Friday, August 30, 2013

"Diary of a Post-Conciliar Theologian: Between Europe and Latin America": Book Presentation

By Marta Orsini Puente (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 9, 2013

I feel very honored to be able to present the book Diario de un teólogo del posconcilio ("Diary of a Post-Conciliar Theologian" -- Editorial San Pablo, Colombia, 2013) by our dear friend Víctor Codina. He used to say "I do theology from the most humble people, from the little ones", and it's possible that this is why he asked me to do this presentation.

I'll start by saying that I've admired his constancy in writing his detailed diary since April 24, 1982. On April 16, he left his native land, Barcelona, to work in Bolivia, although he had been to Bolivia on a couple of occasions. He went on noting down not only ideas, readings, contacts, theological reflections, but also his impressions, experiences, questions, doubts that make us see his human qualities.

In his introduction, he says: "If I venture to publish this theological diary, it's because I think it could help the younger generations -- not my journey so much, but the journey of theology over these 50 fascinating years of the post-conciliar Church, specifically between Europe and Latin America. It's an exercise in narrative theology."

He calls it his theological diary from the flip side of history. He indicates that it's not a spiritual or a pastoral or a political diary, but a theological diary.

He begins the book by talking about his roots that have marked his life. His origins, his family. Catalan, from Barcelona, from a large family of 8 brothers and sisters and very Catholic parents. The faith experienced in his family and his entrance into the Society of Jesus at 17 bring his theological vocation to birth. He was a novitiate companion of Luis Espinal.

Two years later his brother Gabriel, who gave a large part of his life to Bolivia especially in the education field, entered the Jesuit novitiate. Both deaths -- Lucho's martyrdom and his brother's from illness -- touched him deeply.

His training responded to the orthodox canon of the times -- the national Catholicism of post-war Spain and the Church of Christendom which he would criticize in various works. His initial training was purely scholastic.

Already in the novitiate, somewhat secretly, he and his companions organized gatherings to read the main progressive theologians.

Later he would make contact with theologians such as Karl Rahner, Congar, De Lubac, Danielou, Schillebeeckx, Von Balthasar, Teilhar de Chardin, etc.

At the University of Innsbruck he was a student of Karl Rahner which profoundly marked his theological life as he himself tells us in his Diario. There, he began to relate to Latin American theologians.

At the Gregorian University in Rome, he did his doctoral thesis on the spirituality of John Cassian with the title "The Christological aspect of the spirituality of John Cassian".

Victor tell us that "the fact that Cassian was an author of Eastern origin and Hausherr's expertise in Eastern theology and spirituality, awakened my curiosity to know more about Eastern theology and spirituality." I'm remarking on this fact because it helped him discover a new theological dimension beyond the cold, structured, and rationalist Western theology, and go deeper into a mystical and prophetic spirituality, which would be developed in his publications. His contact with the Latin American reality of ancestral peoples, the use of symbols, rituals, images, the cosmic dimension make him feel the presence of the Spirit. From these insights, he would develop a pneumatological theology that is present in all his works.

He moved to Bolivia in 1982 and, thanks be to God, remains here among us and we can say of him as was said of Ignacio Ellacuría -- He [Ellacuría] is Basque-Salvadoran; Víctor Codina is Catalan-Bolivian. Bolivia isn't just in his skin but in his heart.

He tells us that "Bolivia was a new world to me, a being born again to new human, social, political, cultural, religious, ecclesial, and theological realities too. It was going from modernity to solidarity..."

After being in Cochabamba for two years, he went to Oruro. He was struck by the poverty, the dirt roads...the shortage of food...He came from Europe and the contrast was enormous. The Jesuits had their house in a marginal neighborhood in east Oruro in El Rosario parish. He states that "all this was part of the experience of the Third World, of solidarity with our poor. It's a painful and penitential experience that purifies us of the overly mundane satisfactions of the First World; it breaks our hearts." Along with this painful experience, he found great human warmth, hospitality, simplicity, a great capacity for suffering, and at the same time a joyful people -- not conformist but seasoned fighters, a deeply faithful people who expressed themselves through popular religiosity full of rituals and symbols that brought to mind the Eastern theology that he had already become fond of in Europe.

He found similarities between Eastern theology and liberation theology with regard to their more communitarian, more cosmic aspects, more symbolically centered on the suffering Christ who fights for a full liberation of the individual person and society.

The visit to the mining district of Huanuni -- going into the mine -- had a great impact on him which he describes meticulously in his diary on May 7, 1985. At the entrance of the tunnel, the image of Tío, with a devil mask, the benevolent devil who protects the miners who worship him on entering the mine by smoking a cigarette, chewing coca, and calming Pachamama with a sip of alcohol. In one of the galleries there was a painting with the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You have to descend to this deep Bolivia to understand reality and understand this syncretism that isn't a problem for Catholic believers in the Church at the margins. This experience led Victor to write a poem of which I've taken some verses:

“Bolivia multiforme y diferente
Pobre y bella,
sencilla, sufrida y paciente,
humilde y humillada,
pero con el fulgor de la belleza evangélica
de todo lo pequeño, humilde y pobre,
que ríe en la fiesta y llora con sus muertos,
mientras en el Tabor, Cristo se transfigura
y habla de la pasión,
y yo leo la Historia de la teología cristiana
y descubro que sólo de la espiritualidad
nace la teología viva.
Teología del pueblo boliviano,
un reto y una tarea
entre CEBs y C´hallas del Tío
entre santitos, procesiones, muertos y almas
entre el nevado, la pampa y la llama
y el frío rígido cuando cae la noche.
Tierra de bienaventurazas
donde se cumple al unísono:
pobres, mansos, humildes, llorando, pacíficos
quizá por esto es noble y bella,
feliz y triste.”

Bolivia manifold and different
Poor and beautiful
Simple, suffering and patient,
Humble and humiliated,
but with the brilliance of gospel beauty,
of all that's small, humble and poor,
that laughs in the fiesta and cries for its dead,
while on Tabor, Christ is transfigured
and speaks of the Passion,
and I am reading the History of Christian theology
and find that only of spirituality
is a living theology born.
A Theology of the Bolivian people,
a challenge and a task,
between BCCs [base Christian communities] and Tio's chews,
little saints, processions, dead men and souls,
between the snowfall, the pampas and the flame,
and the frigid cold when night falls.
Land of blessings
where all is fulfilled in unison:
the poor, the meek, the humble, crying, peaceful,
perhaps this is why you are noble and lovely,
happy and sad."

Maybe Victor's poetic vein is a surprise for some.

One can already see in these few verses where his theology was going to go.

He tells us that "undoubtedly the period in Oruro was a time of deep commotion and theological inspiration, surely not easily understandable for those who live in other social and religious environments. Oruro was a good theological place for me." -- Diario, June 1985.

Later on he would affirm that "More than 25 years after the stay in Oruro, I note that it was a time of grace, where the poor (the miners, the inhabitants of the outlying districts, the people of the parish...) evangelized me and that had repercussions on my creative, abundant and varied theological reflections: books, pamphlets, talks, cursillos, retreats, trips to different places in Latin America for conferences and classes. Oruro was an authentic theological place for me..."

In each of these day to day stories in his diary, he always talked about his contact with theologians in Europe and Latin America, about the conferences he's attending and his lectures, the talks he's giving in various countries, the books he's reading. The social and political reality he has had to experience in Bolivia, his contact with the simple and humble people, with the BCCs he supports -- especially in Oruro and Santa Cruz -- are always there in the various pages of his Diario. He talks about his writings, his questions and his doubts in particular situations. He's always confronting the Gospel, what the institutional Church is and what it ought to be. His propheticism, his clarity of judgement -- but always with much respect for people, shine through each page. He praises the positive and denounces the negative.

Between articles and books, there are more than 400 of his writings always with one constant: the rebirth of a Church according to the Gospel, a Nazarene Church, a theology done from those who are insignificant starting with Jesus of Nazareth who suffered the same oppression as his fellow citizens in the flesh, who sees the world from below, after having overcome the temptation of Davidic messiahship, as he tells us in his book Una Iglesia nazarena ("A Nazarene Church") published by Sal Terrae in 2010.

He continually contrasts the Church of Christendom and the Church incarnated in reality, a Church that brings us to the merciful Father, that is warm, that dialogues, does not seek power, and respects the different expressions of religiosity. He speaks of three models of church: The model of Christendom or the traditional one which centers on hierarchical authority, the Vatican II model that's focused on the people of God, and the model that arises in Latin America from the poor. He stresses the need for us to be open to the so-called "third illustration" that leads us to take into account the sexual, cultural, generational, religious, and ecological diversity that leads ultimately to the totally Other, the Mystery of God that we reach through Jesus of Nazareth.

Another constant we perceive in the Diario is the discovery of the great forgotten one of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

Victor tells us that "both at the spiritual and the theological level, I'm experiencing a soft but certain step from Christology to Pneumatology and now from the latter to the mystery of the Father. Although now I wonder if in the ministry one ought not to make a different process -- going from the experience of the Holy Spirit to Jesus and from him to the Father."

It seems very important to him to delve into Pneumatology to find meaning in the religious experience, religious life, mysticism and prophecy, popular religiosity, eschatology...

He states that in the work of evangelizing and interfaith dialogue, one has to begin with spirituality, with the Holy Spirit. The ruah, the Spirit, was there before the Incarnation and Easter, giving life to the world. He talks of the need to create a Pneumatology, but one that is linked to Christology and thus avoid ecclesiocentrism or a spirituality without Church, without Christ, without religion ...

In his book, No extingáis al Espíritu: Una iniciación a la pneumatogogía ["Do not Quench the Spirit: An initiation to Pneumatology"] published by Sal Terrae in 2008, it is restated that anything that leads to authentic life at the personal and social level is due to the Spirit and anything that goes against life is not of the Spirit, but of the evil spirits that one must know how to recognize as Jesus did.

He agrees very much with the words of Ignatius Hazim, the Patriarch of Antioch: "Without the Holy Spirit: God is far away, Christ stays in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organization, authority a matter of domination, mission a matter of propaganda, liturgy no more than evocation...But with the Holy Spirit,...the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the power of life, the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity, authority is a liberating service, mission is a Pentecost, the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation, human action is deified."

We must unite, he says, the Christological (the poor, history, politics, church and social structures, justice, etc.) with the Pneumatological (spirituality, faith, popular religiosity).

His contact with Eastern spirituality -- more spiritual and symbolic than rational -- and his contact with the rites and symbols used in popular religiosity lead him to use a narrative methodology.

Textually he indicates that "with time, I am giving more and more importance to the symbolic dimension of theology which, united to narrative theology, is the only one that can make the mystery of salvation accessible to the people."

In 1990, he published Parábolas de la mina y el lago ["Parables of the mine and the lake"] and began to prepare a book on parables and stories. The simple people of the communities in Villa Pagador, Oruro, told him that they understood his parables and tales and that they too could tell them to the others. In 1994, he wrote a small theological novel, Miguelito, that tells of some of the adventures of the angel Miguelito (an image in the church of Charagua that's next to Saint Michael the Archangel) on his journey through various places in Bolivia. It's a lovely catechetical lesson on different subjects through dialogue with the people of each place. It's a way of doing theology from daily life, from simple things.

In his last book, Diosito nos acompaña siempre ["Diosito is always with us"] published last May, he brings together various tales of his personal experience with simple people; it's his way of doing theology from narrative.

His sphere of action, to put it differently, or his theological task, not as a theoretician but making this seed of the Kingdom grow in the simplest and poorest people, is the lay men and women, the base church communities. In his long years in Oruro and his 11 years in Santa Cruz, he has been accompanying them. In the mass encounters of the BCCs both in Santa Cruz and in Potosí, he detects, with his characteristic critical sense, that they lack social commitment and are in danger of remaining in a disembodied spirituality, that they need more theological, social, and political training.

Another issue addressed in the Diario is liberation theology. One can follow perfectly over numerous pages the changes that have taken place in the concept of liberation theology from the post-conciliar documents of the Latin American bishops' conferences.

In his initial writings on the theme -- ¿Qué es la teología de la liberación? ["What is liberation theology?"] and Ser cristiano en América Latina ["Being Christian in Latin America"] -- he speaks of a change in the attitude of Christians to living with the strength of the Gospel, rejecting and denouncing every injustice and committing themselves to change reality from faith, being in solidarity with the most marginalized sectors of society.

He notes that socio-political mediation, which is essential, must be complemented by anthropological dimensions such as age, gender, culture. The poor are not the subject of our theological task, but active subjects with the characteristics of each race culture, worldview, etc.

Speaking about the crisis of liberation theology, he tells us that " should move forward, complete Christology with Pneumatology, the male point of view with the female one, history with nature, effective violence with nonviolence, uniformity with difference, economy with culture, the poor with the indigenous and Afro-descendants...praxis with fiestas, service with communion, prophetic denunciation with proclamation, dialectic with symbol, ethics with esthetics."

To conclude, I'm going to go over Victor Codina's human side as reflected in his diary.

On returning to his land, Barcelona, upon meeting with his family, he felt deep joy and a deep sadness at the final departure of his mother, his brother Gabriel -- also a Jesuit who had given so much to Bolivia, grief and anger at the murder of his fellow student Luis Espinal.

In many pages, he shows his doubts, his questions at the personal, social and church level.

At the beginning of his stay in Cochabamba, he was suspected for an article that was going to be published on models of Church in ISET magazine. He states that "... at the moment I felt indignation and anger. Then peace and quiet, and even joy. Tonight, while taking communion, I felt consolation. I was poor, naked, having difficulties with the hierarchy, without resources, in solidarity with the poor. I'm not afraid, but it hurts to see that in Bolivia the Church is closed ... " (1983).

He thinks that perhaps his theological path might not be from academia but from his insertion in the world of the poor, the communities: "Is it a calling? Is it a Kairós [moment]? Is God speaking to me through history?," he wonders. "At this time, I feel hung. I live by faith without knowing where to go, in a dark night, in conflict with the hierarchical authority itself (like Jesus), more painful than the conflicts with civil authority."

Another of his big questions is "Might we not have fallen into excessive activism which is growing as vocations are decreasing and pastoral needs are increasing? Doesn't this lead in the long run to an impoverishment -- not just theological, but pastoral and spiritual? Shouldn't we rely more on the presence of lay people and secular people in our works to lighten the load? Are we aware that, perhaps unconsciously, we're using an image of the priest, the ministry and religious life that's more appropriate to the period of Christendom than to Vatican II?"

About the silencing of theologian Leonardo Boff, he says that "It's the inquisition! It makes me angry and nothing can be done. It's impotence in the face of dictatorships -- not just political ones but also ecclesial ones. It makes me want to not give classes out of solidarity with him, a sort of theologians' strike. But it's not possible."

In his notes about giving a retreat to a group of nuns, he wonders: "Are they aware that there's a historical figure of religious life that no longer has a future, that we are before a strong globalized tsunami and that we must move towards a different figure of religious life?"

On correcting the work of his students in Cochabamba, he sees that several of them have copied from the Internet and he says that "this grieves me and leaves me confused. Don't they care about the subject of ecclesiology? A lack of honesty? Is this the final outcome of my 45 years of theological teaching? My failure? Where is the dream of preparing my classes? ..."

You can find more questions and concerns by reading the book.

Only the person who asks questions is able to learn, advance, and change.

In all his daily notes he talks about his contacts with theologians, what he has learned from them and what he has contributed, his talks in various countries and departments within Bolivia, his relationship with the people, problems and the reality of Bolivia, his feelings and concerns.

The Diario is a treasure that you will carry in your hands and you will discover Victor as a person and how he does theology from the shore.

And to conclude, I'll repeat a phrase of Victor's that I pointed out at the beginning of this presentation. "It's not my spiritual diary, or the diary of my family, or a political diary, but my theological diary from the flip side of history, from alterity."

Thank you.

Marta Orsini Puente
Cochabamba – Bolivia
August 9, 2013


  1. Thank you so much for this review and exposition. I can't seem to find anything by Codina in English though. I am very much interested in his poetry as well. Perhaps you can guide me towards some translations? Blessings and very much obliged.

  2. Daniel, unfortunately, for whatever reason, there is almost nothing by Victor Codina that has been translated into English. You will find one chapter by him on the Sacraments in Sobrino and Ellacuria's "Systematic Theology" collection -- which should be part of the library of anyone interested in liberation theology anyway. As for poetry, that doesn't even exist in Spanish, which I think is the point Orsini Puente is trying to make...that this new book shows a different dimension of Codina.

    1. Thanks so much and bless you for all your work, obliged.