5.31.2008

Selected Thoughts on Liberation Theology

I have begun a study of liberation theologies under the informal direction of Father James Schall, S.J. (this is a pretentious way of saying I'm reading his book). I beg your indulgence for the moment.

As much as the Marxist underpinnings of liberation theologies might repulse me, it is true that the greatest errors often reveal profound truths. Light can be found even in the darkest of places. I hope to put together my own thoughts on this subject sometime in the future, but honestly other people are more worth your time. And so, for now, I've selected some of the more profound passages of this book to share in hopes of some fruitful conversation.First up is a selection from an essay by a one I. Andre-Vincent.
Every human being carries within himself something which goes beyond uman society. This "beyond" arises from his direct relationship to the Absolute; it is lived in filial relation to God.

Politics must stop short at the threshold of the Absolute; it is not the whole of man. And in this thought lies the first principle of any true liberation: liberationist totalitarianism stumbles at this very threshold. The theologians of liberation must liberate themselves from totalitarianism; theirs is the worst of all totalitarianisms because it hides itself under the mask of liberty. In doing so they will not be denying the political dimension of their passionate concern and love. Perhaps they must exile themselves for a time from the drama of this world but only in order to reenter it with a deepened faith guided by divine love, with a new and freer capacity for involvement in human history.

For the sons of the kingdom, contemplation precedes involvement. Theology is born from that source where the eternal penetrates time, where God comes clothed in the flesh of the world. Daughter of the Word, theology precedes history as the redemptive Incarnation precedes salvation. Theology is the light of salvation, finding its first source in the gift of the Spirit.

No fact of history, no drama of humanity, even be it world-wide, can be the root of a theology of the liberation effected among men by Christ our liberator. The political situation of the Third World, no matter how extreme the state of oppression, no matter how urgent the cry for justice, cannot be the ultimate foundation of a theology. A political situation determines political actions, undertaken in the light of political principles. The fact that the Gospel illuminates political principles does not make them a theology. The liberation which Christ brings is not limited to a social drama but pertains to the drama of man face to face with God"

- PH.-I. Andre-Vincent, O.P in the "Theologies of Liberation"
trans. Rev. James McCauley, S.J., originally published in Nouvelle Revue Theologique 98 (1976) pp. 109-125.
Next up is that theological polymath, Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Herewith selections of his conclusions from an essay on Liberation theologies.

""1. At the Medellin Bishops' Conference there was much talk of estructuras injustas y opresoras (1, 2 and passim), of situacion de injusticia (1, 1 and passim) and situacion de pecado (2,1). Now, societal situations can be unjust, but in themselves they cannot be sinful. Only those persons can be sinful who are responsible for the existence of such situations and who continue to tolerate them though they could abolish or ameloriate them.

...

"3. Christians can share guilt in social injustice without actually realizing it, whether because of pure ignorance ... or because of an education that holds certain class privileges to be right which objectively are not so considering society as a whole. In such circumstances, the Church - both clergy and laity - has the duty to sensitive public opinion and thus usher in a more just balance of goods, without, for all that, globally condemning as "sinful" such a highly complex system as "capitalism".

...

"5. The urgency of the practical concerns of liberation theology is not called into quesiton by any criticism that may be made of it. But the totality of God's revelation to the world can in no way be reduced to political and social liberation, nor even to the general concept of liberation. Liberation theology has its specific place in a theology of the Kingdom of God. It is one aspect of the whole of theology and, in practical terms, it demands the Church's commitment to the shaping of the world as a whole in a manner conforming with Christ."

From Hans Urs Von Balthasar, "Liberation Theology in the Light of Salvation History" translated by Erasmo Leiva, originally published in Theologie der Befreiung (Einsiedeln: Johannesverlag, 1977)
Lastly a quote from Paul VI on use of the word liberation:
"We speak of 'liberation'. The Church esteems this term highly and makes it her own. In fact it is used most emphatically in her fundamental teaching, the good news of that redemption which brings freedom from evil and sin. It is evil and sin which constitute the principle obstacles to the true freedom of the children of God, the main link in that dreadful chain of slavery which drags mankind into indescribable chaos, ever aggravated by the dialectic of egoism and the corruption of the passions."

- Paul VI, in a talk on November 3, 1974. Doc. Cath., no . 1665 (12 Jan 1974), 1003
From my reading here, the main problem with liberation theology is that fundamentally alters the way we are to understand sin: sin is no longer something committed by an individual - sin is something that is committed by a society. This opinion, as the Church has consistently taught, is at odds with orthodox Christianity.

2 comments:

Michael J. Iafrate said...

From my reading, the main problem with liberation theology is that fundamentally alters the way we are to understand sin...

Interesting that "your reading" of liberation theology has completely and deliberately avoided reading any liberation theology.

If you want to understand and then critique liberation theology, try reading some.

Zachary said...

So maybe I went too far in saying liberation theology fundamentally alters the way we understand sin. Some certainly over-emphasize the social dimension of sin as opposed to the individual.