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U.S. bishops condemn nun's book on spiritual seeking, 'Quest for the Living God'

April 4, 2011 |  5:02 pm

A four-year-old book by a prominent theologian, "Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God," has been censured by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The book was written by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, known as a theologian and feminist, former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society and currently distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University.

BeliefNet reports:

The bishops said the book’s “basic problem” is that it 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” as taught by the church.

As a result, the book “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points” including the names of God and the Trinity, the bishops said.

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who chairs the doctrine committee, expressed concern that Johnson’s book would be used as a textbook and students “may be led to assume that its content is authentic Catholic teaching” and could thus endanger readers’ “spiritual welfare.”

The New York Times also reported on the issue, quoting the Rev. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Doctrine, as saying, "The primary concern was not over feminism or nonfeminism. The bishops are saying that the book does not adequately treat a Catholic understanding of God." Yet the theologians at Catholic universities they spoke with did not agree with the bishops in the matter. One specifcially said the censure was not theological but political.

Johnson said in a statement that the assessment of "Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God" -- her seventh book -- came as a surprise to her.

Of course, authors of all stripes have to deal with negative reviews. But perhaps Johnson can appeal to a higher power.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Then-Archbishop Donald Wuerl, right, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts after the annual Red Mass in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1., 2006. Credit: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press