Walter KASPER. The Catholic Church: Nature, Reality, and Mission. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. pp 463. $54 pb. ISBN 978-1-4411-8708-3. Reviewed by Jeffrey KIRCH, C.PP.S. Saint Joseph’s College, Indiana, 47978
Cardinal Walter Kasper has spent the last five decades in service to the Church and the Academy. His work has spanned most areas of systematic theology. Beginning with his texts on Christology and the Trinity, Kasper's contribution to theology has been far reaching. His most recent contribution to systematic theology is his long awaited text on the Church.
Kasper has served the Church in a variety of capacities throughout his life. Each of these, in turn, has marked his ecclesiological thinking. His time as a professor, a bishop, and the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has added a pastoral and ecumenical aspect to his ecclesiology. This pastoral emphasis is evident in his earlier ecclesiological writings and in the current volume.
He approaches the broad topic of the Church first by situating his own theological location within the broader context of the ecclesiological debates over the past half century. Though he was not a participant there is no question that the Second Vatican Council has had a profound effect on his ecclesiology. He writes, "The experience of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) became for me a profound Church experience and a lasting reference point" (pg 10). From the time of the Council he then charts his theological development through his time at Tübingen and the unrest in the universities in the late 1960s.
Kasper points to the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops as a watershed moment in his own understanding of ecclesiology. He served as the secretary of the synod at which the concept of communio was highlighted as the guiding principle of the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. He devotes a significant portion of the text to the concept of communio.
After laying the groundwork for his own theological position, Kasper outlines his understanding of ecclesiology. He begins by discussing the Church from the perspective of fundamental theology. He then proceeds to cover the following topics: Church and salvation history, the nature of the Church, the marks of the Church, and the Church as communio.
The last part of the text is especially relevant to the Church's situation today. In this section Kasper concentrates on the missionary and dialogical aspects of ecclesiology. He grounds the missionary dynamic of the Church in his reading of the Gospel accounts. In each of the Gospels the disciples are sent out on mission and Kasper sees this as being a crucial component of the contemporary Church (pg 289). Dialogue also has a privileged place in ecclesiology. Kasper argues that the Church much be engaged in multiple dialogues at the same time and is dialogical by its very nature (pg 295). The Church is called to be in dialogue with Judaism, other Christians, other religions, and the secular world.
In his final section Kasper looks to the future of the Church. He comments that the Church is confronted with numerous issues that affect its credibility. Not the least of which are scandals of the Church's own making. He argues that the Church will need to change in order to effectively preach the Gospel. Kasper does not write with despair, instead he sees a hopeful future, albeit a challenging one. The most important aspect of the Church for the future is its eschatological nature. The Church finds it true nature in its work for the future coming of the Kingdom. Kasper writes that the Church must be a prophetic-critical sign for the eschaton. He writes, "The Church of the future can do nothing but stand beneath the sign of the Cross. The Church must prove itself in these controversies as a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person" (pg 335).
Kasper concludes with three priorities of the Church. First, the Church must have the "courage to speak again of God and to witness him as the foundation and goal of all reality and as fulfillment of human striving and longing as and the true happiness of life" (pg 336). Secondly, the program for the Church today must proclaim the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not some "vague transcendence or a mixed potpourri drawn from out of all religions" (pg 337). And finally, the Church of the future must be a radical Church, that is, the Church must go back to its root as a evangelical Church imbued with the Holy Spirit (pg 338).
The Catholic Church Nature, Reality, and Mission is a one-volume ecclesiology that the student of ecclesiology, the professor of theology, and the faithful Christian would find useful and enlightening. He includes an extensive notes section and an index. Kasper’s prose is readily accessible and offers a summation of Catholic ecclesiology since the Second Vatican Council.