Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Amazon Review.

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The Historical Credibility of Hans Kung: An Inquiry and Commentary
The Historical Credibility of Hans Kung: An Inquiry and Commentary
by Joseph F. Costanzo
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dialectically engaging and a superb resource for Catholic historical study, January 16, 2013
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Dialectics is an honorable but somewhat lapsed form of Catholic intellectual practice. The strength of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, arises from the Scholastic method which proposed a question, marshaled the best arguments for (or against) the proposition, proposed an answer by rigorous analysis, and then responded to each of the objections that had been raised. The virtue of that style was that it isolated the real problems of a proposition and required that those problems be dealt with. Likewise, Scholastic masters would subject themselves to "disputations" following that Scholastic dialectical style, which ensured that they stayed current, sharp and accountable for what they taught.

Joseph Costanzo's "the Historical Credibility of Hans Kung" ("Historical Credibility") recreates the spirit and form - to a limited extent - of the dialectical process of the Scholastics. Father Costanzo's approach is to follow Hans Kung's argument in the format that Kung presents those arguments in Kung's 1971 work "Infallible? An Inquiry" ("Inquiry"). In other words, Costanzo is, in essence, reading Kung's book and providing a response to Kung's claims and arguments in the order that the claims and arguments come up in Kung's book.

A strength of this approach is that it directly "clashes" with the points that Kung makes, so that Kung's points, great or small, are given attention, correction or response as necessary. Further, for a person who is reading, or has just read, Kung's "Infallible?," the book is laid out so that the reader can cross-reference Kung's and Costanzo's arguments seriatim. The weakness in this approach is that it can lead to some choppiness and some redundancy. Although this does happen in Costanzo's book, it is kept to a minimum. Another weakness is that in some ways this is only half a book; Kung's book - to which Costanzo is responding is the other part of the book. Costanzo does keep track of Kung's book by page numbers, which gave me an urge to look up the corresponding page in Kung's book to check out Kung's arguments. I haven't read Kung's "Infallible?," although I suspect that I now will in order to compare what Costanzo said about Kung with what Kung actually said.

However, even without reference to Kung's book, Costanzo's work is a strong and engaging piece of scholarship from a perspective that we don't often see, i.e., from the anti-anti-ultramontane side. Books by anti-ultramontane Catholics are almost a dime a dozen. These books, which seek to locate the worm in the apple of modern faith and culture at the doorstep of "Rome" or "the Pope" or "the Vatican" or even "Catholicism," are a minor industry. Such books include John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope and Cullen Murphy's God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, but they all run with the theme that power-hungry popes were a uniquely malignant historical force. All such books are noteworthy for using rhetorical devices like "uprooting history" from the concrete historical situation by cherry-picking facts unfavorable to Catholicism or the Papacy (such as Cornwell does by blaming Pius XII for the demise of the Catholic Center Party without ever mentioning the Reichstag Fire or the Enabling Acts, which occurred long before the Concordat) and the Papacy or by linking unrelated and anachronistic historical events (such Murphy does by linking "the Inquisition" to George W. Bush's war on terror). I have read a number of these books, and found myself reviewing them in necessarily long reviews, because it only takes a sentence to provide an "uprooted" smear, but it takes pages to provide the "sitz im leben."

Kung seems to have been the granddaddy of the Cornwells and Murphys. Father Costanzo solidly documents Kung's penchant for providing bumper sticker statements of history which misrepresent the actual historical context. Kung's style is even more worthy of condemnation because it is clear that Kung - unlike Murphy and Cornwell - knows better since he wrote books, published only a half-decade earlier that set forth the true facts. The discrepancy between the Kung of 1964 and 1967 and the Kung of 1971 is well-established by Father Costanzo's gambit of doing nothing more than quoting the Kung of 1967 - who saw nothing suspicious or innovative or unhistorical about the claim of Papal infallibility - against the Kung of 1971 - for whom Papal infallibility has no support whatsoever.

The contrast is so startling that a recurring theme of Father Costanzo is "what was it that changed Kung's mind?" Did Kung learn some new fact that changed everything? If he did, Kung does not share it with the reader. Further, unlike others who have had a sea-change in their faith - such as Cardinal Newman - and who have felt an obligation to explain what happened, Kung feels no such obligation. This is a fair point that got me thinking about "motions for reconsideration" in the practice of law. In California, where I practice, before someone can bring a motion to reconsider something a judge has already decided, they have to provide new facts or law and an explanation about why those facts weren't available the last time. The underlying premise of this rule, which hadn't occurred to me until I read "Historical Credibility" is that the rule is a way of respecting intellectual decisions - if an issue was important enough to bring before a judge - or to write a book on - then the person who made the motion - or wrote the book repudiating their old position - ought to have the integrity to at least answer the questions, "what's new and why didn't you know it before?"

This goes to the heart of Costanzo's argument that Kung's credibility is suspect. Reading a book, or deciding a motion, is an investment of time and effort by a third party. The reader or judge starts with the premise that the movant or author is worth listening to, that the movant or author ought to at least be given the benefit of the doubt in favor of giving him a fair hearing with an open mind. When that person comes back with the argument "never mind that, this is what I really meant," a judge or reader has the right to say, "just how serious were you?" and "why did you have me waste my time?" That's a question that deserves an answer.

Costanzo speculates that the reason for Kung's volte-face was Paul VI's encyclical on contraception, Humani Generis, which confirmed two millennia of Catholic teaching but made Hans Kung concerned about papal tyranny. Kung doesn't explain that this is the fact that changed his mind, but it does turn up on his list of grievances against the papacy.

Costanzo also speculates that Kung may have found himself hoping for more ecumenism than he found possible so long as someone somewhere believed that there is such a thing as objective theological truth and that this truth is knowable in some preliminary way by human beings. Costanzo offers the quip - often made, but since this book was published in 1979, it may be original with Costanzo - that "[f]or some the `spirit' of the Second Vatican Council consists in ignoring its explicit teaching and undeniable meaning in favor of some futurible Vatican III or IV." (p. 116.) Kung therefore takes the questionable intellectual path - which we see in the likes of Bart Erhman - of loudly proclaiming that knowledge is always doubtful and uncertain before he starts dogmatizing without any doubt or uncertainty. As Costanzo observes of Kung (in a vein similar to my observation of Bart Erhman's dogmatism in my review of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth):

"Not only is the Catholic Church projected against Kung's own ecclesial authority, of popes, bishops, priests, theologians, the Curia, canon law, of the whole course of ecclesiastical history. Indeed, his judgments given without any self-awareness of "fundamental ambiguity" constitute at the same time norms of rectitude in every area of Church life. His judgments betray none of the "problematic inherent in propositions as such." (Inquiry, p. 159). His judgments apparently are above the five limitations that render them necessarily open to error. (p. 158 - 161) and wholly free from the general rule of Kung's own theory of cognition that "every proposition can be true and false" (Inquiry, p. 172). In Truthfulness (and in Inquiry) we are in the presence of the most absolutist evaluatory judgment.

(p. 271.)

As I've said, I haven't read Kung, but based on my experience with the "uprooting history/shotgun slander" approach of anti-Catholic/anti-ultramontane polemics, I suspect that while Kung may be superficially engaging for those who share his anti-Catholic/anti-ultamontanist presuppositions, when his arguments are deconstructed, they will be a cat's breakfast of self-contradiction.

However, for me, the best part of Costanzo's book was its review of the history of Papal infallibility. Costanzo devotes large chunks of his book to explaining the various threads in such classic anti-Catholic tropes as Pope Honorius, the false decretals and the origin of papal infallibility.

Pope Honorius, for example, is the classic "go-to" argument for those who want to claim that a pope taught heresy. Usually, all that disputants know is that Honorius was condemned for monothelitism, the doctrine that there was only "one will, the divine will, in Jesus. Costanzo theme is that Kung's "Inquiry" deliberately obfuscates the "sitz im leben" - the concrete historical situation - in order to score points. Costanzo therefore takes the time to explain the confusing situation confronting Honorius and to quote from Honorius' letters. Costanzo's argument is that the two wills that Honorius was referring to were two wills within the human nature of Jesus - the will to the flesh and the will to love God - and that Jesus did not have the former, also known as concupiscence, thus, there was only one will within the human nature of Jesus, albeit there were two wills, a divine will and a human will, within the hypostatic union of human and divine natures.

One can well see the complexity of the issues involved in this concrete situation. Moreover, if Costanzo is right, then that would explain why his successors - who were adamantly opposed to monothelitism - defended Honorius as orthodox. Honorius may not have been orthodox, but the case is far from settled, and, yet, Kung treats it as settled against Catholicism, in complete contradiction to the position that he took four years previously.

Likewise, Costanzo provides a wonderful section describing all the occasions when the Bishop of Rome acted as if he were the head of the Church, which conducted was accepted by his contemporaries. Thus, the Bishops of Rome received homage from Emperors as the head of the Church and the successor of Peter, successfully claimed immunity from review or prosecution as the head of the church, deposed the Patriarchs of Constantinople on two separate occasions, heard appeals from throughout the Empire, defined membership in the Catholic Church as communion with the Bishop of Rome, and were acclaimed as speaking with the authority of Peter, on two separate occasions, throughout the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. This is a history that was essentially news to me. Although I study this area, most historians don't take the time to get into the weeds on the "minor" popes of this period who were, apparently, very aware of the living tradition that the Bishop of Rome was the successor of Peter and his office was invested with some definite claims and charism.

Costanzo also has a lengthy discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas and the "false decretals of the Pseudo-Isidore." (p. 161 - 169.) This is another topic much beloved of anti-Catholic apologists - or anti-ultramontane apologists such as Kung - whose thesis is that papal infallibility emerged only after Aquinas gullibly accepted a forged document containing expansive claims of papal authority (p. 209). As Costanzo explains, the problem with this are the following: (a) not everything in Pseudo-Isidore was forged, most of it is accurate (p. 166.); (b) Aquinas was not vetting the false decretals for history; he was examining some of its propositions for orthodoxy, which he determined by comparing them to the scripture (p. 212 - 213); and (c) Aquinas may have suspected the provenance of the decretals because he drops them as a source for his Summa Theologica. The most historically bizarre thing about Kung's citation to the false decretals as the fountain-head of papal claims is that Kung apparently believes that Pelagius II - who was pope from 579 to 591 relied on the false decretals in order to claim that only the pope could call a council. Since the False Decretals were forged in 847 or 853, this is a very misguided claim. (p. 216.) To the contrary, one of the bases of papal infallibility was the pope's authority to convene a council, and that right was undisputed since the Sixth Century. (p. 166.) In this section, these kinds of gaffes cause Father Costanzo to wonder whether Kung actually read the sources he cites. (I have had my own experience at a popular internet level with this particular area, and my experience is that the charge is often the only thing that people really know. Search for peterseanesq (dot) (dot) html.)

Reading Costanzo's book is challenging. Costanzo liberally sprinkles untranslated Latin throughout his text. He is also fond of archaic words, such as indisponible. Be prepared to use the internet for translation programs and dictionaries, but look at it as an opportunity to learn, which is always a good thing.

I recommend this book for those willing to tackle a serious subject in a serious way without reservation.

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