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Cardinal Kasper: Latin theology is a ‘prisoner’ of commutative justice

September 10, 2015

In an address delivered at a conference on the spirituality of mercy and forgiveness hosted by the ecumenical Monastic Community of Bose, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that “the question of the relationship between justice and mercy is a vital question, on which the fate of the Latin tradition depends.”

“It has remained largely a prisoner of the idea of commutative justice and redemption as compensation,” the retired prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said in his talk, which was printed in the September 10 edition of L’Osservatore Romano. “The idea of compensation is in Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury. We cannot enter into the details of the especially controversial interpretation of Anselm and of his theory of satisfaction.”

“In this context, suffice it to say that the idea of mercy has been marginalized in theology,” he continued. “In moral theology a legalism often prevailed, and in the pastoral message of a severe and punishing God.”

Cardinal Kasper said that in contrast to “the mainstream of neoscholastic theology,” St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Faustina Kowalska witnessed to mercy. Praising Venerable Pius XII’s encyclical on the Sacred Heart and citing devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Mother of mercy, Cardinal Kasper stated that “the trust of simple Christians in the mercy of God has never failed.”

In the abstract of his talk, published on the monastic community’s website, Cardinal Kasper added:

This central and fundamental theme [mercy] has been unpardonably neglected by systematic theology and reduced to a small paragraph under justice… God should condemn and punish the evil and reward the good. What a poor and miserable idea of God, of a God compelled to act according to our ideas of justice, a God who is an idol of our concepts, an executor and prisoner of our requests of an order imagined just!


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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 10, 2015 11:54 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Kasper must be living as far in the past as Pope Francis. Just as Francis seems to continually harp about a church closed in on itself, Kasper speaks as if he has never attended a Novus Ordo Mass. I can't recall more than half a dozen such Masses in the last 45 years where the homilist focused _more_ on God's justice than on His mercy. "For in hope we were saved" (NAB). "All creation groans" as we wait in hope for redemption. We hope for God's mercy, but we expect His justice if we sin.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 10, 2015 11:23 PM ET USA

    Kasper talks like the "top catechist in the U.S." did when he led a session on Catholic pedagogy at a "catechetical institute" that I attended years ago. The priest allowed us a 5-minute break halfway through the session, whereupon he told us in no uncertain terms to return in exactly 5 minutes "under penalty of purgatory." I never imagined so much raucous laughter could be generated by a mere 150 DREs and catechists. Purgatory was the joke of the day. Commutative justice, however, expects it.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 10, 2015 10:05 PM ET USA

    The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is revealed through the Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Outside of Divine Revelation our knowledge of God is going to be mixed with self-deceptions. And Jesus teaches us simply and directly: "If you love Me, keep my Commandments."

  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Sep. 10, 2015 9:35 PM ET USA

    Mercy presupposes a fear of justice. No fear - no need for mercy. No fear - no wisdom

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Sep. 10, 2015 12:15 PM ET USA

    It's at the heart of Doctor of the Church St Therese's "little way" (which people misconstrue as envisioning oneself as a child or small acts of self sacrifice) to come to God with empty hands, hoping in the merits of Jesus rather than in our own merits. She cites the Good Thief who trusts in Jesus: "remember me when You come into Your kingdom". Jesus tells him: "you will be with me this day in Paradise." Therese says Jesus' merits are MORE than ours, we will receive MORE than we deserve.

  • Posted by: jacquebquique5708 - Sep. 10, 2015 11:52 AM ET USA

    In response to Cardinal Kasper, there is evil in the world. Therefore, the need for justice and the need for a Redeemer. It is becoming more obvious just what the true agenda of Kasper really is. He wants no sin. Even in "The Merchant of Venice", justice comes before mercy. Let's be realistic. This is all about "the gay lobby" pushing its vision of a new theology. We are in dangerous times.

  • Posted by: DanS - Sep. 10, 2015 11:06 AM ET USA

    Since when did the authorship of such tenets of Christian moral theology as the Ten Commandments and all the rich words of The Word, Jesus Christ, quoted in the Gospels become "our ideas of justice?"