Anda di halaman 1dari 25



St Joseph s College, Philadelphia

The startling developments in the genesis of Catholic ecclesiology since

Vatican I1 compel church historians to scan the past for some intellectual
prefigurement of the present situation in the life and writings of one germinal
thinker. Undoubtedly, once one has looked past Emil Mersch, George Tyrrell
and John Henry Newman, one comes upon the figure of Johann Adam
Mohler (1 796-1 838), the church historian of the now famous Tubingen
School of theologians in the first half of the 19th century. Historians of
dogma and of ecclesiology such as Karl Bihlmyer, Joseph Lortz and Yves
Congar have repeatedly emphasized Mohlers epochal significance. More-
over, the dogmaticians Hans Kung, Avery Dulles, Walter Kasper and Heribert
Muhlen have pointed out the fact that Vatican I1 in effect vindicated the
prophetic nature of Mohlers thought after it had been almost totally eclipsed
by the rise of Neo-Scholasticism in the latter half of the 19th century. In
the person of Mohler these theologians come upon the one Catholic historian
who has contributed most to the modern understanding and practice of the
development of dogma.
In light of this fact, it is unfortunate that only a few detailed studies of
Mohler have appeared in English. This essay can only hope to introduce
1 For an extensive study of the fate of Mohlers insights in thc latter half of the
19th century, cf. Walter Kaspcr. Die Lehre von der Tradition in der Romischen Schule
(Frciburg, 1962), pp.140-42 and passim.
2 Cf. G . Voss, Johann Adant Mnhler and thc Devcloprnent of Dogma, Theological
Studies IV (1943), pp.420-44; Hcnry R. Nicnaltowski, Johann Adam MohlerS Theory
of Doctrinal Development: Its Genesis and Formulation (Washington, 1959); P. Riga,
The Ecclesiology of Johann Adam Mohler, Theological Studies XXIl (1961), pp.563-
87; Herve Savon, Johann Adam Mohler: The Father of Modern Theology, tr. C. McGrath
(Glen Rock, N.J., 1966); Georee Gilrnore, Ecclesiology: Christ and Man in thc Process
of the World (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Fordham University, 1975), pp.107-
21 2.


English-speaking readers to the many commentaries on Mohlers ecclesiol-

ogy by German and French scholar^.^ But, beyond this more general purpose,
this essay aims at concentrating on the specific methodological tension
underlying the genesis of Mohlers ecclesiology, a tension which can inform
and encourage contemporary theologians as they search out new models of
the Church. For, when one first becomes familiar with the intellectual
development of Mohlers notion of the Church throughout his brief yet
brilliant career as a theologian, what is most striking is his life-long effort
to wrestle in dialectical manner with the problem of the relationship
between the divine element and the human element in the C h ~ r c h In . ~each
stage of Mohlers intellectual development, which will be traced in this
essay, his chief concern was to preserve a proper balance in the Christians
understanding of the objective person of Jesus Christ at a privileged point in
history on the one hand and the subjective experience of Christ by the
Christian community at any given point in its Spirit-led history on the other.
In elliptical fashion Mohler attempted to maintain a mediated polarization
and interaction between the outward and the inward aspects of Christianity.
Essential to his thought was the conviction that to opt for one aspect over
the other was to deny the inherently relational or dialectical character of
Christian existence.
To formulate the contribution of Mohler in terms relevant to the
ecclesiological debate since Vatican 11, it can be said that he sought to keep
the proponents of ecclesial christocentrism and those of ecclesial pneuma-
tocentrism in constant dialogue. For the danger of a christocentric ecclesiol-
ogy is that it tends for the sake of Christian continuity and visibility to
incorporate Christ in the Churchs social structures, traditions and institu-
tions. Christocentrism leads easily to institutional centralization. Pneumato-
centrism reacts against this one-sided stress on conformity and rigidity by

3 Cf. Karl Eschweiler, LA. Mohlers Kirchenbegriffi Das Hauptstuck der katholischen
Auseinandersetzung mit dem deutschen Idealismu$ (Braunsberg, 1930); J.R. Geiselmann,
Johann Adam Mohler und die Entwicklung seines Kirchenbegriffs, Theologische
Quartalschrift (hereafter ThQ), 112 (1931), pp.1-91 and also Der Wandel des Kirchen-
bewusstseins und der Kirchlichkeit in der Theologie Johann Adam Mohlers in Senfire
Ecclesiam, ed. J. Daniilou and H. Vorgrimler (Freiburg, 1961), pp.531-675; Pierre
Chaillet, LEsprit du christianisme et du catholicisme: 1, Les antickdents de 1Ecole de
Tubingue; 11, LEcole de Tubingue: Drey, Baader et Moehler, RSPT XXXVI (1937),
pp.483-98; 713-726; Yves Congar, Sur lkvolution et linterpritation de la penske
de Moehler, RSPTXXXVI (1937), pp.205-12.
4 J.R. Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe: Ihr Gestaltwandel in Mohlers Theologie der
Kirche in Die Eine Kirche, ed. Hermann TiichIe (Paderborn, 1939), p.136. Hereafter:
Einheit and Liebe.
5 Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, tr. J.R. Foster (New York, 19691,
48 P H I L I P J . ROSATO. S.J.

emphasizing the Spirits similar yet unique direction of individuals in the

community. The presence of the Spirit insures the historical development
of the Church by challenging it to go beyond itself, reform its structures
and head towards an as yet unchartered future. An enthusiasm without
foundation and form, however, can result from too much emphasis on
Christian individualism. This is precisely the dilemma which faces the
Catholic Church today as traditionalists lament the disappearance of
previously distinctive Catholic formulations and customs while progressives
press on towards more non-juridical, ecumenical and charismatic expres-
sions of Catholicism.
Mohler once expressed the difficulty with the two extremes of centraliza-
tion and individualism when he commented that both are in the end egoistic.
In the case of individualism the harmonious continuity of the Church is
impaired; in that of centralization its radical freedom:
In the first case everything is so disparate that it becomes so cold in
the Church that one freezes. In the second case the bond of unity is
so constricting and the love so intense that one cannot avoid suffocat-
ing in the Church. We would like neither to freeze because of the one
extreme of individualism nor to suffocate because of extreme centrali-
zation. This is only possible if both extremes are avoided.6
These sentiments of Mohler were originally directed at the exaggerated
enthusiasm of Ferdinand Christian Baur, but they can also serve as a terse
description of the central theme of this essay. Catholicisms ecclesiological
principle, as Mohler understood it, was to be found between the extremes
of christocentrism and pneumatocentrism. The search for proper balance
was the leitmotif of his entire study of Church history. In an age when
the ecclesiological concerns of Vatican I1 are leading theologians back to the
christological and pneumatological foundations of Christianity, it is no
wonder that Mohlers work has been proclaimed prophetic.



Johann Adam Mohlers first reflections on the Church are found in the
lectures on canon law which he delivered at the University of Tubingen

6 Translated by the present writer from Walter Kasper, Einfiihncng in den Clouben
(Mainn, 1972), p.133, where Kasper quotes Brentanos reminiscence of Mohler.
1 Johann Adam Mohler, Neue Vntersuchungen der Lehrgegensatze zwischen den
Katholiken und Protestonten (Mainz,1835), p.482: I hear the words: Nothing b u t
Church, Church, Church and I answer: It is not otherwise nor can it be otherwise: for
without the Church we have no Christ and n o Holy Scripture. If you were to take the
Catholic Church out of the history of Christianity, even if only in thought, what would
you then still know of Christianity?

between 1823 and 1825.8 What is most interesting about them is that
Mohler, who has often been cited in handbooks of ecclesiology as represent-
ing a view of the Church which is essentially the opposite of that of Robert
Bellarmine, starts his career as a theologian with a view of the Church very
similar to that of baroque Scholasticism. In these early lectures Mohler reflects
the post-Tridentine, anti-Reformational theology of the Catholic Church
which was the prevalent teaching in his time. It stressed the visible nature of
the Church in the face of the Protestant emphasis on the invisible. In his
efforts to defend the human aspect of the Church Mohler relied heavily on
baroque and Enlightenment sociology which, because of the importance
which it put on the individuality and independence of the human person,
conceived of society as a conglomeration of individuals with a common
The notion of the Church which characterizes Mohlers Kirchenrecht-
liche Vorlesungen therefore, is that of a religious society:
The concept church comes under the higher concept society and,
just as the distinctive character of all other societies lies in the goal
which they seek to attain, so the Church is essentially a religious
society since its aim is the broadening of religious truth and the further-
ing of holiness and virtue.l0
The purpose of a religious societys teaching, cult and institutions, how-
ever, is not that these things remain purely external forms, but that through
them what is objective religion become subjective religiosity. The outer
aspects of religion are necessary, therefore, since it is through them that
individual members of the religious society are inwardly affected. All of
their relationships are penetrated by the objective truth of revelation which
has become subjectivized in them. The perfect unity of the Church as a
religious society is achieved when the outer objective oneness of the Church
has become an inner oneness within the individual members who make up
the society:
Since the Christian religion is objectively one, so also must the Chris-
tian Church, which represents this objective unity, be one; only in so
far as the objective unity of the Christian religion expresses itself in the

8 These lectures existed only in handwritten form in the Gregorianum in Miinchen

until they were destroyed during World War 11. Geiselmann had made copies of most
of the lectures in 1932, so that they are still extant. References to the Kirchenrechtliche
Vorlesungen will be given by the number of the volume and the page. All of these
references to Mohlers lectures are taken from Geiselmanns articles on Mohler.
9 Mohler, Die Einheit in der Kirche oder das Prinzip des Katholizismus Dargestellt
im Ceiste der Kirchenvater der drei ersten Jahrhunderte, edited, introduced and
commented on by J.R. Geiselmann (Darmstadt, 1957), Introduction, p.52. Hereafter:
10 Mohler, Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen, Vol.1, p.1.

different members of the Church, will it come to unification through

The movement of thought in the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen is thus
from outer to inner unity.
It is by means of this outer-inner argument that Mohler defends the
primary role of the visible in Catholicism against the mainstream of Protest-
ant thought. The visible Church as the outer aspect of Christianity is the only
means by which its inner aspect, the soul of religion, can work on men; it
is true that the Church is not of human origin and that its ultimate aim is
interior union of men with God, but, once the Church was established, the
means by w h c h men reach interior union with God is the visible society of the
Church. What was originally an inner reality among the early Christians led
to an outer reality which now transmits the divine teaching of Christ t o
individual members of the society through teachings, rites and institutions
under the continual influence of Christs abiding Spirit.
So much stress is put on the outer-inner dynamic in the Kirchenrechtliche
Vorlesungen that what emerges is almost a purely phenomenological descript-
ion of the Church; little mention is made of the gratuitous grace recorded
in salvation history. This accent on the visible Church accounts for Mohlers
preoccupation with the importance of tradition, authority and office at this
stage of his thought.I3 Authority in the Church plays the chief role of
preserving truth for the believers; it continually makes present in a symbolic
way the prototypical teaching of Christ: The Christian Church would no
longer be the image of the Christian religion, as it was objectively expressed
in Christ, if the prototype expressed and furthered the truth, but its image,
the Church, expressed and furthered errors.I4 Thus, Mohlers early notion
of the Church as a religious society underlines the objective truth of that
societys institutions and traditions; these alone are the means of safeguard-
ing in a visible form the central reality of Christ which must steadily ground
the interior faith of the individual Christian in the course of history.
Though Mohlers early effort to affirm the human element in the Church
does present valid arguments for the need of visible structures in a religious
society, his anti-Reformational apologetic leads him inadvertently to espouse
the Deistic position according to which man and God are separated and act
independently of each other. Once the purpose of the visible Church is seen
solely as the interior perfection of its members, the Church tends to be

11Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen, Vo1.3, p.3.

12Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.143.
I 3 Geiselmann, Der Wandel des Kirchenbewusstseins und der Kirchlichkeit in der
Theologie Johann Adam Mohlers, p.547.
1 4 Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen, Vol.3, p.4.

defined as an ethical association in which the value of individual members is

judged almost totally in terms of their adherence to laws which are set down
by hierarchical authorities. J.R. Geiselmann makes the observation that the
Church in Mohlers Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen is almost equated with the
hierarchy: The hierarchy and it alone is the Church.
Thus, besides an outer-inner schematic in Mohlers early thought on the
Church, there also exists a higher-lower schematic. There is hardly room for
any function of individual members other than that of obedience to the
authorities who alone preserve the truth of the original revelation under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is no indication that the believers them-
selves are essential elements in the Church and witnesses to the truth in their
own right because they too are living bearers of the Churchs tradition.16
The stress on teaching, cult and institution puts the individual member
under the burden of acquiescence rather than under that of love. Ironically,
by trying to preserve the free role of man in the Church, Mohler seems
unconsciously to belittle it. Thus, in the last analysis, Mohlers early view of
the Church is too naturalistic; the human element stands so much in the
forefront of his consciousness that the divine almost recedes from his con-
cept of the Church entirely. The Churchs participation in divine mystery,
divine life and divine love is absent; only the outer shell of the Church
remains. All is clear, orderly and intelligible in terms of human wisdom,
but at the same time the Church lacks any sign of divine life and
This criticism of the naturalistic orientation in the Kirchenrechtliche
Vorlesungen is surprisingly made by Mohler himself in a lengthy book review
which appeared in the Theologische Quartalschrift in 1823. According to
Mohler, the weakest point in Theodor Katerkamps book, Des Ersten
Zeitalters der Kirchengeschichte: I, die Zeit der Verfolgung, is that the author
makes the hierarchy the central point around which everything else in the
Church revolves, and that the hierarchy seems to be the guiding force in the
Churchs history. To view the entire historical development of the Church
from the standpoint of its authorities is
to present only a half-religious comprehension of Christian history
which belies a naturalistic view of man, to whom very little spiritual
power from God is attributed; in fact, God seems to be left out of the
development of the Church. It is as if the author were saying: God
created the hierarchy, and from now until the end of the world the

15 Der Wandel des Kirchenbewusstseins fn.3 above), p.556.

16 Der Wandel. . ., p.557.
1 7 H. Miihlen, Una Mystica Persona: Die Kirche als das Mysteriurn der Identitat des
Heiligen Geistes in Christus und den Christen: Eine Person in vielen Personen (Munich,
1967) 1.07 and 1.09.
52 PHILIP J . R O S A T O , S.J.

Church is cared for more than sufficiently . . . but there is a higher,

Christian view of history, which is especially predominant in Catholi-
cism, namely that the Spirit of God is the ever-present principle which
governs the Church and leads it on towards its goal.18
Mohler had written this review concomitantly with his lectures on canon law.
What was the reason which led him to this new stance which seems blatantly
to contradict his own lectures?
J.R. Geiselmann sees in Mohlers early publications in the Theologische,
Quartulschrift a shift from an anti-Reformational to an anti-Deistic theology
and from the sociology of the Enlightenment to the new sociology of the
Romantics with its emphasis on Volksgeschichte.l9 There are already signs
of a budding anti-Deistic position in the lectures on canon law in that Mohler
at least admits the presence of the Spirit in the Church, even if his function
was limited solely to protecting the institutional Church from a misrepresen-
tation of the original revelation of Christ. But what is more evident in
Mohlers subsequent writings is that the progressive theologians at the
Catholic theological faculty in Tubingen, especially Mohlers teacher, Johann
Sebastian Drey, were beginning to transform his thought. From Drey Mohler
gradually acquired a sense of the development which takes place in history.
This insight soon led him away from the naturalistic and mechanistic view of
the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen.2o
While Drey was encouraging Mohler to see the history of the Church from
the point of view of its openness to the spiritual presence of Christ, another
important Catholic theologian, Johann Michael Sailer, was influencing him in
a different way. Sailer was perhaps the first Catholic theologian to break from
the conception of the Church as a society of men as he began to be exposed
to the tradition of German mysticism and to the thought of the Sturm und
Drung school of German Romanticism. As a result of these two intellectual
forces, Sailer returned to the Pauline image of the Church as the Body of
Christ. The Church now meant for Sailer the Spirit-filled members of the
Body of Christ; this community is already united to Christ, its head, but it
is still the Pilgerkirche which strives in the course of history to reach more
perfect union with Christ.21 The influence of Drey and Sailer on the young
Mohler is thus clearly evident even in his early writings for the Theulogische
Quartalschrift. Hereafter their insights were to form the core of his mature
ecclesiology .

Mohler, op. cit.. ThQ IV (1823). p.497.

Einheit und Liebc, p. 148.
2 0 Geiselmann, Johann Adam Mohler und die Entwicklung seines Kirchenbegriffs
ThQCXII (1931). pp.38-39.
2 1 Gciselmann, Einheif, Introduction, p.45.

What is probably the most interesting aspect of Mohlers new orientation

is his theological anthropology. From a concept of man as an individual
Mohler comes to the realization that man is essentially a part of a greater
whole. The presence of the Spirit in the Church does not merely insure that
each member comes to an individual grasp of the truth; rather the Spirit
builds individuals into a community by leading them from isolation into a
universal body of faith and love. In an article entitled Karl der Grosse und
seine Bischofe: Die Synode von Mainz im Jahre 813 A.D., Mohler reveals in
a striking way how the Spirit works in the course of church history to unite
individuals into a corporate community:
In such times the Spirit of the Church must reveal himself; and the
Spirit of the Catholic Church verifies himself most beautifully here
(when barbarism was threatening the Church). The Spirit built up a
remarkable whole in which one member hastened to the help of
another suffering member; the powers of the most remote areas of the
same Church seemed to concentrate themselves here to manifest a
most impressive model of unity: it is easy for such a thing to happen
in the Church, since it looks u on itself as a community bound by
the same faith and the same love.!L
Here there is evidence of the confluence of two ideas in Mohlers thought:
the idea that the Spirit guides the Church continually in its history (Drey)
and the idea that the Church is a community of members united by Gods
love (Sailer).
There is another important reversal in Mohlers thinking about the Church
in these early writings. Emphasis on the communal nature of Christianity
rises to such prominence that the hierarchical authorities are now viewed as
subject to a great extent to the members of the Church whom they serve.
So much is Mohler influenced by Romantic political scientists such as Fried-
rich Savigny, that the hierarchy become fungiblen Personen or officiating
persons whose function is to minister to the faith which lives in the whole
Christian people; teachers in the Church must be qualified, and must be
sensitive to the needs of those who equally share the truth of revelation with
them; priests and laymen have the same vocation, and are given the same
grace of salvation; all have a common goal, and no member of the Church
should be considered more worthy because he holds an office.23 In the
review of Katerkamps book quoted above, Mohler cites incidents in the
history of the Church when bishops were more interested in wars and the

22 Mohler, op. cit.,ThQ V (1824), p.370.

23 Cf. Mohlers reviews of Handbuch des katholischen und protestantischen Kirchen-
rechts by Sebald Brendel in ThQ V (1824), p.106 and of Der Heilige Johannes Chrysos-
tomus und die Kirche, besonders des Orients, in dessen Zeitalter by A. Neander in ThQ
V (1824), p.271.
54 PHILIP J . R O S A T O , S.J.

niceties of court life than in the mysteries of salvation and grace. Mohler
observes that at times
the bishops were no longer the organ through which the old tradition
was kept alive. Did the tradition of the Church go astray because of
them? Yes, it did, if the true centre of the Church and its true guiding
principle was contained in them, as our author holds. But the true
guiding principle and true centre point of the Church, the Holy Spirit
. . . had already incorporated the tradition in symbols. . . which were
alive, and at the disposal of all Chri~tians.~
Sentences such as these led J.R. Geiselmann to make the comment that in
Mohler the crisis in theology that was going on in the Catholic Church of his
time comes to lucid expression. The two opposing currents of post-Tridentine
theology and Romantic theology clash together in one man in a surprisingly
short span of time, and create a tension in the mind of the young theologian
whose intellectual exuberance and confusion had to be reconciled in some
way. The fact that the unity of the Church appears in these writings to
rest on the mystical union of the community with Gods Spirit is a marked
departure from the more external notion of unity in the Kirchenrechtliche
Vorlesungen. If before the overpowering and lifeless supremacy of law in
the Church stifled any possibility of a Church of love, now the ardour of a
unity which springs from love seems to endanger the role of any kind of law
in the Church. Mohlers next work was aimed at synthesizing these two
opposing forces which were pressing hard on one another.*


In 1825 Mohler published his first major work, whose full title was Die
Einheit in der Kirche oder das Prinzip des Katholizismus Dargestellt im Geiste
der Kirchenvater der drei ersten Jahrhunderte. Later, after the book had
received both great praise and great criticism, Mohler explained his reason for
writing it as solely to defend the divine element in Christianity. Die
Einheit results from the tension of opposites which has already been dis-
covered in his Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen and his lengthy reviews in the
Theologische Quartalschrift between 1823 and 1825. But, seen on a broader
scale, it represents a dialectical encounter between the Deistic world left to
men, and the Romantic world penetrated by God. This first major work
24 Mohler, op. cit., ThQ IV (1823), p.499.
2s Stephan Losch. Gesamrnelte Akten von J.A. Mohler (Miinchen, 192R), 1,
pp.25 1--52. Cf. also: Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, pp.151-52.
2 6 Paul-Werner Scheele, Einheit iind Glaube: Johann Adam Mohlers Lehre von der
Einheit der Kirche und Ihre Bedeurung fur die Glaubensbegriindung (Miinchen, 1964),
27 Cf. Mohlers introduction to the first edition of Symbolik, Geiselmanns edition,
p. 12.

brings into theological dialogue the transcendence of God which is stressed

in the former and the immanence of God which characterizes the latter.
Mohler tries in Die Einheit to achieve a balance between the two
antithetical ideas, but what results is definitely a bias towards the Romantic
pole, especially towards the interactive notion of God and man known as
Panentheism; man is not neben Gottsein but rather in G o t t ~ e i n .Thus,
in Die Einheit Mohler consistently reverses the outer-inner dynamic which
distinguished the lectures on canon law. The movement von aussen hinein
was too mechanistic and superficial to describe the living In living
things the dynamic is just the opposite; life proceeds from inner to outer,
so that the Church must be understood in terms of a von innen heraus
The. body of the Church built itself up in a truly organic fashion from
the inside to the outside, as the exterior form of an interior active
power, not from the outside to the inside according to the manner in
which stones and all other inorganic masses are formed, to which beings
- devoid of all life, spirit and power - some would compare the
Church of God; these theologians seem to be able to find nothing but
a lifeless and contingent model by which to explain the
Mohler now clearly views all the external aspects of the Church as flowing
from the internal life of the individuals who make up the community. Teach-
ing, cult and institution come to life only after the community of the Church
brings them to existence as expressions of interior belief. This concept of
the visible Church is diametrically opposed to the primary stress on external
realities as formative of interior faith in the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen.
Mohler goes on, however, to criticize somewhat the Romantic notion of
the Church which he developed in his written publications before Die Einheit.
Even though those writings were more mystical in character, Mohler sees a
shortcoming in them now; they suggested that the Spirit was present to the
Church only at particular times or in particular persons, just as he came and
went at the dawn of Christianity. But to restrict the Spirit in this way results
in a mystical individualism, which could hardly serve as the foundation for
an organis notion of the To counteract this rather limited under-
standing of the action of the Spirit in the Church, Mohler turns in Die Einheit
to a more thoroughly organic model of the Christian community than he
originally had done to offset the mechanistic tendencies in his lectures on

28 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.153.

29 Geiselmann, Einheit, Introduction, p.56.
30 Geiselmann, Der Wandel des Kirchenbewusstseins p.574.
3 1 Einheit, Geiselmanns edition, ch.56. Further references t o this work will be given
in the text by reference to the chapter numbers in parentheses. (Translations by the
author of this paper).
32 Geiselmann, Einheit und Licbe, p.156.

canon law.
The Spirit is now to be conceived as the divine formative principle of the
Church, in the sense that he himself unifies the community of believers;
it is his work alone, for only the power of his love, and not some external
command, can create unity among Christians. Over against the rationalistic
concept of Christianity as a society of autonomous individuals, to whom the
Spirit may come and go, Mohler now asserts that the whole Church lives one
life, ein grosses Gesamtleben (Einheit, l), in the Spirit; each member gives
this life to the others (Einheit, 27) by the action of the Spirit from within
him. The visible Church does not form the individual believer, but the
community of believers, who share the one life of the Spirit, are the ones
who form others and thus build up the Church (Einheit, 49).
Such a mystical description of the Church, however, does not cause
Mohler to relegate the visible Church to a merely secondary role. This is the
fascinating aspect of his first synthesis. The stress on the presence of the
Spirit underlines the necessity of the visible Church, for without the latter
the invisible action of the Spirit would have no visible embodiment in the
world. Like all living organisms, the Spirit, or life-giving principle of the
Church, must have a means by which to manifest his existence:
So with the Christian Spirit: he would only, if I may use the expression,
wander around in doubtful and invisible appearances, without being
able to recognize himself as the Christian Spirit, and without being able
to make himself known to others, because he would have no true
existence (Einheit, 49).
According to Mohler, the visible Church is the community of men, in
whom the Spirit not only works, but in whom he actually takes on visible
appearance. No individual person or institution can any longer claim that it
alone possesses the Spirit, for he is the common possession of all those in
whose faith, hope and love he takes on visibility. Christians do not individ-
ually possess the Spirit; rather they commonly share in the same divine life
because of the presence of the Spirit in them. The visible Church is a symbol
of the Spirit-given love by which Christians live for the other and with the
other.33 The social institution of the Church is nothing but embodied love,
verkoiperte Liebe (Einheit, 64).
Mohlers originality in Die Einheit consists in joining together in one work
the most progressive Catholic and Protestant thought of his time. If Drey
enabled Mohler to envision the history of the Church as a gradual evolution
of the seeds of revelation, and if Sailer gave him the insight that the inner
and outer aspects of the Church come together in the Pauline concept of the
Body of Christ, it was Friedrich Schleiermacher who influenced Mohlers

33 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.158.


notion that the inner consciousness of man is the locus of Gods action. It
was through a confluence of these sources that Mohler was able to bring the
visible and the invisible, the human and the divine together.34 It was the
germinal insight of Schleiermachers quasi-mystical consciousness of the One
who underlies and expresses himself in the Many which was especially helpful
to Mohler in his effort to synthesize the visible and the invisible aspects of the
In Die Einheit Mohler asserts that what is usually associated with
the visible Church - teaching office, cult and institution - is the somatol-
ogy of the Church; but external forms can only come alive through the
invisible action of the Spirit who is the divine pneumatological principle in
the Church; somatology, therefore, is completely dependent on pneumatol-
ogy. Nothing external can be simply identified with the essence of the
Church. The Spirit of God is alone the essence of the visible community
(Einheit, 8).
Thus, Die Einheit is characterized by three basic shifts of direction because
of Mohlers new-found vision of the pneumatocentric nature of the Church;
it moves from the individual to the communal, from the homogeneous to the
diversified and from the static to the dynamic. The first movement, from the
individual to the communal, is inspired by the Romantic desire to escape
from the narrow confines of Einzeldusein to the harmonious unity with
others and with the whole universe, E i n ~ s e i n When
. ~ ~ Mohler applies this
notion to the Church, he realizes that the reconciliation and atonement with
Christ is
at the same time an atonement with all the others who have been
reconciled, that is, with the community of the Church; in this unity of
our life with the life of all the others who have been reconciled, we
become aware of our true reconciliation with Christ for the first time;
for in that harmony of the individual life with the universal life (des
Individual- mit dem Universalleben) is our union with God (Einheit, 3 1).
The Spirit of Christ overcomes individual barriers in the Church, and makes
each individual aware of his participation in the life of all.
The second shift in Mohlers thought is from a homogeneous to a diversi-
fied notion of the Church. When the Romantics speak of a communal
experience, Gemeinschaftserlebnis, they do not mean to destroy with that
notion the unique qualities of each individual in the community; rather, it is
only from union with something greater than himself that an individual can
attain a deeper awareness of the singularity of his own existence. Schleier-

34 Geiselmann, Einheit, Introduction, pp.69-70.

35 Frederick Cdpleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, VII: Fichte to Nietzsche
(London, 1963), pp.157-58.
36 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.169.

macher in his Monologeri uses this argument to refute the very narrow con-
cept of the person which prevailed during the E r ~ l i g h t e n m e n t .In
~ ~apply-
ing this idea in Die Einheit, Mohler states that the Church only becomes a
living organism when it contains diverse tensions which result from the
unique individuality of each member of the community:
Indeed, the whole would cease t o be a living being, if the singular
life of the individuals, in which the whole consists, were t o be lost;
precisely through the diverse singularities of the individuals and through
their free development and unhindered movement, does the Church
become a living organism which flourishes and grows in a marvellous
way (Einheit, 35).
The third notable shift in Die Einheit, from the static to the dynamic,
was perhaps the most important for Mohlers attempt at a thoroughly
pneumatocentric vision of the ecclesiai community. It has been shown that
Mohler had already broadened his notion of the individual with the help of
Schleiermachers insight into the organic unity of all living reality. J.R. Geisel-
mann points out, however, that Schleiermachers notion of unity in the
Church is characterized by a stress on the spatial - the individual member in
relation to the whole organism which is spatially present to it. With his idea
that the Church is becoming, Mohler now moves from spatial categories to
temporal ones. He is influenced here by Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich
Schlegel, whose historical notions of man he now incorporates into his
theology of the Church.38 In Die Einheit, therefore, Mohler begins to favour
the historical perspective which was to characterize all of his later thought.
Christianity does not reestablish itself in each age, as though it had no
necessary link with what went before it and with what was to be its future.
In Mohlers eyes, thc Church must be seen as the uninterrupted historical
community which bears Christs legacy of grace and salvation to men because
of the mystical presence of his Spirit as its continuous life-giving principle.
Before passing on to Mohlers further works, a pause should be made
here, so as to highlight the unique contribution of Die Einheit to the history
of Catholic ecclesiology. In effect Mohler had moved from the pyramidal
model of the Church which marked his lectures on canon law in favour of a
decidedly elliptical model. Instead of a static ecclesiological paradigm which
is primarily juridical and externalist, Mohler developed an organic, tension-
fdled conception of the Church as an ongoing pneumatogenesis, a living con-

Ibid., p.175; cf. also Geiselmann, Die Katholische Tubinger Schule: Ihr
Theologische Eigenart (Freiburg, 1964), p.173; Karl Bihlmeyer, Mohler und die
Kirchengeschichte, in Die Eine Kirche, ed. by Herrnann Tuchle (Paderborn, 1939),

tinuation of the Pentecost event, by which the Spirit of Christ permanently

vitalizes his Body the Church and draws its members into an intimate
relationship with the glorified Son of God.3g Central t o this new conception
of the Church is the bipolar structure which undergirds it. The one focus is
the objective foundation of the Church in the incarnation and glorification
of Jesus Christ at a specific point in time; the other is the subjective
appropriation of those events as they are present to mankind thereafter in
the visible elements of the Church. The ellipse which is drawn around these
two foci is the work of the Holy Spirit, the life principle of Christ and of his
Church. Christian history brings about a synthesis of the two central moments
of past and present which must be kept in perpetual tension. The members
of Christs Body are to realize in time, through the work of the transcendent
Spirit, a free acceptance of the Fathers gratuitous presence to the world in
the incarnation of his Son.
In a later work entitled Einleitung in die Kirchengeschichte Mohler
expressed the interrelationship which Christian history creates between the
work of Christ and the work of man:
Christian history is the eternal plan of God with mankind which
continually unrolls itself in time, by which God prepares for himself
through Christ a deserving honour and glory, which is brought about by
the free homage of man
It is precisely the Holy Spirit who is God in so far as he guides mankind
towards giving free homage to the Father through a participation in the
honour and glory which Christ himself continually gives to his Father. In Die
Einheit Mohler had made a radical departure from previous ecclesiological
treatises by stressing the invisible and hidden action of the Spirit penetrating
through the visible facts of church history so as to incorporate mankind into
an ongoing Pentecost, a gifted yet free entrance into Christs legacy of grace
and salvation. Mohler himself was soon to go beyond this original pneumato-
centric conception of the Church for the sake of an explicitly christocentric
model. Catholic theologians in the 20th century, however, would return to
Die Einheit and acclaim it as the work which marks the apex of Mohlers
creativity and provocativeness.

3 9 Geiselmann, Einheit, Commentary, p.587; cf. also George Gilmore, op. cit.
(n.2 above), pp.193-202.
40 Mohler, Gesammelte Schriften und Aufsatze. ed. Johann Dollinger (Regensburg,
1839), 11, 263.
60 P H I L I P J . R O S A T O . S.J.


In the Symbolik oder Darstellung der dogrnatischen Gegensatze der

Katholiken und Protestanten nach offeritlichen Bekenntnisschriften, Mohler
achieves his final theological synthesis by introducing categories of Christ-
ology into ecclesiology . If the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen could be
characterized as leaning towards Nestorianism by insisting on the human
aspects of the Church and if Die Einheit could be seen as heading towards
Monophysitism by almost absorbing the human into the divine, the Symbolik
is Mohlers attempt to situate an ecclesiology between these two extremes by
use of an analogy with the hypostatic union?l MoNer comes upon this
solution through the realization that, though both human and divine elements
are operative in the Church, there can be no false union of the two, just as
there is none between the human and the divine natures of Christ; the two
natures remain separate in their unity. Likewise, it is necessary to avoid a
false separation of the human and divine elements in the Church; they are
operative together just as the two natures of Christ are one in their
It is immediately clear that with the publication of the Symbolik in 1832
Mohler made a radical departure from the pneumatocentric vision of Die
Einheit in der Kirche. What accounted for this surprising breakdown of his
first major synthesis? In brief, Mohler believed that he had stressed the
divine element in the Church almost to the exclusion of the human in Die
Einheit. He reached this conclusion as he wrote Athanasius der Grosse in
1827 and realized that his former notion of the Spirit bordered too closely
on pantheism, in that it was overly dependent on the immanentist exaggera-
tions of Schleiermacher and HegeL4 Mohler thus felt that he had to reassert
the absolute transcendence of the Spirit and the concomitant freedom of
man either to encounter that transcendence or to flee from it. Thus he wrote:
If many Fathers said that the Holy Spirit is truly in us, they meant
nothing else than that he himself works in us who receive him in
freedom, and who can also drive him away again through the sin which
we commit in freedom; he is therefore different from us, although all
that is good in us comes from him, through him and in him.43
It is clear that Mohler is reacting strongly here to the Romantic organol-
ogy of Die Einheit. He was now convinced that the Church is not involved
in a ceaseless evolution into a void, but that it is caught up in an endless

41Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.192.

42Geiselmann, Der Wandel des Kirchenbewusstseins, p.6 16.
43Mdhlcr, Athanasius der Grosse und die Kircke seiner Zeit besonders im Kampfe
mi? dem Arianismus (Mainz, 1827), I , 323. Further references will be given in the tcxt
in parentheses. (Translations by the author of this paper).

renovation of its fundamental relationship to the historical person of Christ.

Through his Spirit Christ brings man back t o the fullness of the beginning:
Salvation and sanctification in Christ and the Holy Spirit is a represen-
tation of the beginning, a return t o the beginning. Therefore the expres-
sions: rebirth. new creation, new man. This is so, because man origin-
ally was how he was again t o become through Christianity, since the
Father in the Son with the Holy Spirit was already active at the
beginning. (Athanasius I, 321).
Thus Mohler breaks off his adherence to Schleiermachers internalist and
pietistic concept of the Spirit and gives his new ecclesiological synthesis a
distinctly christocentric character.44
Another significant reversal of his earlier thinking which Mohler makes
during this period after Die Einheit is most clearly expressed in a treatise
entitled Anselm, Erzbischof von Canterbury, which appeared in 1828. It is
through an analysis of Anselms reflections on the innate consciousness of
God w h x h man possesses, and also on mans need for the external, objective
order of things to complete his knowledge of God, that Mohler departs from
the inner-outer dynamic of Die Einheit and insists on the primary import-
ance of the outer-inner dynamic of the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen.
It thus seems as though Mohler himself was returning to the point where his
ecclesiological reflections began. The reason for this last change is that Mohler
now saw the danger inherent in Schleiermachers notion of Gemeingefuhl,
o r common feeling, as the starting point of religious experience; it is too sub-
jective, and limits outer reality t o a mere representation of the inner4
Mohler was intensively searching for some more objective ground for his
ecclesiology, in order to counteract what h e eventually saw as the excessive
subjectivism of Die Einheit.
From this point on, that ground is Christ who meets man in a tangible way
in his visible Church:
It was so clear t o Anselm that the divine truth must meet man, a finite
creature, in an external way as teaching and instruction, if his natural
tendency towards reasonableness is t o develop t o self-conscious
maturity. This divine truth, which offers itself from outside, must be
accepted through faith, which is according to Anselm the second con-
dition for the reasonable natural tendency of man t o transcend him-
self and to come t o knowledge.46

4 4 Geiselmann, Die Theologische Anthropologie J.A. Mohlers (Freiburp, 19551,

4 5 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.187.
46 Mohler, Anselm, Erzbischof yon Canterbury: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis des
religios-sittlichen, offentlichkirchlichen und wissenschaftlichen Lebens im elften und
zwolften Jahrhundert, in Gesamnzelte Schrqren und Aufsatzr I, p.137. (Tr. b y present
author; cf. Eng. tr. by H . Rymcr, The Life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterburv
[London, 18421 pp.132-33).
62 PHILIP J . R O S A T O , S.J.

Thus, Mohlers new-found interest in incarnational christology as a correc-

tive to purely subjective criteria for knowledge about God was due essentially
to the critical distance which the study of Athanasius and Anselm afforded
him over against the religious idealism of Schleiermacher and Hegel.
Yet it does not seem that Mohler rejected every aspect of Hegelian thought
as he came to write the Symbolik. Karl Eschweiler suggests that, while
Mohler rejected the Idealism of Hegel as a threat to mans freedom, he tried
to enter into dialogue with Hegel by adopting his theory of objective mind,
in order to ground his own ecclesiology after Die Einheit on a more objective
foundation than Schleiermachers notion of c ~ n s c i o u s n e s s Objective
.~~ mind
(objectiver Geist) can be defined as an objective rule for an individual and
free person as to the way of acting in the concrete, which goes beyond the
subjective criteria of his own spirit, and which guarantees that his actions
are good.Eschweiler argues that Mohler took over the theory of objective
mind, since it constituted a synthesis of subjective religiosity with objective
value. This concept was to help Mohler surpass the subjectivism of Die
Einheit, and link the experience of the individual Christian to the external
objective truth of Christ as it is preserved and taught in the Once
Hegels theory of objective mind, as a synthesis of objectivity and experience,
is joined to Anselms insistence on the need for tangible reality as a comple-
ment to innate knowledge and to Athanasiuss stress on the transcendence of
the Spirit of Christ, the christocentric nature of Mohlers Symbolik becomes
In light of this historical background it is now possible to comprehend
what Mohler meant in the Symbolik as a whole and in the one phrase which
has since his lifetime become synonymous with Mohlers entire ecclesiology.
This phrase is his controversial analogy between the Church and the
hypostatic union in the Symbolik:
The visible Church is the Son of God as he continually appears in
human form among men, as he renews himself steadily, as he
rejuvenates himself eternally; the Church is the,continuing incarnation
(andauerndr Fleischwcrdung) of the Son of God; just like the whole
Church, the faithful are also called in the Scriptures the Body of

47 Eschweiler, J.A. Mohlers Kirchenbegriff (n.3 above), p.78.

48 Eschweiler, pp.85-86 and Nienaltowski, J.A. Mohlers Theory.. . (n.2 above),
4 9 Symbolik oder Darstellung der dogmatischen Gegensatzen der Katholiken und
Protestanten nach ihren offentlichen Bekenntnisschriften,ied., intr, and comm. by J.R.
Geiselmann (Darmstadt, 1958), I , p.389. (Tr. by present author; cf. standard Eng. tr.,
Symbolism, tr. J.B. Robertson [ 1 8 4 3 ; e d . 6 , London, 18941, p.260).

Seen in the context of Mohlers conscious attempt in the Symbolik to

denounce any ecclesiological identification of God and man and at the same
time to leave room for human freedom in the Church, the confusion over
whether the phrase andauernde Fleischwerdung implies an identification of
the Church with Christ or an analogy between the Church and Christ is
astounding. Mohler obviously was making a comparison between the
Church and the incarnate Christ, not an identification of Christ with the
Church, since he intended to show that the Church is like Christ himself, in
that it consists of both a divine and a human c o m p ~ n e n t .What
~ ~ Mohler
was trying to achieve was a dialectical relationship between the visible and the
invisible, the human and the divine in the Church. To do this he stated
that the human freedom so essential to the Christian community must be
seen in connection with the continual action of Christ in the sphere of the
Church through his Spirit. In no way did the Symbolik advocate an
equation between Christ and the Church.
According to Mohlers Symbolik, Christ works in the Church in two ways;
though all of his work is invisible, one aspect of his work is subjective, and
the other is objective: he works subjectively by sharing his life with believers
through his Spirit, and he works objectively by preserving the gifts of revela-
tion in the teaching authority, cult and institutions of the visible Church.
Therefore, for Christs subjective and objective ways of working in the
Church to be intimately united, it is necessary that the interior subjectivity
of the individual be in conformity with the objective criteria of truth which
are found in the visible Church. Subjective unity with Christ implies an
objective unity with the visible Church (Symbolik, 37). Love is therefore the
crown and conclusion of the process of justification through the dialectic in
which the objectivity of law and the subjectivity of grace are resolved into an
interior unity in each member of the Church. Love is no longer the Romantic
notion of the individual raising himself from his isolation into the Mitleben
of the community, as Mohler had described it in Die Einheit. Love is now
the objectivity of law in subjective form, or the subjectivity of grace fulfilled
by the objective content of law.52 Christ is continued and remains in the
Church, therefore, by his hidden work in ail elements of the community,
which men have to recognize and bring to unity through love.
From all that has been said, the meaning of the continuing Incarnation
(andauernde Fleischwerdung) can be summarized in this way: ( I ) Mohler
had been wrestling from the beginning of his career as a theologian with the

50 Cf. Hans Kiing, The Church, tr. R. and R. Ockenden (London, 1967), p.240
51 Kasper, Die Lehre von der Tradition in der romischen Schule, pp. 140-42.
52 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, pp.199-200.
64 P H I L I P J. R O S A T O , S . J .

connection between the divine and the human aspects of the Church; at first
he seemed t o say that the Church was predominantly a human institution;
then in Die Eiiiheit he seemed t o maintain that the Body of Christ was so
caught up in the Spirit as t o be almost divine; now he derives an insight from
the history of the christological controversies of the first three centuries into
a manner of describing the two aspects of the Church in a balanced and
undistorted way: the hypostatic union. This cannot be interpreted t o mean
that the Church is Christ, for that was the error into which Mohler thought
that Die Eitzheit had fallen. Therefore, the only proper conclusion seems to
be that Mohler was making an analogous statement when he alluded t o the
Church as the continuing In~arnation.~(2) When Mohler uses the words
continuing, is being continued and remaining, he does not mean that
Christ is t o be identified totally with any particular fijrrn o f the Church a t
any period in its development, but he is insisting that Christ works through
the visible institution of the Church, as well as he works in individuals.
It is true that Mohler stresses law and authority in the Syrnbolik as objective
realities in the Church which must become subjective, but he does not mean
to imply that Christ is any of the authorities, rituals or institutions, in and
through which he works,so that the benefits of revelation may come t o men.
There is n o doubt that Mohler leaves himself open t o misunderstanding in
the Syrtzbolik for the very reason that, in trying t o correct former exaggera-
tions, he leans now t o o far in the opposite direction. His total intention is
t o mediate the two apparently irreconcilable factors - the objective law given
by Christ and the subjective freedom of Spirit - given grace - b y means of a
fusion of synthesis of the two into a higher unity of love. However, Mohlers
attempt at a synthesis has frequently been interpreted both by Catholics and
Protestants as an identification of Christ with the Church, so that whatever
the Church teaches and decides today becomes the teachings and decisions of
Christ. It thus seems that the deification which belongs properly to the
human nature of Christ is applied too readily by Mohler t o individual men or
institutions within the Church. Although a christocentric ecclesiology does
allow Christian faith repeatedly t o rejuvenate itself, as the history of
Christianity has shown, it can also lead t o a narrow understanding of the
Church as the prolonged person of Christ and thus t o an institutionally-
oriented ecclesiology. The Churchs goal can then be seen as rooting itself
in the world and so penetrating the world. as t o rule it.54 The danger of
overemphasizing Christs presence in the Church is ironically that the Church
seems t o take over the place of Christ.

5 3 H . Muhlen, Una Mystico Pcrsorra. 1 : 20.

5 4 Walter Kaspcr, Jesus der Chrisrus (Mainz. 1974), pp.29 and 309

Despite the misinterpretations to which the incarnational synthesis of the

Symbolik did easily lead, there are some elements in Mohlers book which
seem to have gained universal acclaim. One of these elements is the idea that
the truth of the beginning is present at each moment of the Churchs history,
so that the community can always be in touch with the fullness of its origin.
This is the germ of Mohlers historical thought, and it is most evident in his
reflections on tradition and on the development of dogma. Despite the
various extremes which his ecclesiological concepts both in Die Einheit and
in Symbolik are trying to overcome, one theme runs through both these
works and unites them in spirit: the Church is the means through which the
reality of the revelation which was originally given in Christ is continually
pre~ent.~Mohler realized that the message of truth which had been revealed
to the Church at its origin through a divine person could never be understood
as something accessible to man only for a moment, but as something which
is perennially present to him. If in Die Einheit that presence is chiefly the
work of God, in the Symbolik it is more the work of man, who by his
freedom must continually make the message of Christ present through
symbols in every age. The theme of the fullness of the beginning inspired
Mohler in his scholarly work to uncover in Church history the pattern by
which the eternal plan of God leads all things back to the newness of their
origin in Christ at each point in time.
A second key element of Mohlers Symbolik is its unpolemical, if still
totally Catholic, ecumenical concern.57 As the full title of the Symbolik
suggests, Mohler is particularly interested in exposing in this work the true
nature of both Catholicism and Protestantism. In light of what has been said
above about the role of the Church in making the original revelation of Christ
continually present, Mohler sees the true nature of Catholicism precisely in
the fact that it is the only Church which makes the whole of Christs teaching
available to men:
Since the Catholic Church views itself, (and this is the chief point),
as that foundation of the Lord, in which his teaching of salvation and
a true understanding of it have been passed on by the direct teaching
of the apostles and the power o f the divine Spirit, its claim to interpret
according to its rule of faith the sacred scriptures, in which the same

5 5 For Mohlers ideas on tradition, cf. J.R. Geiselmann, Lebendiger Glaube aus
geheiligter Uberlieferung: Der Grundgedanke der Theologie Johann Adam Mohlers
und der katholischen Tubinger Schule (Freiburg, 1966). On the development of dogma,
cf. H.R. Nienaltowski (n.2) and for a treatment of both topics, cf. J.R. Geiselmann,
Die Katholische Tubinger Schule (n.38 above).
56 Geiselmann, Einheit und Liebe, p.197.
5 7 Joseph Lortz, Geschichte der Kirche in ideengeschichtlicher Betrachtung
(Miinster, 1964), 11, p.369.
66 PHILIP J . R O S A T O . S . J .

doctrines of salvation under the guidance of the same Spirit have been
laid d o w n , perfectly agrees with the claims of a genuine historical and
grammatical exegesis; and it is precisely the most successful interpreta-
tior. of this kind, that would of necessity most faithully reflect its
doctrines (Svrnbolik, 42).58
In spite of the overly dogmatic tone of this passage, it is clear that Mohler
seeks to isolate the true nature of Catholicism here and throughout the
Svmbolik only to create a dialogue in which all Christian denominations will
come to a better understanding of the Church of Christ. J.R. Geiselmann
claimed that Mohlers deepest desire was the reunion of all the Christian
Churches. By honestly trying to pinpoint in the Symbolik the views which
separate the Churches from each other, Mohler was acutally hoping that,
through the mutual realization of the many things which unite them, the
Churches would come to understanding, that is, come to t h e r n ~ e l v e s .The
whole of the Symbolik, therefore, presents the Catholic and Protestant posi-
tions as antitheses, in the hope that, in dialectical fashion, each of the
Churches would come to recognize itself in a higher synthesis and thus head
towards a new unity as Christians.60 If the Protestant stress was more on a
pneumatic ecclesiology and the Catholic more on an incarnational one,
Mohlers works, taken as a whole, left open the possibility of some eventual
balance between the fullness of the beginning (christocentric thesis) and the
historical development of that fullness in the course of history (pneumato-
centric antithesis). To have recognized the possibility of a future reconcilia-
tion and to have prepared the way for it in his own writings was Mohlers
lasting achievement.



With the person of Johann Adam Mokler, Catholic theology emerged

from the barren rationalism of the Enlightenment and entered into a brief
period when it rediscovered itself as a lively discipline with a developing
tradition. Mohler had during his lifetime awakened the Church to a new
consciousness which has finally in this century led to a broadening and
and deepening development of Catholic theology. The remarkable character-
istics of his theological contribution are ( I ) that it was not carried on in

58 Ed. Geiselmann, pp.447-48; tr. Robertson, p.305.

59 Mohler, Uber die neueste Bekampfung der katholischen Kirche, Gesamrnelte
Schriften undAnsutze 11, 2 3 5 .
6 0 J.R. Geiselmann, Die Einheif der Kirche und die Wiedervereinigung der Konfes-
sionen (Wien, 1940), p.174.

isolation from the main current of thought in Germany, that is, from
Hegelian Idealism. Mohler did not shun an active involvement with those
who differed from him; (2) that it was an historical-critical search into the
past for new models with which to explicitate the nature of the Church.
Mohler did not simply take over the model of the Church as institution which
he inherited from the Enlightenment. Rather he offered Catholicism new
means of understanding itself and of developing its tradition; and (3 ) that it
raised in prophetic manner the tension between the definitive beginning of
Christianity and the necessity of unfolding that beginning throughout history.
Mohlers historical theology did more than direct the Church back to its
origins; it rediscovered the past only to move the Christian community
forward. A brief discussion of Mohlers intellectual openness, his creative
historical research and his dialectical methodology would fittingly close this
study of his ecclesiology.
Almost all commentators on Mohler point out that he did not take part in
negative polemics or in nervous apologetics. Long before the words uggiornu-
mento and dialogue had become fashionable, Mohler practised what was
meant by them. He entered into the mainstream of thought by admitting the
strength of his intellectual opponents and by learning from them. This may
have been his most practical accomplishment, for, if it had been carried
through, many of the difficulties which the later Neo-Scholastic restoration
caused would have been avoided.61 It seems that the best and most original
of Mohlers work was done not when he retrenched from the thought systems
of Schleiermacher and Hegel for fear that his contact with them would
relativize the meaning of Catholicism, but when he entered into dialogue with
the intellectual climate of his day and fashioned a theology which resonated
with it.
If the breakthrough in terms of the rediscovery of the notion of the
Mystical Body of Christ in Die Einheit in der Kirche strikes one today as even
more impressive than the Symbolik, it is perhaps because in that first major
synthesis Mohler was more daringly in contact with strains of thought most
conducive to overcoming the diluted idea of the Church as a religious society
which marked the Enlightenment. Mohler actually introduced into Catholi-
cism a poignant awareness of the deep problems which the Reformation had
first brought to light.62 By not running from them, but by offering a positive
apologetic based on Church history and an evolutionary understanding of
Christianity, Mohler produced an unusually profound defence of the organic
development of Catholicism.
61 Walter Kasper, Einfuhiungin den Glauben (Maim, 1973), p.22.
62 Lortz, Geschichre II, pp.368-69 and Karl Bihlmyer, Kirchengeschichte, 15. ed.
(Paderborn, 1951), 111, pp.328 and 369.

In the genesis of his own ecclesiology Mohler gradually passed through

what Avery Dulles has recently described as three main models of the
Church: the institutional, the mystical and the ~ a c r a m e n t a l .Mohler
~~ began
his career as a theologian by defending in his Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen
Bellannines institutional model of the Church. In Die Einheit Mohler made
use of the organic thought of Romanticism t o forge a thoroughly pneumatic
and mystical concept of Christian community. Furthermore, when Mohler
realized the inherent limitations of a totally pneumatocentric ecclesiology,
he was able to attempt a new synthesis of the outward and the inward, the
visible and the invisible, the human and the divine in the incarnational and
sacramental framework of the Symbolik.
There is no doubt today that Die Einheit, despite the understandable
difficulties which Mohler himself found with it, stands out as his most sig-
nificant contribution t o the pneumatic understanding of the Church. Mohlers
pneumatic ecclesiology has proved very influential in preparing Catholicism
for its unprecedented ecumenical openness and for the eventual recognition
at Vatican I1 of the ecclesial character of non-Catholic c ~ m m u n i t i e s . ~ ~
The reason for the high esteem which is given to Die Einheit is that it
afforded Catholicism the necessary pneumatocentric balance which could
offset the rigidity of the institutional model, open it to a more explicitly
biblical understanding of the Church as a living community and thus enable
both the visible and the invisible components of Catholicism to be brought
into a sacramental synthesis. That Mohler could channel positive historical
research towards serving as a liberating rather than a restricting factor for the
future of ecclesiology is the greatest tribute to his creative spirit.
Finally, a word must be said about Mohlers theological method which
actually accounted for his openness and his creativity. As was stated at the
start of this essay, his method was essentially dialectical; it sought to avoid
the extremes of centralization or individualism, objectivity or subjectivity,
institution or communion. All of the shifts in direction which have been
pointed out from the Kirchenrechtliche Vorlesungen to the Symbolik were
attempts to abstain from cornering ecclesiology into a single stance from which
it could not display its essential complexity. Mohler himself was torn between
a forward movement and a backward movement, between Die Einheit and
the Symbolik, between the definitive beginning of Christianity and the

Models of the Church (New York, 1974), pp.3 1-70.

Cf. Gregory Baum, The Ecclesial Reality of the Other Churches Concilium 4
(1965). pp.62-86: Walter Kasper, Dcr ckklesiolopische Charakter der nichtkatholischen
Kirchcn. T h o 145 (1965), pp.42-62; and Gustave Thils, Le D&et sur LOecurnen-
isme: Commentaire doctrinal (Paris, 1965). and L Eglise el les Eglises: Perspectives
nouvelles en oecumknisme (Paris, 1967).

unfolding of the fullness of that beginning in time. Rather than opt simply
for christocentrisrn over pneumatocentrism, for the already over the not
yet, Mohler kept these extremes in tension, so that Jesus Christ could
continually be recognized as a living presence in the Church through his
Spirit and thus be confessed as more than the mere instigator of
Christianity .6
It is true that Mohlers final synthesis did stress the fact that Jesus Christ
is the definitive beginning of Christianity, but Mohler obviously did not
intend with his incarnational emphasis to deny that the history of salvation
has not yet come t o its goal and that its completion is still unrealized. Mohler
was ready to entertain new questions, to wrestle with a contemporary proble-
matic and thus to redefine Catholicism so that, although the same thing was
being said, something different was also being added. This readiness on his
part shows that Mohler not only understood tradition, but was willing to
move the truths of the past into a new context which would inevitably
preserve them in modifying them.66 By letting himself be led from one
extreme to the other, Mohler was not being unfaithful to Catholic tradition
but was developing a theological method which has ultimately proved itself
to have been most applicable to and fruitful for the needs of the Church since
his lifetime.
Mohlers goal of unfolding the fullness of the beginning, besides offering
German Catholicism at the time a new way of entering into intellectual
debate with Protestantism, also became the model for the Catholic apologetics
which was carried on in America by Isaac Hecker and in England by John
Henry Newman and which then found its way into the Constitution on the
Church of Vatican 11. Essentially Mohler was pleading for a theology which
swelled up from below, and which thus brought the questions of the age, no
matter how disparate or challenging they were, to the critical judgement of
the tradition. Only by a consensus of the faithful could the tradition develop
its contents in a new d i r e ~ t i o n . ~ ~
Mohlers ecclesiology is so fascinating and thus so contemporary precisely
because he was not afraid to be bound by Scripture and by the tradition of
the Church and yet to go beyond Scripture and tradition into the intellectual
arena of his time, so as to sense where the tradition had to be developed if
it was to be a sign of the lively presence of the unique person Jesus Christ
in an ever-changing universal setting. The elliptical balance which Mohler

65 Kasper, Jesusder Christus, pp.41- 42.

66 Cf. Avery Dulles, The Survival of Dogma: Faith, Authority and Dogma in a
Changing World (New York, 1971), pp.190-91.
6 7 Kasper, Einfuhrung in den Glauben, p.125.
70 PHILIP J. R O S A T O . S.J.

fashioned out of the polarization which he personally felt between faithful-

ness to Christ in the Church and faithfulness t o the promptings of the Spirit
of God as manifest in his own milieu proved capable of a more full unveiling
of the unique nature of Catholicism than Neo-Scholasticism could. Mohler
was not content with reiterating anti-Reformational polemics in .a genera-
tion ready to go beyond the limits of confessional differences and
apologetical defensiveness as new possibilities for dialogue came into view.
These possibilities drove him to discover variegated ecclesiological models
which were not irrelevant to the central christological and pneumatological
bases of Christianity. As contemporary Catholicism struggles to root itself
in the total paschal mystery - the mystery of the spiritual power of Christs
resurrection at work in human history - Mohler directs attention away from
extremes and back to a delicate ecclesiological balance. Neither a rigid
christocentrism nor a formless pneumatocentrism will succeed, but only a
dialectical method poised between the historical person and mission of
Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of his person and mission in the work of his
Spirit. The method between christocentrism and pneumatocentrism means
a way of theologizing which unfolds new aspects of the fullness which
marked the beginning. At this point an interpretation of Mohlers ecclesiology
must necessarily become what his works themselves were: an incentive rather
than a last word.