In the statement, the Committee asserts that the â€œbasic problem with Quest for the Living God as a work of Catholic theology is that the book does not take the faith of the Church as its starting point. Instead, the author employs standards from outside the faith to criticize and to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God revealed in Scripture and taught by the Magisterium.â€
The statement notes that Sister Johnson, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, attempts to justify her revisions of traditional Catholic theology by arguing that this tradition has become contaminated by ideas from Enlightenment thinkers, who are responsible for the conception of God in what she calls â€œmodern theism.â€
â€œAgainst the contamination of Christian theology after the Enlightenment by modern theism, Sr. Johnson claims to be retrieving fundamental insights from patristic and medieval theology. As we have seen, however, this is misleading, since under the guise of criticizing modern theism she criticizes crucial aspects of patristic and medieval theology, aspects that have become central elements of the Catholic theological tradition confirmed by magisterial teaching,â€ the statement says.
The Committee contrasts Sister Johnson’s assertion that the Church’s names for God are metaphors that do not apply to the reality of God with the traditional Catholic understanding.Â The Church teaches, based on patristic and medieval theology, that certain names truly apply to God by analogy and are not merely metaphors.
â€œWhile Sr. Johnson is well within the Catholic theological tradition when she maintains that human language is never adequate to express the reality of God, she departs from that tradition when she makes the more radical claim that human language does not attain to the reality of God,â€ the statement says.
The Committee also criticizes her characterization of the Church’s names for God as humanly-constructed metaphors that can be replaced by novel human constructions that are intended to help transform society in a positive way by promoting the socio-political status of women.
â€œWhat is lacking in the whole of this discussion is any sense of the essential centrality of divine revelation as the basis of Christian theology,â€ the statement says.
â€œThe names of God found in the Scriptures are not mere human creations that can be replaced by others that we may find more suitable according to our own human judgment.Â The standard by which all theological assertions must be judged is that provided by divine revelation, not by unaided human understanding.”
The committee issued the statement because of the book’s unacceptable departures from the Catholic theological tradition and “the fact that the book is directed primarily to an audience of non-specialist readers and is being used as a textbook for study of the doctrine of God.”
â€For these reasons â€¦ the Committee on Doctrine finds itself obligated to state publicly that the doctrine of God presented in Quest for the Living God does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points,â€ the statement says.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington offered introductory remarks on the committeeâ€™s action, March 30, when the statement became public and referred to a canon law concerning use of the imprimatur.
â€œThe Bishopsâ€™ Committee on Doctrine is first and foremost concerned about the spiritual welfare of those students using this book who may be led to assume that its content is authentic Catholic teaching,â€ he said. â€œAlthough an imprimatur is not required for all books that treat Sacred Scripture and theology, it is still a recommended practice (see c. 827 Â§3).Â 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 Johnson had taken advantage of this opportunity.â€
He added that â€œThe Bishopsâ€™ Committee on Doctrine is always open to dialogue with theologians and would welcome an opportunity to discuss Sister Elizabethâ€™s writings with her.â€
Remarks by Cardinal Donald Wuerl (USCCB)