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Since Hans Kung is not a Church Historian, but a systematic theologian, his treatment does not pretend to exhaustive and objective historical study. For historical studies, see the French titles Fr. Kung mentions early in this book or, perhaps more accessible, (and in English), the work of Peter Brown or Alistair McGrath. Fr. Kung does well to admit his own position as a Catholic theologian, whose license to teach Catholic theology (under Catholic auspices) has been revoked. He admits that this position will determine his focus and perspective. Although, as harsh as they often sound, Fr. Kung’s historical views are not personal screeds aimed at the Church, but represent pretty much the consensus among objective historians of Christianity (i.e. not those with theological investments that determine the content of their work). In other words, it really was that bad. Of course, Historians differ in their analyses of causes and influence. One should also note that his views are fairly mainline among educated theologians.
Fr. Kung accomplishes a great deal in a limited space: He traces the power exchanges and interests that helped determine Catholic/Christian theology and governmental structures from the time of the Jesus Group communities to the present-day Church (as of 2003). Indeed, one can say that the book follows a macroscopic, Foucault-like approach in tracing power relations within and without the Church. The fairly systematic abuses of power by the curia and pontiffs dominate much of the books treatment, but then (sadly), they dominate much of Church History and continue to influence the Church today.
As Fr. Kung cautions, for those with little previous exposure to Church history, the contents of this book will be shocking. “The truth shall set you free, but first it shall make you miserable.”
In print, see also -Infallible?: An Inquiry-, where Fr. Kung tears the Church teaching on infallibility into tiny shreds.
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This book is not for weak-hearted Christians seeking affirmation of the party line. Hans Kung does not pretend to be a standard bearer for the status quo. His admiration for reform and reformation gleams throughout his book. He will be viewed in times future as a reformer, one who sought a moral, reformed, inclusive Catholic Church. It must be noted that while he considers himself a loyal Catholic, the Curia does not. He reflects; however, the views of many Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
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