I write today with the sad news of the death at the age of 93 of one of the more important and controversial Catholic theologians of our time, Hans Küng.
I met Küng, who was Swiss, just briefly, in the 1970s, when I was a college student at Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he was invited by the Harvard Divinity School to give a lecture there.
I was struck then by Küng’s confident presence and manner. He presented his rather progressive, modernist views in a self-assured way, seemingly taking for granted that he would receive enthusiastic support for his positions from the divinity students of that place and time, most of them non-Catholics. And he did receive that enthusiastic support. I was troubled by, and opposed to, what I took to be his too optimistic eagerness to “update” the Catholic faith in keeping with the “right-thinking” Western intellectual life of the mid-20th century. Yet I remember being impressed by the strength of his character: he drew all eyes to him immediately when he entered the room to begin his talk, seeming to dominate the room effortlessly. And I felt a certain respect for a man who would dare to speak about Christ and the Church in a place that already in the 1970s was so extraordinarily secular that any conversation about Christianity had already become almost taboo. In this sense, he was brave to speak in a serious and confident way about questions of Christian faith.