As the author of The Catholic Church: A Short History
, I want to say quite openly, right at the beginning, that despite all my experiences of how merciless the Roman system can be, the Catholic Church, this fellowship of believers, has remained my spiritual home to the present day.
That has consequences for this book. Of course, the history of the Catholic Church can also be told in a different way. A neutral description of it can be given by experts in religion or historians who are not personally involved in this history. Or it can be described by a hermeneutical philosopher or theologian, concerned with understanding, for whom to understand everything is also to forgive everything. However, I have written this history as someone who is involved in it. I can understand phenomena like intellectual repression and the Inquisition, the burning of witches, the persecution of Jews, and discrimination against women from the historical context, but that does not mean that I can therefore forgive them in any way. I write as one who takes the side of those who became victims or already in their time recognized and censured particular church practices as being un-Christian.
To be quite specific and quite personal, I write as one who was born into a Catholic family, in the little Swiss Catholic town of Sursee, and who went to school in the Catholic city of Lucerne.
I then lived for seven whole years in Rome in the elite papal Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum and studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When I was ordained priest I celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in St. Peter's and gave my first sermon to a congregation of Swiss Guards.
After gaining my doctorate in theology at the Institut Catholique in Paris, I worked for two years as a pastor in Lucerne. Then, in 1960, at the age of thirty-two, I became professor of Catholic theology at the University of Tiibingen.
I took part in the Second Vatican Council, between 1962 and 1965, as an expert nominated by John XXIII, taught in Tiibingen for two decades, and founded the Institute for Ecumenical Research, of which I was director.
In 1979 1 then had personal experience of the Inquisition under another pope. My permission to teach was withdrawn by the church, but nevertheless I retained my chair and my institute (which was separated from the Catholic faculty).
For two further decades I remained unswervingly faithful to my church in critical loyalty, and to the present day I have remained professor of ecumenical theology and a Catholic priest in good standing.
I affirm the papacy for the Catholic Church, but at the same time indefatigably call for a radical reform of it in accordance with the criterion of the gospel.
With a history and a Catholic past like this, should I not be capable of writing a history of the Catholic Church which is both committed and objective? Perhaps it could prove even more exciting to hear the story of this church from an insider who has been involved in such a way. Of course, I shall be just as concerned to be objective as any neutral person (if there really are such people in matters of religion). However, I am convinced that personal commitment and matter-of-fact objectivity can as well be combined in a history of the church as they can in the history of a nation.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Catholic Church by Hans Küng. Copyright © 2001 by Hans Kung. Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.