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Martin Maier SJ

The Relevance of Liberation Theology


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 9/2009, P. 577 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


In Latin America there is the proverb, "Hay muertos que gozan de buena salud" - "Persons declared dead live longer." Theology of liberation belongs to those "who are declared dead". At the latest with the fall of the Berlin Wall its opponents saw heralded the end of this new theology that had come into existence after the Second Vatican Council in Latin America. It was then assumed that the Marxist ideology was an essential part of liberation theology. But Gustavo Gutiérrez OP who is rightly regarded as its father ironically remarked on its death that until now nobody had invited him to attend the funeral, and as a father he was probably allowed to expect this. He more seriously said that he was less worried about the future of liberation theology but about the question of where the poor will sleep in the 21st century.

This also means that the reason leading 40 years ago to the emergence of liberation theology is still relevant today: the scandal of poverty and injustice, marginalization and exclusion, which does not only characterize the situation of Latin America but of the world as a whole. Globalization could not resolve this scandal; on the contrary, it has deepened the gap between rich and poor. The consequences of the global financial and economic crisis hit the poor hardest, but they are the least responsible for it.

The emergence of liberation theology happened in the larger context of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. In August 1968 the Second General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops took place in Medellín, Colombia, where it was about a creative reception of the Council. The Catholic Church's new opening to the world during the Council became for the bishops in Medellín an opening to the world of the poor. They connected the inhuman situation of poverty and oppression of the majority of people on the subcontinent with God's will to liberate man. From the faith and based on the Bible they drew the obvious conclusion of the option for the poor. The bishops' assembly and the liberation theology at that time emerging had an inspiring influence upon each other.

With it a conflict was pre-programmed with church and political forces interested in a preservation of the status quo. A common pattern of argumentation was that the Church would leave its "actual" task by a social and political commitment. But this only reveals that a central achievement of the Council and of the Popes' recent social encyclicals was still not yet understood and implemented.



For example, the entire Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et Spes" is based on the differentiated unity of world history and salvation history. Pope Paul VI affirmed in his Apostolic Letter "Evangelii Nuntiandi" (1975) the close relationship between evangelization and human development and liberation.

In March 2007 the conflict over liberation theology has newly been triggered by the sentences of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on teachings of the Salvadoran theologian Jon Sobrino. But the Vatican's disciplinary measure against Sobrino has also produced some positive effects. For example, in the area of German theology the theology of liberation shows again clear signs of life. In October 2008 at the invitation of the Steyl Missionaries and the Viennese Catholic Theological Faculty more than 50 theologians discussed the relevance of liberation theology. Günter Prüller-Jagenteufel, the Viennese expert on moral theology emphasized that also in Europe theology had no choice but to face the economic and political challenges of its time. A next meeting is scheduled for March 2010. Since 2007 the "Plattform Theologie der Befreiung" exists, which serves the cross-linking in the German language area ( In August 2009 in El Salvador a Liberation Theology Summer School for students of theology from the German-speaking area took place as bridge-building between Europe and Latin America.

For Jon Sobrino in theology of liberation it is ultimately about nothing else but focussing the theological reflection on the poor and taking as far as possible their perspective. Those who do this will better perceive reality and better understood Revelation. The reason for it is Christology: In His Son God got radically involved in this world and its history, and he has done it under the sign of the Option for the Poor. If the option for the poor is in this way rooted in God it has the highest dogmatical commitment. In his address to the delegates of the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuit Order on 21 February 2008 Pope Benedict XVI has in a surprising way confirmed it, "At the same time I encourage you to continue and renew your mission among the poor and for the poor. Unfortunately new causes of poverty and exclusion are not lacking in a world marked by grave economic and environmental imbalances, processes of globalization, caused by selfishness rather than by solidarity ... . As I had the opportunity to repeat to the Latin American Bishops gathered in the Shrine of Aparecida, 'the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the christological faith in a God that has made himself poor for us, so as to make us rich by his poverty' (2 Cor 8,9). It is therefore natural that whoever wishes to make himself a companion of Jesus, really share the love of the poor. For us the choice of the poor is not ideological but is born from the Gospel."


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'


2. Since the option for the poor comes in this way from God the highest commitment of dogmatic theology is needed. Was ich sagen möchte: If the option for the poor is in this way rooted in God it has the highest dogmatical commitment.