31 March 2011

Bishops' Cmte on Doctrine on Elizabeth Johnson

The USCCB's Committee on Doctrine has released a statement criticizing a recent book written Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Quest for the Living God.

John Allen, writing in the ever-dissident, National Catholic Reporter, summarizes the bishops' problems with the book:

First, at the level of method, the statement accuses Johnson of questioning core elements of traditional Christian theology, including its understanding of God as “incorporeal, impassible, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.” Doing so, the statement asserts, is “seriously to misrepresent the tradition and so to distort it beyond recognition.”

Second, the statement faults Johnson for treating language about God in the Bible and in church tradition as largely metaphorical, implying that truth about God is essentially “unknowable.” Even if mysteries such as the Trinity and the Incarnation can never be fully grasped, the statement says, they can nevertheless be “known.” While Johnson bases part of her argument on early church fathers, according to the statement, her position actually has more in common with Immanuel Kant and “Enlightenment skepticism.”

Third, the statement asserts that in talking about the “suffering” of God, Johnson actually undermines God’s transcendence, suggesting that God differs only in degree, not in kind, from other beings.

Fourth, according to the statement, Johnson advocates new language about God not based on its truth but its socio-political utility. In particular, she argues that all-male language about God perpetuates “an unequal relationship between women and men,” and thus has become “religiously inadequate.” In fact, according to the statement, male imagery about God found in scripture and tradition “are not mere human creations that can be replaced by others that we may find more suitable.”

Fifth, the statement asserts that Johnson’s emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit in non-Christian religions “denies the uniqueness of Jesus as the Incarnate Word.” In effect, according to the statement, Johnson’s argument suggests that for the fullness of truth about God, “one needs Jesus + Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.”, a position it says is “contrary to church teaching.”

Sixth, the statement says, Johnson’s treatment of God as Creator ends in pantheism, undercutting the traditional understanding of God as “radically different from creation.”

Seventh, the statement faults Johnson’s understanding of the Trinity. Johnson treats traditional language about God as three persons as symbolic, according to the statement, thereby undercutting the church’s belief that “Jesus is ontologically the eternal Son of the Father.” 

If you read the comments on Allen's article, you will discover--completely unsurprisingly--that the bishops are mean-spirited patriarchs with minds hopelessly closed by Dark Age theology and anti-woman hatred. 

What's fascinating to me is that the commenters who trash the bishops reject magisterial teaching largely on the basis that it is ignorant of current scholarship, nothing more than a rehash of medieval dogma.  Why is this interesting?  Because Johnson's own theology is just a rehash of ancient heresies long ago identified and condemned by the Church.  If there is nothing new in the bishops' theology, there is certainly nothing new in Johnson's either. 

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  1. mean-spirited patriarchs with minds hopelessly closed by Dark Age theology and anti-woman hatred

    That's MY job, not theirs!!

  2. Fr Joseph Mack5:52 PM

    And to think, she was on the theology faculty at Catholic U when I was there. She was teaching Christology....

  3. maryclare8:35 AM

    The statement is well judged, and a theologically correct assessment of the book. Go Bishops... this is just the right thing to be doing/saying. This is where relativeism and liberalism take us...straight into heresy.
    maryclare :-)