A Second Reformation
For Both Catholics & Protestants
Orthopapism II/Michaelinum | Index of Articles
Time, June 8, 1962.
Hans Küng is a Roman Catholic priest who believes that Protestantism must undertake a second reformation if the Christian church is ever to be made one, but that is by far the lesser half of his thought. Küng also believes that his own church must reform drastically, with reunion in mind; in one of the year’s most important, and most discussed, religious books, he argues the case for a Roman Catholic reformation from within, and makes some concrete proposals for the agenda of next fall’s Second Vatican Council.
Küng teaches theology at the University of Tübingen in West Germany, and is regarded by many as .the most promising theological talent to appear among German Catholics since World War IL Born in Switzerland, he went to Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, became full professor at Tübingen when only 32. His suggestions for Catholic renewal are published in The Council, Reform and Reunion
(Sheed & Ward; $ 3.95), which contains approving introductory messages by two cardinals. Among Protestants, President Henry Pitney Van Dusen of Union Theological Seminary praises its liberal, ecumenical spirit, and San Francisco’s Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike was so impressed that he has ordered copies for every priest in his diocese.
Author Küng admits that his church has been guilty of "a spurious, self-righteous ‘splendid isolation’ " from the intellectual currents of the age. He expresses sympathy for many modern men who are exasperated by "the lack of any openness among the Church’s leaders towards new problems and insights, new forms and values." In displaying her claim of infallibility before the world, for example, the Catholic Church has refused to admit, "in all honesty and humility, that errors had occurred even in cases where she was perfectly capable of error and in simple fact had erred."
Catholics, says Küng, are traditionally wary about talking of reform—the word has dangerous Protestant overtones—but in the present age that is precisely what is needed. "Every institution, even the holiest (the celebration of the Eucharist), every aspect of organization (even the primacy of Rome) can, through the historical process of formation and deformation, come to need renewal, and must then be reformed and renewed. Indeed, the holier the institution, the worse the damage, and the more urgent the renewal."
Sympathy for Luther
Küng points out that historically Catholicism has proved that it can reform. During the 10th century—a saeculum obscurum
of the worst abuses in Church and Papacy"—the monasteries, notably the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny, provided both the spiritual means and the men to effect reform. Even before Luther broke from Rome, men like the Dominican Vincent Ferrer and the Franciscan Bernadine of Siena were working to renew Catholicism from within. Yet one major reason why the Vatican rejected Luther’s cries for change was because "neither Rome nor the Church’s leaders elsewhere were in a fit state to understand the spiritual needs of the age; nor, hence, to grasp Luther’s theological and practical demands."
For many Protestants, the clock of Catholicism appears to have stopped in the Middle Ages; Küng says they are wrong. Some major reforms of attitudes and actions - notably as a result of the Jesuits, the Council of Trent, and Popes Leo ‘XIII, Pius XII and John XXIII - have been accomplished within the church. Küng argues that many of these changes have answered the initial demands of the Reformers. In historical scholarship, European Catholic writers nowadays exude sympathy for the motives of Luther.
Newly emphasizing the authority of the Bible, Catholics freely borrow from the best in Protestant’ scriptural scholarship. In theology, there has been a renewed appreciation for a doctrine dear to Luther’s heart: the concept of the priesthood of all believers. Catholic moralists now pay full respect to the tight of the individual conscience before God. Barriers that to Protestants seem almost insurmountable remain - notably the Marian emphasis of Catholicism, and the supremacy of the Pope - but Küng asks: "If Martin Luther had lived in the Catholic Church of today, what course would he have followed? Is it absolutely certain that that course would have taken him out of the Church?"
"Forgive Us Our Sins!"
But because the need for Christian reunion is so great, even more sweeping reforms are needed. and both Catholics and Protestants have looked hopefully to Pope John’s Vatican Council to achieve some of them. Among the suggestions for renewal that Küng himself favors:
- A doctrinal statement on the role of the episcopacy that would restore the office of bishop "to its full value" and limit the tendency to "Roman centralism."
- Liturgical reform that would allow bishops and diocesan councils wide liberty to create rites suitable to local needs.
- Reform or even abolition of the Index of Prohibited Books. The Index, says Küng, ensures "to any book placed upon’ it the widest possible circulation."
- A declaration of principle on the role of laymen in the church, and restoration to the laity of the use of the chalice at Holy Communion on certain occasions.
- A declaration of repentance. "We in the Church,"-says Küng, "are none of us guiltless of the world’s unhappy state today, and the guilt of our fathers lies heavy upon us. It would be a truly Christian act if the Pope and the Council were to express this truth: Forgive us our sins! Forgive us our sins, and in particular our share in the sin of schism!"
Küng does not expect that immediate reunion of Catholics and Protestants is at all likely to come about through decisions of the council. But, he writes, "if Catholics carry out Catholic reform and Protestants carry out Protestant reform, both according to the Gospel image, then, because the Gospel of Christ is but one, reunion need not remain a utopian dream. Reunion will then be neither a Protestant return nor a Catholic capitulation but a brotherly approach from both sides, with neither consciously calculating, on the other’s behalf, which of them has more steps to take; an approach penetrated with love, and wholly determined by truth."
Orthopapism II/Michaelinum | Index of Articles