Carl J. Armbruster (review date 25 August 1972)
SOURCE: A review of Why Priests? in Commonweal, Vol. XCVI, No. 19, August 25, 1972, pp. 458-60.
[In the following review, Armbruster analyzes Küng's discussion of the priesthood in Why Priests?]
This latest book by Hans Küng is a fine piece of popularization. Not that it is unscholarly, for Küng's scholarly credentials in the area of ecclesiology have been established elsewhere. But he dispenses with footnotes and references in order to develop in broad strokes his “proposal for a new church ministry” (the subtitle). To those who are well-informed about current trends in the theology of the priesthood, the book offers no startling surprises. However, both for the specialist and for the general public it summarizes and locates the cutting edge of theological thought on the priesthood. It also pushes to the foreground questions which are ripe for discussion and argument.
What does Küng say about the priesthood? First he situates the crisis of the ministry within an ecclesiological context, namely, “a nuanced democratization of the church” (p. 24). The word “nuanced” is important here, for Küng stresses that it is an analogous, even ambiguous political concept that must be critically adapted in the light of the N. T. when applied to the church. Theologically, it means “an increasing co-responsibility of all members of the ecclesial community,” which should produce a community of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” This choice of the slogan of the French Revolution to describe what the new church should be strikes me as somewhat strained and even “old hat,” though the ecclesial realities behind these political terms are well described.
As Raymond Brown has noted (America, May 20, 1972), one of Küng's special merits as a theologian is that he takes the Bible very seriously. His treatment of the N. T. ministry underscores its functional as opposed to its “official” nature, the model of flexibility it presents, the underlying concept of leadership as more basic than that of cultic priesthood, the centrality of charism, the functional rather than the historical understanding of apostolic succession, and the norm of service which Jesus proposes.
On one point, however, Küng seems too touchy, if not inconsistent, and that is his aversion to the term “office,” for he states that “church ‘office’ is not a biblical concept.” (p. 39) He prefers “function” or “service.” Yet he repeatedly refers to the ministry of leadership as a “permanent public responsibility” or uses...
(The entire section is 1079 words.)