Ever since he wrote his famous book on The Structures of the Church, the well-known Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng has been preoccupied with the problem of the Church. Now his new study of The Church has appeared, a book of about 600 pages that signals the birth of a new ecclesiology. All the questions focusing on the Church are here laid bare anew—its unity, catholicity, apostolicity, and holiness. But his comments on the service (diakonia) of the Church make the work of special importance. For he interprets the offices of the Church in terms of service, and does it so radically that he touches the heart of the Catholic ecclesiastical structure.

We could say that his book is structured by what Paul says in Second Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy.…” This work has its eye, not on some ideal church, a kind of Platonic idea, remote and invisible, but on the actual, existing Church, the one that has to ask itself over and over whether it in fact is the real Church.

Küng wants the Church to stop idealizing itself, as if everything in it were automatically in good shape. So he points the way by talking with utter candor about the Church’s mistakes and sins of the past—as, for example, its posture toward the Jew that found its awful climax in the anti-Semitic statements of the Lateran Council of 1215, its role in the Inquisition, and its frequent display of sheer power. Küng is suspicious of the kind of apologetic that plays down the Church’s faults. The Church must be honest, must confess fault wherever fault is present, and must above all be free from fear lest admission of error will reduce its authority. For the ...

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