Guilt and the new Evangelism.

Author:Secker, Philip J.
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

In his review of Walter Cardinal Kasper's Leadership in the Church ("The Meanings of Apostolic," Public Square, November 2003), Richard John Neuhaus cites Cardinal Kasper's contrast between the time of Luther and our time. In Cardinal Kasper's words, "Our experience today is no longer the crushing burden of sin, but the absence of any experience of sin. We have all become more or less Deists, no longer asking: 'How can I do what God expects?' but 'How can I do justice to myself and to my own life?'" Father Neuhaus adds that Cardinal Kasper's "bleak depiction of a thoroughly secularized culture no doubt reflects his own experience of the situation in Germany and Western Europe more generally, which is hardly representative of the larger world."

Fr. Neuhaus knows more about the situation in Western Europe and in the larger world than I do, but I think that the real problem lies in Cardinal Kasper's own understanding of sin. More than thirty years ago, the Roman Catholic theologian James E McCue and the Lutheran theologian Robert C. Schultz convinced me that the primary question that the Western Church dealt with, from the time of its encounter with paganism in the early centuries until late in the Middle Ages, was a moral one. For the individual Christian, especially as the Western world became "Christianized," this question took the form: "How can I do what God expects?" When a Christian deliberately did what God forbade, or failed to do what He expected, Schultz and McCue asserted, he or she experienced what we call "guilt."

But by the early sixteenth century, Schultz and McCue continued, things were beginning to change. Luther, for example, was still asking, "How can I do what God expects?" when he chose to join the strict order of Augustinian Hermits. In the monastery, however, he soon learned that no matter how hard he tried, he still failed to do what God expects, which is to love God above all things and one's neighbor as oneself. What Luther...

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