Chronology Berryman on theologians and history Boff on development and theology Assmann on Christology Lernoux on history and Patrick Rice Brown on contras and Medardo Gomez Gutiérrez on liberation and poverty Torres on revolution Cleary on history and theology Rowland on organization Segundo on the church Câmara on politics Eagleson and Scharper on the Bible Alves on the world Migliore on constriction Elias on neutrality Arias on theology Houtart and Pin on injustice Other quotes and links



Assmann on Christology

On both the theoretical and the practical level... many Christian groups have come in contact with non-Christians involved in the same struggle for liberation... The conflicts rooted in every specific context have become the contextual touchstone through which God speaks to us today... The Bible and Christian tradition as a whole do not address themselves "directly" to us in our present situation; instead they stand as a basic point of reference for us, indicating how God speaks to human beings in widely divergent contexts. Thus they can help us to see how God might be speaking to us in our present context.

...our own colonized minds have led us to keep on mouthing an elitist language. Grassroots Christians are far more radical in their use of the new methodology. It is really their methodology, because it is a type of Christian reflection that corresponds with their own practical experience of the faith in the context of political praxis. That is why they are more radical in doing what we theologians are trying to do; that is why their expression in grassroots language is more suited to the real-life context than our sophisticated but extra-contextual talk...

Ever since the recent military coup in Chile, pronouncements by both church and government officials reflect the strong resurgence of Christologies that many had thought to have been declared illegitimate during the period of Allende's rule. They come down to two basic images of Christ. One is the Christ of conciliatory "third-way" approaches. For him there is no irreconcilable conflict, no victors and vanquished; there is only one happy, fraternal family living above and beyond all social conflict. The other is the Christ of the coup. It is he who underlies the thinking of those who try to legitimate the coup by appealing to the need to defend "Christian" values. The shifting sounds of allegiance to one or another image of Christ have much to tell the sociologist, but they are discouraging to any theologian or biblical scholar who is confident that we can move history forward simply by purifying people's ideas.

Such moments in history are very instructive. They tell us a great deal about the conditioning influence of social contexts on ideas. When we examine certain episcopal texts, such as the statement by Bishop González of Temuco, we see how difficult it is to blend together a Christ who is somewhat of the third-way bent with a Christ who is just the slightest bit in favor of the coup.

...the revolutionary Christian cannot take the liberty of going against those who adhere to the ecclesiastical Christologies when, for social and class reasons, they represent potential allies in the liberation process. The situation is different, of course, in the case of those who uphold oppression and domination in the name of Christianity. Their Christology must be shown to be illegitimate and unmasked in a stance of opposition and conflict.

...Our Christological tracts have moved from the individual Christ to the total Christ; from Christ in se to the Christ "in Christians"; and ...from the bygone Christ to a Christ and his power operating in the full dimensions of history and here and now today.

Christ's power is necessarily operative in a certain well-defined direction. It is on the side of the oppressed and against their oppressors... The scandal lies in those who are scandalized, and in the bold decision to stand up in opposition to the clear ideological cast of their own political option. While their option is clear, it may be something of which they are not fully aware...

Some Christologies claim to be apolitical. They offer us a Christ who "has" power but does not exercise it, and who never takes sides. They are simply ways of concealing the fact that an option for one side has already been made. The newer political Christologies are ways of stripping the mask off these allegedly apolitical Christs and revealing their true countenance.

...The Christ of oppressive Christologies really has two faces. On the one side are all the Christs of the power establishment, who do not need to fight because they already hold a position of dominance; on the other are all the Christs of established impotence, who cannot fight against the dominance to which they are subject.


Hugo Assmann, "The Power of Christ in History: Conflicting Christologies and Discernment" from Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, edited by Rosino Gibellini, translated by John Drury, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1979.

Brown on Contras and Medardo Gomez

At about eleven o'clock on Saturday night, there was a knock at the door, followed by a muffled conversation. A couple of minutes later Damos Echeverría went out into the darkness, hands clutching a rifle. Contra troops had been reported in the area, and Damos, along with other local militia members, had to defend the town against possible attack. We were after all, in the middle of a war zone. So the hands of Davos Echeverría were ready to pull the trigger on that rifle and inflict death if necessary, so that his seven children might continue living.

The next morning during mass at the Paiwas parish Church of Christ the King, I saw those same hands sign the cross on the foreheads of children, and then - as the parish's minister of baptism - Damos Echeverría used his hands to pour water on their heads, administering the sacrament of baptism, a sign of the bestowal of new life in the midst of a world of death. I could not help reflecting that if my government had not been funding the contras, Damos Echeverría would not have had to train his hands to destroy life but could have devoted them exclusively to the bestowing of new life.

Carmen Mendieta, Damos's wife, was the mother of those seven children, aged two to fifteen... She and Damos, a teacher of carpentry in the local school, were both Delegates of the Word, Catholic lay people who had been trained to work with children, help parents understand the meaning of marriage...

A year after our visit, on the morning of December 2, 1987, Carmen Mendieta climbed into the back of a flatbed truck to go to Rio Blanco, fifteen miles away, to purchase electrical wire for the child-care center then under construction. On the way, the truck hit a Claymore mine, after which the contras sent a grenade through the windshield of the immobilized vehicle with enough force to kill Carmen and two other women sitting with her in the back of the truck.

...What I cannot imagine is why the Reagan administration viewed Carmen Medieta as a sufficient threat to United States security to hire mercenaries to kill her...

By the end of our visit, I had learned why a Lutheran bishop is a threat to the government of El Salvador. The "sins" of Bishop [Medardo] Gomez are the sins of a host of others as well: he believes that the church's mission includes political involvement; that the gospel has a special concern for the poor that must be translated into the actions and policies of a nation; that a negotiated peace is preferable to an ongoing war; and that bishops often have to speak out and act in ways that are critical of the government. Such actions, whether by bishops or not, are actions punishable by death, and there are seventy-five thousand dead Salvadorans to attest to the accuracy of that proposition.

Second, I had learned why Bishop Gomez is so loved. Once he was back with his people, he realized that he could not truly be their bishop from the safety of another country, but must be in their midst, working, suffering, threatened, just like everybody else...

At an ecumenical service on Epiphany, a Baptist pastor said to Bishop Gomez, "We Baptists don't have bishops. But you, Medardo, are our bishop."

Ditto for this Presbyterian...

Two days ago, as I write this, I was on the spot in the University of Central America in San Salvador where six Jesuits, including Ignacio Ellacuria, their housekeep, and her daughter, were murdered by units of the Salvadoran military... As the killers were moving the body, they dislodged one of the books in the bookcase, which fell to the floor and was saturated with the martyr's blood. In the morning it was discovered that the book was Jürgen Moltmann's The Crucified God .

That symbolism still overpowers me. Yes, in Jesus of Nazareth, God too was "crucified," living out the fullness of human reality right up to the very nailprints. That we know by observation. But we also know, by faith, that the "crucified God" is also the "resurrected God." Which says at least that just as the crucified God was with the Jesuits in their death, so the Jesuits are with the resurrected God in their rising from the dead. That is the light of faith that sustains in the time of darkness, when faith is tested to the uttermost.

...within days of the murders, hundreds of Jesuits all over the world were volunteering to take the places of the six martyrs... "They've killed the Jesuits for speaking out, therefore we must speak out for them."

At a memorial service for the slain... the most important comment was made by a young Salvadoran woman... "Do not mourn their deaths... imitate their lives."


Robert McAfee Brown, Liberation Theology, 1993, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.

Gutiérrez on liberation and poverty

The lower classes of the populace, forced to live on the margins of society and oppressed since time immemorial, are beginning to speak for themselves more and more rather than relying on intermediaries... They are less and less willing to be the passive objects of demagogic manipulation and social or charitable welfare in varied disguises. They want to be the active subjects of their own history and to forge a radically different society.

This discovery is made, however, only within the context of a revolutionary struggle. That struggle is calling the existing social order into question from the roots up ...private ownership of the means of production will be eliminated because it enables a few to expropriate the fruits of labor performed by the many, generates class divisions in a society, and permits one class to be exploited by another. In such a reordered society the social takeover of the means of production will be accompanied by a social takeover of the reins of political power that will ensure people's liberty...

For a long time, and still today in the case of many people, Latin American Christians displayed an almost total lack of concern for temporal tasks. They were subjected to a type of religious upbringing that viewed the "hereafter" as the locale of authentic life... On the surface it seemed to bear the hallmark of spiritual and religious traits, but in reality it stemmed from a seriously reductionist view of the gospel message... The gospel message was thus rendered as innocuous as a lap dog. From such a gospel the great and powerful of this world had little to fear and much to gain. Their support and backing of it was quickly forthcoming.

...Social injustice began to surface as the fundamental cause of the general situation. How could one claim to be a Christian if one did not commit oneself to remedying that situation?

...More and more we see a converging trend, initiated by young people in particular. In ever widening circles people began to abandon positions that did not go beyond some form of developmentalism rooted in reformist principles. The socialist revolution in Cuba opened up new political horizons... The figures of Camilo Torres and Che Guevara sealed the process irrevocably and had a decisive influence on various Christian sectors in Latin America... To the "institutionalized violence" condemned by the Medellín episcopal conference was added the indiscriminate use of force (imprisonment, torture, and assassination). That is how "order" was to be maintained in the face of popular movements and uprisings.

Love of neighbor is an essential component of Christian life. But as long as I apply that term only to the people who cross my path and come asking me for help, my world will remain pretty much the same. Individual almsgiving and social reformism is a type of love that never leaves its own front porch... On the other hand my world will change greatly if I go out to meet other people on their path and consider them as my neighbor, as the good Samaritan did... the gospel tells us that the poor are the supreme embodiment of our neighbor. It is this option that serves as the focus for a new way of being human and Christian in today's Latin America.

But the existence of the poor... is not neutral on the political level or innocent of ethical implications. Poor people are by-products of the system under which we live and for which we are responisble... That is why the poverty of the poor is not a summons to alleviate their plight with acts of generosity but rather a compelling obligation to fashion an entirely different social order.

The realm of politics today entails confrontations between different human groups, between social classes with opposing interests, and these confrontations are marked by varying levels of violence. The desire to be an "artisan of peace" not only does not excuse one from taking part in these conflicts; it actually compels one to take part in them if one wants to tackle them at their roots and get beyond them. It forces one to realize that there can be no peace without justice. This is a harsh insight, and it disturbs people who... with the best of good will, confuse or identify universal love with some fictitious harmony.

But what does the gospel message command us to do? It tells us to love our enemies... The gospel does not say that we are not to have enemies; it says that we are not to exclude our enemies from our love.

...Viewed as the result of social injustice which is ultimately rooted in sin, poverty is now taken on insofar as it is a way of bearing witness against the evil it embodies... In this respect it is assumed for much the same reasons that Christ took on the sinful human condition and all its consequences... When it is lived in authentic imitation of Christ, the witness of poverty does not alienate us from the world at all.

...Only through concrete acts of love and solidarity can we effectively realize our encounter with the poor and the exploited and, through them, with Jesus Christ. To give to them is to say yes to Christ; to refuse them is to reject Christ (Matt. 25:31-46).


Gustavo Gutiérrez, "Liberation Praxis and Christian Faith" from Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, edited by Rosino Gibellini, translated by John Drury, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1979.

"Poverty is an act of love and liberation. It has a redemptive value. If the ultimate cause of human exploitation and alienation is selfishness, the deepest reason for voluntary poverty is love of neighbor. Christian poverty has meaning only as a commitment of solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer misery and injustice... It is not a question of idealizing poverty, but rather of taking it on as it is-an evil-to protest against it and to struggle to abolish it... Because of this solidarity- which manifest itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one’s social class- one can also help the poor and exploitated to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it. Christian poverty, and expression of love, is solidarity with the poor and is a protest against poverty. This is the concrete, contemporary meaning of the witness of poverty. It is a poverty lived not for its own sake, but rather as an authentic imitation of Christ; it is a poverty which means taking on the sinful human condition to liberate humankind from sin and all its consequences."


Excerpt from A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutiérrez, a native of Peru, who lives and works among the poor in Lima. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation

Ignacio Martín, who cofounded liberation psychology and was one of El Salvador’s murdered Jesuits, described spirituality for him with the words, "The concern of the social scientist should not be to explain the world but to transform it." James A. Erickson, Krysallis

Torres on revolution

I chose Christianity because I felt that in it I had found the best way of serving my neighbors. I was elected by Christ to be a priest forever, motivated by the desire to devote myself full-time to loving my fellow man.

As a sociologist I wished this love to become effective through science and technique. Upon analyzing Colombian society I realized the need for a revolution that would give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and bring about the well-being of the majorities in our country.

I feel that the revolutionary struggle is a Christian and priestly struggle. Only through this, given the concrete circumstances of our country, can we fulfill the love that men should have for their neighbors...

"He who loves fulfills the law," says St. Paul. "Love and do what you will," says St. Augustine. The surest sign of predestination is love of neighbor. St. John tells us: "If someone says he loves God, whom he does not see, and does not love his neighbor whom he does see, he is a liar."

However, this love for our neighbor must be effective. We will not be judged only by our good intentions, but mainly by our actions in favor of Christ represented in each one of our neighbors. "I was hungry and you did not give me to eat, I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink."

Under the present circumstances in Latin America we see that we cannot feed, or clothe, or house the majorities. Those who hold power constitute an economic minority which dominates political, cultural, and military power, and, unfortunately, also ecclesiastical power in the countries in which the Church has temporal goods. This minority will not make decisions opposed to its own interests... The power must be taken for the majorities' part so that structural, economic, social, and political reforms benefiting these majorities may be realized. This is called revolution, and if it is necessary in order to fulfill love for one's neighbor, then it is necessary for a Christian to be revolutionary.


Camilo Torres, Revolutionary Writings, quoted in the radical bible, adapted by John Eagleson and Philip Scharper from bibel provokativ, edited by Hellmut Haug and Jurgen Rump, translated by Erika J. Papp, 1972, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.

Cleary on history and theology

Although Latin American bishops differed notably from bishops in the developed world in their isolation and lack of national organizational structures, nonetheless the Latin American modus operandi gave the bishops an advantage over their North American or European counterparts. Latin American bishops spent much of their day "receiving" persons, most of them ordinary citizens with a variety of problems. This contact has given many Latin American bishops a sense of the people that is lacking in many bishops of the developed world.

This sense of people, even though sometimes shaped on the skew toward the pious and dependent, helps to explain the relatively ready acceptance at Medellín and the reaffirmation at Puebla of the Latin American bishops' preferential option for the poor in pastoral planning. The much lower percentage of the poor and the relative structural isolation from the poor make such an option relatively unthinkable in the U.S.A. or Europe. The contrast between North America and Latin America emphasizes the impact of differences in structured interactions of bishops and laity.

...a number of young activists and university students in Bolivia started guerrilla activity designed to bring down the government, in Teoponte, a village in the Los Yungas region, near La Paz. Like Torres, a number of the guerrillas joined the movement out of what they believed to be Christian motivation, convinced that revolution was the last recourse in working for a just society. Like Torres too, many of the guerrillas died in combat.

...When reflecting on the situation of institutionalized injustice in Latin America, the bishops at the Medellín conference agreed that the church had to choose sides. They chose the side of the poor and oppressed. Even though this would lead to the loss of support of the traditional elites, including the military, the conference participants felt that the commitment had to be made. It was, in their words, a gospel imperative. Moreover, a commitment to a horizontal, rather than a vertical, church, had to be made: during the days of Vatican II it had become clear that a communal ordering of the church was called for to bring it in line with the original mandate of Christ to his apostles. The methodology of the conference, of first presenting facts and then proceeding to scriptural and theological reflection, brought the bishops to a clear understanding of the necessity for change and commitment in a way that had never taken place before.

...The church did not consider what its proposed changes would mean to other political entities. And more seriously, it did not delineate a policy of dealing with the changing political environment, in which the military was becoming increasingly a major political force. The church and the military set themselves on collision course, and church navigators, with very few exceptions, did not foresee the shoals and suffering that lay ahead.

...The reception of John Paul II by the Mexican people exceeded by far the reception given earlier to Paul VI in Colombia. John Paul's visit also cemented a special relationship of the pope with Latin America, a relationship that intensified during a twelve-day visit to Brazil in mid-1980. No longer was Latin America the lost stepchild of Spain and Portugal. It was beginning to assume intellectual and moral leadership proportionate to its status as by far the most populous segment of the Catholic Church. In turn, John Paul understood that he must engage the Latin American church in discussion rather than continue the relative neglect the Vatican had contented itself with for centuries. John Paul had witnessed for himself the awakening of a giant.

...the theology of liberation is by far the most influential and representative movement in Latin American religious thought. That is true for the historical Latin American Protestant churches as well as the Catholic Church.

...Leo's greatest achievement was probably his concern for distributive justice. He demanded that workers share in the benefits they helped to create. For the Carnegies, Mellons, Pullmans, and Krupps of the industrial world, this was revolutionary and unacceptable thinking. For the working class it became a rallying call that stimulated the drive to unionization, better working conditions, and a greater share in benefits, including pensions.

Leo's stand had its greatest effect in the United States and parts of Europe. The church stood clearly on the side of the working class. As late as the early 1950s there were twenty-eight U.S. labor institutes with formal ties to Catholic universities. A few labor movements of Catholic inspiration or participation appeared in Latin America, notably in Venezuela, Colombia, and Costa Rica. But Catholic social teaching remained virtually unknown in Latin America until the stirrings of Vatican II.

...Pius strongly criticizes capitalists who make excessive profits and pay bare subsistence wages to their workers. Again Leo's theme of distributive justice appears, only this time the teaching is stronger and more concrete... He encourages social legislation. Workers must be allowed to be free to join unions... Many tend to forget or overlook the strength of Pius's criticism of capitalism. He finds too much wealth and economic domination in the hands of a few, giving them excess power.

...With Pius XI, the position of the church on socialism begins to shift. Pius perceives that socialism has changed in the forty years since Rerum Novarum . The communistic form must be rejected but there is a "mitigated socialism" that has some affinity with the principles of Christianity. Third World theologians today carry the argument further and argue that some forms of socialism have greater affinity to the principles of Christianity than do any other known forms of political economy. But Pius was not ready for that. Instead, he says, "No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true socialist." Nonetheless, the ecclesiastical perception of socialism is changing.

Pius anticipates liberation theology in another way. Probably for the first time the church sees sin as collectivized. In modern industrial life, injustice and fraud take place under "the common name of a corporate firm so that no one need take individual responsibility." The Latin American bishops at Medellín and Puebla spoke forcefully about institutionalized injustices and collective sin. This represents a major shift in traditional Catholic (and Protestant Evangelical) thinking...

The first step is a description of the church in the world. This step involves the use of sociology and economics... structural analysis, deriving in part from class and dependency analysis...

Then as a second step comes biblical and doctrinal reflection on the situation described. Thus in the case of Latin America, the teaching of the Bible and of the church led the bishops at Medellín and Puebla and the theologians of liberation to reflect on a society in which justice would prevail. This they describe as a society in which human dignity is respected, the legitimate aspirations of the people are satisfied, personal freedom and access to truth are guaranteed. This type of society, which would correspond to Christian principles, conflicts with what the bishops and theologians perceive in Latin America: they find oppression by power groups, elites. "[These] groups may give the impression of maintaining peace and order, but in truth it is nothing but the continuous and inevitable seed of rebellion and war."

As a third stage, pastoral conclusions follow the biblical and doctrinal reflections. Some conclusions that have consistently appeared in CELAM documents and in the writings of theologians of liberation include defense of the rights of the oppressed, a healthy critical sense of the social situation, promotion of grassroots organizations, a halt to the arms race in Latin America and in the world, just prices for raw materials, and a denunciation of the machinations of world powers that work against the selfdetermination of weaker powers.

Gutiérrez and other liberation theologians contrast their theology with traditional (largely deductive) theology. They emphasize that their theology is a second act or step, not a first act, as is traditional theology. Liberation theology is elaborated in making reflections on reality; it develops out of praxis... It means learning by reflecting on experience. This is exactly how Gutiérrez defines theology: critical reflection on the activity of the church...

Juan Luis Segundo is even stronger in drawing out the practical inferences for the doing of this new theology: it cannot be learned, as traditional theology was, behind seminary walls by teachers and students isolated from the day-by-day struggles of the church in the world, meaning especially the poor in the world.

...within the social classes the poor are the most favored by God. This option for the poor is for liberation theologians a biblical imperative...

The first act or moment of the liberation theologian is action on the part of the poor, on the side of the poor, in the senses of identification, geography, and advocacy... The understanding of praxis thus is more specific in liberation theology than a John Dewey philosophy of learning from experience. Liberation theology means learning from the experience of the poor...

Several characteristics mark Scholasticism as distinct from liberation (and many other types of modern) theology: Scholasticism is "eternal," ahistorical, essentialist (as opposed to existentialist), theocentric, hierarchical, and feudal. By contrast liberation theologians characterize their thought as evolutionary, historical, existentialist, christocentric, communitarian, participatory, and egalitarian...

The tools that liberation theologians use to examine and understand experience-the experience of the poor and the efforts of the church in their behalf-do not come primarily from philosophy but from the social sciences. Here then is another difference between traditional theology and liberation theology...

Class analysis and dependency theory go hand in hand. As already mentioned, the failure of development models to benefit the Latin American masses brought dependency theory to the forefront in Latin American intellectual circles. Dependency theory sees development and underdevelopment as necessarily connected: they are complementary parts of the unity of the capitalist system. Underdeveloped countries - countries on the periphery of the global economic system - are deluded if they think they have the possibility of development within the existing capitalist system. These countries will always remain dependent on the developed countries. Besides the iron laws of the international marketplace, which tip the balance in favor of the developed countries, especially the U.S.A., other mechanisms of control are the multinational corporations and the international banking community. The latter includes both public entities, such as the International Monetary Fund, and private interests, such as Chase Manhattan, Citibank, and the Bank America...

In contrast to traditional theology, Segundo points out that there is a fact of life that appears more decisive: "among Christians [in Latin America] we find a real lack of interest in the problem of God. If Vatican II had said that there were three Gods, who would care?" He asks, What does God say about himself in the New Testament? God's "statements for the most part deal with us human beings, our lives, and how to transform them. A much smaller set of statements deal with God. But even these passages show [God] operating in our lives and transforming our history."

...Liberation theology, having in mind the questions of the poor and marginalized, asks about idolatry: do Christians by their lives present false images of God to others? In this analysis, liberation theologians are developing their thought along the lines of Gaudium et Spes, which states: "To the extent that they are deficient in their religious, moral, or social life, Christians must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion."

...Theology of liberation is not the system of a single person, a Rahner or Tillich, a de Chardin or Barth; it is rather a cooperative effort of many. At least as a symbol, liberation theology represents Christianity well, for it is the joint effort of men and women of all skin colors working throughout the world on a common project which is aimed at building up a society of justice and love. Rather than competition, there is sharing of ideas. Liberation theologians know one another, respect one another, and promote their ideas. This is unusual at least in some parts of Latin America, where misanthropy is known to run high. Theology, thus seen, is a communal effort, confronting a common catastrophe.


Edward L. Cleary, Crisis and Change: The Church in Latin America Today, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, July 1985.

Dom Hélder Câmara, quotes from Revolution Through Peace

Dom Hélder Câmara was Archbishop of Recife and Olinda in Brazil's Northeastern Province. He was ordained in 1931 and consecrated Bishop in 1952.

Whoever is suffering, whether in body or soul; whoever is in despair, be he poor or rich, will have a special place in the heart of the Bishop. But I have not come here to help anyone delude himself into thinking that a little charity and social work will suffice. There is no doubt about it: there is crying misery to which we have no right to remain indifferent. Very often, we have no choice but to take immediate action, however inadequate. But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the problem is limited to a few gestures of reform; let us not confuse the beautiful and indispensable idea of order, the end of all human progress, with the mockery of order which is responsible for preserving structures we all know should not and cannot be preserved...

The church cannot stand apart from history. Through her free, adult, responsible laymen, she lives at its very heart... It would be an unpardonable scandal if the Church were to abandon the masses in their hour of greatest need... This does not mean - and I cannot repeat this too often - that the Church will be committed to any one person, party, or movement, whether political or economic...

We bishops of the Northeast found we had no choice but to encourage the farm workers to organize into unions as the only practicable way to enable them to discuss their rights with landowners who more often than not were transplanted straight from the Middle Ages into this twenty-first century in which mankind has already begun to live... And if we feel obliged to help rather than simply to leave to laymen the work which would normally be a sign of Christian presence in the temporal world, it is because we feel compelled to do so, faced as we are with the blindness, the coldheartedness, and the arrogance of certain lords of the world. We feel the necessity to lend our moral support to the fundamental task of defending human rights. If even bishops of the Holy Church, who have been entrusted with the most Christian mission of defending downtrodden human beings, are with impunity branded as Communists, what would happen to our priests, and above all to our laymen, if we abandoned them to their fate? ...We must not commit a sin of omission. We cannot remain outside the struggle. We have a human and Christian duty to take part in it.

...The truth is that both sides [the Soviet Union and the United States] are lacking in proper respect for the self-determination of peoples: there have been military occupations; there have been atrocities.

..."Western world," in the case of the liberal-capitalist or neo-capitalist nations, really means one which makes a show of being Christian when that suits its purposes... As Populorum Progressio points out, even liberal capitalism has materialistic roots and is directly responsible for the rise of an international dictatorship of economic power... Why not recognize that there is no longer just one type of Socialism and put in a plea for Christians to break free from adverse connotations of the term? ...it can also mean a regime which serves the community and mankind...

Meanwhile many people, especially young people and often the best of them, lose faith in democracy and turn to violence.

Who among us does not know, does not feel, that the time has come - that it came long since - to carry out agrarian reform instead of merely using it as a slogan and as the object of interminable studies and discussions? It is urgent, most urgent, to remember that the Christian Message is meant not only to be heard and admired, but to be lived.


Dom Hélder Câmara, Revolution Through Peace (originally Revolução Dentro da Paz), edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen, translated from Portuguese by Amparo McLean, 1971, Harper & Row, New York.

Rowland on organization

Theology is not the articulation of a set of ideas worked out in isolation from the pressing realities which confront millions in Latin America. Rather, theology emerges from experience, the reflection on and action to change that reality of oppression and injustice which is the daily lot of millions. Thus it is not content to accept certain 'truths' from those 'experts' at the top of the pyramid of church and state...

According to Boff, the struggle of the disciples of Jesus Christ is to be centered on a goal which is not beyond this world, however difficult and far-removed from present realities that goal may appear. Boff clearly regards the utopian horizon as a constant source for a critique of the present order and a hand beckoning forward to transformation.

...Many priests have welcomed the opportunity to work out new roles as the Basic Communities take more and more responsibility for their own lives, even in fields which in the past might have been expected to be reserved for priests and nuns. Boff gives a glimpse of what this sort of ecclesiology might mean in the book which provoked the suspicion of the Vatican, Church: Charism and Power:

the church is the people of God. There is fundamental equality in the church. All are people of God. All share in Christ, directly and without mediation. Therefore, all share in the services of teaching, sanctifying, and organizing the community. All are sent out on a mission; all are responsible for the unity of the community.

...[Dom Mauro Morrelli] believes that the church should be a microcosm of the reign of God, a fore-taste of what is to come, in which every member including priest and bishop has his/her role and in which office is based on service rather than power. This has been perceived as a direct challenge to the practice of most churches whether catholic or protestant.


Christopher Rowland, Radical Christianity: A Reading of Recovery, 1988, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.

Segundo on the church

...A Bible reduced to passages that explicitly speak of God or of specifically religious purposes would exclude passages, chapters, and even entire books... Song of Songs... a book that contains no mention of God or of other explicit religious elements. Entire chapters of the history of David reduce all mention of divine will to two verses... even without being explicitly religious, the treatment of attitudes that seem merely human or secular helps us to understand who God is, what he loves, and whom he prefers.

...According to Jesus, the poor are not poor for the sake of the Kingdom but in spite of the Kingdom , or rather, because it has not yet come.

...Jesus is hungry every time the least of his brothers and sisters is hungry, and... Jesus is a prisoner every time he or she may be imprisoned... It is the sympathy or the compassion... that all true love produces, an unlimited love that transmits from the loved one to the lover all that is intolerable and inhuman in the situation he or she suffers.

...Tragically, if no laws are broken - or if their breaking is not visible - Christians do not worry about their complicity in the great evils which society, through its structures, causes to fall upon the most defenseless. The ancient prophets of Israel would say that this is not "to know God." James, in the New Testament, would state that this is not "true religion."

It is true that "social sin" has surprised us by its enormous magnitude as it takes place on a continent that for four centuries - and even today - can be called almost totally Christian. No one doubts that society is the "subject" of that sin. The Christian does not kill (at least not directly) but is an accomplice in millions of deaths that more just social structures could have prevented.

...the Church - which has been accustomed to having small active minorities and large, inert, and silent majorities - is facing a new phenomenon: a considerable popular mobilization within its own walls...

These pages will have fulfilled their task if they convince the reader of the necessity to reaffirm the solemn magisterium of the Church which, after so long a time of immobility and absenteeism, returned, as Paul VI said, to place the Chruch at the service of humanity... Cardinal Henri de Lubac expressed in a prayer: "If I lack love and justice, I separate myself completely from you, God, and my adoration is nothing more than idolatry. To believe in you, I must believe in love and in justice, and to believe in these things is worth a thousand times more than saying your Name."


Juan Luis Segundo, Theology and the Church, translated by John W. Diercksmeier, 1985, Winston Press, Minneapolis.

Eagleson and Scharper on the Bible

Our focus has been justice and the Third World... This is not to say that justice is all that the Bible speaks of, nor that it speaks only of the powerful rich and their frequent oppression of the powerless poor, nor that these Scriptural passages provide neat formulas for dealing with specific contemporary issues.

Our hope is that the confrontation of God's Word with expressions of the problems and aspirations of people today will be provocative. We believe that God's Word should jolt us, for "the voice of the Lord breaks down cedars" and "flashes forth flames of fire" (Ps. 29). Ours is a God of radical transformations and rearrangements, the God who puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of low degree (Luke 1).

Our aim is not to prove to the skeptical that the Bible is relevant; rather it is to remind us Christians of what we have consented to...

And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall maintain him; as a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

Leviticus 25:35-38

No, it is not God's will that a few rich people enjoy the goods of this world and exploit the poor. No, it is not God's will that some people remain poor and abject forever. No, religion is not the opiate of the people; it is a force that exalts the lowly and casts down the proud, that feeds the hungry and sends the sated away empty.

"Letter of the Peoples of the Third World," signed by 18 Third World Catholic Bishops. Between Honesty and Hope, p. 10.

God is concerned in such technical problems as liquidity, the terms of trade, and infrastructural development. To think or act otherwise is to create a false dichotomy and to try to confine God within an ecclesiastical system divorced from the world he died to save.

Official Report of the World Conference on Church and Society of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, pp. 89-90


the radical bible, adapted by John Eagleson and Philip Scharper from bibel provokativ, edited by Hellmut Haug and Jurgen Rump, translated by Erika J. Papp, 1972, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York.

Alves on the world

Our perspective on reality changes according to the standpoint from which we examine it. My new vision of our space, our time, and our existence revealed a Bible that had been hidden from my eyes up to that point. What a surprise it was to discover that the human beings in the Bible felt at home in the world! From beginning to end the Bible celebrates life and its goodness. It is good to be alive, to be flesh and blood, to exist in the world. Suddenly the Calvinist obsession with the glory of God seemed to me to be profoundly inhuman and antibiblical. Isn't God's only concern the happiness of human beings? Isn't that the very epitome of God's will? Isn't God a humanist, in the sense that humanity is the one and only object of his love?

...Salvation from the world, that touchstone dogma of Brazilian Protestantism - was it not in direct opposition to the Bible itself? Personal salvation cannot take place to the detriment of the world because humanity and the world belong to each other... Thus Saviors of souls were transformed into rebuilders of earth.

...To the ears of ecclesiastical officials our new reading of the gospel sounded like apostasy... We were accused of being heretics, pointed out as people with dangerous political ideas, and rejected as apostates because we committed the sin of accepting Catholics as our brothers and sisters. We were forced into exile: "Love it or leave it, but do not try to transform the church."

...The theology of liberation cannot rest content with remaining indifferent to life and the world. Isn't the gospel message an account of the good news of the Incarnation? Doesn't Christ's life bear witness to God's solidarity with human beings? There is no question of reducing faith to sociology. The primary assertion is that transcendence is concretely revealed both in the groaning cries for liberty and in the struggle against everything that oppresses people.


Rubem Alves, "From Paradise to the Desert: Autobiographical Musings" from Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, edited by Rosino Gibellini, translated by John Drury, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1979.

Migliore on constriction

Another conviction underlying this book is that it is important for all Christians, and not simply for professional theologians like myself, to participate in the making of a theology of freedom ... The future of the church depends less on the production of academic theological treatises about freedom than on the increased participation of Christian pastors and lay people in the process of relating the gospel of freedom to the various forms of human bondage evident both inside and outside the church.

...pietism concentrated on the meaning of the Bible for the individual's salvation... What is significant to faith is not the crucifixion of Jesus as a bare historical fact but the message that Christ died for me. There is truth in this emphasis on the "for me" of the scriptural witness, but it is distorted when it is separated from the meaning of Scripture "for us" and "for the world."

...In the exodus God is identified not as a metaphysical absolute nor as the savior of souls but as the liberator of a people. When Israel experienced captivity again in later centuries, the promises of the prophets were cast in the image of a second exodus (Isa. 51:9-11). This new exodus would eventuate in a comprehensive and universal liberation to include not only Israel but all peoples... Jesus' forgiveness of sinners, his table fellowship with despised people, his ministry to the poor and the sick, and finally his crucifixion and resurrection, constitute an anticipatory realization of God's kingdom of freedom, justice, and peace throughout the world. The biblical story of liberation summons us not only to be the free persons we have been enabled to be through Christ but also to serve the cause of the liberation of all people in all dimensions of life.

...there is a constriction of the gospel narrative. The only really essential act of Jesus Christ is his suffering and dying... The preaching and healing of Jesus, his compassion for the poor, his clash with the religious and political authorities of his time are passed over as though of minor importance... Jesus... proclaimed release to the captives, befriended the sick, the poor, the outcast, was seen by his enemies as a blasphemer and a political troublemaker, and was finally crucified.

...the priest reads the Song of Mary from Luke's Gospel. The text tells of Mary's surprise that God has chosen to identify with the weak and the poor. Mary sings: "[God] has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away" (Luke 1:51-53). After hearing this song, the people... now see her not as one who stands on the moon but in the dust and dirt with other poor people; she does not wear a crown but an old hat to shield her head from the sun; she has no rings and her hands are rough; she does not wear a purple and gold robe but old clothes. The people exclaim that Mary is more at home in the slum than in the cathedral.


Daniel L. Migliore, Called to Freedom, 1980, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia.

Elias on neutrality

What ultimately brings Christians to participate in liberating oppressed peoples is the conviction that the gospel message is radically incompatible with an unjust society. They see clearly that they cannot be authentic Christians unless they act. (Gutiérrez, 1971, p. 72.)

...The church has no alternative. Only a total break with the unjust order to which it is bound in a thousand conscious or unconscious ways, and a forthright commitment to a new society, will make men in Latin America believe the message of love it bears. (Gutiérrez, 1971, pp. 76-77.)

For [Freire], not taking sides in a political struggle is not a neutral position, but an act in favor of the existing state.

My reading of the Christian gospel... indicates that Jesus' assault on the legal tradition not only called into question the dominant values of his society but also challenged the various social organizations that were reinforced by that tradition. He attacked the existing distributions of prestige, privilege, and authority. In Marxist terms he was attempting to change the basic class structure of society. The assault of Jesus on the legal tradition and what it supported was made in an effort to give people power over their own lives and to liberate them from needless oppressive burdens...

[Freire] judges the proposition that "rebellion is an act against God" to be a myth imposed by the ruling elites on the masses. He presents God as a Person who calls men to fight against oppression and to struggle with his help for true liberation. He depicts Jesus as a radical who challenged the oppressive ruling elites of his time. He chides the churches for their illusory thinking that they can remain neutral in the social and political struggles of our time.


John L. Elias, Conscientization and Deschooling, 1976, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Arias on theology

The Lord said, I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard the cry of my people Against their slave-masters. I have taken heed of their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, to bring them out of that country, to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey...

          Exodus 3:7-8

In the summer of 1973, a group of Catholic bishops in the northeast of Brazil wrote:

These words from Exodus, spoken by God to Moses, are a fitting expression of our feelings in these days (Exodus 3:11-12; 4:12). Before the suffering of our people, humble and oppressed for centuries, we feel called by the Word of God to take up a position, a clear position on the side of the poor, a position taken in common with all those who commit themselves to people for their true liberation.

Following in the steps of Moses, we want to fulfill, together with the people of God, our mission as pastors and prophets. We are summoned to speak by the Word of God, which judges the events of history. In this way we have tried to understand the cry of our people, the daily facts and events of a suffering people - phenomena which recommend themselves to a serious study of our human situation.

April, 1976, in Buenos Aires, Argentina - Severino Croatto, Bible professor at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Educación Teológica (Ecumenical Theological Institute), wrote:

The Church appears as the refuge of the oppressed masses, deepening their alienation, not offering them a critical [questioning] faith which can arouse their consciousness about their own situation of slavery. There are expressions of popular Catholicism which are the opposite to a liberating faith and which internalize oppression instead. The popular celebrations of death, pain and suffering, such as La Polorosa, the Holy Death, the Cross, are sort of ambiguous symbols. They help to accept with resignation suffering and oppression as the loving will of God, forgetting that they are caused by people.

The tragedy is that this identification with the dying Christ has a great power of sublimation, introjecting in the people's conscience their situation of poverty and exploitation as an "imitation of Christ." But it is an imitation of his death -- without resurrection. There is no expression of the resurrection in their economic and social lives. The oppressors are happy that the people celebrate Holy Week without resurrection.


Esther and Mortimer Arias, The Cry of My People, 1980, Friendship Press, New York.

Houtart and Pin on injustice

...if the Church takes a position in the questions we have been discussing, it is not because of a preference for this or that political or social regime, but for the purpose of satisfying the need of justice for all men at a given moment in history. Today, since it has become technically possible to conquer infant mortality, to give all men a share in material and cultural wealth and in political life, any regime that does not assure such possiblities has become unjust, even if it was not so formerly... Not to take a position means to favor the status quo, that is, injustice.

Some upper-class families remain attached to a feudalistic vision of society and assume that nothing can be done about the fundamental inequality between men. These same families see Communism in every desire for social equality and every vindictive action of labor unions. Even priests and bishops are accused of being Communists. Accompanying these attitudes, and with complete compatibility, is a personal devotion to generous almsgiving and charitable works for the protection and well-being of the poor masses. But these charitable actions are an integral part of a basically unequal society and are rejected by those who desire a new society in which everyone will be protected from the humiliation of begging alms.


François Houtart and Emile Pin, The Church and the Latin American Revolution, translated by Gilbert Barth, 1965, Sheed and Ward, New York.

Other quotes and links

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

Anatomy of Economic Violence by Suzanne Goldberg

"While listening to Frank describe the bigotry and violence that gay people are still vulnerable to experience, I quickly realized how far we, as an African American, have made progress in this country. Progress is a relative term, seen in relation to something or somebody else. I knew that if just one of the atrocities describe by Frank had happened to me as a result of my color, Al Sharpton, the media, and other community leaders in my neighborhood would all come running to help me. This was not the case, by and large, for gay people... I could sense the Lord’s presence when Frank and I were talking, but it was not the presence of Christ in our midst that I was also familiar with. It was the love and presence of Christ coming from Frank!"


Preface to thesis Timothy T. Dickens


compiled by CJohnYu.96[at]alum.mit.edu]

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