by Michael Davies

------------------------------ Chapter III

New Ideas and Old Mistakes

In his essay, The Reason Why, G.K. Chesterton remarked that:

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again for ever, as people always do if they are left to themselves . . . She does dogmatically defend humanity from its worst foes, those hoary and horrible and devouring monsters of the old mistakes.

Hans K
üng is described by his English publisher as "the young protégé of modern theology"; he is "one of the world's leading theologians . . . the calmly authoritative spokesman on behalf of large sections of the Church". 1 It is not necessary to devote a good deal of time to studying his works to discover that his modern theology consists of little more than a series of very old mistakes. This can be proved by examining some of his modern theology in the light of the canons of the Council of Trent anathematizing the Protestant heresy, as cited at the conclusion of the preceding chapter.

Canon IV anathematizes anyone who claims that a character is not imprinted by ordination. K
üng informs us in his book Why Priests? that the concept of a sacramental character was "invented" by St. Augustine and that "later Latin theology took over the idea without verifying the existence of such a character." 2 Apparently we can no longer accept the medieval idea that the recipient of ordination is "marked with a 'character' which distinguishes him from the laity". 3 It is a "baseless notion". 4

Canons III and VI anathematize anyone who denies that either the priesthood or the hierarchy are of Divine origin, directly instituted by Christ. According to K
üng: "However, one cannot assert that ordination ('ordination to the priesthood') was 'Instituted by Christ',  since everyone knows that it is neither mentioned nor implicit in any Pauline text. There is not the least proof for this institution." 5 For Küng, the tradition and infallibly defined teaching of the Church not constitute proof. It is alarming to note that he is able to cite Vatican II in favour of his ideas. About Canon VI he comments:

Vatican II makes three corrections to this canon: (i) the Council of Trent used the non-biblical term "hierarchy", which Vatican II replaces by the expression "church ministry" (ministerium ecclesiasticum); (ii) whereas at Trent "divina ordinatio" would seem to have referred, too, to a division of ministries among bishops, presbyters and deacons, at Vatican II "divinitus institutum" refers without any possible confusion to the ecclesial ministry as such; (iii) whereas at Trent the hierarchy "consists" (constat) of bishops, presbyters and deacons, for Vatican II the ecclesial ministry is "exercised" (exercitur) by those who from antiquity (ab antiquo), and therefore not from the origins, "have been called" (vocantur) bishops. 6

It was pointed out in Chapter I that ample support can be found the documents of Vatican II to uphold the traditional teaching of the Church, but what Küng has written here certainly highlights a comment by Professor Oscar Cullmann, the most distinguished of the Protestant Observers at the Council, that "the definitive texts are for the most part compromise texts. On far too many occasions they juxtapose opposing viewpoints without establishing any genuine internal link between them." 7

üng is unwilling to permit the use of the term "priest" if it implies the existence of a ministerial priesthood distinct in essence from the universal priesthood of the faithful.

"The New Testament shows that the word 'priest'-----like 'ecclesiastic' and 'cleric', as a special and exclusive term for anyone responsible for an ecclesial service
ought really to be dispensed with; as far as the New Testament is concerned, all believers are 'priests', 'clerics', or 'ecclesiastics'." 8 He insists that ordination cannot be termed a Sacrament in the proper sense of the term: "If 'institution by Christ' has to derive from the New Testament, then ordination cannot be called a sacrament." 9 These views are condemned by Canons I and III.

üng would like to see the term "priesthood" replaced by terms that "describe functions". 10 Time and again he makes explicit his belief that contrary to Trent (Canon I), and in accord with the Protestant Reformers, ordination does not impart powers which distinguish the priest not simply in degree but in essence from the layman, but that the priesthood is "only an office". Therefore the term "priest" must be dropped in favour of "terms that describe functions . . . If a more general term is needed that can be used for all these functions, 'service of leadership' or 'presidency' would seem appropriate (one might speak of the person 'responsible for' or the 'president of, a parish, diocese or local or national church, and so on)." 11

üng is not opposed to a service of ordination as long as it is seen simply as an appropriate sign by which the community acknowledges that a particular individual has received a call from God to exercise an office which is not necessarily permanent. 12 Ordination must not be regarded as the only "means of access to the services of leadership". 13 The ecclesial ministry can be a sole profession or second occupation, it can be undertaken for life or for a short period, it is open to men or women, married or unmarried. 14 It is an appropriate sign of continuity with "the apostolic; succession", but "the apostolic succession is primarily a succession to the faith and creed of the apostles, and to apostolic service and life." 15 There is "no question of tracing things back to 'divine institution' or to 'institution by Jesus Christ'." 16 (See Canons III & VI.) He claims that there are other modes of entering the apostolic succession apart from ordination, a theory examined in detail in Appendix IV. This makes possible valid celebrations of the Eucharist where no priest is available and the "recognition of the validity of ministries and sacraments in a Church whose presidents do not historically enjoy the special 'apostolic succession'." 17

Not only is K
üng's "president" simply the holder of an office 'but it is an office primarily (or solely) concerned with preaching' (see Canon I). Even celebrating the Eucharist can be interpreted as no more than an extension of preaching the word:

In preaching in all its diverse forms, the president of the community serves the Church which is, despite all differences, and by virtue of the word, a community of faith and the profession of that faith. His preaching is decisive in the orientation of the Church; he prompts and he suggests. In the most various situations he returns to the major questions: where do man and the world come from? where are they going? why? and to what purpose? Perhaps he will pose the true questions more often than he will supply all the answers. He addreSses the community in this way, searching among those who are in search of something; a fisher among fishers. 18

üng is adamant that "the ecclesial ministry should not be exclusively masculine: it should not be an all-male league." 19 However, not everyone could perform the office of "president". Certain qualifications are necessary, among which "experience of group management" figures prominently.

Evidently this is not an obvious task that just anyone could fulfill. One has to have the right gifts and aptitudes for the job; one has to have experience of group management and coordination; a certain training, even if a scientific training (though very often useful) is not indispensable. 20

In order to make more specific the type of person he envisages as the ideal community leader K
üng states that "for detailed individual models we have to go to actual servants of the Church . . . John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Dag Hammarskjöld-----all three convinced Christians who are still living charismatic examples, precisely because they were assassinated while carrying out their service." 21

The situation described by Chesterton at the beginning of this chapter has certainly not changed. Old mistakes are still being hailed as new ideas. What has changed is the attitude of the Catholic Church. "The Catholic Church," wrote Chesterton, "has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes . . . ". The German edition of Why Priests? (Wozu Priester?) was published in 1971. In 1978 Hans K
üng was still functioning as an accredited teacher of Catholic doctrine, and the only action taken by the Vatican was to state that it did not see how some of his opinions could be reconciled with the teaching of the Church. No steps were taken to protect the faithful from this priest who denies that there is any priesthood and purveys the most outmoded heresies of Protestantism as if they represent a legitimate
interpretation of the Catholic faith. [NOTE] One possible objection to what has been written in this chapter might be that I have condemned Hans K
üng, but have not answered his arguments beyond stating that they must be wrong because they conflict with the defined teaching of Trent. Küng argues that the teaching of Trent is not contained explicitly in the Bible and therefore we cannot be required to believe it. I would reply that, as Catholics have been required to believe it under pain of excommunication for four centuries, if Küng is correct the claim of the Catholic Church to teach infallibly is untenable. As his book Infallible? makes clear, he certainly does believe both that he is correct and that the traditional concept of infallibility is untenable. What Küng is doing,  in fact, is to adopt the classical Protestant position of sola scriptura-----the Bible alone is the source of truth-----failing to recognise that unless the Bible is interpreted by an infallible teaching authority we have no means of deciding with certainty what it teaches. The ultimate logic of this position is that every individual is entitled to interpret the Bible according to the dictates of his own reason; in their words it must lead to rationalism. Küng also fails to make due allowance for the development of doctrine. In his essay on this subject Cardinal Newman explains that:

Certain doctrines come to us, professing to be apostolic, and possessed of such high antiquity that, though we are only able to assign the date of their formal establishment to the fourth, or the fifth, or the eighth, or the thirteenth century, as it may happen, yet their substance may, for what appears, be coeval with the Apostles, and be expressed or implied in texts of Scripture. Further, these existing doctrines are universally considered, without any question, to be the echo in each age of the doctrines of the times immediately preceding them, and thus are continually thrown back to a date indefinitely early, even though their ultimate junction with the Apostolic Creed be out of sight and unascertainable. Moreover, they are confessed to form one body with another, so that to reject one is to disparage the rest; and they include within the range of their system even those primary articles of faith, as the Incarnation, which many an impugner of the said doctrinal system, as a system, professes to accept, and which, do what he will, he cannot intelligibly separate, whether in point of evidence or of internal character, from others which he disavows. 22
However, lest it be thought that K
üng's appeal to the New Testament cannot be answered because it is unanswerable, apart from what he would probably term a "fundamentalist" appeal to Trent, the fact that the traditional doctrine of the priesthood has a sound scriptural basis is made clear in Appendix VII. This has has been written by Professor J. P. M. van der Ploeg, O.P., a Professor of Scripture at the University of Nijmegen (Holland), a scholar of international repute particularly celebrated as an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Apart from this refutation by a modern scholar, it is possible to answer Küng by citing St. John Fisher who refuted Luther's attack upon the priesthood well before the anathemas of Trent. In a work published in 1525, and entitled Defence of the Sacred Priesthood against Luther, St. John Fisher showed that should Luther be correct in his accusation of falsity against a doctrine attested to by such an impressive consensus of the Fathers of the Church, and accepted and taught so long and so universally, then the entire credibility of the Christian religion would vanish. The quotation which follows comes after an impressive list of citations from the Fathers attesting to the traditional doctrine. The relevance of what St. John Fisher wrote to the present situation can be gauged simply by substituting the name Küng for that of Luther wherever it appears.

From the unanimity of so many of the Fathers we may conclude with the fullest certainty that the priesthood was instituted, not in recent times, but in the very cradle of the Church. Wherefore, since Luther can adduce no orthodox writer who in any book that has ever appeared gives contrary witness, nor can quote a single syllable of Holy Scripture in opposition to the assertions of the Fathers, we lay down with the utmost justice against Luther as a matter of prescriptive right the truth of the priesthood.

The only point that Luther has for his heresy is that the New Testament never uses this term, namely that it never gives the name "priests" to those to whom today we give it. But this will have little or no force for one who carefully weighs the reason why the Apostles avoided the term, viz., because the ancient! priesthood was still in existence and daily sacrifice was offered in the Temple. Therefore, so that there might be no confusion between the two priesthoods, they thought it wise for the time being to use other terms for the new priests. Therefore, as is clear from Scripture, they called them at one time presbyters, at another ministers, sometimes bishops and pastors, until that time when, together with the Temple, the ancient priesthood was utterly destroyed. After that occurred it became usual for all men to call our presbyters priests.

I would have you, dear reader, hold this as a most certain truth, that from the Scriptures Luther has not one jot or tittle which contradicts a visible priesthood, not a single one of the orthodox prelates of the Church who even once gives any support to his teaching, but on the contrary that they all unanimously and emphatically testify to the exact opposite.

Here, then, is our first rejoinder to Luther. Whereas the truth of the priesthood is abundantly and unanimously witnessed to by all the Fathers through the whole history of the Church, and whereas there is no orthodox writer who is not in agreement, and no word of Scripture that can be quoted against it, therefore all must clearly see how justly, against Luther, we claim the truth of the priesthood as the prescriptive right of the Church.

It would indeed be incredible that when Christ had redeemed His Church at so great a price, the price of His Precious Blood, He should care for it so little as to leave it enveloped in so black an error. Nor is it any more credible that the Holy Ghost, Who was sent for the special purpose of leading the Church into all truth, should allow it for so long to be led astray.

Nor is it credible that the prelates of the Church, who were so numerous even in the earliest period of her history, and who were appointed by the Holy Ghost to rule her, as we shall afterwards prove, should have been enveloped in such darkness through so many centuries as to teach publicly so foul a lie.

Finally, it is beyond belief that so many churches throughout the various parts of Christendom, hitherto governed with such careful solicitude by Christ and His Spirit, and by the prelates appointed for the purpose, should now unanimously fall into an error so foul and a lie so ruinous, according to Luther, that it does an injustice to the very testament of our Lord.

But consider diligently Christ's care for us: consider the certain truths of the presence and the activity of the Holy Ghost in the Church: consider the numberless clear testimonies of the prelates of olden times, illustrious not only by their holiness but also by their learning and miracles: consider the unanimous agreement of all the churches, with no single exception through so many centuries. How now can it be imagined that at length for the first time has shone upon Luther the light of a truth that no one of the early Fathers could so much as have suspected, the contrary,
indeed, of what they have unitedly asserted from the very beginning?

For if for so long the truth had remained imprisoned in darkness, waiting during so many centuries for Luther, and him only, to set, it free, then Christ's solicitude for our Fathers in the faith was in vain; in vain, too, the coming of the Holy Ghost to teach them all truth; in vain their prayers and devout search for the truth, if all along they were unanimously teaching to the churches so dangerous a lie.

And if there was an error in a matter so vital to the faith, then in vain, if I may use the language of Tertullian, were so many millions of men Baptized; in vain were wrought so many works of faith and miracles, in vain so many graces given, so many functions of the priesthood performed; in vain did so many Martyrs suffer, if indeed they all died in a false faith. For without the true faith, no one of them could please God.

Now that you see, dear reader, the source whence that doctrine has come unchanged down to us, namely from men of the greatest sanctity and learning, some of whom were of the apostolic age and undoubtedly received it from the Apostles themselves, whereas Luther can quote nothing of the kind for his opinion, as we shall soon clearly show, who will be so reckless of his salvation as to leave these safe guides and endanger his soul with Luther? Who does not know that we must zealously follow the safer path, especially as it is written: "He that loveth danger shall perish in it" (Ecclus. 3:27). And how shall not that path be safer which one follows in the company of the Fathers, so eminent in learning and holiness, than in opposition to all these in the company of Luther alone? 23

NOTE:  Pope John Paul II was elected to the See of Peter In 1978 and made the case of Hans Küng one of his priorities. On 18 December 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith withdrew Dr. Küng's missio canonica, i.e. the authority by which he instructed future priests in fundamental theology. The Sacred Congregation stated that Küng could no longer be considered a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role. Küng had refused an invitation to appear before the Sacred Congregation to explain his position in person. In an act of charming ecumenical courtesy the Anglican Church Times asked whether Pope John Paul II "is going to turn out to be the Ayatollah of the West" (11 January 1980). Dr. Stuart Blanch, the Anglican Archbishop of York, claimed that Küng was a great theologian who had put the whole world in his debt! On 7 December 1981, Küng gave a lecture to a standing-room-only audience at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S.A. He was introduced by Fr. Richard McBrien, Chairman of the Theology Department at the University, as "a fellow Catholic theologian," a statement which can only be described as an insolent and cynical rejection of the judgment of the Sacred Congregation. Fr. McBrien was not disciplined and still occupied the same position in 1992.

1. WP, Publisher's information.
2. WP, pp. 46/7.
3. WP, p. 66.
4. WP, p. 69.
5. WP, p. 66.
6. WP, pp. 41/2, citing Lumen Gentium para. 28.
7. PIC, p. 56.
8. WP, p. 29.
9. WP, p. 68.
10. WP, p. 29.
11. WP, pp. 29/30.
12. WP, pp. 67-9.
13. WP, p. 67.
14. WP, pp. 68/9.
15. WP, p. 31.
16. WP, p. 34.
17. WP, p. 35.
18. WP, pp. 79/80.
19. WP, p. 59.
20. WP, p. 62.
21. WP, p. 87.
22. The Development of Christian Doctrine, Chapter 3, Section 1.
23. Defence of the Priesthood (London, 1935), pp. 17-20.


HOME-------------------------ROMAN MASS