Date of Award


Document Type



Santa Clara : Santa Clara University, 2017.

Degree Name

Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL)


George Griener


There has been a long history in Christianity on the study of the relationship between theology and science. For example, the Greek Fathers "pursued scientific knowledge for its theological and moral use." 1 Even Augustine, who had an "ambivalent attitude toward science," used natural science to oppose astrology, grounding his argument "by reference to observable reality."2 In recent years, there have been efforts to relate theology and science in various ways.3 One of the on-going scientific discussions is the question of how something can arise and develop into something else in the universe. Among the theories that address this question is the scientific perspective of 'emergence', which was developed within an evolutionary understanding of the world. The scientific perspective of emergence is a framework to help one understand how matter is not only able to emerge but also develop into something essentially higher. One theologian whose theology developed within an evolutionary perspective was Karl Rahner, a prominent German Catholic Jesuit theologian (1904-1984 ). Rahner weaved evolutionary biology into his theology as a way to relate theology with the discoveries of science. In his work, Rahner explained how matter continues to develop even after the universe emerged. The development of matter in a state of 'becoming' is possible because of 'active self-transcendence'.

In this thesis, I will argue that the current scientific perspective of 'emergence' can give a more robust understanding to Rahner's notion of active self-transcendence.4 I will demonstrate this by showing that Rahner's concept of active self-transcendence is congruent to that of the of emergence. For example, both positions agree in the unity of all things and that there is a hierarchical level of complexity in the universe. In this respect, the scientific perspective of emergence strengthens and broadens Rahner's argument. Among the strengths of emergence, is that this framework can integrate patterns across levels of emergence and across a variety of scientific theories.