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.