Karl Rahner: Reflections in1967

Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this sacred Council gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament of sign and instrument of a very closely knit union with God, and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. This it intends to do following faithfully the teaching of previous councils. The present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical, and cultural ties, might also attain full unity in Christ.

To promote understanding of some of the most important features of the Constitution on the Church, I may perhaps be permitted a small mental experiment. If it succeeds, well and good; if not, I have nobody but myself to blame, and that is not a bad thing. I want to imagine myself as an ordinary Catholic layman of the future and ask what will particularly strike him in that document. Whether the date is twenty, thirty, or a hundred years hence does not matter. I am no prophet, and this is not a prophecy but a dream, perhaps a nightmare.

At that future date there will be Christian, Catholic communities all over the world, though not evenly distributed. Everywhere they will be a little flock, because mankind grows quicker than Christendom and because men will not be Christians by custom and tradition, through institutions and history, or because of the homogeneity of a social milieu and public opinion, but-leaving out of account the sacred flame of parental example and the intimate sphere of home, family, and small groups-they will be Christians only because of their own act of faith attained in a difficult struggle and perpetually achieved anew.

Universal diaspora. The stage of human history will be even more a single unity than it already is, everyone will be everyone’s neighbor, and the attitude and action of each will contribute to determining everyone’s historical situation. And "each" means each nation, civilization, historical reality, and, proportionately, each individual. . . . And since the Christians will form only a relatively small minority with no independent domain of their own, they will all, though to varying degrees, live in the "diaspora of the Gentiles." Nowhere will there be any more "Catholic nations" which put a Christian stamp on men prior to any personal decision. And everywhere, in the name of the necessity of uniform education and organization, the State, or perhaps some future Super-State, determines on imposing a single ideology by every up-to-date means; it will not be a Christian philosophy which is proclaimed as the official ideology of society.

Christians will be the little flock of the Gospel, perhaps esteemed, perhaps persecuted, perhaps speaking with clear and respected voice in the polyphonic or cacophonous chorus of ideological pluralism, perhaps continuing to bear witness to the holy message of their Lord only in an undertone, from heart to heart. They will be gathered round the altar, announcing the death of the Lord and entrusting the darkness of their own lot (a darkness which no one will be spared even in the super-welfare-State of the future) to the darkness of the death of the Lord. They will know each other as brothers, and there will be very few hangers-on, for there will be no earthly advantage in being a Christian. They will certainly preserve faithfully and unconditionally the structure of their sacred, unworldly community of faith, hope, and love-the Church, as it is called, as Christ founded it.

One of the first things that would come home to our imagined Christian of the future would be that statement that the Church is the sacrament of salvation of the world. That is found in the very Introduction to the Constitution.

Our imagined Christian will be living as a member of the little flock in an immeasurably vast world of non-Christians. How in such circumstances is he to think of his Church? How is he still to live with the inalienable consciousness that the Church is founded by God, by Christ, the Lord of all history, that it is the sole eternally valid religion? How is he to do so, when the day when all mankind will be Christian will seem to him unimaginably more distant than it is even for us, because no force of a homogeneous society and tradition will operate any longer in favor of the Church? He will be able to do it only if he views the Church as the sacrament of the world’s salvation.

KARL RAHNER 1904-1984

From the Introduciton to Meditations on the Church 1967 Herder and Herder, Inc., New York