Hans Küng Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Hans Küng 1928-

(Hans Kueng) Swiss theologian.

The following entry presents an overview of Küng's career through 1998.

Hans Küng is one of the world's most celebrated and controversial Christian theologians. A Roman Catholic priest, his criticism of Pope John Paul II and his questioning of some of the major tenets of the Catholic religion have caused him to be censured by the Church. Despite the controversial nature of his ideas, critics have praised him for his scholarly, well-researched, and ecumenical approach to questions of theology.

Biographical Information

Hans Küng was born on March 19, 1928, in Sursee, Lucerne, Switzerland, to Hans and Emma Küng. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1954. In the 1960s, Küng was an up-and-coming member of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. During the reign of Pope John XXIII, Küng was appointed the official theologian to the Second Vatican Council and is recognized as its architect. Küng's relationship with Rome changed during the reign of subsequent popes whom he felt were reversing the important reforms set in motion by Vatican II. In 1979, in response to Küng's controversial examination of Catholic beliefs, the Vatican forbade Küng to call himself a “Catholic theologian” or to examine candidates for the priesthood. Küng was personally devastated by the Church's disciplinary measures, but his commitment to his faith and his career as a theologian continued to flourish. Küng is a professor of theology at the University of Tubingen in West Germany. He has also been a visiting professor at several universities throughout the world.

Major Works

Küng has been particularly critical of Pope John Paul II and what he considers the pontiff's repressive policies. He has written several articles on the subject. Wozu Priester? (1971; Why Priests?) delineates Küng's conception of the leadership of the Church. As with many of Küng's works, this book raised eyebrows among conservative theologians by espousing that a lifelong, celibate, male priesthood is unnecessary according to the New Testament. In Christ sein (1974; On Being a Christian), Küng described what is common among the various Christian religions and discussed the reasons a person would choose to believe in Christianity. The book focuses on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the nature of his divinity. Signposts for the Future (1978) is a collection of essays that reiterates the uniqueness of Christianity explained in On Being a Christian. It further goes on to discuss Christians' relationship with larger society and their relationship with the Church. Beginning with Christentum und Weltreligionen (1984; Christianity and the World Religions), Küng began to focus on the relationship between Christianity and the other major world religions. He collaborated with Julia Ching on Christentum und Chinesische Religion (1989; Christianity and Chinese Religions) in which they analyze the place of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity in modern China. Kung's Theologie im Aufbruch (1988; Theology for the Third Millennium) asserts that the postmodern Church lacks direction and proposes a course that will cause it to flourish and bring it to a closer relationship with the other world religions. Projekt Welthethos (1993; Global Responsibility is a continuation of the ideas set forth in Christianity and the World Religions. Kung asserted three points in this volume: our survival is dependent on the development of a world ethic; we can have no world peace without peace between the religions; and there will be no peace between the religions without a dialogue between the religions. In his attempt to foster a greater understanding between people of different faiths, Kung has begun a trilogy tracing the foundations of the major religions, including volumes entitled Judentum (1992; Judaism), Christentum (1995; Christianity), and a proposed volume on Islam.

Critical Reception

Even when critics disagree with Küng's assertions, they praise him for his intellectual courage and honesty. Andrew M. Greeley called Küng “a priest and scholar who is doing his best to live that life no matter what the cost in professional envy and institutional isolation.” Reviewers credit his work as scholarly and rooted in the Bible. Carl J. Armbruster asserted that “one of Küng's special merits as a theologian is that he takes the Bible very seriously.” Many reviewers note how Küng's work puts him at odds with liberal theologians and the Roman Catholic Church alike. The former because of his assertion that the typical responses to the evils of capitalism have failed, and the latter for his questioning of the basis of papal authority. Some critics have accused the theologian of going overboard in his criticism of Pope John Paul II, marring some of his otherwise laudable work. While most critics agree that Küng's goal of creating a greater understanding between the religions is a commendable one, there is some disagreement about the effectiveness of his approach. Some reviewers complain that in Küng's attempts to foster understanding and ecumenism, he does not put sufficient focus on the uniqueness of individual faiths and has lost the true meaning of his own religion. Specifically, some critics found Küng's Judaism to be dismissive and patronizing to Jews. Eugene Fisher and Jack Bemporad state, “At some risk of being insufficiently respectful of Küng's well-established reputation, we must report that Jewish readers—with good cause—are likely to find this volume, which purports after all to present their faith and their traditions, to be insensitive and inaccurate.” Robert P. Imbelli summed up Küng's virtues in his review of Küng's Christianity, stating that the book “bears all the marks of Küng's virtues: stunning erudition, moral passion, provocative honesty and sometimes unrelenting polemics.”