Spirit christology or Son christology? An analysis of the tension between the two in the theology of Walter Kasper

Thomas I Petriano, Fordham University


The year 1951 marked the 1500$\sp{\rm th}$ anniversary of the Council of Chalcedon. Since this anniversary of that historic event, theological reflection in the field of christology has experienced a burgeoning that is as remarkable as it is promising. It is a burgeoning that reflects the belief that the landmark christological council of the fifth century represents not so much the end of a discussion as the guidelines for a continuing conversation. As that conversation has continued in the last half of this century, one of the areas of development that holds much promise is that of Spirit christology. While it is in some ways accurate to speak of Spirit christology as a recent development, in actuality it represents a modern retrieval of a thoroughly biblical idea; namely, an unmistakable presence of a pneumatological understanding of Jesus as the Christ that is present in the New Testament and early Christianity. Among recent Roman Catholic theologians who have been proponents of a Spirit oriented christology, one of the pioneers in developing such a christological orientation has been Walter Kasper. While the Spirit oriented understanding of christology is clearly evident in Kasper's book Jesus the Christ, as well as in some of his other earlier writings, he appears to step back from this more innovative approach in some of his later writings, most notably in his book The God of Jesus Christ. Opting for what he calls a "Son christology," Kasper evidences a clear shift away from his previous pneumatological orientation. This dissertation argues first of all that there is indeed such a shift that takes place, and in so doing compares the merits of Kasper's earlier Spirit christology to his later more Logos oriented christology which he calls a Son christology. The thesis defended is that while Kasper's Spirit oriented christology signals an important advance in Catholic christology, it nevertheless bears the character of an unfulfilled promise. Instead of developing this innovative pneumatological approach to christology in his later writing, he opted to return to a more exclusively Logos oriented model for understanding the mystery of Christ. After situating Kasper's Spirit christology in the horizon of recent approaches to Spirit christology, and then analyzing the shift in Kasper's own position, this dissertation argues that Kasper's shift is an unfortunate one. It further argues that the Spirit christology model is a necessary complement to the Logos model because it better honors the divinity of Jesus Christ, and at the same time it makes more intelligible his human and historical nature using a grammar that is at once true to Chalcedon and also adequate to contemporary discourse in the Church, the academy and society.

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Recommended Citation

Petriano, Thomas I, "Spirit christology or Son christology? An analysis of the tension between the two in the theology of Walter Kasper" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825874.