Friday, December 18, 2020

The year was 1979. We remember the theologian Hans Küng. The reading is a word for Advent on the Incarnation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It is the 18th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1979.

Christopher Lasch wrote in his 1979 bestseller, "The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations,"

"The contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious. People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security."

Deeply critical of the 60s and 70s, the book called for a proverbial "pumping of the brakes" to slow down that progress he thought might be off the track. Lasch's book, which won the national book of the year in 1980, was a parallel to what President Jimmy Carter called "A Crisis of Confidence."

It was perhaps as if the 60s and early 70s had come to demand answers. Generational divides would diverge further. And what was "liberal" and "conservative" might seem wholly foreign to a person with these categories today. And none of this was alien to the church. In the evangelical world, the "Jesus People" movement was mixing forms and addressing the questions of a newer, less conservative group of adherents.

The Catholic Church also had its reckoning with the 60s and 70s. From 1962-1965 the Second Vatican Council changed the face of the Catholic Church. And this is what it was supposed to do. Only the 20th council in the history of the church, questions of modernity were addressed.

The First Vatican Council in the 19th century was cut short on account of the Franco-Prussian War. Still, its utility for the later church came in its renunciation of modernism and embrace of Aquinas. Vatican II became, in one sense, the battle for the correct interpretation of Thomas. Two of the men at the council who would symbolize the church's struggle were the theologian Hans Küng and his frequent critic and contemporary Joseph Ratzinger. Küng would argue against clerical celibacy, for a new interpretation of papal infallibility, and for an ecumenical approach to other church bodies. Ratzinger, on the other hand, would follow the party line. For this, he would make his way up the ranks, eventually becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

As for the narrative that Vatican II was a kind of liberal plot to undermine the traditional faith, that is hard to square with the sweeping reforms voted in almost unanimously. Küng's theology would be rejected but still respected, Ratzinger would become the church's theological voice into the next century. Perhaps, the infamous "spirit of Vatican II" made it more difficult to define what the church had or hadn't said at the council. Hans Küng would be one of the finest voices in this tradition, but this would not, at least at first, fare well for him. It was on this day in 1979 that the Washington Post reported:

"On the 18th of December, the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith obtained the pope's approval for a teaching ban on Küng, who has frequently used his post as professor of dogmatic and ecumenical theology at Tubingen University to express views that differed from major church positions…"

Küng would call this his "own personal inquisition." He would be questioned and examined for heresy, but ultimately, he would be reinstated. The new Pope John Paul II, under whom Küng was banned, would eventually allow Küng to keep his professorship if it was understood that he taught under the university's auspices and not the church.

Hans Küng retired in the 1990s and is today 92 years old. Today, we remember him the day he was temporarily banned from teaching on the 18th of December in 1979.

The reading today is a word for Advent on the Incarnation. It comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore."

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who studied Nordic martial arts at the Hans Küng Fu dojo. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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