The Catholic Church: A Short History

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In this extraordinary book, the controversial and profoundly influential Hans Küng chronicles the Roman Catholic Church’s role as a world power throughout history. Along the way, he examines the great schisms—between East and West, and Catholic and Protestant—as well as the evolving role of the papacy, the stories of the great reforming popes, and the expansion of a global church infrastructure. The book concludes with a searching assessment of how the Catholic faith will confront the immense challenges posed in ...

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Catholic Church: A Short History

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In this extraordinary book, the controversial and profoundly influential Hans Küng chronicles the Roman Catholic Church’s role as a world power throughout history. Along the way, he examines the great schisms—between East and West, and Catholic and Protestant—as well as the evolving role of the papacy, the stories of the great reforming popes, and the expansion of a global church infrastructure. The book concludes with a searching assessment of how the Catholic faith will confront the immense challenges posed in the new millennium by those seeking reform of traditional strictures.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This brief history of the Roman Catholic Church was penned by a controversial reformer who was censured in 1979 but remains faithful to his religion. Its conciseness is almost miraculous: Kung condenses 2,000 years of Church history into a mere 207 pages. Clearly written and sometimes strongly opinionated, this spirited history makes lively reading.
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

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812967623
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 427,932
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Hans Küng obtained a doctorate in theology from the Sorbonne in 1957. In 1962 he was named a theological consultant for the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII, and he played a major role in the writing of the documents of Vatican II, which radically modernized key areas of Catholic teaching. The author of many books, he lives and teaches in Tübingen, Germany.

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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.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Catholic Church in Conflict
I The Beginnings of the Church 1
Founded by Jesus? 3
The Meaning of "Church" 5
Was Jesus Catholic? 6
The Earliest Church 8
Peter 9
A Fellowship Made Up of Jews 12
The Break Between Jews and Christians 13
II The Early Catholic Church 15
Paul 18
The Pauline Churches 19
The Birth of the Catholic Hierarchy 21
A Persecuted Minority Endures 23
III The Imperial Catholic Church 33
A Universal Religion for the Universal Empire 35
The State Church 37
The Bishop of Rome Claims Supremacy 40
The Father of Western Theology 44
The Trinity Reinterpreted 49
The City of God 51
IV The Papal Church 55
The First Real Pope 57
Errant Popes, Papal Forgeries, and Papal Trials 60
Christianity Becomes Germanic 62
Medieval Piety 64
Islam 67
A State for the Pope 68
The Western Equation: Christian = Catholic = Roman 70
Catholic Morality 72
The Legal Basis for Future Romanization 73
V The Church is Split 77
A Revolution "from Above" 79
A Romanized Catholic Church 84
Heretics and the Inquisition 94
The Great Theological Synthesis 101
The Ongoing Life of Christians 104
VI Reform, Reformation, or Counter-Reformation? 109
The End of Papal Domination 111
Thwarted Reform 114
Renaissance, but Not for the Church 118
Reformation 120
Was the Program of the Reformation Catholic? 122
Responsibility for the Split 125
The Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation 134
VII The Catholic Church Versus Modernity 139
A New Time 141
The Scientific and Philosophical Revolution: Reason 144
The Church and the Copernican Shift 146
The Cultural and Theological Revolution: Progress 147
The Consequences of the Enlightenment for the Church 149
The Political Revolution: Nation 151
The Church and the Revolution 152
The Technological and Industrial Revolution: Industry 156
A Sweeping Condemnation of Modernity - The Council of the Counter-Enlightenment 159
VIII The Catholic Church - Present and Future 169
Silence about the Holocaust 176
The Most Significant Pope of the Twentieth Century 181
Restoration Instead of Renewal 187
Betrayal of the Council 190
New Departures at the Grass Roots 196
A Vatican III with John XXIV 200
Conclusion: Which Church Has a Future? 203
Epilogue: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself? 209
Index 215
Discussion Guide 229
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 20, 2011

    Good historical overview, as written by an insider/outsider. If you're familiar with what happened to Father Kung, the meaning of the "/" is obvious; yet the man still loves his church.

    If you are a dogmatic conservative who buys all papal dicta and decrees without question forget this book; you'll find it terrible at best, evil at worst - minus three stars! If you can accept that it's possible to be Catholic without mindless obedience to the sometimes dogmatic ( dare I say dictatorial? ) promulgations of a rigid, inflexible hierarchy, this is your book. Father Kung gives a vibrant history of a dynamic, developing church, which sometimes progresses because of the brilliance and loving care of its senior clergy, and sometimes in spite of their complete disregard of the laity they consider themselves responsible for. My only complaints are I wish the book were longer. He has a few "teasers" that I would have liked to learn more about.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    By a guy who was so "Catholic" that he got the Catholi

    By a guy who was so "Catholic" that he got the Catholic Church to tell him to stop it. This book's teachings are not Catholic. It's by someone who according to church law should be excommunicated as a heretic and a schismatic. It says this in canon law number 1364.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    A comprehensive and clear job.

    Almost every important events in Catholic History were detailed here and faced with bravery. Don't miss this little jewell.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    Join here!

    Join here .:Everstar

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2013

    I highly recomend this book. I agree with the previous post it

    I highly recomend this book. I agree with the previous post it was to short. Short story from a very learned man who has increased my ability to understand what has and is happening the Church. The Historical review of the Popes their dogma and goals was fasinating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2014

    Buyer Beware

    As a Protestant searching for more insight into the Catholic Church, from a Catholic perspective, I felt misled and a bit deceived by Kung's representation of historical events. My goal was to find a Catholic view of the Church's history to compare to the history that I, as a Protestant, was taught growing up in anti-Catholic churches. I chose this book because I remember seeing Kung's name in some of the anti-Catholic writings I have previously read and thought as a priest, he should be able to give me the view point I sought in refuting anti-Catholic statements.

    After the first few chapters I questioned whether or not I should continue reading in light of some of the negative viewpoints he has on the Church. After googling him I found out he was reprimanded by the Church for some of his writings and asked to no longer teach catechism. It was then that I remembered where I had seen his name, my own protestant church used quotes from him to defend the reformation and anti-Catholic arguments! By the end of the book I felt as if he identified more with reformist views of the Church and it's history.

    Kung focuses mainly on the corruptions of the popes, but does not highlight many positives. He speaks poorly of popes that have been canonized and beatified, and pretty much all popes in general from the last few centuries. I had hoped to find out more about the history leading up to and including Vatican II, but was so turned off by the negativity in those chapters, I felt I sped through them and learned nothing.

    In hindsight, I should have stopped reading around chapter 6. This was not the book I thought I had bought. For a reader wanting more ammunition for their argument against the Church, this book would actually help. I walked away more confused and with more questions than when I first picked up this book. Very disappointed! Buyer beware!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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