"do we really do what we think we do? Or are the names of the Saints, of the Angels, of the humanity of Christ, just so many changing labels for us by which we--quoad nos--always mean only one and the same thing, which is conjured up by them, viz. God?
"Let us not put this question as a theoretical principle for all times, but as a question facing us today! In this form it is not so easy to answer. The man of previous ages may indeed have had a very obvious capacity for thinking out such types of numinous power and persons outside God, to such an extent that he was continually in danger of sliding into a theoretical or at least practical polytheism. But do we? Is it not precisely the reverse in our case? In our case, is not everything, which we conserve from the objective teaching of faith in this regard, reducible to different names always meaning the same thing, viz. God, the one and only being which has remained beyond our sensible experience of the world, and which is still left to us even after the disappearance of all other numinous realities? We should not be too quick to put our trust in the façade and traditional accoutrements of our piety. We should instead ask ourselves a few simple questions: who among us has ever really and genuinely realized in the Confiteor that he is confessing his sinfulness to Blessed Michael the Archangel, and that this really is not just a rhetorical amplification of a confession to God? Have we not really lost sight of our own deceased relatives? We pray for them perhaps, because this is the done thing and because we would otherwise have a bad conscience about it. But apart from that, if we are honest, they have ceased to exist for us. . . . Let us take a look at an average theological treatise on the Last Things, on eternal happiness. Does such a treatise mention even a single word about the Lord become man? Is not rather everything swallowed up by the visio beatifica, the beatific vision, the direct relationship to the very essence of God which is indeed determined historically by a past event--namely the event of Christ--but which is not now mediated by Jesus Christ? Does not this observation on the usual present-day theology (distinguishing itself in this from the old theology) show also that as far as our real capacity of realization is concerned, the whole world . . . is inexistent and is as it were swallowed up as far as we are concerned . . . by the blazing abyss of God, even when we do not admit it to ourselves and retain the opposite terminology, though almost in the same way in which we talk about Eros with his arrows? Who . . . still really prays today to the Saints . . . to his name-saint, to his guardian angel? One perhaps still honours a Saint (this is something quite different), a Saint whom one knows about historically, in his historical reality, just as the pagans honour their historically great men. But is the now living Saint a realized, i.e. not merely theoretically accepted, reality for us side by side with and apart from God, a reality which has its own independent actuality, on whose good will something [(etwas)] depends, with which one tries to establish personal contact, and which one tries to draw into one's really experienced world? Or does one merely use the word 'Angel' at one time, and Mary or the Sacred Heart or St Joseph at another time, and yet realizes in all this always the same thing, viz. the incomprehensibility and inappellable sovereignty of God to which one surrenders oneself completely, in fear and trembling and in love at the same time? Does not this and only this appear to us as as the religious act, while everything else appears merely as a colourful reflection of the unchangingly One, as a prismatic refraction of the one white light of God, which [refraction] in itself has no existence of its own? Why otherwise do we find it difficult today to believe in the legions of devils, and why do we prefer to speak abstractly about the 'diabolical', just as our pagan contemporaries--whom, behind a verbal façade, we often resemble much more than we should imagine--like to speak [also abstractly] of the 'saintly' or 'the divine'?"
Karl Rahner, "The eternal significance of the humanity of Jesus for our relationship with God [(Die ewige Bedeutung der Menschenheit Jesu für unser Gottesverhältnis)]" (1953), trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger, Theological investigations 3, The theology of the spiritual life (Baltimore, MD: Helicon Press, 1967), 37-38 (49-51 in the German).
The main point comes here: "It should . . . be a task of theology to think much more deeply, and in a much more vital manner than it has done up till now, about why, how and in what dependence of the basic religious acts on God, what it calls dulia (veneration), in contrast to latria (adoration), is in truth a genuinely religious act [(ein echter religiöser Akt)], and how, as such an act, it can and must be exercised more independently and not merely as an act which simply resolves itself into the act of latria" (42 (54-55 in the German)), such that "this humanity [of the Word] is essentially and always [(i.e. for all eternity)] the mediating object of the one act of latria which has God for its goal" (45 (58-59 in the German)). And all of this because the God we worship is not "a God without a world" (41 (54 in the German)): "The true God is not the one who kills so that he himself can live. He is not 'the truly real' which like a vampire draws to himself and so to speaks sucks out the proper reality of things different from himself; he is not the esse omnium. The nearer one comes to him, the more real one becomes; the more he grows in and before one, the more independent one becomes oneself. Things created by him are not maya, the veil, which dissolves like mist before the sun" (40 (53 in the German)).
Most potentially objectionable may be the phrase "a . . . reality for us side by side with and apart from God" (38 (50 in the German)). Yet Rahner locates this essay in a particular context, that of the mid-twentieth century, and implies repeatedly that, in an earlier, the danger was an idolatrous polytheism. What is more, he is also quite clear that the Christian God is one "who does not tolerate any strange gods before him (not even those in whose case one carefully avoids using the name of God)" (42 (55 in the German)).
I would be uncomfortable with this idea of attempting "to establish personal contact", were it not a question here, not of a "God-less" (41 (54 in the German)) world of the angels and saints, but of precisely that point "where the world has already found the finality of its eternal validity before God in the morning and evening summits of its spiritual history, i.e. in the angels and saints" (42 (54 in the German), italics mine).
Am I letting Rahner off the hook too easily? To this little pea of a brain it all coheres: what strikes the Protestant as reckless (the veneration of the angels, the saints, and maybe even the Sacred Heart), with what the Protestant most certainly should believe (that God and the world are not in a competition of any kind).