US Bishops Call Theologian Nun's Book "Misleading"

Says «Quest for the Living God» Distorts Catholic Teaching

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 31, 2011 ( The U.S. bishops are warning that a book by Fordham theology professor Sister Elizabeth Johnson distorts Catholic teaching and divine revelation.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine publicized a statement Wednesday about «Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,» written by Sister Johnson of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York.

It noted that the book, published in 2007 by Continuum, «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,» the committee stated.

It explained that «Sister Johnson claims to be retrieving fundamental insights from patristic and medieval theology.»

«As we have seen, however,» the bishops added, «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.»

They noted, «What is lacking in the whole of this discussion is any sense of the essential centrality of divine revelation as the basis of Christian theology.»

«The standard by which all theological assertions must be judged is that provided by divine revelation, not by unaided human understanding,» the committee affirmed.

It noted that the statement was issued publicly due to the book’s departure from Catholic theological tradition as well as «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.»

The committee concluded that this book «does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points.»


The committee’s chairman, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, presented the statement on Wednesday.

He explained that «the bishops’ 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.»

Referring to the use of an imprimatur, the prelate noted that «although an imprimaturis not required for all books that treat sacred Scripture and theology, it is still a recommended practice.»

He continued: «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.»

The cardinal affirmed that «the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine is always open to dialogue with theologians and would welcome an opportunity to discuss Sister Elizabeth’s writings with her.»

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Committee statement:

Cardinal Wuerl’s statement:

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