Book Review: My Struggle for Freedom
Hans Küng, My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Trans. John Bowden (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003).
I have wanted to read this ever since fellow theology blogger, Chris Tilling, reviewed it a few years back. One thing about no longer working in academic circles is that my book buying budget is much smaller. But, it was one of my Christmas 2009 presents, so my chance finally arrived.
Küng has not played the strong role in my theological development that he has in others, but I have always realized his key importance as one of the major voices shaping the Second Vatican Council, one of the most important post-conciliar progressive Catholic theologians, a huge factor in both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and one of the earliest victims of the conservative backlash that has tried to role back Vatican II for a Tridentine Catholic Church. Küng first caught my attention as a Protestant with his book, Infallible? An Inquiry, which challenged the doctrine of papal infallibility from within the Catholic tradition itself. Now, as a Protestant who has never believed in papal infallibility, it is not my place to say whether Küng is right or wrong about the tradition, but I was impressed with his boldness and his sense of calling as a critic from within, opposing the dominant view but doing so as a loyalist to Church. I knew that his road would not be easy, and it hasn’t.
But reading this first volume of Küng’s memoirs has been an amazing experience. Even though I had read the Documents of Vatican II as a student in a Baptist seminary, I had no clue as to the dramas that went on behind the scenes at the Council, nor what forces were trying undermine the Council before it even met–although anyone watching the rightist dirhection of the Church since the late 1970s couldn’t fail to notice that spirit of the Council has been under full-fledged assault for some time. I had tended to see Paul VI as a real reformer, so Küng’s criticisms of the way that Paul VI failed to get the Cardinals under his control and ended up allowing them to undermine the Council, the Bishops, and the Pope himself (in the NAME of the pope) was revealing. If Küng’s account is accurate, the conservative and anti-ecumenical forces that have been so evident during the long reign of John Paul II and growing even worse now under Benedict XIII (not surprising since, as Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–the contemporary version of the Inquisition, Benedict LED most of those conservative and anti-ecumenical forces during John Paul II’s papacy) had their roots in the Council itself and in the particular failures of John XXIII and Paul VI.
One of the biggest surprises was to find that Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) began, like Küng himself, as a progressive and reformer. I had assumed that he had always been an arch-conservative, but apparently this did not begin until the student uprisings of 1968.
This is a fascinating story–an insiders account of one of the most tumultous eras in both church history and world history. I cannot wait for the sequal.
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