Seminary/School of Divinity


Spring 2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Christian D. Washburn


An anonymous Christian, according to Karl Rahner, is someone who does not profess the Christian faith, perhaps even denying the existence of God, and yet is nonetheless justified by the grace of Christ. Rahner argues that there is no room for doubt among Catholic theologians that anonymous Christians can exist, that they do exist, and that in fact the vast majority of people in the world (if not all people) are anonymous Christians. He cites the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in support of his claims, though he concedes that his thesis cannot be found in divine revelation. In this thesis, I argue that many of Rahner’s key claims about his thesis are either greatly exaggerated or incorrect. Rahner claims that the Second Vatican Council leaves no room for doubt that anonymous Christians are a possibility; in fact, the Second Vatican Council leaves much room for doubt that anonymous Christians are a possibility. Rahner claims that the council also leaves no room for doubt that anonymous Christians exist, and in fact make up the vast majority of the non-Christian population; yet the conciliar documents do not even address the subject. Rahner claims that his thesis, with support from the Second Vatican Council, entails optimism for universal salvation; in fact, neither his thesis nor the conciliar documents logically entail optimism for universal salvation, and the conciliar documents actually provide good reasons to not be optimistic for universal salvation. And if his thesis truly cannot be found in either Scripture or Tradition, as Rahner says, then his thesis is not a proper object of Catholic theology, and in fact this is a decisive argument against his thesis. Nonetheless, Rahner’s work can and should be mined for possible insights into the soteriological status of non-Christians.