Dr. Hans Kiing: "The Ecumenical Council and Unity."
This remarkable book, written in German by a Roman Catholic theologian who is now a professor at Heidelberg, also appears in a French translation. It is upon the latter that this review as based, with the kind permission of the author.
Dr. Kiing reveals "a change of climate" in the Roman Church, which he terms "decisive." The Roman Catholics, he says, have great hopes of the General Council convoked by Pope John XXIII. Although it would be too much to expect "an act of union" from the Council, or even "a participation of non-Catholics" (they would be outvoted) the Council will be an ecumenical event in the modern meaning of the term. "Nowadays," says Dr. Kiing "theology and pastoral activity ecumenically directed are no longer considered as the hobby of the few (simultaneously admired and ridiculed, attacked or pitied) but as a necessity for the whole Church. . . ." "The Council might well furnish the basis for fruitful inter-confessional theological conversations."
One of the greatest tasks of the Council is, in Dr. Kiing's opinion, to renew the Catholic Church itself so as to make unity possible. The Church must think not only in terms of "individual conversions" but in terms "of restoring unity of communities with the Church." And that is "not just a call to return; a cordial invitation to separated brethren to look for and find true unity is a very different matter." "The re-establishment of unity does not consist simply in a 'return' of non-Catholics, or an 'exodus' of the Catholics, but in a mutual and brotherly meeting."
To make it real, the Catholic Church must meet the "legitimate demands of the non-Catholics, without changing the divinely instituted fundamentals of Faith." Dr. Kiing speaks of a "reform," and makes it plain by historical analysis of the terms that it is not an exclusive property of the Protestants that the Church is always ready to be "renewed" and "reformed" in a proper way. He mentions a possible "depoliticization of the Papacy, comprehension of individual tolerance and conscience concentration on piety, the growing 'rapprochement' between Catholic and Protestant theologians, re-evaluation of the episcopacy vis-a-vis the Papacy, decentralisation, greater independence of the local churches (to meet the legitimate demands of the Orthodox). He says that "on account of the newly awakened nationalism," and "in circumstances when a local Church might be cut off from Rome during a long period" (the Iron Curtain) "it is most urgent not to allow oneself to become set in a uniformity of Catholic Unity, but to urge it towards a blossoming in multiformity." He refers to "the relationship of the bishops among themselves" as an important 'principle of unity' which should not be neglected because of too much stress on the ministry of Peter, which is not the only principle of unity.
All this must be done by the forthcoming Council as re-establishment of equilibrium after the Vatican Council of 1870, and that will be "an act of immense importance for Protestants and Orthodox as well as for the Catholic Church." Here Dr. Kung quotes a prophecy by Cardinal Newman (1871). "Let us have a little faith. Pius IX is not the last of the Popes. The Fourth Council modified the Third, the Fifth and the Sixth. . . let us be patient and believing, and a new Pope and a new Council, freshly convened, will once again steer the boat in the right direction."
In conclusion he envisages two final possibilities: "a declaration of Penitence" and "a pronouncement of Faith" by the whole Council. "None of us in the Church are innocent of the distress in the world today, the trespasses of our fathers still weigh upon us."
Syndesmos Series 2, No. 10, July 1960, pp. 32-34