06Apr Hans Küng RIP

The death has been announced of theologian Hans Kung, RIP.

Patricia Lefevere from The National Catholic Reporter has more details:



15 Responses

  1. Paddy Ferry

    Hans Kung, a hero to many of us has sadly died. I felt privileged to have seen and heard him speak here in Edinburgh, in the McEwen Hall, fifteen years approximately. Lord, grant him eternal rest.

  2. Joe O'Leary

    A whole generation of theologians is being swept away: Sean Freyne (2013), Sean Fagan (2016), Claude Geffré (2017), Nicholas Lash, James Mackey, Joseph Moingt (2020), Enda McDonagh, and now Hans Küng. The harvest is great, but the labourers few.


  3. Joe O'Leary


  4. Peter Caffrey

    I was saddened to hear of Father Kung’s death, I hope he is at peace. I am grateful for the gift of his writings. Many will be familiar with his criticisms, but perhaps we have paid less attention to his sense of hope and optimism. In that spirit, I share this quote from his 1992 book, Credo:

    “Despite all my sorry experiences with my church, I believe that critical loyalty is worthwhile, that resistance is meaningful and renewal possible, and that another positive turn in church history cannot be ruled out.”

    We live and pray in hope.

    Peter Caffrey.

  5. Brendan Butler

    By not listening to him instead of silencing him the institutional church lost a God-given opportunity. While the silencing stung him initially it equally galvanised him to achieving greater things.
    There will be no peace in heaven with Saint Hans around.

  6. John Collins

    Derek Scally – Irish Times
    Controversial Swiss-born theologian Küng dies aged 93

    Death ends battle of will and wits over half a century with Pope Benedict
    Hans Küng died as he lived: provoking debate and dividing opinion. To his admirers, the 93-year-old Swiss-born theologian was the great missed opportunity of the Catholic Church: a liberal reformer who sketched a blueprint to unify the Christian faiths with each other, and with modernity.

    To his critics, the Tübingen-based academic was the most dangerous German-speaking priest since Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation.

    Above all Küng’s death on Tuesday ends a six-decade career as theological frenemy of Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. Their long-distance battle of will and wits over half a century was, one Ratzinger biographer suggested, one of the sparkiest relationships since the days of Mozart and Salieri. In the early 1960s, the two men began their careers at the University of Tübingen and as two of the youngest theologians at the second Vatican Council. Even in Rome, their very different styles became apparent: the more extrovert Küng took a liberal path in Tübingen while the introverted Ratzinger, traumatised by the 1968 student revolt, departed for Regensburg and a more conservative theological path. Though they parted company, physically and ideologically, their paths – and swords – crossed regularly in the subsequent decades.

    Licence revoked
    Ratzinger rose through the church ranks, first as archbishop of Munich and, from 1982 in Rome as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Three years earlier this body, formerly known as the Inquisition, had revoked Küng’s licence to teach theology after taking a dim view of his critique of papal infallibility.

    Ratzinger critics suggest he did nothing to lift the ban, and instead focused on Pope John Paul’s conservative reform rollback. Meanwhile Küng’s critics say the image-savvy Tübingen theologian shaped, like few others, the image of a reactionary Ratzinger as “God’s Rottweiler”. Born in Sursee in Switzerland in 1928, Küng decided to become a priest at 11 and took his vows 15 years later. His earliest writings, on the Protestant theologian Karl Barth, indicated the direction of his career: highlighting what unites, rather than divides the Christian faiths.

    Later, banned from teaching Catholic theology, his university created a new professorship to retain him. As head of the Global Ethics Foundation, Küng devoted his last decades to studying world religions and highlighting their uniting values.

    Contrasting positions
    Küng and Ratzinger met a final time in 2005, shortly after the latter became pope. Though neither shifted their contrasting positions, Küng expressed hope the German pope would prove a more inclusive figure.Five years later, he wrote an angry letter to German bishops, describing the German papacy as a series of missed opportunities, embracing problematic traditionalists while spurning Protestants and Jews.

    For Tony Flannery, the Irish Redemptorist priest also subject to a CDF ban, the Catholic church had two paths in the 20th century: the “faithful, pure, small” view of Ratzinger’s church or the “open vision” promoted by Küng. “It was an enormous missed opportunity brought about by narrow-mindedness, a certainty that it alone had the truth, and fear,” said Fr Flannery.

    “History will recognise Küng as the great visionary of this era in the Catholic Church.”

  7. Colm Holmes

    We Are Church Statement

    Hans Küng was the Prophet the Vatican feared the most

    9 April 2021 We Are Church International mourns the death of the great prophet Hans Küng who clearly set out the reforms necessary to bring the Catholic Church back to Christ.

    On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of We Are Church in autumn 2020, Hans Küng wrote to us:

    “From the beginning, I have supported We Are Church in every respect. In its demands it has the message of Jesus Christ behind it and at the same time it corresponds to the requirements of today’s democratic and pluralistic society. In the time of the two Restoration Popes Wojtyla and Ratzinger, there was little hope that your concerns would be heard in the hierarchy. With Pope Francis, however, a turning point seems to have occurred that makes it easier for some of your demands to be met. In the wintry Church, We Are Church has kept the embers smouldering under the ashes. May the fire of reform now finally take hold of the whole Church and also the Vatican. So continue, dear friends: courage, creativity and perseverance!”

  8. Paddy Ferry

    Hans Kung RIP

    What a great privilege it has been for all of us to have lived in the era of Hans Kung.

    Colm, thank you for sharing with us his message last Autumn to We Are Church. That, I found, very touching.

    And, Séamus ends his current piece, “From ‘Blowing in the Wind’ to ‘The Times They Are A Changin'” with a postscript ending with the words “Our Hero”.

    And that he certainly was.

    He didn’t settle for a life of power and prestige when Pope Paul invited him to stay and work in Rome. Though who knows, he might well have become Benedict XV1.

    I think I have mentioned before on here that I have tried twice — many years ago now — to read On Being a Christian and could not get past page 40, approximately, on both occasions. Perhaps I will now try again.

    I did however get right to the end of Infallible? and that for me was a real eye opener/mind opener. I have also now read it a number of times since. I remember when I first read it questioning my priest friends over here on the Decretals of Pseudo-Isodore and what they were taught about this subject at seminary. To my great surprise, it seemed it had never been mentioned at seminary!! They all had, however, heard of Yves Congar. John Paul II made him a cardinal on his death bed. I always hoped Francis would do that for Hans.

    The breadth of Hans’ intellect was quite remarkable. He wrote, you could say, with unprecedented expertise on aspects of theology –someone has referred to him as one of the three greatest Catholic theologians of the 20th century with Rahner and Schillebeeckx — and ethics. But you know he had also another string to his bow. He wrote an acclaimed book on the transcendental nature of the music of Mozart, Traces of Transcendence. Can you believe that!

    I once met someone who was a friend and colleague of Hans Kung, a Methodist whom I met at what was then the annual Scottish Ecumenical Assembly.

    This man had helped Hans in the translation of his books into English.

    And, he told us this true story.

    At that famous meeting after the close of the Council when Paul V1 invited Hans to stay and work in Rome, Paul also spoke warmly of Karl Barth who was Hans’ friend and who had been such an influence in his work.

    Paul expressed the opinion that Karl Barth was probably the greatest reformed theologian since the reformation.

    When Hans returned from Rome he went to see his friend Karl and shared this story of the Pope’s high opinion of him as a theologian.

    Karl Barth sat quietly smoking his pipe until Hans had finished his story and then said to Hans, “You know, Hans, I think there is a lot to be said for this doctrine of Papal Infallibility!”

  9. Joe O'Leary

    Jim Heisig SVD chatted up Karl Rahner, who seemed to be out of it at some event in Chicago for linguistic reasons. Rahner made the following joke: “Wissen Sie, warum Hans Küng nie Papst werden kann? Wegen seiner Unfehlbarkeit!” “Do you know why Hans Küng can never become pope? Because of his Infallibility!”–referring I suppose to the 1970 book, “Unfehlbar?”. The book may have been counterproductive because of its polemical swing (and date of publication, the very centenary of Pastor aeternus). Scholarly recontextualization of the whole debate, from Brian Tierney and others, pursued sine ira et studio, was somewhat thwarted by Küng’s loud protest. Something similar might be said of his Christology from below. It was a misfortune for the deeply scholarly Schillebeeckx to be lumped alongside Küng in the “trials” the Vatican initiated around 1980.

  10. Eddie Finnegan

    Paddy, Paul VI may have regarded Karl B as the greatest REformed theologian. His invitation to Hans K to become a Roman came with the injunction to CONform and the wish that Hans had written nothing. As for Papst Hans I, Joe has already given Karl R’s perfect riposte.

    I see, however, from a later thread, that Infallibility and Synodality are both safe in the hands of Root & Branch and its forthcoming zooming speakers. Irish Bishops, prepare for an earful or ten.

  11. Paddy Ferry

    Joe, if Hans Kung wasn’t “deeply scholarly” too, among his other attributes, then I don’t know what he was and I am left puzzled.

    I take it you didn’t like him very much.

    When I heard him speak here in Edinburgh I was enthralled that night and, also, I had at the back of my mind that I could tell my grandchildren in years to come that I had seen and heard this great man speak. Silly me! Even the parents of those grandchildren will never have the slightest interest in Hans Kung. Sadly!

    I was amazed that night when I heard him speak –it was all about Global Ethics and the need for peace among the different religions and faiths to ensure peace among nations –that two priests friends who were present could not find a good word to say about him when I met them later. Now, these were normally reasonable and fairly intelligent men, I thought. So, I concluded that for some keeping to the party line supersedes everything else.

    Or could we call it a “lingering clericalism” or, perhaps, even something more than lingering.

    And, Joe, are you seriously saying that any protest with regard to Papal Infallibility might be considered too “loud”.

    I am really sorry that he was not your hero, or one of your heroes as he was for me and, obviously, many others.

  12. Joe O'Leary

    “And, Joe, are you seriously saying that any protest with regard to Papal Infallibility might be considered too “loud”.”

    Küng wrote two major works on ecclesiology (“The Church” and “Structures of the Church”), and then blighted them by his noisy and tawdry infallibility book. Unlike his intervention in the discussions of Vatican II, “The Council and Reunion,” his rant against infallibility was the very opposite of a timely book.

    I admired and empathized with Hans Küng as a prophet (and was happy to hear him warmly praised in conversation by the eminent Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, SJ), I liked him as a larger than life Swiss man, I heard him lecture three times and yes, his voice carried farther than any theologian since Karl Barth, but I do not think he compared at all with Schillebeeckx, or with Yves Congar, for depth of scholarship. His over-emphatic style, and his wearying cult of his own personality, did not lend itself to real dialogue. I would go so far as to say that there’s an element of hollowness, superficiality, and bien-pensant predictability in all his books, beginning with “Justification,” which while it facilitated their public impact cheesed off his fellow-theologians. He and Ratzinger deserved one another. In both cases their role as public figures and their personality flaws limited their response to the questions of theology.

    Hero-worship has no place in any intellectual discipline, and has a deleterious effect. The worshippers of Newman, of Barth, of Lonergan are cases in point. They are an obstacle to a proper reception of these thinkers.

  13. Joe O'Leary

    https://www.mohammedamin.com/Reviews/Islam-Past-Present-and-Future.html This is no doubt one of Küng’s most substantial and important later works. But a reviewer at amazon.com gives an idea why one approaches such books with less than total enthusiasm: “OK for history and partial comparison of “Abrahamic” religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). The most comprehensive, say pre-1980, Islamic history available in English. Kung mentions events post 9/11 but not much detail from the 70’s on, and the history has a charitable, optimistic “peace” bias. Kung works to avoid controversy and the difficult issues. This is a well documented, interesting tome but the author’s spin contaminates it. It is not an “objective” history.

    “I took three stars off for the failure to deal with the hard issues and modern history in any substantive detail, particularly the rise of fundamentalism under the influence of people such as Sayyid Qutb (executed in 1966) and the near dismissal of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is billed as “Past, Present and Future.” It is about the past, it was not about the present even when it was published, and based upon what’s happened since it was published, Kung’s vision for the future has no practical scenario.

    “Kung does not explore the hard issues within Islam, he fleetingly alludes to them as the difference between the “Mecca period” and the “Medina period.” He equates the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism to the Protestant reformation.

    “Understand Kung is looking for a way to peacefully co-exist in a world of mutual respect among religions and people, so he largely ignores the divisive issues that exist even among Muslims, much less between Muslims and non-Muslims. His ending words are: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without global ethical standards. No survival of our globe without a global ethic, a world ethic, supported by both the religious and the non-religious.””

    Bear in mind that Küng had an army of research assistants who compiled his encyclopaedic information. (A philosopher friend was annoyed by a learned paragraph on Spinoza that Küng presents as his own thought, though it is clearly, he said, the contribution of an assistant.) Küng arranges the material according to a visionary schema of successive historical “paradigms”, which suggests again a superficial overview guided by an ideological purpose.

    Here’s another critical review from a Jesuit who glories in the name of “Troll”: https://www.sankt-georgen.de/fileadmin/user_upload/personen/Troll/troll42.pdf

    Another review https://journals.openedition.org/rsr/1814 notes that Küng sees Nicaea and Chalcedon as departing from the Jewish soil. Küng regards the doctrine of these councils as imposing a Hellenistic vision alien to the New Testament. This goes far beyond Harnack’s vision of dogma as “a product of the Greek mind on the soil of the Gospel.” There are many such sweeping claims in Küng, as when he claims that Newman disagreed with papal infallibility. (Newman was an inopportunist but a believer in papal infallibility from long before 1870, and his interpretation of the dogma is the one the church effectively adopted. Nuance is not Küng’s forte.)

  14. David Murnaghan

    Hans Kung and Infallibility

    Daithí Ó Muirneacháin.

    The death of Hans Kung is a great loss to so many people around the world to whom he gave great hope, in particular in regard to the fulfilment of the promises of Vatican Two for the development of the Church.

    His book Infallibility? published in 1970 started a great debate and lead to the removal of his license to teach theology.

    Fr. Joe Dunn, the Radharc Films priest, in 1994, has put it rather well, “Creeping infallibility has become one of the greatest obstacles to church unity. It may well be that a humbling of the curia is a very necessary part of the Holy Spirit’s providential plan for the united Christian Church of the third millennium”.

    In 2017, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, when asked about papal infallibility said, “The gift of infallibility is something that Christ gives to the Church which is expressed through the Pope. Now, that means that we will never, as it were, drift so far from the core revelation of God in Jesus as to get in a total mess. It does not protect us from every error of judgment, particularly in a conflicting situation”.

    The use of ‘Indefectibility’ rather than ‘Infallibility’ might be more illuminating in this regard. Fr. Tom Norris in his book Cardinal Newman for Today (chapter 3) uses the term Indefectibility. But he was not the first to do so as Hans Kung had a section in his Infallibility book on ‘Infallibility or Indefectibility’.

    So, we have come full circle, the criticism of Hans Kung is now seen to have been totally unwarranted. History will show him to be a major figure in the life of the Christian Church.

  15. Joe O'Leary

    Here is how the foremost Catholic ecclesiologist viewed Küng’s “Infallible?” “Congar’s dissent takes on added significance from his eminence as an ecclesiologist. His appreciation of Küng’s previous book, The Church, though tempered with constructive criticism, was both warm and generous. Yet Congar has written that in his latest book “Hans Küng, with a radicalism which verges on simplification and… a courage approaching rashness, questions the Catholicism we have received and lived, itself largely the product of the Middle Ages and the four centuries following the Council of Trent.” Congar criticizes Küng for relying too exclusively here, as in The Church, on “Scripture alone,” and for failing to do justice to such classical dogmatic statements as those of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Congar admits that the truth in which the people of God must always live means personal adhesion to Jesus Christ and not merely intellectual assent to propositions. But he calls Küng’s criticism of all propositions “rather banal.” And though Congar concedes that apostolicity and hence the teaching office pertain to the whole people of God and not merely to the hierarchy, he charges that Küng fails to do justice to the special charism of teaching possessed by the Church’s ordained pastors. While Küng’s incisive criticisms are, in Congar’s view, often too massive, he feels they will help to rectify the imbalance in ecclesiology resulting from the myth of papal authority which has been built up since Pius IX. At the same time, Congar says that the work of theological aggiornamento cannot proceed simply by replacing one exaggeration with another: substituting the Reformation for the Counter Reformation. It means rediscovering the authentic tradition behind the exaggerations. This involves criticism and inquiry; and it is here, Congar writes, that Küng’s book has a contribution to make.” http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/32/32.2/32.2.1.pdf

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