Hans Küng on the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church A Short HistoryFrom beginning to end, Hans Küng’s book, The Catholic Church: A Short History, provides a critique of the Roman Catholic Church through and through. Yet, here is a voice from inside the ranks, if you will, with Küng having served as official theological consultant to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), appointed by Pope John XXIII himself.

Still, because of the challenges Küng has voiced over the years, most of them summed up in this book, the Vatican withdrew his ecclesiastical teaching authority in 1979, especially in light of his criticism to the doctrine of papal infallibility.1 Nevertheless, through it all, Küng calls the Church of Rome his “spiritual home to the present day.”2 I’d say quite a testimony and challenge to many modern Christians who so easily exit stage left when things get challenging and tough within their own church context.

What the book does is track the Roman Catholic history from Jesus to the present-day, at least coming from the Catholic mindset that everything began with Christ. Of course, one could spend volumes on such a history. However, this “short history” is very thorough itself at 270-pages. Yet one thing to remember is that Küng is not ultimately here to paint a beautiful, unscathed picture of Rome. As noted above, he points out all things good, bad and ugly.

When it comes to unearthing and dealing with problems – religious, historical, socio-political, personal – it is recommended that one usually start at root level. At least, that would be my advice. To deal with merely surface issues, current events or peripheral matters will likely inhibit true learning, growth, transformation and forward-movement. We can all think of examples where this is true. And, so, with the Roman Catholic Church, it’s important to start at the beginning, back on those dusty paths of first century Palestine. That’s exactly where Küng begins his assessment.

The book commences with questions about the intention of Jesus and the foundational nature of church, particularly posing this question: Was Jesus Catholic? In this early section, Küng leads with thought-provoking question:

“By way of experiment, is it possible to imagine Jesus of Nazareth at a papal mass in St. Peter’s, Rome?”3

He continues with these incriminating words:

“At any rate, we must never forget what the sources are unanimous in reporting. Through his words and actions this man from Nazareth became involved in a dangerous conflict with the ruling forces of his time. Not with the people, but with the official religious authorities, with the hierarchy, which (in a legal process which is no longer clear to us today) handed him over to the Roman governor and thus to his death. Such a thing is, of course, no longer conceivable. Or is it?”4

Wow! There’s no doubt the connection he is making between the religious authority of Jesus’ day and the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

I suppose, for most Catholics, the answer to the initial question posed would be, “Yes, we can definitely imagine Jesus of Nazareth at a papal mass.” But for most Protestants, that answer would be “Well, I’m not so sure about that,” if not an outright, “Uh, no!”

And it’s from this launching point that Küng continues with his critique of the Church of Rome, though remembering his own claim that it is his spiritual home and family. Thus, he does believe there is much to offer within the Catholic context. But not everything.

As a little side caveat: Such an honest evaluation would do well within each branch and tradition within Christianity. There are some folk offering that across the board. Yet, I would surmise there are still people out there who are anti-Catholic. By that I do not mean that one is unwilling to properly assess and challenge the problems of Rome (for this is what Küng has done, and of which I would do on items such as papal infallibility). What I mean by “anti-Catholic” is any person or group that still thinks nothing of Christ is actually taking place within the Roman Catholic Church context. To that, I simply say: Rubbish! Much reform has taken place within Rome, especially in light of Vatican II. And more does need to take place. But, I note that there are very unhealthy aspects within the evangelical context, both beliefs and practices. It’s just that one is so easily sold on the fact that their own particular setting is always best – not fully correct, but at least best. I’m happy to allow that both Rome and evangelicalism are in need of some overhaul changes on some level.

If one wants a fair introduction to Roman Catholicism, its history and theology, especially from a Catholic himself, I believe this book stands as a solid piece of the puzzle..


1. [Küng, Hans. The Catholic Church: A Short History. New York: The Modern Library, 2007, loc.3083]

2. [Ibid., loc.147-148]

3. [Ibid., loc.329]

4. [Ibid., loc.331-334]

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2 thoughts on “Hans Küng on the Catholic Church

  1. Greetings. I’m struggling with whether or not to remain in my church fellowship and am asking for some Proverbs11:14 advice, after reading your post, including the line about people leaving their church home due to disagreements in theology. This also ties into the previous post about experience having a part in shaping theology.

    I’m a Reformed, charismatic continuationist, while my pastor is a reformed Baptist cessationist who is, ironically, teaching a series about the workings of the Holy Spirit while denying most of the gifts. Last week he went so far as to infer that tongues today is demonically inspired. I know this is false, as the Holy Spirit came with power to me and I was given the gift of tongues 35 years ago. No one can tell me that wasn’t from God, but I always get silence and “that look”when I have told anyone but other charismatics about this.

    I’ve spoken to two Christian women outside the fellowship about my pastor’s beliefs. One feels it’s purely a disputable matter and I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. She pointed out I’m probably never going to find a church that teaches the way I believe and some fellowship is better than none. The other person was horrified and said that the pastor is blaspheming the Spirit and it would be better to stay home than to fellowship where this lie was being taught. There isn’t another church anywhere near here that teaches the doctrines of grace, and I’m not able to drive, due to low vision problems from birth. The only charismatic church nearby is 7/11, ear bleeding, and barely uses the Bible in the sermons. There are no listed home fellowships anywhere around.

    In my current church, we sing hymns, we are encouraged to read the Bible in every meeting, the people seen to love one another, and the pastor preaches with conviction. He takes doctrine very seriously, yet he, like John MacArthur, ignores portions of the Word that don’t fit his theology. He stated that the majority of the gifts ceased with the canon of Scripture being closed.

    I could try to argue, show him verse after verse, but unless the Lord opens his understanding, I don’t think my confronting him would do anything other than giving him a reason to teach his views even more vehemently.

    This has been grieving my spirit because the sheep are basically being told to ride out in victory -on hamstrung horses.

    What would you do in my situation? Stay and pray, while cringing at some of his teachings and rejoicing in others, or leaving to worship at home and not expose myself to hearing this erroneous teaching?

    Thank you, and please forgive the length of my post.

    In Him,

    Roxylee

  2. Roxylee –

    Thanks for the comment. To be honest, I cannot fully give you feedback through an online blog forum, as I can’t read between the lines of what all is taking place. And you even tried to share as much as you could in a comment box. I can only give general feedback of how to approach this.

    I’d first stay committed with a heart of blessing – bless the pastor, the church (this being your family at this time), and its work. I think you’ll probably need to have a good conversation with the pastor, but in all gentleness and humility (even if he were not that way towards you, which I’m not saying he will be offended or aggressive). I’d probably wait until the series on the work of the Holy Spirit is finished before looking to get a time with your pastor. Be honest, while gracious. You probably don’t need to quote Scriptures a lot, as he’ll probably know those Scriptures and see them through another lens. Just share your experience of the Spirit’s work in your life – honestly, graciously, and not as a fight to prove these gifts still exist. And then see how things proceed from there. If at all possible, I encourage people to not look to leave their local church setting. As a pastor friend of mine has said – “It should be one of THE hardest decisions in your life.” Unfortunately, it’s not too difficult for many American Christians to leave or church hop.

    Blessings.

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