Cardinal Kasper Could Learn from This African Bishop
By Samuel Gregg
“But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.” Such were the wordsused by the German theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper to describe what he thought of African contributions during the 2014 Synod on the Family as Catholic bishops and laity gathered to discuss challenges facing the family in the modern world.
It was hard not to recall that sentence while recently reading a book requiring translation into English as soon as possible. For in his best-selling 424 page Dieu ou Rien [God or Nothing] (Fayard, 2015), Cardinal Robert Sarah, the newly-appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, illustrates in conversations with the French journalist Nicolas Diat (author of a revealing book on Benedict XVI’s pontificate) precisely why the universal Church should be listening more to Catholics who come from cultures where the faith is flourishing, and much less to those preoccupied with the concerns of particular Western European churches: churches that are fabulously wealthy in material terms but spiritually-moribund by any standard.
The book’s title underscores Sarah’s central theme: societies that lose a sense of God—and not just any god, but the God who is simultaneously Caritas, Logos, Misericordia, and Veritas—and opt for nothingness cannot help but experience profound decline. This death of God/death of man theme is hardly new. It’s implied in Plato’s discussion of the three versions of atheism, and was spelt out centuries later by Nietzsche. What, however, makes Sarah’s contribution different is the sophistication with which he makes his argument. This is a man equally at home discussing the finer points of animist religions as he is with explaining the Galileo case’s more obscure dimensions.
“Man’s greatest difficulty is not,” Sarah writes, “what the Church teaches on morality; the hardest thing for the post-modern world is to believe in God” [my translation]. Drawing on sources ranging from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Greek philosophers, the Church Fathers, Jewish references, Russian literature to modern French thinkers, Sarah outlines a powerful case to suggest that choices against the God who reveals Himself in the Bible are laying waste to much of the world, especially the West and even more specifically Western Europe. And in doing so—for, as anyone who has met Sarah will attest, he’s a genuinely humble man—the Cardinal born in the obscure African village of Ourous inadvertently reveals a formidable intellect that’s matched by years of pastoral experience and a profound knowledge of, and direct personal contact with, the many different challenges confronting the Catholic Church throughout the world.
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