On Monika the Modernist


EDITORIAL NOTE:   Laity in the Diocese of Buffalo have found incomprehensible our diocesan Christ the King Seminary having awarded Dr. Monika Hellwig an honorary Doctorate in 1998. Among her many other achievements "Monika the Modernist" has distinguished herself as Georgetown University's longtime advocate of "Liberation Theology". In her position as Director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities she has been an outspoken critic of the Holy See's efforts to implement Pope John Paul II's "Ex Corde Ecclesiae", a document attempting to re-establish the Church's control over Universities and Colleges that still profess to be Catholic but have become hotbeds of Dissent and Disobedience and politically-correct Secularism among the faithful.

While travelling in the Midwest recently on a speaking tour for various CUF Chapters, I was handed a copy of Monika Hellwig's "What Are They Saying About Death and Christian Hope?" (Paulist Press, 1978). The priest who handed me this slight paperback said that copies of this strange book had been sent to all the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by the Religious Education Department. Apparently, this is part of the theological up-dating required of priests of the Archdiocese by avant-garde religious educators itching to promote the latest theological novelties.

Actually, this work by Monika Hellwig, an assistant professor of theology at Georgetown, should have been more accurately entitled:

  • "What Contemporary Christian-Atheists Are Saying About Death and Christian Hope"
    or, better yet,
  • "How Christians Can Keep A Stiff Upper Lip Since Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and a Particular Judgment Do Not Really Exist."

The usual dreary list of Mod-Squad theological revisionists favored by IDOC-Concilium dutifully appear in Hellwig's book: Karl Rahner, Ladislas Boros, J.B. Metz, Gregory Baum, the authors of the Dutch Catechism, and the usual assortment of Liberal Protestant biblical critics who have raised all sorts of doubts concerning an after-life.

Hellwig's own devotion to Teilhard de Chardin and his key errors is clearly evident on pages 61-66. Her fascination with Teilhardian Modernism has resulted in her ‘veritable redefinition’ of the very concept of salvation as traditionally understood by the Catholic Church:

"Any understanding of death, judgment, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, which envisions salvation beyond for people, in flat contradiction of the stunted state of human development and human consciousness that is expected of them in their biological lives, is clearly a magical understanding." (Page 62)

"Salvation clearly is not complete this side of death. Yet this does not imply a qualitative difference such as would put salvation outside present experience categorically and on principle." (Page 75 - emphasis mine)

Rejecting quite clearly the "magical understanding" of the Catholic Church in its dogmatic formulations of revealed truths concerning the after-life, Teilhardian theologian Hellwig goes on to thoroughly immanentize the extra-temporal realities of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. That is to say, following in the wake of other unbelieving exponents of "contemporary eschatology", she proceeds to reduce these supernatural realities to mere symbols. For her, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are not to be taken in any literal sense as realities beyond this visible world; rather they are immanent experiences in this world.

The Church's and Scripture's "images and formulations" concerning the state of the soul in the after-life are not to be taken as "literal presentation of demonstrable truths." Such "images and formulations" are but symbolic projections of either "a total surrender of oneself in death to God" or of authentic human aspirations for a "constant creative restructuring of human society." Thus, traditional Catholic teaching on the particular judgment, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the resurrection of the body, prayers to the saints, and prayers for the dead — must all be radically reinterpreted because, she states:

"such dogmas are all historically and culturally conditioned and we can no longer accept someone's word for it that things are this way beyond death and history, exactly this way. Sooner or later the question arises as to who said it and how it could be known with certainty if it cannot be verified now." (Page 24)

That that "someone" might be indeed Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God and Lord of History Who teaches through His Infallible Church in order to give absolute doctrinal certitude concerning spiritual matters beyond scientific and empirical "demonstration", is a notion which does not seem at all relevant to her. To Hellwig, the very spirituality and immortality of the soul is not demonstrable by human reason. She, moreover, has no sympathy for the Church's teaching that the soul is a separate reality from the body and can survive the death of the body:

  • "We can no longer think in simple dualistic terms of a soul living its life inside a body." (Page 25)
  • We are in fact no longer allowed "to think about the survival of a disembodied soul!" (Page 26)

In rejecting body and soul as two separate substances united in one composite unity (with the soul as the form of the body), Hellwig is logically forced to dismiss the Church's doctrine that the body will be reunited with the soul (in the resurrection of the dead) as the essentially false teaching of the past.

"The Church did take over the Greek understanding of the immortality of the soul and yet, somewhat inconsistently, taught bodily resurrection alongside it. In the course of this teaching, death became defined as the separation of body and soul, so that resurrection is imaged as the reclamation of a material body by the continually surviving soul." (Page 57).

Hellwig clearly regards the doctrines held by the Church to be outright distortions of the "biblical message." For her, when you are dead, you are really dead!

"The possibilities of awakening to full consciousness and full self-consciousness and full human responsibility happens during this biological life span or not at all."  (Page 6).

If anyone might question the destructive nature of Hellwig's book (couched in fuzzy existentialist jargon), he or she has only to read Chapter 4 treating of the Resurrection of Our Lord. In this chapter the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has been thoroughly demythologized, that is, reduced to a mere symbol. Hellwig assures her readers that the Resurrection of Christ cannot be viewed as the "resuscitation of a corpse." (Page 49).

The burning question that emerges from repeated readings of this Chapter is:

<<< Did Jesus rise from the dead in that same body which was slain on the Cross? >>>

Not only is this crucial question left hanging by our "theologian" [Dr. Hellwig that is] but doubt is cast on whether Jesus even had:

"fore-knowledge... of the whole course of events prior to the passion, and prior to his decision to suffer crucifixion." (Page 48).

In permitting such doubts concerning key articles of Christian Faith, Monika Hellwig only manifests her own disbelief in what the Catholic Church actually teaches on these subjects.

Hellwig's book which saps fundamental religious belief in the survival of the soul after death, is an incredible tool to place in the hands of all the priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It is not surprising that such work promoting the confused theses of a bizarre "Christian atheism", should lack an Imprimatur. What is surprising is that anyone in Catholic Religious Education could recommend such a volume as in any way orthodox. Hellwig's book is a perfect example of the kind of Modernist revisionism of Catholic doctrine concerning the Last Things which was forthrightly condemned in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's recent Letter on "Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology" (May 17, 1979).

When Australian Catholics protested in lively fashion the 1992 visit of dissenter Monika Hellwig, Ph.D., they had plenty to complain about, including her utilization of Catholic facilities for her lectures. As the well-known Australian writer Michael Gilchrist noted:

...if Dr. Hellwig's writings are to be believed as regards Catholic faith and morals, then "many people in the pews at Sunday Mass are in the wrong Church".
(AD 2000, June 1992)

Gilchrist quoted the judgment of New Zealand's leading Catholic apologist, Fr. G.H. Duggan, S.M., to the effect that:

...the Christology found in Hellwig's book "Jesus the Compassion of God" was "certainly heretical" for rejecting "the New Testament teaching that the Word existed from eternity before the Incarnation, which implies a denial of the divinity of Christ."

Similarly expressing the views of faithful laity offended at Hellwig's parallel visit to New Zealand, CUF member Eric Pickering of Wellington observed that she was but:

"The latest in a procession of itinerant United States dissidents to visit New Zealand and who have been given tacit approval by Church authorities".
(NZ Tablet, August 5, 1992)

For their part, American Catholics have long noted how Dr. Monika Hellwig has had the run of Catholic theological and educational forums despite her being "notorious for her radical revisionism of Catholic Doctrine" (Catholic journalist Paul H. Hallet). Hailed as one of the U.S. leading theologians whose works have found a prominent place in Catholic school's religious education curricula, Dr. Hellwig has served as a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and recently was honored with the University of Dayton's 1993 Marianist Award for her "contributions to the Catholic intellectual tradition." It apparently did not matter to Hellwig's admirers that her works have betrayed serious errors concerning Revelation, Original Sin, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Transubstantiation, Holy Orders, Papal Infallibility, and various aspects of sexual morality.
Nor has it disturbed her admirers that she has been an avowed defender of Hans Kung and Charles E. Curran (both having been stripped of their status as theologians by the Holy See) as well as a fervent advocate of women priestesses and critic of the Church's discipline of celibacy.

A professor of theology for 25 years at Jesuit-run Georgetown University, she is the author of 4 books published by Pflaum Press: "What are the Theologians Saying?"; "The Christian Creeds: A Faith To Live By"; "The Meaning of the Sacraments"; "Tradition: The Catholic Story Today"; as well as such other books as: " Jesus the Compassion of God" (Michael Glazier 1983); "The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World" (Paulist 1977); "What Are They Saying About Death and Christian Hope?" (Paulist 1978); "Understanding Catholicism" (Paulist 1981); and "A Case for Peace in Reason and Faith" (The Liturgical Press 1993).

When her book "What Are The Theologians Saying?" (Pflaum 1970) circulated for years in Canada, famed journalist and then-editor of the Catholic Register (Toronto) Larry Henderson commented:

"I appeal to our Catholic educators to take this kind of book off their curricula. I do not say it should be banned. I simply say it is unjust to preach another religion and call it Catholic."
(A trenchant 61-page Critique of "What Are The Theologians Saying?" by Paul H. Hallett is available from:
CUF, 827 N. 4th St., Steubenville, OH 43952 - $9.00 postpaid

Interestingly, Dr. Hellwig has updated the above work with yet another book: "What Are The Theologians Saying Now? A Retrospective on Several Decades (Christian Classics, 1992). In this "Up-date" (dedicated to dissenters Gerard and Virginia Sloyan), her neo-Modernist theological revisionism is again glaringly revealed as she attempts to show that some Catholic doctrines have been radically changed in the past and others can change in the future. [In this book, she claims that] Catholic doctrine:

  • "Cannot be a simple matter of hierarchic authority declaring an answer" (page 14);
  • "Continued development and change is what we must expect in the Church... dissent is an integral factor in the shaping of church tradition. It must be heard and studied attentively and respectfully, as well as prayerfully" (page 19).

She continually alleges that the Church's official teachings have substantially changed across the centuries, repeating old canards about:

  • "Authoritative church legitimation of slavery" ;
  • "Official endorsement of torture of prisoners" ;
  • "Vatican II's contradicting former teaching on religious liberty" ; and
  • Vatican II's rejecting the teaching of Pius XII which identified the Mystical Body of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church" (page 22).

The Church, she claims, is no longer required to accept past Church teaching on monogenism or on Christ's satisfaction for sin made on Calvary. Coupled to these destructive errors is her view that the doctrinal pronouncements of the Magisterium of the Church do not have to be accepted if opposed by "professional experts" like herself and the "lived experience of believers."
[According to Dr. Hellwig] In dissenting from the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church commissioned by Christ to teach divine truth, such theologians and lay people are to be considered as being "prophetic"!

It was Pope St. Pius X who observed of 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, 43)

Anyone observing the current Catholic University and College scene, the "systematic theology" taught in seminaries, and the activities of the religious education establishment in the last 3 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 "modern 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, ExCorde 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" (pages 36-37).

In this and her other books there is 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 "few new books in Christology now are able to avoid the question whether Jesus is properly named the only savior" (Page 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, 8/12/92)

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" (page 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 American bishops who protect and empower dissidents by making "pastoral decisions on the basis of local experience and local discernment" (See pages 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 and 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." (Page 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 boldly: "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" (page 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 page 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 E. Curran, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Luis Bermejo, Piet Schoonenberg, Mary Collins, Gerard Sloyan, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, Gustavo Guttierrez, Ernesto Cardenal, Jon Sobrino, and their myriad followers and imitators.

Her book breathes a poisoned atmosphere. However, it serves as a handy check-list 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".

AUTHOR'S NOTES (written on FEB. 1980):  In the October [1979] SERVIAM I wrote a review of Monika Hellwig's book "What Are They Saying About Death and Christian Hope? (Paulist Press 1978), noting its Modernist distortions of Catholic teaching concerning the after-life. True to form, Dr. Hellwig is one of the 70 signers of a statement supporting Hans Kung against Pope John Paul II. The statement insisting that Hans Kung remains "indeed a Roman Catholic theologian" - no matter what the Vicar of Christ may say - was released to the press by the leaders of the Modernist Mafia in the Church in our country: Rev. Charles E. Curran, Dr. Leonard Swidler, and Rev. David Tracy.
Of some interest to Western New Yorkers is the appearance of a Dominican "theologian" among the 70 dissenters, Fr. Matthew Fox, O.P.(*). A recent column by well-known author Professor James Hitchcock had this interesting comment concerning this popular religious education lecturer:

"I say almost without fear of contradiction that, of all the whacky people who speak and write under the Catholic label in this country, Father Fox is the whackiest. The "Register" [newspaper] scarcely has room to catalogue all of his bizarre ideas, so I will merely mention one - in his book "On Being a Musical Mystical Bear" (you read that right), Father Fox advocates drug taking as a way of having the mystical experience. Considering the havoc which drugs have wrought on young people, it seems almost obscene to invite such a man to address a family life conference." (National Catholic Register, 11-25-79)

Those Western New Yorkers interested in the fortunes of Catechesis in our area will recall that this avowed defender of Hans Kung was one of the major speakers at the Diocese's Third Annual Conference on Religious Education, "Growing in Age, Wisdom, and Grace."

(*): Since the above was written concerning Fr. Matthew Fox, he has left the Catholic priesthood and the Catholic Faith.

The preceding article was published in three installments
in "SERVIAM", newsletter of CREDO of Buffalo, issues of:
OCT. 1979
DEC. 1993/JAN. 1994
FEB./MAR. 1994.

Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic".
- Pope John Paul II -