Hans Kung recently decided to retire from public life. He is now 84. I first came across the writing and thought of Kung when as a young Baptist minister in my first church I was given a copy of On Being a Christian. It is a huge book - in size, in word count, but more than that, in the scope of its vision of what it means to be a Christian. Reading it was like working out with a personal intellectual trainer. You recognise that the book isn't there to indulge you, but to push you; you don't need to like it, just engage with it; the benefits are not immediate, but they are lasting.
That book was an eye opener. And my eyes have stayed open. Hans Kung in that book, and in subsequent writing has given to the Church a body of theological and philosophical work that is disruptive, questioning, and demanding. Disruptive in the positive sense of not being content with received wisdom or institutionalised answers; questioning because he is an ardent and patient seeker for truth who is impatient with those who try to obstruct that quest; demanding because he is a bull in the ecclesial china shop, a non-conformist in the most internally conformist tradition of Christian faith; a voice that refuses to be silenced by any authority, (ecclesial or academic) which is hostile to question, enquiry and the reform that discovered and rediscovered truth must inevitably provoke.
Yes he is a pain in the mitre of Pope and Curia; and yes his theology veers in directions some of us think are wrong directions; and maybe he does come over at times as arrogant, self-assured and unwilling to listen and negotiate towards views that others can own. But on the other side his range of knowledge and depth of thought, the combination of rigour and passion in argument, the note of faithfulness to the truth of Jesus as the sub-stratum of theological and philosophical exposition, and all this in a mind both questioning and generous, replete with learning and alert to the urgency of his own priestly vocation; such characteristics make him a complex and necessary voice in contemporary Christian reflection and apologetic
These sentences below sum up the spirituality and loneliness of Kung, his voice not always loved, but always faithful:
Following the cross does not mean copying the suffering of Jesus, it is not the reconstruction of his cross. That would be presumptuous. But it certainly means enduring the suffering which befalls me in my inexchangeable situation - in conformity with the suffering of Christ. Anyone who wants to go with Jesus must deny their self and take upon their self not the cross of Jesus, but their cross, their own cross, then they must follow Jesus. (On Being a Christian, p. 777)