died at the age of 93 in his home in Tübingen, Germany, the Swiss theologian Hans Kng. Born in Sursee, a small village in the canton of Lucerne, on March 19, 1928, he was ordained a priest in Rome in 1954, after studying theology at the Gregorian University. After a short period of pastoral activity in the diocese of origin, his activity was entirely carried out in the field of theological research.

In this capacity, Kng experienced a first moment of notoriety to the general public in 1970, when he published the essay Infallible? A question (also translated into Italian in the same year by Antaeus). As the question mark in the title indicates, Kng critically examined the dogma of papal infallibility, sanctioned by Vatican Council I in 1870. The book unleashed a wave of controversy that from the University of Tübingen, where Kng taught, and from the academic world German soon arrived in Rome, resulting in a formal recall of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1975 and four years later the withdrawal of the title of Catholic theologian, necessary in Germany to teach in the faculties of theology present in public universities.

Leach other had worldwide resonance, and embarrassed the academic authorities; Kng was no longer able to teach in the faculty where he became a professor in 1960, at the age of 32. Conserved for the chair at the Institute for Ecumenical Theology which he founded in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Precisely at the Council he was the youngest of the theologians appointed by John XXIII as experts, or consultants of the works, together with Joseph Ratzinger, only one year older. The two would also have been colleagues in Tübingen until 1969, when the explosion of the student protest led Ratzinger to move to the quieter Regensburg.

Kng’s criticism of papal infallibility was not born for from the anti-authoritarian climate of 1968, but is part of a coherent path, which began with the doctoral thesis supported in 1957 and dedicated to the analysis of the theme of justification, or one of the main theological issues on which the rift between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. By examining the writings of the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, the Calvinist Karl Barth, Kng reaches an absolutely unexpected conclusion in the climate of the fifties, still linked to controversial schemes, or to a way of proceeding that contrasted affirmation with affirmation, category by category.

For Kng there are differences between the Catholic position and that of Barth, but they do not concern the core of faith; the terminology, the categories, the forms of thought are simply different. To use a metaphor, as if the same thing were said in two different languages. The task of ecumenical theology is to make the theologies of the various Christian confessions dialogue, translating them, so to speak, from one language to another.

Infallibility is therefore only one stage of a more general path, which during the 1960s concentrated above all on ecclesiology (reflection on the Church and its visible and spiritual structures), with volumes that anticipate or develop conciliar themes such as Reform of the Church and Christian unity(Borla, 1965) o The church (Queriniana, 1967). The seventies instead saw Kng engaged, as well as in the conflict with Rome, in the great theological topics, such as Christology (Being Christian, Mondadori, 1976), God (God exists?, Mondadori, 1979), eschatology (Eternal life?, Mondadori, 1983), always addressed in the perspective of an effective integration between the perspectives of the different Christian confessions.

It was to some extent inevitable that such an itinerary led in the 1980s to the broadening of Kng’s outlook beyond the Christian tradition, transferring his ecumenical approach to the complex of world religions: Christianity and universal religions (Mondadori, 1986) Christianity and Chinese religiosity (Mondadori, 1989), Project for an ethics global (Rizzoli, 1991), Judaism. Past Present Future(Rizzoli, 1993), Islam (Rizzoli, 2005) outline the framework of an ethical and intellectual alliance between all religions in defense of peace and human dignity.

Kng did not escape even from the confrontation with scientific disciplines, often considered enemies of theology, as emerges from Theology on the way(Mondadori, 1987), which is measured by Thomas Kuhn’s vision of scientific revolutions, and by The beginning of all things(Rizzoli, 2006), in which Kng examines the most recent results of theoretical physics and disputes, on an epistemological basis, the claim to constitute an absolutely certain form of knowledge.

After much controversy, Kng’s rapprochement with the Church From Rome had been marked by the meeting with his old colleague Ratzinger, then on the papal throne, in September 2005 and by the letter that Pope Francis had sent him on March 20, 2016 on the occasion of his eighty-eighth birthday, which opened with the words Dear brother, dear brother.

April 6, 2021 (change April 6, 2021 | 18:40)

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