Inclusiveness of therapeutic relationships


We intend to show at least tentatively that an inclusive therapeutic approach to healing is possible based on the Christian message and anthropology. That means the possibility to offer methods of healing and spiritual growth originally formulated in Christian context to non-Christians. In this great help for us Karl Rahner’s view of the Church and the grace of Christ in the world, an inclusive vision that might be called also “Pneuma-Christocentrism” [1].

Let us begin with an example which will serve us as analogy. The “separation of church and state” (that religious views should not influence governments and vice versa that the state should not interfere in religious affairs) is an idea that has its roots in the Christian tradition, think on the answer of Jesus about the question of paying taxes to Caesar [2]: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. We see an example that if this original idea of distinction in the religiously neutral state is born with time, effectively it is a form of society that welcomes all faiths.

Applying this analogy on the mandate of the gospels to heal we arrive to the concept of a therapeutic effort that is neutral in a religious sense and reaches out to people of all walks of life based on the original universal mission toward all. One practical consequence of this openness is for different health care workers and chaplains motivated by their religious faith as well to offer their service and help to all and in the same time remaining “separated”, restraining themselves from “proselytizing” or “evangelizing”.

While the question of faith might be not always acute even if certainly present in some important way in the work of the physician, it becomes evidently crucial in dealings with the human psyche, soul and spirit. Once we arrived to accept the pneumatic dimension [3] in man on the base of our Christian anthropology we retain it as a universally present reality in every single human person. We know of the presence of the Holy Spirit in all human hearts, regardless of the professed faith or non-faith of the individual [4] and we know that we are inevitably dealing with this dimension also in our therapeutic efforts.

Not only in explicitly healing relationships can we appeal to the pneumatic core of each person but also we might accompany a non-believer even in such endeavors as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; of course, it would need a quite flexible, respectful and openhearted approach and presentation of the material of the reflections, but as Alex Lefrank S.J. pointed out: “what seems more important than the expression of belief or unbelief is interior openness, allowing oneself to enter upon the adventure of a personal search, of questioning and being questioned, in such a way that an answer may be received that exceeds my expectations”[5]. Although the Spiritual Exercises are in service of the interior process of spiritual growth their therapeutic and psychohygienic role is undoubtedly significant and in our opinion not only Catholics (or not only Christians) can find enormous benefit of the methods included in this process. All the methods even the prayer of contemplation can be introduced in feasible way to everyone open enough to engage in the adventure of search.

We clearly believe that the intimate identification with Christ, which is one of the main goals of the Spiritual Exercises, is not restricted to those who are incorporated in the Church but it is open for non-Christians and even for those who did not yet heard the name of Jesus Christ (see Mt 25:31-46). The reason is that Jesus realizes in himself what is the best in humanity and in consequence every human person can meet him even without knowing of the historical Jesus: “If Christology represents the unique fulfillment of anthropology it follows that everyone who fully accepts his life as a human being has thereby also implicitly accepted the Son of man. Hence…such an individual has already encountered Jesus Christ without knowing however that he had met with the person whom the Christians call Jesus of Nazareth”[6]

Karl Rahner poignantly stressed that one is permeated by the grace of Christ in every single spiritually and morally good act without the necessity that it should be performed for consciously supernatural motives: “It is quite possible to hold that as a matter of fact in all or nearly all cases where a genuine spiritually and morally good action is actually accomplished, it is also, in fact, more than merely such an act. The grace of Christ surrounds man more than we think, and is deeper, more hidden and pervasive in its application in the depth of his being than we often imagine. It is quite conceivable that wherever a human being really affirms moral values as absolutely binding, whether expressly or merely in the actual unreflecting accomplishment of his nature, intrinsically orientated as this is beyond and above itself towards the absolute mystery of God, he possesses that attitude of authentic faith (even if only virtually), (See on this point K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie III (Einsiedeln, 1956), p. 429) which together with love, suffices for justification and so makes possible supernatural acts that positively conduce to eternal life”[7].

We can say in other words that the human dimension is not merely human but more than that, and in fact permeated or animated by the pneumatic dimension, by the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of the continuity of Christ’s mission in the world after his death and resurrection and through whom Jesus Christ is present and operating in all human hearts. The recognition of the pneumatic dimension leads to a vision of Christ’s centrality through the Holy Spirit, to a Pneumatological Christocentrism, which renders possible to reach out effectively to people from other faiths with the means of healing and help our faith helped us to discover without the intention of “converting” them in religious sense.

When we use a therapy or a healing method grown out of the message of Christ [8] that has as its specific field the pneumatic dimension, we need to distinguish our approach to this dimension also from the religious goal whose primary aim, namely the eternal salvation of the individual according to a particular faith is in a certain sense different from our immediate goal of improving someone’s present life [9]. We can appeal in our view to the pneumatic dimension of a human person without recurring a particular faith or belief system since this all-encompassing core of the person is at work in every single moral or human act and the methods resulting from our approach can be presented and practiced not only in Christian context, similarly to the Spiritual exercises offered to non-believers, if enough openness and flexibility is present. In one word, methods like the mind-fasting and spirit-feasting of Christherapy [10] don’t require expressed faith in Jesus Christ to practice them, although since these methods reach the pneumatic dimension, the grace of Christ is at work in them.

When we deal also with realities that are specifically human, these are never restricted only on the “natural” level - to use this category - but are impregnated by the “supernatural” presence of God “from inside”. And when we turn to someone’s pneumatic dimension – like by prayer – we might as well communicate with all the other dimension of the person; this happens for example when in prayer we witness or receive healing on these different levels. It seems like as the bodily and psychic realms of the person constitute a psychosomatic reality in a similar way our noetic and pneumatic dimensions are inseparably intertwined, the whole person being encompassed by its spiritual, pneumatic core.

Most importantly, we can rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts when approaching others. It means that we can let God love the other also through our care and love and receive the guidance of the Spirit for how to help in words and deeds. This way we might still have an attitude of acceptance toward the other even when on psychological level we might find him or her not so compelling or hard to approach. In the climate of freedom we can also admit with peace of mind that we are not the one to help this particular person otherwise than by prayer and maybe advising him or her to seek assistance from an other source and let the person go. Of course, it does not mean a surge of feelings toward the person we care for, this is not what letting the Spirit love through us means. Seeing the qualities of a person in the best possible light - seeing them with the ‘eyes of God we could say -, will help to realize his or her ultimate possibilities. This is best expressed by to the aphorism of Goethe which Viktor Frankl quoted often: “If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming”[11].



[1] See in this regard Joseph H. Wong, “Anonymous Christians: Karl Rahner's Pneuma-Christocentrism and an East-West Dialogue” Theological Studies, Vol. 55, 1994.

[2] See Mt 17:15-22: ‘Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away’.

[3] See the presentation of the pneumatic dimension in Donald F. Tweedie, The Christian and the Couch. An Introduction to Christian Logotherapy, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1963) pp. 48-58.

[4] We don’t want to go here in discussion of the modalities of this presence as far as the effects of the baptismal grace on this indwelling of God, but remain at the general recognition of God’s presence in man.

[5] Lefrank – Giuliani, Freedom for Service, (Rome: World Federetion of Christian Life Communities, 1989) p. 18.

[6] Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) p. 49 in the chapter where the author presents Rahner’s “transcendental Christology from below”.

[7] See Karl Rahner, The Dynamic Element in The Church, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964) pp. 42-83.

[8] Such might be of Bernard Tyrrell’s Christotherapy (New York: Paulist Press, 1975) Christotherapy I and II (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999) or also the various charismatic healing services as the work of the Linns, described in Healing of Memories (New York: Paulist Press, 1974) and many other similar approaches.

[9] Cf. a similar distinction between the work of the psychotherapist and that of the priest in Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, (New York: Knopf, 1965) p. xiv. Of course, for us the concept of ‘healing’ in its broadest sense includes also the final stage of life, the fulfillment of human existence in the “beatific vision”, but let us distinguish for now the moment between healing and redemption.

[10] See the presentation of the mind-fasting and spirit-feasting in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p. 73-106 and in “Christotherapy II,” pp.126-128.

[11] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 7.