Once I was a precocious sophomore in highschool, I as soon as barged into the workplace of the Capuchin priest who was answerable for our faith curriculum to tell him that I had critical mental reservations in regards to the Catholic religion, and I discovered the solutions being provided at school unsatisfying.
Father Mike Scully checked out me for a second with what, trying again, I now acknowledge as a bemused smirk, after which wheeled his chair throughout his workplace and produced a thick e-book off his shelf: On Being a Christian by Hans Küng.
“Go learn this,” Scully informed me, “then we’ll speak.”
I didn’t know then that On Being a Christian is thought to be a masterpiece, some of the daring and provocative explorations ever penned by a Catholic hand on the intelligibility of Christian religion in a contemporary, secular age. Although it’s composed of dense, demanding German tutorial prose, it turned a global finest vendor.
Handing me the e-book was, on reflection, an excellent ploy to place me off, since what had been the chances I’d truly get by means of all 720 pages? It was additionally pretty daring, on condition that Scully knew full nicely Küng’s work was controversial, regarded by some influential figures within the Church as out-and-out heretical. Keep in mind this was 1981, two years after Küng’s license as a Catholic theologian had been pulled, in one of many first indicators that the winds in Catholicism had been shifting below the brand new Pope John Paul II.
For a highschool faith trainer to suggest the e-book to a pupil thus took no small quantity of gumption. But in the long run the transfer was good, as a result of the hassle to make sense of each Küng and his critics was most likely the very best introduction to the contours of an grownup religion within the post-Vatican II period.
A few years later, I had the prospect to sit down in Küng’s lounge in Tübingen, Germany, on a reporting journey and inform him that story. He smiled, then started quizzing me to see if I’d truly mastered his concepts. (I didn’t have the nerve to ask how I did, however I didn’t get any invitations for visitor lectures.)
With the loss of life on Tuesday of the 93-year-old Father Hans Küng – regardless of all his battles with officialdom, Küng was by no means stripped of his priesthood – liberal post-Vatican II Catholicism has misplaced its muse, and all the Church has misplaced an authentic thoughts.
Born in 1928 in Switzerland, Küng was a theological wunderkind who, in his 30s, printed a e-book titled Kirche in Konzil (in English, The Council, Reform and Reunion) that many observers credit score with outlining the agenda for the closing acts of Vatican II. After the council he turned the unique theologian-celebrity, a lightning rod contained in the Church for his liberal positions, together with his open rejection of the dogma of papal infallibility, but in addition extensively hailed even in non-Catholic circles for his repute as a daring mental maverick.
On the peak of his fame, how hotly did his star burn? Take into account that when he visited the U.S. in 1981, he was truly a visitor on “The Phil Donahue Present.”
Küng evoked sturdy reactions. To admirers, he was the Catholic Solzhenitsyn, a courageous dissident talking reality to energy from the ecclesiastical gulag; to detractors, he was a glib snake oil salesman, a traitor who offered out the religion for forty items of popular culture silver.
Within the standard Catholic thoughts, Küng probably can be eternally linked with the determine who was his erstwhile colleague and, later, his central antagonist and bête noire within the rising divides inside Catholicism after the council – Joseph Ratzinger, the longer term doctrinal czar of the Vatican below John Paul II, who would go on to develop into Pope Benedict XVI.
Through the Second Vatican Council, each Ratzinger and Küng had been a part of the broad reform majority, in search of to open the mental home windows and let in some contemporary air amid the fossilized neo-scholasticism that had come to dominate Catholic thought and life. In 1966, Küng was serving because the dean of the theology division at Tübingen when the chair in dogmatics turned obtainable, and he didn’t trouble filling out a terna, or record of three names, insisting as an alternative that his colleague Ratzinger get the job.
The 2 had been a examine in contrasts – the flamboyant Küng zipping round city in his Alfa Romeo, the shy and bookish Ratzinger puttering from side to side on his bicycle – however they hit it off. The 2 males had a standing appointment for dinner each Thursday night time to debate a journal they co-edited, thus making Küng the lone colleague with whom Ratzinger socialized regularly.
Earlier than lengthy issues started to bitter, as Küng turned the captain of the “spirit of Vatican II” constituency in Catholicism, pushing for ever bolder and extra sweeping adjustments in doctrine and observe, whereas Ratzinger turned an vital member of the camp nervous the newborn was being thrown out with the bathwater. In 1971, Ratzinger criticized Küng’s e-book on infallibility, and in 1976, Ratzinger wrote that On Being a Christian had “handed over [Christian faith] to corruption at its very basis.”
For his half, Küng clearly carried a protracted grudge. In 1997, one other German Catholic theologian who had typically been at odds with Ratzinger, Johann Baptist Metz, celebrated his seventieth birthday with a symposium in Ahaus, Germany. Ratzinger was on this system, and the 2 males spoke fondly of each other. Küng, nonetheless, derided Metz for showing with Ratzinger.
“He’s the chief authority of the Inquisitorial workplace. It’s like having a normal dialog about human rights with the pinnacle of the KGB,” Küng mentioned in an interview with me on the time.
“That is virtually a capitulation to the Roman system, a form of making peace with Ratzinger, when the actual process of political theology needs to be to establish itself with the struggling folks in our church. They’re abusing discuss God to keep away from coping with issues within the church.”
It was all a bit a lot for Metz.
“Typically Küng conducts himself like a second magisterium. To let you know the reality, one is sufficient, not less than for me,” Metz mentioned.
That background makes the glad ending to the story particularly candy, since shortly after his election to the papacy, Ratzinger invited his outdated good friend to go to him within the Vatican and the 2 spent a day in heat memory. The pontiff expressed admiration for Küng’s World Ethics Mission and his insistence that there can be no peace on the planet till there may be peace amongst religions, and Küng praised Ratzinger’s personal dedication to interfaith solidarity.
“It’s clear that we now have totally different positions,” Küng mentioned in a phone interview from Tübingen afterwards. “However the issues we now have in frequent are extra basic. We’re each Christians, each monks in service of the church, and we now have nice private respect for each other.”
Wanting again, it’s not clear to me that I understood a lot of On Being a Christian once I first tackled it at 16 – fairly actually, it’s not clear to me how a lot I perceive at this time. However right here’s what I do get: Few figures ever left an even bigger imprint on the Church of their time than Hans Küng, few thinkers and writers ever did extra to outline the contours of debate in regards to the Church, and few had the identical means to make religion appear related, maybe hip and daring, even on the planet’s most completely secular milieu.
Upon the information of his loss of life yesterday, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life tweeted out the next:
“One of many actually nice figures within the theology of the final century is gone, whose concepts and analyses ought to all the time make the Church, the church buildings, society and the tradition suppose.”
Certainly, Hans Küng made us suppose, and doubtless will for so long as Catholic theology is consumed. Not a nasty legacy, that. Requiescat in tempo.