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Pierre Favre (1506-46) was the first of Ignatius' companions to have stayed with him, and hence the second Jesuit. After the Society was founded in 1540, he was sent on mission to Germany, and in 1542 he began to keep a spiritual journal. He begins by recalling the events of his life, and notably his encounter with Ignatius in Paris. Though Pierre helped Ignatius with his studies, the roles of master and pupil were soon reversed: “As time passed he became my master in spiritual things and gave me a method of raising myself to a knowledge of the divine will and of myself. In the end we became one in desire and will and one in a firm resolve to take up that life we lead today - we, the present or future members of this Society of which I am unworthy.” This quotation expresses two important truths about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. First, the common life of the Society of Jesus is closely connected to the experience of the Exercises. Favre and the other Jesuit companions share a “firm resolve to take up that life we lead today” - a resolve that proceeds from the goal of the Exercises: “a knowledge of the divine will and of myself.” For Ignatius, both the Exercises and the Society were key means through which he realized his life-project of “the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine.” Jesuits became Jesuits through the Exercises - “most of the good people who are today in the Society have left the world to come to it by using this way.” Conversely, the Exercises were seen, right from the beginning, as the Society's own characteristic ministry - “among the means which our Society uses, this one is very proper to her, and God has used it in large measure among countless souls.”
The reputation of great figures is often eclipsed in the generation after their death, and there is no lack of commentators who regard Rahner's achievement as passé. At the end of this collection of essays on Karl Rahner, compiled in the year when he would have been 100 years old, an obvious question arises about the kind of significance Rahner's theology has for us now. Is Rahner's achievement now primarily a matter of cultural and intellectual history? Does it amount simply to a set of ideas highly influential on Roman Catholicism in the historically rather unusual situation of the 1960s? Are Rahner's lessons something we need to outgrow, whether in gratitude for what they have helped us to accomplish, or in repentance for the errors into which they once seduced us? Or do they still hold a message for the future? Is there still life in Rahnerian theology?
There is no doubt that Rahner’s work enabled official Catholicism rather belatedly to engage with modernity – a modernity of which it had been decidedly wary for four centuries, whether in its initial appearance as a Lutheran appeal to the individual conscience, or later in various forms of Enlightenment emancipation. For many thinkers both in Rahner’s own time and on the contemporary scene, there was something ignoble and mistaken about that engagement. Moreover, it appears ironical that Catholicism should have been trying to catch up with modernity just as the secular world was moving into something different, something so elusive that we can only call it “post-modernity.” It might easily appear that Rahner’s theology is at best an anachronism, and at worst a heretical muddle.