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

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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