Did the Committee on Doctrine read ‘Quest for the Living God’?
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been working through Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Quest for the Living God, recently criticized [PDF] by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine. In a terrific follow-up post, Mollie expanded on a question I raised about the degree to which Johnson’s feminism motivated the committee’s critique. The document accuses Johnson of wanting to “replace” masculine names for God with feminine ones. Johnson never says any such thing. “Are they [the bishops on the committee] doing so much reading between the lines they’re overlooking what the lines themselves say?” Mollie asked. That’s certainly possible. But I wonder whether they’ve read the book at all.
Take, for example, this passage from Quest:
All fruitful metaphors have sufficiently complex grids of meaning at the literal level to allow for extension of thought beyond immediate linkages. That is why God can be seen as a king, rock, mother, savior, gardener, lover, father, liberator, midwife, judge, helper, friend, mother bear, fresh water, fire, thunder, and so on.
God is not literally a father or a king or a lord but something ever so much greater. Thus is the truth more greatly honored. This is not to say that male metaphors cannot be used to signify the divine. Men, too, are created, redeemed, and sanctified by the gracious love of God, and images taken from their lives can function in as adequate or inadequate a way as do images taken from the lives of women…. If God is a “he” as well as a “she”—and in fact neither—a new possibility can be envisioned of a community that honors the difference but allows women and men to share life in equal measure.
As anyone who has read the book can tell, Johnson has no interest in dumping male images of God in favor of female ones. She wants us to consider both. As did John Paul I, who delivered the following remarks—cited on page 103 of Quest—in 1978:
God is our father. Even more God is our mother. God does not want to hurt us, but only to do good for us, all of us. If children are ill, they have additional claim to be loved by their mother. And we too, if by chance we are sick with badness and are on the wrong track, have yet another claim to be loved by the Lord.
“What is lacking in the whole of this discussion [of female images of God],” according to the Committee on Doctrine, ”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.” Apparently the committee failed to notice that Johnson repeatedly cites scriptural sources of female images of God–Isaiah 49:15, for example. Makes you wonder what else they missed.