Correspondent in Berlin
A popular German joke says that three cardinals appear in Tübingen and knock on the door of the house of Hans Küng, the most critical of theologians, to announce to him: you will be Pope! To which Kung responds nonchalantly: I prefer not to accept, because then it would no longer be infallible. The infallibility of the Pope, who Küng attacked for decades, always scathing and with brilliant theological, ecclesiastical and exegetical arguments, it was one of the obsessions of this Swiss-born scholar, whom the Catholic Church withdrew the license to teach since 1979 and that he has died now, at 93 years of age. But the joke also alludes to the legendary vanity of Küng, who is said to have erected a bust of himself in his garden. Until his later years, he enjoyed leaving journalists he gave interviews stunned, skipping gracefully from Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, interweaving quotes from Paul and Kant with fifth-century ecclesial anecdotes and details of the ins and outs of the Second Vatican Council. , in which he had a notable influence. In their teens studied with Ratizinger, whom he would continue to refute for decades and whose ascent to the Papacy lived as a personal affront, but Benedict XVI never failed to recognize Küng’s erudition and intelligence, as well as his courage to fight against beliefs and traditions that, in conscience, he could only deny with the head.
Küng was born in 1928 in Sursee, Switzerland, and from his childhood he stood out as some kind of theological wunderkind. Ordained a priest at the age of 26 and already a professor of theology in Tübingen at the age of 32, he lived a culminating moment of his life between 1962 and 1965, as one of the experts of Pope John XXIII and official theologians of the Second Vatican Council. Küng dared to address the most controversial topics in Catholic theology, issues that remain in controversy today, such as the end of compulsory celibacy, the ordination of women, more democracy in the church and, of course, a serious ecumenical movement that is not only satisfied with compromise poses.
In the council, was admired alongside Ratzinger, not for nothing were they both dubbed “the adolescent theologians.” For a few years they taught together at the university and always saw the church in very different ways, but Ratzinger rose through the hierarchy as Küng became radicalized and wild. Leading theologians and bishops held him long because they admired his brilliance of thought and language. But in 1978, with the election of Pope John Paul II, he was rapidly losing that support. Küng resigned himself to being expelled from official theology, lost his job at the University of Tübinghen as a professor of ecumenical theology and returned to the “Global Ethic Foundation” since 1995.
The list of your publications it is simply immeasurable. The impact of his writings was and remains indisputable. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Küng in 2000 on the Neckar and was enlightened by his idea that spiritual peace is not possible without peace between religions. And all the Popes, albeit from the corner of their eye, have been attentive to their concept of the Papacy, which is summarized in the figure of a Pope as a servant or spokesman for the unity of all Christianity in all its diversity and in all its denominations. “We cannot always wait for the next one, we have to see what we can achieve now”, was the phrase with which he responded to those who ugly his radicalism. Unbreakable, he left his mark on Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Johann Baptist Metz, Ernesto Cardenal or Uta Ranke. But his stubbornness for Ratzinger was sustained over time to wane in aggressiveness only in recent years. When both were old, Küng and Ratzinger met in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, in 2005. It is difficult to speak of a reconciliation, but at least Küng cursed his dearest enemy with less vehemence.
In 2010, at an age when theological scholarship was taking a back seat in favor of the more existential question, Küng declared that “I have no proof, but I have good reasons why I am convinced that my life is going nowhere, just like the cosmos does not. I am dying in a first and last reality that we call God.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism