Hans Kung - The Catholic Church, a Short History

Recorded Books (2003), ISBN: 1402544499, Unabridged, English

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Kung, a Swiss theologian known for being banned from teaching theology shortly after his important role in Vatican II, has written a concise narrative of the history of the Catholic Church. In it, he explores the Church's power, its historic schisms, and the papacy. (short review from www.alibris.com)

"In 1979 I then had personal experience of the Inquisition under another pope. My permission to teach was withdrawn by the church, but nevertheless I retained my chair and my institute (which was separated from the Catholic faculty). For two further decades I remained unswervingly faithful to my church in critical loyalty, and to the present day I have remained professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing. I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel." (from Introduction)

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Hans Kung's The Catholic Church: A Short History is a small masterpiece of historical and theological writing. Kung fairly and comprehensively presents almost 2,000 years of Church history in a mere 207 pages. He begins with Jesus, who "radiated a democratic spirit in the best sense of the word" and "did not proclaim a church, nor did he proclaim himself, but the kingdom of God." Throughout, in his analysis of every phase of Church history, Kung builds a case for a populist church, challenging the idea of a hierarchical Roman Catholic Church led by an infallible pope. The book concludes with a harsh analysis of the Church's betrayal of Vatican II. Kung, the primary writer of Vatican II, was censured by the Vatican in 1979 for questioning Church doctrine and banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian.

Here, Kung levels particular criticism toward Pope John Paul II, whose primary accomplishment, he argues, has been to revive a "conservative and authoritarian" spirit in the Church. The pope's conservative views on the ordination of women, sexual morality, mixed marriages, and ecumenism draw Kung's fire. He calls for nothing less than a new Vatican council in order to bring the Church hierarchy back in line with the Church faithful.

The view of the papacy held by the Catholic Church fellowship, oriented on the New Testament, is different from that of the Roman church bureaucracy. It is the view of a pope who is not over the church and the world in place of God, but in the church as a member (instead of the head) of the people of God.

The Catholic Church is the best history of the Church in many years. Unlike many such books, it is written clearly enough to be understood by lay readers, regardless of their knowledge of Christian history; and it is short enough that it can be read in a day or two. Furthermore, Kung's controversial views are not presented as mere polemic. They are grounded in objective historical facts. Thus, he succeeds in providing a history that is both committed and objective.

Readers who share those commitments will find a trove of knowledge to support their beliefs; readers who disagree will be moved to consider carefully the question of whether and how the Church should be further reformed.

--Michael Joseph Gross



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