Saturday, October 21, 2006

"One Küng Is Enough For Us": Ratzinger at Tübingen

From the "Know Your Ratzi" desk, the English edition of 30 giorni runs a long take on what was, arguably, the most transformative period of the life of B16 -- his five years at the University of Tübingen, where his invitation to the faculty was championed by none other than... Hans Kung.

Just a couple snips:
In 1966 Joseph Ratzinger was still not forty, but his hair was already white and his fame as the enfant prodige of German theology has been established by his intense and decisive participation in the Council venture. Vatican II was coming to its end, the air was still vibrant with trusting hope. But the expectation of good weather in the world for the Church was marked by other, strange portents. Already in that year, in a lecture summing up the Council, Joseph the Bavarian took account of these mixed conditions. «It seems to me important», he said, «to show the two faces of what has filled us with joy and gratitude to the Council…. It seems to me important to point out also the dangerous, new triumphalism into which the denouncers of past triumphalism often fall. While the Church remains a pilgrim on the earth, it has no reason to glory in itself. This new way of glorying could become more insidious than tiaras and gestatorial chairs that, in any case, are by now more a reason for smiling than for pride».

The person in the Catholic Faculty at Tübingen who had pulled the strings, so that the vocatio was sent to the professor who had been teaching at Münster for only three years, was Hans Küng, supported by another young colleague, Max Seckler. Seckler now recalls for 30Days: «There was a generational turnover at the time with the retirement of various elderly professors. To strengthen the faculty, some people were pushing to offer the chair of Dogmatic Theology to more mature professors, with better defined profiles. I was thirty-nine in 1966, Küng thirty-eight. It was we who fought to call in another young man. And Ratzinger, then, was the man of the future». The well-mannered and reserved Bavarian professor and his headstrong and argumentative Swiss colleague had known each other since 1957. They had collaborated during the closing session of the Council as expert theologians and already evident differences as to how the Council was to flow back into the great river of the everyday life of the Church had come to the surface between them. But then, as Ratzinger explains in his autobiography, «both of us considered this a legitimate difference in theological positions» that «would not affect our deep agreement as Catholic theologians». In 1964 they both appeared among the founder members of Concilium, the international review of the “united front” of Council theologians. Seckler explains: «Küng was aware that he and Ratzinger thought differently on many things, but he said: with the best one can negotiate and work together, it’s the mean-spirited who create problems». Professor Wolfgang Beinert, a former student of Ratzinger’s at Tübingen, adds: «Küng maybe called Ratzinger precisely because he wanted the students to be able to check against another Council theologian different from himself, someone who would be a counterweight to his unilateral theology. Other more narrow-minded teachers didn’t even perceive the distance between them, and they looked at Ratzinger as a dangerous reforming liberal. They said: one Küng is enough for us»....

The human and character differences between the two big men on the faculty, holders of the two chairs in Dogmatic Theology, had always been evident. The impulsive Swiss went around in his white Alfa Romeo, dressed with middle-class elegance. It was to him that the journalists went when looking for someone to let off a salvo in the clashes that were tormenting the post-Council Church. The mild-mannered Bavarian went on foot or used public transport, said mass each morning in the chapel of a female hall of residence, and for the rest studied and prepared his lectures, in tune with his austere and reserved style. «Once when we happened to go on a trip with some students and we stopped at a tavern for lunch,» Kuhn remembers, «he just ordered Viennese würstel for himself and also for us. He thought that we were all as frugal as himself. That time we didn’t dare make him understand that we were young and hungry. Maybe he grasped it for himself, and on other occasions of that kind he ensured that everyone chose what they wanted from the menu…». But in the concrete routine of faculty life, among lectures, seminars, conferences and examinations, under the apparent “Council” unanimity, the increasing distance between Ratzinger and some of his colleagues reached altogether more critical levels.

Ratzinger believed that all the important things that had exulted him during the Council - the biblical and patristic renewal, the opening towards the world, the sincere urge for unity with other Christians, the freeing of the Church from all the baubles that burdened and hampered it in its mission – had nothing to do with the corrosive and iconoclast frenzy that agitated many of his colleagues. The role played by so many theologians in giving direction to the work of the Council had mutated in many of them into a professional pride that demanded that even the most elementary features of doctrine and of the life of the Church be submitted to the court of “experts”. «In lectures», Moll recounts «even the most minimal agreement on the essential given of the faith seemed to have been lost among the different professors. And the students’ heads were whirling. One was always having to take a stance on things that before had seemed beyond debate: does the devil exist or not? Are there seven sacraments or only two? Can the unordained celebrate the Eucharist? Is there a primacy of the bishop of Rome, or is the papacy only a despotic regime to be overthrown?» The Redemptorist Réal Tremblay, who arrived in Tübingen from Canada in 1969 to do a doctorate under Ratzinger, and who now teaches at the Alphonsian Academy, hazards a guess: «I’ve always believed that a certain aggressiveness in Küng springs also from the problems he met with in Rome as a student. He’s one of those who have been unable to rid themselves of anti-Roman bile resulting from their personal experience as young men. Ratzinger didn’t have those problems, not least because he didn’t study in Rome»....

At Tübingen Küng and his friends also suffered. The “rebels” also took over the university parish of Saint John and demanded the democratic election of the chaplain. Then they stretched out on the stairs of the faculty, preventing the staff from entering: there was no longer time for listening to useless lectures, one had to get ready for the coming revolution. Ratzinger more than once underwent the “people’s courts” held by the students. As Martin Trimpe recalls: «They interrupted the lectures with chants, or they took the platform and forced him to answer their “revolutionary” questions». Other teachers tried to wink an eye at the protesters. Ratzinger answered with his even and logical argumentation. But his light voice was often overwhelmed by the shouting. Seckler again notes: «He does very well in steady and reasoned discussion. But he gets lost in violent argument. He doesn’t know how to shout, he’s incapable of shouting others down in bullying fashion».
Eminently insightful and worth a full read.