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The Catholic Church: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – January 7, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 5)
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812967623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812967623
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hans Kung's The Catholic Church: A Short History is a small masterpiece of historical and theological writing. Kung fairly and comprehensively presents almost 2,000 years of Church history in a mere 207 pages. He begins with Jesus, who "radiated a democratic spirit in the best sense of the word" and "did not proclaim a church, nor did he proclaim himself, but the kingdom of God." Throughout, in his analysis of every phase of Church history, Kung builds a case for a populist church, challenging the idea of a hierarchical Roman Catholic Church led by an infallible pope. The book concludes with a harsh analysis of the Church's betrayal of Vatican II. Kung, the primary writer of Vatican II, was censured by the Vatican in 1979 for questioning Church doctrine and banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian. Here, Kung levels particular criticism toward Pope John Paul II, whose primary accomplishment, he argues, has been to revive a "conservative and authoritarian" spirit in the Church. The pope's conservative views on the ordination of women, sexual morality, mixed marriages, and ecumenism draw Kung's fire. He calls for nothing less than a new Vatican council in order to bring the Church hierarchy back in line with the Church faithful.
The view of the papacy held by the Catholic Church fellowship, oriented on the New Testament, is different from that of the Roman church bureaucracy. It is the view of a pope who is not over the church and the world in place of God, but in the church as a member (instead of the head) of the people of God.
The Catholic Church is the best history of the Church in many years. Unlike many such books, it is written clearly enough to be understood by lay readers, regardless of their knowledge of Christian history; and it is short enough that it can be read in a day or two. Furthermore, Kung's controversial views are not presented as mere polemic. They are grounded in objective historical facts. Thus, he succeeds in providing a history that is both committed and objective. Readers who share those commitments will find a trove of knowledge to support their beliefs; readers who disagree will be moved to consider carefully the question of whether and how the Church should be further reformed. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The latest volume in the Modern Library Chronicles series looks at the history of the world's largest Christian body through the eyes of a theologian whom most Catholics regard as either a beloved reformer or an annoying dissident. King, a Swiss priest, was disciplined by the church in 1979 and prohibited from teaching as a Catholic theologian. Through a 1980 agreement with the Vatican, he is now permitted to teach, but only under secular auspices. In his compressed history of the church that traces its roots to Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter, King continues to ply his trade in controversy. Woven through his mostly readable account is a consistent call for the abolition of the doctrine of papal infallibility, one of the stances that got him into trouble with church authorities two decades ago. King also uses his book to criticize the church's present efforts to safeguard its teachings through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His 1979 censure, he says, was a "personal experience of the Inquisition," yet he claims to remain faithful to the church in what he calls "critical loyalty." In concluding statements about the future, Kng says the church must open all ministries to women (although the current pope has quashed discussion of women's ordination) and be more open ecumenically. Church progressives will warmly embrace King's version of Catholic history, which is sure to be dismissed by loyalists.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Hans Kung is a most competent church historian.
Rev. Andrew L. Szebenyi
I am a Protestant, so I don't necessarily disagree with many of Kung's criticisms, but I just wanted a history, not Kung's constant criticisms of Catholic history.
Matt Fabian
It is also quite impressive that Hans Kung managed to put together such an erudite work in such a small book.
reader mucho

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Hegner on July 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I purchased Hans Kueng's concise history of the Catholic Church, I was skeptical about whether 2000 years of history could be reasonably compressed into a volume as short as this. Yet as a Protestant from a family with a long Catholic heritage, I was eager to try it, and I do not for a moment regret reading this pithy, informative gem. Kueng really does trace Catholic history from the time of Christ--exploring what the church actually constituted in the early days of Christianity, how the church and its governing structure including the Papacy evolved, why the great schism between Eastern and Western Catholicism occurred, the historical frauds perpetrated by some medieval Popes in their efforts to consolidate power, the merits of the case of the Reformation leaders like Luther and Calvin, and the emergence of the modern absolutist Papacy from the time of Pius IX onward, and the brief moment of reform centered in Vatican II. Predictably, Kueng presents a rather biased history, especially when reviewing recent times. (He almost categorically rules out the possibility that John Paul II has had ANY positive influence, which I find hard to accept.) But that notwithstanding, I cannot see that anyone but the most conservative Catholics would find this book anything but enlightening and worth the time spent in reading it. If this is what the Modern Library intends to do with its new Chronicles series, it should be a real boon to those who want serious history in reasonably small doses.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Matt Fabian on December 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is not a bad book, its just the wrong book for the purpose. When I read a "Modern Library Chronicles" book I am expecting a good introduction to a subject by an accomplished author. I think the editors picked the wrong person to write this book. Kung simply has too much bagage and personal feelings about the Catholic church. This is not so much a history of the Catholic Church, but Hans Kung's critisms of the history of the Catholic Church. I am a Protestant, so I don't necessarily disagree with many of Kung's criticisms, but I just wanted a history, not Kung's constant criticisms of Catholic history. He could have included a lot more history into the 200 pages if he spent less time telling us how the Catholic Church would be perfect if it just listened to him. Again, its not a bad book (Kung has been a very important theologian in the 20th century and his criticisms of the Catholic Church should be read), its just not the right book for the series.
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Nick Mangieri on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Brilliant, forceful, authoritative - what else would you expect from Hans Kung? However, this book is not so much a history of the Catholic Church as it is an anti papal polemic. Kung glosses over or ignores much of church history while he develops his major theme, the rise of the papacy and its corrosive influence on the Church.
For those who actually want to read a short history of the Catholic Church (short being a relative term when dealing with a 2000 year old institution) I recommend the following:
Concise History of the Catholic Church by Thomas S. Bokenkotter. Available from this site.
For those who are interested in the rise of the papacy, Kung's book is a must read.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Sullivan on January 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This short book provides a very readable and helpful overview of the history of the Catholic Church, and particularly the Papacy, from the Apostle Peter to the current Pope, John Paul II. As a Protestant without a lot of background in Catholic history, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a lot from it. But as other reviews have noted, it is hardly an unbiased account. It presents the very unflattering story of a power-hungry papacy that has decreed itself infallible out of whole cloth, discriminates horribly against women, insists against all reason and Biblical authority on the celibacy of the clergy, and is simply hopelessly mired in the Middle Ages.
Because I lean liberal, I found myself agreeing with Kung at every turn. But I have the distinct feeling that I've heard only one side of the story--that there must be another more devout and wholesome side to the story of the Catholic Church that Kung did not see fit to dwell upon. I'd like to know the rest of the story.
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35 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on December 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hans Kung's brilliance as an author and a theologian is not to be faulted, and in this volume he shows us how the Roman Catholic Church has survived 2,000 years in spite of itself. There is very little new here for anyone who has read church history. For those who haven't, the author rips through 2000 years with the highlights, and he basically tells us that good leadership has been the exception in Roman Catholocism, rather than the rule. The rule has been power politics at the expense of strengthening and sustaining a religious structure that serves the spritual needs of its members. At least, until Pope John XXIII and his miraculous Vatican II - ultimately betrayed by every succeeding Pope. The author's ire is especially aimed at John Paul II who's pronouncements to the world at large have been borderline progressive, though not followed by much action; and his pronouncements and actions to the church family which have been ultra-conservative. I have no disagreements with Kung's history or analysis, however, he weakens his case by using the final chapters to carry on about his own troubles with the Pope and the curia. This failing aside, Kung (whose volume "On Being a Christian" helped bring me back into the fold)gives us a factual and highly readable account of Mother Church, and some basic proposals for a Vatican III that could re-energize Roman Catholocism, and bring our Church into a more democratic model of a "people's church" in the new century. I won't be holding my breath, though.
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