Friday, November 18, 2005

A Review: The Catholic Church: A Short History

The Catholic Church: A Short History
Hans Kung

Essential Reading for Questioning Catholics

This is another of the Modern Libraries Chronicles books, an easy read for under ten bucks from an established and eminent authority of "The Church" with a currently black-sheep designation. But in no way does what he write reflect any greater animosity than perhaps an aging grandparent would bemoan an errant child.

However few in the echelons of church power would consider their current positions ("Papa Ratzi" included) would consider what they do with church dogma to be any where near what a child refusing to share toys does. Kung records an essential issue in church leadership dynamics over history which appears to have been, is, and will be, for sometime, the epitome of covetousness.

Kung starts out with describing the early church and establishes the veracity, or lack thereof, of the Peter of Catholicism, that he was far from the spiritual monarch to which he is repeatedly cast, by a long lineage of monarchical Popes, and that all experts on the topic of his role conceed that there is no evidence that he was ever in charge of the Church of Rome, either as a "supreme head" or even as a bishop.

Kung elucidates the necessity and origin of hierarchical Catholicism with the death of Paul and was a divisional determination between clergy and laity or an essential bureaucratization of the affairs of an expanding religious agglomeration which has no basis on any insituition of Jesus Christ, nor absolutely intrinsic to Christianity.

These beliefs conglomerate during the imperialist period of Church development, and following the death of Theodosius (395) when the Roman Empire became split into eastern and western portions, the first claims of direct descendancy from Peter in a spiritual succession is made by Pope Stephen followed by many others from Bishop Julius (337-52) to Bishop Boniface (418-22) replete with a whole list of dictums, all authoritarian in nature; they sought to subscribe the Papal Seat with a fully "Peterized" implication. Namely, that their relationship with clergy and laity be considered infalliable.

The role of Pope became more about espousing rules, dictums, and dogma to fully establish prescribed theology and a real synthesis of a Roman idea of papacy and primacy than spiritual communion. Historians concede that Leo I (440-61) is to be considered the first real pope as we in the present perceive the role. He established the cult of Peter as spiritual leader and progenitor of spiritual succession. Of course the similarity of Buddhists selecting Dalai Lamas is a reasonable comparison. What is required is belief.

Leo was an excellent lawyer and developed a solid argument on the subject. Leo used a letter as basis of evidence to support his argument which was later proven a forgery. His knowledge of Roman Law was also an integral requirement for establishing the kinds of spiritual predispositions and precedents required for such claims. Kung gives reasonable descriptions of the religious split between East and West and depicts the period as the climax of a squabble over theological differences and distribution of centralized and localized powers and authority. The split also encouraged divisions and nonconformist movements which resulted in the inquisition.

Predominantly the differences were grass-roots movements towards monastic or simple religious life led by saints, such as Francis of Assisi, who was the founder of the Jesuit Order, or a collective and simplisitic religious clerical movement which taught and followed the beatitudes, versus a clerical elite centred in Rome eager to maintain and continue the consolidation of rule by Papal fiat.

This period fostered many other movements, including Waldensians, Beguines, and Hussites, etc. All were heavily censored and persecuted during the inquisitorial reaction to dissent. Kung posits that the legacy of the period reveals a repeated failure of Church hierarchy to take the opportunity to change, often reacting in a less than Christian and abominable manner when confronted with the spiritual desires of the poor, oppressed, or weak. Such were the defiant people put to death during this period.

The Reformation is described by Kung as real error of judgement on the part of the Church leadership. He emphasizes that Luther was approaching a real spiritual interpretation of what the meaning of being Christian potentially remains; namely, was Luther a Non-Catholic? Kung implies that his views were decidedly Catholic, and supported "scripture alone" over traditions and laws. He proposed that "Christ alone" is the intermediator of consequence and that saints are superfulous. Luther ordained that "Faith and Grace Alone" be the prerequisites to satisfaction of the needs of a Catholic or Christian God.

The strength of Luther's justification of the sinner by faith alone was a pivotal growth and reclamation of Paul's doctrine according to Kung; the Church fails to recognize the accumulation of edicts and obscurities of its intermediary past.
Luther's arguments convinced many, enough to forment a reformation of theology, albeit in far flung and mostly northern-European kingdoms and fiefdoms, those already on the peripheries of Roman influences, those already perhaps adapting their instructions for local realities. The Church met outright collapse with moderate reforms, which originated in Spanish reconquest of former Muslim territories.

Kung details Church opposition to modernity and change, particularly its resistance to scientific and philosophical reasoning. The results of the experiments of Copernicus and Galileo were only the first tests of Catholic faith in exercises of pure reason; the Church was found unprepared for the results. Natural scientists, particulary in Catholic nations, well obscured their accomplishments. Secularized and emancipated forms of government developed, and a tripatriate division of culture, religion, and society began to take place in the seventeenth century. However enlightenment precepts of peace among religions as a tenet of peace in humankind was not to be found among Church documents but in a play called "Nathan the Wise" (1779) written by Ephraim Lessing. Enlightenment then became more of a political movement than a Church-supported one.

Kung's most eloquent moment is in his discussion of the Church of the present. He describes a period of enlightenment centred on the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) as a singular light of hope in a sadly unresponsive Church in terms of the Holocaust, the World Wars, and the repression of local church leaders and bishops from participatory reforms or collegiality of bishops.

Kung was present during the VC II and notes that the reform paradigms looked good on paper, but could not be implemented in clauses of revision submitted by the Curial Councils, and following the death of Pope John XXIII, a spirit of renewed repression of change took place. In particular, visionaries of the Church would implement a recognition that the Reformation and split of Luther's time was essentially the fault of the Church to adapt quickly enough to meet the expectations of clergy and laity for a renewed simplicty of Christian values.

Secondly, the Church would become fully a supporter of human rights and freedom of religion for all, and recognize that salvation is attainable for and by all, even agnostics or atheists, and supported the concept of personal conscience in making these decisions. Also, the VC II sought to enact a revelation that the Church was not defining itself through leadership of the people from a spiritual succession of Popes, that clergy were intended to intermediate as servants, not only of God and spirit, but of the people, laity.

However of all these principles, none were fully enacted; Kung demonstrates the curia ensured reforms were in window dressing only, no real changes took place in Church management. Which is where we see what happens to painters, sculptors, writers, or historians of the Church when their supporters are removed from office and new patrons take over. Once Pope John XXIII was gone, people like Kung were forced out of the process, change was quelled yet again, and the role of Pope became even more figural.

John Paul II was often on tour, and well loved and loving to the people, but enacted no real changes to the character of Catholic hierarchy. "Papa Ratzi", also known as "The Hammer" is probably even less interested in becoming a progentior of change in management. Which gets to the reason for reading this book. What we are taught is certianly not always what is closest to the truth. The Church of the present, as Kung reveals, grows closer and closer to change only because the issues increasingly demand change. The issues are countless. One would be the disntinctive differences in Catholicism of formal eccelsiastical teaching and informal or intuitive learning.

Thanks to Kung, I know more than most Catholic priests or bishops would want me to know. The Church is a fine vessel. It is a people. However its leadership is flawed, and could be said to be ruthless and blinded by its own desire to control the people rather than act as their servants.

Pray for change at the top? Most certainly.

Thank God for historians like Kung? Absolutely.

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