When tweets become problematic

A few days ago a priest friend texted me saying that Newark’s Archbishop Card. Tobin had begun to tweet again.  There was a hiatus in his tweeting after an… unfortunate incident.

I’m wondering if someone can verify whether or not this is really an account of Card. Tobin or if it is a fake.   The question arises after reading this…

At best this is awkward.  At worst this is heresy.  That phrase, “seeking redemption” goes with… Jesus? Sinners?  Who was “seeking redemption”?  “He stood…. seeking redemption.”  or “with sinners (who were) seeking redemption.”

The Redeemer was reborn in grace?  How could any “rebirth” be needed?  As an “example”?  What sort of example would that be, the sort that Pelagius would understand?

There’s a lot in that short tweet, isn’t there.

A lot of people reacted badly to that tweet. So many that a clarification was issued.


The moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. arga says:

    Well, now that makes me wonder: why would the Son of God, who IS God, require anointing by the Holy Spirit, who is also God?

  2. Lurker 59 says:

    The visiting Jesuit priest did the same basic thing at my parish this past Sunday: conflating the baptism of John (baptism of repentance) with the baptism of the Church (baptism for the remission of sins). Now said Jesuit teaches at [XXXXX] so this issue might actually be very prevalent.

    This thought is fairly prevalent in Protestant theology where what John did was the same thing as what the Church does and not distinguishing between the different types of baptism. Card. Tobin’s original tweet is a hot mess of conflation through a Marxist lens. The clarification doesn’t clarify anything as it addresses a different and separate aspect of the historical event.

    I don’t think that Card. Tobin or my visiting priest understand what John was doing in the desert, nor why Jesus showed up to be baptized.

  3. haydn seeker says:

    I once tried to make a dressing out of two things I like, balsamic vinegar and mayonnaise. Unfortunately when I mixed the dressing it looked like poo. The unfortunate cardinal appears to have had a similar experience with his word salad.

  4. I vote for awkward–but only a little awkward since the participial phrase “seeking redemption” does directly follow the word “sinners,” so it’s more logical to read the phrase as modifying “sinners” rather than “He” (Jesus) at the beginning of the sentence. Indeed, that’s how I first read the sentence, so I was puzzled at what the heresy could be. Standing with sinners seeking redemption isn’t the same as being a sinner seeking redemption. Still, it’s too bad that Cardinal Tobin didn’t write his tweet in Latin. If he had, the number and case of the participle “seeking” would have made it clear that Tobin was referring to us sinners, not Jesus, and he could have saved himself a lot of trouble afterwards.

  5. monstrance says:

    When error is embraced in one area of teaching, it eventually infects the whole loaf.

  6. frjimt says:

    if it is his eminence himself, didnt he learn from the “iceberg retreat” @ Mundelein the value of “silence”….

  7. Curate says:

    “At Christmas he was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally.” – St. Maximus of Turin (from the Office of Readings on Friday before the Baptism of the Lord).
    Perchance the Cardinal was using this reading as a frame of reference?

  8. JustaSinner says:

    As my 16 yo daughter says, age requirements for twitter users should be imposed inversely proportional to age of driving licenses, drinking age, voting, legal representation and gun ownership.

  9. JMody says:

    When I was in the Army, we used to say “The APPEARANCE of unethical behavior CONSTITUTES unethical behavior”. Someone really needs to stress to these princes of the Church that a corollary about stupidity, or dare I say it, asininity, might be good for them to recite every morning, right after their Office, or daily Mass. “If I do or say something that makes me look like an idiot, I AM an idiot”, or WTE.

  10. cajunpower says:

    Charlotte Allen:

    I agree that the Cardinal’s words should be construed charitably to arrive at the least absurd and heretical meaning, so I don’t think “He stood with all of us sinners[,] seeking redemption,” but that “He stood with all of us [who, unlike Him, are] sinners seeking redemption.”

    But you still have the problematic next sentence, which provides that the “sinless Redeemer was reborn in grace” by virtue of His baptism. No ambiguity there.

    If clerics have to be on Twitter, they should at least try to avoid tweeting impromptu, homespun platitudes. Our rich Faith is not something easily transmitted in installments of 280 characters or less.

  11. Malta says:

    Put in context, Tobin does say, in the next sentence “sinless Redeemer,” so the previous sentence could not have meant that Christ stood with sinners as a sinner. Non sequitor: obviously the first sentence was meant to mean that the Redeemed Christ stood with sinners, on this earth, ready to redeem them.

    The more troubling line is that the Holy Spirit conferred grace on Christ, but I’m no theologian.

  12. TRW says:

    Blessed Columba Marmion : “the Holy Spirit rests upon Him to mark the fullness of the gifts adorning His sacred soul and at the same time symbolizing an anointing with the grace that Christ is to communicate to the world.”

    Our Lord, God Incarnate, was not in need of justification, nor could He increase in sanctifying grace. Every action of Our Lord was for the glorification of God the Father and for our redemption and sanctification. Without some understanding of “appropriation ” in regard to the external operations of The Blessed Trinity one easily wanders into something resembling adoptionism or Arianism.
    Saying one’s rosary and repeating the words ” Mother of God” over and over again, some good theology gets drilled into one’s head. Devotion to Our Lady is a great defense against error. No wonder the Evil One hates the rosary!

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    Grammatically, it’s “with sinners (who were) seeking redemption.” … but even so, my it’s a confusing tweet !!

  14. Gregg the Obscure says:

    this long tweet didn’t go well. the famous three word tweet didn’t go well. perhaps he should limit himself either to single words or emojis

  15. cwillia1 says:

    The baptism of our Lord in the Jordan is one of the themes of Epiphany. In the Byzantine rite it is the text for Epiphany itself. So what is being revealed. The troparion for Epiphany makes it very clear that what is made manifest at this event is the Trinity. Jesus of Nazareth is revealed as the divine Son by the words of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit. His humanity is revealed by his joining with us sinners in the sign of repentance, which is John’s baptism. In doing so, he takes on the sins of the world, transforming water into a means of our salvation through Christian baptism in water and the Spirit. So water is blessed on Epiphany. And in the Divine Liturgy we sing “All you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” We have become partakers in the divine nature. This is our salvation.

  16. omgriley says:

    “The Church teaches…” funny how that phrase is only used when they’re “clarrifying” heretical statements.

    It’s also funny that James Martin, LGBT typically employs this tactic when discussing homosexuality. “The Church teaches…” while nodding to his audience that he really doesn’t believe it.

    What’s missing from Tobin’s tweet is “and I also believe…”

  17. Hidden One says:

    I think it is a sign of real problems in the Church today when a senior prelate says or writes something brief that appears theologically problematic that the default response of many persons is “Heresy!” not “Mistake!”

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Maximus of Turin reading is found in Migne at Homilia 30, De Baptismo Christi II, and in CCL 23, 398-400.

    The translation seems to ignore Maximus being precise or tricky with words. They treat “hominibus” and “sacramentis” as ablatives, but they make more sense in this sentence as datives, right?

    “Then He was born to men; today He was reborn to the Sacraments. Then He was brought forth through the Virgin; today He came from the Father again through the Mystery.”

    Not very sure of this translation, but I can tell St. Maximus is picking his words carefully. “Regeneratus” seems to mean a lot of different stuff.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “The translation in the LotH readings” is what I find iffy, and it is all over the interwebs.

    My translation above is probably even more iffy; but sheesh, flattening out a bunch of close synonyms can make a lot of theology problems! At least if you distinguish the words, people have a hint that they should look closely at the original wording!

  20. JohnMa says:

    The Archdiocese’s official Twitter account retweeted these tweets so I’m pretty sure it is a real account.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Wow, the LotH reading translation really flattens “suo sinu circumfovet”. Fovet is “she warms,” and “circumfovet” would be “she warms him all around”.

    So “Mother Mary snuggles Him up warm in her bosom” would be a lot closer to the literal meaning than “Mary held Him close to her heart.” But it would be nice to convey that she was keeping Him warm with her body, a la kangaroo care.

  22. OrangeBlossom says:


    Where did you get that beautiful .gif next to your name? Tried googling it and was unsuccessful

  23. arga says:

    OrangeBlossom: You should be able to right-click on it and download it.

  24. LarryW2LJ says:

    SMH. Perhaps this would have been better?

    When Jesus was baptized by John, our sinless Redeemer stood among all of us who are sinners and seek redemption. By the power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit a Sacrament filled with grace was instituted. For this, his Father was well pleased.

  25. excalibur says:

    Not sure if that is Cdl. Tobin or not. That account does not have a check mark showing it really is who it says it is, as you see with people like President Trump where it says @realDonaldTrump and there is a check mark.

  26. DelRayVA says:

    I was greatly blessed when John Paul II introduced the world to the Luminous Mysteries. I discovered, by praying through them, especially the Baptism in the Jordan, that I had unintentionally fallen into something approaching Adoptionism. Meditating on the mysteries of the rosary turned me away from this error. Anyone who would do theology must also be dedicated to prayer.

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