Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, Part XXIV

Evening, supper with Küng and Feiner. Küng, full of intelligence, health, youth and insistent demands. He is extremely critical.

1) About the De S Liturgia and the way Martimort has acted. He ought to have begun with proposal that the Canon of the Mass BE PROCLAIMED out loud: ‘Mortem Domini annuntiabitis’ [You shall proclaim the death of the Lord (I Cor 11:26)] . . . But Martimort adopted a tactic of effectiveness with a view to secondary practical results, instead of concentrating on the essential, which would have brought all the rest in its train.

2) Above all about the De Ecclesia and Philips. In Küng’s view, it is full of naiveties and banalities which are absolutely not up to scratch with respect to what intellectual honesty before the facts and the texts, and the necessary dialogue, or simply the inevitable contact with the Others, demands. ‘What am I going to say to my Protestant colleagues in Tubingen?’

Küng charges at things, he goes straight ahead like an arrow. He is the exact opposite of Martimort. The latter devotes himself to the ‘possible’, to the tactical: he is a reformist, he seeks to secure what is possible; Küng demands insistently, like a revolutionary. I believe that I myself am between the two. I am sensitive to what has ALREADY been done, and that it is fantastic. We have to see WHERE we have come from, the road already travelled. In a year, Philips has taken Tromp’s place, Häring and Hirschmann that of Lio, Butler that of Balić, etc, etc. Everywhere, the Ecclesia is in the process of putting the Curia back in its place. So one should see what had been possible and what is possible. The Catholic Church includes ALSO Ottaviani and Parente, Tromp and the archbishop of Benevento.

Küng does not take into consideration anything other than the exigency of the facts, of the texts, of what they impose as questions and as conclusions. He said: ‘Ottaviani is in no way a theologian, he knows nothing about the problems presented by the texts and present-day studies, he ought to be replaced.’ Maybe so but, in fact, he was there! And replaced BY WHOM? Küng told me that this question of replacing Ottaviani as President of the Theological Commission had been raised with the Pope at the same time as the new regulations were proposed. In Küng’s opinion, a great many of the ‘experts’, who are strangers to the theological science or rather disciplines of today, ought also to be eliminated. But in the meantime, they were there and they are still there.

Faced with Küng, I once again realize the fairly horrifying degree to which I myself have been too timid, especially during the preparatory period, but even after that. I content myself with expressing my opinion, but I do not defend it, I do not stay with it. There is, on my part, a health problem: I no longer have the strength. Have I ever had it? In spite of appearances, I have always been at the end of my VERY LIMITED resources. There is also a question of mystique. I believe profoundly in: ‘Each one has what has been given to him. The servant is quite content to be there, outside in the hallway, and to hear the wedding songs’. There is also the question of destiny: SINCE 1938, I have been UNCEASINGLY under suspicion, pursued, reprimanded, limited, crushed. Finally, there is a question of the extremely keen awareness I have that that some time-lags are necessary and that an active patience has strength. Küng is to some extent an impatient man. He has to be. It is a dangerous position. He worries me a bit, all the more so in that he is so sensitive to Protestant reactions, that he is successful and that he is surrounded by the prestige of success, and lastly that he has not the support of a community of religious and regular life. As for me, I believe profoundly in time-lags, in the necessary stages. I have SEEN that my conviction is TRUE. I have also seen so much progress made in thirty years! I have such a strong feeling that a huge body, such as the Church is needs to move in a measured rhythm . . .

Of course, I am also aware of WHAT IS MISSING in the schema and in the work of the Council. For years I have realized that at no time has the Word of God been encountered in an entirely new and fresh way. There has not been a REAL return to the sources. There have been good elements of Scripture and Tradition, providing the people of today with more than one intention and one method: but these elements have done no more than improve in some points and in certain details on existing expositions based, essentially, on the classical system alone. Exegetes have played almost no part in the work: those from Jerusalem and the Biblical Institute have been set aside. Nothing will redeem this fault, except perhaps the future. For myself, for a long time, all renewal has seemed to me to be linked with a high-level theological teaching which is truly animated by and imbued with RESEARCH. In Rome, there is no research, except in some peripheral sectors, limited, and purely technical: Byzantine sigillography and alia huiusmodi [other things of the kind]. It is by the reform of clerical education that the reform of the Church will really begin. Once that has been achieved, everything will have been gained within one or two generations. But it remains true that we could never give to theology the status that the Protestants give it: it can never be PURE research, without conditions, nor purely personal research, without communion or norms . . .

Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, pp. 369-370. For previous posts in this series, simply enter “Congar” in the search box in the upper right. The 1100-page book can be purchased from Liturgical Press.


  1. And it appears the passage of time hasn’t changed Küng one bit, doesn’t it.

    “… some time-lags are necessary and that an active patience has strength… I believe profoundly in time-lags, in the necessary stages… I have such a strong feeling that a huge body, such as the Church is needs to move in a measured rhythm.”


    I wonder what he would have said about Pope Francis, had he been alive today, and about the way things are unfolding…

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #2:

      hee, no, by “he” I meant Congar.

      But since you’ve mentioned Rahner, now I’m wondering what he would have said also — as if there weren’t enough to wonder about already!

  2. Before we begin a wholesale critical onslaught on Hans Kung we would do well to reflect on his life-long loyalty to the Church.
    His life has been one of scholarship and enquiry, ever anxious to explore our Christian faith with an open mind and honest personal reflection. His writings have been copious and his public lectures, quite apart from his university teaching, extensive and world -wide. He has challenged us to think from the time immediately before the Council to the present day.
    By sheer weight, his output has been enormous. Setting that aside for the purpose of this post, I would ask readers to refer to his Open Letter to the Bishops, for in that he succinctly identifies the core questions that we face today. Go and re-read it and see what you think. It was first published in April 2010
    His most recent book Can the Catholic Church Survive? is due out in the States next month, having already been available in English on this side of the Atlantic in recent months. It is well worth reading.
    We should be grateful for his honest voice over many years, raised out of a faith conviction and often at great personal cost.
    He has throughout his long life remained a priest in good standing.

  3. ” … about the De Ecclesia … it is full of naiveties and banalities which are absolutely not up to scratch with respect to what intellectual honesty before the facts and the texts, and the necessary dialogue …”

    On my site I’m reviewing both Mediator Dei and Evangelii Gaudium. What a contrast. I remember the former–I read it in grad school and recalled very little. Reading it again today leaves me singularly unimpressed. Pre-conciliar thinking, even vaguely non-hostile to reform, strikes me as repetitive, simplistic, treacly, and wholly safe. And wholly unprepared to address the issues of 1947, let alone today.

    Thank goodness we’ve had people like Küng, to prick consciences and admit that curiocrats are no theologians. They are not active bishops. What were they? What are they today? Why do they have such a stranglehold on the Gospel? A Church centered on Roman bureaucratic control is a zombie edifice.

  4. Just to be clear, my post was not intended as a criticism — or as someone upthread said, “a wholesale critical onslaught” — of Küng. I like, appreciate and agree with much of his thinking, particularly his views on death.

    He does come off, however, as exactly how Congar described him here, which he himself conceded (well, kinda) in his conversation with SPIEGEL* last year: “I was sometimes too polemical, and I wish I hadn’t said a few things.”

    * http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/controversial-theologian-hans-kueng-on-death-and-church-reform-a-938501.html

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