Cardinal Kasper and the Church Fathers

In Cardinal Walter Kasper’s recent address to the extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals (February 20-21, 2014), published in English with additional material as The Gospel of the Family (New York: Paulist, 2014), he makes mention of certain early Christian sources in the hope of suggesting “a way out of the dilemma” (p. 30) presented by the question of whether and under what circumstances the Church may admit “properly disposed” (p. 30) divorced Catholics, living in a “quasi-marital liaison” (p. 31), to full sacramental communion.

In light of the fact that the early Church also faced this perplexing pastoral challenge, Kasper introduces a number of witnesses who, he argues, potentially indicate a way forward for the contemporary Church toward a pastoral praxis that goes “beyond both rigorism and laxity.” (p. 31).

However, in invoking the early Christian sources, it appears that Kasper, despite acknowledging that the response of the early church Fathers was “not uniform” (p. 31), somewhat misrepresents the evidence, and does so in such a way as to advance his argument in a certain direction as though it were supported by the sources he cites.

Moreover, having quoted just one author, he goes on to give the impression that the statement reflects a united and considered witness, even a consensus proceeding from certain justifications and eventually “confirmed” at a conciliar level (pp. 31 and 37).

Limiting itself to the Greek sources explicitly mentioned by Kasper—Origen, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Council of Nicaea—and leaving aside the position of Augustine and later western Christian practice, it is the purpose of this report to clarify what in fact these sources actually say, not in order to discredit the cardinal or his proposals, but all the better to elucidate the real difficulties currently faced by the Church in its effort faithfully and pastorally to bring the Gospel to bear in the concrete life-situations of divorced and remarried Catholics. Continue reading


Adam G. Cooper is senior lecturer at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage & Family in Melbourne, Australia.

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,