My good friend since 1958, Hans Küng, has died, age 93. Vivat in aeternum!
The Catholic Church, which he served so faithfully for nearly a century, has lost one of the last intellectual, spiritual, moral giants from the era of the World-Transformative Vatican Council II, 1962-1965.
For those who were positively inspired by Hans—and there are hundreds of thousands—he offered crystal-clear thought and prose. It was also precisely that which got him in constant trouble with the church political powerful. This was clearly emblazoned by the words of the then Cardinal of Mainz, who in a 1984 “inquisition” on Hans’ already-then world-famous book: On Being Christian burst out to Hans when criticizing his book—I hardly need to translate it:
Herr Küng, Ihr Buch ist mir zu plausibel!
Mr. Küng, your book is for me too plausible!
What does one say or do in the face of such blatant anti-intellectualism, anti-thought—especially when one’s model, Jesus of Nazareth, ringingly declaimed: “The truth shall make you free!
Many, especially laypeople, will remember Hans publicly for his fantastic scholarship—made plausibel! Many scholars will not—precisely because he was so clear, and hence, plausibel. Turgid prose was not a virtue for Hans. It was fundamentally the opposite of what Hans’ goal in writing was: Limpid clarity—plausible!
I once published an essay in my Journal of Ecumenical Studies (which my wife Arlene and I founded in 1964—with Hans as one of the initial Associate Editors) written by Hans’ then Assistant Karl-Josef Kuschel (later Professor at Tübingen), who described Hans’ process in writing each of his books:
Hans 1) wrote a first draft chapter by hand. Next, 2) he had his secretary type the second draft, which he then, 3) revised by hand. Then 4) he gave it to university colleagues in areas of their specialization to go over and suggest changes. 5) He included their suggestions in a new revision. 6) He had staff members do a thorough library search, which he incorporated where indicated. 7) the last step was to take that “second-last” version and quietly sit down with Kuschel, and take turns, one reading the text out loud and the other quietly listening for anything that did not come across crystal-clear—plausibel—and clarify it.
In other words, Hans was desperately trying to make his prose crystal-clear—er, ah… plausible!
Leonard Swidler, email@example.com