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The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics

"Chapter 15: Küngly Objections"


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In spite of the clear Scriptural evidence that we have already presented, some objections have been raised by critics. The strongest come from Hans Küng.

Küng believes:

1) "Jesus did not found a Church during His lifetime."69 His view was limited: "He regarded Himself ... as sent only to the children of Israel ... the missionary command (Matt. 28:19) is post-paschal."

2) "Jesus never required a membership of a Church as a condition of entry into God's kingdom."70 The Dead Sea community insisted on many things. It had a sort of novitiate, with many rules, long prayers, ritual meals and baths, and regulations. Jesus made no such demands. With Him there was, instead, "criminal irregularity, casualness, spontaneity, freedom."71 So "He offended the passive world-forsaking ascetics by His uninhibited worldliness."72

3) Hence, in contrast to the fasting of John the Baptist and his followers,73 "for Jesus ... the sign took the form of feasts held in an atmosphere of joy, in which people celebrated their membership in the future kingdom." According to Küng, He expected the end soon.74 Even the Last Supper is just one more of these meals of celebration.75 Jesus was just having a high time with friends who continued the practice after He died.

Küng's views are extreme. But very many Catholic scholars do make approaches in varying degrees to certain of Küng's points.

First, the question: Did Jesus directly found the Church and institute the Sacraments? For example, Richard McBrien,76 while not speaking too clearly, seems to say that Jesus did not directly found a Church, or institute Sacraments.77 To say that Jesus did both of these things would be what McBrien calls "non-scholarly conservatism." Our position in this book would get that label from McBrien and many others. But we are in good company. The Council of Trent defined that Jesus instituted seven Sacraments.78 In addition, the same Council explicitly defined that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance when He said to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them."79 (John 20:22 ff.). It is likewise defined that Jesus at the Last Supper ordained the Apostles in saying: "Do this in commemoration of me." (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24).80 It further defined specifically that Jesus instituted the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and of Matrimony.81

In contrast, various scholars like to say that all Jesus did was to proclaim the kingdom, gather disciples, give them the holy Spirit-and that later the Church developed, and the priesthood developed too, along with it.82

A chief root of such views is the widespread conviction that Jesus was ignorant, did not know enough about even His own work and character to lay out what many scholars like to call a "blueprint" for the future. They do not really mean to say that He, the Divine Person, had any ignorance-they mean that certain things did not, as it were, register on His human mind.

In my book, The Consciousness of Christ, I take up and answer every argument given by any scholar of note to prove ignorance in Jesus.83 The same book also gives all the teachings of the Church, which definitely exclude ignorance in the human intellect of Jesus.84

Some think that Jesus spoke no words at all after Easter: In such a case, He would have communicated with the Apostles and others by what mystical theologians call interior locutions.85 Then, the objectors continue, the Apostles only later could have come to understand the command to teach all nations (Matt. 28:19)-or else this command was never given at all, but was simply a "community formulation"-something faked.

The objectors seem not to know the real nature of interior locutions. Actually, in them the recipient understands well, and at once.86 It is only at a later time that the same soul may begin to wonder if it really came from God.87 So this proposal will not explain why the Apostles did not seem at first to have heard the command to teach all nations.

Really, the objectors forget that over and over again the Gospels portray the Apostles as slow to understand. They did not grasp even the repeated predictions of Christ's death, and therefore seem to have given up faith when He died. Even when the women came and reported He had risen, they had difficulty comprehending or believing. Still later, the Apostles flunked their "final exam"; just before He ascended, they asked, "Lord will you at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?" (Acts 1:6): It seems they still had not gotten over the notion of a conquering Messiah!

How could they fail to grasp? Much brighter, better-educated people than dull Galilean fishermen have been known to fail to grasp things. At the end of Chapter 8 we gave a short note on Form and Redaction Criticism. In it we saw how Norman Perrin, not an uneducated fisherman, but a highly-trained University of Chicago professor of Scripture, could fail to see what is so clear.

Take the example of the sad case of Dr. Semmelweis in the middle of the 19th century, whom other doctors put away for life in an insane asylum because they could not accept his discovery of the cause of puerperal fever. The proof of his claim was accurate and undeniable. His patients did not often get puerperal fever. The reason was so simple: he had used antiseptic precautions. The other doctors had been accustomed to ignoring them-not knowing about germs. They would even come from an autopsy room with blood on their aprons and go right into the delivery room. No wonder germs were passed from patient to patient! But the doctors could not see what was right in front of their noses.

Again, Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, painted a glorious picture of the human race as he thought it would be just before the return of Christ. He predicted that all people would be bound together as closely as in a totalitarian state, but the bond would be love, and perhaps even telepathy.88 Yet Chardin, as a Jesuit priest, must have read Luke 18:8, in which Jesus says, "But when the Son of man comes, do you think he will find faith on the earth?" And St. Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3 joins in predicting a great apostasy just before the end. In Matthew 24:12 Jesus warns us that then, because wickedness will reach its peak, the love of most humans will grow cold.

2 Timothy 3:1-4 adds, "Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God." Yet a learned Jesuit could not see the obvious-nor so many of his devotees today, including many highly educated persons. So why be surprised at the dullness of poor Galilean fishermen?

In most of these cases, the reason for the lack of perception is clear. Some people establish a mental framework that will not allow any contrary idea to enter.

Thus, Perrin believed so firmly in Form Criticism that he could not see what was so evident. The Hungarian doctors knew nothing about germs, and so did not believe their own eyes which saw the results in patients helped by Dr. Semmelweis. Chardin could not see the Scripture passages that refuted his theory. And the Apostles shared the belief that the Messiah would be a glorious conqueror-and when Jesus tried to tell them the opposite, the idea just did not penetrate at all.

In defense of the Apostles, we must examine the command to teach all nations and the separation of Christianity from Judaism. We have spoken of the first of these two. As to the second, we must note that Christianity is really the fulfillment or completion of Judaism. Hence a modern Jewish convert, Father Arthur Klyber, C.SS.R., likes to speak of himself as a "completed Jew" (Cf. his outstanding book, Once a Jew.89) Jesus Himself insisted too (Matt. 5:17), "I am not come to destroy, [law and prophets] but to fulfill."

St. Matthew loves to point out over and over how Jesus fulfilled prophecies. St. Paul in Romans 11 speaks of a tame and a wild olive tree. The tame olive is the original people of God. Unfaithful Jews were branches of that people, but were broken off, by their infidelity or rejection of Christ. In their place the Gentiles were grafted as the new people of God, in continuity with the original people of God. St. Paul insists (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:6-9) that Christians are the true sons of Abraham, not by carnal descent, but by imitation of his faith.

Quite naturally then, the first Christians continued to frequent the Temple, while having their own Baptism and Eucharist separately.

Did Jesus, as Küng claims, "never require membership of a Church as a condition of entry into God's kingdom"? In Matthew 28:19 the final words of Jesus are, "Going therefore, teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Even the dull Apostles grasped the command to baptize. So on the first Pentecost, the crowds after hearing Peter, asked what to do. "And Peter said to them: Do penance and be baptized ... for the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:37-38). Further, Acts 2:42 states, "And they were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers." All recognized the preeminent position of the Apostles (Acts 5:13): "But of the rest no man dared join himself to them; but the people magnified them."

Was the Eucharist just part of "a long series of meals," just for fun, in "uninhibited worldliness" and "criminal irregularity" as Küng claims? First, the Last Supper was clearly a ritual meal, the observance of the Jewish Passover, as St. Luke makes clear (Luke 22:11). Within it Jesus took bread saying, "This is my body," and wine, saying, "This is my blood." One does not act or talk in such a serious manner at fun-meals with uninhibited worldliness. Jesus also at the Supper told them (Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:17), "Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me"-hardly the way to have an uninhibited celebration. Nor would one knowing that He is about to die in a horrible manner take an interest in telling them to just continue these fun-meals with, "Do this in memory of me."

Küng also compares the Church to the Dead Sea Scroll community of Qumran, and finds in the Church no elaborate set-up of novitiate, initiation oath, long prayers, ritual meals etc. We reply that the important consideration is that Jesus did provide the essentials. He told them to teach all nations. He promised that God would protect their teaching. He instituted an entrance rite, Baptism, and He told them to continue the Eucharist. He told them to insist on teaching authority (Matt. 18:17), "And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and publican." For He had given them authority (Luke 10:16): "He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me." And God Himself (Matt. 18:18) says, "Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven."

True, there were no chancery offices in the Apostolic Church! But there were authorities. St. Paul, in what is probably the first written book of the New Testament, told the Thessalonians: "Know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and ... esteem them more abundantly in charity, for their work's sake." (1 Thess. 5:12).

This coincides with Acts 14:23, which reports that even before reaching Thessalonica, Paul, on his very first missionary expedition, appointed presbyters in every Church. The fact that we do not know the details of the function of the various officers in the early Church does not prove that those of whom Paul and Luke speak did not exist, or did not have authority. The words presbyter and bishop were at first generic words, even interchangeable-it takes time in any field of knowledge to develop precise technical terms.90

Finally, Küng claimed that Jesus "regarded himself ... as sent only to the children of Israel." Here, Küng is being even duller than the slow Apostles. In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus, in pagan territory, meets a Canaanite woman who asks Him to cure her daughter. Jesus at first did not answer at all. She insisted and He replied, "I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel." Still she persisted, and He added, "It is not good to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs." She said, "Yes Lord for all the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus praised her saying, "O woman, great is your faith: be it done to you as you wish."

Jesus, if we are not too dull to see it, was trying her, eliciting strong faith. He hardly meant to call her a dog. She, in faith and cleverness too, picked up that remark and said that even dogs get the crumbs. Jesus then stopped testing her, and praised her, and worked the cure.

Earlier, in Matthew 8:5, He cured the servant of the centurion, another pagan, and praised the pagan, saying, "I have not found so great faith in Israel."

What of the fact that in Matthew 10:5 Jesus told the Twelve, "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of the Samaritans enter not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It is apparent that this was the instruction for a particular mission, a trial mission. It would not follow that He would always want them to stay away from pagans and Samaritans. As John 4:7-30 tells us, Jesus Himself did preach to the Samaritans. And on at least one occasion, He also preached in the Greek cities of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) to the east of Jewish territory.

Consequently, there is more than enough proof to say there was a Church. There were authorities called Apostles, whom others did not dare to join and there were other authorities mentioned as early as 51 A.D. There was an entrance rite called Baptism. There was the sacred meal called the Eucharist and there was authority to teach, to bind, and to loose. All this was done, not by faked "community formulations,'' but by careful memory of Jesus. The Apostles were slow to realize some points but were still very concerned with facts, facts essential for eternity.


69 Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, tr. E. Quinn, Doubleday, Garden City, 1976, pp. 285, 286. Italics his.
70 Ibid. p. 285.
71 Ibid. p. 199.
72 Ibid. p. 278.
73 Ibid. p. 323.
74 Ibid. p. 285.
75 Ibid. p. 323.
76 Richard McBrien, Catholicism, Winston Press, Minneapolis, 1981, pp. 570-77.
77 Ibid. pp. 598-99 (no. 3) and p. 770 (no. 18).
78 DS 1601, cf. 1864.
79 DS 1703.
80 DS 1752, 1773.
81 DS 1716 and 1801.
82 Cf. McBrien, op. cit., pp. 526-32.
83 Wm. G. Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom Press, Front Royal, 1980.
84 Ibid. Chapter 7.
85 Cf. A. Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, tr. L. L. Yorke Smith, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950, pp. 304-06.
86 St. Teresa of Avila, Life 25, 1 Obras Completas, B.A.C. Madrid, 1951. 1. p. 741: When God speaks in this way, "the soul has no remedy, even though it displeases me, I have to listen, and to pay such full attention to understand that which God wishes us to understand that it makes no difference if we want or not. For He who can do everything wills that we understand, and we have to do what He wills." Cf. also Interior Castle 6.3.7. Obras, II, p. 426: "These words do not pass from the memory after a very long time—and some of them never pass."
87 Certitude can fade (ibid): "When time has passed since heard, and the workings and the certainty it had that it was God has passed, doubt can come."
88 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, tr. N. Denny, Harper & Row, 1964, p. 184.
89 Arthur B. Klyber, C.SS.R., Once a Jew, Chicago, 1973.
90 Cf. Acts 20:17 and 28.

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