Patricia C. BELLM and Robert A. KRIEG. Cardinal Walter Kasper: Spiritual Writings. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2016. pp. xv + 173. pb. ISBN: 978-1-62698-191-1. Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
In this book, Patricia C. Bellm and Robert A. Krieg have selected, arranged, and introduced passages from the many volumes of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s theological works that illuminate the spiritual thoughts of the Cardinal. Bellm and Krieg have also written a helpful Introduction that provides Kasper’s biography and situates him as a pastor and theologian committed to the hopes and dreams of Vatican II. Indeed, each of the seven chapters opens with a selection from one of the documents of Vatican II and conveys a different theme carried throughout Kasper’s writings. The chapters are entitled: Personal Existence, Jesus the Christ, The God of Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, the Church, Ecumenism and Jewish-Christian Relations, and Christian Hope. Each chapter contains between seven and 10 selections from Kasper’s writings, and they are arranged in the order in which they were written.
Born in Swabia (southwest Germany) in 1933, Kasper grew to manhood during the time of Hitler. Kasper and his family suffered the ravages of war, especially while young Walter’s father was separated from the family due to his having been conscripted to serve in the military and his time as a prisoner of war. Following his desire to be a priest, the young Kasper entered the seminary and studied in various places, including the Catholic Tȕbingen School, which emphasized: “(1) scholarship, especially in historical research and biblical studies; (2) participation in the church with its ‘living tradition’ and (3) praxis, that is, engagement in the church’s mission” (11). During his time as a professor at the University of Mȕnster, his colleagues included such notables as Johannes Metz, Karl Rahner, S.J., and Joseph Ratzinger. Kasper later returned to Tȕbingen to join the faculty there. Altogether, he served as a professor for twenty-five years and wrote several important theological works during that time. In 1989 he was consecrated bishop and developed a strong interest in ecumenism. He was named to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Religious Relations with Jews. Pope John Paul II made Kasper a cardinal in 2001, and he became president of the Pontifical Council and chair of the Commission.
Bellm and Krieg do a remarkable job demonstrating how Kasper’s rich background influenced his perspectives. The editors’ selections reveal a deeply spiritual man who is firmly rooted in the Christian religion and who welcomes the contributions of individuals in other religions. The chosen passages come from Kasper’s memoir, his writings that focus on the implications and theology of Vatican II, his preoccupation with mystery, and ecumenism, especially Jewish-Christian relations. Throughout the volume, one is refreshed by Kasper’s steady emphasis on joy, hope, and mercy. A man whose lived experience includes the European World War II church, preparations for Vatican II, and the challenge of living its implications, Kasper’s writings probe the depth of what was said, what was felt, and what was imagined by the uneducated and the powerful during those challenging times. He is clearly unafraid to tackle hard questions, e.g., “What kind of God creates a world in which there exists an unflinching demonic will to power, to indulgence and to possessions, to demonic cruelty and to vandalism?” (45). His philosophical and theological background prepares him to offer in depth reflections even as he trusts in the wideness of God’s mercy and love. Kasper also confronts the current situation in which many young people seem to show a lack of interest in the church.
This is a book for thoughtful readers who appreciate dense theological passages, realism, and convincing reasons for Christian hope.