Sr. Johnson responds to the USCCB!

I posted about the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee and their examination of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s book on the Trinity which seems to be heretical.

NCFishwrap covered this too.  Bottom line: Feminist theologian = good.  USCCB Doctrine Committee = bad.

Sr. Johnson, CSJ, has responded to the USCCB’s statement.  Her response is worth a glance with my emphases and comments.

Response by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson C.S.J., March 30, 2011:

It is heartening to see the Bishops Conference give such serious attention to the subject of the living God. [/sarcasm] I appreciate how this statement acknowledges the laudable nature of the task of crafting a theology of God, and the number of issues on which the statement judges that I am “entirely correct.”  [Imagine yourself reading Sr. Johnson’s book.  Now imagine yourself walk into a shop full of broken clocks.] The book itself endeavors to present new insights about God arising from people living out their Catholic faith in different cultures around the world. [I think that is code for “different religions”.  I could be wrong.] My hope is that any conversation that may be triggered by this statement will but enrich that faith, encouraging robust relationship to the Holy Mystery of the living God as the church moves into the future. [Perhaps Sr. Johnson is a small-c catholic.  And the church will move into the “future”, when it abandons traditional Catholic teaching about the Trinity and the language we use to describe the Trinity.]

I would like to express two serious concerns. [Rather than all the other serious concerns?  Rather than the concerns that aren’t serious?] First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so. [“conversation… invited”.] This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place. [At this point I must ask… because I don’t know… did Sr. Johnson submit her book to a bishop or his delegated censor librorum?  Also, why should anyone have to alert her that her book is being studied?  She put it out in public in the first place!] Second, one result of this absence of dialogue [read = invited conversation] is that in several key instances this statement radically misinterprets what I think, and what I in fact wrote. [Indeed?] The conclusions thus drawn paint an incorrect picture of the fundamental line of thought the book develops. [NB: “fundamental line of thought”.  That is a noteworthy phrase.] A conversation, which I still hope to have, would have very likely avoided these misrepresentations[We’ll never know.  Sr. Johnson can now print an explanation of her “fundamental line of thought”.  If she wasn’t able to make her thought clear enough to be understood by the very smart people who studied her book for the USCCB, perhaps she can take another run at it.  Are people in the CDF who can help? ]

That being said, as a scholar I have always taken criticism as a valuable opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject. [Fair enough.] The task of theology, classically defined as “faith seeking understanding,” calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery. [But… Catholic theologians are not autonomous.] The issues are always complex, especially on frontiers where the church’s living tradition is growing. [Am I wrong, or does this sound like “evolving”, but not in the sense of “development in doctrine” along the lines Newman might recognize.] Committed to the faith of the church, [And what is the church?] I take this statement as an occasion to ponder yet further the mystery of the living God who is ineffable[It is a good thing. Bp. Trautman isn’t on the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee.   Er…um… well… you know what I mean.  Did I just write that?  You see… I didn’t make the fundamental line of my thought clear.  Bp. Trautman objected to the use of “ineffable” in the new, corrected English translation of Mass.  See?  It is possible to get at that fundamental line of thought!]

At this time I will make no further statements nor give any interviews. [I suspect that the reason for this is that she is worried that the next step is that the powers that be will remove her mandate to teach in a Catholic school.]

If Sr. Johnson can indeed remain silent in this regard and then make corrections to how she expresses her “fundamental line of thought”, then the system will have worked.

It might have worked a while back, but it is working now.

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  1. Why is the word ‘ineffable’ not appropriate for liturgy?

  2. digdigby says:

    Crafting a theology? Do you go to Hobby House and get some paper flowers and a glue gun?

    I remember what St. Basil said: “I glory to the true faith given me by my grandmother Macrina which I preserved in myself and as I matured I increased and enriched, never by taking up one opinion against another but only by bringing that which I received to its fullness and perfection.”

  3. abiologistforlife: Why is the word ‘ineffable’ not appropriate for liturgy?

    I can’t say.

  4. MargaretC says:

    While I’m glad to see the bishops do their duty, I wish this hadn’t been published. Members of our faculty will undoubtedly see it in The Fishwrap and ask me to order copies for the library. :(

  5. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    The distinguishing quality of theologians is that they alone formulate heresy. Eveytime I hear someone appealing to their, or anyone else’s, authority to contradict the Magisterium on the basis that they theologians, I think, so was Arius, so was Mohammed, so was Luther. So what.

  6. contrarian says:

    Certainly, the silliness of the Catholic Reporter knows no bounds. But me thinks that the Fisking of this piece might be uncharitable. Perhaps I’m missing something.

  7. Teresamerica says:

    Could we call her a feminun?

  8. amenamen says:

    (“The task of theology, classically defined as “faith seeking understanding,” calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery.”)

    When Sister Elizabeth has a wrestling match with mystery, who wins?

  9. curtjester says:

    Whether she submitted it is unknown. I looked at the book on Amazon via “Look Inside” and it does not have a nihil obstat. [Good thinking! Ummm… I hope you didn’t buy a… new…. copy.]

  10. TomG says:


  11. amenamen says:

    Can Sister help me understand the flow of logic in these three statements?

    1 “First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation …”
    2 “Second, one result of this absence of dialogue is that in several key instances this statement radically misinterprets what I think, and what I in fact wrote.”
    3. “At this time I will make no further statements nor give any interviews. ”

    Conversation. Dialogue. No comment.

  12. BenedictXVIFan says:

    Actually, Digdigby, “craft” isn’t an altogether inappropriate term. It really comes down to whether the hypothetical constructs that a theologian devises are drawn from the deposit of faith or not (ie, the correct content or building material). The approach, or method, of crafting is yet another aspect that must be rigorous, with a discipline that repects the discipline in question (ie, theology).

    Sister Elizabeth has evidently violated the first and very likey the second. Therefore, what she has crafted will not stand up to the scrutiny of the Magisterium or even the rank & file faithful. Good theology would not wither under the bright lights, so to speak.

    Theological endeavor should help further the development of doctrine, but they are not necessarily the same thing. [I haven’t not read Sister’s book. But, having thought for a while about her written reaction to the USCCB’s statement, I wonder if she doesn’t perceive herself as contributing to “development” of the doctrine of her small-c church. She would be, in sense, exercising her “magisterial” role in her small-c church. Can you say “Magisterium of Nuns“? There are those, such as Sr. Keehan of the Catholic Health Ass. which can with one hand exercise veto power over the teaching authority of Catholic Bishops in the USA, even as with the other hand they give cover to small-c Catholic pols who are helping them bring Big Abortion into Catholic hospitals. We have seen this movie before, folks, and it ain’t ‘The Bells Of St. Mary’s”]

  13. amenamen: She has more than likely been instructed not to make any additional statements. It would be interesting to see if she has any public speaking engagements.

  14. John V says:

    Cardinal Wuerl’s letter accompanying the Statement of the Committee suggests that she did not submit the book to the bishop or his censor librorum:

    “Although an imprimatur is not required for all books that treat Sacred Scripture and theology, it is still a recommended practice (see c. 827 §3). By seeking an imprimatur, the author has the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the bishop concerning the Catholic teaching expressed in the book. Thus, clarifications concerning the text can be made prior to its publication. It would have been helpful if Sister Elizabeth had taken advantage of this opportunity.”

  15. aviva meriam says:

    Why is Sr. Johnson going to recieve an honorary degree from Berkley? Isn’t that the location of several order’s schools of theology ? Do the Jesuits (and the faculty at Fordham) have issues with her book?

  16. John V: Good footwork. Thanks.

  17. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “It would be interesting to see if she has any public speaking engagements.”

    I know she does engagements to promote new books.

    Father, I think you are on the right track about Sister’s motives. If you read this article of hers on the Call to Action website, it seems that she believes that the lack of feminist theologians through most of the Church’s history has left Catholic theology distorted and undeveloped. She believes that she is helping to correct these patriarchal distortions with her efforts.

  18. benedetta says:

    So her use of the word “ineffable”, she is implying that this is one big in-joke? That is how she views the teaching authority of the Church?

    At any rate there are quite a lot of women and mothers with daughters, very accomplished, scholars and leaders, and there are a number of women living in different cultures and circumstances who do not want to base their communion with the Triune God according to her adaptation. Don’t they count for something in the development of the future theology of the Church? Not all of the outcomes of 60’s based interpretations of feminism have been healthy or good ones for all women. Her diss to St. Thomas Aquinas on her personal website aside, the fact is that women don’t necessarily need to be saddled with the baggage that comes with the assumptions about women that she is making in a reactionary way. I really dislike the either/or dichotomy and offering.

    It doesn’t seem that the Bishops often issue these sorts of statements, and at the same time it isn’t a total condemnation of all her work. It is this particular writing which doesn’t have the nihil obstat. One can read a work by itself and on its terms to see what it says and implies without having to phone up the author for a dialogue. At the end of the day, it matters. Not all Catholic women would like or particularly need their daughters to be taught to pray to God in the feminine sense, as “She” in Catholic grammar schools, high schools, college and university.

  19. aviva meriam

    Any degree granting institution can grant an honorary degree. And there are no “rules” as to who is suitable. Nevertheless common sense alone would class come choices into question. As Notre Dame has discovered.

    It is reported on her CV that Sister is to receive an honorary degree from the Jesuit School of Theology (JST) in Berkeley, which is affiliated (as are two other Catholic schools, including that at which I teach, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology) with the Graduate Theological Union. The Union is not itself a governing body over the schools and has no authority to tell the member schools what to teach or how to teach it. Originated to facilitate sharing of resources, especially the creation of a true research library, which none of the schools could have done on its own.

    Each affiliated school is completely independent from the others. JST (formally JSTB), however, is now part of the Theology Department of Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution in San Jose CA, which would be ultimately responsible for the decision to grant the degree. Fordham would have nothing to do with this degree.

    The three Catholic schools are GTU are each very, very different. For example, DSPT ( focuses on systematic theology according to the mind of St. Thomas.

  20. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Sr. Johnson has an absolutely fascinating spiritual and theological autobiography on her website. For younger people like me, it is a very revealing glimpse of the mindset of the 1960s in many areas of the Church:

    “My heart was very conflicted about whether to make this life-committing decision [to enter her order in 1965]. The reason for my hesitation was the contrast between the spirituality of religious life at that time, which required world-denying detachment, and my own growing inclinations. The trouble was: I was fascinated by this world.

    “On the one hand, our congregation was living the religious life-style typical of the era: strong top-down authority, strict daily horarium, full habit, restricted human relationships, emphasis on distance from the world, commitment to saving one’s soul and the souls of others in a church where conciliar renewal had not yet begun. Indeed, the Council in progress was a distant event with next to no impact on daily life. On the other hand, the sixties were in mid swing: John F. Kennedy newly dead, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan singing protest songs, Martin Luther King dreaming his dream, riots in the cities, LBJ’s war on poverty, my own peers in “the outside world” beginning to rebel against the older generation. My sympathies lay with the latter. In contrast to what our vow preparation was teaching, I kept thinking that if God created and loved this world, then shouldn’t those of us radically seeking God in religious life be in the forefront of engagement with this world? Wouldn’t final vows box me into a narrow life of perfection when the evolving, struggling world needed to be embraced with the love of God? Wouldn’t I be denying the divine call that I felt in my own spirit?”

    But then, Gaudium et Spes came along like (she says) “water in the desert”:

    “And so it has proven to be. On that hot summer day, my young, questing spirit intersected with this Council document and found its life-long direction. In the decades since then much has changed in myself, my religious community, the church, and the world, but the power of Gaudium et Spes to inspire and challenge me has not waned. Many of my decisions in ministry and the direction of my theological scholarship have been made in its light. Its insights have become even more telling as I read it through the lens of feminism, applying its principles explicitly to women within the church as well as in society.

    “Given this personal history, I have met current ecclesiastical efforts to reverse Vatican II’s direction with dismay. After almost forty years of living in the spirit of Gaudium et Spes, it is spiritually and intellectually impossible for me to return to that narrow-minded and fearful world in which I was originally formed. The respectful, loving intent of Gaudium et Spes stands as prophetic witness against all in the church that is mean-spirited, arrogant, and reactionary. Weaned into my life’s commitment by this profoundly humanistic, generous teaching on the meaning of the church and its mission, I continue to join with others who walk by its light … regardless.”

  21. Charles E Flynn says:

    Be thankful that the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee has promptly flagged this work as a defective consumer product. If only someone had done that to the lame-duck ICEL translation of the liturgy when it was inflicted upon us decades ago.

    Whenever you read statements about the nature of God that are not contained in or that conflict with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you should set the bar very high for accepting them into your picture of God. Example of genuine original insight: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s conclusion that God is a dramatist.

  22. SimonDodd says:

    The instinctive response—because due process, that is, notice and opportunity to be heard is constantly drilled into us—is to think she has a point. But in this case, on further thought, I think they were right to treat the book “cold,” so to speak. Sr. Elizabeth obviously has an opinion on what she meant, and it’s certainly possible that the words she chose for her book did not adequately express her real views to the reader. But that is precisely the problem. What Sr. Elizabeth fails to recognize is that the bishops may have “radically misinterpret[ed] what [she] think[s], and what [she] in fact wrote,” because her words failed her intentions. The immediate problem is not what she thinks, but her book; the correct perspective whence to asses the book is that of a reasonably intelligent reader, a person who does not have the “benefit” of discussing it with her. The bishops may have gotten the wrong end of the stick, but if they can get the wrong impression, the worry must be that a reasonable reader could also. What will that person infer?

    If I set out to write an unimpeachably orthodox treatment of the trinity, yet write it in such cack-handed prose that a reasonable reader would infer a radically distorted theory of the trinity, it is surely no defense that if the reader could only sit down with me for a few minutes, I could explain it to them and they would understand. What counts is what I wrote, not what I intended. Likewise here: The book will be read in vacuo and so it must be assessed in vacuo. A hearing could serve no purpose other than to muddy the waters with information that no reader will have.

  23. veritas76 says:

    Renowned Catholic scholar to receive honorary doctorate at May graduation – Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

    Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University, will receive the degree of Doctorate in Educational Leadership, Honoris Causa, from Saint Mary’s University for her scholarship and work in the universal church with regard to ecumenism, women and society, science and religion, and reconciliation. Dr. Johnson, an outstanding teacher, will receive the degree and speak at the undergraduate graduation ceremony this coming May, 2011. Dr. Johnson has written and spoken extensively on theological and doctrinal issues that are at the heart of the Catholic Church, such as the Trinity, Mary, and the Saints. In Fall 2011, Dr. Johnson will return to campus and give the inaugural lecture for the Saint Mary’s University Cardinal Lectures in Catholic Thought.

  24. St Basil was St Macrina’s grandson??!!

    (googles it…)

    Hmm, there were two Sts Macrina, and this one isn’t the 4th century St Macrina, St Gregory of Nyssa’s brother, I was thinking of. Learn something every day…

    (Wow, that was one very saintly family…)

  25. Philangelus says:

    I’m a writer, and I’m going to respond wearing my author-hat. She wrote:
    First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so. This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place.

    At my first college-level creative writing class, the instructor said, “While you’re being critiqued, you cannot reply to your critics. When your work is published, you will not be able to explain yourself to editors, to readers, to reviewers, to critics. And therefore, while we discuss the piece you submitted to the class for critique, you are not allowed to respond. You may take notes. You may listen. But you cannot correct us. We’re responding to what you wrote, not what you intended to write.”

    For any author to get up in arms because people passed judgment on the contents of her book without asking her what she meant is to say, in effect, that she’s a lousy author. Either she wrote what she intended to write, or she didn’t. If she wrote what she intended to write, then a bunch of smart individuals should have been able to understand it, and there should be no dialogue required.

    And if she didn’t write what she intended to write, then she’s a lousy writer and no one should be reading her book anyhow because it doesn’t say what she wanted it to say, and there’s no need for dialogue.

    Either way, there was no dialogue required. Did she truly intend to meet individually with every person who was going to buy her book in order to explain what she meant the book to say? Probably not. Therefore, no dialogue should be required.

  26. Mrs. O says:

    Well, good for the usccb for Publishing this.
    Logically though, if they were going to remove teaching ability, wouldn’t they start with Fr Mcbrien? He really should be first to no longer be able to teach.

  27. stgemma_0411 says:

    I’m a little concerned that the dear sister, considering that she thinks herself a theologian, is not versed in the CDF instructional document, “Donum Veritatis”.

    It was even written after Vatican II, so she can’t claim a potential bias of the document being out of date.

  28. spock says:

    I think, “It might have worked a while back, but it is NOT working now.” was what was intended ?

    Ross Perot had a witty saying about not studying snakes. This would appear to be something along that vain. Good that the USCCB is taking a stand on this. We appreciate things better by contrast but there is such a thing as too much contrast (or diversity if you will); for example, you don’t appreciate your spouse better by dating another person!

    It seems like there are a lot of people in that category, they would rather, after married, date another person (or have another faith) and still be “married” to the former.

  29. shin says:

    “Why an Author is Not Permitted to Defend His Book.

    If an author could accompany every copy of his work that leaves the bookstore or library, he would be able to explain obscure passages and to show what meaning he wished doubtful phrases to convey to the reader. It is precisely because he can not multiply himself that he employs printer’s ink to convey his ideas to others. It must, therefore, be supposed that his words mean what he intends to say. The reader, at any rate, has no corrective. He has only the book, not the author to fall back upon. It is impossible to recur to the author when there is question of the correctness or incorrectness of a book. If the author has to be called upon to explain the meaning of his book, he should have left it unprinted.

    Moreover, it is hardly credible, as Pope Benedict XIV points out, that anything an author might advance in his favor, should escape so many examiners without receiving due attention and emphasis.

    The whole procedure is primarily not intended as a measure against the author, although pecuniary loss may ensue, but to protect the faithful. A condemnation is rather a warning to the would-be reader, than a punishment inflicted upon the author.

    Were the author’s personal views under investigation, he would be summoned personally before another tribunal and tried according to a method that would give him the amplest opportunity to defend himself.”

    – Francis S. Betten, S.J., ‘The Roman Index of Forbidden Books’

    Ah, all the good memories are coming back..

  30. thomas38 says:

    Fr. Thompson,

    As someone who actually teaches at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, I just thought I should clarify two things: Sr. Johnson received an honorary doctorate at JSTB in 2003, certainly not this year. Secondly, yes, the schools at the GTU are very different (and so are the people within each school…), but the Jesuit School of Theology is not part of the Theology Dept. of Santa Clara- the latter does not even exist, they have a Religious Studies Dept. JST is now one of the university’s graduate schools.

  31. Tony Layne says:

    “A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down.”—Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Although it is possible for someone to deliberately misconstrue one’s stated argument, I have to agree with SimonDodd and Philangelus: The author bears the primary responsibility for making herself understood. I simply don’t believe the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee is “out to get” Sr./Dr. Johnson; they aren’t likely to see heterodoxy where none was written. Had she used her local Ordinary as a “theological editor”, she might only have run the normal gamut of criticism. As she elected not to obtain an imprimatur, she left herself open to this public spanking. Her heterodoxy was made public; for the sake of the Faith, her correction had to be public as well.

  32. Peggy R says:

    I find it rather telling as to her agenda, to see Sr. Johnson identify herself as “Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ.” How would one know right off that she’s a woman religious? But we sure know she’s got that PhD pedigree. That’s power! That’s what the progressive women religious are about…enough power to develop and enforce their own “Magisterium of Nuns” as Fr Z calls it.

  33. An update.

    A lay member of the JST (Jesuit School of Theology, which is at Berkeley) faculty has contacted me with corrections of several things I said in my above post. He is not only a fine scholar but also an orthodox Catholic with a love of things traditional–he has regularly attended Dominican Rite Masses at DSPT. I only say this to emphasize that there is a great variety of theological perspective at JST, which should not be written off as “heretical” simply because it is Jesuit. What a stupid idea.

    First, the honorary degree to Sister was given in 2003 by JSTB (the independent Jesuit theological school at Berkeley at that time). It will not to be given this year, whatever her CV says.

    Second, JST is the “graduate theological school” of Santa Clara. It is not part of the Religious Studies Department–they have not theology department. But, as I said, it is now a part of Santa Clara University.

    Third, as he tells me, Santa Clara cannot award “doctorates of any kind; JST cannot award PhDs of any kind, and JST can only award STDs. ” Although I don’t think I ever claimed any of these schools gave any of those degrees. All I said was that Sister claimed (on her out of date CV) to be going to get an honorary doctorate from JST. All sorts of schools do give honorary doctorates, in all sorts of disciplines they do not teach, as an “honor” to speakers at graduation, etc. I have no idea of what JST or Santa Clara give pro honore. The University of Virginia, where I was Professor of Religious Studies and History, does not give honorary degrees. I think that a laudable practice.

  34. jflare says:

    I wonder if Sr’s book might have consequences she didn’t intend?
    During my teen years, I got the distinct impression that we ought to look for the Godly traits of other faith traditions, see what similarities there were that might either lead someone else into my faith, or enable another faith tradition to be agreeable to mine.

    I’ve never felt that I was intentionally seeking out other faith traditions, but honestly, avoiding other spiritual traditions has generally been impossible. Between “Dances with Wolves”, “Black Elk Speaks”, “Hidalgo”, “The Last Samurai”, visiting a Buddhist shrine or two (or eight) in Japan, and other experiences I’ve forgotten, I’ve been exposed to quite a variety of spiritual expressions, really without trying very hard to do so.

    All of these had a rather unusual consequence:
    Many of these references included some form of spiritual expression; dance, chanting, ritual, those kinds of things. I remember being especially impressed by the “groaning” of the Buddhist monks in “Seven Years in Tibet” and the ghost dance scene in “Hidalgo”, or the dancing around the bonfire in “Dances with Wolves”. I felt a strong attraction to these, there was a primal connection that I couldn’t explain. Unfortunately, neither could I embrace them wholeheartedly: They weren’t Catholic, thus lacked the fullness of the faith that will get me to heaven.

    In all seriousness, going to the average Mass after these experiences was..a SERIOUS letdown!

    I felt quite annoyed that, in the Catholic faith tradition, we didn’t have a similar sort of meditative music, we didn’t have a similar kind of vocal prayer.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered..we DO!
    We call it Gregorian Chant!

    Well, actually, there’s a good deal of polyphony out there as well that’s remarkable. When in college some years ago, we did an O Magnum Mysterium by Rachmaninoff(??) that I still think..haunting..beautiful..mystical. It required a choir of some 24 people in 4 parts, but…..boy! I wish I could describe what singing that piece was like! I can’t!

    I wish we did this kind of thing MUCH more than we do.

    Point is, Sr’s book may induce people toward learning more about other faith traditions, then ultimately wanting to know why we don’t embrace much, much more of our own.

    There’s such BEAUTY that we routinely miss!

    *sigh* Sometimes I DO miss Chorale and college….

  35. jflare says:

    PS. For the record, I didn’t speak or read Latin then, nor do I now. Even so, the music was STILL quite..awe-inspiring.

  36. Jack007 says:

    Sorry if its been covered above…I’m short on time and can’t read all the posts here in the combox.
    I just had to post and say this one of the BEST red ink jobs I’ve seen you do, Father! Pardon the cliche, but I did almost spit on my keyboard when I “saw” the visual of “a shop full of broken clocks”!

    Now that is some funny… you know what! LOLOL

    Great job and made a PAINFUL read quite entertaining. I would NOT have been able to make it through all that garbage without the “red” comments!

    Jack in KC

  37. Gail F says:

    I wish she had just come out and said what she meant, if she thinks she has been misunderstood. Simply saying, “They didn’t ask me what I meant, and I would have been happy to tell them because they are wrong — oh, no further questions or statements folks” just does not cut it. I am willing to accept that she might have been misunderstood. Faithful and brilliant theologians have been misunderstood before. But to claim that you are misunderstood and then not clarify your point is not credible.

  38. The Amazon page claims that the book is a survey of (Trinitarian?) theologian movements through all the vast span of extremely modern history, and explores why each one got popular — especially the “more creative” ones. But the blurbs claim that Johnson presents a God “worthy of belief”, so obviously it’s not just a history of ideas. The publisher’s blog whines and cries about being targeted while obviously happy to be publishing yet another heterodox book, whereas a real religious publisher would be sad and apologetic (in both senses). It seems clear that this is really a book about putting God in a trendy academic pine box.

    The really amazing thing is how many people apparently think that all theology is boring, except what is “more creative” and modern. Obviously, a lot of people try to read theology without having sufficient background, because of course theology is exciting and amazing, and the classics of orthodox forms of theology are particularly exciting.

  39. Ioannes Andreades says:

    If the committee really did misinterpret her writing, a situation which really could have happened, why is Sr. Johnson unwilling to discuss in detail what those misinterpretations were? I’ve seen excellent scholars misread other scholars, and the readers are at fault, not the writers. It does happen. However, then there needs to be some correction of the readers.

  40. Joseph-Mary says:

    Sr wrote on what she saw as problems with her order in 1965: emphasis on distance from the world, commitment to saving one’s soul and the souls of others in a church where conciliar renewal had not yet begun…

    Yes, the troubles really got into full swing when the emphasis ceased to be in the saving of one’s own soul and concern for the souls of others. And then so many of our religious became IN the world and OF it too. How many lost their faith? And how many took others with them on this rabbit trail?

    When faithfulness and obedience were jettisoned, the ruins began in earnest. Now is the time to be rebuilding, brick by brick.

  41. aviva meriam says:

    I apologize for my errors regarding the Honorary Degree.

    Has there been any response by Fordham’s Theology Department?

  42. BenedictXVIFan says:

    A good corrective for anyone disillusioned about the field of Theology is to pore over Jesus of Nazareth II (or any other of Papa Ratzinger’s worthy and voluminous output). Just sayin’.

  43. tioedong says:

    Yes, there are a lot of good things in other religious traditions, but a theologian writing a book on religion is supposed to explore that in the context of what Catholics believe (as opposed to a study of comparative religions or the sociology/anthropology of how people approach God in different cultures).

    jflare brings up “Black Elk” as an example. Well, my son was taught about him in Catholic school (!) but they failed to tell the students that Black Elk later became a Catholic and a catechist, saying that he was not rejecting his tribe’s traditional beliefs but expanding them by doing so, since Jesus fulfilled them. The stoicism in the face of sorrow, the seeking of God via silence and fasting, and the care of one’s extended family are the real lessons the Lakota Sioux (the tribe of Black elk) can teach Americans, but these ideas are not opposed to Catholic beliefs and can find their fulfilment in the faith. (Each tribe is different, so don’t use Black Elk for an example of all of them, since the Navajo or Apache or Chippewa or Hopi have different belief systems).

    and if I’m skeptical about this nun, it’s because she is a theologian, and one doubt she has had actual experience with people outside of her small trendier than thou feminist/marxist theologian friends.

  44. jltheorist says:

    The Bishops released a statement of fault to the readers of TQFTLG. [Hmmm… “tological Quantum Field Theory…. or… “Theological Quarterly … For The… Little Guy? Lesbian Gynophobe? Left-handed Groundskeeper?” Okay, I’m stumped.]
    She has not been condemned, [Right.]
    the book has not been condemned, [But it has been identified by the USCCB’s Doctrine Committee has containing theologically heterodox notions.]
    and all of the ideas presented in the book are presented by well-respected theologians who have not been condemned. [Any well-respected Catholic theologians in that list?]
    In fact, she presents these SAME ideas in a more academic text _She Who Is_, which the Bishops have not found fault with. [Yet.]
    This statement is for the sake of clarity to the reader who does not have a theological background.

    To defame a sister, professor, theologian, former head of the CTSA, as a “heretic” or to presume to be able to speak about her political leanings or social activities goes well beyond what the Bishops intended to do with their statement, and goes well beyond Christian charity. If the Bishops, who I presume know Catholic theology better than anyone on this board, and whom have actually read her book, have refrained from this sort of attack, perhaps you should as well.

    Also, the press release published above is directed at the PRESS, not the Bishops. [I think it is a little disingenuous to say that that text, above, is not a response also to what the Doctrine Committee issued.]
    Dr. Johnson is saying that she will not talk to the press more about this issue, which is incredibly respectful of the Bishops. [It was proper for her to do so, given their determination about her book.]

    Just wondering – has anyone on this thread read either the book or the statement?

  45. Robert Stewart says:

    I am curious: How many people who offered an opinion actually read the book? If they did not, then not sure how their opinion can be an informed one. Also, I read the statement from the orthodoxy team at USCCB, and wonder if her book was actually read. [Your position is becoming clearer.] We know that no one there asked her any questions before issuing a statement. [Why should they? They read her book, which one can assume, was what she actually thinks.] Also, she wrote essentially about the same subject in a 1984 article in Theological Studies. Apparently there was not a problem then, so what happened in the last 27 years when all this error was floating around out there contaminating Catholic minds. [So what if they didn’t examine her ideas before? They examined them now. If the bishops were remiss in their vigilance before, that doesn’t justify them being remiss now.] A serious critique, one written by a person who actually read the book, can be found at this web site: [We have seen that blog before. Dr. Ed Peters was critiqued on that blog. Alas, in that controversy about Gov. Cuomo (living publicly in concubinage), the Franciscan writer made a stupendous error in quoting Cap. XVI: De euntibus inter saracenos et alios infideles. If he can’t get that right, I wonder if he can critique Elizabeth Johnson. People can decide for themselves whether that blogger or the USCCB have the clearer reading of Sr. Johnson’s book.]

  46. benedetta says:

    I did read the 21 pdf statement of the Bishops concerning the book, and everything is premised on direct quotations from the book. You can read that, the book, or her personal website, whether you read her work alone or in the context of the other assumptions she is making, and yes I think that to misrepresent the faith as she does, as read from the direct quotations provided in the pdf, is to perpetuate and fuel some harsh and intolerant attitudes and undermines faith in general. I pointed out earlier that all of her work is not condemned. Still, it can’t be deemed “uncharitable” to comprehend what the issues are, what her book says, and why the assumptions upon which her theology seems premised have been found to be somewhat unhealthy for a mature expression of the faith.

  47. Robert Stewart says:

    You did not respond to the issue. [I assume you are talking to me, Fr. Z. On this blog as an M.O. we try to make the first word of the comment the name/handle of the person to whom you are addressing yourself.] Did you actually read the the book? Answer the question, please. [On this blog, you do not give orders. Period.] I have my doubts. [Let me clear up the doubt. No. I haven’t read it. If I can get a used copy I may. I would never buy it.] Also, it is clear that faith of the Church is really not your concern. [? Really? Is that clear?] Your concern is primarily in the way the belief is expressed. Would also assume that you think Catholics are required to believe in Transubstantiation, the metaphysics of Aristotle, to believe that Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist. And if you believe that, then how do you explain the belief of the early Christians who did not know of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the metaphysics of Aristotle? Did they not also believe in the real presence of the Lord in the bread and wine without having professed a belief in Transubstantiation. Give me a break and write something illuminating and insightful instead of getting off the subject: e.g., Cuomo comment. [Again, you do not give orders around here.] Your argument is a silly one: It is, if he cannot get it right about Cuomo [I didn’t say he didn’t get it right about Gov. Cuomo. I said he got it wrong about the thing I said he got it wrong about.] then obviously he cannot get it right about Johnson’s book. This is a non sequitur. Do we all have to be 100% about every issue to be right regarding another issue? [I think it helps to be able to read sources correctly.] Obviously the Church leaders were wrong about Galileo, but they were not about everything at that time of history and following that time in history; they got things right. They just did not understand that the Bible expressed faith, not science. [Or maybe what happened with Galileo is more complicated than you are suggesting here.]

    A question for you: Is God a supreme being, a being really similar the rest of us who are beings, but only a better, greater, more powerful, etc.being, or is God Being, the loving, dynamic, intelligent reality through which all reality came to be and in whom we all move, live and have our being? If simply a greater being rather than Being, then does this not require positing an origin, a point in time that this being came into existence, since a being is clearly not the same as Being that lets all beings be and sustains all being? [Nice try. You are not going to suck me into a pointless exchange. But if you are looking for answers, I refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.]

    Another question: [Another?] Can the faith be expressed in any other way than that what was proposed with the philosophy of Aristotle, which Thomas Aquinas? If yes, then what about the faith expressed in Sacred Scripture, a faith that uses a number of images to illuminate the reality of God, but whose authors were not experts on Aristotle and who lived before the days of Thomas Aquinas, an outstanding theologian who had his writing condemned by Etienne Tempier (who claimed his writing were full of errors), Archbishop of Paris. Thomas was clearly using contemporary thought to express the faith of the Church, but he was not using the words that had expressed it in the past, the words that Tempier insisted upon. [Blah blah blah. I suppose you are suggesting by all of this that Sr. Johnson is really on to something new and wonderful about how to understand the Holy Trinity. She’s just doing it in non-traditional terms. She’s just doing what St. Thomas Aquinas did! Whatever. I’ll stick with the concerns of the USCCB’s Doctrinal Committee.]

    Are you sure Johnson is heretic, as you said in your initial statement? [If the USCCB Doctrine Committee is right about her book, then I suspect she is a heretic. I sincerely hope she isn’t, but from what I read in their concerns about her book, I am not optimistic. Maybe she will make the situation clearer in a future edition of her book.] Should she be burned at the stake? [An intriguing idea. That sort of violence doesn’t occur to me, as it seem to have to you. And I have now spent enough time on this… until a copy of that book comes my way, that is.]

  48. Robert Stewart says:

    In addition, you assume the bishops get it right. Did they get it right on the clerical sexual abuse? Has there response manifested wisdom and understanding? They still cannot get it right, e.g., Philadelphia. [Apples and oranges and you know it. That was unworthy.]

  49. Robert Stewart says:

    It is not apples and oranges (besides they are similar in that both are fruit so there is an analogy here) [Let it be apples and zebras, then. And you are wrong.] to evaluate the competency of the bishops by considering their competency in handling the sexual abuse of children, and you know it. [You have no competence to evaluate them.] The issue is UNDERSTANDING and WISDOM. These qualities of leadership and authority were not manifested in the case of how children should be protected (although Jesus made this pretty clear in his teaching found in the Gospels, which the bishops must not have understood–they apparently have comprehension problems) and understanding what is written in a book and responding with wisdom. [Your argument seems to be that since some bishops have been remiss in the protection of children, therefore the members of the Doctrine Committee are not able to make a good assessment of Sr. Johnson’s book. Using your argument, we’d have to say that since women religious have sexually abused children (and they have) and since they have engaged in coverups (and they have) therefore Sr. Johnson cannot teach theology or write a book, even a good one.]

    Below is what the Catechism says, and it essentially articulates the same theme expressed in Johnson’s book and her essay in Theological Studies in 1984.
    God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God—”the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”—with our human representations.16 Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.

    If God is merely another being, albeit a “supreme one,” then nothing said here in the Catechism seem to be applicable. [I am sure you think that is highly significant in defending Sr. Johnson. I don’t. It seems that Sr. Johnson wasn’t purifying our language of imperfections. She was doing something else, something not in keeping with Catholic doctrine. And now I think we shall stop going in a circle and move along to something more useful.]

  50. benedetta says:

    You know here is a really wonderful theologically uplifting book that I would recommend to Catholic women, professional, working moms, homeschoolers, professors, physicians, journalists, teachers, retired, working from home, whatever state in life, who may have also assessed the 60s vision of feminism to be, demonstratively and in practical terms, sorely lacking as far as a holistically ethical and moral way to live and work in the world today:

    Daughter Zion

  51. Robert Stewart says:

    Let it be apples and zebras, then. And you are wrong.] AM I WRONG BECAUSE YOU SAY SO, OR DO YOU HAVE AN ARGUMENT OR EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT YOUR ASSERTION. WHAT IS FREELY ASSERTED CAN BE FREELY DENIED. . [You have no competence to evaluate them.] HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT? WHAT GIVES YOU THAT CERTAINTY? The issue is UNDERSTANDING and WISDOM. These qualities [Your argument seems to be that since some bishops have been remiss in the protection of children, therefore the members of the Doctrine Committee are not able to make a good assessment of Sr. Johnson’s book. Using your argument, we’d have to say that since women religious have sexually abused children (and they have) and since they have engaged in coverups (and they have) therefore Sr. Johnson cannot teach theology or write a book, even a good one.] NO. AGAIN YOU FAIL TO COMPREHEND. THE BISHOPS AS A GROUP HAVE NOT TAKEN ANY ACTION TO DEAL WITH THE MISCREANTS IN THEIR MIDST. THE HANDS OF ALL OF THEM HAVE BEEN SOILED. I THINK FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE OF THE CURRENT CROP COULD PUT ONE’S SOUL IN JEOPARDY. UNTIL THE BISHOPS GET THEIR OWN HOUSE IN OREDER IN DEALING WITH THEIR SO-CALLED BROTHER BISHOPS, I SEE THEM ALL AS CULPABLE, EXERCISING LITTLE UNDERSTANDING AND MANIFESTING COLLECTIVE FOLLY. TO COMARE THE MISCONDUCT OF THE SISTERS WITHE THE BISHOPS IS CERTAINLY A NONSTARTER, AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED. THERE HAS BEEN MISCONDUCT, BUT NEARLY MISCONDUCT ON THE MAGNITUDE OF WHAT WE HAVE SEEN FROM THE BISHOPS.

    [Sorry. You are now SHOUTING on my blog. That’s not acceptable around here, so I am deleting the rest of your post and placing your comments in the moderation queue.]

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