The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after careful study,
has judged that the book Jesus Symbol of God (Maryknoll: Orbis
Books, 1999), by Father Roger Haight, S.J., contains serious doctrinal
errors regarding certain fundamental truths of faith. It was therefore
decided to publish this Notification in its regard, which concludes the
relevant procedure for doctrinal examination.
After an initial evaluation by experts, it was decided to entrust the
matter directly to the Author's Ordinary. On 14 February 2000, a series
of Observations was sent to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, General
Superior of the Society of Jesus, with the request that he bring the
errors in the book to the Author's attention, asking him to submit the
necessary clarifications and corrections to the judgment of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (cf. Regulations for
Doctrinal Examination, Ch. II).
The response of Father Roger Haight, S.J., submitted on 28 June 2000,
failed to either clarify or correct the errors brought to his attention.
For this reason, and in light of the book's considerable circulation, it
was decided to proceed with a doctrinal examination (cf. Regulations
for Doctrinal Examination, Ch. III), with particular attention given
to the Author's theological method.
After an examination by the theological Consultors of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Ordinary Session of 13
February 2002, confirmed that Jesus Symbol of God contains
erroneous assertions, the dissemination of which is of grave harm to the
faithful. It was decided, therefore, to follow the procedure for an
"examination in cases of urgency" (cf. Regulations for Doctrinal
Examination, Ch. IV).
In this regard, in accordance with Art. 26 of the Regulations for
Doctrinal Examination, on 22 July 2002 the General Superior of the
Society of Jesus was sent a list of the book's erroneous positions and a
general evaluation of its hermeneutical approach, asking him to request
that Father Roger Haight, S.J., submit, within two canonical months, a
clarification of his methodological approach and a correction, faithful
to the teachings of the Church, of the errors contained in his book.
The Author's reply, submitted on 31 March 2003, was examined by the
Ordinary Session of the Congregation on 8 October 2003. The literary
form of this reply was such as to raise doubts about its authenticity,
that is, if it was truly the personal response of Father Roger Haight,
S.J.; he was therefore asked to submit a signed response.
A signed response was submitted on 7 January 2004. The Ordinary
Session of the Congregation, on 5 May 2004, examined this response and
reaffirmed the fact that the book Jesus Symbol of God contains
statements contrary to truths of divine and Catholic faith that pertain
to the first paragraph of the Professio fidei, concerning the
pre-existence of the Word, the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the
salvific value of the death of Jesus, the unicity and universality of
the salvific mediation of Jesus and of the Church, and the Resurrection
of Jesus. The negative critique included also the use of an
inappropriate theological method. It was therefore deemed necessary to
publish a Notification on the matter.
I. Theological method
In the Preface of his book Jesus Symbol of God, the Author
explains that today theology must be done in dialogue with the
postmodern world, but it also "must remain faithful to its originating
revelation and consistent tradition" (p. xii), in the sense that the
data of the faith constitute the norm and criteria for a theological
hermeneutic. He also asserts that it is necessary to establish a
"critical correlation" (cf. pp. 40-47) between these data and the modes
and qualities of postmodern thought, characterized in part by a radical
historical and pluralistic consciousness (cf. pp. 24, 330-334): "The
tradition must be critically received into the present situation" (p.
This "critical correlation", however, results, in fact, in a
subordination of the content of faith to its plausibility and
intelligibility in postmodern culture (cf. pp. 49-50, 127, 195, 241,
273-274, 278282, 330-334). It is stated, for example, that because of
the contemporary pluralistic consciousness, "one can no longer claim
[...] Christianity as the superior religion, or Christ as the absolute
center to which all other historical mediations are relative.[...] It is
impossible in postmodern culture to think [...] that one religion can
claim to inhabit the center into which all others are to be drawn" (p.
With particular regard to the validity of dogmatic, especially
Christological formulations in a postmodern cultural and linguistic
context, which is different from the one in which they were composed,
the Author states that these formulations should not be ignored, but
neither should they be uncritically repeated, "because they do not have
the same meaning in our culture as they did when they were formulated
[...]. Therefore, one has no choice but to engage the classical councils
and to explicitly interpret them for our own period" (p. 16). This
interpretation, however, does not in fact result in doctrinal proposals
that convey the immutable meaning of the dogmas as understood by the
faith of the Church, nor does it clarify their meaning, enhancing
understanding. The Author's interpretation results instead in a reading
that is not only different from but also contrary to the true meaning of
With specific reference to Christology, the Author states that, in
order to transcend a "naive revelational positivism" (p. 173, n. 65), it
should be set within the context of a "general theory of religion in
terms of religious epistemology" (p. 188). A fundamental element of this
theory is the symbol as a concrete historical medium: a created reality
(for example, a person, an object or an event) that makes known and
present another reality, such as the transcendent reality of God, which
is at the same time part of and distinct from the medium itself, and to
which the medium points (cf. pp. 196-198). Symbolic language, which is
structurally poetic, imaginative and figurative (cf. pp. 177, 256),
expresses and produces a certain experience of God (cf. p. 11), but does
not provide objective information about God himself (cf. pp. 9, 210,
These methodological positions lead to a seriously reductive and
misleading interpretation of the doctrines of the faith, resulting in
erroneous propositions. In particular, the epistemological choice of the
theory of symbol, as it is understood by the Author, undermines the
basis of Christological dogma, which from the New Testament onwards
proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Person of the divine Son/Word
II. The pre-existence of the Word
In accord with his hermeneutical approach, the Author does not accept
that there is a basis for the doctrine of the pre-existence of the Word
in the New Testament, not even in the prologue of the Gospel of St John
(cf. pp. 155-178), where, he asserts, the Logos is to be understood in a
purely metaphorical sense (cf. p. 177). Moreover, he regards the
pronouncements of the Council of Nicaea as intending only to assert that
"no less than God was and is present and at work in Jesus" (p. 284; cf.
p. 438), maintaining that recourse to the symbol "Logos" is to be
understood simply as taken for granted,2 and therefore not
the object of the definition, nor plausible in a postmodern culture (cf.
pp. 281, 485). The Council of Nicaea, states the Author, "employs
scripture in a way that is not acceptable today", that is, as providing
"a source of directly representative information, like facts or
objective data, about transcendent reality" (p. 279). The dogma of
Nicaea does not teach, therefore, that the eternally preexistent Son or
Logos is consubstantial with and eternally begotten of the Father. The
Author proposes "an incarnational christology in which the created human
being or person Jesus of Nazareth is the concrete symbol expressing the
presence in history of God as Logos" (p. 439).
This interpretation is not in accord with the dogma of Nicaea, which
intentionally affirms, even contrary to the cultural vision of the time,
the true preexistence of the Son/Logos of the Father, who became man, in
time, for the salvation of humanity.3
III. The divinity of Jesus
The Author's erroneous position on the pre-existence of the Son/Logos
of God is consistent with his likewise erroneous understanding of the
doctrine on the divinity of Jesus. It is true that he uses expressions
such as "Jesus must be considered divine" (p. 283) and "Jesus Christ
[...] must be true God" (p. 284). These statements must be understood,
however, in light of his assertions regarding Jesus as a symbolic
medium: Jesus is "a finite person" (p. 205), "a human person" (p.296),
"a human being like us" (p. 205; cf. p. 428). The formula "true man and
true God" is therefore reinterpreted by the Author in the sense that
"true man" means that Jesus is "a human being like all others" (p. 295),
"a finite human being and creature" (p. 262); whereas "true God" means
that the man Jesus, as a concrete symbol, is or mediates the saving
presence of God in history (cf. pp. 262, 295): only in this sense is
Jesus to be considered as "truly divine or consubstantial with the God"
(p. 295). The "postmodern situation in christology", says the Author,
"entails a change of viewpoint that leaves the Chalcedonian problematic
behind" (p. 290), precisely in the sense that the hypostatic union, or "enhypostatic"
union, would be understood as "the union of no less than God as Word
with the human person Jesus" (p. 442).
This interpretation of the divinity of Jesus is contrary to the faith
of the Church that believes in Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God, who
became man, as has been proclaimed repeatedly in various ecumenical
councils and in the constant preaching of the Church.4
IV. The Holy Trinity
Coherent with his interpretation of the identity of Jesus Christ, the
Author develops an erroneous Trinitarian doctrine. In his judgment the
"later doctrines of an immanent Trinity [should] not be allowed to be
read into New Testament teaching" (p. 474). These are to be considered
as the outcome of a subsequent inculturation, which led to the
hypostatization of the symbols "Logos" and "Spirit", that is to say, to
considering them as "real entities" in God (cf. p. 481). As "religious
symbols", "Logos" and "Spirit" represent two different historical,
salvific mediations of the one God: one external, historical, in and
through the symbol Jesus; the other internal, dynamic,
accomplished by God's communication of self as Spirit (cf. p.
484). Such a view, which corresponds to the general theory of religious
experience, leads the Author to abandon a correct understanding of the
Trinity itself "that construes it as a description of a differentiated
inner life of God" (p. 484). Consequently, he asserts that "notions of
God as a community, ideas of hypostatizing the differentiations within
God and calling them persons in such a way that they are in dialogical
intercommunication with each other, militate against the first point of
the doctrine itself" (p. 483), that is, "that God is single and one" (p.
This interpretation of Trinitarian doctrine is erroneous and contrary
to the faith regarding the oneness of God in the Trinity of Persons that
the Church has proclaimed and confirmed in numerous and authoritative
V. The salvific value of the death of Jesus
In the book Jesus Symbol of God the Author asserts that "the
prophetic interpretation" explains best the death of Jesus (cf. p. 86,
n. 105). He also states that it is not necessary "that Jesus thought of
himself as universal savior" (p. 211), and that the idea of the death of
Jesus as "a sacrificial death, an atoning death, a redeeming death" is
merely the result of a gradual interpretation by his followers in light
of the Old Testament (cf. p. 85). It is also asserted that the
traditional ecclesiastical language "of Jesus suffering for us, of being
a sacrifice to God, of absorbing punishment for sin in our place, of
being required to die to render satisfaction to God, hardly communicates
meaningfully to our age" (p. 241). Such language is to be abandoned
because "the images associated with this talk offend and even repulse
postmodern sensibility and thereby form a barrier to a salutary
appreciation of Jesus Christ" (p. 241).
The Author's position is in reality contrary to the doctrine of the
Church, which has always held that Jesus intended his death to be for
the sake of universal redemption. The Church sees in the New Testament
references to salvation, in particular the words of the institution of
the Eucharist, a norm of faith regarding the universal salvific value of
the sacrifice of the Cross.6
VI. The unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of
Jesus and of the Church
With regard to the universality of the salvific mission of Jesus, the
Author states that Jesus is "normative" for Christians, but
"non-constitutive" for other religious mediations (cf. p. 403).
Moreover, he asserts that "God alone effects salvation and Jesus'
universal mediation is not necessary" (p. 405); indeed, "God acts in the
lives of human beings in a plurality of ways outside of .Jesus and the
Christian sphere" (p. 412). The Author insists on the necessity of
moving beyond Christocentrism to theocentrism, which "cuts the necessity
of binding God's salvation to Jesus of Nazareth alone" (p. 417). With
regard to the universal mission of the Church, he maintains that is
necessary to have "the ability to recognize other religions as mediators
of God's salvation on a par with Christianity" (p. 415). Moreover, for
the Author it "is impossible in postmodern culture to think that [...]
one religion can claim to inhabit the center into which all others are
to be drawn. These myths or metanarratives are simply gone" (p. 333).
This theological position fundamentally denies the universal salvific
mission of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12; I Tm 2:4-6; Jn 14:6) and, as a
consequence, the mission of the Church to announce and communicate the
gift of Christ the Saviour to all humanity (cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15; Eph
3:8-11), both of which are given clear witness in the New Testament and
have always been proclaimed as the faith of the Church, even in recent
VII. The Resurrection of Jesus
The Author's presentation of the Resurrection of Jesus is guided by
his understanding of theological and biblical language as "symbolic of
experience that is historically mediated" (p. 131), as well as by the
principle that "one should ordinarily not expect to have happened in the
past what is presumed or proven impossible today" (p. 127). Understood
in this way, the Resurrection is described as the affirmation that
"Jesus is ontologically alive as an individual within the sphere of God
[...], God's declaration that Jesus' life is a true revelation of God
and an authentic human existence" (p. 151; cf. p. 124); it is a
"transcendent reality that can only be appreciated by faith-hope" (p.
126). The disciples, after the death of Jesus, remembered and reflected
upon his life and message, in particular his revelation of God as good,
loving, concerned about human existence and saving. This remembering
that "what God begins in love, because of the complete boundlessness of
that love, continues to exist in that love, thus overcoming the power
and finality of death" (p. 147)
coupled with an initiative of God as Spirit, gradually gave birth to
this new belief in the Resurrection, that is, that Jesus was alive and
exalted within God's saving power (cf. p. 146). Moreover, according to
the Author's interpretation, "the historicity of the empty tomb and
appearance narratives is not essential to resurrection faith-hope" (p.
147, n. 54; cf. pp. 124, 134). Rather, these stories "are ways of
expressing and teaching the content of a faith already formed" (p. 145).
The Author's interpretation leads to a position which is incompatible
with the Church's doctrine. It is advanced on the basis of erroneous
assumptions, and not on the witness of the New Testament, according to
which the appearances of the Risen Lord and the empty tomb are the
foundation of the faith of the disciples in the Resurrection of Christ,
and not vice versa.
In publishing this Notification, the Congregation for the Doctrine,
of the Faith is obliged to declare that the above-mentioned assertions
contained in the book Jesus Symbol of God by Father Roger Haight,
S.J., are judged to be serious doctrinal errors contrary to the divine
and catholic faith of the Church. As a consequence, until such time as
his positions are corrected to be in complete conformity with the
doctrine of the Church, the Author may not teach Catholic theology.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the
undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Notification, adopted in the
Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, 13 December 2004, the Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr.
JOSEPH Card. RATZINGER
ANGELO AMATO, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
1 Cf. Concilium Nicaenum, Professio fidei: DH 125;
Concilium Chalcedonense, Professio fidei: DH 301, 302; Concilium
Constantinopolitanum II, Canones: DH 424, 426.
2 The Author speaks of the "hypostatization" and of the
"hypostasis" of the Logos and of the Spirit, which he understands as
referring to how, in the language of the Hellenistic Church, these two
biblical metaphors had subsequently become real entities (cf. p. 475).
3 Cf. Concilium Nicaenum, Professio fidei: DH 125.
The Nicene confession, confirmed at other ecumenical councils (cf.
Concilium Constantinopolitanum I, Professio fidei: DH 150;
Concilium Chalcedonense, Professio fidei: DH 301, 302),
constitutes the foundation of the professions of faith of all the
different Christian denominations.
4 Cf. Concilium Nicaenum, Professio fidei: DH 125;
Concilium Constantinopolitanum I, Professio fidei: DH 150; Concilium.,
Chalcedonense, Professio fidei: DH 301, 302.
5 Cf. Concilium Constantinopolitanum I, Professio fidei:
DH 150; Quicumque: DH 75; Synodus Toletana XI, Professio fidei:
DH 525-532; Synodus Toletana XVI, Professio fidei: DH 568-573;
Concilium Lateranense IV, Professio fidei: DH 803-805; Concilium
Florentinum, Decretum pro Iacobitis: DH 1330-1331; Concilium
Vaticanum II, Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, nn. 2-4.
6 Cf. Concilium Nicaenum, Professio fidei: DH 125;
Concilium Tridentinum, Decretum de Iustificatione: DH 1522, 1523;
De Poenitentia: DH 1690; De Sacrificio Missae: DH 1740;
Concilium Vaticanum II, Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, nn. 3, 5, 9;
Const. Pastor. Gaudium et Spes, n. 22; Ioannes Paulus II, Litt.
Encycl. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 12.
7 Cf. Innocentius XI, Const. Cum Occasione, n. 5:
DH 2005; Sanctum Officium, Decr. Errores Iansenistarum, n. 4: DH
2304; Concilium Vaticanum II, Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, n. 8;
Const. Pastor. Gaudium et Spes, n. 22; Decr. Ad Gentes, n.
3; Ioannes Paulus II, Litt. Encycl. Redemptoris Missio, nn. 4-6;
Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Decl. Dominus Iesus, nn. 13-15.
With regard to the universality of the mission of the Church, cf.
Lumen Gentium, nn. 13, 17; Ad Gentes, n. 7; Redemptoris
Missio, nn. 9-11; Dominus Iesus, nn. 20-22.