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Liberation theology is a political movement in Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor", and by detractors as Christianized Marxism.
Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s. Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote one of the movement's most famous books, A Theology of Liberation. Other noted exponents are Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, Óscar Romero of El Salvador, and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay.
The influence of liberation theology diminished after proponents were accused of using "Marxist concepts" leading to admonishment by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1984 and 1986. The Vatican criticized certain strains of liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin, apparently to the exclusion of individual offenders/offences; and for allegedly misidentifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that had long been oppressing indigenous populations since the arrival of Pizarro onward.
Liberation theology proposes to fight poverty by addressing its supposed source: sin. In so doing, it explores the relationship between Christian theology — especially Roman Catholic theology — and political activism, especially in relation to social justice, poverty, and human rights. The principal methodological innovation is seeing theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. For example Jon Sobrino, S.J., argues that the poor are a privileged channel of God's grace.
Some liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword (social unrest), e.g. Template:Bible verse, Template:Bible verse, Template:Bible verse — and not as bringing peace (social order)Template:Better source. This Biblical interpretation is a call to action against poverty, and the sin engendering it, to effect Jesus Christ's mission of justice in this world.
Gustavo Gutierrez gave the movement its paradigmatic expression with his book A Theology of Liberation (1971). In this book, Gutierrez combined populist ideas with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. He was influenced by an existing socialist current in the Church which included organizations such as the Catholic Worker Movement and the French Christian youth worker organization, "Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne". He was also influenced by Paul Gauthier's "The Poor, Jesus and the Church" (1965). Gutierrez's book is based on an understanding of history in which the human being is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for human destiny, and yet Christ the Savior liberates the human race from sin, which is the root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression.
Gutierrez also popularized the phrase "preferential option for the poor", which became a slogan of liberation theology and later appeared in addresses of the Pope. Drawing from the biblical motif on the poor, Gutierrez asserts that God is revealed as having a preference for those people who are “insignificant,” “marginalized,” “unimportant,” “needy,” "despised” and “defenseless." Moreover, he makes clear that terminology of "the poor" in scripture has social and economic connotations that etymologically go back to the Greek word, ptōchos. To be sure, as to not misinterpret Gutierrez’s definition of the term "preferential option," he stresses, “Preference implies the universality of God’s love, which excludes no one. It is only within the framework of this universality that we can understand the preference, that is, 'what comes first.'"
Gutierrez emphasized practice (or, more technically, "praxis") over doctrine. Gutierrez clarified his position by advocating a circular relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxis seeing the two as having a symbiotic relationship. Gutierrez' reading of prophets condemning oppression and injustice against the poor (i.e. Jeremiah 22:13–17) informs his assertion that to know God (orthodoxy) is to do justice (orthopraxis). Cardinal Ratzinger(Now Pope Benedict XVI), however, criticized liberation theology for elevating orthopraxis to the level of orthodoxy. Richard McBrien summarizes this concept as follows:
God is disclosed in the historical ‘’praxis’’ of liberation. It is the situation, and our passionate and reflective involvement in it, which mediates the Word of God. Today that Word is mediated through the cries of the poor and the oppressed.
Another important hallmark for Gutierrez's brand of liberation theology is an interpretation of revelation as "history". For example Gutierrez wrote:
History is the scene of the revelation God makes of the mystery of his person. His word reaches us in the measure of our involvement in the evolution of history.
Gutierrez also considered the Church to be the "sacrament of history", an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, thus pointing to the doctrine of universal salvation as the true means to eternal life, and assigning the Church itself to a somewhat temporal role, namely, liberation.
The struggle of women for social justice has given rise to its own liberation theology, frequently known as feminist theology in Europe and North America. Black and other women of colour in the United States speak of womanist theology, while Mujerista theology denotes the liberation theology of Hispanic women.
A major player in the formation of liberation theology was CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Conference. Created in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), CELAM pushed the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) toward a more socially oriented stance. However, CELAM never supported liberation theology as such, since liberation theology was frowned upon by the Vatican, with Pope Paul VI trying to slow the movement after the Second Vatican Council.
After the Second Vatican Council, CELAM held two conferences which were important in determining the future of liberation theology: the first was held in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, and the second in Puebla, Mexico, in January 1979. The Medellín conference debated how to apply the teachings of Vatican II to Latin America, and its conclusions were strongly influenced by liberation theology.
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo was a central figure at the Medellín Conference, and was elected in 1972 as general secretary of CELAM. He represented a more orthodox position, becoming a favorite of pope John Paul II and the "principal scourge of liberation theology." Trujillo's faction became predominant in CELAM after the 1972 Sucre conference, and in the Roman Curia after the CELAM conference in Puebla, Mexico, in January 1979.
Despite the orthodox bishops' predominance in CELAM, a more radical form of liberation theology remained much supported in South America. Thus, the 1979 Puebla Conference was an opportunity for orthodox bishops to reassert control of the radical elements; but they failed. At the Puebla Conference, the orthodox reorientation was met by strong opposition from the liberal part of the clergy, which supported the concept of a "preferential option for the poor". This concept had been approved at the Medellín conference by Bishop Ricard Durand, president of the Commission about Poverty.
Pope John Paul II gave the opening speech at the Puebla Conference. The general tone of his remarks was conciliatory. He criticized radical liberation theology, saying, "this conception of Christ, as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church's catechisms"; however, he did speak of "the ever increasing wealth of the rich at the expense of the ever increasing poverty of the poor", and affirmed that the principle of private property "must lead to a more just and equitable distribution of goods...and, if the common good demands it, there is no need to hesitate at expropriation, itself, done in the right way"; on balance, the Pope offered neither praise nor condemnation.
Some liberation theologians, however, including Gutierrez, had been barred from attending the Puebla Conference. Working from a seminary and with aid from sympathetic, liberal bishops, they partially obstructed other clergy's efforts to ensure that the Puebla Conference documents satisfied conservative concerns. Within four hours of the Pope's speech, Gutiérrez and the other priests wrote a twenty-page refutation, which was circulated at the conference, and has been claimed to have influenced the final outcome of the conference. According to a socio-political study of liberation theology in Latin America, twenty-five per cent of the final Puebla documents were written by theologians who were not invited to the conference. Cardinal Trujillo said that this affirmation is "an incredible exaggeration" (Ben Zabel 2002:139).
One of the most radical aspects of liberation theology was the social organization, or re-organization, of church practice through the model of Christian base communities (CBCs). Liberation theology strove to be a bottom-up movement in practice, with Biblical interpretation and liturgical practice designed by lay practitioners themselves, rather than by the orthodox Church hierarchy. In this context, sacred text interpretation is understood as "praxis".
Journalist and writer Penny Lernoux described this aspect of liberation theology in her numerous and committed writings intended to explain the movement's ideas in North America. Base communities were small gatherings, usually outside of churches, in which the Bible could be discussed, and Mass could be said. They were especially active in rural parts of Latin America where parish priests were not always available, as they placed a high value on lay participation. As of May 2007, it was estimated that 80,000 base communities were operating in Brazil alone. Contemporaneously Fanmi Lavalas in Haiti, the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil, and Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa are three organizations that make use of liberation theology.
Reaction within the Catholic Church
In March 1983, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), made ten observations of Gutiérrez's theology, accusing Gutiérrez of politically interpreting the Bible in supporting temporal messianism, and stating that the predominance of orthopraxis over orthodoxy in his thought proved a Marxist influence. Ratzinger objected that the spiritual concept of the Church as "People of God" is transformed into a "Marxist myth." In liberation theology he declared, the "people is the antithesis of the hierarchy, the antithesis of all institutions, which are seen as oppressive powers. Ultimately anyone who participates in the class struggle is a member of the "people"; the "Church of the people" becomes the antagonist of the hierarchical Church."
Cardinal Ratzinger did praise liberation theology in some respects, including its ideal of justice, its rejection of violence, and its stress on "the responsibility which Christians necessarily bear for the poor and oppressed." He subsequently stated that no one could be neutral in the face of injustice, and referred to the "crimes" of colonialism and the "scandal" of the arms race. Nonetheless, media reports tended to assume that the condemnation of "liberation theology" meant a rejection of such attitudes and an endorsement of conservative politics.
In 1984, it was reported that a meeting occurred between the CDF and the CELAM bishops, during which a rift developed between Ratzinger and some of the bishops with Ratzinger issuing official condemnations of certain elements of liberation theology. These "Instructions" refuted the Marxist-based idea that class struggle is fundamental to history, and rejected the interpretation of religious phenomena such as the Exodus and the Eucharist in exclusively political terms. Ratzinger further stated that liberation theology had a major flaw in that it attempted to apply Christ's sermon on the mount teachings about the poor to present social situations. He asserted that Christ's teaching on the poor meant that we will be judged when we die, with particular attention to how we personally have treated the poor.
Ratzinger also argued that liberation theology is not originally a "grass-roots" movement among the poor, but rather, a creation of Western intellectuals: "an attempt to test, in a concrete scenario, ideologies that have been invented in the laboratory by European theologians" and in a certain sense itself a form of "cultural imperialism". Ratzinger saw this as a reaction to the demise or near-demise of the "Marxist myth" in the West.
Throughout the 1990s, Ratzinger, as prefect of the CDF, continued to condemn these elements in liberation theology, and prohibited dissident priests from teaching such doctrines in the Catholic Church's name. Leonardo Boff was suspended and others were censured. Tissa Balasuriya, in Sri Lanka, was excommunicated. Sebastian Kappen, an Indian theologian, was also censured for his book Jesus and Freedom. Under Cardinal Ratzinger's influence, theological formation schools were forbidden from using the Catholic Church's organization and grounds to teach liberation theology in the sense of theology using unacceptable Marxist ideas, not in the broader sense.
Roman Catholic priest and author Andrew Greeley also criticized liberation theology in his 2009 fictional book Irish Tweed. In Greeley's book, a Chicago Catholic school is taken over by a principal and priest practicing liberation theology, and its ideas, as Greeley saw them, are applied in the school environment. For instance, basketball team members are chosen based on their family's economic status rather than on their ability.
Such criticisms have provoked counter-criticisms that orthodox Catholics are in effect casting the Catholic Church as a friend of authoritarian regimes; and that the Vatican is not so much trying to defend pure doctrine as to maintain an established ecclesiastical and political order. This conflict could be compared to some aspects of the Protestant Reformation. Outside Latin America, some of liberation theology's most ardent advocates are Protestant thinkers (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann and Frederick Herzog.)
There is also a Christian humanist response that calls for a complete breakaway from clerical hierarchies and the formulation of an entirely new Christian theology, one based on recent historical analysis by biblical scholars like JD Crossan highlighting the social revolutionary dimension of Jesus.
- Christian anarchism
- Christian communism
- Christian humanism
- Christian left
- Christian socialism
- Dependency theory
- Evangelical left
- Feminist theology
- Journal of World Systems Research
- New Monasticism
- Orbis Books
- Political revolution
- Progressive Christianity
- Radical Christianity
- Social Gospel
- Social justice
- Social revolution
- Spiritual left
- World-systems theory
- Liberation Theology in Canada
- Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa
- Dalit theology in India
- Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil
- Lavalas in Haiti
- FSLN in Nicaragua (see The Catholic Church and the Nicaraguan Revolution)
- Marcella Althaus-Reid, Argentina – Scotland (1952–2009)
- Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti (b. 1953)
- Paulo Evaristo Arns, Brazil (b. 1921)
- Naim Ateek, Palestine (b. 1937)
- Alan Boesak, South Africa (b. 1945)
- Leonardo Boff, Brazil (b. 1938)
- Joseph Booth, Britain
- Robert McAfee Brown, U.S. (1920–2001)
- Hélder Câmara, Brazil (1909–1999), Archbishop of Olinda and Recife
- Pedro Casaldáliga, Spain – Brazil (b. 1928)
- Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua (b. 1925)
- John Chilembwe, Malawi
- Miguel A. De La Torre, U.S. Cuban
- Jean Marc Ela, Cameroon (b. 1936)
- Virgilio Elizondo, U.S.
- Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Spain – El Salvador (1930–1989)
- Marc H. Ellis, U.S. (b. 1952)
- Paul Gauthier, France (1914–2002)
- Rutilio Grande, El Salvador (1925–1977)
- Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peru (b. 1928)
- François Houtart, Belgium (b. 1925)
- Gérard Jean-Juste, Haiti (b. 1947)
- Sebastian Kappen, India (1924–1993)
- Hans Küng, Switzerland – Germany (b. 1928)
- Aloisio Leo Arlindo Lorscheider, Brazil (1924–2007)
- Martin Maier, S.J. Germany
- Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Spain – El Salvador (1942–1989)
- Herbert McCabe, O.P., UK (1926–2001)
- Johann Baptist Metz, Germany (b. 1928)
- Jürgen Moltmann, Germany (b. 1926)
- Segundo Montes, S.J., Spain – El Salvador (1933–1989)
- Henri Nouwen, Netherlands (1932–1996)
- Rubin Phillip, South Africa (b. 1948)
- Camilo Torres, Colombia (1929–1966)
- Samuel Ruiz, Mexico (b. 1924)
- Edward Schillebeeckx, Belgium – Netherlands (b. 1914–2009)
- Juan Luis Segundo, S.J., Uruguay (1925–1996)
- Jon Sobrino, S.J., Spain – El Salvador (b. 1938)
- Dorothee Sölle, Germany (1929–2003)
- William Stringfellow, U.S. (1929–1985)
- Jung Mo Sung, Brazil (b. 1957)
Influence on others
- Diane Drufenbrock, U.S.
- Paul Farmer, U.S. (b. 1959)
- Brian P. Moore, U.S.
- Óscar Romero, El Salvador
- Paulo Freire, Brazil (1921–1997)
- Vekoslav Grmič, Yugoslavia
- Robert McAfee Brown, U.S. (1920–2001)
- Fernando Lugo
- John Dear, S.J., U.S.
- Jan de Vos van Gerven, Belgium / Mexico (b. 1936)
- Ali Shari'ati, Iran (1933–1977)
- Hamford .In the mass media, 'Liberation Theology' can sometimes be used loosely, to refer to a wide variety of activist Roman Catholic Christian thought. In this article the term will be used in the narrow sense outlined here.
- Berryman, Phillip, Liberation Theology: essential facts about the revolutionary movement in Latin America and beyond(1987)
- "[David] Horowitz first describes liberation theology as 'a form of Marxised Christianity,' which has validity despite the awkward phrasing, but then he calls it a form of 'Marxist–Leninist ideology,' which is simply not true for most liberation theology..." Robert Shaffer, "Acceptable Bounds of Academic Discourse," Organization of American Historians Newsletter 35, November, 2007. URL retrieved 12 July 2010.
- Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism (Harper Collins, 1994), chapter IV.
- Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, First (Spanish) edition published in Lima, Peru, 1971; first English edition published by Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York), 1973.
- Wojda, Paul J., "Liberation theology", in R.P. McBrien, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia (Harper Collins, 1995).
- ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES, Populorum Progressio, Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Paul VI promulgated on March 26, 1967
- Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation(London: SCM Press,1974) 36f
- Ratzinger, Joseph Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Fathers of the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. Speeches February 2008. The Holy See.
- Gutierrez, Gustavo. The God of Life. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991. (Original: El Dios de la vida. Lima: CEP, 1989.) p. 112
- Nickoloff, James B. ed. Gustavo Gutierrez: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996, p. 145
- Gutierrez, Gustavo. The Truth Shall Make You Free: Confrontations. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1990. (Original: La verdad los hara libres: confrontaciones. Lima: CEP, 1986)
- Gutierrez, Gustavo. The Power of Poor in History. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983. (Original: La fuerza historica de los obres: seleccion de trabajos. Lima: CEP, 1971.)
- Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (2007). "Liberation Theology: Preliminary Notes", in The Ratzinger Report. (2007). Reprinted in: J.F. Thornton and S.B. Varenne, eds., The Essential Pope Benedict XVI.. Online version: Harper Collins,.
- McBrien, R.P. ‘’Catholicism’’ (Harper Collins, 1995), pp. 249–250.
- Gutierrez, G. "Faith as Freedom", ‘’Horizons’’ 2/1, Spring 1975, p.32
- Christopher Rowland (17 December 2007). The Cambridge companion to liberation theology. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. . http://books.google.com/books?id=L6dCEHGx_LkC&pg=PA105. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
- Robert Pelton, "Latin America, Catholicism in" in R.P. McBrien, ed., The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Harper Collins, 1995.
- According to Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, liberation theology was simultaneously created by the Reflection Task Force of CELAM, and by Rubem Alves's book, Towards a Theology of Liberation (1968). However, Cardinal Trujillo had himself been general secretary of CELAM, and president of CELAM's Reflection Task Force. Cardinal Samore, who as leader of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America was in charge of relations between the Roman Curia and CELAM, was ordered to put a stop to liberation theology, which was judged antithetical to the Catholic Church's global teachings.
- Elena Curti, "Study in Scarlet", The Tablet, 8 May 2010, p.4.
- Smith, Christian. The Emergence of Liberation Theology
- "As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists" The New York Times 2007-05-07.
- Liberation Theology, Canada & the World, 10 February 2010
- Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (2007). "Liberation Theology: Preliminary Notes", in The Ratzinger Report. Reprinted in: J.F. Thornton and S.B. Varenne, eds., The Essential Pope Benedict XVI,. Online version: Harper Collins, 2007.
- Curti,, Elena (8 May 2010,). "Study in Scarlet", The Tablet,. pp. 4.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (September 13, 1984.). "Instruction on certain aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation'", Origins 14/13. Online version.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, . ((April 17, 1986)). "Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation", Origins 15/44.
- Ratzinger, Cardinal (1985). op cit.
- Kappen, Sebastian (1977). Jesus and Freedom. In 1980, the CDF asked the General of the Society of Jesus (of which Kappen was a member) to disavow this book. Kappen responded with a pamphlet entitled "Censorship and the Future of Asian Theology". No further action was taken by the Vatican on this matter..
- Greeley,, Andrew. (2009.). Irish Tweed.. Forge Books,. .
- Drake-Brockman, Tom (2012). Christian Humanism:the compassionate theology of a Jew called Jesus.. Sydney:: Denis Jones. pp. p12 & pp 212–213.
- Interactivist article on liberation theology[dead link]
- Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.129
Introductory works (all by Penny Lernoux)
- Lernoux, Penny, Cry of the people: United States involvement in the rise of fascism, torture, and murder and the persecution of the Catholic Church in Latin America. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.
- Lernoux, Penny, In banks we trust. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984.
- Lernoux, Penny, People of God : the struggle for world Catholicism. New York: Viking, 1989.
- De La Torre, Miguel A., Handbook on U.S. Theologies of Liberation (Chalice Press, 2004).
- Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, "Liberation Theology" (preliminary notes to 1984 Instruction)
- Berryman, Phillip, Liberation Theology (1987).
- Damico, Linda H., The Anarchist Dimension of Liberation Theology (1987). ISBN 978-1620323441
- Sigmund, P.E., Liberation Theology at the Crossroads (1990).
- Hillar, Marian, Liberation Theology: Religious Response to Social Problems. A Survey, published in Humanism and Social Issues. Anthology of Essays. M. Hillar and H.R. Leuchtag, eds., American Humanist Association, Houston, 1993, pp. 35–52.
- Gutiérrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation, Orbis Books, 1988.
- Gutiérrez, Gustavo. We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People. London: SCM Press, 1983.
- Kirylo, James D. Paulo Freire: The Man from Recife. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.
- Petrella, Ivan, The Future of Liberation Theology: An Argument and Manifesto Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
- Piedra, Alberto M. "Some Observations on Liberation Theology." World Affairs Vol. 148 no 3. (Winter 1985–86)pg 151–158
- Smith, Christian, The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and the Social Movement Theory, University of Chicago Press, 1991.
- Lucia Ceci, La teologia della liberazione in America Latina. L'opera di Gustavo Gutierrez, F. Angeli, Milano 1999.
- Lucia Ceci, Chiesa e liberazione in America Latina (1968–1972), in L’America Latina fra Pio XII e Paolo VI. Il cardinale Casaroli e le politiche vaticane in una chiesa che cambia, a cura di A. Melloni e S. Scatena, Il Mulino, Bologna 2006;
- Mahan, Brian and L. Dale Richesin, The Challenge of Liberation Theology: A First World Response, 1981, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.
- Mueller, Andreas, OFM, Arno Tausch and Paul Michael Zulehner (Eds.) Global capitalism, liberation theology, and the social sciences" Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers
- Marxism and Missions / Missions et Marxisme, special issue of the journal Social Sciences and Missions, Volume 22/2, 2009
- Complex and Alive. Recent Developments of the Theology of Liberation
- A short history of Liberation theology
- Excerpts on and Chronology of liberation theology
- "Christian Revolution in Latin America: The Changing Face of Liberation Theology", Ron Rhodes
- BBC Religion and Ethics theological obituary of Pope John Paul II: his views on liberation theology
- Centre for Liberation Theologies, Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
- Edward A. Lynch, "The Retreat of Liberation Theology", 1994
- Liberation Theology Resources Online – articles, organizations, biographies, book links
- Black Liberation Theology: Information
- Liberation Theology at Centropian
- Article by Brother Fillipo Mondini on Praxis
- The Bible on the Poor: Or Why God is a Liberal
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