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A Critical Interpretation of Hans Kung’s Historical Analysis of the Development of the Hierarchical Church

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A Critical Interpretation of Hans Kung’s Historical Analysis of the Development of the Hierarchical Church

The beginnings of the Christian church are shrouded in mystery. With the lack of evidence about that time in history, it is hard to draw conclusions of any type. However, the historical analyst, Hans Kung, has written a book to shed some light on the subject. In this book, Kung discusses his opinion on the development of the early church, and its hierarchical structure. In the following paper, I will address two of the chapters of Kung’s book, “The Beginnings of the Early Church” and “The Early Catholic Church”. The points that I will focus on are: The makeup and persecution of the early church community and why it was that way, and how, according to Kung, the founders of Catholicism went against how Jesus wanted the church to be governed by establishing a hierarchy.

The Christian church, according to Kung, began at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came to the apostles and told them to go out and preach the teachings of Jesus it meant that the apostles could claim an identity separate from Judaism. The majority of the first Christians were Jews from Jerusalem that believed that Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jews in the Hebrew Testament and they believed in the resurrection. “The earliest Christian community did not want in any way to part company with the Jewish community or nation, but to remain integrated into Judaism.”(P. 13). The differences in the beliefs of the Jews and the Jewish-Christians naturally created a separation in the two groups. When the Christian disciples started going out and preaching their faith to people, the Roman Empire saw them as a threat to their power and decided that Christianity would have to be stopped. Because Christianity and Judaism were one, the two most effective ways to persecute the Christians was to execute their leaders, and to destroy the Jewish places of worship. After the Romans burned the Temple of Jerusalem for the second time, a council of Pharisees decided that the Christians were to be excommunicated from the Jewish temple.

If not for the early connection to the Jewish faith, the Christian religion would never have established as a major religion. The idea of having one God, called monotheism, was too radical at the time to attract people to it, especially during the Roman Empire when the Caesar was considered the God of the people and there were many gods, called polytheism, for every aspect of life. Thus, Roman persecutions, which inevitably came, were delayed because of the makeup of the community that made up the early Christian faith. The vast majority of the first Christians were “the poor, the oppressed, the wretched, the desperate, those who were discriminated against and outcast” (P. 12), so the Romans thought that they were not a threat until the numbers of Christians grew too large to ignore. By the time the persecutions began, the voice of Christianity had spread itself to all the ends of the Roman Empire. Christianity was no longer a small group of Jews with radical beliefs, Gentiles from all of the different countries had converted to Christianity and thereby bolstered the numbers of the Christians. The Roman persecutions, in the end, strengthened the Christian faith more than anything else could have, and therefore gave Christians a sense of religious identity. Only because the leaders of Christianity stood firm and outlasted the persecutions did Christianity spread so quickly throughout Europe and eventually gain the title of “The Great Church” (P.27).

How, then was the “Great Church” going to be led? According to Kung, Jesus did not want the Christian church to be led by one person, or a small group of persons; rather, “Jesus radiated a democratic spirit in the best sense of the word. This was matched by a people of those who are free (no dominating institution, even a Grand Inquisition) and in principle equal (not a church characterized by class, caste, race, or office)” (P. 7). In the situation of the early church, the democratic spirit would have led to the demise of the Christian church before it even started. Jesus must have had his ideas of how he thought the Church should be run. He demonstrated this when he named Peter “The Rock”. According to Kung, “the original community already clearly had a hierarchical structure, with apostles as pillars and Peter as a rock” (P.7). The establishment of a hierarchy within the early church could have been a temporary thing, once the church had enough followers to look after itself, it could have reverted to Jesus’ system of “democracy”. The Church, instead, did not change its governing techniques. After the Apostles, there were bishops, and then the hierarchy took over from there. As it is today, there are special offices of privilege,

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