by José Ignacio González Faus (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Without much ado I wish, in this tribute, to point out four features that could summarize the theological contribution of Gustavo Gutiérrez.
1. There is no salvation without working for liberation
The first feature is that he raised from the beginning the problem of the relationship between historical liberation and ultra-historical salvation.
A disfigured Christianity had reduced faith to hope in the afterlife, where what was nearmost in our history only served to earn or buy the ticket to what was beyond. Such Christianity clashed with Gustavo's main question: "How do you speak of a father God to someone who isn't even a man?", making the evangelization of the poor that is distinctive of the mission of Jesus (Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18) almost impossible. Moreover, it disfigured and devalued the Resurrection of Jesus whose teaching is that eschatological salvation must go on being gestated and anticipated in history now.
From this issue that Gustavo raised in his first A Theology of Liberation then flowed the theme so widespread in a Latin America ravaged by injustice: "Without insurrection there's no resurrection."
2. From "the power of the poor in history" to "the poor of Jesus Christ"
The first expression is the title of another of the early works of Gustavo. The finding of a historical force of the poor could be a fact of the situation of those times. But it is evident that the historical force vanished shortly after because of the reaction of the empire of the Money God. Gustavo then went on to speak of "the poor of Jesus Christ" in the title of his splendid work (perhaps the better one) on Bartolome de Las Casas. The theological strength of the poor compensated for their loss of historical power.
It highlighted another of the most crucial arguments of liberation theology: that the problem of the poor and the elimination of poverty is not merely an ethical problem; it is primarily a Christological issue and therefore also a theological issue on which we stake God's truth or idolatry. So later when, taking advantage of the fall of the East, the tricky question "what's left of liberation theology?" was raised, Bishop Casaldáliga could answer simply that the poor and the God of the poor are left. That is, everything is left.
On this point, perhaps Guaman Poma's influence on some of Gustavo's formulations will be studied someday. I suspect that the study would be worthwhile. I merely suggest a comparison between two "church" songs: a) the final hymn of the Salvadoran Mass says, “cuando el pobre crea en el pobre… construiremos la fraternidad” ("when the poor believe in the poor ... we will build fraternity") and "podremos cantar libertad" ("we will be able to sing freedom"), etc. b) However, another well-known song of the era ("Pequeñas aclaraciones" - "Small clarifications") starts from a similar presupposition ("cuando el pobre nada tiene y aún reparte, cuando un hombre pasa sed y agua nos da…" -- "when the poor person has nothing and still gives, when a man is thirsty and give us water..."), but doesn't deduce any historical forecast from this, rather a theological judgment -- it doesn't say that we will then build anything but “va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar” ("God Himself goes along in our steps"). With this, again, the theology and praxis of liberation become a spiritual experience.
That is the theological strength of the poor. Since we have cited Las Casas, let's complete it by saying that the great Dominican is not only an example for his prophetic defense of the rights of the oppressed (and more so if they are oppressed in the name of God), but also for his concept of evangelism (that one really was "new") -- because "Christ only gave the apostles license and authority to preach the gospel to those who wanted to hear it, but not to force or inflict any discomfort or displeasure on those who didn't want to listen." And, in turn, "the Church has no more power on earth than what Christ had."
3. "Speaking of God from the suffering of the innocent"
This theological strength of the poor is displayed in the title of what is perhaps Gustavo's best-known work ["On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent"]. It is a brief commentary on the Book of Job, which evokes the splendid verse of César Vallejo (“Dios mío estoy llorando el ser que vivo” -- "My God, I cry for the being that I am"), a great Peruvian poet often quoted in this work. Gustavo highlights how any theology that seeks to talk and speculate about God apart from the pain of this world (especially unjust pain) becomes comparable in language to the friends of Job, "inopportune consolers" and irreproachable "orthodox" worshippers of a false god, whom they think they can defend at the expense of their friend's suffering.
But with this they do nothing but offend God, speaking falsely of Him and changing their alleged orthodoxy into blasphemy, even being disowned by God at the end of the book. On the other hand, Job, protesting the injustice committed against him, is a more truthful witness of God than all who "get used" to that injustice. That injustice will help him get out of himself and his grief at the tragedy of the unjust suffering in the world, to understand that there is nothing that justifies the unjust suffering of a human being.
I think such a serious warning has rarely been given delicately and in good words to all this merely academic theology that is trying to be revive itself among us due to the involution of the Church and that, under the guise of orthodoxy, is developing an idolatry or reflection on a false god. And it raises the most crucial of its questions for the Church: the identity of God, so often distorted by believers and the cause (according to Vatican II) of much of modern atheism.
Latin American theologians have often said that to know Jesus is to follow Jesus. And speaking of God implies "practicing God" in Gustavo's words. Job is brought to an experience of gratuity that leaves him baffled by his own pain, but moves him prophetically to work against all the world's pain. Theology and holiness (like justice and peace) kiss, according to Gustavo.
4. Faithfulness to the Church
Unfortunately, as one would expect, Gustavo was reviled and persecuted by an increasingly blind Roman Curia aimed at expressing confirmation of its blindness throughout the worldwide Church. He hasn't been the only one in our day or our past -- keeping to the Spanish speaking arena, do we have to evoke the saints and doctors of the Church, such as John of Avila, Teresa of Avila, Luis de Granada or Archbishop Carranza, some of whose works were placed on the Index of prohibited books and who endured difficulties with the Inquisition?
But what deserves to be highlighted here is Gustavo's fidelity and exemplary reaction, in the midst of absurd pain that he alone knew. I have evoked other times, such as in Madrid, at a conference on theology when, in response to capcious questions that sought to pose a choice between the Church and the poor, Gustavo refused to accept the dilemma and confessed that he loved this sinful church "with a love that dates before the war."
A good point of reference for many today who have shared his same crucified fate. And good history lesson on the fecundity of the crucified following of Jesus of Nazareth, that confirms what happened to Lagrange, Rahner, Congar, de Lubac ... and other theological martyrs of the pre-Vatican II era, vindicated later during the Council.
The ups and downs and twists and turns of this fidelity (which also required the cunning of serpents without losing the simplicity of doves) are not to be evoked here and are sufficiently known. Just a word of gratitude for the sons of Saint Dominic who saved this little gem for the Church and allowed Gustavo to become a brother of his beloved Bartolomé de Las Casas.