The Nostra Ætate Lecture Series
President's Introduction: Fr. Hans Kung
November 20, 2008
It is a privilege to welcome back to Georgetown the renowned scholar, philosopher, and prolific writer—Father Hans Kung— as the seventh speaker in the series we began in 2006 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate”… and to celebrate its legacy and its spirit.
As most of you are aware, Nostra Aetate—the landmark Vatican II document—was a truly historic statement on the relations of the Roman Catholic Church with non-Christian faiths. The document promoted dialogue and discussion…openness and understanding. And it still provides the foundation on which the Catholic Church—and Catholic institutions such as Georgetown—are building bridges between faiths.
The first line of Nostra Aetate cites an emerging interdependence among people as a rationale for the decree. It notes that “the human race is being daily brought closer together and contacts between various peoples are becoming more frequent . . . .”
If that was true four decades ago, recognizing this connectivity today is an urgent necessity for the entire global community. We live at a time when nations are increasingly interdependent…people more interconnected…and humanity less divided by narrow domestic walls. In such an interconnected world, we deny, disdain, or ignore others with values, customs, and beliefs that are different than our own at our peril. And in such a world, understanding others’ experience—their perspective—is imperative.
A crucial dimension of this imperative is interfaith understanding—the very spirit of Nostra Aetate. By helping us to see what values and ethical commitments we share, such understanding helps us to recognize our common humanity…it helps us to comprehend the universal human condition…and it helps us to realize that what we share is far greater than what separates us. Also, by helping us to work in a spirit of cooperation—not confrontation—such understanding can help all faiths—including Islam, Christianity, and Judaism—to face the challenges inherent in today’s global community.
That is why we must work to build bridges between communities of faith and religious tradition. This common good must be our common goal. Georgetown recognizes this challenge…and our Catholic and Jesuit heritage compels us to meet it.
The importance of interfaith and interreligious dialogue was put into perspective by the late John Paul II when he noted in his very first communication of the new millennium that “Our faith compels us to pursue such dialogue.”
This importance is also certainly appreciated by today’s distinguished lecturer, Father Hans Kung. As he noted at the opening of the “Exhibit on the World's Religions” at Santa Clara University in March of 2005, “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.”
Father Kung is President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic…and Professor Emeritus of Ecumenical Theology at the University of Tubingen. Since 2007, he has also been a Board Member of the Global Humanitarian Forum convened by Kofi Annan. He holds numerous awards and honorary degrees, and has been a guest professor at various universities.
Father Kung studied philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1954. He then continued his studies at the Sorbonne, and the Institut Catholique de Paris.
After receiving his doctorate in theology, Father Kung first did pastoral work in Lucerne, Switzerland…and then taught at the University of Munster. He joined the University of Tubingen in 1960, retiring in 1996 as Professor of Ecumenical Theology and Director of its Institute for Ecumenical Research. Additionally, from 1962 to 1965, he served as an official theological expert—as did Pope Benedict XVI—to the Second Vatican Council.
Father Kung drafted The Declaration toward a Global Ethic of the Parliament of World’s Religions in 1993…as well as the proposal of the InterAction Council for a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities in 1997. In 2001, he was invited by the Secretary General of the United Nations to be a member of the “Group of Eminent Persons” who co-authored the manifesto, Crossing the Divide: Dialogue among Civilizations.
He has also written more than 40 books, including: Christianity and the World Religions; Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View; Islam: Past, Present and Future; Judaism: The Religious Situation of our Time; Tracing the Way—Spiritual Dimensions of the World Religions; and Global Responsibility—where he seeks to develop a new world ethic based on global ecumenism.
And on a personal note, thirty years ago I was present for a fascinating series of three lectures on “Why be a Christian?” that Father Kung gave here at Georgetown when I was an undergraduate.
Father Kung is uniquely qualified to speak to the “Challenges to Islam, Christianity and Judaism in Today’s Global Crisis,” and we are truly privileged to have him with us today. Given his experience and expertise, I know that he will provide an invaluable perspective on how to deepen interfaith and interreligious understanding in the global community…on how the three monotheistic faiths can address today’s challenges…and on how to continue the enduring legacy—and spirit— of Nostra Aetate.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Father Hans Kung…