God exists, yet he does not change. He is immutable in his essence as well as in each of the three persons. Certainly, creation changes in relation to God, and we may speak about that change in certain ways (e.g. we once were children of wrath but now are under grace), yet God remains unchanged. The Lord declared through the prophet Malachi, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed (Mal. 3:6).” Praise the Lord that we may seek him and find him. He will never change his mind and consume us in his wrath.
I recently watched The Two Popes, a film written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Fernando Meirelles available on Netflix. The movie recounts the relationship between Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Bergoglio through the death of Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger’s election to become Pope Benedict XVI, and his subsequent resignation and the election of Bergoglio to become Pope Francis. Surely, the creators have taken a measure of creative license in portraying the dialogue between the two men, but it serves the film well as it should. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins have each been nominated for Academy Awards, which would be reason enough for me to watch. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and found it moving and thought-provoking.
Prior to Benedict’s resignation, Cardinal Bergoglio had planned to retire. To do so, he wanted the approval of Benedict, who was more than a little reticent. Given many of Bergoglio’s simple lifestyle and public comments, Ratzinger felt Bergoglio’s retirement would be seen as a protest against Ratzinger and the conservative direction of the Catholic Church.
There is a powerful scene in which Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Bergoglio stroll through the garden of the Pope’s summer residence. They debate the status and direction of the church.
Ratzinger: “God does not change.”
Bergoglio: “Yes, he does. He moves toward us.”
Ratzinger: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Where should we find him if he is always moving?”
Bergoglio: “On the journey?”
Ratzinger: “Oh. . . This is your ego talking. You think you know better.”
There is more here than merely a difference in personality or philosophy of life. These two figures express vastly different approaches to theology proper.
The “real” Bergoglio has perplexed many during his tenure as pope. Much of what he says and the way in which he operates is understandable if you have studied the theological threads in Vatican II and one of the most significant theologians coming out of the Council. Pope Francis, a Jesuit, espouses a similar theological construct to that of Karl Rahner.
Around the time of Vatican II (1962–1965), Ratzinger and Rahner were set apart as something akin to theological nemeses. Personally, I would love to see a Ratzinger and Rahner sequel. Netflix, hear me out. Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Rahner’s theology is his Trinitarian axiom. The so-called “Rahner’s Rule” states, “the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity and vice versa” (Rahner, The Trinity [New York: Crossroad, 1997], 22). This is often misunderstood as modalism, but Rahner’s doctrine of the Trinity cannot be reduced to this. Rahner does not make the trinitarian persons change in relation to creation so much as he “eternalizes” them as modes of divine self-communication.
Son and Spirit are eternal, consubstantial persons of the Trinity. Yet, the Son as begotten and the Spirit as proceeding should be understood as self-communications of the “unoriginate” (think “unbegotten”) Father. Rahner leans heavily upon the Eastern tradition, which states that the Father communicates the divine essence to the Son and Spirit. Though falling with the ecumenical tradition, this is not Reformed [Update: see comments below]. Calvin, for example, affirmed that the Son is autotheos (God himself). He does not receive the divine essence from the Father. Rather, his begottenness refers specifically to his personality. What distinguishes the Son from the Father is not that the Son is derivatively divine, it is his incommunicable personal property of begottenness. The same could be said of the Holy Spirit, who is consubstantial and, according to the Western tradition, proceeds from both the Father and the Son.