With the Year of Mercy just around the corner, it is fitting to return to what is perhaps the greatest explication of the doctrine of mercy in recent years, that of Pope, now Saint, John Paul II in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia.
Like Pope John Paul II before him, Pope Francis has made mercy something of a theme in his pontificate, a fact often forgotten by secular and Catholic commentators alike. Discussions surrounding the extraordinary synod on the family in 2014 and the ordinary synod of 2015 are often couched in references to a “theology of mercy” which in many ways does not adequately define what mercy in fact is.
German cardinal Walter Kasper has made much out of this in his recent publications, most particularly his work Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, as well as the publication of his address to the consistory of Cardinals in February 2014 The Gospel of the Family. Where Kasper falls into the trap of playing mercy off against doctrine, John Paul II was able to navigate through the often murky waters of human experience, advocating not a “gradualness of the law,” but rather a “law of gradualness” as he described in paragraph 34 of his Familaris Consortio.
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