Quid Est Veritas? Cardinal Kasper’s
Troubling Foundations

On Tuesday, the Catholic World Report posted a paper by Prof. Thomas Heinrich Stark of the Benedict XVI Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Austria, entitled “German Idealism and Cardinal Kasper’s Theological Project.” It is a lengthy read, and reminded me of everything I disliked about the philosophy classes I took in college and my brief forays into academic writing. But I understood enough to be alarmed. Using one of Kasper’s early theological works, Prof. Stark shows the philosophical foundations that appear to have brought the cardinal to the point positions he currently holds on questions of morality, marriage, sexuality, and the sacraments.

I am not a philosophically smart man, but three main points stuck out to me in Kasper’s writing, as quoted below and analyzed by Stark.

Stuff Happens

Kasper writes: “[H]istory is not a moment in an encompassing order; in 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.” This seems to me to undermine a rational Creator, a personal and involved God, an ordered universe, the natural law, right and wrong — the works. Kasper is quoted again, apparently confirming these suspicions: “It is not an eternal natural order, but a historical world.”

Nothing Special

Kasper writes: “Christianity 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 them up to their freedom.” Stark goes on to show that in this way, Kasper believes that a “Christian” can be revealed outside of Christianity:

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.

If this is truly Kasper’s view (and other quotes and excerpts from his early work seem to support it) how can Jesus properly be called the savior of the world? How is the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic — or why should we care?

Truth Hurts

Kasper writes: “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.” I translate that as, the Church is an artifact of history, and when it does not evolve with the signs of the times, it becomes suspect. He also writes: “In general, truth can never be expressed in a single statement, and a dogma never settles a theological issue once and for all;” “It is perfectly possible for dogmas to be one-sided, superficial, vindictive, stupid, and premature;” and “In the history of dogma there is also a history of forgetting, of inability and failure.”

Not only does the cardinal maintains that the faith must be socially relevant and efficacious, he claims that obedience to the Magesterium is actually a two-way street:

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.”

But with no real authority, how is that Truth in any meaningful sense? Is right and wrong a matter of popular opinion?

There is plenty more that is disconcerting in the writings of Kasper highlighted by Prof. Stark. While a couple of commenters rightly point out that judging an old man’s current views by solely from a single 40-year-old work is not entirely fair, by juxtaposing these writings alongside Kasper’s current activity, I don’t think he has missed the mark.

I will end my post ironically, as Stark ends his paper, with words from Kasper that scarcely sound like they come from the same man:

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.

In this, at least, Cardinal Kasper and I agree.

* * * * *

Another postscript: The backpedaling appears to continue…


  1. Didymus says:

    The truth of the gospel can only emerge from a consensus? That’s a very Protestant belief. At root it denies that there is such a thing as the eternal Word. I prefer G.K. Chesterton’s view. ““Right is right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.”

  2. […] couple months back I waded through a theology professor’s detailed analysis of Cardinal Kasper’s intellectual foundations, upon which his troubling views on church doctine are founded. This week, George Weigel posted a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.