Walter Cardinal Kasper has been regarded in liberal circles as a profound theologian and an expert on ecumenism and Jewish-Catholic relations, as well as an authority on Vatican II. At the center of a recent storm of controversy over his views on the possibility of change concerning the doctrine of the Church on sexual morality; his views were unfortunately echoed by some other bishops at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome.
The result? Other cardinals and bishops were prompted to publicly denounce such attacks on Catholic teaching crying out, "Enough of this!" They referred to calls from Cardinal Kasper and others allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, acknowledging the "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation," and permitting divorce and remarriage as in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Such innovations in Catholic practice would, in effect, nullify Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of Christian marriage.
Enemies of the Church openly rejoiced at the prospect of Catholic teaching being substantially changed via a "pastoral approach" abjectly surrendering to the "spirit of the world, the flesh, and the Devil."
The recent volume "Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church" (Ignatius Press: 2014) provided a superb refutation of Cardinal Kasper's positions with contributions from Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller (prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, not to mention other writers such as Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ (secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches), who showed that the Eastern Orthodox have deviated from the teaching of Christ and their own ancient tradition to allow adultery and other reasons as justification for divorce-and-remarriage.
Another fine refutation of Cardinal Kasper's views can be found in the study "Recent Proposals for the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried: A Theological Assessment" by eight Dominican scholars who briefly and concisely dismantle Kasper's arguments (see the journal Nova et Vetera, summer 2014, pp. 601-630).
It is interesting that some of Cardinal Kasper's theological views have long troubled other scholars. Particularly disturbing to Fr. Stanley Jaki, OSB, the Hungarian theologian-scientist and 1997 Templeton Prize winner, was Kasper's "The God of Jesus Christ", originally published in German in 1982 (English edition 1988), and before his elevation to the episcopate and cardinalate. Fr. Jaki was deeply concerned with the emergence of a neo-Arianism (subtle denials of the divinity of Christ) promoted by certain theologians in the Church and considered Kasper's The God of Jesus Christ :
"a perfect illustration of what happens when a professor of dogmatic theology aims at formulating his message about Christ in such a way as to make it appealing to rank secularists and meet them more than half-way in adopting their language."
He found the book incoherent in setting forth the supernatural mystery of the God-man and endangering the traditional Christology of the Church.
This same charge was leveled by other critics at Kasper's previous work "Jesus the Christ" (originally published in 1976; new edition 2011). The serious defects in Jesus the Christ (now regarded as a classic work in Christology) have been little noted by other Catholic scholars who were more entranced by Kasper's controversy with Cardinal Ratzinger carried out in theological journals over the nature of the Church. Whereas Cardinal Ratzinger rightly defended the priority and primacy of the Universal Church to the local Churches, Kasper argued the opposite.
However, one might well ask what kind of Christ Kasper presented to skeptical modern men for belief in his classic work Jesus the Christ. It is a Christ whose very miracles are "problematic" and whose history recounted in the written Gospels he declared embellished with fanciful legends by his followers! Kasper revealed thereby a slavish capitulation to the excesses of the historical-critical method of exegesis developed by German Protestants like Bultmann and Dibelius. He thus had no hesitation in asserting there are contradictions in the Gospel accounts (New Edition: 2011, p. 77). Moreover:
"a number of miracle stories turn out in the light of form criticism to be projections of the experiences of Easter back into the earthly light of Jesus, or anticipatory representations of the exalted Christ. Among these epiphany stories we should probably include the stilling of the storm, the Transfiguration, Jesus' walking on the lake, the feeding of the four (or five) thousand and the miraculous draught of fishes. The clear purpose of the stories of the raising from the dead of Jairus' daughter, the widow's son at Naim, and Lazarus is to present Jesus as Lord over life and death. It is the nature miracles which turn out to be secondary accretions to the original tradition. The result of all this is that we must describe many of the gospel miracle stories as legendary...To show that certain miracles cannot be ascribed to the earthly Jesus does not mean that they have no theological or kerygmatic significance. These non-historical miracle reports are statements of faith about the significance for salvation of the person and message of Jesus... We need not take the so-called 'nature miracles' as historical" (pp. 77-79).
There are many other questionable and convoluted statements in Jesus the Christ which betray the influence of modernist exegesis roundly denounced by Popes Blessed Pius IX, St. Pius X, and Pius XII and calculated to create doubts not only concerning the credibility of the Gospels but also the historical foundations for the Church's belief in the very divinity of Christ.
For example, in Kasper's view the "scientific approach calls for a fundamental reconsideration of the whole concept of miracle." His attempt to provide "a tentative account of a possibly theological theory of miracles" only resulted in a bewildering reductionist examination of Christ's miracles (only some really happened!) and culminating in the false conclusion that miracle as "a divine intervention in the sense of a directly visible action of God is theological nonsense" (pp. 82-83).
It also falls prey to a reductionist view of Christ Himself presented in the Gospels as "a man" working "signs and wonders" but whose divinity is the result of later writers' "re-interpretation." Ambiguity also surrounded Kasper's treatment of Christ's claim to be the Son of God with the Resurrection and Ascension being questionable historical events. True, "Jesus the Christ" is affirmed, but not without some equivocations that obscure the Gospel writers' simple faith that Jesus is God.
In his introduction to the new edition (2011) of "Jesus the Christ", Kasper notes with satisfaction that his book has proved to be "a useful theological textbook. From it, a whole generation of theology students, both candidates for the priesthood and lay theologians . . . have acquired some elementary knowledge of theology." Interestingly, noting the harm that "the demythologization program proposed by Rudolf Bultmann" has done to traditional Christian belief, we find Cardinal Kasper distancing himself from some of his own former radical positions:
"A new biblical hermeneutics . . . and modern historical criticism in no way necessarily leads to the dismantling of our traditional faith...In our faith we are not pursuing some willfully adopted fairy tales and myths" (p. xii).
Rejected are the efforts of biblical exegetes who used the historical critical method to sharply separate the historical Jesus from the "Christ of Faith" and "attempted to dismiss Jesus' sayings about being God's Son as later, biased falsifications or mystifications by the Church" (p. xi). Kasper reassures his readers:
- "It can be shown that express statements about Jesus' divine character and pre-existence are to be found not only in later layers of the New Testament" (p. xii).
- "The Christology of the undivided Church of the early centuries is by no means obsolete" (p. xiv).
- In a note on p. xix, he admits: "In retrospect today, particularly on the question of the nature miracles, I would give a more positive judgment than I did in 'Jesus the Christ'. The meaning of the Son of Man title also needs revision."
It is important to note that no changes were made by Kasper in the text itself to correct previous denials of real miracles performed by Christ. Nor has he explained how he continues to accept Gospel passages regarding Jesus having foreknowledge of His death as "prophecies after the event. They are post-Easter interpretations of Jesus' death and not authentic sayings" (pp. 102-103).
What remains troubling in Kasper's Christology despite stated adherence to the dogmatic definition of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) regarding Christ's "two natures, without confusion or change, without division or separation" is the uneasy and awkward manner in which he repeatedly speaks of "the relationship of Jesus Christ to God." Whereas Kasper declares that "the assertion 'Jesus is the Christ' is the basic statement of Christian belief," more orthodox scholars would have stressed that "Jesus is the Eternal Son of God made man" is the basic statement of Christian belief.
Kasper wrote a scholarly work which is valuable for its survey across centuries of the historical vicissitudes and wild speculations of biblical critics infected with rationalism and skepticism. It also manifests the inroads of such unbelief into Catholic theology.
A more recent example of sheer unbelief in the divinity of Jesus Christ that has spread among professed Christians may be seen in a recent book "Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief" by David Tacey, which a Catholic theologian in Australia heralds as "a must- read for every Christian and atheist." The publisher's blurb states baldly :
"Biblical stories are metaphorical. They may have been accepted as factual hundreds of years ago, but today they cannot be taken literally. Some students in religious schools even recoil from the 'fairy tales' of religion, believing them to be mockeries of their intelligence."
David Tacey argues that biblical language should not be read as history, and it was never intended as literal description. At best it is metaphorical, but he does not deny these stories have spiritual meaning . . . and direct us toward transcendent realities.
Tacey's radical negations of Christian belief go far beyond those in Kasper's Jesus the Christ. However, some of his themes sound uncomfortably familiar to readers of Kasper's book.