Fortress Press

Being Salvation: Atonement and Soteriology in the Theology of Karl Rahner

Being Salvation

Atonement and Soteriology in the Theology of Karl Rahner

Brandon R. Peterson (Author)


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Karl Rahner’s theory of how Jesus saves has garnered criticism. Rahner’s portrayal of Jesus has been described by Hans Urs von Balthasar as merely notifying the world of God’s salvific will. Others have doubted whether Rahner thinks Jesus “causes” salvation at all. Even Rahner’s advocates style his Jesus as a kind of sign, albeit an effective one, the primal Sacrament. But another major and yet underappreciated dimension to Rahner’s christology is his identification of Jesus as Representative—both our representative before God and God’s before us. As such a Representative, Jesus is not a redemptive agent who accomplishes human salvation simply through an act, and even less is he a mere exemplar or notification. This Jesus does not only “do” our salvation—rather, he is the locus of salvation itself. He not only “opens” heaven’s gates, but he creates heaven with his own resurrection. Being Salvation uncovers this dimension within Rahner’s theology, relating it to other historical examples of representative soteriology (e.g. Irenaeus’s theory of recapitulation) and to Rahner’s more familiar sacramental soteriological categories. It gives special attention to Rahner’s intense attention to the church fathers early in his career, including Rahner’s untranslated theology dissertation, E latereChristi (“From the Side of Christ”).

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506423326
  • eBook ISBN 9781506408958
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 312
  • Publication Date June 15, 2017



1. Christ the Notification
2. Rahner’s Realsymbol
3. Representative Soteriology in the Patristic Period
4. Rahnerian Ressourcement
5. Representative Soteriology in Rahner’s Mature Work



A resource for historical knowledge and contemporary theology.

“A valuable addition to serious studies on Karl Rahner’s thought. The book draws on both central and less-known sources to present Rahner’s theology, Christology, and the influential thought of past thinkers from the patristic centuries and the twentieth century. It shows how incarnation and salvific activity have several theological modalities in Christian revelation, as it presents their dynamics in both human existence and cultural history. A resource for historical knowledge and contemporary theology.”

Thomas F. O’Meara | emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Peterson's profound study analyzes, evaluates, and recapitulates.

Karl Rahner’s theological dissertation from 1936, E latere Christi, submitted at the University of Innsbruck/Austria and published only in 1999, shows his early engagement with the church fathers. He knew the sources and went on with it. Here, for the first time, this long-overlooked and underestimated study is, in a fascinating, detailed, and knowledgeable way, comprehensively analyzed and made fruitful for the perception/reception of Rahner’s oeuvre: Jesus as the place of salvation, as locus theologicus, in the writings of Karl Rahner. Thus, at the beginning of Rahner’s oeuvre stands not only Spirit in the World (1939) and Hearer of the Word (1941) but also his profound concern with the tradition of the church fathers, which he wanted to make fruitful for the theology of his time—and for ours. It is remarkable how precisely Brandon R. Peterson deals with the writings of Karl Rahner. He knows Rahner and the most important secondary literature very well. His profound study analyzes, evaluates, and recapitulates. I have read it with immense profit.”

Andreas Batlogg | editor-in-chief, Stimmen Der Zeit

This astounding, meticulous work of scholarship recapitulates Rahner anew

“Karl Rahner concluded his theology dissertation, E Latere Christi, by asking whether we can learn from the early church. Peterson asks what we can learn from the early Karl Rahner: not the philosophical Rahner of Geist in Welt but the ressourcement Rahner who pored through Greek and Latin patrologies and discovered Jesus Christ as he who represents salvation. “Representative soteriology” is Peterson’s term for the rich complexity of Rahner’s theology of salvation, centered on a sophisticated understanding of symbol and a deep spirituality formed by Ignatius Loyola and numerous church fathers. This astounding, meticulous work of scholarship recapitulates Rahner anew, incisively exposing many hitherto unstudied sources, perspicaciously illuminating old classics, and judiciously, irenically, and decisively answering Rahner’s most strident critics. Even more, it transcends the bounds of Rahner studies to express—in its form and matter—the beauty, sublimity, and wholeness of salvation in Christ.”

Peter Fritz | College of the Holy Cross

A welcome contribution to contemporary soteriology as well as to Rahner studies.

"Amid disputes about whether Karl Rahner gives enough attention to the saving significance of the cross, Brandon Peterson offers a fresh interpretation of Rahner's soteriology highlighting the key theme of Jesus as Representative. Of particular value is Peterson's analysis of how that theme is central to Rahner's early writings, including his untranslated dissertation. As Peterson demonstrates, it continues to echo through his later writings as well. A welcome contribution to contemporary soteriology as well as to Rahner studies."

Mary Catherine Hilkert | University of Notre Dame