I am reading theologian Hans Küng's book The Catholic Church: A Short History. Küng is a theological scholar of international repute who played a significant role in the formulation of some of the most important documents promulgated at Vatican II. Because he has questioned "such traditional doctrines as papal infallibility, the divinity of Christ and the dogma of the Virgin Mary," Küng has been in hot water with the Vatican more than once. He makes no bones about this history being a critical one, written from the perspective of a faithful insider.
Near the end of the Introduction to this little book, Küng warns readers:
Those who so far have not been seriously confronted with the facts of history will sometimes be shocked at how human the course of events was everywhere, indeed how many of the institutions and constitutions of the church - and especially the central Roman Catholic institution of the papacy - are man-made.
Küng goes on to explain his own faith:
For is spite of all the radical criticism of the church, it has probably already become clear that I am buoyed up by an unshakable faith. This is not faith in the church as an institution, since quite obviously the church continually fails, but faith in that Jesus Christ, his person and cause, which remains the prime motif in the church's tradition, liturgy, and theology. For all the decadence of the church, Jesus Christ has never been lost.
The starting point of the book, then, is the question of whether Jesus actually founded a church and what relationship the church that evolved from the early fathers has with the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Küng asks a very interesting question: "...is it possible to imagine Jesus of Nazareth at a papal Mass in St. Peter's, Rome? Or would people there perhaps use the same words as Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor: 'Why do you come to disturb us?'"
Are the papacy, the Roman Curia, the episcopate, the body of Canon Law, and Catholic Tradition the true essence of Christianity? How do they reflect the message of Jesus at the Last Supper, when he said to the apostles gathered with him: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you."
More on this fascinating book as I work my way through it.