Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Yet More on Monika the Modernist

by James Likoudis

Descriptive Title

Review of Monika Hellwig's Book,


Monika Hellwig is one of the leading spokesmen for the "para-magisterium" in the Church. This article is presented to alert faithful Catholics who are unfamiliar with her work.

Larger Work

The Wanderer

Publisher & Date

The Wanderer Printing Company, June 23, 1994

It was Pope St. Pius X who observed of the modernists: "They seize upon chairs in the seminaries and universities and gradually make of them chairs of pestilence. From these sacred chairs they scatter, though not always openly, the seeds of their doctrines; they proclaim their teachings without disguise in congresses; they introduce them and make them the vogue in social institutions" (Pascendi, no. 43).

Anyone observing the current Catholic university and college scene, the "systematic theology" taught in seminaries, and the activities of the religious education establishment the last three decades, cannot help but comment on the obvious erosion of Catholic identity and solidarity that has taken place in North America. This phenomenon has adversely affected the faith of millions.

Leading the neo-modernist attacks on Catholic faith and morals has been a "para- magisterium" of theologians, academics, journalists, and religious educators thoroughly dissatisfied with the "Church of the encyclicals" and seeking to accommodate traditional Catholicism to the "modem mind." Boasting of their scholarly "expertise" and with their own "modern minds" betraying both philosophical confusion before a world of bewildering cultural change as well as a loss of faith in irreformable Catholic doctrine, this "New Class" of theological innovators has sought to grasp the reins of Vatican II renewal from the Magisterium itself.

The supreme authority of the Pope has been regarded as the main obstacle to their doctrinal revisionism and "new morality." Thus the contempt they have heaped upon Humanae Vitae, The Credo of the People of God, Mysterium Ecclesiae, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1989 Oath of Fidelity, and most recently, Veritatis Splendor.

For many years, Monika Hellwig has distinguished herself as one of the leading spokesmen for the "para-magisterium" in the Church, lecturing especially to religious educators, priests, and many adult groups. On the occasions when lay people dared to protest the forums given her suspect teachings, it was they who were discredited by diocesan authorities, and not Georgetown's award-winning professor with her peculiar reluctance to speak plainly of Christ as God. In What Are the Theologians Saying Now?, she again is found questioning our Lord's true divinity. For example, she declares that Jesus admitted "there were things he did not know, gradually becoming more fully aware of his own mission and destiny. The whole New Testament shows Jesus gradually becoming more fully aware of all human existence, within a good creation.... Jesus struggled to express [his mission] in Aramaic words" (pp. 36-37).

In this and her other books there is a serious question as to whether Dr. Hellwig believes in the pre-existence of Christ as the Eternal Son of God. In this latest work she even voices her satisfaction that a few new books in Christology now are able to avoid the question whether Jesus is properly named the only savior" (p. 146). After attending Hellwig's lecture in Auckland, reporter Carolyn Moynihan observed that "Dr. Hellwig's 'Jesus' is at best of only doubtful divinity.... She belongs to the school of theologians who give a radically new meaning to traditional Catholic concepts" (New Zealand Tablet, August 12th, 1992).

The Georgetown professor's disdain for the Church's dogmatic definitions is reflected in such statements as: "What is central and enduring is not a collection of ready- formulated eternal and unchanging truths" (p. 42). For her the Vatican appears continually engaged in "blocking the action of the Holy Spirit," especially when "frequently punitive actions" are taken against dissenter theologians. Her "anti-Roman complex" leads her to applaud those dissidents by making "pastoral decisions on the basis of local experience and local discernment" (see pp. 63-64). Her distorted notion of "collegiality" makes her hostile to the proper exercise of papal authority in safeguarding Catholic faith and morals. Vatican I's and Vatican II's teaching on papal authority and infallibility offends her democratist understanding of the nature of the Church. It is obvious that she regards as "oppressive" efforts of the hierarchical Church to suppress dogmatic pluralism and doctrinal dissent. Dissenters who cause "anxiety in Rome" are heralded as among those "Catholic believers" who "take more responsibility for their own decisions and their own lives" (p. 133).

Many of her assertions are couched in a studied ambiguity, but even under the guise of continued questioning and speculation, her views cannot fail to disturb Catholics. On page 132, she states baldly, "What Jesus taught was in no way a new code of behavior." On page 131 she writes, "The New Testament does not give us a code of behavior." She scorns the idea that the Popes can give "definitive interpretations of the natural law" (p. 130). Giving vent to the more radical forms of liberation theology, she expresses far more concern for "the transubstantiation of the world about us" than for the Church's effort to maintain orthodox belief in the Eucharist via the doctrine of transubstantiation (see p. 73).

What we have in What Are the Theologians Saying Now? is Monika Hellwig's testimony of personal indebtedness to and fervent eulogy of the major dissenter theologians wreaking havoc in the Church: Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Luis Bermejo, Piet Schoonenberg, Mary Collins, Gerard Sloyan, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, Gustavo Gutierrez, Ernesto Cardenal, Jon Sobrino, and their myriad followers and imitators.

Her book breathes a poisoned atmosphere. It serves, however, as a handy checklist of the most significant writers spreading serious errors in the Church and contesting the Magisterium. In this sense, Monika the Modernist's book is an invaluable resource for identifying today's "chairs of pestilence."

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