©2001 Hans Kung; (P)Recorded Books, LLC
Since Hans Kung is not a Church Historian, but a systematic theologian, his treatment does not pretend to exhaustive and objective historical study. For historical studies, see the French titles Fr. Kung mentions early in this book or, perhaps more accessible, (and in English), the work of Peter Brown or Alistair McGrath. Fr. Kung does well to admit his own position as a Catholic theologian, whose license to teach Catholic theology (under Catholic auspices) has been revoked. He admits that this position will determine his focus and perspective. Although, as harsh as they often sound, Fr. Kung’s historical views are not personal screeds aimed at the Church, but represent pretty much the consensus among objective historians of Christianity (i.e. not those with theological investments that determine the content of their work). In other words, it really was that bad. Of course, Historians differ in their analyses of causes and influence. One should also note that his views are fairly mainline among educated theologians.
Fr. Kung accomplishes a great deal in a limited space: He traces the power exchanges and interests that helped determine Catholic/Christian theology and governmental structures from the time of the Jesus Group communities to the present-day Church (as of 2003). Indeed, one can say that the book follows a macroscopic, Foucault-like approach in tracing power relations within and without the Church. The fairly systematic abuses of power by the curia and pontiffs dominate much of the books treatment, but then (sadly), they dominate much of Church History and continue to influence the Church today.
As Fr. Kung cautions, for those with little previous exposure to Church history, the contents of this book will be shocking. “The truth shall set you free, but first it shall make you miserable.”
In print, see also -Infallible?: An Inquiry-, where Fr. Kung tears the Church teaching on infallibility into tiny shreds.
This book is not for weak-hearted Christians seeking affirmation of the party line. Hans Kung does not pretend to be a standard bearer for the status quo. His admiration for reform and reformation gleams throughout his book. He will be viewed in times future as a reformer, one who sought a moral, reformed, inclusive Catholic Church. It must be noted that while he considers himself a loyal Catholic, the Curia does not. He reflects; however, the views of many Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
Mr Kung goes through church history rather selectively. It is after all a short history so he is going to cover only the points he think are important. Of course, those are the events that will support his views. Nevertheless his views are often insightfull and I beleive quite valuable.
One theme throughout the book is that the Church should stop trying to act like a thought police department. This is the strongest point of the book. He draws a picture where we can see most of the greatest tragedies that the church faced/caused were due to trying to micromanage peoples religious beliefs. Excommunication should not be the rebuttal to every divergent view.
He starts to lose the thread every now and then when he talks about his political/social views about birth control and abortion. At times he seems to argue the church should condone whatever the majority of people think. He even cites gallup polls suggesting that the church should follow them in how they teach the christian message. That type of argument can only drag his credibility down.
The book isn't as objective as the title may suggest but overall a book worth reading.
Fr Kung is currently one of the Catholic Church's most interesting and talented systematic theologians. Although this work follows the history of the Catholic Church, one is able to experience the powerful and loving intellect behind the ideas.
Fr Kung is recognised as a reformer, and for not following Catholic teaching is such matters as Women's Ordination and Gay Rights to name but a few of the current issues. He is no longer able to teach under Catholic Authority. Despite this, this book still reflects his love for the people of God and his realisation that the Catholic Church, through its institutions, can be a powerful voice for the voiceless. He clearly articulates that the platforms that current conservatives take for granted as they rest their arguments on tradition, may be false. He challenges both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to embrace reform based on continued dialogue between history and the current tensions of the present age. Throughout the book he refers to the dictates of Christ as a guide not only for personal faith but for institutional faith.
Interesting, clearly articulated and a challenge to the new Papacy of Francis. If nothing else, this book has helped me think of different ways to embrace the reality of the conservative Church that looks to a tradition that is not as stable as is generally articulated and a new possibility for renewal and growth.
This book requires some thought so I found myself having to mull over some of the ideas. Thus, I did not find it a book that could be digested in one sitting.
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