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It's not about the feminism (except when it is)

In his post below about the USCCB's critique of Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, Grant noted that Fr. Thomas Weinandy told the New York Times "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." Laurie Goodstein's article seems to presume that it was the feminist stuff that ruffled the bishops' feathers. And based on what the bishops' statement alleges, Grant wondered "whether Johnson's feminism didn't feature more largely in the committee's mind than Weinandy lets on." I think it's a fair question.

I said below (in the comments) that the reading overall strikes me as deeply unfair and also oddly aggressive. It's a prosecution, not a careful laying-out of concerns and clarifications, and it rests on some odd assumptions about what Johnson is trying to do. The main one, which I find totally unpersuasive, is this: "For Sr. Johnson, if God is incomprehensible he is also unknowable." If she believed that, why would she write a book about seeking God? Why do theology at all? If you'll look to page 11 of Quest, you'll find citations from Scripture about the centrality of that search for God to the Christian faith, and how God has promised to reveal himself to those who seek him. As Erin Kidd writes over at the Women in Theology blog (where a thorough response to the bishops' critique is ongoing), "We are on a quest not because we lack knowledge of God, but because we never come to the end of God. God is deeper than our glance can penetrate." I can't imagine coming away from what Johnson writes at the very beginning of the book convinced that she believes God is "unknowable" -- unless I went in already convinced that Johnson, because she's a contemporary feminist theologian, is interested only in tearing down the faith from the inside. I know there are people who believe that. I should hope the bishops wouldn't take it as their starting point in analyzing a work of theology.

The reason I am wondering about just how much the feminist thing affected the bishops' reading is that it's in the section addressing female language for God where their critique seems sloppiest. Turn with me, please, to page 12 of the bishops' statement, headed "New Names for the Unknown God." (Again, "unknown" -- not Sr. Johnson's claim. "New" is also debatable.) The section begins:

Sr. Johnson argues that women "have experienced strong discomfort with the dominant images of God as father, lord, and king" (96) and that female language for God is not only permissible but necessary.

Instead of "argues" I would say "observes." (This is one of several places in the bishops' statement where one could make that substitution.) What they've quoted/paraphrased from Johnson is not an argument at all; it's a simple statement of reality. I suppose you could quibble with the "necessary" part, if you were determined to find fault, but "permissible" is absolutely in keeping with Catholic tradition, as Johnson makes clear. The next sentence:

For Sr. Johnson, language for God should be analyzed not primarily in terms of its adequacy for expressing the reality of God -- all human language fails to attain the reality of God -- but in terms of its socio-political effects.

That's a big claim, the kind that sends me to the text looking for backup. Does Johnson really say that "expressing the reality of God" is impossible or not important for God-language? Not that I can see. And it turns out you don't even need to have the book handy to see that this is a distortion of Johnson's work. At the end of that very same paragraph, the bishops quote this from Johnson, in re: all-male images of God as experienced by women in the modern world: "Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it." If you want to claim that Sr. Johnson is not concerned with analyzing language "in terms of its adequacy for expressing the reality of God," you cannot then quote a line in which she analyzes language in terms of its adequacy for "evoking the reality of God." What is going on here?

The bishops go on:

As part of the effort to complete the overthrow of unequal and unjust power relations, she argues that it is necessary to replace the traditional language and concepts of God with new language and new concepts of God that will serve the purpose of promoting the socio-political status of women both in society and the church.

Sounds sinister. But I don't see Johnson attempting to "replace" anything -- she never, ever says we must stop calling God our father (something I presume she does several times a day), for example. And I don't see her purpose as promoting any such agenda. She's describing broadening the language we use for God so as to allow all people, including women, greater appreciation for the reality of God -- precisely what the bishops say she's not interested in pursuing. Are they doing so much reading between the lines they're overlooking what the lines themselves say?

The closest the bishops come to a responsible criticism of this section of the text, in my opinion, is when they say (p. 13) "What is lacking in the whole of this discussion is any sense of the essential centrality of divine relation as the basis of Christian theology." I can't agree that the book, or even pages 96-7 of the book, lacks "any sense" of the centrality of revelation, but I will concede that centrality could be stated more explicitly. It seemed to me Sr. Johnson was taking it for granted, as part of the basic groundwork of this sort of theology. A university professor teaching undergrads would be fairly cautioned, though, to make sure to spell it out for students using this book in a class. If the bishops had simply said that, I wouldn't argue. But they claim that Johnson has no regard for divine revelation, which is not at all fair, and they go on to say: "The 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."

This implies that Johnson disagrees or says otherwise in her book. As far as I can see, she doesn't. Again, she never argues that the traditional names for God must be "replaced." And -- again the bishops' critique is self-refuting -- she grounds her discussion of feminine language for God in Scripture, in a passage the bishops have just quoted. Are they disputing the fact that feminine images for God are indeed found in the Bible and are therefore part of divine revelation? Because that seems to me a fairly orthodox observation.

Finally, on page 16 of the bishops' statement, they quote a section on God's simultaneous transcendence and immanence that ends, "What results is a mutual abiding for which the pregnant female body provides a good metaphor." There's no commentary on that particular sentence. Perhaps they think it's self-evidently problematic. I happen to like it. It also strikes me as scriptural. But I suppose I might feel differently if I were already predisposed to believe there is an agenda at work here other than the desire for greater knowledge of the incomprehensible God. Is that what I'm supposed to be afraid of? I wonder.


Commenting Guidelines

With thanks to Crystal, I would nevertheless explain that my concern is not whether I've been picked on, but whether there exists an atmosphere of dialogue surrounding important questions.

Kathy - your use of the word, "dialogue", is sort of like Bill Clinton - it all depends upon how you interpret the word "is". Dialogue requires that you listen first; then, respectfully ask questions. There is no defensiveness in dialogue; there are no efforts wasted on "defending"a position, dogma, catechetical statement.It is difficult to dialogue when you start with someone else's statement about a book that you have not even read. It goes further - raising questions such as....have you ever read anything by Johnson; have you heard her speak; are you knowlegable of her positions and history at CUA and now Fordham - her leadership of CTSA.You made comments above that started with a second if not third level of documentation - a version of commenting on what you have heard or read without ever moving to primary sources. (in some ways, not much different from what Wuerl/USCCB has done here) It reminds me of a favorite movie - "Absence of Malice" - which did a brillant job of showing how institutions could destroy a good person's name and integrity (without violating legalities) - as said illustrated the difference between canon law as de jure and morality (Ladislas Orsy has a whole book on how canon law is premised on clerical jurisdiction which is not the heart of a moral code and many question whether it is even a historical basis for good canon law) . Little Bear's Morlino story is primary documentation (empirical) versus argumentative.

Hi, Crystal, nice to cross paths with you again! As a fellow former Anglican, perhaps you remember the kerfuffle over the 1979 BCP, which includes traditional and contemporary liturgical language? If memory serves, more people were exercised about the IDEA of inclusive language than the actual language changes themselves. My guess is that that's b/c "inclusive language" is, in some folks' minds, code for "International Feminist Conspiracy takeover of our church."Perhaps Sr. Johnson makes this point: Scripture is already full of images of both a maternal and paternal God. It's often liturgical language that fails to reflect God's dual nature as Creator--and not just in the RC Church. I'd like to see God's duality reflected tastefully in the liturgy more, but I mostly feel this is merely my personal problem, and not a reason to fall out with the Church.On the other hand, perhaps there's a reason why I haven't given up using the 1979 BCP for personal devotions ...

Bill,I took issue with a point made in a blog post. As far as I can tell, the issue I raised has still never been substantially engaged. There are doubtless some women who find masculine images for God off-putting, but that does not mean "women" as such have experienced strong discomfort! It certainly doesn't mean, by extension, that "women" as such want or need an overhaul of theology! One can ARGUE that, but one cannot OBSERVE that.Instead of engaging my initial comment, there was an immediate attack. What does this say about dialogue in general? Is it open? If someone progressive says something that admits of doubt, and someone on the right says, "I doubt that for xyz reasons," what happens then?

Nonsense, Kathy. Youre not being persecuted or cut off from dialogue; youre being prevented from changing the subject. One can indeed OBSERVE that women have been troubled by exclusively masculine/hierarchical images for God, regardless of whether you are one of those women. Its not controversial (much like the definition of the word neuralgic), and its not the point of this post, and we are not discussing it further. The dialogue in these comments will just have to be about something other than you.

I think the feminism issue has an intersting future edge to it as more laity and women particulaly enter the world of becoming theologians as there are serious questions raised by the uSCCB action about serious theological discussion.IMO much disappointment in Fr. Weinandy who, if I read views here right, wants to make his way (remember the Tilley CTSA dustup) THE way by enlisting the episcopal club instead of the broad venue of peer review.Is a signal being sent out to young theologians and young women theologians in particular to hue that line of method?

Hi Jean :)Actually, I'm not a convert from the Anglican Church but from being an athesit (does that count as "conversion")? But I am interested in the Anglican Church and do visit the Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans regularly.I've been following their views on women priests/boshops, with NT Wright's defense of that to Cardinal Kasper a few years ago - Women Bishops: A Response to Cardinal Kasper - and also keeping my eye on the Inclusive Church stuff ... keep hoping the Catholic Church will go this way soon.

this structural defect has alienated many educated Catholic womenNo doubt they'd like to get the Mother of God and Mother of the Church in a room and give her an "education".But someone who confuses education with a silly political ideology has been educated beyond his/her intelligence.

"silly political ideology"I realize that "feminism" is a term that has accrued unwanted layers of meaning like fungus on a damp rug.But "feminism" in its purest sense simply means equal rights, protections, and responsibilities for women. That means I can own and inherit property, drive a car, wear what and marry whom I want (however ill-advised those choices), sue someone, receive fair wages, and have the obligation to pay taxes, support my children, and meet debt obligations.What some women have done under the guise of feminism may indeed be silly, cruel, criminal, or short-sighted. Just as what people have done under the guise of Christianity is not everything God would have wanted. Whence the vitriol against well-educated Catholic feminists?

"...whence the vitriol"? Good question. If there's an actual argument, we've yet to hear it, not to mention primary sources to support these assertions you've made about feminist theology. There's room for discussion. No need to be so, um what's the word? shrill about it.

JEan --What I find most encouraging about feminism these days is that I find that most men are willing to re-think what they used to think about women's abilities and "women's place". Most still have a way to go, but they're trying. But in any group there will be blind folks, and unfair ones, and just plain dumb ones who can't change. And, as you indicate, there are even some women like that :-)

Since you can always find more than one woman who will agree with ANY statement. any statement that contains the phrase "women feel..." has no meaning. If you want to make a cogent point, you'll have to work much harder than that.It reminds me of Andy Rooney's line: Did you ever notice that when one side of the political spectrum gangs up, it's to attack, and when the other side of the political spectrum gangs up, it's to protect?

"Since you can always find more than one woman who will agree with ANY statement, any statement that contains the phrase 'women feel' has no meaning."I wouldn't disagree. Certainly, it's more useful to talk about what most American, Catholic, Christian, Republican women think on a given topic.As William Blake once said, "To generalize is to be an idiot." Certainly, I would include that statement covers such generalities as, "Did you ever notice that when one side of the political spectrum gangs up, its to attack, and when the other side of the political spectrum gangs up, its to protect?"But, then, I have rarely found Andy Rooney's trivialities worth listening to.

To get back to the original post..............Last month Cardinal Burke gave a presentation in Australia....his theme was Catholic identity versus relativism/secularism.Hamilton, SJ in Australia suggests (not unlike Johnson in her book) that Burke started with the wrong question - it is not fundamentally an identity question but rather "what matters" or "what do we need to do for others". This seems to touch on one issue in terms of what the USCCB is stating about theologian Johnson and her response published in NCR. It indicates that the USCCB's starting point is reinforcing identity rather than Johnson's starting point. He supports her response that the USCCB did not understand her fundamental approach:Here is a link to his article using the Parable of the Good Samaritan: "The difficulty with preoccupation with Catholic identity is that it stands in such conflict with the central movement of the Gospel expressed, for example, in the story of the Good Samaritan."- "The story suggests that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us. Identity questions fix our attention on the group to which we belong. The question Jesus asks invites us to look through the eyes of strangers. Only from that perspective can we safely reflect on our group."Would suggest that this is what Sr. Johnson is doing in her book. Whether you want to label or condemn that as some type of "feminism" or realize that the struggle for equity and equality between genders continues to be a major/significant issue in this current world....evidence: women fighting for rights in 50% of the world; the current lawsuit at the Supreme Court with Walmart and female employees; our recent memories of the role of G. Ferraro. Would suggest that the church; its liturgy; its theology needs to address these issues and that Sr. Johnson has given language to this struggle.

If anyone doubts the depravity that sexism can lead to, read the appalling book review in today's' NYT about what is happening in China to girl babies. There girls are not even considered by some to be human and are killed at will at birth. Yes, parents and midwives often kill them when upon being born it is discovered that they are girls, not the desired sons.

Not sure the "political spectrum" is relevant here, Jean. The "right" and "left" are theological, and the main issue is whether ethics drives hermeneutics or the other way around.The background question is whether it is possible to even have a conversation about that.

Kathy - would strongly suggest that it is "both/and".........plenty of examples in history and how the church has had to change its positions e.g. slavery; democracy; religious freedom; usury; etc. BTW - those historical examples are empirical and not just argumentative.

Not sure how this gets us back to the original post, but since it was raised:The word "identity" does not appear in Cardinal Burke's homily. Oops!And no, nothing in his homily can remotely be construed as dissing the example of the Good Samaritan.If only Andrew Hamilton had sought to engage Cardinal Burke in dialog before letting loose with scurrilous non sequiturs.Oh wait now we are back to the original post.

Any fair-minded reader of Burke's speech would have no difficulty identifying his underlying thematic as contrasting Catholic identity with secular relativistic western identity. How did you miss that? Perhaps you just did a "find" function for the word "identity" and didn't actually read the speech.You impose meanings where they are not (e.g., Sr. Johnson as a feminist theologianess thinks God was wrong) and ignore them where they are (e.g., Burke wasn't talking about what it means to be Catholic in a sinful world), as long as what you end up with fits your preconceptions (feminist theologians are silly; Bishops are presumptively right). That's a shame.

No mandatum or imprimatur required? How exactly do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Sorry, but Cardinal Burke's homily simply doesn't say what Hamilton uncharitably implies, and frankly it's a stretch even to claim that its "theme" is "identity".And I'm sorry, but yes, the presumption (not certainty) of being right is inherent in the office of bishop. As for academic theologians, they don't even concern themselves anymore with anything so pedestrian as being "right," do they?

What precisely do you think Burke's theme is? Enlighten us. Only sheer obstinance can explain your inability to comprehend Burke's purposes/theme. Sheesh, in the first 5 sentences alone, before he's even finished the throat-clearing he's made 4 references to Catholic/Christian culture (are you such a literalist you need the word "identity" to appear before you get it?) and then proceeds to spend the time contrasting the depraved and fallen West with the true faith of real Catholics. It's not so complicated a speech that he's buried his point in nuance or sophisticated theology. Speaking of which, there's no point in taking your last question seriously, as you clearly don't read any. With the exception of the bishops' apologists, of course, but they aren't doing theology, now are they?

Bill,Do you think that democracy and the theology of God are on the same level of doctrine?

The issue is Hamilton's failure to engage in "dialog" with Cardinal Burke before dishonestly misrepresenting his words. To borrow from this thread, Hamilton's engagement with Burkes work doesnt seem to flow from the spirit of honest dialogical inquiry. Instead of thinking with Burke and critiquing him on his own terms, Hamilton emits preposterous and scurrilous non sequiturs.You're right that Cardinal Burke does not seem to concern himself unduly with nuance or "sophisticated theology." That's because his job is to teach, and academic obfuscation is incompatible with teaching.Cardinal Burke is talking about building up the Kingdom of God in a world enslaved by sin. If professional theologians and theologianesses think that's not his job, then God help us.

Obvious troll is obvious.

Thank you, Abe. Earnest commenters: please don't feed the trolls.

I made a post a little while back deploring the apparent narrowness of education in at least some of our bishops (and other leaders of various sorts). Burke's Australian talk is a perfect example of what I mean. I don't know about his education myself, but he shows absolutely no sense of history -- even Church history -- at all. He talks about tradition and fidelity to the papal magisterium -- but which papal magisterium does he have in mind, apart from JPII and Benedict XVI whom he quotes? Are we somehow to dismiss all their predecessors, many of whom, in encyclicals, bulls, and so forth said things quite at variance with those quoted? Indeed one could make a good argument that it is fidelity to the papacy's historical magisterium that led Lefebvre and his followers to act as they have.A quick reading of, say, some of the pronouncements of Gregory XVI and Pius IX will illustrate what I mean. And they are relatively recent (19th century), as opposed to the popes of the Renaissance or the Middle Ages (try Boniface VIII for instance). I imagine that people like Burke have been taught church history -- at least some of it. But I suspect it's in a highly selective way, that avoids the difficult questions.For the record it seems quite clear to me that Burke was talking about Catholic identity, whether or not he used the term.

Kathy - "theology of God" - isn't this redundant? and what exactly does it mean? theology starts with human beings seeking to understand themselves and their relationship to God. democracy - one of many examples in which grace has built on nature. Theology is analogy (unless you are a fundamentalist and believe that God gave us directly who and what he is? - please describe that process for me. Well, you may have done that since you have now "inserted" the word doctrine. Isn't doctrine the result of human beings discovering something about our relationship to God? Basically, IMO, there are two simplistic approaches to theology: one uses scripture, analogy, stories, images to capture our understanding of relationships and sacraments; the other approach believes that authority via catechetical truths, doctrines, dogmas gives us our understanding of God. Would suggest that Jesus used the former approach and most theology is about the former approach not the latter.); IMO, separating what happens in human history from our understanding of God leaves us with an impoverished understanding of God.

Hi, Nicholas,I agree with everything that you have stated. I do teach Church History and I am horrified at how little so many Catholics know about what paths the Church has been down. And history can be taught in an exciting manner-----it doesn't have to be boring. I am waiting for some high ranking prelate someday to start dictating what may and may not be presented in a church history course.I have no doubt that what seminarians learn about church history is very limited and extremely selective. If they just learned about all the Church Councils (and the issues that the Councils dealt with---or failed to deal with), they should have many questions about current practices. Even reading the encyclicals dealing with the church's social teachings and the documents of the USCCB dealing with social justice----and really analyzing them----would give thema broader understanding of the shifts in the thinking of the church. It has slowly moved back and forth (and during the last and current pontificate---back again).

- The difficulty with preoccupation with Catholic identity is that it stands in such conflict with the central movement of the Gospel expressed, for example, in the story of the Good Samaritan.- The story suggests that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us. Identity questions fix our attention on the group to which we belong. The question Jesus asks invites us to look through the eyes of strangers. Only from that perspective can we safely reflect on our group.Thanks, Bill deHaas, for getting us all back on track. Very interesting way to look at the tension Sr. Johnson's book has created. I don't want to parse things too finely, here, but isn't it possible that a true Catholic identity (vs. a preoccupation with rules, protecting sacraments from the unworthy, and purifying the body of Christ by getting rid of the disobedient) IS outward looking? As a convert (albeit a very bad one), I wasn't attracted to Catholicism because I wanted to "be a Catholic" in the same way people want to be Free Masons or Rotarians, but because Catholicism seemed to me to be the truest way to be Christ to others.Perhaps Sr. Johnson's book is a call back to an earlier sense of Catholic identity that one sees in the great evangelists of the Middle Ages and in those who work with the poor and disenfranchised like Mother Teresa.

"Youre right that Cardinal Burke does not seem to concern himself unduly with nuance or sophisticated theology. Thats because his job is to teach, and academic obfuscation is incompatible with teaching"j.a.m. --Oh, now I get it. YOu think the function of bishops is to engage in a lot of simple-minded rhetoric that makes his sheep feel good.

" Indeed one could make a good argument that it is fidelity to the papacys historical magisterium that led Lefebvre and his followers to act as they have."Nicholas C, --Indeed, this is why I have a lot of sympathy for the Lefebrists. They were brought up with the papal teachings since Vat I, and all of a sudden (to them) their spotty theological rug was pulled out from under them. They have a point, and it's not being met adequately.

Actually, a bishop's function is to engage in simple-minded rhetoric that makes his sheep feel uncomfortable.A bishop is a teacher, not an academic. Most academics would be poor bishops. To observe that, if one must choose, a wise bishop is preferable to a highly-educated one, is not to advocate simple-mindedness or anti-intellectualism. It is simply an observation about human nature.The current Bishop of Rome is a highly-educated intellectual and I'll hazard a guess is not this crowd's first choice as a model bishop.

Bill,I don't think our theology is limited to what we can say about our relationship to God. That is one of its starting points: since Athanasius, Christology has derived its arguments from soteriology. But Scripture is another starting point.I think "analogy" has something more to offer than mere metaphor. It's a tighter link. Metaphor links unlike things, while analogy shows the likeness between like things. Regarding the subject at hand, I'm personally intrigued by St. Paul's expression in Eph. 3:15. He says that all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its name from the Father. I take this verse as a datum that indicates that not only is there an analogy between human fatherhood and God the Father, but goes much further. I think Paul is indicating that earthly fatherhood is the analogate! Earthly fatherhood (earthly familyhood) participates in the one Fatherhood.

j.a.m. --What a weird notion you have of bishops, and human nature for that matter. To listen to you you'd think that ordinary people are incapable of being rational. Are you a bishop?

I thought about this thread and especially the most recent comments, and, the letter we had read from our Abp. on cohabiation and all its evils and I just see the polarization and loss of sense of unity in our Church growing.The impact on many young who seek "spiituality" apart from organized relogion is undoubtedly fed by the back and forth (which unfortunately suffers from any desire for common ground or genuine dialog.)I think this wil also move man young women away from the perceived "know your place" approach .I finally as I read this cannot understand how anyone can't see Cardinal Burke pushing the "distinctively Catholic" identity that divides many; his approach is right out of the school of "radical orthodoxy."

To the contrary, I would argue that those who must earn their bread toiling in the real world (if that is what you mean by "ordinary people") by and large have a greater capacity for rational thought than most ivory-tower academics. But the point is that a bishop's flock includes people from all walks of life and all levels of intellectual ability but precious few whose temporal responsibilities leave much time for esoterica.

Kathy - as usual, you quote one line from scripture and build an empire? Paul was also a man of his time - he used metaphor and analogy from his time. You don't see that?

@ Kathy, re: "I think analogy has something more to offer than mere metaphor. Its a tighter link. Metaphor links unlike things, while analogy shows the likeness between like things."These definitions make sense on a certain level. But even in the most ontologically robust sense of analogy, the "unlikeness" is stronger than the "likeness." And I think the way that Johnson is using metaphor is much much more similar to your understanding of analogy then your understanding of metaphor. I don't mean to be combative - I take your point that it is important to make distinctions between a thick sense of participation and a merely pedagogical linguistic pairing. I think this is exactly the crux of the issue. I just want to question whether we can map this on to analogy and metaphor without examining how a thinker is using those words in context. Unfortunately the way that various theologians, philosophers, and linguists have used these words in the past 50 years make it difficult to assume stable meanings. And this is complicated by the fact that these are words that have meaning outside of theology. It seems to me that most of the Bishops' critiques are rooted in a misunderstanding of what Johnson means by "metaphor," which is why I think it's worth noting here.

J.a.m. -- If academe doesn't teach basics about the real world, why do doctors and lawyers, businessmen, geologists, etc., have to get undergraduate degrees? Sorry that your own education seems to have been so inadequate that you have generalized from it that all higher education is fiction.

Thanks, Ms. Kidd - very insightful and IMO you hit the nail on the head.

Kathy - I would not worry about inclusive language; more than likely that was considered by ICEL and is tended properly in the new translation of the Roman Missal. The bishops worked a long time on the new translation, it was reveiwed by many Roman and Anglo eyes, and most probably they got the balance correct.

"It seems to me that most of the Bishops critiques are rooted in a misunderstanding of what Johnson means by metaphor, which is why I think its worth noting here."Erin,Do you mean to say that the bishops understand Johnson's feminine metaphors to be thicker than she intends them to be? Could you please spell out the misunderstanding?

At the end of the Day, when one considers the fact that there is no mandatum, no imprimatur and no disciplinary measures, this is just another one of those occasional shout-outs to make it appear as if The Committee on Doctrine is not a charade.

Hi Kathy, I'd be happy to explain. I assumed that you were referring to the Bishops' use of analogy and metaphor in their critique of Johnson. She argues that all language for God is metaphorical (this is a much broader claim for her - she speaks only a little about specifically "feminine" God-talk). The Bishops spend a huge amount of time in the statement critiquing this understanding of metaphor as too thin, claiming the Johnson doesn't believe that language for can "attain to God" (Cathechism, no. 43). I wasn't intending to defend any particular metaphors, but to argue that though the word "metaphor" may seem inappropriate given how we normally use the word (in your definition, a comparison of unlike things) she is actually using it in a very robust sense, that I think abides by the Catechisms twofold declaration that language does not "express" God but it does "attain to" God. If that's not what you were originally talking about, then please excuse my misunderstanding!

If I may add to this Ms. Kidd - comment from the past president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology concerning his role with the new, pending implementation of MR3 in the liturgy. He has resigned from the board of the Liturgy Center of St. Louis University: section from his letter which pertains to Sr. Johnson and the USCCB criticique and also follows up on your metaphor comment:-"Why not commission a new version that is faithful to the editio typica, but yet produced by the top theologians and poets? In my experience the best preaching is rooted in metaphors that present the mysteries of the faith in a new light helping us to grasp them just a bit more fully. Could we not also avail ourselves of this fresh metaphorical language in our liturgical texts as well? Can we not preserve doctrine and metaphor? Words matter and not just because they enforce doctrine. They also incite the imagination and enable the gifts of the Holy Spirit to deepen our grasp of Gods presence in our lives."Is this not what Sr. Johnson has tried to do?

Like everyone who has studied Christianity in a Catholic University over the past thirty years, I was assigned She Who Is in a number of classes. I really liked it and used it in teaching my own classes. I haven't read Quest for the Living God, but I just ordered it, and I am looking forward to reading it. I have always found Johnson to be thoughtful and responsible in her writings. In short, I dont believe her to be a radical feminist: her work has assisted and not hurt the Churchs view on who God really is...A few reflections:1)The tone of the USCCB response is quite derisive, using words like radical over and over, and I agree with Grant, there seems to be some underlying suspicion that this work is a thinly veiled attempt to promote women's ordination. Me thinks thou protests too much, comes to mind. I cannot understand any other reason for such an disrespectful attitude towards such a prominent theologian in the church. At the very least, Johnson should have been given the opportunity to respond.2)Johnsons promotion of a Moltmann like passibility of God is nothing new, so I dont really see why this is unworthy of academic or even popular discussion, or particularly dangerous for the faithful.3)I still dont know why the USCCB had a problem with her claim that all names for God are metaphors. Mustnt he be a metaphor for someone who is spirit? I think this goes back to a fear of womens ordination again. Theologically it seems weak.4)The response also attacks Johnsons view of universal salvation, but it doesnt seem that her views go any farther than Rahners anonymous Christian, or even JPIIs response on salvation of non- Christians in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.5)Perhaps the most worrisome area of the response deals with how Johnsons panentheism reverts into pantheism. This could be a problem in confusing the creator/created dichotomy. Another area at issue may be Johnsons Christology and interpretation of the person of Jesus and the Trinity at Nicea. Ill have to read the book to see if I agree with the USCCBs take on this. But here again it seems that a reflection on anthropological terms in Trinitarian theology could be helpful as well.

From "Beyond Utterance", the review of the book on the Commonweal website:"The liturgy, complete with the chants, incense, and marigolds of a typical Hindu ceremony... is a new rite approved by Rome." Yikes!I wonder who in Rome has decided that God Has Revealed we may now worship false idols? It would explain why the several priests on the Altar did not seem concerned when a Hindu woman started to chant during the Consecration at a Mass by the outdoor Chapel in Fatima that I attended the week after Pope Benedict was there this past May. I thought it was strange, but now, not so much. I wonder what is going on at The Vatican these days?