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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alejandro Garcia-Rivera and others on Jon Sobrino's Christology

- Jon Sobrino offers a mass at the El Carmen Church in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, 2007

Saw this story in the Tablet - Liberation theology ‘is still a danger’ ......

Pope Benedict XVI has said that a Marxist-driven liberation theology is continuing to cause great harm to the Church in Brazil 25 years after he first tried to crack down on its proliferation. “Its consequences, more or less visible, in the form of rebellion, division, dissent, offence [and] anarchy, are still being felt,” the Pope said last Saturday to the heads of some 28 dioceses in southern Brazil, including the metropolitan sees of Porto Alegre and Florianopolis. He told the bishops, who were in Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visit, that liberation theology was “creating great suffering and a serious loss of vital force in [their] diocesan communities”. In 1984, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and issued an instruction, Libertatis Nuntius, which strongly condemned a number of elements in liberation theology ....

I disagree with the pope and I like liberation theology, so when I later came across a 2007 article in America magazine with a number of theologians on the Christology of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino SJ, I thought I'd post just the start of the article. Here it is below .......


What are theologians saying about Christology?

Editor’s Note: After the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a notification March 14 on some works of the liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, S.J., the editors wondered how we might inform our readers about the questions at stake. We concluded that the most useful approach would be to set the issues in the context of contemporary Christology, explaining what major theologians, Scripture scholars and schools of theology are saying regarding the six questions about Jesus to which the congregation drew attention in its notification: method, divinity/humanity, incarnation, the kingdom of God, Jesus’ self-consciousness and soteriology (explanations of how Jesus achieved our salvation). We have asked six theologians to explain what the tradition and their colleagues are saying today about the church’s confession of Jesus as Christ and Son of God.

Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, Kevin Burke, Robert P. Imbelli, John R. Donahue, William Thompson-Uberuaga, Robert A. Krieg

Faith and the Poor

By Alejandro Garcia-Rivera

Recently I had the honor of listening to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware as he gave a talk on the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Spirit. During the question-and-answer session, a young Roman Catholic seminarian asked him what he thought of the recent Vatican notification on the works of Jon Sobrino, S.J. Bishop Ware smiled, thought for a minute and quoted this famous passage from St. John Chrysostom:

Would you see his altar?... This altar is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord becomes an altar. This altar is more venerable even than the one which we now use. For it is…but a stone by nature; but become holy because it receives Christ’s body: but that is holy because it is itself Christ’s body…[which] you may see lying everywhere, in the alleys and in the marketplaces, and you may sacrifice upon it anytime…. When then you see a poor believer, believe that you are beholding an altar. When you see this one as a beggar, do not only refrain from insulting him, but actually give him honor, and if you witness someone else insulting him, stop him; prevent it.
Homily 20 on 2 Corinthians

Wisely Bishop Ware refused to elaborate on the quotation and left us to ponder its meaning. Its relevance to the Sobrino notification, however, has become more and more evident as I have studied the text by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The notification questions first the methodological presuppositions of Sobrino’s Christology. Father Sobrino emphasizes the social setting defined by the “church of the poor”; the notification identifies the proper context as the “faith of the Church.”

The C.D.F. apparently thinks Sobrino is playing fast and loose with the nature of the church. By identifying the church with the poor instead of with the faith, the C.D.F. warns that Sobrino’s Christ is being wrenched from his ecclesial matrix. What is feared, I suppose, is a Christ who emerges out of a social setting instead of a communion of faith. Such a Christ could be subject to political and ideological currents that have little interest in faith. Indeed, Sobrino’s method of taking the social context as the ecclesial matrix from which Christ emerges may lead to an unabashed theological pluralism where the one Lord can become a Christ of a thousand faces, each depending on its own social setting.

Such a scenario might be one reason this notification was issued. Sobrino’s method opens up a postmodern Pandora’s box of theological speculation. To ask if Jon Sobrino’s Christ is too postmodern is to ask if the C.D.F.’s primary concern is the role that truth plays in theological reflections. The notification, referring to Donum Veritatis, suggests as much: “Thus the truth revealed by God himself in Jesus Christ, and transmitted by the Church, constitutes the ultimate normative principle of theology.” Trust in the normative power of truth claims is at odds with the postmodern zeitgeist, which questions not simply the truthfulness of statements but truth itself. Such faith and the deep value it holds can legitimately be offended by the skepticism over normative claims so prevalent today. Does the notification assert that Sobrino’s Christology falls prey to such skepticism? There is reason to think so, namely, the concern for “the manner in which the author treats the major Councils of the early Church.” The notification lifts out this particular quote from Sobrino’s Christ the Liberator: “While these texts are useful theologically, besides being normative, they are also limited and even dangerous, as is widely recognized today.” While recognizing the limited character of dogmatic formulation, the notification insists that “there is no foundation for calling these formulas dangerous, since they are authentic interpretations of Revelation.”

Here the wisdom from the Orthodox tradition and the relevance of Chrysostom’s text become evident. The Orthodox warn against making dogmatic claims with too much confidence. While truth is behind all such claims, the ecclesial setting for truth is not objectivity but love. Truth is not simply about objectivity but also solidarity. And this is one of the lessons I learned from Chrysostom’s text. The Christ the church worships at its altar is also the Christ found at the altar of the world’s poor. In this sense both Sobrino and the C.D.F. appear to speak truthfully and accurately. Christ’s ecclesial matrix is the church that worships in faith. It is also the church of the poor. This is the famous both-and that marks the church as Catholic.

Having a both-and Christology is not the same as postmodern skepticism. It is the very nature of a faith that proclaims that God is one and three, that Jesus is human and divine. There is something more dangerous to the faith than a Christ who can only be grasped through multiple views; it is a view of truth as either-or.

“Definitive” truth that is not loving can bring only despair to an already nihilistic world. Postmodernism thrives precisely because it sees the suffering of this world as having reached horrendous and senseless proportions. A church that is methodologically indifferent to senseless suffering is at odds with the methods of Jesus himself. Only a Jesus who belongs to a church that is not afraid to identify itself with the suffering of this world can have any rational claim on the world itself. In other words, the normative character of the truth of the church’s faith is protected, defended and nurtured by a praxis that will not regard as normative the senseless suffering of billions. The church has two altars. The C.D.F. points rightly to one; Sobrino points to the other ....



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