The debate between Hans Küng and Karl Rahner is surely one of the most remarkable events within today’s remarkable period of Roman Catholic history. The debate was struck off by the appearance of Küng’s book, Infallible? An Inquiry. Rahner responded vigorously to the book by saying that if Küng continued to theologize along these lines, he would have to be dealt with theologically as a “liberal Protestant.” To Rahner, Küng’s views were rationalistic, a clear transgression of the limits for any Catholic critique of the church’s infallible teaching authority.

Understandably, Rahner’s sharp attack was hard for Küng to digest. He responded, in two lengthy articles, by saying that he owed his understanding of the time-conditioned and limited character of dogma to Rahner himself.

In the March edition of “Stimmen der Zeit,” Karl Rahner offered his reply to Küng’s response to him. It is clear that Rahner is not about to take back anything from what he has often said about the history of dogma. Dogma is historically conditioned and time-bound, and therefore always remains an inadequate, human formulation of God’s absolute truth. This is exactly what Küng, too, has insisted, what he has developed, and what, he says, he has learned from Rahner himself.

But now a crucial disagreement rises between Rahner and Küng. Rahner distinguishes between the relativity, inadequacy, and limitation of dogma on one hand and any element of error on the other. Say what one must of the relativity of dogma, it is, in its infallibility, kept free from all error, according to Rahner. He characterizes his way of doing theology as “system-immanent.” What he means is that he works within the Catholic system of infallible teaching. Any element of error would be ...

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