I think it is quite possible that one day someone will write a history of Catholic theology in the sixty or so years following Vatican II, taking as their narrative guide the life and work of two contemporary German theologians, Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger.
Until then, we content ourselves with snippets such as this from Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute.
A little more sympathetic to Küng, but no less aware of his stark contrast to the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI, is an article in the inestimable “Ecumenical Trends”. Unfortunately they don’t publish online yet. There is only a “sample issue” available from January of this year on their website – which nevertheless has an interesting article on John Henry Newman by the Hong Kong Dominican Ambrose Mong Ih-Ren.
The March issue for 2011 had an article entitled “Hans Küng’s Humanum and the Quest for the True Religion”, by the same author. He introduces his paper by saying:
This paper attempts to critique Hans Küng’s humanum as a criterion for determining the truth and goodness of a religion. In addition, the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, who understands Christianity as the true religion, is presented to shed light on their different approaches.
Indeed! He summarises Küng’s approach as follows:
Küng asks this question, “Is there one true religion?” From the outside (ie., objectively) there are many true religions; from the inside (subjectively) there is only one. Christains over the centuries have fallen into untrue religion. Prophets have had to arise in the Church and “enlightened ones” outside the Church to call the faithful back to this truth, “among whom the prophet Muhammad and the Buddha should no doubt be included par excellence.” [Hans Küng, Theology for the Third Millenium, p251] Küng says a genuine religion must have an orientation to the human element, but that does not mean that it must be reduced to the “merely human”. Religion is convincing when it succeeds in bringing out the “human element against the background of the Absolute”. [ibid, p241]
And now for something completely different:
Following the teaching of St Augustine, Ratzinger states that Christianity is not based on myths or justified by political exigency but is related to that divine presence that can be percieved by reason. Christianity is religio vera in the sense that it is not based on poetry and politics like the pagan religions, but on knowledge. For Küng, as we have seen, it is the human element that is the decisive factor concerning truth of religion. Ratzinger argues that Christianity is the worship of the “true God”, and enlightenment is part of this religion; it embodies “the victory of demythologisation, the victory of knowledge…and the victory of truth.” [Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, p170]. It appears to be intolerant because it refuses to accept relativism and the interchangeability of gods or to be used for politcal purposes. But for Ratzinger, Christianity is not just one religion among others, but it represents the victory of perception and truth.
Fr Ambrose barely scratches the surface on a deep mine of material for comparison and understanding in the life and work of Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger respectively. At some time in the future, both men will have passed on from us. Perhaps then will be the time for the definitive study: “Küng and Ratzinger: A tale of two theologians”. But we can start sketching the chapters even now!