Novalis, Kung and Truth. By Monsignor Vincent Foy

Novalis, Kung and Truth

Published in Catholic Insight, 2009.

by Monsignor Vincent Foy

Good reading has good effects and bad reading has bad effects. Through reading the greatest of all books, St. Augustine was converted from a life of sin to a life of holiness. Through reading the lives of saints, St. Ignatius of Loyola took his first steps to sanctity. Through bad reading like that of dissident theologians and pornography, many have fallen from faith and grace.

In her Canon law, the Church tries to protect the faithful from bad reading. Canon 827.4 reads: “Books or other written materials dealing with religion or morals may not be displayed, sold or given away in churches or oratories, unless they were published with the permission of the competent ecclesiastical authority or were subsequently approved by that authority.”

Other canons opposing bad reading are in The Code of Canon Law, under the title, “The Means of Social Communication and Books in Particular” (Canons 822-832).

Given the wall of protection the Church raises to protect her sons and daughters from dangerous literature, it was a shock to me to read a recent book review of Disputed Truth, Memoirs II, by Hans Kung in the Catholic Register.

It has been published by the Catholic publisher, Novalis. The Novalis trademark was owned by St. Paul University of Ottawa, which was responsible, with the archbishop of Ottawa, for publications carrying the Novalis imprint. Novalis has published other books by Hans Kung, including My Struggle for Freedom and On Being a Christian.

Research shows that Novalis has also published other works of heterodox teaching. An example is its marriage preparation course, “Mosaic” (1980, 1986), which called the prohibition of contraception “an ideal” and taught the errors of proportionalism, condemned by Humanae vitae (n. 14). It also published for French-speaking Catholics “Projet Mariage” (1987), essentially a sexology course. It knew nothing of Humanae vitae or Familaris consortio.

The works of Hans Kung have done immense harm to the faith. Their errors have penetrated Catholic colleges and seminaries. I recall visiting and English seminary in 1976. In the professor’s lounge, the rector waved a copy of Hans Kung’s On Being a Christian. He said it was the best thing to come along in a long time. None of the other professors objected. I said, “Monsignor, Hans Kung teaches many errors and is a dissenter from Humanae vitae.” He replied, half jocosely, “I think you are a Vatican spy.” Incidentally, six months later, he was named an auxiliary bishop.

In 1979, the Holy See and the German Bishops Conference took away from Hans Kung his licence to teach Catholic theology. He was forced to resign from the Catholic faculty at Tubingen. Despite this, Novalis, in advertising On Being a Christian, called Kung “one of the greatest theologians of this century.” In its blurb for My Struggle for Freedom, Kung was called “a giant of the Christian Church” and “one of the most important theologians of our time.” In describing Disputed Truths, Memoirs II, Novalis tells us it is “written with the voice of a prophet concerned for the future.”

The heads of Catholic universties are responsible for all media of communications over which they have control. It is their duty to see that nothing is taught that is incompatible with the Magesterium of the Church. They, and those who in any university teach subjects that deal with faith or morals, must make a solemn profession of faith (c. 833 of the Code of Canon Law). That would certainly pertain to the heads of St. Paul University. To them also would pertain n. 2497 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information.”

In the words of that great defender of the faith, Dietrich von Hildebrand, it is “an ignominious betrayal committed by those Catholic universities, colleges and schools that allow many things to be taught within their walls in blatant contradiction of faith. Such a practice is not only self-condemnation of these institutions, not only a betrayal of their raison d’etre, it is much worse: it is a betrayal of Christ; it is an apostosy masked by the slogan of ‘academic freedom'” (The Charitable Anathema, Roman Catholic Books, 1993, p. 116). Surely, these words apply also to enterprises that support false doctrine.

The review of Hans Kung’s latest book in the Catholic Register is written by its editor and publisher, Joseph Sinasac. He concludes his review with the words, “But the Church needs people like Kung even when they are wrong and disagreeable. Sometimes, they can also be right.” I suggest that the Church, repository of the fullness of revelation, needs Hans Kung like it needs a dose of poison! What the Church needs is proclaimers and guardians of the truth.

Pope John Paul II called truth “the deepest necessity of the human spirit” (World Youth Day, Aug. 19, 1989). In writing his second letter, St. John the Apostle gave the advice: “If any one comes to you and does not bring the doctrine (of Christ), do not receive him into the house, or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work.” St. Paul spoke of “the Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe.” Christ, before Pilate, said, “This is why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth; and anyone who is on the side of truth listens to my voice” (John 18: 37).

It is the truth lived that gives us the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. We ought to pray for the conversion of Catholicism of Novalis.


1. A few days after I had written the above, I learned that on Oct. 1, 2008, Saint Paul University sold Novalis to Bayard of Canada. Bayard of Canada is a sister company of Bayard of France, a large multi-national Catholic publishing company. The Augustinians of the Assumption Fathers of Quebec City own 86 percent of Bayard of Canada.

Will Bayard of Canada purge Novalis of any books unfaithful to the Magesterium? It would seem that the chances are remote without the intervention of the responsible ecclesiastical authority. Since 2000, Bayard has been handling the distribution and marketing of Novalis books and magazines.

2. From his latest book, it is evident that Kung remains bitter towards Pope Benedict XVI. After Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, Kung asked for a meeting with his former colleague a the University of Tubingen. The Holy Father met him at Castel Gandolfo for four hours in late September of 2005. It was mutually agreed that they would not discuss “persistant doctrinal differences.” They talked about faith, science, world ethics and the secularization taking place in European countries like Ireland, Germany and Spain. There has been no follow-up. When Kung’s licence to teach Catholic theology was removed in 1979, he called Cardinal Ratzinger the “regressive grand inquisitor of the post-Vatican Council period.”

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