Liberation theology

Liberation theology

Liberation theology is a school of theology within Christianity, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church. It emphasizes the Christian mission to bring justice to the poor and oppressed, particularly through political activism. Its theologians consider sin the root source of poverty, and often use social sciences, such as sociology and economics to help understand how to combat poverty. Some elements of certain liberation theologies have been rejected by the Catholic Church. [ [ Liberation Theology General Information] ]

At its inception, liberation theology was predominantly found in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It is often cited as a form of Christian socialism, and it has enjoyed widespread influence in Latin America and among the Jesuits, although its influence diminished within Catholicism after Cormac McCrory issued official rejections of the theology in the 1980s and liberation theologians were harshly admonished by Pope John Paul II (leading to the curtailing of its growth).

The current Pope, Benedict XVI, has long been known as an opponent of certain strands of liberation theology, and issued several condemnations of tendencies within it whilst head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). [ [ INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE "THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION"] from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]

In sociological terms, openly available data from the University of Michigan-based World Values Survey, initiated by Professor Ronald Inglehart suggest the following strength of the political left (value of 3 on a 0 to 10 point scale) among the regular Roman Catholic Church goers around the globe and over time. The data suggest that Christian socialism and the Christian left continue to constitute significant phenomena in many countries.


Liberation Theology posits fighting poverty by suppressing its source: sin. In so doing, it explores the relationship between Christian theology — especially Roman Catholic theology — and political activism, especially about social justice, poverty, and human rights. The Theology's principal methodological innovation is seeing theology from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed (socially, politically, etc.); per Jon Sobrino, S.J., the poor are a privileged channel of God's grace. According to Phillip Berryman, liberation theology is "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor".

Liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus, the Christ, as but bringing a sword (social unrest), e.g. Despite the Roman Catholic Church's official disavowal of Liberation Theology, and disavowal by many lay folk in Latin America, despite the Puebla Conference, Liberation Theology is alive in Latin America and other poor parts of the world.

Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), strongly opposed certain elements of Liberation Theology, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed by him), the Vatican twice (1984, 1986) officially condemned its acceptance of Marxism and armed violence. For example, Leonardo Boff was suspended and others silenced, however, Cardinal Ratzinger did praise the theology's intellectual underpinnings that reject violence, and, instead, " [stress] the responsibility which Christians necessarily bear for the poor and oppressed". [ [ "Liberation Theology"] by Cardinal Ratzinger at Christendom Awake]

In March of 1983, Cardinal Ratzinger made ten observations of Gutiérrez's theology, accusing him (Gutiérrez) of politically interpreting the Bible in supporting temporal messianism, and that the predominance of orthopraxis over orthodoxy proves Marxist influence. Finally, Ratzinger's attack says that these conceptions necessarily uphold class conflict in the Roman Catholic Church, which, logically, leads to rejecting hierarchy. During the 1980s and the 1990s, Ratzinger continued condemning these intellectual elements in Liberation Theology, prohibiting dissident priests from teaching the doctrines in the Catholic Church's name and excommunicated Tissa Balasuriya, in Sri Lanka, for so doing. Under Cardinal Ratzinger's influence, theological formation schools were forbidden from using the Catholic Church's organization and grounds to teach Liberation Theology.

In Managua, Nicaragua, Pope John Paul II criticized (what he labelled) the "popular Church" movement by means of "ecclesial base communities" (CEBs) in effecting class struggle, the replacement of the Catholic dominance hierarchy with a locally-selected system in the magisterium, and the Nicaraguan Catholic clergy's supporting the Sandinista National Liberation Front. To that, the Pope re-stated and insisted upon his authority as Universal Pastor of the Roman Catholic Church in "conformity" with canon law and catechism.

The orthodox priests who disagree with liberationist consider Liberation Theology's world view as narrow, that it does not look at the entire meaning of God and the Bible's writers, instead they accuse liberation theologians of mining the Bible in supporting "their" specific political and social ideology. Their examples include Jesus's feeding the five thousand followers: [ [;&version=76;"John 3"] ] Was he exclusively doing that to feed people who had not eaten that day, or was he (like his water-walking) trying to show that he was God to the people?

Liberation theology in practice

What was most radical about liberation theology was not the writing of highly educated priests and scholars, but the social organization, or re-organization, of church practice through the model of Christian base communities. Liberation theology, despite the doctrinal codification by Gutiérrez, Boff, and others, strove to be a bottom-up movement in practice [ [ Article by Brother Fillipo Mondini on praxis] ] , with Biblical interpretation and liturgical practice designed by lay practitioners themselves, rather than by the orthodox Church hierarchy.

Among others, journalist and writer Penny Lernoux described this aspect of liberation theology in her numerous and committed writings and helped create in North America a more widespread understanding of the movement.

Furthermore, with its emphasis on the "preferential option for the poor," the practice (or, more technically, "praxis" to use a term from Gramsci and Paulo Freire) was as important as the belief, if not more so; the movement was said to emphasize "orthopraxis" over "orthodoxy." Base communities were small gatherings, usually outside of churches, in which the Bible could be discussed, and mass could be said. They were especially active in rural parts of Latin America where parish priests were not always available, as they placed a high value on lay participation. As of May 2007, it was estimated that 80,000 base communities were operating in Brazil alone.

Future developments

There is a notion amongst some academicswho that Latin American Liberation Theology has had its day, a dream killed off by the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran revolutions, the 1989 demise of socialism and the “end of history” claims of the champions of capitalism. However, Ivan Petrella, in a recent study, contends this is an ill-conceived notion, and shows that this theology can be reinvented to bring its preferential option for the poor into the real world. The actualisation of historical projects is possible by adopting the methods developed by the Brazilian social theorist, Roberto Unger.

Doing so will entail the rejection of these theologians’ unitary concepts of a despised and rejected capitalism and a canonized and accepted socialism. Petrella argues for a reconstruction of these concepts and those of democracy and property too. He closely analyses the differences in democracy and capitalism as practised across the USA and Europe in support for the reconstruction of these concepts, bringing about far-reaching suggestions for the future of liberation theology.

At a time of the profound crisis of the world capitalist system, a group of social scientists and theologians in Andreas Mueller, Arno Tausch and Paul M. Zulehner took up anew the issue of liberation theology. Having arisen out of the struggle of the poor Churches in the world's South, its pros and cons dominated the discourse of the Churches throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s.

Then, dependency theory was considered to be the analytical tool at the basis of liberation theology. But the world economy - since the Fall of the Berlin Wall - has dramatically changed to become a truly globalized capitalist system in the 1990s. Even in their wildest imaginations, social scientists from the dependency theory tradition and theologians alike would not have predicted for example the elementary force of the Asian and the Russian crisis.

The Walls have gone, but poverty and social polarization spread to the center countries. After having initially rejected Marxist ideology in many of the liberation theology documents, the Vatican and many other Christian Church institutions moved forward in the 1980s and 1990s to strongly declare their "preferential option for the poor". Now, the authors of this book, among them Samir Amin, one of the founders of the world systems theory approach, take up the issues of this preferential option anew and arrive at an ecumenical vision of the dialogue between theology and world systems theory.

Liberation theologians

* Walter Altmann, Brazil
* Marcella Althaus-Reid, Argentina - Scotland
* Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti (b. 1953)
* Paulo Evaristo Arns, Brazil (b. 1921)
* Hugo Assmann, Brazil (1933 - 2008)
* Naim Ateek, Palestine (b. 1937)
* Tomás Balduíno, Brazil (b. 1923)
* Jose Oscar Beozzo, Brazil
* Alan Boesak, South Africa (b. 1945)
* Clodovis Boff, Brazil
* Leonardo Boff, Brazil (b. 1938)
* Robert McAfee Brown, U.S. (1920-2001)
* Curt Cadorette, Peru, Professor of Religion at University of Rochester
* Rafael Puente Calvo, S.J., Bolivia (b. 1940), present President of Bolivian police under Evo Morales
* Katie Geneva Cannon, U.S.
* Pedro Casaldáliga, Spain - Brazil (b. 1928)
* James Cone, U.S. (b. 1938)
* Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua (b. 1925)
* Fernando Cardenal, Nicaragua
* Jean Marc Ela, Cameroon (b. 1936)
* Virgilio Elizondo, U.S.
* Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Spain - El Salvador (1930-1989)
* Marc H. Ellis, U.S. (b. 1952)
* Paul Gauthier, France (1914-2002)
* Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peru (b. 1928)
* François Houtart, Belgium (b. 1925)
* Gérard Jean-Juste, Haiti (b. 1947)
* Sebastian Kappen, India (1924 - 1993)
* Elmar Klinger, Germany (b. 1938)
* Erwin Kräutler, Austria - Brazil (b. 1939)
* Hans Küng, Switzerland - Germany (b. 1928)
* Martin Maier, S.J. Germany
* Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Spain - El Salvador (1942-1989)
* Herbert McCabe, O.P., UK (1926-2001)
* Johann Baptist Metz, Germany (b. 1928)
* José Míguez Bonino, Argentina
* Jürgen Moltmann, Germany (b. 1926)
* Segundo Montes, S.J., Spain - El Salvador (1933-1989)
* Henri Nouwen, Netherlands (1932-1996)
* Sr. Peggy O'Neil, US - El Salvador
* Camilo Torres, Colombia (1929-1966)
* Samuel Ruiz, Mexico (b. 1924)
* Edward Schillebeeckx, Belgium - Netherlands (b. 1914)
* Juan Luis Segundo, S.J., Uruguay (1925-1996)
* William Sidhum, Egypt
* Stefan Silber, Germany
* Stephen Sizer, England (b. 1953)
* Jon Sobrino, S.J., Spain - El Salvador (b. 1938)
* Dorothee Sölle, Germany (1929-2003)
* William Stringfellow, U.S. (1929-1985)
* Jung Mo Sung, Brazil (b. 1957)
* Luis Zambrano Rojas, Puno, Peru
* Dean Brackley, El Salvador

Others influenced by liberation theology

* Diane Drufenbrock, U.S.
* Paul Farmer, U.S. (b. 1959)
* Brian P. Moore, U.S.
* Cesar Romero, U.S.
* Atlee Yarrow, U.S. (b. 1967)
* Paulo Freire, Brazil (1921-1997)
* Vekoslav Grmič, Yugoslavia
* Robert McAfee Brown, U.S. (1920-2001)
* Fernando Lugo
* Oscar Romero, El Salvador (1917-1980)
* John Dear, S.J., U.S.

Related movements

* Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil
* Lavalas in Haiti
* Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa [ [ Filippo Mondini on the March on Nayager | Abahlali baseMjondolo ] ]


See also

*Black theology
*Christian socialism
*Dependency theory
*Feminist theology
*Social gospel
*Raul Prebisch
*World systems theory


Basic titles (all by Penny Lernoux)

"Cry of the people: United States involvement in the rise of fascism, torture, and murder and the persecution of the Catholic Church in Latin America" / Author: Lernoux, Penny, 1940-Publication: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1980

"In banks we trust" / Author: Lernoux, Penny, 1940- Publication: Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984

"People of God : the struggle for world Catholicism" / Author: Lernoux, Penny, 1940- Publication: New York : Viking, 1989

Further readings:
* Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, "Liberation Theology" (preliminary notes to 1984 Instruction)
* Berryman, Phillip, "Liberation Theology" (1987).
* Sigmund, P.E., "Liberation Theology at the Crossroads" (1990).
* Hillar, Marian, "," published in "Humanism and Social Issues. Anthology of Essays". M. Hillar and H.R. Leuchtag, eds., American Humanist Association, Houston, 1993, pp. 35-52.
* Gutiérrez, Gustavo, "", Orbis Books, 1988.
* Petrella, Ivan, "The Future of Liberation Theology: An Argument and Manifesto" Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004
* Smith, Christian, "", University of Chicago Press, 1991.
* Mahan, Brian and L. Dale Richesin, "The Challenge of Liberation Theology: A First World Response," 1981, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY.
* Mueller, Andreas, OFM, Arno Tausch and Paul Michael Zulehner (Eds.) "Global capitalism, liberation theology, and the social sciences" Haupauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers

External links


* [ Theology in Africa - Articles]
* [ Orbis Books]
* [ Complex and Alive. Recent Developments of the Theology of Liberation]
* [ As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists]
* [ What is abiding in Liberation Theology]
* [ A short history of Liberation theology]
* [ Excerpts on and Chronology of liberation theology]
* [ "Christian Revolution in Latin America: The Changing Face of Liberation Theology"] , Ron Rhodes
* [ BBC Religion & Ethics theological obituary of Pope John Paul II: his views on liberation theology]
* [ Centre for Liberation Theologies, Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium]
* [ The Blessed Poor of Jesus of Nazareth]
* [ Edward A. Lynch, "The Retreat of Liberation Theology", 1994]
* [ Liberation Theology Resources Online] -- articles, organizations, biographies, book links
* [ Black Liberation Theology: Information]
* [ Socialism and Faith Commission of the Socialist Party USA]
* [ Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary]
* [ Liberation Theology at Centropian]

Liberation theology and social science

* [ World Values Survey]
* [ Institute for Research on World-Systems]
* [ Journal of World-Systems Research]
* [ World-Systems Archive]
* [ Working Papers in the World Systems Archive]
* [ World-Systems Archive Books]
* [ World-Systems Electronic Seminars]
* [ Preface to ReOrient by Andre Gunder Frank]
* [ Andre Gunder Frank resources]
* [ The Modern World-System by Immanuel Wallerstein]
* [ Immanuel Wallerstein resources]
* [ The African Crisis - World Systemic and Regional Aspects by Giovanni Arrighi]
* [ The Rise of East Asia in World Historical Perspective by Giovanni Arrighi]
* [ Neo-marxist Political Economy]
* [ Resilience, Panarchy, and World-Systems Analysis]
* [ A Dynamic Map of the World Cities' Growth]

Vatican responses

* [ Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 1984, "Instruction on Certain Aspects of "Theology of Liberation"]
* [ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Liberation Theology" (preliminary notes to 1984 Instruction)]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • liberation theology — n. a Christian theology incorporating political, esp. Marxist, theory and seeking to liberate people, esp. of the Third World, from economic or political oppression …   English World dictionary

  • liberation theology —    During the 20th century, various groups challenged the universality of traditional Christian theology. They suggested that established church theologies did not speak for the whole church, but only for the ecclesiastical and political leaders… …   Encyclopedia of Protestantism

  • liberation theology — a 20th century Christian theology, emphasizing the Biblical and doctrinal theme of liberation from oppression, whether racial, sexual, economic, or political. [1970 75] * * * Roman Catholic movement that originated in the late 20th century in… …   Universalium

  • liberation theology — Several Roman Catholic theologians working in impoverished communities in Latin America have emphasized that both in the OT and in the NT injustice and oppression have been condemned in the name of God. The books of Exodus and 1 and 2 Macc.… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Liberation Theology —    A radical theology that arose in the Latin American Catholic Church during the 1960s. Unlike the traditional church in the region, which had aligned itself for centuries with the military and the wealthy elites, practitioners of liberation… …   Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars”

  • liberation theology — N UNCOUNT Liberation theology is the belief that the Christian Church should be actively involved in politics in order to bring about social change …   English dictionary

  • liberation theology — noun a form of Christian theology (developed by South American Roman Catholics) that emphasizes social and political liberation as the anticipation of ultimate salvation • Hypernyms: ↑theology, ↑theological system …   Useful english dictionary

  • liberation theology — noun Date: 1972 a religious movement especially among Roman Catholic clergy in Latin America that combines political philosophy usually of a Marxist orientation with a theology of salvation as liberation from injustice • liberation theologian… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • liberation theology — libera′tion theol ogy n. rel a modern Christian theology stressing liberation from racial, economic, and political oppression • Etymology: 1970–75 libera′tion theolo gian, n …   From formal English to slang

  • Liberation Theology —    A system of theology which initially arose in South America: it makes use of Marxist categories and stresses justice and God’s bias to the poor …   Who’s Who in Christianity

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.