The Catholic University of America
Final Examination
Mark J. DeCelles
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Friday, April 22, 2016
2:00 pm, Caldwell Hall, Room 125
The Faithfulness of God in the Theology of Walter Kasper
Director: Dr. William P. Loewe, Ph.D.
Cardinal Walter Kasper is an important figure in contemporary Roman Catholic theology and church politics. His critics, however, lead one to ask whether his theology presents a viable option in the contemporary theological landscape. This dissertation proposes to analyze and evaluate Kasper's theology from the vantage point of the theme, Gottes Treue, or the faithfulness of God. It examines the role of this theme in Kasper's German-, French-, and English-language writings published between 1962 and 2011, paying special attention to his theological "trilogy," Jesus der Christus (1974), Der Gott Jesu Christi (1982) and Katholische Kirche (2011), as well as his theological dissertation, Die Lehre von der Tradition in der römischen Schule (1962), his HabilitationsschriftDas Absolute in der Geschichte (1965), his reflections on history, freedom, tradition, truth, and the Church, and his writings on the themes of ecumenical and Jewish-Christian dialogue.

This study shows that a notion of faithfulness qualifies Kasper's understanding of history and freedom, categories basic to his theological thinking. Moreover, the faithfulness of God to creation revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit expresses for Kasper the central content of the Gospel. That the reality of salvation consists in divine fidelity implies for Kasper that the Church, as universal sacrament of salvation, carries out its mission through dialogue, which includes ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Conversely, other Christians and Jews bear witness to divine faithfulness in their communities through dialogical encounter with Catholics. Kasper argues that God's fidelity is constitutive of the object of faith and of theological inquiry, namely, theological truth. This correlates with Kasper's “postmodern” conception of tradition as an open system consisting in a dialogical interplay among several loci: scripture, the artifacts of the spiritual and intellectual traditions of the Church, the authoritative rulings of its leaders, the supernatural sense of faith common to all the baptized. Kasper's reflections on truth also suggest that the truth of faith will remain essentially beyond our grasp until the end of history. In this regard, however, Kasper's theology has developed. Whereas his early writings emphasized the eschatological dimension of revealed truth, more recent writings make room for a substantial apprehension of truth in the present through the habitus of faith. To this extent, Kasper's thought proves to be compatible with the Thomistic theological tradition. The present study argues for an expansion of the basic categories of Kasper's theology to make explicit its openness to deeper reflection on the truth of faith as already present in the believing subject.
More About DeCelles
Mark J. DeCelles hails from Dunmore, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Scranton Preparatory School in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2000, he went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Religion at The Catholic University of America in 2004 and a Master of Arts in Historical and Systematic Theology from the same institution in 2007. While pursuing his doctoral studies at CUA, Mr. DeCelles served the School of Theology and Religious Studies as a teaching assistant in the 2007-08 school year and as a research assistant in 2008-09. He also taught a distance learning course in Christology for Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania from 2007 until 2010. He has published in the 2010 and 2011 supplements to the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

In 2012, Mr. DeCelles moved back to Dunmore to assist in the medical care of his father while writing his dissertation. He has in the meantime participated in a number of academic conferences. He delivered his paper, "Walter Kasper's Theology of Tradition as Ecumenical Outgrowth of the Council," at the conference, "Vatican II: Remembering the Future," held May 21-24, 2015 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Since 2015, Mr. DeCelles has been leading a weekly bible study held at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania.