April 1998By Dale Vree
Dale Vree is Editor of the NOR.
Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. Edited by Russell Shaw. Our Sunday Visitor Books. 751 pages. $39.95.
As I cracked open this volume, the first entry that caught my eye was the one entitled Fatherhood of God, a hot-button issue, unlike most of the other entries. Gotta read this, I said to myself.
The author of this entry, the Rev. J.A. DiNoia, says that when Christ used the term Father in speaking to God, he introduced us into the family life of the Persons of the Trinity (italics added). But then DiNoia asserts that its acceptable to refer to the Holy Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This neutering maneuver, a favorite tactic of feminists, actually depersonalizes the Persons of the Trinity. So DiNoia giveth, and DiNoia taketh away but blessed not be the name of DiNoia, for as T.L. Frazier wrote in the bi-monthly Catholic Answer, the feminist Trinity of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier is a rehashed version of Modalism, an ancient heresy which replaces the three divine Persons with three functions.
DiNoia, worried about an irredeemably masculinist image of God, then takes a different tack. He informs us that to refer to God as our Mother instead of our Father is not absolutely excluded. While the substitution of Mother for Father is not acceptable in the public and liturgical discourse of the Catholic community, says DiNoia, it might be acceptable in private devotion and prayer. So when youre in a church building, God is your Father, but when youre in your closet, God could be your Mother. Is this weird, or what?
It certainly contradicts what Jesus said: When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father (Mt. 6:6, italics added).
Yes, I know that once in a while Scripture says God is like a mother, has nurturing qualities (just as a good earthly father has), but never does Scripture say God is a Mother. The Bible also says God is like an eagle, a lion, a leopard, and a bear, but never that God is an eagle, a lion, a leopard, or a bear. If those bothered by an irredeemably masculinist image of God can legitimately pray, Our Mother who art in Heaven , why cant animal lovers troubled by an irredeemably anthropomorphic image of God call upon Our Polar Bear who art in Heaven or bird watchers send up petitions to Our Golden Eagle?
Back to DiNoia: Who is God really? Father or Mother? DiNoia says it cant be both, that is, not both at the same time. Apparently, whether God is Father or Mother depends on where you happen to be at a particular moment and what your personal preferences are. Moreover, while DiNoia acknowledges that Jesus called God His Father, and while this carries a lot of weight for DiNoia, DiNoia says that that was Jesus personal way of speaking (italics added), which seems to introduce a hedge. Its as if Jesus is merely, shall we say, personally opposed to naming God as Mother. So, in public, Jesus naming of God is to be respected, but in your closet, hey, Jesus probably wouldnt object if you call God your Mother, wouldnt impose His personal theology on you, wouldnt invade your privacy.
Now, when God is your Mother, God is Jesus Mother too. Right? (Cmon, lets be logical.) And when God is Jesus Mother, who is Mary? Shes His other Mother, stupid! So if, in your closet, youd like to think that Jesus has two mommies, youve pretty much been given permission to do so.
The implications are staggering. DiNoia himself doesnt draw them out, but, look, if Jesus has two mommies, then of course gay is good at least in your closet. So, while in the Churchs public discourse gay is not good, in the private life of Catholics gay may very well be good.
Inadvertently (I trust), DiNoia has given us a closet theology to undergird the closet morality thats been making scandalous headlines and newscasts for years. Actively homosexual priests may uphold the Churchs moral teaching in public, but without DiNoias help theyve perhaps already figured out that if Jesus can have two mommies in their closets, then gay can be good there too.
It so happens that DiNoia is executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). That the NCCB has placed so much confidence in him might tell us something about the confusion that sometimes manifests itself in NCCB meetings and documents. For example, it was under the name of the NCCB that a Pastoral Message called Always Our Children (AOC) was issued in October 1997 which, among other things, pointedly omitted calling homosexual inclination objectively disordered (which is what its called in the 1986 Letter to Bishops from the Holy Sees Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church) and instead implied that it is a gift of God. How in Gods good name could an inclination to sin be a gift from God? A thoroughly confused document that Archbishop Chaput of Denver, for one, says wont be used in his diocese, AOC also gave parents of young people engaged in homosexual experimentation a green light to adopt a permissive wait and see policy toward what is a grave sin, not to mention potentially lethal behavior.
Given the gender confusion in DiNoias encyclopedia entry, I turned next to a related entry, Women, Ordination of, by Joyce A. Little. The treatment of this subject is far more solid. Yet, while it mentions the 1995 Responsum from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it fails to mention that the Responsum confirmed that the Churchs opposition to priestesses is infallible teaching, which is what made the Responsum so significant in the first place. A strange omission.
Happily, this encyclopedia consists of many more than two entries. I dont claim to have read each and every one of them, but those I did read were a mixed bag: some quite illuminating, some quite pedestrian, some informative, some superficial, some right on the mark, some fuzzy or questionable or bizarre.
All things considered, for a Catholic encyclopedia, you could certainly do worse. But when I want to look up something, before I pick up this volume Ill go to Fr. Peter Stravinskass Catholic Encyclopedia (1991), a much more incisive, coherent, even, and satisfying volume. And if I want something more up to date than 1991, even if less handy, Ill go to the Catechism.