Starting further back: An analysis of Karl Rahner’s mystagogical approach applied to the new evangelisation in an Australian setting


Mellor, Anthony Edward. (2016). Starting further back: An analysis of Karl Rahner’s mystagogical approach applied to the new evangelisation in an Australian setting [Thesis].
AuthorsMellor, Anthony Edward
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The New Evangelisation is the name given to a renewed impulse of evangelisation for today’s world. The situation of religious institutional diminishment in many Western countries requires a more nuanced approach to the proclamation of Christian faith. This new context demands new methods of re-proposing the Good News in the modern age. A mystagogical approach looks towards modes of evangelisation which engage the religious imagination and draw out personal experiences of transcendence and religious sensibility. In its creative and reflective processes, mystagogy is a form of invitation to recognise and respond to the “always already” Divine presence at play in personal, concrete experience and larger human history. Historically, mystagogia was a catechetical method used by patristic teachers which led the neophytes into a deeper realisation of the experience of Christian initiation. More broadly, Karl Rahner advocated a renewed mystagogical approach to theology in the modern age by developing modes of theological expression which spring from human experience rather than from doctrinal definitions. Rahner reframed the fides qua/fides quae distinction as the “transcendental” and “categorical” dimensions of religious experience, and recognised the need for theological methodology which brought into a greater unity the fides qua (the act of believing) and the fides quae (the content of faith). A mystagogical mode of communicating the Gospel involves reading the cultural context in which the Gospel is proclaimed and received, and entering into a pre-credal conversational style of social dialogue. In the Australian context, as in any context, there are certain cultural and communal narratives which can be identified to assist the evangelising conversation. David Tracy’s analysis of Hans Georg Gadamer’s dynamics of interpretative “conversation” offers a framework for mystagogy in the public realm. As a form of conversation, a mystagogical approach looks to develop a more culturally-alert language and style, seeking to acknowledge and describe the personal, yet often unnoticed, experiences of self-transcendence. A mystagogical approach to New Evangelisation utilises the language of personal experience to connect the act of believing (fides qua) with the rich heritage of the Christian tradition (fides quae) through levels of spiritual awareness, reflection, interpretation and responsiveness. This mystagogical conversation explores these dimensions as a pedagogical pathway to developing a more alert religious sensibility. In order to situate these conversations in the public realm, Tracy’s three fields of theological reference (society, academy and church) offer a framework for developing mystagogical conversations. Drawn from Tracy’s three “publics”, these three fields of reference for a mystagogical approach to NE can be identified as: The Performative Space (Church); the Dialectic Dialogical Space (society); and the Open Communicative Space (culture). These three fields identity differentiated modes of conversation, each of which requires a particular evangelising freshness and creativity. An analysis of these differentiated spheres helps develop forms of evangelisation more attuned to the ecclesial, social and cultural realities of the contemporary moment.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates30 Mar 2016
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