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Hans Küng

Swiss Catholic priest, theologian and author

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Hans Küng
Küng in 2009
Personal details
Born(1928-03-19)19 March 1928
Sursee, Switzerland
Died6 April 2021(2021-04-06) (aged 93)
Tübingen, Germany
  • Professor of theology
  • Writer
Alma materPontifical Gregorian University

Hans Küng (pronounced [ˈhans ˈkʏŋ]; 19 March 1928 – 6 April 2021) was a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and author. Since 1995 he was president of the Foundation for a Global Ethic (Stiftung Weltethos). After he rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility, he was not allowed to teach as a Catholic theologian; his priestly faculties were not revoked. In 1979, he had to leave the Catholic faculty, but remained at the University of Tübingen as a professor of ecumenical theology, retiring with the title professor emeritus in 1996.

Hans Küng Intro articles: 2

Life and work

Küng was born in Sursee, Canton of Lucerne.[1][2] He studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained in 1954.[3] He continued his education in various European institutions, including the Sorbonne.[3]

In 1960, he was appointed professor of theology at the University of Tübingen, Germany.[3] Like his colleague Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), in 1962 he was appointed peritus by Pope John XXIII, serving as an expert theological advisor to participants in the Second Vatican Council until its conclusion in 1965. At Küng's instigation, the Catholic faculty at Tübingen appointed Ratzinger as professor of dogmatic theology.[4]

During a 1963 tour of the United States, Küng gave the lecture "The Church and Freedom", receiving an interdict from the Catholic University of America, but an honorary doctorate from St. Louis University. He accepted an invitation to visit John F. Kennedy at the White House.[5]

Küng's doctoral thesis, "Justification. La doctrine de Karl Barth et une réflexion catholique", was published in English in 1964 as Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth. It located a number of areas of agreement between Barthian and Catholic theologies of justification, concluding that the differences were not fundamental and did not warrant a division in the Church. (The book included a letter from Karl Barth attesting that he agreed with Küng's representation of his theology. Barth however did not agree with Küng's conclusion that the Reformation was an overreaction.) In this book Küng argued that Barth, like Martin Luther, overreacted against the Catholic Church which, despite its imperfections, has been and remains the body of Christ.[6]

In the late 1960s, he became the first major Catholic theologian since the late 19th century Old Catholic Church schism to publicly reject the doctrine of papal infallibility, in particular in his book Infallible? An Inquiry (1971). On 18 December 1979, he was stripped of his licence to teach as a Catholic theologian.[7] He later described this moment as "my personal experience of the Inquisition".[8] He remained a priest and continued to teach as a tenured professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen until his retirement in 1996.[9]

Küng in 1973

In On Being a Christian (1974), Küng attempted to extract from the Gospels with the help of modern scholarship what can be known of the historical Jesus and examine his appeal to his contemporaries. Rather than beginning with the teaching of Church councils and the highly developed theological propositions propounded from human authorities, he asked if an alternative were possible: "Would it not perhaps correspond more to the New Testament evidence and to modern man's historical way of thinking if we started out like the first disciples from the real human being Jesus, his historical message and manifestation, his life and fate, his historical reality and historical activity, and then ask about the relationship of this human being Jesus to God, about his unity with the Father."[10]

While a guest professor at the University of Chicago for three months in 1981, he was invited to only one Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame. He appeared on the Phil Donahue Show.[11] In October 1986, he participated in the Third Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter held at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.[12]

In the early 1990s, Küng initiated a project called Weltethos ("Global Ethic"), which is an attempt at describing what the world's religions have in common (rather than what separates them) and at drawing up a minimal code of rules of behaviour everyone can accept. His vision of a global ethic was embodied in the document for which he wrote the initial draft, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration. This Declaration was signed at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions by religious and spiritual leaders from around the world. Later Küng's project would culminate in the UN's Dialogue Among Civilizations to which Küng was assigned as one of 19 "eminent persons." Even though it was completed shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (in September 2001), it was not covered in the U.S. media, about which Küng complained.[13][14][15]

In March 1991, he gave a talk titled "No Peace Among Nations until Peace Among the Religions" at UCSD's Price Center. He visited the nearby Beth El synagogue and spoke there on modern German-Jewish relations.[16]

In 1998, he published Dying with Dignity, co-written with Walter Jens, in which he affirms acceptance of euthanasia from a Christian viewpoint.[17]

In 2003, Küng saw the beatification of Pope Pius IX as evidence of the degeneration of canonizations to "gestures of church politics".[18]

In 2005, Küng published a critical article in Italy and Germany on "The failures of Pope Wojtyla" in which he argued that the world had expected a period of conversion, reform, and dialogue but, instead, John Paul II offered a restoration of the pre-Vatican II status quo—thus blocking reform and inter-church dialogue and reasserting the absolute dominion of Rome.[19]

On 26 September 2005, he had a friendly discussion about Catholic theology over dinner with Pope Benedict XVI, surprising some observers.[20]

In a 2009 interview with Le Monde, Küng deeply criticised the lifting of the excommunications on the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. His remarks drew a rebuke from Cardinal Angelo Sodano.[21]

Based on his Studium Generale lectures at Tübingen University, in Der Anfang aller Dinge (The beginning of all things) he discussed the relationship between science and religion. In an analysis ranging from quantum physics to neuroscience, he also commented on the debate about evolution in the United States.[22]

In his 2010 book Was ich glaube, he described his own personal relationship with nature, how he learned to observe correctly, drawing strength from God's creation without falling victim to a false and fanatic love of nature.[23]

In April 2010, he published an open letter to all Catholic bishops. He criticized Pope Benedict's handling of liturgical, collegial and inter-religious issues and also the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. He called on bishops to consider six proposals, ranging from speaking up and working on regional solutions to calling for another Vatican council.[24]

He is a signatory of Church 2011, a German-language memorandum demanding reform of the Catholic Church that was promulgated by Catholic theology professors.[25]

In 2013, Küng wrote in Erlebte Menschlichkeit ("Experienced Humanity") that he believed people had the right to end their own lives if physical illness, pain, or dementia made living unbearable. He indicated he was considering the option of assisted suicide for himself because he was suffering from Parkinson's disease and was losing the ability to see and write. Küng wrote that he did not wish to follow the example of Pope John Paul II.[26]

Küng died at home in Tübingen on 6 April 2021.[27] The Pontifical Academy for Life tweeted: "Disappears a great figure in the theology of the last century, whose ideas and analyzes must always make us reflect on the Catholic Church, the Churches, the society, the culture."[28]

Hans Küng Life and work articles: 43

Awards and honors

Honorary doctorates


Hans Küng Awards and honors articles: 15

See also


English translations


  • Hans Küng: His Work and His Way, Hans Küng, Hermann Häring, Karl-Josef Kuschel, Robert Nowell, Margret Gentner (1979) ISBN 0-385-15852-1
  • The New Inquisition?: The Case of Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng, Peter Hebblethwaite, ISBN 0-06-063795-1
  • Hans Küng (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind Series), John J. Kiwiet, Bob E. Patterson (series editor) (1985) ISBN 0-8499-2954-7

References in popular culture

  • In "The Nonborn King" by Julian May, the third book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile, a minor character, Sullivan-Tonn, is referred to as having once been "Küng Professor of Moral Theology at Fordham University"[33]
  • Küng is the favorite theologian of Cedar Hawk Songmaker in Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich.[34]


  1. ^ Dominik Weingartner (6 April 2021). "Medienbericht – Der weltbekannte Luzerner Theologe Hans Küng ist tot". Luzerner Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  2. ^ Deckers, Daniel (6 April 2021). "Zum Tode von Hans Küng: Ein populärer Kirchenkritiker". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Hans Küng ist tot". Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) (in German). 6 April 2021. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  4. ^ Ratzinger, Georg (2011). My Brother the Pope. Ignatius Press. p. 201. the University of Tubingen offered him (Joseph Ratzinger) in 1966 a newly created chair in dogmatic theology. One theologian in Tubingen who had strongly advocated recruiting Ratzinger was Hans Kung.
  5. ^ Kiwiet, John J. (1985). Hans Küng (Makers of the Modern Theological Mind Series).
  6. ^ Küng, Hans (2004). Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth (Fortieth Anniversary ed.). Presbyterian Publishing. p. 200. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  7. ^ "Declaration". Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 15 December 1979. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  8. ^ Küng, The Catholic Church: A Short History (2002), Introduction, p. xviii: "In 1979 I 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."
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Lebenslauf". Universität Tübingen (in German). 6 April 2021. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  10. ^ Murphy, Cullen (December 1986). "Who Do Men Say That I Am?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  11. ^ Briggs, Kenneth A. (13 December 1981). "Küng's Views Meet Positive Reaponse in U.S." New York Times. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Emptiness, Kenosis, History, and Dialogue: The Christian Response to Masao Abe's Notion of 'Dynamic Sunyata' in the Early Years of the Abe-Cobb Buddhist-Christian Dialogue", Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 24, 2004.
  13. ^ Global Ethic Foundation Archived 26 August 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ UN – Short Biography
  15. ^ Hans Küng Interview (Revue Lexnews)
  16. ^ "Noted theologian Hans Kung to speak at USCD, synagogue", Rita Gillmon. The San Diego Union San Diego, Calif.: 9 March 1991. pg. B.11
  17. ^ Grill, Markus (12 December 2013). "Controversial Theologian Hans Küng / "I Don't Cling to This Life"". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  18. ^ Küng, Hans (2003). The Catholic Church: a short history. Random House. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-8129-6762-3.
  19. ^ Sciolino, Anthony J. (2014). The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences: How Christian Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism, a Judge's Verdict. pp. 222–3. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Pope's September surprise" [home edition] John L. Allen Jr., Los Angeles Times, 30 October 2005, pg. M.5
  21. ^ Theologian's criticism of pope draws Vatican response at the Library of Congress Web Archives (archived 2009-03-10)
  22. ^ Kroll, Thomas (4 October 2005). "Für einen Dialog zwischen Naturwissenschaft und Theologie" (in German). Deutschlandfunk. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  23. ^ Graf, Friedrich Wilhelm (14 October 2009). "Hans Küng: "Was ich glaube" : Alles Hinterwäldlerische ist diesem Bergführer fremd". FAZ (in German). Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  24. ^ Crawley, William (19 April 2010). "Hans Küng points finger at the Pope". Open letter to Catholic bishops. BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Unterzeichner". Kirche 2011: Ein notwendiger Aufbruch (in German). Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  26. ^ Heneghan, Thomas (3 October 2013), Catholic rebel Kueng, 85, considers assisted suicide, Reuters, retrieved 5 October 2013
  27. ^ Lefevere, Patricia (6 April 2021). "Hans Küng, celebrated and controversial Swiss theologian, has died". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  28. ^ @PontAcadLife (6 April 2021). "Disappears a great figure..." (Tweet). Retrieved 7 April 2021 – via Twitter.
  29. ^ a b c d "Hans Küng". Autorinnen und Autoren in Baden-Württemberg (in German). Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  30. ^ "Letzter Band von Küngs Werken erscheint". Katholische Nachrichten (in German). 11 October 2020. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  31. ^ "190139 Hanskung (2005 RV32)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  32. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  33. ^ "The Nonborn King", [Tor, 2013], p. 100
  34. ^ Erdrich, Louise (2017). Future Home of the Living God. HarperLuxe. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-06-269533-9.

External links