an attitude which is radically different from St. Thomas’. In my previous work (The Radical Difference between Aquinas and Kant: Human Understanding and the Agent Intellect in Aquinas [Chillum: IVE Press, 2021], the radical difference between St. Thomas and Kant was shown. In this present research, what is argued is that Rahner, Lonergan and Von Balthasar follow Kant, not St. Thomas, with regard to the analysis of human understanding. From each Transcendental Thomist author mentioned above, I have taken one sample text, one most significant work where each author’s epistemology can be explored. Thus, I have selected Rahner’s Spirit in the World, Lonergan’s Verbum articles and Von Balthasar’s Theologic I.
Andres Ayala, Ph.D., is a Roman Catholic priest with the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). Fr. Ayala has served as House of Formation Professor of Philosophy, Theology and languages, as well as cherished pastor in his three Canadian parishes. At present, he is associate pastor in Emmitsburg, MD.