German Idealism and Cardinal Kasper’s Theological Project

In order to understand the positions taken by Cardinal Kasper at the Synod, it is necessary to familiarize oneself with the basic themes of his theology and the principles upon which it is based.

This lecture was given on November 4, 2014 in Vienna at an event organized by Una Voce Austria. It has been translated from the original German.

The Church is a stumbling block. This has always been the case—especially at the time of her establishment and her subsequent first development in the early Christianity of antiquity. This scandalous character of the early Church led to her persecution by the pagan world that surrounded her. The “early Church” much touted in the last few decades was thus characterized by a resolute opposition towards “the world,” countless Christians having paid the price with martyrdom. The Church is founded on the blood of martyrs, also on that of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, who gave their lives for their fidelity to Catholic teaching on marriage in England in the 16th century.

Does this mean, however, that the Church is indifferent or even hostile to the world, as many insinuate about her? No, this is not at all the case. We must, however, distinguish between two concepts of the world. “World” can signify the worldly reality that emerged from the creative plan of God, and that is thus essentially good. In New Testament language, however “world” also indicates the fallen world and those forces within the world that seek to ensnare human beings. In this world, fallen as a result of original sin, we live in a reality that is determined by the attributes of both concepts of “world.” The New Testament and the early Christian opposition to the world obviously is not directed against the world which conforms to the order of creation and her natural order, but only against those worldly powers which are opposed to the divine order of the world, which also includes the sexual order.

Since the middle of last century, we have encountered in certain currents within the theology of the Western industrialized countries, however, a decidedly optimistic attitude with respect to the world or—we can formulate it more accurately—with respect to the form that the world has assumed in modern times. One of the characteristics of this form of the world is modernity’s optimistic assessment of its own future prospects. Although in recent decades, a change in mentality with respect to history has taken place in secular culture, leading to a sharp decline in world-affirming optimism, nevertheless within the Church theological movements are again prominent which remain trapped in the optimistic paradigms of the middle of the last century.

The recent Synod of Bishops, which was concerned with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, and therefore also with sexual morality, provides a striking example of this fact. One of the key opinion leaders in this Synod was Walter Cardinal Kasper, one of the most influential theologians of the second half of the last century. In order to understand and evaluate the positions taken by Kasper at the Synod and also in the run-up to the Synod, it is necessary to familiarize oneself with the basic themes of his theology and the principles and axioms on which his theology is based. This presentation will try to contribute to an understanding of Kasper’s principles from a philosophical point of view.

In this presentation I will focus on a work the second edition of which was published by Kasper in 1972, Einführung in den Glauben – An Introduction to Christian Faith.[1] I focus on this work for two reasons. Firstly, Kasper’s Introduction has exercised a great influence on theology and especially on students of theology. Secondly, it offers the advantage of presenting in a clear and concise way, in the form of a short lecture series, the basic structure of the theological system that Kasper develops in the very extensive body of his work.

We will concentrate here on the philosophical, that is, the pre-theological foundations of Kasper’s theology, since his philosophical principles and axioms determine the basic structure of his theology. The core of this philosophical foundation is—in my opinion—Kasper’s account of the relationship between truth and historicity.

Following Troeltsch,[2] Kasper is convinced that the encounter presently taking place between theology and history brings far greater problems than the encounter between theology and the natural sciences, which has already been long completed.[3] Kasper illustrates his conviction with a basic experience of contemporary human beings. He writes:

We are presently experiencing a radical “historicalisation” of all areas of reality. Everything is involved in upheaval and change; hardly anything fixed or solid is left. Not even the Church and its understanding of the faith have escaped this historical transformation.[4]

The radical historicalisation of all areas of reality as maintained by Kasper has its origin in the actual course of European intellectual history. And the course of intellectual history is itself an example of the change that it brought about. Kasper argues that the original formulation of the Christian faith was not yet historicalied: “The reason is that the Church and its basic creeds acquired their form in the ancient world.”

Ancient thought took it as a principle that reality has a wholly determined eternal essence governed by law, an eternal order, which also determines all processes of change. “History was a phenomenon within the framework of an encompassing order.”

Thus history was not a major intellectual problem in antiquity. The situation is different, however, in modern times and the historicism characterizing them, which—prepared by humanism—finally began to break new ground in Romanticism and German idealism at the beginning of the 19th century. Kasper characterizes the resulting paradigm shift as a “revolution,” describing its result as follows:

For modern thought, […] history is not a moment in an encompassing order; on the contrary, every order is a moment which the next instant makes it relative. In this view reality does not have a history; it is itself history through and through.[5]

This revolution of historical consciousness had a necessary prerequisite:

History could not be experienced as history until historical tradition was no longer an automatically lived reality, but was felt as a past which had to be surmounted, which people were striving critically to get beyond [….] This meant a relativization of the previous argument from authority, and presented a fundamental challenge to the absolute validity of sacred documents.[6]

Since Kasper does not contradict the conclusions of the intellectual development that he describes, it seems that he is willing to accept them, and he even grants a normative significance to this historical evidence, stating:

The things that happen in history are theologically not mere stirrings on the surface of an eternal ground of being, not a fleeting shadow of the eternal, but the real nature of “things” themselves. There is no metaphysical structure of order to be disentangled from all the detail of history and salvation history. […] History is the ultimate framework of all reality.[7]

Of course, in the final analysis, humanity cannot remain excluded from this historicalization:

What is said in the idealist philosophy of the absolute spirit is said in the existentialist philosophy of man.  Man does not just live in a history which remains in some way external to him; on the contrary history is [….] the make-up of man [….] [man] is profoundly historical.[8]

Kasper’s premises lead to a thorough historicalisation of cosmic reality as well. He asks what is “the nature of the reality in terms of which we have to articulate our faith today,” and he answers:

Today it is clearly not a given nature, a universe which encompasses us, but a reality which human labor, civilization, and technology are helping to shape. Human activity is a constitutive element in the make-up of this reality. This reality is mediated through society.[9]

And again:

the world is not finished, but involved in a continuous process in which man and the world mutually change and affect each other. It is not an eternal natural order, but a historical world.[10]

That is, there is no unappealable objectivity in the sense of the classical concept of physis (nature); even material reality and its order are the product of historical processes. (This, incidentally, is a central thesis of the post-modern gender theorist, Judith Butler.)

But if history is thus radically thought of as the last horizon of all reality, this cannot remain without consequences for the notion of truth. And Kasper therefore approvingly cites Hegel’s three most famous statements about the concept of truth:

For Hegel, truth is the whole. “But the whole is nothing other than essence consummating itself through its development”; “The True is thus the Bacchanalian revel in which no member is not drunk.”[11]

“The historical attitude of recent centuries” according to Kasper, however, “owes something to the historical faith of the Bible; it is something like a secularized version of it.” [12] Therefore he argues that the modern historical attitude is closer to the “Scriptural understanding of truth” [13] than classical philosophy’s understanding of truth was.

“Unlike other widespread concepts of truth, truth in the Bible,” Kasper maintains, “is not simply a question of finding agreement between thought and reality (adaequatio rei et intellectus [14]). Biblical truth is rather an event in which the original presupposition is proved valid. Truth cannot, in the Biblical sense, be retained. It would be more correct to say that it presents itself and that it is directly connected with history.” [15]

However as the biblically inspired and secularized historicity of Hegel, to which Kasper refers, is concerned with world history, Kasper concludes: “It is impossible to make a clear distinction between secular history and salvation history.”

This statement is made clear by Kasper’s argument for it:

All reality is dominated by the appeal and offer of God’s grace and so is potentially salvation history. This is why there are holy pagans and pagan prophets. [16] The reason why a distinction is still made between salvation history in the broad sense and salvation history in the narrow sense is that, as Christians, we start from the premise, that in the history of Israel, which was fulfilled and transcended in Jesus of Nazareth, the word of God reached its goal “infallibly,” was received “pure” and attested “correctly,” that here God’s dialogue with man “succeeded” and that this gives us a standard by which to judge all other history.[17]

So how does the history of Israel become salvation history in the strict sense? It is not because God at a certain place at a certain time chose a particular people for his own possession and as sovereign Lord of history leads the fortunes of his people on the way of salvation. Salvation history as the history of Israel is rather, on Kasper’s account, about the dialogue between God and humanity succeeding in an exemplary manner—i.e., that certain people, namely the members of the people of Israel, have taken up God’s word in a pure fashion and have attested the successfulness of the dialogue with God in a correct manner. Consequently, the action of people is just as much the cause of the occurrence of the history of salvation as the action of God. Therefore, the history of Israel is not salvation history in substantial and unique form. Rather, it is only the measure for assessing when and where the history of the world has actualized its potency to be salvation history. What has happened to the people of Israel could occur accordingly in an analogous manner in other places, at other times, and to other nations. On this account, the history of Israel is not the irreplaceable foundation of salvation history, but merely an exemplar of how salvation history might be realized.

We can understand the concept of the relationship and “dialogue” between God and man behind Kasper’s historical theological construction by examining Kasper’s account of what is specific to Christianity, distinguishing it from Israel’s history.

“Christianity,” according to Kasper, “reveals itself to us as an historical dialogue between God and man; it takes place in principal wherever human beings trust themselves to the transcendence which opens to them in their freedom.” [18] 

To recapitulate: in a human faculty, namely freedom, that is in the immanence of the human spirit, a transcendence opens itself up (in whatever way). Further when the human being “takes in” this transcendence (whatever that may mean), then the historical dialogue with God occurs. This historical dialogue, in turn, reveals “the Christian.” As this dialogue, however, takes place wherever people are “involved” in their immanent transcendence—as the logical conclusion— “the Christian” can be revealed even outside Christianity (again whatever that might now mean).

That such speculation and its consequences cannot be without consequences for the understanding of the Church and the understanding of Scripture is evident. Although Kasper sees the Church as having an institutional dimension, she is, in his opinion “primarily an event; it is something happening.” [19] 

Holy Scripture too becomes a kind of historical event. For the history of salvation “has a history of its own which needs to realize its identity. We should therefore not be surprised to find mythological, polytheistic, and pagan elements persisting in the Old Testament, at odds both with the New Testament and with our rational out­look. Nor does the New Testament succeed everywhere to the same extent in capturing the reality and truth of Jesus Christ.” [20] 

If even Holy Scripture—inasmuch as it is not always quite successful—is not simply the Word of God, but first historically works its way up to that level, then how much less can the word of the Church successfully transmit the Word of God?

“Consequently the word of the Church is not simply and in every respect the word of God; the Church is only always starting out again in search of it.” [21]

Thus “the Church must again and again go beyond itself and enter afresh into its own future; the proclamation of its own transitoriness is what it lives by (Karl Rahner). The Church does not possess the truth in any simple way, but must keep on looking for it afresh. This takes place in its patient and courageous attention to ‘the signs of the time.’” [22]

And the Church must give “an answer to the questions of the day” [23] whereby it is clear that she “does not have this answer pat. [….] The questions of the day require a new and deeper exploration of the Gospel and so stimulate new answers which are not just an abstract conclusion from past beliefs.” [24] [25]

The Church has therefore “not to represent a system of abstract truths or a general world view, but to proclaim the mighty historical deeds of God and make them present in word and sacrament.” [26]

“In general, truth can never be expressed in a single statement, and a dogma never settles a theological issue once and for all.” [27] 

“It is perfectly possible for dogmas to be one-sided, superficial, vindictive, stupid, and premature.” [28] 

“In the history of dogma there is also a history of forgetting, of inability and failure.” [29] 

Therefore the Church must “in the process daily confess its guilt, its failure to reach its goal.” [30] 

The results of sociological and historical study have revealed many outward forms and structural elements of the Church as temporally conditioned, and the corresponding doctrines as suspect of ideology, that is of being a super-structure and canonization of a particular historical and sociological status quo. The upheaval is most striking in moral theology. [31] 

This quotation leads us back to the recent Synod and the position which Kasper took at this Synod.

The position of Kasper can probably only be understood against the background of his remarks on political theology, in which he states, “To proclaim the faith so that it speaks to this reality means today to articulate it in socially relevant terms.” Thus for him, “to ask about the social efficacy of faith is therefore a quite proper theological question.” [32] 

However, how is the social relevance and efficiency of faith to be ensured? After all that we have noted, Kasper’s answer would probably be something like the following: by evaluating the salvation-historical implications of the actual course of history and those “signs of the times” that suggest these implications. Now there is, as Kasper notes, one thing certainly interpreted by him as such a sign of the times: “There is a history of human freedom in which we have been constantly discovering more and more the value of personal conscience.” [33] 

As far as ecclesiastical politics is concerned, the position spells itself out like this:

If differences arise between the official doctrinal teaching of the Church and the laity’s everyday experience of the faith—as is often the case today—these conflicts cannot be resolved simply by a repetition and tightening up of the traditional dogmatic formulas without discussion.  The truth of the Gospel can only emerge from a consensus. An attitude of obedience to ecclesiastical authority is not the principal expression of the ecclesiality of faith.[34]  

For, according to Kasper, ecclesiastical obedience must be a reciprocal relationship: “Obedience in the Church can never be described as a one-way process.” [35] 

Thus, not only are the people of the Church obliged to obey the Magisterium, but also conversely, the Magisterium is obliged to obey the people of the Church.

We are not therefore talking about the infallibility of rigid and lifeless propositions, but the infallibility of living historical authorities. These authorities can speak historically as a particular situation demands, and can, if necessary, reinterpret their earlier statement historically in a new situation. [36] 

The principal authority, the one which can claim definitiveness when declaring the Gospel, is the Church as a whole […] The infallibility of the teaching authority is thus part of the infallibility of the Church as a whole. [37] 

Thus he would have the authority of the Magisterium depend on the consensus of the faithful.

A Church built on dialogue and consensus ceases being “a system of fear from which freedom is absent.” It is not acceptable to preserve in the Church a “rule of absolute power. It is only possible to make the faith of the Church credible by setting about a serious renewal of the Church.” [38] 

It is hard to resist the impression that significant forces in the Church intend to impose on the double Synod currently in progress a program of “serious renewal” in Kasper’s sense, in which the modification of the moral teaching of the Church only represents the beginning—though a grave beginning.

Of particular importance in this context is the ecclesiological foundation, with which Kasper secures his ecclesiastical political position, and in which historicity in turn plays a central role. The Church “bears the form of history and is bound by the law of history. It must be again and again led by the Holy Spirit into all truth (see John 16:13).” [39]  “Thus ecclesiology stands in the framework of pneumatology.” Kasper describes this as a “function of pneumatology.” [40]  However—and on the following point not enough weight can be laid: “In this connection, the spirit is not primarily the third divine person, but the power by which the saving action of God in Jesus Christ is present in history.” [41] 

But what does this spiritual “power” do? After all that we have seen so far it seems that it guides the Church on the historical path. But to where does this path lead the Church?

In the historical journey of the Church, the return of the whole history to God is taking place in its beginnings [….] The whole reality of creation from the very beginning was created for Christ (Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 1:10) and related to salvation history. Even the reality of creation is therefore determined through and through by history. [42]

At this point, Kasper refers in a footnote to Teilhard de Chardin, in which he explains: “The importance for Christian faith of an evolutionary view of the world was repeatedly stressed above all by Father Teilhard de Chardin.” [43] 

This is in fact the crux of the matter. It turns specifically on the question of who or what is that ominous spirit, by whose power “the saving action of God is present in Jesus Christ in history” if he is not the third divine person? The answer to this question can be derived from Kasper’s reference to Teilhard de Chardin. For Teilhard’s eschatology of the Omega point describes a return of world and history to God, as a result of an evolutionary process of development and self-perfection taking place in history. This historical-philosophical pattern corresponds structurally to that of German idealism, especially the Hegelian philosophy of spirit. According to Hegel, history is in fact a process of development in which the absolute spirit comes to itself by synthesizing its “being-in-itself” with its “being-for-itself” into a “being in-and-for-itself,” and at the end returns to itself and grasps itself as the true which is the real.

From revelation we know, however, that the end of the story is not characterized by the final self-perfection of creation, but by its ultimate apostasy and the concomitant ultimate catastrophe in human history. It has often been pointed out that it is not apparent how the eschatology of Teilhard could be compatible with the Scriptures.

It thus seems to me not too far-fetched, given the quotations cited, to suspect that the basic problem of the theology of Kasper is its dependence on specific positions of the philosophy of German idealism. Moreover, this assessment is supported by the fact that Kasper sees himself in the tradition of the Tübingen School, which is known to have attempted to re-establish Catholic intellectual life on the foundation of German idealism.

Kasper’s pneumatology, of which his ecclesiology is a function, has as its object a “spirit” that—as Kasper himself says—is not identical to the third divine person, but is much more reminiscent of Hegel’s absolute spirit, who in a historical process, synthesizing its dialectical opposites in itself, develops into the whole, that is the truth.

Recently Italian historian Roberto de Mattei presented in an article in Il Foglio [44] the thesis that Kasper’s position is derived from the late Schelling, who was the subject of Kasper’s habilitation [45] thesis, which incidentally is a recognized standard work of research into Schelling. I think this idea is interesting and would consider it worthwhile to follow up more closely. However, this trail leads back again to Hegel. Classical interpretations of Schelling such as that of the venerable master, Horst Fuhrmans, argue that in his late philosophy Schelling failed in his attempt to overcome Hegel’s philosophy of history from a Christian position. Despite his introduction of the “system of freedom,” the idealistic view of history as a continuous—indeed, ultimately necessary—process, runs through even the later Schelling. [46] 

It thus seems to me that my hypotheses according to which Kasper’s recent positions in the fields of moral theology and the sacramental ministry indicate a dependence of his theology on historical and philosophical positions most representative of German idealism has been verified. Let me in conclusion exemplify this hypothesis with some particular problems that admittedly—as we shall see—are closely linked.

Kasper claims that the scriptural understanding of “truth” is not identical to that of classical philosophy. This much is surely true about Kasper’s position: the scriptural concept of truth—especially in the New Testament—certainly implies more than the correspondence of thought or a statement with reality. However, of course, it also implies such correspondence. The conformity of thought or statement and reality is the only possible semantic basis of any notion of truth, and of course this holds for the New Testament. All other implications of the New Testament concept of truth can only ever be understood if they are based on the “adaequatio rei et intellectus.” The only possible alternative interpretation would be to interpret the Scriptures as a myth, which tells of what never was but which is always valid. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is, however, no myth, but means exactly what it says. Of course, not everyone has to believe what it says.

When Kasper further claims that truth could, in principle, never be said in one sentence, then that’s just wrong. For the one sentence “It is snowing” is true if it is in fact snowing (as Alfred Tarski succinctly notes [47]). Of course, the whole truth about a situation, even if it is a banal situation such as snow, can never be stated in a single sentence, but no one has ever claimed that.

Kasper claims that infallibility applies not to dead and stiff sentences, but lively historical instances; this claim, if we delete the adjectives contained in it, simply contradicts the infallible teaching of the Church, as anyone can easily convince themselves by consulting Denzinger or Ott. The Church does indeed teach that certain statements, that is, certain sentences, are infallibly true.

Therefore, it is also wrong when Kasper asserts that the Church does not represent a system of abstract truths or a general view of the world. Dogma is indeed—formally considered—a coherent system of abstract truths. This is so for the simple reason that dogma consists of descriptive statements in the form of sentences, and sentences are constructed from concepts, and concepts are, as we know, abstract. In the sentence, “Jesus is the Christ,” in which Kasper sees the entire Christian message summarized, the general and abstract term “Christ” is predicated of the singular term “Jesus.” That is simply the way language works.

However, if the dogmatic teaching of the Church, formally considered, is a system of descriptive sentences, then it is also wrong to say that the answers the Church has to give to new questions can never be abstract conclusions from previous answers. For further true statements can certainly be derived from true propositions, under proper application of the rules of logic, and these can indeed serve to answer new questions. A theology that gives up on drawing out the logical conclusions of its teachings has given up on reason.

If theology decides, however, not to give up reason, but to apply it, it will be impossible not to develop a system of statements that satisfies the formal requirements of a world view. And of course—in contrast to what Kasper believes such a world view will have to be part of the Church’s proclamation, if the Church is prepared to base her missionary activity on rational discourse, rather than on suggestion and group dynamics.

When Kasper further maintains: “Nor are propositions infallible […] propositions which can contain no error even when isolated from their situation and use.” Then the question arises as to what exactly he means with this. He bases his thesis on the following:

Dogmas are subject to the historical limitations of all human language, and are true in detail only in relation to the appropriate context. This means they have to be re-interpreted and translated for new situations. [48] 

This is either a banality or wrong. On the one hand, it goes without saying that statements made several centuries ago are to be interpreted from the spiritual context of their times and must be “translated” quite literally, but possibly also in a metaphorical sense. This translation process is only possible because the comprehensive context and last horizon of dogmatic statements is human reason, which only has the required ability to translate because it is essentially not subject to historical change, as it is based on the participation in the eternal Logos.

However, Kasper seemingly does not mean his words to be taken in this banal sense, for he writes a little later that the certainty of faith “frees us [….] from a timid clinging to old forms and formulas” which must become “a policy of safety first through boldness (Karl Rahner)” as “in the present upheaval not prudence but responsible boldness is the safest (thing to gain at least something).” These statements all sound very much like Heidegger’s Entschlossenheit” (determination), but they then take on a seemingly pious biblical slant: “If infallibility is understood in this way as an infallibility of hope, it is an evangelical truth in the best sense of the word.” [49]  

But what is the relationship of the truth of the Gospel to the truth of dogmatic statements? In an argument with Hans Küng, in 1975, Kasper speaks of the “epochal break(s) in the horizon of understanding” between “the apostolic and post-apostolic tradition,” and then continues:

In such a continuity in discontinuity, the Christ dogma of the old and medieval Church of course, is not the organic development of Biblical Christology, but its historical realization, which in turn can be a model for the Church today tasked today with translating the Christian message. [50] 

However, if the unfolding of Catholic doctrine encountered in tradition does not represent an organic development, then the continuity of the unfolding of this doctrine does not consist in the continuity of the unchanging integrity of a certain semantic content, but in the continuity of the application of a particular exemplary model of verbalization or inculturation, for the purpose of realization of…well, of what?

Kasper’s model of continuity does not need to worry about an integrity of semantic content that transcends time, indeed it makes the idea that such an integrity could be preserved appear as an illusion. Since on such a model one can no longer tell what exactly the object of Christian faith is, the Church has never taught such things. For Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And because human beings use reason, which can be enlightened by grace, they are able to recognize the truth of Christ, and the Church is enabled to teach this knowledge of faith in a continuous and unchanging manner.

To Kasper’s assertion, “Faith consists not only in an assent to objective facts of salvation,” one must answer that it does however include an assent to such facts, about which we are given knowledge by tradition, which has preserved the semantic integrity of descriptive statements of the apostolic faith until the present day. If this were not so, the Faith has had no foundation in reality.

Since all this is so, the Church is indeed always on the way, but not—as Kasper says—on the way to a truth that she must always look for anew; rather, she is on the way to an ever deeper apprehension and extensive realization of a truth that she has already found, namely in Christ.

Kasper’s claim that truth is an event only has an intelligible sense if one has a concept of truth structured along the lines traced by Hegel. (Although matters are somewhat more complex in Hegel than in Kasper). But the concept of truth implied in Scripture is certainly not the Hegelian concept, as opposed to the concept of classical philosophy. Indeed, from its earliest beginnings theology has seen the metaphysical insights of classical philosophy as indispensable tools.

Again, Kasper’s statement that there is no metaphysical ordering structure which can be detached from all historical and salvation-historical substantiation could be taken as a truism, insofar as, at least for the Aristotelian tradition, it was always clear that metaphysical structures only have ontological status when they are instantiated in the physical world—in a material, spatially- and temporally-structured reality—and that these manifestations over time may well be different. But what he actually means by this apparent truism is something quite different: “The world is not an eternal order of nature, but a world of history.” Thus he denies the objective existence of a time-transcending physical world. This position can, however, rely on neither classical philosophy nor Hegel nor Schelling, but only on postmodernism of the caliber of Jacques Derrida or Judith Butler following Derrida. It should be obvious at least since Heraclitus and the speculation about the Logos initiated by him that processes of change can only be thought of and recognized in the context of an unchanging basic structure that governs all processes, and which Heraclitus calls Logos.

Therefore, Kasper is also wrong in his assertion: “Not nature and not the depths of the human soul, but history is the dimension in which as Christians we encounter God.” [51]  As creation takes the form of the Logos, the human mind, which participates in the divine Logos, is quite capable of recognizing in the creation the divine creator. Thus the First Vatican Council infallibly taught. And Knowledge is the indispensable basis of every encounter. Moreover, St. Augustine and with him the whole mystical tradition of the Church teach that the depths of the human soul are a privileged place of encounter with God.

Finally, recall that existence of an immutable order of nature, of a logically ordered physis and the intelligibility of this order, is a necessary condition for the possibility of natural science as the science of nature. The existence of nature in the classical sense is also a sine qua non of any metaphysics of whatever sort, which, as a metaphysics of nature, obtains a normative meaning in the form of natural law. In the context of Kasper’s theology of unfounded speculation, a natural law foundation of morality is impossible. This explains his strange positions on the theology of the family, sexual ethics, and sacramental ministry. Thus we arrive again at a situation in which questions of marriage and family, and all other questions in connection with these matters, are up for negotiation.

Let me conclude. Theology was established for a long time on a “hard” philosophy, namely on scholasticism, which one might call the analytic philosophy of the Middle Ages, a methodical use of natural reason at the highest level. In the 20th century, much of the theology has become detached from scholasticism, but without being based on a different, modern version of a hard philosophy, such as neo-Kantianism, Husserl’s phenomenology, or analytic philosophy (whatever value one would put on such a new foundation). Instead of this, rather “softer,” more literary-essayistic forms of philosophy have been used in theology for some time; or at least elements are borrowed from such philosophies—for example, Nietzsche, Heidegger, existentialism, and more recently postmodernism—and combined with ideas of Kant and Hegel, which are then sometimes read into St. Thomas Aquinas.

The language of this kind of theology is a strange language of compromise. Fragments of theory that are not logically compatible with each other are clothed in the outer form of a putative dialectic. In this way, a pendulum motion between arguments arises, which allowed many theologians in the past decades to repeatedly and skillfully oscillate between positions, thus evading the critical questionings of the Magisterium. The language of compromise is, however, the language of politics. In this way, politics has replaced philosophy in theology.

The result of all this is a strange closed discourse that it is not received outside the ecclesiastical milieu—in contrast to the theological treatises of the 19th or early 20th centuries, which were widely read outside the Church. The theological discourse of today has thus become a milieu-discourse. With the supposed outreach to the world, the message of theology no longer reaches into the world. Instead, the standards of the world seem to win an increasing influence in theology.

In the end, how much of the Christian message remains? On the penultimate page of the work taken as a basis here, Kasper cites as “the basic idea behind everything which I have said up to now” the following:

The message of God’s divine existence is that which makes possible man’s human existence.  It is the secret longing of history; the center of Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God; and the essential idea of the Church’s salvific mission. [52] 

At the relatively early stage of his work which has been taken as a basis here, Kasper already presents the conception that the question of God must be entirely posed in relation to human beings and their search for “happiness, fulfilment, and meaning” and the “search for the humanity of his human nature.” [53]  Furthermore, on the penultimate page of the same work again we read:

Whoever believes that in Jesus Christ hope has been revealed for us and for all mankind, and whoever ventures on that basis to become in real terms a figure of hope for others, is a Christian. He holds in a fundamental sense the whole Christian faith, even though he does not consciously accept all the deductions which in the course of almost two thousand years the Church has made from this message. [54] 

If that is really all, then we have a serious problem. So we will let Walter Kasper speak again at the very end:

Without the courage, one could almost say the rashness, to make definitive decisions and statements, the Christian faith would be denying its own nature. But it is here that its strength and power lie. It can promise human beings definitive meaning. A Church which had lost the power to do this would richly deserve to have its preaching ignored, for it would have degenerated into empty mouthings. [55] 



[1] W. Kasper, Einführung in den Glauben, Matthias-Grünewald Verlag, 1972, 4th Edition 1975 & translated (by V. Green) as W. Kasper, An Introduction to Christian Faith, Burns and Oates, 1980. The citations in English use this work. Potential alternative translations will be noted in the corresponding footnote, as required. In all places, the original translator refers to the church as “it” and not as “she.” Modern translators would normally translate “mensch” with “humanity” or “human being” and not “man.”

[2] E. Troeltsch, Über historische und dogmatische Methode in der Theologie (Concerning Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology), in Gesammelte Schriften (Complete Works) (Reprint) Aalen 1962, S. 729-753.

[3] Einführung, 134; An Introduction, 155.

[4] Einführung, 134; An Introduction, 155.

[5] Einführung, 135; An Introduction, 156. Kasper refers here to, among others, P. Hünermann, Der Durchbruch des geschichtlichen Denkens im 19. Jahrhundert (The Breakthrough of Historical Thought in the 19th Century), Freiburg-Basel-Wien 1967; see also: W. Kasper, Das Absolute in der Geschichte. Philosophie und Theologie der Geschichte in der Spätphilosophie Schellings (The Absolute in History. Philosophy and Theology of History in the Late Philosophy of Schelling, Mainz 1965; the same in Glaube und Geschichte (Belief and History), Mainz 1970.

[6] Einführung, 136; An Introduction, 157.

[7] Einführung, 144; An Introduction, 165. A better translation than “framework” for “Horizont” is “horizon.”

[8] Einführung, 135 ff; An Introduction, 156 ff.

[9] Einführung, 108; An Introduction, 121.

[10] Einführung, 136; An Introduction, 157.

[11] Einführung, 135; An Introduction, 156, Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes (edited Hofmeister) Hamburg (6th Edition.) 1952, pages 21 and 39. Kasper’s translator uses Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit, translated by A.V.Miller (Oxford, 1977), pages 11 and 27.

[12] Einführung, 145; An Introduction, 166.

[13] Einführung, 57; An Introduction, 59. Kasper refers to here: A. Schlatter, Der Glaube im Neuen Testament, Tübingen (The Faith in the New Testament (5th Edition) 1963, pages 551-561; H.V. Soden. Was ist Wahrheit? (What is Truth?), in Urchristentum und Geschichte (Early Christendom and History) I, Tübingen 1951 1-24; W. Kasper, Dogma unter dem Wort Gottes (Dogma Under the Word of God), Mainz 1965, pages 65-84.

[14] Thomas Aquinas: “The definition that ‘Truth is the conformity of thought and thing’ is applicable to it under either aspect.” (“Quod autem dicitur quod veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus potest ad utrumque pertinere.”)

“For this reason truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth.”  (“Et propter hoc per conformitatem intellectus et rei veritas definitur. Unde conformitatem istam cognoscere, est cognoscere veritatem.”)

Summa Theologica Prima Pars Question 16 Articles 1 and 2. Reference by the present translator.

[15] Einführung, 61; An Introduction, 59.

[16] Here (An Introduction, 162) Kasper makes reference in a footnote to diverse publications about the relationship of Christianity to other religions. On the theology of non-Christian religions, cf. O. Karrer, Das Religiöse in der Menschheit und das Christentum (The Religious in Humanity and Christianity) (Frankfurt am Main, 1949); R. Ohm, Die Liebe zu Gott in den nichtchristlich­en Religionen. Die Tatsachen der Religionsgeschichte und die christliche Religion (The Love of God in the Non-Christian Religions. The Facts of Religious History and the Christian Religion) (Freiburg, 1957); J. A. Cuttat, Begegnung der Religionen (Encountering Religions) (Einsiedeln, 1956); J. Danielou, Holy Pagans of the Old Testament (London, 1957); M. Seckler, Instinkt und Glaubenswille nach Thomas von Aquin (Instinct and the Will to Believe According to St. Thomas Aquinas) (Mainz, 1961), pp. 232-58; K. Rahner, “Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions,” Theological Investigations, vol. 5, pp. 115-34; H.R. Schletter, Die Religionen also Thema der Theologie (The Religions as a Theme in Theology), Quaestiones Disputatae 22 (Freiburg, 1964); J. Ratzinger,“Der christliche Glaube und die Weltreligionen” (“The Christian Faith and World Religions”), H. Vorgrimler and others (ed.) Gott in, vol. II (Freiburg, 1964), pp. 287-305; R. Panikkar, Religionen und Religionen (Religion and Religions) (Munich, 1965); H. Fries, “Das Christentum und die Religionen der Welt,” Wir und die ändern (Christianity and the Religions of the World, We and the Others) (Stuttgart, 1966); J. Heilsbetz, Theologische Gründe der nichtchristlichen Religio (Theological Bases for the Non-Christian Religions), Quaestiones Disputatae 33 (Freiburg, 1967). For a critical view cf. J. Dörmann, “Gibt es eine christliche Verheißung für die ändern Religionen?“ (“Is there a Christian promise for the other religions?”), W. Heinen and J. Schreiner (ed.), Erwartung – Verheissung – Erfüllung (Expectation-Promise-Fulfilment) (Würzburg, 1969) pages 299-232; M. Seckler, “Sind Religionen Heilswege?” (“Are religions means of salvation?”), StdZ 95 (1970), pages 187-194.

[17] Einführung, 141; An Introduction, 162.

[18] Einführung, 140; An Introduction, 162.

[19] Einführung, 123; An Introduction, 139. A better translation would be to swap around “event” and “happening.” The Second Vatican Council is often referred to as “Ereignis,” an event. The meaning is double-edged as any event is a passing phenomenon.

Kasper refers to here: H. Fries, Kirche als Ereignis (Church as Event) Düsseldorf 1958.

[20] Einführung, 141 f; An Introduction, 162-163.

[21] Einführung, 143; An Introduction, 164.

[22] Einführung, 142; An Introduction, 163.

[23] The translator in reference 24 translates “Zeichen der Zeit“ as “signs of the times,” which is more accurate. In the next sentence “questions of the day” is being used for the same term, which is less accurate but responds to the idea of giving an answer.

[24] Einführung, 142 f; An Introduction, 164.

[25] In the later edition in English, in the space, a new sentence has been made and “As the Council saw” has been inserted.

[26] Einführung, 138; An Introduction, 159.

[27] Einführung, 149; An Introduction, 170.

[28] Einführung, 148; An Introduction, 170.

[29] Einführung, 143; An Introduction, 164.

[30] Einführung, 144; An Introduction, 164.

[31] Einführung, 137; An Introduction, 158. Kasper refers to here: J. Gründel, Wandelbares und Unwandelbares in der Moraltheologie (What is Changeable and What is Not Changeable in Moral Theology), Düsseldorf 1967.

[32] Einführung, 108; An Introduction, 121-122.

[33] Einführung, 137; An Introduction, 158.

[34] Einführung, 125; An Introduction, 142-142.

[35] Einführung, 126; An Introduction, 143.

[36] Einführung, 149; An Introduction, 171.

[37] Einführung, 150; An Introduction, 171 & 172.

[38] Einführung, 64; An Introduction, 62.

[39] Einführung, 143; An Introduction, 164.

[40] See also on this: W. Kasper, Kirche, Ort des Geistes (Church, Place of the Spirit), Freiburg 1976; idem, Catholic Church. Nature, Reality, Mission, Freiburg 2011.

[41] Einführung, 121; An Introduction, 138.

[42] Einführung, 144; An Introduction, 165.

[43] Einführung, 144; An Introduction, 165, Footnote 10. In other places, Kasper has attempted to conciliate, in a difficult to understand way, the position of Teilhard with those that stand in contradiction to it. See on this matter: W. Kasper, Glaube und Geschichte (Belief and History), Mainz 1970, page 68 and 155; idem, Das Absolute in der Geschichte (The Absolute in History), Ges. Schriften Bd. (Complete Works Volume II), Freiburg 2010, page 547.

[44] R. de Mattei, “Pasticcio Kasper. Le fondi filosofiche degli errori „bergogliani“. Per loro il christianismo è storia ma non giustizia,” (“Understanding In Depth the Grave Errors of Cardinal Kasper; for them Christianity is praxis not justice”). Il Folgio (online) 01.10.2014.  English translation

[45] Permitting him to direct research studies at the most senior level.

[46] See H. Fuhrmanns, Schellings Philosophie der Weltalter (Schelling’s Philosophy of World Eras), Düsseldorf 195; idem, “Der Ausgangspunkt der Schellingschen Spätphilosophie” (“The Starting Point of Schelling’s Later Philosophy”) in Kant-Studien (Kant Studies) 48, 1956/57 302-323; idem, Der Gottesbegriff der Schellingschen positiven Philosophie (The Idea of God in Schelling’s Positive Philosophy), in A.M. Koktanek (editor), Schelling-Studien. Festgabe für Manfred Schröter zum 85. Geburtstag (Schelling studies. Commemorative volume for the 85th Birthday of Manfred Schröter, Munich/Vienna 1965, page 9-47; idem, Das Gott-Welt-Verhältnis in Schellings positiver Philosophie (The Relationship Between God and the World in Schelling’s Positive Philosophy, in: F. Kaulbach and J. Ritter (Editors), Kritik und Metaphysik (Criticism and Metaphysics). Studien. H. Heimsoeth zum 80. Geburtstag (Studies. Heimsoeth for His 80th Birthday), Berlin 1966, pages 196-211.

[47] A. Tarski, “Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen“ (“The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages”) in Studia Philosophica Commentarii Societatis philosophicae, Bd. I, Leopldi [Lemberg] 1935/36, S. 268.

[48] Einführung, 148; An Introduction, 170.

[49] Einführung, 151; An Introduction, 173.

[50] W. Kasper, Für eine Christologie in geschichtlicher Perspektive. Reply to the comments of Hans Küng (For a Christology in Historical Perspective), in L. Scheffczyk (editor), Grundfragen der Christologie heute (Fundamental Questions for Contemporary Christology), Freiburg/Basel/Wien 1975, pages 179-183, 180 here referenced.

[51] Einführung, 138; An Introduction, 159.

[52] Einführung, 168; An Introduction, 194.

[53] Einführung, 27; An Introduction, 16.

[54] Einführung, 168; An Introduction, 194.

[55] Einführung, 148; An Introduction, 169.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Prof. Thomas Heinrich Stark 2 Articles
Professor Thomas Heinrich Stark is a professor of philosophical anthropology at the Benedict XVI Institute of Philosophy and Theology at Heiligenkreuz, in Austria.

13 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Historical vs. Historically Revealed Religion | Nunc Stans
  2. How Many Theologians Have Forgotten the Elements of Faith?
  3. Protestantism, Modernism, Atheism - Crisis Magazine
  4. Protestantism, Modernism, Atheism -
  5. Protestantism- Modernism- Atheism JULIA MELONI | On God's Payroll
  6. Teilhard de Chardin: Model of Ambiguity for a Future Pope - OnePeterFive
  7. Teilhard de Chardin: modelo de ambigüedad para un futuro papa | Adelante la Fe
  8. Why Viganò’s Critique of the Council Must Be Taken Seriously - OnePeterFive
  9. Why Viganò’s Critique of the Council Must Be Taken Seriously — Latin Liturgy Association, Inc.
  10. Why Viganò’s critique of the Council must be taken seriously - National Association of Catholic Families
  11. 1P5:Why Viganò’s Critique of the Council Must Be Taken Seriously – chaos
  12. Por qué hay que tomarse en serio las críticas de Viganò al Concilio | Adelante la Fe
  13. Letter #25, Monday, September 21, 2020: The debate continues | Catholic Canada

Comments are closed.