Sunday, June 25, 2017

New reference book on liberation theology

by Jacques Berset (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cath.ch (en français)
June 21, 2016

The very first Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération ["Historical Dictionary of Liberation Theology"] has just come out at Editions Lessius, in Brussels. This compendium of over 650 pages is coming out in a context of globalized socio-cultural and economic realities, while liberation theology (LT) was born in Latin America in the atmosphere of revolutionary effervescence of the 1970s.

LT, which aims at an integral liberation of man, seemed to have wilted long ago, but this book brings it back into the spotlight. This new dictionary shows that the evolution of LT is still in progress. Developed at the beginning by the Peruvian priest and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, to whom the paternity of this theological approach developed in contact with the poorest and with their participation has been attributed, LT has become widely diversified in the meantime.

The preferential option for the poor

Some one hundred specialists of 28 nationalities have collaborated in the development of this dictionary which has 280 entries. These entries are the key themes, countries and people -- whether the theologians who have theorized LT or the actors who were inspired by it and put it into practice. For the authors of the book, LT is one of the rare theologies that has always wanted to act on the peoples' history.

A large panorama of LT, from its origins to the present day, closes the book, which is edited by Maurice Cheza, a specialist in Third World theologies, Luis Martinez Saavedra, a specialist on LT in Latin America, and Pierre Sauvage, a specialist on LT in Latin America and its reception in the Western world. They have benefited from the assistance of Alzirinha Rocha de Souza, an expert on LT in Brazil, and Caroline Sappia, a an expert on LT in South America and its reception in the French-speaking world.

One discovers through the pages that for decades LT has been addressing problems that have long been left in the shadows, always starting from the preferential option for the poor. It deals with the emancipation of women, black and indigenous people, and the question of the preservation of creation, namely ecology, thus addressing many perspectives.

The South has transformed the North

Along with Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, received into the Dominican order in 2004, the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff is considered one of the most prominent representatives of Latin American liberation theology. But the book makes it possible to discover many other less well-known players in our latitudes and from very diverse socio-cultural contexts.

The reader may be surprised to find entries on North America (Canada and the United States) and Europe (Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland). In fact, these countries have formed a great number of theologians and pastoral agents close to LT in Latin America. Many of their trainers went to countries in the south, especially in Latin America, some stayed there, notably as Fidei Donum priests. Those who returned were inspired by what they had found, trying to form basic ecclesial communities (BECs) in Europe and in North America, or groups of the same style.

With Pope Francis, a new wind is blowing on the Church

Pope Francis' presence on the throne of Peter has, from the start, made a new wind blow in the Church. The Argentinian pontiff immediately wanted to be a shepherd among shepherds "permeated by the smell of their sheep." He encouraged them, from his first Chrism Mass at the Vatican on March 28, 2013, to serve the poor and the oppressed. For some time already, LT no longer provokes the same Roman mistrust, and the new generation of theologians has been clearing new fields of reflection and action.

Indeed, the time of the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", written in 1984 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is long past.

Christ, a social and political liberator?

The future Pope Benedict XVI then denounced "that current of thought which, under the name 'theology of liberation', proposes a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church and, in fact, actually constitutes a practical negation." Remarks that were very well received and especially utilized by the powerful supporters of the status quo, both in the countries of the North as well as those in the South.

For the Vatican, in an era that had not emerged from the Cold War, it was a question of warning against the deviations caused by the introduction of elements of Marxism into the interpretation of social reality. It also criticized "rationalizing" interpretations of the Bible, tending to reduce the story of Christ to that of a social and political liberator.

A theology of freedom

The same Cardinal Ratzinger would, in 1986, publish a new Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation that, while not annulling the earlier one, completed and nuanced it. Rome was rereading LT in a positive manner by introducing the spiritual dimension of a theology of freedom. The intervention of certain leading figures of the Brazilian episcopate of the time, supporting the most visible protagonists of LT, had not remained without effect! In the same year, John Paul II would even say in a letter to the Brazilian episcopate that "liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary!"

This Dictionnaire is intended for those who are passionate about history and theology, for those who are interested in the history of ideas as well as that of those women and men involved in the transformation of a fundamentally unjust society, sometimes at the risk of their lives. The general public has here a practical instrument for accessing the essential elements of liberation theology, which has been widely diversified and refined in a constantly changing context.

Reservations and reluctance within the Vatican

The work highlights these rising generations who are working on new issues and are henceforth benefiting from some recognition from the Vatican. It is enough to recall the fundamental role played by Pope Francis in the canonization process of Msgr. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated by the right-wing death squads on March 24, 1980. The prelate, killed "in hatred of faith", according to the formula defining martyrdom, was beatified May 23, 2015 in San Salvador, mainly thanks to the personal commitment of Pope Francis ... and despite the reservations or even the reluctance (*) of certain ecclesiastical circles, both in El Salvador and in the Vatican.

(*) "There were many in Rome, including some cardinals, who did not want to see him beatified. They said that he had been killed for political reasons, not religious ones." Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the postulator for the cause of of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, in the Jesuit magazine America on April 17, 2017.

Bibliographic Details:

Title: Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération
Author: Maurice Cheza, Luis Martínez Saavedra, and Pierre Sauvage (eds)
Publisher: Editions Lessius
Publication Date: March 2017
ISBN: 9782872993130
Number of pages: 656
Language: French

Read the Foreword here. (MS Word; in French)

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