Hans Küng is a famous Swiss Catholic theologian and a personal hero of mine, so I was over joyed to receive a personal letter from him yesterday. Küng was a peritus at Vatican II, and is most famous for his criticism of Papal Infallibility in his book Infallible? and for his influence upon the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. He is a priest, an ecumenical professor at Tübingen and is a prolific writer.
Küng turned 88 on March 19th, so wrote to him earlier to wish him happy birthday and thank him for his life work, and then I received this letter in response (see the header image). Küng recently appealed Pope Francis regarding the problem of infallibility that has plagued Küng all these years, and after receiving an encouraging response from the pope, he wrote a statement regarding it, and then included a signed copy of that statement in the letter he sent to me.
Hans Küng has changed the way I understand the Catholic Church through his writings and biography, especially through his books Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection, and The Church (and its companion, Structures of the Church). Through these books I learned about the legacy of Hans Kung and that there is no longer any reason for Catholics and Protestants to remain separated, and whatever disagreements happened in the past, do not apply to the Church today. Karl Barth came to the same conclusion and endorsed Küng's books. Küng helped me understand that the Catholic view of Justification is not synergistic and is compatible with Barth's doctrine of Justification, and he even addressed my concerns about the Council of Trent anathema of salvation by faith alone. Now, I constantly asking myself if I am a schismatic for remaining separated from the Catholics Church after the progress made in Vatican II.
Contents of the letter:
To Wyatt, many thanks and kind regards
The Pope answers Hans Küng
On 9 March, my appeal to Pope Francis to give room to a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion on the problem of infallibility appeared in the leading journals of several countries. I was thus overjoyed to receive a personal reply from Pope Francis immediately after Easter. Dated 20 March, it was forwarded to me from the nunciature in Berlin.
In the Pope’s reply, the following points are significant for me:
- The fact that Pope Francis answered at all and did not let my appeal fall on deaf ears so to speak;
- The fact that he replied himself and not via his private secretary or the Secretary of State;
- That he emphasizes the fraternal manner of his Spanish reply by addressing me as
Lieber Mitbruder (Dear Brother) in German and puts this personal address in italics,
- That he clearly read the appeal, to which I had attached a Spanish translation, most attentively;
- That he is highly appreciative of the considerations which had led me to write Volume 5 in which I suggest theologically discussing the different issues which the infallibility dogma raises in the light of Holy Scripture and Tradition with the aim of deepening the constructive dialogue between the “semper reformanda” 21st century Church and the other Christian Churches and post-modern society.
Pope Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility. I think it is now imperative to use this new freedom to push ahead with the clarification of the dogmatic definitions which are a ground for controversy within the Catholic Church and in its relationship to the other Christian Churches.
I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Pope Francis would open up in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Already in the introduction he declares “that not all doctrinal discussions, moral or pastoral, need to be resolved with interventions of the Magisterium.” He takes issue with “cold bureaucratic morality” and does not want bishops to continue behaving as if they were “arbiters of grace”. He sees the Eucharist not as a reward for the perfect but as “nourishment for the weak”. He repeatedly quotes statements made at the Episcopal Synod or at national bishops’ conferences. Pope Francis no longer wants to be the sole spokesman of the Church.
This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the Magisterium. I am fully convinced that in this new spirit a free, impartial and open-ended discussion of the infallibility dogma, this fateful key question of destiny for the Catholic Church, will be possible. I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this new freedom and combine my heartfelt thanks with the expectation that the bishops and theologians will unreservedly adopt this new spirit and join in this task in accordance with the Scriptures and with our great church tradition.
Translation: Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Vienna