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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Küng and Rahner on infallibility

I was reminded today that it's been 30 years this month since the Vatican rescinded the authority of Swiss theologian and priest Hans Küng to teach Catholic theology, in part due to his rejection of the doctrine of papal infallibility (Infallible? An Inquiry, 1971).

I had just read a little about Hans Küng in O'Malley's book What Happened at Vatican II ......

Even before the council opened, Hans Küng, a young Swiss theologian, published "The Council, Reform, and Reunion" (1960). The book, translated into eight languages, was the most influential among the publications in the preparatory years that tried to move people's imagination into larger issues the council might address and open possibilities beyond a mere thinkig with the status quo, which most bishops seemed to have in mind. (p. 35)

Besides veterans from the theological battles of the 1940s and 1950s, young theologians just beginning their careers played significant roles in shaping Vatican II. Hans Küng was only 35 when in 1962 John XXIII named him a peritus. (p. 120)

I don't know much about papal infallibility but I have to admit that don't think the concept is coherent - I just can't believe any person is capable of infallability. Having said that, I guess Karl Rahner would disagree with me, though I couldn't find much online about what exactly it is he did believe on infallibility. But I saw an interesting 1972 article from Theology Today that mentions Rahner and Küng and their disagreement over the subject. Here's the beginning of it ....


Infallibility Revisited
By John J. Carey

ONE thing about Hans Küng: he goes for the jugular. His instinct for what is the timely theological issue for Roman Catholicism has put him in the forefront of Roman Catholic controversy during the past decade. From his meteoric rise to prominence in 1961 with the publication of The Council, Reform and Reunion through his disputes with Rome over Humanae Vitae, he has established himself as an outspoken and articulate leader of the reform movement in the Roman Catholic Church. Criticisms of the Petrine office had been both implicit and explicit in Küng's earlier works, so for many tradition-oriented Catholics it was simply the culmination of Küng's long anti-Roman stance when on July 18, 1970 one hundred years to the day after the adjourning of Vatican I - he published his provocative study on the meaning of infallibility in the Roman Catholic Church (Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage, English translation, Infallible? An Inquiry. New York: Doubleday, 1971).

A major controversy over this recent book has erupted in Europe, and its tremors have made major waves in the United States and Canada. Küng's supporters and critics agree on one major point: he has attacked the critical issue of Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Karl Rahner shocked a number of Roman Catholic theologians and clergy when, in an early review of Küng's book, he charged that Küng had overstepped the parameters of Catholic theology and adopted the views of a liberal Protestant. Küng replied to Rahner by expressing surprise over the neo-scholastic method Rahner wants to use in justifying the claims of papal infallibility; he also pointed out how Rahner has apparently become more conservative as he has grown older. (1)

The Küng-Rahner dispute seems to be emerging along less political lines in recent months, and enough time has elapsed to let us distinguish two phases of the infallibility debate. An initial phase was marked by Rahner's sharp blast, a few sympathetic reviews of Küng's work by progressive European theologians, angry defensive reactions by the Italian hierarchy, L'Osservatore Romano, and the Roman Jesuit journal, Civilta Cattolica (which called Küng's a heretic), and some delicate negotiations of the German Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference. The German bishops did not openly condemn the book, although in a published statement about it they said that "fundamental elements of the Catholic understanding of faith . . . are not preserved in this book." On this side of the Atlantic, American and Canadian scholars (Charles Davis, John McKenzie, Avery Dulles, Gregory Baum) contributed to this first phase by interpretative articles in major Catholic journals in this country. While not uncritical of Küng, most of these scholars at least agreed that in raising the issue of the meaning of infallibility, Kung was legitimately within the Catholic theological tradition ...... To understand the framework of the debate let us first consider Kung's argument.


Küng begins his book by considering the fact of Humanae Vitae. Why would a Pope go against the majority opinion of his own commission appointed to study the birth control question? The clue, Kung feels, lies in Paul's own explanation that "we had to evaluate, bearing in mind both the duty and the freedom of our apostolic office, a doctrinal tradition that is not only centuries old but also recent, that of our three immediate predecessors." This was the point that the conservative minority on the Papal commission made, namely, that to repudiate the teachings of previous pontiffs would be "unintelligible" to the faithful of the church and would in fact be a "specious pretext."

The implications of this position for Pope Paul and the Vatican are clear. Infallibility has taken on a broader meaning than was specifically designated at Vatican I. Its efficacy now reaches into the whole framework of moral teaching of the ordinary teaching office of the church (magisterium ordinarium). Consequently, even when moral teachings were not proclaimed ex cathedra, they have come to be regarded in this view as a part of the universal, infallible Catholic faith. This renders the whole tradition wooden and makes it practically impossible for the church ever to change or substantially modify a moral teaching of previous periods.

The acute problem that this raises for Roman Catholic scholars is obvious. The church has reversed itself in the past. Vatican II departed radically (a) from statements of Gregory XVI and Pius IX on religious liberty; (b) from statements of Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV on the inerrancy of scripture; and (c) from Pius XI on the relationship to other Christian churches. The church thus seems to have an infallible teaching office that is sometimes fallible, and this in Küng's opinion is an untenable position for Roman Catholic ecclesiology and theology. How did the church get itself into this predicament? And what, if anything, can be done about it? ............


(1) The Küng-Rahner debate has been carried on in the influential German monthly Stimmen der Zeit; Rahner's initial critique appeared in December, 1970; Küng's replied in the February, 1971, issue, and Rahner then answered Küng's in the March issue. The initial charges and counter-charges were described by L. Bruce van Voorst in "Küng's and Rahner: Dueling over Infallibility," The Christian Century, May 19, 1971, pp. 617-622. Subsequent developments in the dispute (somewhat less personal and more theological) are described by van Voorst in his article, "Follow-up on the Küng-Rahner Feud," The Christian Century, August 25, 1971, pp. 997-1000. For a thorough Roman Catholic analysis of the Küng-Rahner feud, see John Jay Hughes, "Infallible? An Inquiry Considered," Theological Studies, June, 1971, pp. 183-207.



Blogger Charles Fernando said...

What happens is catholics belief that the pope speaks infallibly only in moral and ex cathedra... the way to disprove it - as i think - is looking for the documents and find contradictions and errors in them...

If you find only one, the popes falls like dominoes.

But I wish to see Kung-Rahner debate furthermore...

11:49 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Sadly, those who really do believe in infallibility are usually not interested in proof-texting.

1:18 PM  

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