Understanding Cardinal Walter Kasper
by EDWARD PENTIN
The eminent Austrian philosopher Thomas Stark contends that the controversial cardinal is one who filters St. Thomas Aquinas through the lens of Hegel and Kant, which is a mistake.
VIENNA — What are some of the philosophical underpinnings behind Cardinal Walter Kasper’s controversial proposal to grant certain divorced and civilly remarried Catholics access to the holy Communion in certain cases?
This question was among those addressed at a colloquium held last fall in Vienna, Austria, as part of the launch of the German translation of the book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ. The colloquium brought together representatives from the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, the German speaking academic world, and the traditional organization Una Voce Austria.
Among the featured presenters at the colloquium was professor Thomas Stark, professor of philosophy at the Benedict XVI Academy of Philosophy and Theology (Heiligenkreuz), and professor of philosophy at the University of St. Pölten in Austria.
Stark delivered a lecture in German entitled: “Historicity and German Idealism in the Thought of Walter Kasper.” The lecture examined the philosophical roots of the German cardinal’s theological thought, especially as they pertain to the controversial claims he made in his 2014 address at the Extraordinary Consistory in preparation for last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
The Register sat down with professor Stark to discuss the contents of his lecture, his belief that Cardinal Kasper’s thought can ultimately be traced back to Hegelian philosophy (“the rational alone is real”), and what this means for the German cardinal’s understanding the Church’s teaching and practice.
Professor Stark, can you summarize your talk for the benefit of our English speaking readers?
I asked myself if there are any roots, according to the positions in moral theology, in the philosophical foundation of Kasper’s theology. And then I came across an article that the famous Italian historian Roberto de Mattei had written in Il Foglio, and therein he said that one of the reasons why Kasper is taking his positions is because he is very much influenced by the late [Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph] Schelling. And I tried to find out whether there are any connections to Schelling. …
So I delved more deeply into the whole topic, because I had already agreed to address Kasper’s position and his roots in the philosophy of German Idealism.
My conclusion? I would say that one can clearly see that Kasper’s position is deeply rooted in German Idealistic philosophy, but I would say more so in Hegel than in Schelling.
The problem with this philosophy is the relationship between history and truth. And the problem with Kasper’s position, as far as I understand him, is that he accepts historicism [where history is seen as a standard of value or as a determinant of events] just as a fact. He says, “Well, we are living in a time after historicism in the 19th century; history is the main framework in which we have to think and to live’” and he is quoting [Ernst] Troeltsch, who said the encounter between Christian life and Christian theology and history will be even more problematic than the encounter between theology and science that has already taken place a century ago.
In addition, he seems to just accept the status quo and says, as far as I understand him, “Well, we are living in times that are influenced by historicism and we have to live with it,” and then he historicizes truth, and does many other confusing and perplexing things along these lines, I would say.
I have said several times, “as far as I understand him,” because the problem with this sort of theology is that it is difficult to understand, not because one has to be very intelligent to understand it, but because it is not coherent, in my opinion. And one can only figure it out if one understands the language they use. I mean, it’s not only Kasper; it’s very many people of influence in modern theology. If one reads this language carefully one can easily see an admixture of imitating [Martin] Heidegger, and the influence of Existentialism, some pieces from [Emmanuel] Kant and [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel, which are read into Thomas Aquinas. They read Thomas through the lens of Hegel and Kant, which simply cannot be done, in my opinion. And they mix up various philosophical positions that really can’t be put together in a coherent, logical way.
The way they attempt to intertwine all of their theories forms a sort of pseudo-dialectic that is not really logical and coherent, and they put it in such a way as to provide an opportunity to get away with novel theories without being under the critical view of the Magisterium, because they can always shift to the right and then to the left as needs be.