På First Things nettsider leste jeg nettopp en diskusjon om kardinal Kaspers bok “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Existence”. En prest i Boston, Fr. Daniel Patrick Moloney, hadde tidligere i vinter skrevet en anmeldelse av denne boka, som Kasper her svarer på og som Moloney igjen får svare på – bl.a. på denne måten:
… As a reader trying to be charitable, I face an unattractive choice: accept that His Eminence does hold the mistaken view that mercy is essential to God; or assume that when he emphatically made the multiple important statements at key points in his book that mercy is essential to God, that he didn’t mean them. I’d like to think my argument was logical and theological, not ideological. I just was trying to work out the problems that flow from his claims about mercy in relation to God’s essence, claims that imply unorthodox conclusions.
It’s not true, however, that others in the tradition think as he does. In his letter, Cardinal Kasper cites St. Thomas Aquinas, particularly in Summa Theologiae I.21.3–4, as his “main support” for his claims that mercy is “the greatest attribute of God,” that mercy takes “precedence over and against justice,” and that “mercy presupposes justice and is its plenitude.” He also refers to II-II.30.4 as concluding that mercy is the summit of the Christian life. I’m not sure that last article helps his cause—St. Thomas is talking there about mercy in humans, not divine mercy, and he says explicitly, following St. Paul, that charity, not mercy is the highest human virtue (caritas, per quam Deo unitur, est potior quam misericordia, per quam defectus proximorum supplet). But maybe he has a different reading.
In the other passage, St. Thomas does address divine mercy and justice, but he is talking about God’s work towards creation, so those passages aren’t directly relevant to the question of the divine essence considered in itself. I don’t see any claim that mercy is the greatest attribute or is essential to God, nor am I aware of any place where Aquinas asserted that mercy is of God’s essence. Aquinas actually says in I.21.3 that mercy is simply God’s goodness when directed toward creatures and considered from a certain perspective (ratio). That’s hardly an argument for its being central.
Aquinas does make a number of statements that sound like the view Cardinal Kasper wants to defend: he says in I.21.3–4 that “the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy and is founded upon it,” and that in acting mercifully God is “doing something more than justice,” for mercy “is the fullness of justice.” In his book, Cardinal Kasper also quotes Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and others using similar language about mercy “surpassing” justice. There are many ways in which such language can be given an orthodox construction: If, for example, you take your definition of “justice” from a law textbook (Aquinas likes the Roman jurist Ulpian) or from ordinary political usage, then there’s no problem in saying God’s mercy surpasses that. But that sort of justice (imperfect, worldly, human) is not a divine perfection, and so can’t be what we mean when we say God is Justice itself. When John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia invokes the saying “summa ius, summa iniuria” (the greatest justice leads to the greatest injustice), which Cardinal Kasper cites twice in the book, he’s not referring to perfect divine justice, but the excesses of human justice absent love. …