What Kasper said about Luther…

The original interview cited by this ENI article (Catholics can learn from Luther too, says Cardinal Kasper) was published in the 16 Sept 08 daily edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung under the title “Die Zukunft der Ökumene“. Unfortunately, you have to pay for articles from their archive, and I wasn’t that keen. I have decided to trust ENI’s report (although you can find secondary reports in German here and here and here).

According to ENI, Kasper:

…encouraged Catholics to read Luther’s commentaries on the Bible, and his “hymns full of spiritual power”…

“One will then discover a Luther who is full of the power of faith, whom one cannot simply make Catholic, whom we find provoking and even alien in many respects, but from whom even Catholics can learn.”

…Cardinal Kasper said he hoped Catholics would “get to know Luther better and not just interpret him from his polemical writings, still less from a few sentences taken out of context”. The cardinal said he also hoped Protestantism would return to the faith of Martin Luther, “who would have been deeply averse to all of today’s liberal tendencies”.

I really can’t fault these sentiments, and must say “here, here” to them. For that matter, I think Papa Benny would agree whole-heartedly.

This source also quotes Kasper as saying:

Es wäre dagegen schlimm, wenn daraus am Ende ein neuer Konfessionalismus würde», warnte Kasper.

Which I think means to say that while he would like to see modern Lutheranism return to the comparitive “catholic” orthodoxy of its founder, he would see it as a bad thing if the only result of the Luther Decade just begun was a new “Confessionalism” which emphasised the divisive points between Lutherans and Catholics. That interpretation is born out by this report which quotes Kasper as saying:

Vor einer Verschärfung der Gegensätze zwischen Katholiken und Protestanten im Zuge der 500-Jahrfeiern der Reformation hat Kurienkardinal Walter Kasper gewarnt.

ie. He warned against using the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as a “tightening of the contrasts” between Catholicism and Protestantism. It seems that one of the false contrasts that he warns against is the contrast some wish to set up between a “church of freedom” (ie. Protestant) over against a “church of authority” (ie. Catholic). One of the distinctions he highlights is the unfortunate growth in difference of opinion on ethical issues between the Catholic and Protestant churches such as “on issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality and embryo research”. On these issues he wonders after all just how seriously scripture is regarded by these protestant churches.

At the very last Lutheran Church of Australia general pastor’s confernce that I attended in the year 2000, I raised the question of the imminent 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses and asked if this event (then still 17 years in the future) ought not be seen as a point towards which we could work for a significant advance in visible unity with the Catholic Church. At that time, such a notion was dismissed as somewhat hasty. I expect that if such a motion were to be raised on the floor of any Lutheran synod today, it would in fact be laughed out of court.

God grant, however, that 31 October 2017 might at least be a positive date in Catholic-Lutheran relations, rather than a negative one. This seems to be the gist of Kasper’s comments. And he seems to be suggesting that Catholics at least have as much work to do here as Lutherans.

There is precedance here. In the decade of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth (1983), many excellent studies were published of Luther’s life and works – including many by Catholic historians and theologians (eg. Peter Manns).

I hope that we take up Kasper’s challenge. Catholics should not want to “Catholicize” Luther – his distinctiveness remains – but all is not “alien” in his theology. The simple fact that Benedict XVI emphasises the themes of “the Word of God” and “the Theology of Cross” (while his treatment of these themes differs in many ways from Luther’s) shows there are connections – bridges, if you like – to be explored between Lutheran and Catholic theologies.

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0 Responses to What Kasper said about Luther…

  1. Paul McCain says:

    Thanks for this post. The bottom line, for me, is that in spite of the many wonderful things that present day Roman Catholics have to say about Luther, and I do mean, wonderful…the painful reality that slaps every Lutheran in the face to this day is the reality that we Lutherans remain excommunicate, accursed, condemned heretics.

    The best thing Rome could do in observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is acknowledge the need for and importance of the Reformation, and declare the Papal excommunication to be of no effect. I’m sorry to say, but until this action takes place, all the fine words about Luther will remain more than a little hollow-sounding.


    We would make known to all the small store that Martin, his followers and the other rebels have set on God and his Church by their obstinate and shameless temerity. We would protect the herd from one infectious animal, lest its infection spread to the healthy ones. Hence we lay the following injunction on each and every patriarch, archbishop, bishop, on the prelates of patriarchal, metropolitan, cathedral and collegiate churches, and on the religious of every Order-even the mendicants-privileged or unprivileged, wherever they may be stationed: that in the strength of their vow of obedience and on pain of the sentence of excommunication, they shall, if so required in the execution of these presents, publicly announce and cause to be announced by others in their churches, that this same Martin and the rest are excommunicate, accursed, condemned, heretics, hardened, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them, and so listed in the enforcement of these presents. Three days will be given: we pronounce canonical warning and allow one day’s notice on the first, another on the second, but on the third peremptory and final execution of our order. This shall take place on a Sunday or some other festival, when a large congregation assembles for worship. The banner of the cross shall be raised, the bells rung, the candles lit and after a time extinguished, cast on the ground and trampled under foot, and the stones shall be cast forth three times, and the other ceremonies observed which are usual in such cases. The faithful Christians, one and all, shall be enjoined strictly to shun these men.

  2. Schütz says:

    The faithful Christians, one and all, shall be enjoined strictly to shun these men.

    Well, that’s me condemned. :-)

    I don’t know about “excommunicate, accursed, condemned heretics”, but some of you are certainly “hardened”!

    There has been a lot of water under the bridge since the issuing of the passage you quote above, and you know that, Paul.

    Yes, you Lutherans remain “excommunicate” – but in the same sense that we remain “excommunicate” from you. In other words, there is not yet full communion between us.

    But I would stress that the direction of emphasis has changed. Since the issuing of the above passage, the situation has turned from one of wishing to increase and establish the vast chasm between us to wanting to decrease and bridge that chasm.

    I think in justice you would have to admit this.

    The important thing, as Kasper points out, is that we clear on exactly which differences are really real, and which are only imagined.

  3. Schütz says:

    I guess I could add that it is a slap in the face for us too every time you declare as idolatrous or blasphemous something that belongs to the ancient heritage of the Church’s faith.

    You see, two can play at that game.

    But let’s not play games anymore, eh?

  4. Paul McCain says:

    So, are you saying that the Papal Excommunication and Curse of Martin Luther and all his followers has been rescinded, lifted, canceled, declare to be null, void and of no effect? I would be the first to rejoice in news of this. Can you point me to the Papal announcement on this?


  5. Schütz says:

    Well, yeah, in a sense, I am – but not, of course, to the point that full communion between our two communities has been restored (we are working toward that).

    As evidence, I will cite two clarifications:

    1) the Church has made it clear that the excommunication of Martin Luther ended with his death (as do all excommunications). His judgement is in the hands of the Almighty, and I have reason to hope that (following a probably gruelling purgatorial experience! – one which, I might add, most of us will be likely to share, self included) he will enjoy (or is already enjoying – who can say?) the beatific vision of his Lord.

    2) So much for Luther himself, but what of Lutherans today – your good self included? Here I can cite no higher authority than the Second Vatican Council which said:

    “But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptised are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church—whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church—do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” (UR 3).

    This statement was confirmed by Pope Paul VI in 1965 (sorry you seem to be the last to hear the news, Paul!).

    So break out the champagne and start rejoicing! AND THEN, come on board with the work that we are doing to make our imperfect communion as brothers and sisters in the One Lord a visible and perfect reality!

  6. Schütz says:

    Sorry, a footnote (which might mean you want to keep your champagne in the fridge a little longer):

    There are obviously still doctrinal issues remaining, as the Council said, which mean the separation continues to exist. But these are reservations about doctrines, not the people who, in good faith, hold them.

  7. Paul McCain says:

    Pesky footnotes!

  8. Past Elder says:

    Full communion between us? Full communion restored?

    Out of what delerium does this concept proceed?

    The Western Church went along with Catholics and Lutherans in full communion until a calamity of a monk made it otherwise and now we need to restore the communion?

    News flash: the communion never existed, therefore there is nothing to restore. All such talk is just code words for crafting an ueberkirche in Rome Catholic enough for the Catholics and Lutheran enough for the Lutherans. Which is to say more bluntly, finding a way for Lutherans to be under Rome. First, last and always, Rome.

    Having been on both sides of this, Kasper’s words are comical. We (by which, at the time, I meant those who believed what the RCC taught pre-Vatican II) used to joke that a lot of time and ink could have been saved at the council by just publishing three words, Luther Was Right, and going home. Yet we (by which, now, I mean those who profess the faith of Christ accurately taught in the Book of Concord) despite the softer tone to some of the words in recent decades see nothing really changed at all from the apostate church into which Rome morphed over the centuries.

  9. Schütz says:

    PE, what did you eat for dinner last night that has made you so grumpy?

  10. Past Elder says:

    I wasn’t aware the discussion was about what I had for dinner last night, but then again, deflecting the issue by making it about the mood or affect of a person holding an other than Rome Is Always Right point of view is stock in trade for conciliar “Catholicism”.

    To answer your question, Number 4 at McDonald’s (double quarter pounder with cheese combo, since menus there may be numbered differently), Friday night sometimes being fast food night, and they don’t make me grumpy as I rather like them once in a while, plus, it reminds me of Pastor McCain’s image of, contra some of the nonsense in our beloved synod, depending on finding Quarter Pounders and Big Macs rather than something the manager whipped up when you pull in to the Golden Arches.

    It’s Saturday night here (early Sunday actually) and last night’s dinner was pizza, which also doesn’t make me grumpy, however, the game I was watching (Past Elder does not participate in any anti any sport called football leagues) wasn’t the best for my mood as Nebraska got our butts kicked by Missouri, however, I wrote what I wrote the night before.

    Anything else before sticking to the subject?

  11. matthias says:

    I agree with Kasper’s comments ,that perhaps not only Lutherans but also reformed ,and non conformed should return to his theological position.
    I do think it amazing that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical lutheran synod,still call the Pope the Anti-Christ.
    However having done some soul and internet searching I would say the a great deal of current Confessional Lutheranism is seeking to return to Luther’s position

  12. Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP says:

    This is a helpful post. Thank you for the update on this. Although I hear from time-to-time the “reminder” within Lutheranism about the office of the papacy as being the Anti-Christ it seems to be used more to stifle theological discussion than anything else. When there are so many theological questions that may and ought to be addressed we often get hung up on questions of polity, structure and [fear of] “heierarchy.” It is good to venture outside from time to time and know that there are other theological issues to talk about too.

  13. Past Elder says:

    If some synods still refer to the Pope, or more correctly, the office of the papacy, as AntiChrist, that is because the office of the papacy is still AntiChrist and cannot be otherwise.

    I’m a big fan of Luther’s writings, Babylonian Captivity in particular, however, on becoming Lutheran I did not profess the Christian faith as accurately taught in Luther’s writings, but the Book of Concord.

    Kasper is surely right that Luther would be deeply averse to much if not most of what travels now under the name Protestant. That’s already clear in the Book of Concord. It’s news now? Maybe to Protestants, to liberal “Lutherans” and to Catholics, but hardly to what appear to be those dreaded “confessionals”, may their tribe increase, and the least worthy among whose number I am.

  14. Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP says:

    To PE, from a fellow “dreaded ‘confessional'”:

    There are two concerns with an undue emphasis on the office being the AntiChrist. Such emphasis hinders and/or denies many realities. To name a few:
    1) The catholicity of both Luther and the Book of Concord.
    2) The denial of, and or, avoidance of the work of the AntiChrist within protestantism and Lutheranism (ie, also outside of the Catholic Church)
    3) Theology/Doctrine is multi-faceted and is not centered on the AntiChrist.
    4) The AntiChrist is real but not the victor. Those who have salvation “in Christ” are not of the AntiChrist.

  15. Past Elder says:

    Although it may not seem so in the context of this blog, Pastor, I actually take no exception to what you say.

    Generally, I post here not as a Lutheran, but as a Catholic who left the RCC in the wake of Vatican II and the wholesale abdication of anything like what the RCC taught to me as Roman Catholicism — and that not to engage in intramural RCC stuff, but only here, where the author and some of the other commenters seem to think that their conversion to post-conciliar “Catholicism” amounts to a conversion to Catholicism.

    So I generally do not approach “Catholic” topics from the standpoint of their falseness by Lutheran doctrine, but their falseness to Catholic doctrine. Here, where a Cardinal quotes Luther, the two intersect.

    So, for the record, and by way of clarification to yourself and others of us who may be here from time to time:

    1) I quite agree that the catholicity of Luther and the Book of Concord is greatly underappreciated by Lutherans, with a knee-jerk “too Catholic” reaction to many things we in fact accept and retain as catholic, not Catholic, and this can be fuelled by an undue emphasis on the papacy as AntiChrist. I would only add that the correction for undue emphasis is not no emphasis at all.

    2) I certainly agree that AntiChrist is not coextensive with the papacy, and we, our beloved synod and Lutheranism generally, are not immune.

    3) I also agree that AntiChrist is not the sole or even the main point of doctrine, and therefore not of discussion thereof.

    4) I completely agree — and in fact could not say this until I was Lutheran — that the Roman Church, even in its post conciliar apostate from even itself form, is not a barrier to salvation and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church can be found within it as surely, though not as clearly, as it can among us, and those who are in Christ in the RCC are no more of the AntiChrist than those who are in Christ among us or any other body. And, that it is not my business to determine who is in Christ, even an occupant of the papal office. I would describe my own conversion as really no conversion at all, but now being in a parish of the same church as I ever was, the only church there is, where the sacraments are rightly administered and the Gospel rightly proclaimed, even as I lament those parishes, whether RCC or any other body, where the sacraments are not rightly administered and the Gospel not rightly proclaimed.

  16. matthias says:

    PE, I take it that you are a member of one of the Synods that i mentioned previously.
    I have to say that I am getting great amount of jy from rwading up on Confessional lutheranism.
    Re the AntiChrist,if you go to the Riddlesblog-Kim Riddlesbarger Reformed Church minister in california,he has an interesting series of lectures on ‘the best ,the dragon and the AntICHRIST’.

  17. Past Elder says:

    Actually, I have past or present associations with both.

    I made my first profession of faith as a Lutheran 15 December 1996 in WELS, and that is where I was an elder, and on 27 August 2006 in LCMS.

  18. Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP says:

    Dear PE,

    Thank you for your helpful and clarifying response. This comment especially:

    So I generally do not approach “Catholic” topics from the standpoint of their falseness by Lutheran doctrine, but their falseness to Catholic doctrine. Here, where a Cardinal quotes Luther, the two intersect.

    Thanks again.

  19. Past Elder says:

    You’re most welcome, Pastor.

    I forgot to add — I enjoy your blog very much, have included it in my blogroll, and it is a different Past Elder, not the preconciliar altar boy and would-be Benedictine, who from time to time comments there, even when opposing “Vatican II For Lutherans”.

  20. Schütz says:

    The following email came through to my email box and I thought I would repost it here:


    I wanted to thank you for your blog entry with translation of some of Cardinal Kasper’s comments in the German newspaper.

    Interestingly, you mentioned, “I expect that if such a motion [regarding Christian unity] were to be raised on the floor of any Lutheran synod today, it would in fact be laughed out of court.”

    Well, despite your words of caution, my wife and I will be offering a similar resolution at my Lutheran synod, and hope we don’t get laughed out of court too badly. :-) In fact, I took the liberty of linking to your post in the materials offered in support of the resolution.

    Here’s a link to the resolution we’ll be offering:

    And here is a link to the supporting materials:

    Here’s the main page from which they are both linked:

    As you can see, the main focus of the resolution is the pastoral care of interchurch Lutheran-Catholic families (which our family happens to be).

    However, I think the greater importance is the opportunity for the greater church to utilize the present unity within such domestic churches to further Christian unity. More than anything, we feel like a resource that has never been taken advantage of.

    Again, I just wanted to thank you for the information you provided, and thought you might be interested to know that someone was being audacious enough to get laughed out of court. :-)

    Yours in Christ,
    Richard and Yippy Clem
    St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

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