In this Random Nun Clip, we talk with Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, about a theology of Mary and how ideas about Mary have changed over time. Hear the full In Good Faith podcast at IGF028.
Sister Elizabeth Johnson is a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island, and is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City.
An award winning author, Sister Elizabeth has written many books including Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints; Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints; and Quest for the Living God. Her new book on ecological theology, entitled Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, will be out in January 2014.
Sister Elizabeth has also published many essays in scholarly journals, chapters in edited books, book reviews, and articles in popular journals. She is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society.
This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. Today we talk with Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island. Let's talk about your work and how it began initially with the saints, in particular, in the context of researching Mary.
Well, my first impulse on researching Mary came from the fact that so many women I was hearing--and this is Catholic women--were rejecting Mary out of hand, the patriarchal image of her that had been handed down, the pedestal Mary, if you will, so untouchably perfect, that what other kind of woman, normal finite struggling woman, could even identify with. And women, I think rightly, saw in that image a male construction of their ideal woman, and they rejected it. And I thought to myself, "If we go forward as women and trying to do feminist theology, do we have to leave Mary behind? Or is there a way of finding out perhaps, who is this woman, behind and underneath and even through all of these projections that have been put on her?" That started my research. Of course, the New Testament gives tremendous input into a different view of Mary from the idealized one. And I began to think, "Where is she positioned? Where do you put a theology of Mary?" And again, I was very much assisted by the Second Vatican Council. They had a terrible fight--and it was the closest vote of the whole Council--whether to issue a separate document on Mary, which would have made her glorious and ideal. And to find a new dogma about her, they wanted to define the co-redemptrix doctrine, or to include a chapter on Mary in the document on the church, the Constitution, Lumen Gentium. And by a mere 40 votes out of two and a half thousand cast, it was decided to include Mary in the communion of saints, so to speak, in the church, in Lumen Gentium, in the people of God, rather than isolated off on her own. So that to me, was the theological key. And I thought, "Well, that means, you know, include her in the circle of those who are blessed by the Spirit of God, and walking a holy life, following their conscience, and so on." And once you start in on that direction, you recover her humanity, you recover her difficult history, her fidelity and so on, and she becomes somebody more with us. And then that led to the idea that she is definitely then part of the community of saints, which is very traditionally doctrinal, but has very rarely been attended to.
To hear full episodes of A Nun's Life podcast, visit the podcast page at anunslife.org/podcasts.
And if you look at the top right corner of that page, and actually on any page of the website, you'll see the Donate Now button.
And every time someone clicks on that button, an angel gets its wings.
Well, we're not really sure of that. But we do know that this ministry relies on you, and we are deeply grateful for your encouragement and support.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.