SJU bestows honorary doctorate on Walter Cardinal Kasper for his years of service as president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

On January 11, 2011, in the Vatican, Institute director Philip A. Cunningham and College of Arts & Sciences Dean William Madges presented Cardinal Walter Kasper with an honorary doctoral degree in Sacred Theology from Saint Joseph’s University. The citation praised Cardinal Kasper “for your dedication to the vision of a new relationship between Catholics and Jews set forth by the Second Vatican Council, for your labors to begin to achieve that vision as President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and for your exemplary modeling of the work of a Catholic theologian in service to the Church and to interreligious understanding.”  The text of the citation that was also presented to Cardinal Kasper and his reply follow.

For a collection of Cardinal Kasper’s important writings on Catholic-Jewish Relations, click HERE.

Bestowal of the Degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology upon Walter Cardinal Kasper

Saint Joseph’s University is pleased to bestow its highest honor upon His Eminence, Cardinal Walter Kasper, for his exemplary work as a bishop-theologian who has promoted ecumenism among Christians and strengthened the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.

Saint Joseph’s University commends Your Eminence as a theologian.

For decades you have been a leading theologian and professor. Your important 1976 book, published in English as Jesus the Christ, remains a standard christological text. As professor of dogmatic theology and dean of the theological faculty in Münster and later in Tübingen, you influenced generations of students of theology. When appointed bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart by Pope John Paul II in 1987, you brought deep theological learning to the Episcopal ministry and served as an outstanding model of the bishop-theologian.

Saint Joseph’s University commends Your Eminence as an ecumenist.

For decades you have promoted ecumenism among Christians. In addition to writing significant scholarly essays in the field, you were chosen in 1979 as one of a dozen Catholic theologians to sit on the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission. In 1994 you were named co-chair of the Lutheran-Catholic Commission of Unity. In that capacity you oversaw the development of the historic 1999 Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”  In recognition of your contributions, Pope John Paul II selected you in 2001 to be the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and elevated you to the College of Cardinals.

Saint Joseph’s University especially wishes to commend Your Eminence as a bridge-builder between the Catholic and Jewish faith communities.

As President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews you provided crucial leadership in this interfaith relationship.  You have offered invaluable contributions to a new theology of the relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism and the Jewish people, which, as you often remind us, is only at the beginning of the beginning of its development.  As a Catholic university, Saint Joseph’s especially applauds the scholarly insights and deeply-felt commitments evident in your writings and addresses, including:

  • Your insistence that after Nostra Aetate, “the way Christians look at Jews has changed radically” because “the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council.” Demonstrating the frank honesty of an authentic scholar, you have observed that “the most important spiritual and ethical impulse for … the revolutionary shift of the relations between Jews and Christians was the horrors of the Holocaust.”
  • Flowing from Nostra Aetate, you have also consistently stressed the uniqueness of the Church’s relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people. “Judaism is not one religion among the non-Christian religions,” you have written. “Christianity has a particular and a unique relation with Judaism. We cannot define Christianity and its identity without making reference to Judaism.”
  • You have frequently stressed that “God’s Covenant with Israel has not simply been replaced by the new Covenant. God … has not repudiated and forsaken his people. Israel is still God’s partner. God is still devoted to his people with love and loyalty, mercy, justice and pardon; God is always with his people especially in the most difficult moments of history. Every Jew, as one of His people, lives in promise.”  Moreover, you have drawn out the implications of this conviction: “So from the Christian perspective the covenant with the Jewish people is unbroken (Rom 11,29), for we as Christians believe that these promises find in Jesus their definitive and irrevocable Amen (2 Cor 1,20) and at the same time that in him, who is the end of the law (Rom 10,4), the law is not nullified but upheld (Rom 3,31). This does not mean that Jews in order to be saved have to become Christians; if they follow their own conscience and believe in God’s promises as they understand them in their religious tradition they are in line with God’s plan, which for us comes to its historical completion in Jesus Christ.”
  • “In the end,” you have written, “the relationship of Israel and the church is a mystery of election and judgement, of guilt and even greater grace, which Paul is able to approach only with doxology (cf. Rom 11:33-36). The continuing existence of Israel confronts us [Christians] inevitably with God’s unconditional faithfulness to his people. The existence of the church is also a mystery, for without deserving it, out of pure grace, God’s covenant commitment has been extended to the Gentiles. So the relationship of Israel and the church is an absolute mystery. “
  • Finally, your dedication to pursuing these challenging topics has prompted you to support relevant sustained academic research. One example of this has been your consistent encouragement of the work of a transatlantic team of scholars, culminating in the important foreword you have authored for their forthcoming book, Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships.  Your support has been edifying for everyone involved.

For all these reasons, for your dedication to the vision of a new relationship between Catholics and Jews set forth by the Second Vatican Council, for your labors to begin to achieve that vision as President of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and for your exemplary modeling of the work of a Catholic theologian in service to the Church and to interreligious friendship, Saint Joseph’s University is proud to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology honoris causa.

Words of Walter Cardinal Kasper upon the occasion of receiving a Doctorate in Sacred Theology honoris causa from Saint Joseph’s University 

Presented by Dr. William Madges and Dr. Philip Cunningham at the offices of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity at the Vatican on January 11, 2011

I am very honored to receive this doctorate and I want to express my deep gratitude to the University and its President, to the Faculty and to you.

Saint Joseph’s University is one of the oldest and most prestigious Jesuit universities and highly esteemed in the academic world.

I thank you personally.  For you came here to Rome particularly for this occasion.  In my German language we have the slogan:  If the prophet does not come to the mountain, the mountain comes to the prophet.

Now, I am no prophet at all, but a simple cardinal and a simple theologian.  This means a man, who has to do theologia, talk about God, and to do this giving account of his faith and his hope and doing this in love and with respect for everybody’s person and conviction.

This is since more than 20 years my motto as a bishop: “Veritatem in caritate,” which corresponds well to Philadelphia, brotherly love.

To spread Philadelphia, brotherly love, among the divided churches and between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church as well, this was my duty in the last years.  It was also my honor to serve in this field of reconciliation and peace and to make the Church more a sign and a lighthouse for peace in a world which, though all globalization, is divided and lacerated in many ways.

What I could do, before I was allowed to return to my own craftsmanship, the theology, is only a small contribution to this great work.  Others will follow; they are gathered here.  That you acknowledged what I could do, honors me and gives me satisfaction.

Thank you again and give my greetings and the expression of my gratitude to the President of Saint Joseph’s University, Fr. Lannon, and the whole faculty.

Thank you and let us now raise the glass to honor Saint Joseph’s University.