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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jon Sobrino and Karl Rahner

The Tablet has an article about Joh Sobrino SJ this week - Sobrino judgement ignites widespread anger - that discusses the large number of people around the world who disagree with the Vatican's judgement of Jon Sobrino's work.

As I'm still interested in the subject, I thought I'd look through some old issues of The Way to find any articles by Fr. Sobrino, and I came upon one ... Karl Rahner and Liberation Theology.

Here below is a bit of Fr. Jon Sobrino's article .....


During the 1970s a new Church and a new theology arose in Latin America. This article is a personal reflection on what Karl Rahner has meant for me in that context, though I hope that what I say will apply to liberation theology more broadly. I write out of the life-experience in El Salvador that has lead me to read with new eyes the theology I had previously studied, in which Rahner's work was a very important element. I am also writing out of my close personal and intellectual relationship with Ignacio Ellacuria, Rahner's student in Innsbrook between 1958 and 1962. On account of his defense of faith and justice, Ellacuria, as many will know, was murdered on 16 November 1989, along with five other Jesuits and two female workers from the university in which he taught. But we should remember that Ellacuria was not just Rahner's pupil. He took forward important ideas in Rahner's theology, as he sought to express them in his own situation and in a way appropriate for the world of the poor .....

In an interview he gave to a Spanish magazine shortly before his death, Rahner was asked what he thought about the current state of the Church. Rahner replied in terms that have proved themselves only too true: 'in gerneral, we are living through a "wintery season"'. People still quote these words as a kind of lament or protest. But Rahner added something that has, unfortunately, been forgotten: 'however, there are some parts of the Church where there is a very animated, charismatic life, one that yields hope'. He was referring to the creative new developements in churches like those of Latin America .....

And it is well known that two weeks before his death, on 16 March 1984, he wrote a letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima defending Gustavo Gutierrez' theology against the charge of being unorthodox. This theology, Rahner said, was in many ways very original, because it was 'at the service of evangelization in a specific situation'. There was something in the churches of Latin America that attracted Rahner .... their rootedness in lived reality .....

An important part of the new reality emaerging from Latin America was its theology: liberation theology. I do not think that Rahner had any detailed knowledge of it, but he was certainly aware intuitively of the fundamental issues at stake and he supported it. This was by no means something to be taken for granted, other great figures of his generation, such as Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar had no idea of how to respond to this emergent reality. Liberation theology was stammering out its insights without much profundity. It was coming from distant, unknown places, and its future was incertain .....

What struck me in Rahner's theology was was how reality itself was its foundation. The point may seem obvious, but there are theologies that start from preconceived notions in which this priciple is not often observed. Be that as it may, Rahner was outstanding in his fidelity to the real ..... liberation theology's fundimental assertion and conviction is that the poor - and God in the poor - have broken into history. The believer, the human person, has to respond to this reality, indeed correspond to it. We are charged to liberate the poor and, in Ellacuria's phrase, to take them down from their cross. Theology can no longer be the ideology that fosters oppression. None of these convictions is just the result of a theoretical argument; they come from an honest and hopeful option to let lived reality be central, to let it speak, to hear its word, to let it guide us and call forth our response .....

This reality has a mystery at its heart. God is the mystery par excellence, and the human person is the being confronted with mystery. Rahner insists that God is the Holy Mystery ..... Rahner has a deeper sense of God's mystery than other standard progressive theologians, one that is matched in liberation theology. Gutierrez places mystery, God's mystery, at the center ... The inbreaking of the poor person, and of God within them, recalls much of Rahner's account of mystery .....

I have been noting the fundamental influence of Rahner on liberation theology .... Obviously there were some significant differences. Rahner engaged the Enlightenment as represented by Kant; liberation theology engaged the Enlightenment as represented by Marx .... Moreover, liberation theology would now see important gaps in Rahner's theology .... I do not think Rahner ever came to understand Ellacuria's utopian conception of a 'civilization of poverty' in contrast to the 'civilization of wealth' that has never given life or dignity to its minoritie ... Nevertheless, we should not forget his support for the Church and the way of Christian life that was emerging in Latin America in his last years .....

Is there a liberation theology here? The answer to that is not so important. But I like what Pedro Casaldaliga, Christian, bishop and poet of liberation, wrote after Rahner's death:

'What are you doing now?'
the Pope used to ask him (inquisitorially? kindly?).
The theologian used to reply (evasively? magisterially?),
'I am preparing to live the great Encounter'.
And with eighty Aprils, well-pondered,
a hearer of the Mystery in the Word,
he plunged into the absolute future.



Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Crystal, what do you think of liberation theology and its connection to marxist ideas?

Doesn't liberation theology distort Christ and his message? Wasn't Christ about changing people's hearts in order to get things done and not about taking up the sword (revolution) for that purpose?

Here is an article I found about the subject:

I saw the movie Amazing Grace last night. The audience had a brief encounter with the idea of liberation theology and the conflict between it and conventional theology. It was when Clarkson (a Quaker) talked about the French Revolution and implied to Wilburforce that one might be necessary in England. Wilburforce bristled and said in so many words that he never wanted to hear talk like that again.

Wilburforce worked for many years through the political system appealing to the hearts of men in Parliament in order to stop the slave trade and finally bring an end to slavery itself. He finally succeeded. It took longer for him to accomplish what he set out to accomplish that way than it would have taken with a revolution, but it was not nearly as disruptive to society.

What do you think?

11:42 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi SusieQ :-)

My personal belief is that liberation theology is a good thing.

About its connection to Marxism, others can speak to this better than I can, but I'd say that part of why it seems connected to Marxism has to do with the times and the place - Latin America in the 60s, 70s ... now the language of human rights is more relavent there to liberation theology than the language of socialism.

Does LT distort Jesus' message? I don't think so. To me Jesus' message can be seen in two things - what he said, what he did.

He said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbor, and he mentioned helping the poor, orphans and widows, those without food, shelter, clotheing, prisoners, etc.

As to what he did, he helped people. When someone came to him for help, he didn't tell them to suck it up and wait until they were dead to finally be happy/well, he healed them, he got involved.

I don't think LT is about taking up the sword. The six Jesuit LT theologians who were killed in El Salvador didn't take up the sword ... they were the ones murdered.

I haven't seen the movie Amazing Grace yet, but I hope to soon. The difference between England in the 19th century and Latin America in the 70s and even now is pretty big, I think. There's incredible poverty in Latin A,erica, and the political systems are not as stable or benign as in England, there are military death squads, corruption ... thousands of people have simply gone missing.

This is not to say I think a violent revolution is called for and I don't think LT is about that at all. But involvement is important and to me that shows that God cares about what conditions we live under here.

Does any of that make sense?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

According to Wikipedia (not always a reliable source though) the Catholic Church (the Vatican) has rejected liberation theology due to its Marxist concepts of materialism for one which can result in an "incitement to hate and violence (and) the exaltation of class struggle." It is not completely compatible with the church's social teachings according to the article there. Do you think the Vatican is wrong to condemn it?

To be honest, I had never heard the term liberation theology before reading your post on it. So, I tried to get a handle on what it is exactly. There seems to be a radical element to it which should make us cautious.

I regret that I am not up to speed on what is going on in Latin America either regarding the poor there. There is never enough time to absorb everything there is to absorb in the world. I know that what is happening in Venezuela with Chavez scares me and I really know little about that too.

Of course, we are expected to get involved in helping people who are poor and suffering. This is the social gospel. Of course, God is concerned with our temporal lives here on earth, that we have what we need in order to fulfill ourselves as much as possible. The parable about the Good Samaritan tells us what is expected of us even in how we are to treat people who are not necessarily our friends as was the case with the Samaritan who stopped to help the Jew on the side of the road.

In cases where a government is oppressive or grossly shrugging its duties to the majority of its citizens, people need to speak out even bishops and priests and ministers need to speak out so that something gets done. Yet, liberation theology seems to advocate going further than that.

I will try to read more about it.

The movie Amazing Grace was great! And very inspirational.

4:40 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I think it's true that the Vatican, especially the present and last Pope, has/have a negative opinion of liberation theology. But it's not a black and white situation ... the Vatican has expressed qualified admiration for many of the attributes of LT as well.

I honestly don't think LT today is about Marxism, socialism, or violent revolution.

There's a lot to read on the subject ... if you're interested, this page - Liberation Theology Resources - has some interesting articles more friendly to LT.

Yeah, the trailers for the movie look great :-)

7:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Susie - I should add, I'm no expert on liberation theology, and all I have are opinions ... it would be better to ask someone who knows more about it :-)

7:27 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Thanks, Crystal. I'll check out that link.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Thanks for posting that. I'm glad to see that there are people standing up for Sobrino.

I was surprised and gratified to see that Ellacuria had studied under Rahner, and that Rahner was an influence on Sobrino too.

I was just talking to a Jesuit priest before Mass on Sunday and we were talking about Jon Sobrino. The priest told me that he had met Sobrino during a visit he'd made to our diocese once, and how impressed everyone had been at how holy, unassuming and humble he was.

2:45 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I had read a little about Ellacuria before, so I knew he had been a student of Rahner's. Did you see in that Tablet article that Leo Boff was one of the guys speaking for Sobrino? I only knew who he was because you had posted someong about him earlier :-)

7:24 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Yes, Leonardo Boff has spoken up for Sobrino, calling him the best theologian in Latin America. I’ve seen a few news stories that have quoted him as saying this would “would mark a resurgence of Marxist theology in Latin America” , which is unfortunate and misleading, because I doubt that was what he actually said. Once again, it is indicative of what people assume liberation theology is. I’ve been looking around for the text of what he actually said while he was asked about it on a recent trip to Costa Rica. The best I can come up with is this translated page, which never works out too well (“Sobrino” means “nephew” in Spanish).

Apparently, Sobrino is only alive today because he did Boff a favor. Boff was asked to go and run a conference in Thailand, but his English isn’t very good, so he asked Sobrino to go in his place. The other Jesuits at his house in El Salvador were killed while he was away on that trip.

There is one thing, though, that disappointed me as I was looking all this up, and it’s caused me to lose some respect for Boff. It seems that he had/has something going on the side. Whether they come from the left, the right, or the center, I’m tired of these guys living these secret lives.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, if you only knew how many secret lives are being's a system that, by and large, has stripped so many men and women of their BEing...a system that forces men and women to deny their that so many are merely going through the motions..wearing masks...until they die...sooooooooo many

10:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I'm working on a paper on Rahner and Liberation Theology.

I'm trying to get that article by Sobrino but can only get it through interlibrary loan. And I don't susbscribe to the way. I wonder if you still have it and would be willing to email me a copy?

6:47 PM  
Blogger Graciela said...

It seems to me that the link between Liberation theology and Marx is a false dilema. Societes at large in Latin America are very violent, capitalism is very violent; nevertheless, in societes with a classical process of development, modernity has enable them to live in less despair, if by that, you understand that civilization has made life . Is not the same violence in El Salvador that in England, even thou in both countries live violent persons and violent institutions. The change in our hearts has to be, but at the same time, we have to be aware that greed, anger, prejudices, racism, classism are a projection that the heart does not change in automatic, because if it did, the world won't be the way it is. Poverty is a condition of exclusion and marginaliztion, and this feeds destruction to the persons that live it. Not all the poor are in this conditions. So what makes the difference? The colective exercise of power. Socialism of the Russian Revolution become phony when there was no difference between Stalin and Hitler. Marx didn't had anything to do with it. History shows that violence does not change what they said they were going to change. Christianity said that the Indians had no soul, and Jesus had nothing to do with it. So...even thou we are not yogis from the Himalayas and are aware of our own violence, we have to work for structural, individual, group, changes throug non-violent means. The only things left are our hearts and the possibility of rationality.

4:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Graciela,

Thanks for your comment.

I agree - I don't think liberation theology is about Marxism. I think it's characterized that way by JPII and the present pope because they dislike liberation theology. LT is about helping the poor, and that has everything to do with gospel values.

7:08 PM  

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