Catholic Church: A Short History

Catholic Church: A Short History

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by Hans Kung

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In this extraordinary book, the renowned Hans Kung chronicles the Roman Catholic Church’s role as a world power throughout history. He examines great schisms — between East and West, Catholicism and Protestantism — the evolving role of the papacy and the stories of the great reforming popes; and the expansion of a global Church infrastructure. The… See more details below


In this extraordinary book, the renowned Hans Kung chronicles the Roman Catholic Church’s role as a world power throughout history. He examines great schisms — between East and West, Catholicism and Protestantism — the evolving role of the papacy and the stories of the great reforming popes; and the expansion of a global Church infrastructure. The book concluded with a searching assessment of how the Catholic faith will confront the immense challenges posed in the new millennium by the scientific community, by women questioning their role in the Church, and by those seeking reform of the strictures against abortion and contraception. The Catholic Church is a landmark book by a controversial and profoundly influential thinker.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The latest volume in the Modern Library Chronicles series looks at the history of the world's largest Christian body through the eyes of a theologian whom most Catholics regard as either a beloved reformer or an annoying dissident. King, a Swiss priest, was disciplined by the church in 1979 and prohibited from teaching as a Catholic theologian. Through a 1980 agreement with the Vatican, he is now permitted to teach, but only under secular auspices. In his compressed history of the church that traces its roots to Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter, King continues to ply his trade in controversy. Woven through his mostly readable account is a consistent call for the abolition of the doctrine of papal infallibility, one of the stances that got him into trouble with church authorities two decades ago. King also uses his book to criticize the church's present efforts to safeguard its teachings through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His 1979 censure, he says, was a "personal experience of the Inquisition," yet he claims to remain faithful to the church in what he calls "critical loyalty." In concluding statements about the future, K ng says the church must open all ministries to women (although the current pope has quashed discussion of women's ordination) and be more open ecumenically. Church progressives will warmly embrace King's version of Catholic history, which is sure to be dismissed by loyalists. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
King is a Catholic priest and eminent theologian whose doctoral dissertation in 1957 on Karl Barth opened new vistas for ecumenical discussion. From 1962 through 1965, he served as a theological expert at Vatican Council II; since then, his books and articles have presented theological reflections of an unswervingly loyal if not always uncritical Catholic. Because of his stand on a number of hot-button issues, the Holy See removed King's license to teach in the Catholic theology faculty at T bingen in 1979. He continued to teach at Tibingen, but as part of the general university faculty. In this, his latest book, King presents a summary of the major persons and movements that have formed the Catholic Church from its beginnings to the present. He uses the Church's history to devise four conditions, which need to be met if the Catholic Church is to have a future in the third millennium. This is a remarkable book, despite its less than elegant translation. Recommended for pubic and academic libraries. David I. Fulton, Coll. of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A quick study of the world's largest and oldest Christian church, from a Swiss priest whose unorthodox views on the subject have kept him simmering in hot water for the last quarter-century. Probably the most famous Catholic theologian of the late 20th century, Küng (Infallible? An Inquiry, not reviewed) lost his license to teach Catholic theology in 1979 precisely as a result of his theories regarding the development of church offices (especially the papacy) and doctrines. Here his aim is much simpler, and he manages to provide a good, readable narrative history of the church from the apostolic age to the present day-although there is a continual background hum from the axes that he keeps grinding throughout. The true miracle of Christianity, as the author points out, was its explosion as a world religion during late antiquity-a development that could not possibly have been imagined by anyone who knew it only in its earliest incarnation as an eccentric Jewish sect competing for adherents in the wake of the Temple's destruction in a.d. 70. Once Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, however, the situation (and the geography) changed dramatically. Rome became the center of the church, and the pope (as the bishop of Rome) came more and more to be seen as the earthly representative of Christ. Küng admits that the process was gradual and the line of descent far from straight-edged, but he insists on a kind of historical determinism that many Protestants as well as Catholics are bound to find simplistic: theology (beginning with Augustine, we are told) was deformed by Roman jurisprudence, while the various reformers(fromFrancis of Assisi to Savanarola to Luther) were all thwarted or co-opted by Roman venality. Naturally, the author finds much to dislike in the policies of the present pontiff, and he looks forward to the next conclave-which he hopes will deliver a "John XXIV" to change the course. A well-told, sweeping, and often incisive portrait that needs to be taken cum grano salis.

From the Publisher
“This much-needed book tells the truth about the Catholic past for the sake of the church’s future.” —James Carroll

“Hans Küng has done more to shape contemporary Catholic hope than anyone else, and with The Catholic Church he does it again.” —James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword

“One of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, Hans Küng . . . is one of the world’s great mavericks. . . . Indeed, he was once called ‘the greatest threat to the Catholic Church since Martin Luther.’” —The Independent (London)

“A well-told, sweeping, and often incisive portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews

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Random House Publishing Group
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Modern Library Chronicles
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Read an Excerpt

As the author of The Catholic Church: A Short History, I want to say quite openly, right at the beginning, that despite all my experiences of how merciless the Roman system can be, the Catholic Church, this fellowship of believers, has remained my spiritual home to the present day.

That has consequences for this book. Of course, the history of the Catholic Church can also be told in a different way. A neutral description of it can be given by experts in religion or historians who are not personally involved in this history. Or it can be described by a hermeneutical philosopher or theologian, concerned with understanding, for whom to understand everything is also to forgive everything. However, I have written this history as someone who is involved in it. I can understand phenomena like intellectual repression and the Inquisition, the burning of witches, the persecution of Jews, and discrimination against women from the historical context, but that does not mean that I can therefore forgive them in any way. I write as one who takes the side of those who became victims or already in their time recognized and censured particular church practices as being un-Christian.

To be quite specific and quite personal, I write as one who was born into a Catholic family, in the little Swiss Catholic town of Sursee, and who went to school in the Catholic city of Lucerne.

I then lived for seven whole years in Rome in the elite papal Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum and studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When I was ordained priest I celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in St. Peter's and gave my first sermon to a congregation of Swiss Guards.

After gaining my doctorate in theology at the Institut Catholique in Paris, I worked for two years as a pastor in Lucerne. Then, in 1960, at the age of thirty-two, I became professor of Catholic theology at the University of Tiibingen.

I took part in the Second Vatican Council, between 1962 and 1965, as an expert nominated by John XXIII, taught in Tiibingen for two decades, and founded the Institute for Ecumenical Research, of which I was director.

In 1979 1 then had personal experience of the Inquisition under another pope. My permission to teach was withdrawn by the church, but nevertheless I retained my chair and my institute (which was separated from the Catholic faculty).

For two further decades I remained unswervingly faithful to my church in critical loyalty, and to the present day I have remained professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing.

I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel.

With a history and a Catholic past like this, should I not be capable of writing a history of the Catholic Church which is both committed and objective? Perhaps it could prove even more exciting to hear the story of this church from an insider who has been involved in such a way. Of course, I shall be just as concerned to be objective as any neutral person (if there really are such people in matters of religion). However, I am convinced that personal commitment and matter-of-fact objectivity can as well be combined in a history of the church as they can in the history of a nation.

From the Hardcover edition.

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