Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life


Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.  By Cardinal Walter Kasper; transl. by William Madges.   New York: Paulist Press, 2014.

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Pope Francis like John XXIII before him, has placed his pastoral emphasis on the medicine of mercy rather than on any other of God’s attributes or qualities. In this he follows Pope Paul VI and John Paul II who also stressed the turn to mercy rather than justice or some other demanding facet of Christian revelation. Pope Francis gave high praise for this book in one of his early public audiences and continues to ask Cardinal Kasper to speak on his behalf to the leaders of the church and to the people of God.


This work is masterful and needed in our time. Cardinal Kasper begins by pointing to some questions that are fundamental in the theology of God and issues that must be addressed in every age, but especially in our own. The rejection of God by philosophers and writers like Nietzche and Jean Paul Sartre need contemporary answers. Kasper affirms the basic necessity for faith in God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures and in salvation history to be fully human. The problem for the twenty first century is that the God of philosophers described in metaphysical terms does not heal the troubled souls of our time. Nor does such a description satisfy the search for a credible God who creates the universe and intervened in human history because he is with us and loves us. The God of mercy is the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He is our God too.


When Moses asked God what his name is, he is told: “I will be with you.” On Mount Sinai God described himself:  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and , slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34: 6). The justice of God is not based on our merits. It is God who “for the sake of his name” and because of his love will be understanding and forgiving. He will shepherd his flock and be the provider of what is needed by his children in distress.


Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and Key to Christian Life is a theological reflection on the questions and issues that are fundamental to all human beings. The questions are not different; they are more complex, more difficult to answer in a world where everyone knows everything that happens everywhere in the world. Pride and selfishness abound, and hatred and injustice. But as children of God we are called to be “perfect as the Father is perfect.” This requires that we who receive God’s mercy, must extend our mercy to other human beings and to all of God’s creatures.


Kasper begins with the questions of our day and describes mercy as “a crucially relevant, but forgotten topic.” It is a fundamental issue for the 21st century. In his second chapter he studies the teachings of philosophers from Aristotle to the present, the history of religions and the golden rule as a points of reference. Chapter three studies the message of the Old Testament, including the praise of God in the psalms. Chapter four describes Jesus as the message of God’s mercy. Chapter five is a systematic reflection on the father in the parables, Jesus’ existence for others, the universal salvific will and the heart of Jesus as the revelation of God’s mercy. Chapter six shows how those who show mercy are blessed. Chapter seven describes how the Church must be merciful. Chapter eight speaks of a culture of mercy and the final chapter presents Mary as the Mother of Mercy and the model of Christian living.


It will take several readings to absorb this book. Readers will want to have a copy handy for reference. A kindle or “reader” edition will be a useful tool for one who wants to read, think and quote its many gems and insights.