Hans Küng (born 1928), a Swiss Roman Catholic theologian, questioned church dogma, emphasized the need for reform within the church, and sought reunion with other Christian groups. His liberal views led to his censorship by the Vatican in 1979.
Hans Küng was born on March 19, 1928, in Sursee, Switzerland. After graduating from the state gymnasium in Lucerne, he attended the Pontifical German College and the Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1954 and continued his studies in theology at the Institut Catholique at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1960 he was appointed professor of fundamental theology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. In 1962 he was appointed by Pope John XXIII an official theologian (peritus) at the Second Vatican Council. Following the Council, he continued to teach at Tübingen.
A Doctrine of Reconciliation
Küng's doctoral dissertation was on Karl Barth's theory of justification and its relationship to traditional Roman Catholic understanding. That work, published in English as Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (1964), is an example of Küng's interest in the reconciliation of separated Christian churches. Combining careful analyses of the Barthian and present-day Roman Catholic views along with an indication of their development from the time of the Reformation, the book indicates that contemporary differences stem from different ways of talking rather than from substantive disagreement.
Unlike other contemporary Roman Catholic theologians such as Karl Rahner or Bernard Lonergan, Küng did not develop a definite metaphysical position on which to base his views. Rather, his thought comes from studies of church and theological history plus an awareness of the strong contemporary drive for freedom of thought and the concurrent antagonism to authoritarian institutional structures. In many of his works (such as The Council, Reform, and Reunion, 1962, and Structures of the Church, 1964) Küng combined historical analysis with reflection upon contemporary problems to indicate the need for reform within the Roman Catholic Church and the real possibility of reconciliation with other churches.
After the Second Vatican Council, Küng continued to write on the need for reform with special emphasis on the concept of service and ministry (The Church, 1968) and the changes that must occur in the day-to-day administration of the Roman Catholic Church (Truthfulness: On the Future of the Church, 1968). In Infallible? An Enquiry (1971) he traces the development at the First and Second Vatican Councils of the present official understanding of papal and Episcopal infallibility and questions whether this official view is not distorted in the light of both biblical teaching and contemporary philosophy.
Küng's views on such traditional doctrine as the divinity of Christ, papal infallibility, and the dogma of the Virgin Mary helped to bring about his censorship by the Vatican in 1979. He was banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian, which provoked international controversy. An agreement of sorts was reached in 1980 that allows Küng to continue teaching at Tübingen under secular rather than Catholic auspices. He is now professor emeritus of Tübingen University.
There is no good secondary source on Küng yet available in English. His most recent book, Infallible? An Enquiry (1971), contains a preface in which the author states the concerns governing his past and present work, and this along with the book itself provides an excellent introduction to Küng's thought. □