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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Exploring the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly

Last week my friend Justin Nickelsen (of the excellent blog Ressourcement - Restoration in Catholic Theology) introduced me to the quarterly newsletter of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. I spent some time investigating the archives, which go all the way back to the first issue (December 1977!).

It was a fascinating exploration, watching this periodical grow from its initial 7 pages to the average 50+ of today. (An annual subscription to Communio in 1977 was advertised at only $8.00 -- times certainly have changed!).

Following are some of the "gems" that were unearthed during the course of my reading, which I thought might be of interest to our readers:

On Hans Urs von Balthasar

  • Hans Urs Von Balthasar on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from CUA - September 5, 1980 (FCSQ Vol. 4, No. 1. Dec. 1980):
    "Jesus' word can be understood by all, but only in the light of his testimony of being the Son of God does it become truly clear. Moreover, only in relation to his death and resurrection does it attain the fullness of its meaning: Jesus' entire being is one single word. This perfect being becomes manifest only from the testimonials of faith; those of Paul which are as important as the ones in the Acts of the Apostles; John is as authoritative as that of the Synoptics. They altogether form a magnificent poliphony - not a pluralism in the contemporary sense. They can be compared to views of a free-standing statue that has to be observed from all directions to understand its self-expression. The more facets we can view, the better we can grasp the unity of the inspiration. The professor of this inspiration is the Church, the early charisma of which was to compose the New Testament and establish its canon. Only her eyes of faith, guided by the Holy Spirit, could see the whole phenomenon of Jesus Christ."

    "Hence the fundamental principle that exegesis - which is indeed a legitimate theological science - can be practiced meaningfully only with the comprehensive view of the Church. If one stands outside, one will - unavoidably - begin to break up the indivisible unity of the figure (of Christ) by changing words to more fashionable ones which most likely do not mean the same, or to words that can be found also in other religions so that while one hears familiar expressions, these are merely generically religious and not uniquely individual (to Christianity). Such manipulations are just as destructive as if, for example, someone would omit every fifth or tenth beat from a phrase of a Mozart symphony or every second verse from Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'."

  • von Balthasar on Theology and Holiness, by Kenneth Baker, SJ. FCSQ Vol. 13, No. 2. March 1990. Recollections from a friend of the Swiss theologian:
    The center of his theology is Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. Jesus is the Revelation of the Father, the Word, the Voice of God. He is the true or sole "Theologian" because He speaks the final word about God (theo-Iogos). Faith in Jesus Christ, total response to Him and existential experience of Him go before all reflection or "theologizing" on the part of the would-be scholar. That is why the saints play such a large role in the theology of von Balthasar. They are theologians par excellence because they grasped God and were grasped by Him. They did not separate their faith into one compartment and their theologizing into another.

Henri DeLubac

  • Fr. Henri De Lubac: Example of a Catholic Scholar, by Fr. JulioR. DeEscobar. FCSQ Vol. 4, No. 1, Dec. 1980:
    Frequently, today, the name of Fr. Henri DeLubac, S.J. is cited as an example of a Catholic scholar "persecuted" by official Church authority, only to be vindicated later. This at best is only a partial interpretation of facts. The impositions on him by officials of the Church are only one facet of his scholarly life.

    Little is known about his reactions to those impositions. A detailed account about the entire story (from both sides) is still to be written. For now, two things can be said. First, Fr. DeLubac has never written a single line manifesting reservations about or coldness toward Church authority. His hunger for truth, his critical mind, his evangelical freedom, his Catholic balance, his rejection of Modernism and Integrism (both) are all part of his priestly life.

    Secondly, his writings, hardly the work of a servile mind, speak for themselves. . . .

    DeEscobar goes on to provide quotations from De Lubac's work relevant to the current situation in Catholic theology (following the censure of Hans Kung and the question of a Catholic scholar's obedience to the Magisterium).

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

  • Cardinal RatzingerCardinal Ratzinger on "Handing on the Faith Today" [1983]. Excerpts from an address to a Paris symposium on January 16, 1983. The full text was originally published in La Documentation Catholique March 6, 1983. Ratzinger criticizes the encroachment of "radical anthropocentrism" and the historical-critical method and a consequent "crisis in catechetics":
    ". . . A German mother one day told me that her son, who attended an elementary school, was in the process of being introduced to Christology by way of the so-called Source regarding the "logia (sayings) of the Savior." As for the seven sacraments, the articles of the Creed, not a word has been breathed about them. The anecdote means the following: with the criteria of the earliest literary stratum as the most certain historical witness, the real Bible disappears for the sake and benefit of a reconstructed Bible, and for the benefit of a Bible such as it would have to be in their view. It is the same with Jesus. The "Jesus" of the Gospels is considered as a Christ considerably recast by dogma, behind which it would be important to return to the Jesus of the logia or of yet another alleged source in order to rediscover the authentic Jesus. This authentic Jesus says and does nothing more than what pleases us. He spares us, for example, the cross as expiatory sacrifice - the cross is reduced to the level of a scandalous accident, before which it is not becoming to pause too long.

    "The Resurrection also becomes an experience of the disciples according to which Jesus, or at least, His "reality" continues. One no longer needs to dwell on the events, but rather on the consciousness which the disciples and the community had about them. The certitude of faith is replaced by confidence in the historical-critical hypothesis. Now this procedure seems to me to be especially irritating. Caution regarding the historical-critical hypothesis, in a number of catechetical writings, assuredly is a step in the right direction towards the certitude of faith. . .

    Ratzinger's prescription: "resist theories which whittle away the Faith in the name of the authority of pure reason"; recall that faith is not merely an isolated individual encounter but -- as De Lubac demonstrates -- a commmunal encounter with the Church down through the ages ("When I say: "I believe," this means that I am going beyond the limits of my subjectivity, in order to identify myself with the "I" of the Church):
    "There is a widespread tendency today to avoid difficulty when the message of the Faith places us in the presence of material things by sticking to a symbolic interpretation of them: this begins with creation, continues with the virgin birth of Jesus and His Resurrection, and ends with the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread .and wine, with our own resurrection and with the Lord's Second Coming. It is not a matter of theological discussion of slight importance when individual resurrection is situated at death and thereby denies not only the soul, but even the reality of salvation for the body. This is why a defmitive and decisive renewal of faith in creation constitutes both a necessary and preliminary condition for the credibility and deeper understanding of Christology as well as eschatology. . . .

    ". . . (The Church establishes the context within which Scripture is to be interpreted and is the only locus, place, site for acknowledging the writings of the Bible as holy Scripture and their declarations as meaningful and true. Translator's note.) There will, however, always be a certain tension between new issues raised by history and the continuity of the faith. But, at the same time, it is clearly apparent to us that traditional Faith is not the real enemy, but rather the guarantor of a fidelity to the Bible, which, however, may be consistent with historical methodologies."

    [Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 3. June 1983. pp. 11-12].

  • Cardinal Ratzinger and Post-Conciliar Biblical Criticism Remarks by Cardinal Ratzinger prefacing his 1983 lecture on liberation theology. Translated by A.M. Paltrinieri. FCS Quarterly Newsletter Vol. 7, No. 3, June 1984. p. 13.

  • Interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, interview was given August 15-18, 1984 in Bressanone, Italy, with Vittorio Messori. [Basis for The Ratzinger Report]. Jesus, November 1984 issue, Milan, pp. 67-81. Excerpts republished in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. Vol. 8, No. 2, March 1985. pp. 1-8.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

[Note: I may add a few more notations to this post over the course of this week as I compile them, but nothing like the meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Küng to start it off, eh? -- Chris]

Pope Benedict XVI meets Hans Küng

"In a dramatic gesture of reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI met Sept. 24 with his former colleague and longtime nemesis, Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng, a fiery liberal who once compared then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with the head of the KGB in his capacity as the Vatican's top doctrinal enforcer." So reports John Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter's uber-correspondent from Rome) on the big story of the week:

During a four-hour session that stretched over dinner, the two men essentially agreed to disagree on doctrinal matters. The pope offered warm praise for Küng's efforts to foster dialogue among religions and with the natural sciences, while Küng expressed support for the pope's commitment along the same lines.

"It's clear that we have different positions," Küng told NCR in a telephone interview from his home in Tübingen, Germany. "But the things we have in common are more fundamental. We are both Christians, both priests in service of the church, and we have great personal respect for one another."

A Sept. 26 statement from the Vatican did not say who had requested the meeting, but said that it took place in a "friendly climate" and that Benedict XVI offered special support for Küng's efforts to build a Weltethos, or a moral framework based on values shared among religions which can also be recognized by secular reason.

"We should not have delusions," Küng said of what the meeting suggests about the pontificate of Benedict XVI. "His stances on church policy are not my own."

Nevertheless, Küng said, he regards the meeting as a "sign of hope for many in the church with the same vision as mine."

He described the session as "very joyful," with "no reproaches, no polemics."

Küng said he did not request that Benedict XVI restore his license to teach Catholic theology.

The National Catholic Reporter provides some behind-the-scenes details:

Küng told NCR that he wrote to the new pope to request a meeting roughly a week after his April 19 election. He said he had repeatedly requested a meeting with John Paul II, both before and after the 1979 decision to revoke his license as a Catholic theologian, without response.

I have to wonder if Pope John Paul II might have been more considerate of Küng's request to meet if Küng weren't so vehement in his polemics. Openly ridiculing the Holy Father as a third-rate theologian with "a very thin theological foundation -- not to mention a lack of modern exegesis, the history of dogmas and the church" and accusing him of betraying Vatican II" by "rigorous moral encyclicals [and] traditionalist-imperialist world catechism" (as he did in his biography ) doesn't exactly cultivate an amicable relationship. If anything, this week's conciliatory meeting is a testament to Pope Benedict's patience, forgiveness and goodwill.

Further Links:

In Other News . . .

  • Pope to put his stamp on U.S. church hierarchy, by Rocco Palmo. Religion News Service. Sept. 17, 2005. Rocco (Whispers in the Loggia) on a very important element of the Holy Father's task -- choosing the future leaders of the Catholic Church:
    For nearly a quarter-century, Benedict, as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, played an advisory role in the appointment of bishops. But when he was elected pope in April, he inherited the papacy’s absolute authority to select suitable leaders for the world’s 2,700 dioceses — 197 of which are in the United States. . . .

  • Vatican schedule released for September- December, indicating B16's plans to resume regular visits to Rome parishes, and preside at all the major traditional Vatican celebrations of the Christmas season. Catholic World News, Sept. 26, 2005.

  • The Monk under the Mitre, by Austen Ivereigh. [Reprint from The Catholic Herald] Sept. 9, 2005 -- Reflecting on World Youth Day in Cologne, Ivereigh counters the speculations of the media that the final Mass at Cologne "to launch a broadside against the Dictatorship of Relativism":
    f this was an offensive, it was free of offence. It roused prayer, not adulation; it was less holy crusade than meditation for a silent retreat. While Catholics for a Free Choice gave out condoms, the Pope never even mentioned contraception. Those who hoped for a hammering of the heretics were left twiddling their whips.

    The Word Youth Day homily was just that: not a manifesto; not a Gettysburg address; not even rhetoric tailored to television. It was a superb, old-fashioned piece of catechetics, unafraid to be bookish, which paid young people the compliment of not patronizing them. In the age of CNN and MTV it takes real daring to explain the Eucharist in front of a million young people by dwelling on the nuances of the word 'adoration' in Greek (proskynesis, in case you wondered).

    It was a flawless performance: the Pope smiled and waved, radiated hope, reached out to Protestants, Jews and Muslims, and confirmed hundreds of thousands of young people in their faith. Not only did Cologne exorcise the Panzerkardinal demons, but Benedict "left critics taking a new look at the Church he leads" according to the Reuters religion editor, Tom Heneghan. "It was his humility," clapped The Times, "that captured hearts".

  • On a similar note, Hartwig Bouillon (freelance journalist, Germany) reports that "Project Benedict confounds German critics" (Mercator.Net, Sept. 9, 2005):
    What actually happened left German TV journalists gobsmacked. The received wisdom -- that youngsters would like the event, but didn’t care for the Faith -- was shattered. More than one million joyful young pilgrims invaded Cologne, cheered the Pope and openly prayed. The sheer impact of the images was overwhelming. Dominating the news was the white-garbed Pontiff on a catamaran slowly cruising up the Rhine encircled by 1200 youths from all over the world. On both banks of the immense river half a million more, the front row standing knee-deep in water, were cheering and singing: “Be-ne-detto! Be-ne-detto!”

    Now that a few weeks have elapsed, the penny has dropped for the commentariat. Benedict XVI is neither the “German shepherd”, as he was dubbed by the British tabloid press, nor a doddering Übergangspapst, a mere nightwatchman for John Paul the Great’s legacy. In fact, Pope Benedict has his own agenda. Shy and friendly he may be, but with his razor-sharp intellect, long experience, and deep piety, he is setting his own course. . . .

    (Thanks to Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia) for passing along this article.

  • Radio-Novel Looks at Life of Joseph Ratzinger Zenit. Sept. 13, 2005. Zenit News Service reports that "Beginning Sept. 25, and continuing every Sunday for the next 12 weeks, Vatican Radio will broadcast the Italian-language novel [on the life of Pope Benedict XVI] by chapters. . . . The idea of a radio broadcast of the Pope's biography came to journalist Franco Bucarelli when paging through the volume "My Life," written by Cardinal Ratzinger himself, and published in Italian by St. Paul's, which has granted the rights for this program."

St. Blog's Reads Pope Benedict: Book Reviews and Reflections

* * *

Closing with some powerful words of prayer and reflection from Pope Benedict's Sept. 25 Angelus: On the Eucharist and Love: "Source of the Spiritual Energy That Renews Our Life":

The whole of Jesus earthly existence, from his conception until his death on the cross, was an act of love, to the point that we can summarize our faith in these words: "Jesus, caritas" -- Jesus, love. In the Last Supper, knowing that his hour had come, the divine Master gave his disciples the supreme example of love, washing their feet, and entrusted to them his precious legacy, the Eucharist, in which the whole paschal mystery is centered, as the venerated Pope John Paul II wrote in the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." Take and eat, all of you, because this is my Body," "Take and drink all of you, because this is the cup of my Blood."

Jesus' words in the cenacle anticipated his death and manifested the consciousness with which he faced it, transforming it into a gift of himself, in the act of love that gives itself totally. In the Eucharist, the Lord gives himself to us with his body, with his soul and with his divinity, and we become one with him and among ourselves.

Our response to his love therefore must be concrete, and must be expressed in a genuine conversion to love, in forgiveness, in reciprocal acceptance and in attention for the needs of all. Many and varied are the forms of service that we can offer our neighbor in everyday life, if we pay a little attention. The Eucharist becomes in this way the source of the spiritual energy that renews our life every day and, in this way, renews the love of Christ to the world.

Previous Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI Roundups: 4/11/05; 4/15/05; 4/18/05; 4/23/05; 5/01/05; 5/21/05; 6/6/05; 6/25/05; 7/10/05; 7/14/05; 7/25/05; 8/15/05; 9/12/05

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kung's Gripe

I've never really tried my hand at the blogging art of fisking -- but this article from Reuters was practically begging for a demonstration: Catholic Rebel Kueng Fears Manipulation of Conclave April 11, 2005.

BERLIN (Reuters) - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is manipulating the papal conclave with a campaign to have Pope John Paul made a saint, compelling his successor to follow in his footsteps, leading theologian Hans Kueng said on Monday.

Oh, yes. And I suppose Cardinal Ratzinger was behind the scenes, orchestrating the crowd of an estimated two million pilgrims who flocked to Rome to witness the funeral of our departed pope? -- Perhaps the Cardinal's evil minions were passing out leaflets to the crowd, choreographing the moment such that they would exclaim "Santo Santo Subito!" together on cue?

If pressed further, I suppose Kung might allege that the funeral of Pope John Paul II was "manipulated" by Cardinal Ratzinger in much the same manner as the Pope himself had "manipulated" a gathering of 70,000 youth during a papal visit to Switzerland, dismissed by Kung as a "triumphalist personality cult" because it did not allow for "questioning of Vatican policies ranging from celibacy to the secondary role for women in the church." (AP June 10, 2004).

Ratzinger's drive would put pressure on cardinals to name a successor who would follow the Pontiff's conservative line, said Kueng, one of the Church's most prominent liberal dissenters.

The agreement by cardinals not to talk to the media ahead of their secret conclave also did not bode well for the chances of getting a reform-minded leader, he said.

"I haven't given up all hope that we will get the right man. However Cardinal Ratzinger is clearly manipulating the whole conclave," Kueng told Reuters in an interview.

Of course, this comes from the same man who openly ridiculed the Holy Father as a third-rate theologian with "a very thin theological foundation -- not to mention a lack of modern exegesis, the history of dogmas and the church" in his recent biography (My Struggle for Freedom, p. 76); and who in a 2000 interview with BeliefNet, charged the Pope with having "betrayed Vatican II" by his "rigorous moral encyclicals [and] traditionalist-imperialist world catechism." Want to take a guess as to who the "right man" for pope would be?

. . . "A campaign for Pope John Paul's beatification, inspired and engineered by the Vatican, is in full swing and it will try to smother all internal criticism," Kueng said. At the Pope's funeral on Friday crowds chanted "Subito Santo" ("make him a saint immediately"), putting pressure on the next pope to bow to the popular will, he said.

Comments by Ratzinger that he had seen the Pope "looking down from the window of heaven" pushed John Paul's candidacy for sainthood, Kueng said.

"Given the mood in Rome, a candidate would not be elected unless they say they are prepared to make John Paul a saint. This is manipulation in a grand style."

It's amusing to hear Kung gripe about "bowing to the popular will", when he has so clearly demonstrated a willingness to advocate "the popular will" on so many occasions, for instance the popular demand to use contraception (Kung was one of the signers of a European document opposing Humane Vitae in 1974).

But to permit the laity to respond in agreement with the clergy, celebrating the life and example of a pope who adamantly refused to subordinate the teachings of the Church to the "spirit of the age"? -- No, we CAN'T have that. Kung won't stand for it!

. . . Kueng listed five attributes he considered important for a new Pope and said there was support for his views.

The Pope should be evangelical, collegial, open-minded on the role of women, ready to push for better inter-faith relations and supportive of freedom and openness in the church.

A South American or African Pope would not be enough to secure the renewal of the Church, particularly if the candidate had spent a long time with the Curia cardinals in Rome.

"We need to find a representative of the global Church with a global perspective and not simply the narrow view of the Roman Curia."

"Narrow view of the Roman Curia" -- This is Kungspeak, plain and simple: narrow as in "preoccupation with distinctly Christian dogmas and morality", which would be readily sacrificed in favor of Kung's "Principles of a Global Ethic", which pretty much boils down to Kant's categorical imperative (a philosophical rendering of the "Golden Rule") shrouded in a misty veil of United Nations multiculturalism. For a critique of Kung's "one world" ethic, see: "United Religions Initiative: Promoting a Politically Correct Global Ethic", by Lee Penn (

Asked how the Church should deal with internal dissent Kueng said: "Instead of trying to liquidate its critics the Church should talk to them . . . It is a paradox that the same Pope, who was photographed so widely meeting the man who shot him, refused to meet theologians like me."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the procedure of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith to "talk to them," providing heterodox theologians an opportunity to discuss their positions, in order to more closely discern whether they pose a danger to the faith? -- I've yet to see Cardinal Ratzinger dispatch black-cloaked henchmen to "liquidate" the opposition.

Pope John Paul II displayed great enthusiasm for dialogue with all manner of philosophers, theologians, intellectuals. The problem is, there is nothing particularly original about Kung's brand of dissent. I imagine the Pope probably had better things to do with his time, and for that reason delegated the task to the CDF.

* * *

As if you needed another reason to question Fr. Kung's griping about bowing "before the popular will," here's a sound thrashing of his book Credo: The Apostle's Creed Explained for Today by Thomas W Currie, a Presbyterian:

In undertaking this project, Kung enlists in the honorable ranks of those who would make use of new insights to unfold the gospel's story. The question, however, is whether Kung, in so earnestly seeking to be understood by present-day culture, has not made its approval the criterion for what is permissible to be heard in that story. Earnest, eager to resolve doubt, anxious not to give offence, Credo is remarkable in its breadth of learning, yet is strangely non-threatening, hardly disturbing to either the faithful or the unbelieving. Kung's finding that the virgin birth does not lie at the center of the gospel he calls a "momentous decision." The resurrection appearances are for him "probably . . . inward visionary events and not external reality." Who is God? "God is the all-embracing and all-permeating ground of meaning of the world process, who can of course only be accepted in faith," a definition, one might note, which is unencumbered by reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, much less the disturbing singularity of the Word made flesh.

Although Kung seeks to answer the concerns of a remarkably diverse number of conversation-partners, his primary audience appears to be those same "cultured despisers" who, having gone to school in the Enlightenment, can pick apart the church's failings and contradictions without breaking into much of a sweat. These folk, he thinks, are embarrassed by talk of miracles, saints, and human sinfulness and need reassurance that committing to the faith will not implicate them in something foolish. Credo is happy to oblige on almost every count, finding in Jesus Christ that "guide for Christians" in whose company "it should be possible to achieve a psychological identity for oneself in the face of all imprisonment in anxiety, and also social solidarity against all resignation in face of compulsive pressure." So it is that the gospel makes sense in the world and proves its usefulness in its ability to help people lead satisfying, fulfilling lives. . . . And just so fails to wound or to heal.

(Source: Theology Today Vol. 51, No. 4. Jan. 1995).

Related Posts:

  • Father Ethan @ Suburban Priest has photograph of one of the poor blokes apparently brainwashed by Cardinal Ratzinger.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Effluence of Kung, The Brevity of Ratzinger.

One more note on Dr. Blosser's appraisal of Hans Kung -- I plodded my way through Kung's biography a couple months ago and found it to be a very laborious exercise. Those who have encountered Kung before will recall that he still carries a very large chip on his shoulder against the Church. This was evident in his The Catholic Church: A Short History and is also the case here, as illustrated by subtle (or not so subtle) jabs at his theological rivals. Cardinal Ratzinger, for instance, is described as one who "sold his soul for power in the Church" (a typical perception among many liberal Catholics).

Kung's animus towards the Cardinal is nothing compared to the Holy Father, however. Early on in his autobiography, Kung characterizes the young Karol Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II] as a third-rate theologian with "a very thin theological foundation -- not to mention a lack of modern exegesis, the history of dogmas and the church," and alleges that the Holy Father's motive for aligning his papacy with Opus Dei rather than the Jesuits is to get personal revenge for being rejected at the Gregorian (p. 79).

For one who back in April 1998 "said he would no longer defend some of his past criticisms of Pope John Paul II, and that he is hoping for a 'conciliation' with the Holy Father" [Source: Adoremus Bulletin], it sounds like he's still got some anger-management issues to work through.

* * *

A final point of amusement: the focus of Ratzinger's memoirs (Milestones) and Kung's (My Struggle for Freedom) is approximately the same period: their childhood and early years in the priesthood, culminating in their participation as periti (theological advisors) in the Second Vatican Council.

Covering the years 1927-1977, Ratzinger says what needs to be said in a mere 156 pages. It's a nice and refreshing read and you can polish it off in an afternoon.

By contrast, the first -- wait, there's more? -- volume of Kung's autobiography covers four decades to Ratzinger's five . . . and clocks in just shy of 500 pages (464, not counting the index).

I'm not sure what Cardinal Ratzinger's succinctness reveals about his personality. However, after wading into My Struggle for Freedom, I get the impression that Kung is a man who derives great pleasure in talking about himself.

Thank God he hasn't taken up blogging!

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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Hans Kung jealous of Papal "personality cult"; craves his own.

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Hans Kung, a liberal Swiss Roman Catholic who was stripped by the Vatican of his right to teach theology, said Pope John Paul II's visit reflected a "personality cult" in the church.

The visit was a slickly orchestrated event "steered by the hierarchy and dominated by Rome-oriented charismatic groups" from throughout Europe, Kung told The Associated Press, in a phone interview from his home in Tubingen, Germany.

"That was no representative meeting of Swiss Catholic young people as I know them," said Kung after a mostly youthful crowd of 70,000 joined the pope Sunday at his open-air Mass. *

The service and youth meeting the night before allowed for no questioning of Vatican policies ranging from celibacy to the secondary role for women in the church, Kung said.

On the pope's last visit to Switzerland 20 years ago, young people could ask critical questions, but this time they were only permitted to cheer, read greetings and devotedly kiss his hands, Kung said.

Such a "triumphalist personality cult" surrounding the pontiff is objectionable, Kung said.

"This pope, whose foreign policy of peace and justice in the world I fully support, still has no answers for the most urgent questions of internal church policies," Kung said.

* According to a spokesman for Switzerland's Catholic episcopal conference, "At the beginning, for the meeting in the BernArena, we did not expect more than 3,000 to 4,000 young people; there were 14,000. On Sunday, we didn't dare to hope for the figure of 40,000 -- and 70,000 people attended the Mass."Swiss Marvel at John Paul II's "Magic" With Youth June 7, 2004.


Sunday, August 31, 2003

Raging Against the Vatican

Envoy Magazine's Carl Olson blogs on the "Luther complex" of the controversial priest Hans Küng, whose memoir My Struggle for Freedom is due for publication in November:
There is no denying Küng's intelligence and scholarly brilliance . . . but the Christian Faith is not about being smarter than other people. It is ultimately about humility and holiness, both being gifts of God through Christ. From what I have read, Kung's arrogance is legendary. Contrast that with the incredible humility of Cardinal Ratzinger, once a colleague of Kung's, whose work for the Church has exhibited the sort of humility, strength, firmness, charity, and pastoral vision one expects from a true disciple of Christ.

I've actually enjoyed some of Fr. Küng's books, particularly those on interreligious dialogue. I'm currently reading Christianity & World Religions, a collection of essays by Küng and two other scholars on Hinduism, Buddhism, & Islam, and I am definitely interested in reading his memoirs (particularly his reflections on Vatican II and his early years at the University of Tübingen, when he and Cardinal Ratzinger were colleagues). But I concur with Olson's criticism of Küng's arrogance -- his greatest flaw is his preoccupation with himself and his dissent with the Vatican.

Two dominant themes that have influenced Küng's work is his vision of a "global ethic" for the world's religions 1 and his conception of a "paradigm change" in the development of Christian theology, the latter hermeneutic derived from the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. Unfortunately, Küng's attempts to apply paradigm analysis to religious history are not always productive, and result in obscuring the subject. This was the impression I received reading Küng's massive Christianity: Essence, History & Future (Continuum, 1996), which I am amused to find placed alongside other 'introductions to Christianity' in Catholic bookstores. Likewise, Eugene Fisher says of his earlier work Judaism: Between Yesterday and Today:

Küng attempts to summarize all of the Jewish history and thought through paradigm theory. But in this instance that theory turns into a procrustean bed. A key test of any attempt to describe another religious tradition is whether members of that tradition will actually see themselves in the attempted description. In this case, I do not believe that very many Jews will see Judaism depicted here either accurately or sympathetically. This book tells us a lot about what kind of religion would be an ideal one in Küng's mind. But it tells us almost nothing about what Judaism in its many manifestations over the centuries has been, is, or could be. In short, it fails to live up to its title.2

It is appropriate that Dr. Fisher places Küng's work alongside that of Rosemary Radford Reuther in the 'Polemical' category in his biography, rather than 'Introductions and General Overviews' of Judaism. Returning to Carl's description of Küng's "Luther complex", Allen Mittleman describes this book as a "challenge to reform [Jewish] tradition along Küngian theological lines", and criticizes Küng's furious polemic against "the Law", concluding:

"his profound hostility to the dominant mode of Jewish piety impairs his ability not only to interpret Judaism but to converse with Jews. I have no duty to listen to someone who evidently holds my way of life in contempt."3

Stripped of his authorization to teach as a Catholic theologian in 1979, Küng still bears a great deal of resentment towards the Vatican. This chip on his shoulder becomes increasingly more explicit in his later works. His latest work, The Catholic Church: A Short History, is not so much a 'history' as an opportunity for him to reiterate his earlier criticisms of papal infallibility and the Vatican heirarchy.

However, when it comes to autobiographies extolling one's intellectual brilliance & lamenting martyrdom at the hands of the Vatican, Küng could certainly take lessons from the progressive Episcopalian/former-Dominican Matthew Fox's Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest. In reaction to the Congregation's investigation of his work, he composed an open letter to Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican "to call to task . . . for their sins of omission and failure to teach a credible faith and spirituality, [and] to try to educate [them] and the public about creation spirituality."

What "global ethic" is for Küng, "creation spirituality" is to Matthew Fox -- the perfect antidote to the many ills (racism, sexism, patriarchy, et. al.) that pervade the Catholic Church and society as a whole. Fox is anything but modest about this achievement: as he proclaimed to one interviewer, "one of my main works or accomplishments was recovering the mystical tradition of Christianity." 4.

According to Fox, Christianity has been spiritually-destitute ever since St. Augustine came up with the doctrine of original sin, and has made it his personal mission to repair the damage by propogating his notion of "original blessing." With this end in mind, Fox re-translated Meister Eckhart and St. Hildegard of Bingen, and in turn used his own translations (rather than the original texts) as basis for his theology. And in a ploy that truly has to be read to be believed, Fox assembled snippets from various writings of St. Thomas Aquinas into a "dialogue" with himself. Readers of Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality will be hardly suprised to find that this great Doctor of the Church was actually a medieval proponent of Matthew Fox's thought. 5 Such a move provoked scientist & theologian Lawrence Osborn to wonder:

This immediately raises the question of whether the authors in question are being allowed to speak for themselves. On closer examination, it appears that they are, in fact, being subjected to a bed of Procrustes. That mythological character used to measure travelers against his bed - if they fell short they were stretched to fit, if they were overlong amputation was the order of the day. 6

In what some may consider to be a blessing in disguise, Fox left the Dominicans and joined the Episcopalians in 1994, where he continues to promote creation spirituality and "the techno-cosmic mass." As Douglas LeBlanc comments in his review of Confessions, "Matthew Fox has the exegetical and theological savvy to become a bishop in the postmodern Episcopal Church." 8

Hans Küng and Matthew Fox, along with a host of other dissenting Catholics or ex-Catholics (John Cornwell, Garry Wills, James Carroll, et al.) have carved out a niche for themselves by raging against the Vatican. They've sold many books and much attention has been lavished upon them, especially in this time of crisis in the Church. But as Carl Olson says, "[Kung's] work is the product of a particular era and does not contain the timeless qualities that exist in the work of Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II, and others." Decades from now I imagine that Catholics will still be studying the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. I do not think these authors will enjoy such lasting appeal.

Note: Gerard Serafin has blogged on the alleged reconciliation with Hans Kung proposed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

  1. Küng penned the early draft of the 'Declaration of a Global Ethic' for the Parliament of Religions.
  2. Jewish-Christian Relations 1989 - 1993: A Bibliographic Update.
  3. The Scholar as Polemicist. Review of Kung's Judaism: Between Yesterday & Today by Alan L. Mittleman. First Things 31 (March 1993): 45-48.
  4. "Original Blessing: An Interview with Matthew Fox" Nexus Nov. 2001.
  5. Catholicism for the New Age: Matthew Fox and Creation-Centered Spirituality, Mitchell Pacwa, S.J. examines Fox's faulty translations. According to Pacwa, one of the Dominicans originally assigned to investigate Fox's work, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., reported at a 1991 lecture that "Fox's work did not seem worth condemning because it was too superficial and did not appear to be a danger to the faithful. He was wrong, as he now admits."
  6. Heresy or Hope? - A Critique of Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality, by Lawrence Osborn. Mr. Osborn also cites Rosemary Radford Reuther, who criticized Fox for "[lacking] the basic requirement of historical scholarship, and critical distance from his own agenda."
  7. Confessions: The Making Of A Post-Denominational Priest, reviewed by Douglas LeBlanc for the Christian Research Institute.

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