St. Catherine Review : Dr. Paul F. Knitter
Theology of Dr. Paul F. Knitter
Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati OH
Who sits to the theological left of Hans Kung? According to Kung : Dr. Paul F. Knitter, professor of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati.Who, perhaps, should be one of the first theologians freshly scrutinized according to the Holy Father's recent apostolic letter, Ad Tuendam Fidem (ATF).Knitter
, an eminent proponent of liberation theology, eco-theology, and the pop-concept of an historical Jesus"-an anemic Christ who was not divine, worked no miracles, did not foresee the Passion and crucifixion, and did not rise from the dead-provides a most obvious test case for the Holy Father's recent pronouncement on dissenting Catholic theologians.
In an introduction to Dr. Knitter's 1995 book, One Earth Many Religions : Multifaith Dialogue & Global Responsibility, Kung wrote, I have always maintained that a Christian theologian, even in dialogue with followers of other religions, must defend the normativity and finality of Jesus Christ as God's revelatory event for Christians. Knitter, however, according to Kung, goes a bit further, crossing a theological rubicon into a deconstruction zone which places the normativity and finality of Jesus alongside just about any other historical figure who has been considered a prophet in the religious sense.In other words, Dr. Knitter (who claims the title of a ‘Catholic theologian' and draws the fat tenured salary of a ‘Catholic professor') summarily dismisses the binding and unique valid truth found in the figure of Jesus Christ.
According to one student who enrolled in his
Introduction to Theology course at Xavier University, Dr. Knitter openly denied three of the most basic truths of the Catholic faith during just one evening class period.Bob Buse, a graduate student in the theology department at Xavier and retired professor of philosophy at Cincinnati's Edgecliff College, told The Wanderer that Knitter
admitted, when challenged, that he has been unable to accept the resurrection of Christ, the divinity of Christ or the Church's understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Buse explained that the primary textbook used in Dr. Knitter's course undercuts the faith life of a Catholic student on every page. Faith, Religion & Theology is written by three Xavier University theology professors : William Madges, Paul Knitter and Brennan R. Hill
, who is now chairman of the theology department.
told us to ‘use something more, because the object of religion is that which transcends.It could be an aesthetic, whatever.
Buse, who taught epistemology (the study of the origins of knowledge) for years, was particularly interested in the topic of myth and truth when presented by Knitter
Buse said that Knitter
failed to define what he meant by myth.
Drawing on Carl Jung's ideas of myth, Knitter
, according to Buse, outlined his subjective criteria for evaluating the truth of any myth or religion :.
I told Knitter
relies totally on the empirical sciences he
can never get to the supernatural concepts of miracles or grace.He
can never get to the supernatural intervention of any event on the face of the earth.
So during the sixth class period I asked him if Christ's life was a myth.He
said, oh no Bob, that be the historic Jesus. that be not a myth.
Was Christ's death a myth? I asked.Oh no, he
said, that too goes along with the historic Jesus.
The next question was : Is the Resurrection of Jesus a myth or is it historic? ‘Now there we have some difficulties, Knitter replied. ‘There are some very sincere, dedicated and committed theologians that find the Resurrection problematic, he
said.I told him they would necessarily have problems with the Resurrection because it is a miraculous event.It is a supernatural intervention in the course of human events.
Do you, Dr. Knitter, personally find the Resurrection to be problematic? I asked.I had to ask him three times before he
A few years ago, in 1994, Dr. Knitter
made news in the Cincinnati area by publicly criticizing the Holy Father.In a television interview Knitter told Cincinnati that the Pope, like the emperor, has no clothes. Fearing that Pope John Paul II might thwart population control efforts at the United Nation's population conference in Cairo-which he
did-Knitter, along with 3000 other dissenting Catholics, signed a full-page ad published in The New York Times.The ad stated that on the issue of contraception the Pope is simply wrong..
Despite much evidence to the contrary, Dr. Knitter remarked in that interview that population control is vitally necessary. The population control movement's party line, to which Knitter
subscribes, not only pushes euthanasia, abortion and contraception, it glorifies them.It is a kill the poor mentality passed off as compassionate environmentalism.
In 1990, he
was signatory of a similar ad that ran in the Feb. 28, 1990 edition of The New York Times.That ad was entitled A Call for Reform in the Catholic Church : A Pastoral Letter from 4505 Catholics Concerned about Fundamental Renewal of our Church. Co-sponsored by Call to Action, Catholics Speak Out, CORPUS and Women's Ordination Conference, it attacked a wide range of Church teachings, most notably those on the celibate male priesthood, sexual morality and the selection of bishops.The ad stated in part :.
We call upon the Church to discard the medieval discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, and to open the priesthood to women and married men, including resigned priests, so that the Eucharist may continue to be the center of the spiritual life of all Catholics….
We see theologians silenced, constructive opposition condemned, loyalty oaths imposed and blind obedience demanded.
, who considers himself to be evolving dialogically, speaks of himself and his
dialogical odyssey quite self-consciously throughout his
numerous published works.Like the architect who designs a monument to himself, Knitter
has spent a career designing a dissident man-made theology that fits his
ever-evolving theological outlook.
book One Earth Many Religions Knitter explains that odyssey in a nutshell.He
writes that he
was attracted to join the Divine Word Missionaries (the SVDs or Societas Verbi Divini) in 1958 because of his
sincere desire to convert the world to the Catholic faith.Five times a day, in our seminary prayers, wrote Knitter
, we stormed heaven with the invocation : ‘May the darkness of sin and the night of heathenism vanish before the light of the Word and the Spirit of grace.'.Knitter
explained that he
wished to travel to distant lands to make converts of such heathens. But once in the SVD seminary he
was the one who was enlightened and converted.During those years SVD missionaries returning home on furlough, he
said, and would often stop at the seminary to give presentations to the future missionaries about the missions in distant lands.
In their slide lectures, wrote Knitter
, in their colorful, often moving stories of encounters with Hindus, Buddhists, [ and ] primal religious believers, I gradually realized that the SVDs were not really practicing or experiencing what they were praying about. Knitter noted that the missionaries talked more about the beauty of Hinduism or Buddhism than about their pervasive and perverse darkness of sin..
In 1965 while taking courses at the Gregorianum, Knitter
became enraptured with Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner.Rahner's theologically honed case that Christians not only can but must look upon other religions as ‘legitimate' and as ‘ways of salvation' was a breath of fresh, liberating air for me. It enabled me to make sense of what I had been seeing in the religious world beyond Christianity and to shake free of what I felt was the undergrounded hubris of Christian claims to be the only authentic religion..
Once ordained a priest of the SVDs, Knitter
moved on to study at the University of Marburg's Department of Protestant Theology, founded under the Reformers. There he
wrote a dissertation entitled Toward a Protestant Theology of Religions, in which he
criticized Protestant theologians for not going far enough in their recognition of salvation in religions outside of Christianity.Knitter
admits, however, that at the time he
was writing his
was still limited by his
belief in Rahner's anonymous Christ working in other religions (i.e. non-Christians are saved by the grace and presence of Christ working anonymously within their own religions).
I myself, wrote Knitter, was not able to imagine that such wisdom and grace in other traditions could be anything else but ‘reflections' of the fullness of truth and grace incarnated in Jesus the Christ. His
doctorate work was, however, the first step towards Knitter's
full liberation from the Church's understanding of the Gospel.
After teaching for several years at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Knitter
left the priesthood in 1975 and began teaching theology courses on Hinduism and Buddhism at Xavier Universi