Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Bridge to the Church of Nowhere

“In the legalistic-scholastic ideology of the church which I have known all too well since my time at the Gregorian, this model is deduced theoretically right from the top: from the pope as the source of power…But what all too few people know is that this hierarchical mode of the church isn’t the traditionally Catholic model! Though of course it was already prepared for in Rome in the first millennium, it was implemented in the 11C by that Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) and the men of the ‘Gregorian Reform’ by means of excommunication, the interdict and the Inquisition (directed above all against German emperors and theologians, against the episcopate and the clergy). And this was done on the basis of the claims made by crude forgeries (above all that of pseudo-Isidore), which presented the Roman innovations of the second millennium as Catholic traditions of the first millennium,” H. Küng, My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs (Eerdmans 2003), 348.

“What we hardly ever heard in Rome as students, but what I have already worked out in my Tübingen inaugural lecture, is that the New Testament, patristic and in part even the early mediaeval understanding of the church had a different orientation: not on a monarchical head but on the community of believers—the communio fidelium, and the ministries in the service of the community,” ibid. 348.

“Even now, 40 yeas later, I get extremely angry when I once again pick up my original Council documents and begin to thumb through the large-format volume of the revised draft of the Constitution on the Church, bound in grey. The questions that I raised at the time are in the margin: objection after objection. How could such a deeply contradictory second draft decree come into being between the sessions? And what were the disputed point? Today I recognize even more clearly than at the time that the issue was not and is not the finger points of theology but the basic question whether the communio model of the church oriented on the Bible, or the mediaeval absolutist pyramidal model, would again win through. A look behind the scenes shows how this contradictory Council constitution came about,” ibid. 349.

“The new draft is a compromise product…O seven alternative drafts, that by Monsignor Philips of Louvain prevails—why?…The small ‘Belgia working party’ (‘squadra belga’) from the University of Louvain, very efficiently supported by the Rector of the Pontifical Belgian College, Monsignor A. Prignon, have collaborated admirably. And in their primate, Cardinal Suenens, they have probably the best strategist and orator of the Second Vatican Council, who moreover is responsible for the schema on the church in the Co-coordinating Commission between the two sessions,” ibid. 349.

“But Gérard Philips has made the main contribution, problematical as it is…Though far from having the theological stature of Congar, Rahner or Schillebeeckx, the short friendly prelate surpasses them all as a tactician and formulator of consensus texts (tested by long years in the Belgian Senate)…Monsignor Philips sees himself as the indefatigable mediator between Curia (call ‘minority’) and Council (called ‘majority’), between ‘integrists’ and ‘progressives,’ old schemata and new efforts,” ibid. 350.

“But at whose expense? Today more than ever I am convinced that this is at the expense of the truth—above all the truth of the Bible, the foundation document of the church. For one thing 8unfortunately escapes even the learned and wily Louvain dogmatic theologian: a solid knowledge of the current state of discussion in New Testament exegesis. He uses biblical texts dogmatically, supported by one or two traditional exegetes,” ibid. 350.

“Once in an aisle of St Peter’s I put to Philips the test questions: ‘Who really celebrated the eucharist in the community of Corinth when the apostle Paul was abroad (say in Ephesus)?’ Philips—unfortunately like Congar and others later—proves perplexed, and innocently asks what I mean. I tell him that it is clear from 1 Corinthians (and this isn’t just the Tübingen perspective but that of critical exegesis generally) that in Corinth there was no bishop or Presbyter (Timothy or Titus) whom Paul could have addressed when abuses at the celebration of the eucharist were reported to him…In his letter to Corinthians Paul doesn’t address any official but the community as a whole: “Wait for one another” and so on. What does that mean? It means that the community of Corinth celebrated the eucharist even without the apostle, and even without a bishop or presbyter. And what follows from that for today? It follows that according to the New Testament, Catholic communities, say in Communist China, indeed if need be any group of Christians today, can celebrate a eucharist which is theologically valid even without a priest, even if perhaps it is also illegal according to church law! And Protestant communities with pastors who don’t stand in the apostolic succession of ministry can celebrate the eucharist in a quite valid way,” ibid. 350-51.

“And our scheme on the church? It completely ignores such fundamental problems. Philips? I get the impression that he isn’t clear about the scope of these questions,” ibid. 351.


  1. It's always interesting to hear from Roman Catholic historians. Is there any one single council that relied on the use of the pseudo-isidorian decretals, or was it a spread out practice? I'm curious if there are any books that go into more detail about these false documents.

  2. Steve Jackson1/10/2007 6:39 PM

    I have a hard time taking anything Kung says seriously. If he disagrees with what the RC church teaches, why doesn't he find a new one? The reason, it seems to me, is if he were a United Methodist, Anglican, or whatever he would be one of a thousand liberal theologians. No one would pay any attention to him and his bloated books (his book "The Church" is actually pretty good)

    The guy even has the audacity to title his book "My Struggle for Freedom". Has anyone threated him a fine, imprisonment or the rack for his ideas? No, it's just that he can't call himself a Roman Catholic theologian.

  3. While I don't really disagree with anything Steve Jackson says here, I do think we need to distinguish between Kung's criticisms, and his alternative position.

    Obviously Kung's own position is incoherent. And, yes, the pose of the courageous martyr is absurd.

    But this doesn't mean he isn't a useful critic. He does bring an insider perspective to the debates over modern Catholicism.

    So, while Kung fails to offer a constructive or viable alternative in his own right, he can point out much of what is wrong with contemporary RC theology.

  4. ‘Who really celebrated the eucharist in the community of Corinth when the apostle Paul was abroad (say in Ephesus)?’

    Wow, a "White Question" before there was a White Question!