Log in

No account? Create an account
A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez - The Friendly Hermit
All who wander are not lost...
A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez
Given that it is an underpinning text of texts that have heavily informed my own beliefs I can't believe it has taken me this long to read through this book, but there you have it. I've now corrected that oversight. As the author is coming from a position of relative Catholic orthodoxy (relative being key here since the ideas are quite radical) there is much I don't find engaging or persuasive, but many interesting passages to reflect on nevertheless. I highlight some of them here:

p 10: "This critical task [of theology] is indispensable. Reflection in the light of faith must constantly accompany the pastoral action of the Church. By keeping historical events in their proper perspective, theology helps safeguard society and the Church from regarding as permanent what is only temporary. Critical reflection thus always plays the inverse role of an ideology which rationalizes and justifies a given social and ecclesial order. On the other hand, theology, by pointing to the sources of revelation, helps to orient pastoral activity; it puts it in a wider context and so helps to avoid activism and immediatism. Theology as critical reflection thus fulfills a liberating function for humankind and the Christian community, preserving them from fetishism and idolatry, as well as from a pernicious and belittling narcissism. Understood in this way, theology has a necessary and permanent role in liberation from every from of religious alienation - which is often fostered by the ecclesiastical institution itself when it impedes an authentic approach to the Word of the Lord.
As critical reflection on society and the Church, theology is an understanding which both grows and, in a certain sense, changes. If the commitment of the Christian community in fact takes different forms throughout history, the understanding which accompanies the vicissitudes of this commitment will be constantly renewed and will take untrodden paths. A theology which has as its points of reference only "truths" which have been established once and for all - and not the Truth which is also the Way - can be only static and, in the long run, sterile. In this sense the often-quoted and misinterpreted words of Bouillard take on new validity: 'A theology which is not up-to-date is a false theology.
Finally, theology thus understood, this is to say as linked to praxis, fulfills a prophetic function insofar as it interprets historical events with the intention of revealing and proclaiming their profound meaning. According to Cullmann, this is the meaning of the prophetic role: 'The prophet does not limit himself as does the fortune-teller to isolated revelations, but his prophecy becomes preaching, proclamation. He explains to the people the true meaning of all events; he informs them of the plan and will of God at the particular moment.' But if theology is based on this observation of historical events and contributes to the discovery of their meaning, it is with the purpose of making Christians' commitment within them more radical and clear. Only with the exercise of the prophetic function understood in this way, will the theologian be - to borrow an expression from Antonio Gramsci - a new kind of 'organic intellectual.' Theologians will be personally and vitally engaged in historical realities in specific times and places. They will be engaged where nations, social classes, and people struggle to free themselves from domination and oppression by other nations, classes, and peoples. In the last analysis, the true interpretation of the meaning revealed by theology is achieved only in historical praxis. 'The hermeneutics of the Kingdom of God,' observed Schillebeeckx, 'consists especially in making the world a better place. Only in this way will I be able to discover what the Kingdom of God means.' We have here a political hermeneutics of the Gospel."

p.24-25: "...we can distinguish three reciprocally interpenetrating levels of meaning of the term liberation, or in other words, three approaches to the process of liberation.
In the first place, liberation expresses the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes, emphasizing the conflictual aspect of the economic, social, and political process which puts them at odds with wealthy nations and oppressive classes. In contrast, the term development, and above all the policies characterized as developmentalist (desarrollista), appear somewhat asepctic, giving a false picture of a tragic and conflictual reality... It is only within [the more univeral, profound, and radical perspective of a liberation framework] that development finds its true meaning and possibilities of accomplishing something worthwhile.
At a deeper level, liberation can be applied to an understanding of history. Humankind is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for its own destiny. This understanding provides a dynamic context and broadens the horizons of the desired social changes... The gradual conquest of true freedom leads to the creation of a new humankind and a qualitatively different society. This vision provides, therefore, a better understanding of what in fact is at stake in our times.
Finally, the word development to a certain extent limits and obscures the theological problems implied in the process designated by this term. On the contrary the word liberation allows for another approach leading to the Biblical sources which inspire the presence and action of humankind in history. In the Bible, Christ is presented as the one who brings us liberation. Christ the Savior liberates form sin, which is the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression. Christ makes humankind truly free, that is to say, he enables us to live in communion with him; and this is the basis for all human fellowship.
This is not a matter of three parallel or chronologically successive processes, however. There are three levels of meaning of a single, complex process, which finds its deepest sense and its full realization in the saving work of Christ. These levels of meaning, therefor, are interdependent... In this way two pitfalls will be avoided: first, idealist or spiritualist approaches, which are nothing but ways of evading a harsh or demanding reality, and second, shallow analyses and programs of short-term effect initiated under the pretext of meeting immediate needs."

p. 42 "There is a [better] approach to [the subject of secularization]... Secularization is, above all, the result of a transformation of human self-understanding. From a cosmological vision, humankind moves to an anthropological vision, due especially to scientific developments. We perceive ourselves as a creative subject. Moreover, we become aware...that we are agents of history, responsible for our own destiny. Our mind discovers not only the laws of nature, but also penetrates those of society, history, and psychology. This new self-understanding of humankind necessarily brings in its wake a different way of conceiving our relationship with God.
...Biblical faith does indeed affirm the existence of creation as distinct from the Creator; it is the proper sphere of humankind, and God has proclaimed humankind lord of this creation. Worldliness, therefore, is a must, a necessary condition for an authentic relationship between humankind and nature, among human beings themselves, and finally, between humankind and God.
...Secularization poses a serious challenge to the Christian community. In the future it will have to live and celebrate its faith in a nonreligious world, which the faith itself has helped create. It becomes ever more urgent that it redefine the formation of its faith, its insertion in the dynamics of history, its morality, its life-style, the language of its preaching, and its worship..."

p.74-76: "The options which Christians in Latin America are taking have brought a fundamental question to the fore: What is the meaning of the faith in a life committed to the struggle against injustice and alienation? How do we relate the work of building a just society to the absolute value of the Kingdom?
The personal and community prayer of many Christians committed to the process of liberation is undergoing a serious crisis. This could purify prayer life of childish attitudes, routine, and escapes. But it will not do this if new paths are not broken and new spiritual experiences are not lived. For example, without 'contemplative life,' to use a traditional term, there is no authentic Christian life; yet what this contemplative life will be is still unknown.
[The Church] is sharply divided with regard to the process of liberation. Living in a capitalist society in which one class confronts another, the Church in the measure that its presence increases, cannot escape - nor try to ignore any longer - the profound division among its members. Active participation in the liberation process is far from being a uniform position... The majority of the Church continues to be linked in many different ways to the established order. And what is worse...the polarization of these options and the extreme seriousness of the situation have even placed some Christians among the oppressed and persecuted and others among the oppressors and persecutors, some among the tortured and others among the torturers or those who condone torture. This gives rise to a serious and radical confrontation between Christians who suffer from injustice and exploitation and those who benefit from the established order. Under such circumstances, life in the contemporary Christian community becomes particularly difficult and conflictual. Participation in the Eucharist, for example, as it is celebrated today, appears to many to be an action which, for want of the support of an authentic community, becomes an exercise in make-believe.
It is evident that only a break with the unjust order and a frank commitment to a new society can make the message of live which the Christian community bears credible...
Not to exercise [the social influence of the Church] in favor of the oppressed in Latin America [and everywhere] is really to exercise it against them, and it is difficult to determine beforehand the consequences of this action. Not to speak is in fact to become another kind of Church of silence, silence in the face of the despoliation and exploitation of the weak by the powerful."

p.100: "Theologically, therefore, we will consider temporal progress as a continuation of the work of creation and explore its connection with redemptive action. Redemption implies a direct relation to sin, and sin - the break of friendship with God and others - is a human, social, and historical reality which originates in a socially and historically related freedom."
p.104: "Temporal progress - or, to avoid this aseptic term, human liberation - and the growth of the Kingdom both are directed toward complete communion of human beings with God and among themselves. They have the same goal, but they do not follow parallel roads, not even convergent ones. The growth of the Kingdom is a process which occurs historically in liberation, insofar as liberation means a greater human fulfillment. Liberation is a precondition for the new society, but this is not all it is... Without liberating historical events, there would be no growth of the Kingdom. But the process of liberation will not have conquered the very roots of human oppression and exploitation without the coming of the Kingdom, which is above all a gift. Moreover, we can say that the historical, political liberating event is the growth of the Kingdom and is a salvific event; but it is not the coming of the Kingdom, not all of salvation. It is the historical realization of the Kingdom and, therefore, it also proclaims its fullness. This is where the difference lies."

p.110: "To despise one's neighbor..., to exploit the humble and poor worker, and to delay the payment of wages, is to offend God... Inversely, to know, that is to say, to love Yahweh is to do justice to the poor and oppressed... When justice does not exist, God is not known; God is absent."

p.116: "To place oneself in the perspective of the Kingdom means to participate in the struggle for the liberation of those oppressed by others. This is what many Christians who have committed themselves to the Latin American revolutionary process have begun to experience. If this option seems to separate them from the Christian community, it is because many Christians, intent on domesticating the Good News, see them as wayward and perhaps even dangerous. If they are not always able to express in appropriate terms the profound reasons for their commitment, it is because the theology in which they were formed - and which they share with other Christians - has not produced the categories necessary to express this option, which seeks to respond creatively to the new demands of the Gospel and of the oppressed and exploited peoples of this continent. But in their commitments, and even in their attempts to explain them, there is a greater understanding of the faith, greater faith, greater fidelity to the Lord than in the 'orthodox' doctrine (some prefer to call it by this name) of reputable Christian circles. This doctrine is supported by authority and much publicized because of access to social communications media, but it is so static and devitalized that it is not even strong enough to abandon the Gospel. It is the Gospel which is disowning it."

p.118: "A spirituality of liberation will center on a conversion to the neighbor, the oppressed person, the exploited social class, the despised ethnic group, the dominated country. Our conversion to the Lord implies this conversion to the neighbor... Christians have not done enough in this area of conversion to the neighbor, to social justice, to history. They have not perceived clearly enough yet that to know God is to do justice. They still do not live in one sole action with both God and all humans. They still do not situate themselves in Christ without attempting to avoid concrete human history. They have yet to tread the path which will lead them to seek effectively the peace of the Lord in the heart of social struggle."

p.134: "But, in fact, when he preached personal conversion, Jesus pointed to a fundamental, permanent attitude which was primarily opposed not to a concern for social structures, but to purely formal worship, devoid of religious authenticity and human content... For the prophets this demand [for mercy and not sacrifice] was inseparable from the denunciation of social injustice and from the vigorous assertion that God is known only by doing justice. To neglect this aspect is to separate the call to personal conversion from its social, vital, and concrete context... Although the Kingdom must not be confused with the establishment of a just society, this does not mean that it is indifferent to this society. Nor does it mean that this just society constitutes a 'necessary condition' for the arrival of the Kingdom nor that they are closely linked, nor that they converge. More profoundly, the announcement of the Kingdom reveals to society itself the aspiration for a just society and leads it to discover unsuspected dimensions and unexplored paths. The Kingdom is realized in a society of fellowship and justice; and, in turn, this realization opens up the promise and hope of complete communion of all persons with God. The political is grafted into the eternal.
This does not detract from the Gospel news; rather it enriches the political sphere. Moreover, the life and death of Jesus are not less evangelical because of their political connotations. His testimony and his message acquire this political dimension precisely because of the radicalness of their salvific character: to preach the universal love of the Father is inevitably to go against all injustice, privilege, oppression, or narrow nationalism."
bdouville From: bdouville Date: July 24th, 2013 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing this. I browsed through A Theology of Liberation three years ago (when I was writing a chapter of my dissertation which entailed some knowledge of liberation theology), and my overall impression was "I didn't expect it to sound so orthodox." From doing a surface-level read, it could have been a papal encyclical. But as I read these passages, it seems that the orthodox language belies the radical content.

There would have been a theology of liberation even without this book; Latin American liberation theology (both ideas and practice) pre-dates this particular volume. What it did was to provide a systematic foundation and justification for a spirituality of political liberation. (This is kind of ironic, consider the passage above in which he basically says that theology should precede action rather than provide a religious justification for action.)

When I read what he has to say about secularization, I sense that he was probably influenced by Harvey Cox's The Secular City (1965), or by other secular theologians of the sixties. I was never fully convinced by the secular theologians. For one thing (and this might be a criticism of Gutierrez too), while they were trying to apply their faith to the wider world, I wonder if their guilty of only widening the distinction between the "city of God" and "city of men." I know that this wasn't there intent; I trust that there purpose was to open the door for a worldly Christianity (but not "worldly" in the sense that fundamentalist evangelicals use that term). But perhaps there's a danger that it could lead people to believe that the world of faith, rather than being integral, is of secondary importance, or even marginal importance, when compared to the world of action. In other words, do secular theologies (including liberation theology) ultimately undermine a theological or faith-based worldview?

(And I'm asking this as a sort of agnostic Christian, which may be a contradiction in itself. And as a leftist who does music at a fairly conservative evangelical Anglican church. So I'm probably not in a position to criticize anybody. I'm just raising some thoughts here.)

Anyways, it was good to read this. Perhaps one day, I'll sit down and do a careful, thorough, thoughtful read of Gutierrez from cover-to-cover.



p.s. Incidentally, Gutierrez spent an extended period of time in Montreal in the sixties, while he was forming his ideas for this book. And Montreal was a VERY activist place in the sixties, with a vibrant, cutting-edge radical left scene, inspired by anti-colonial ideology. So maybe Canada -- or at least French Canada -- can take some credit for this articulation of liberation theology.

p.p.s. I should have remembered that I have an LJ icon precisely for posts like this one.

Edited at 2013-07-24 01:34 pm (UTC)
legolastn From: legolastn Date: July 25th, 2013 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I should preface this by saying that I did not do a "careful, thorough, thoughtful read of Gutierrez from cover-to-cover." :) Thoughtful, perhaps, but there were boring bits (probably those very orthodox arguments you mention) I just skimmed over. My purpose in reading wasn't to understand every nuance of his argumentation but rather just to give me a better sense of what had inspired later works and to look for particular nuggets of wisdom I found interesting/inspiring/challenging.

I don't read the passage about theology and action the same way you do - I don't think he's saying theology should precede action. If anything the language of "accompany" and "linked to" suggests (an ideal?) that they develop side by side. But, yes, it is clear from the book that liberation theology is already a thing and that the purpose of the book is not to "create" it but to systematize the arguments for it.

I'm not really familiar with secular theology beyond Bishop Spong, who I find interesting but is not the approach I resonate with most. I think there's something to be said for your argument that secular theology basically leads to a non-religious/non-theological culture but I think Spong would probably respond with something like: If so, so what? In his view there is no other option that has full integrity so if that's the inevitable result, so be it. I think Gutierrez's arguments are of a slightly different vein and actually does a pretty good job of arguing faith isn't secondary or marginal - that action without faith or that marginalizes faith is in danger of going off the tracks and, at worst, is outright dangerous. I can't speak to whether his arguments have veracity beyond saying that for me personally liberation theology one of the few things that has kept me within the fold of organized religion. And, yes, there is a certain irony in an agnostic Christian saying secular theology is a problem because it undermines faith, and probably also a certain irony in agnostic Christians debating the finer points of theology. :D
bdouville From: bdouville Date: July 25th, 2013 11:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Most United Church seminaries are full of agnostic Christians debating the finer points of theology. :)
legolastn From: legolastn Date: July 25th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haha, perhaps! They don't call us Unitarians Considering Christ for nothing.