by José Ignacio González Faus
(English translation by Rebel Girl)
Miradas Cristianas Blog
A good friend from Sabadell (Alvaro) great Christian, sent me an email today telling me that he is sad because, in the nursing home where he lives, he read this morning in the press that the pope, in his book on Jesus, is charging the liberation theologians with saying that Christ was a revolutionary zealot, and for being friends of violence, while Jesus definitely separated religion and politics ... Alvaro was once an immigrant from Extremadura to Catalonia, he lived in caves for a while, was a YCW activist and a USO union member (forbidden then), then he was arrested by Franco's police and underwent torture and imprisonment. We have known each other for over forty years. I'm writing this response for him, but I'm posting it here because maybe it can help other readers.
We'll have to wait to see the book, but I doubt very much that Ratzinger would say such things as the press is saying, because I consider him a person of unquestionable intellectual rigor. At the moment four reflections occur to me to reassure my friend.
1. I think I know all the Christologies written by Latin American theologians. None of them has said what the Pope attributes to them, according to the press: not Boff, not Sobrino, not Juan Luis Segundo, not the unfortunate H. Echegaray in his precious book, La práctica de Jesús ("The Practice of Jesus"), not Carlos Bravo in Jesús, hombre en conflicto ("Jesus: a man in conflict")...None that I know of. The idea of a zealot Jesus is of European, not Latin American, origin (Reimarus in the 18th century and Brandon in the 20th).
2. What the liberation theologians do usually say is that, consciously or unconsciously, politics is a dimension that is always present in our ways of acting. This could be debated, but it is an anthropological rather than a Christological statement. Liberation theologians also argue that politics were a decisive factor in Jesus' death sentence. This is what the fourth gospel, the one to which Ratzinger gives so much historical credibility, shows in its 11th chapter: the Jewish authorities fear that if the people believe in Jesus "the Romans will come and take away our nation"; and Caiaphas (who was the ayatollah of the day) determined that it was better for one man to die so that we would save ourselves. Jesus was also accused of blasphemy, but blasphemy didn't demand a political sentence like crucifixion, but rather stoning, as happened to Stephen a few years later.
3. Jesus' response when they asked him if it was licit to pay tribute to Caesar ("give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's") doesn't claim to be a teaching about the separation of religion and politics. Because in itself it says nothing, since everything that is Caesar's is also God's and what is God's, He has given to men and women (among whom is Caesar too). Jesus' phrase, therefore, doesn't aim to teach anything, but rather to expose those who were tempting Him. The Jews had accepted Roman currency (something like the "dollarization" that has happened in some South American countries and has been very beneficial for the rich, but disastrous for the poor and the peasants). Moreover, the Roman coin had the image of Caesar engraved on it, and the Jews were absolutely forbidden to carve human images. In this context, those who were taking advantage of Roman money come hypocritically to ask Him a moral question to set a trap for Him. And Jesus just exposes their bad faith (He calls them "hypocrites") and says an almost tautological phrase but one which puts them in a bind. This is why the people are in admiration.
4. I'm also astonished that Ratzinger would make such a radical separation between religion and politics because that would put him at odds with Benedict XVI, who holds one of the highest political offices (head of state). And Ratzinger is a consistent thinker.
5. What IS possible is that Ratzinger would say that Jesus radically refused any use of political power to establish what he said was to be our main concern: "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." In this case, he is quite right: Jesus refused to be proclaimed king and did not believe that being the Messenger of God gave Him such rights.
If so, then it would match with everything said in the first three points. For me personally, there would still be something I don't understand in the fourth point (in the character of the head of state, the Pope)...because in his other book, Light of the World, Ratzinger explicitly states that the letter of St. Bernard to Pope Eugene III (called in Latin De Consideratione) is a book that all popes should read. Well, in this letter St. Bernard tells the pope that "he doesn't seem to be a successor of Peter but of Constantine." That is, St. Bernard (and Benedict XVI) calls for a separation between religion and political power, which still has not occured in the church today.
And nothing else. I hope these things serve to reassure my great friend Alvaro.