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Thursday, January 5, 2012

JPII vs. Liberation Theology

On Christmas Eve of 2011, I had a long conversation with my brother and my fiance about the Catholic Church.  At one point it was argued that Liberation Theology is still acceptable in the Church, and I quickly refuted that idea with the fact that the Church has condemned "Liberation Theology" altogether as heresy.  JPII's pontificate proved extremely effective in combating ideologies and aberrations of the truth, and Liberation Theology was no exception to the rule when it came to being an obvious obstacle to true faith for Catholics, especially in Latin America.

However, I had no idea how much of a hold Liberation Theology still has on Catholics today, both in Latin America and, sorry to say, even hidden in some of my own thinking as an American!  In the U.S., it is difficult to separate the "prosperity Gospel" and Liberation Theology mentalities from true and sound Catholic faith.  To begin with, the downturn in the economy over the past few years hasn't helped the fight against these heresies in the least bit.  If anything, it has increased them to the point where people unconsciously associate a certain veneer of economic status with salvation.  This is ludicrous!  Social Justice cannot be taken so far as to substitute liberation from sin and death with liberation from food stamps!  Granted, the Church is obligated to advance social development, but not to the point where the message of salvation is reduced to mere comforts in this life only!    

That being said, I want to remind the reader that the early Church took off among those who were wealthy enough to own property in the Roman Empire, and nominal Christianity has thrived in an urban, middle-to-upper class setting.  Perhaps this is why Liberation Theology has such appeal to Catholics of this economic status--who are good-intentioned in their desires to raise others to their level, but fail to see that their salvation comes from the sacrifice of Jesus alone.  Peter and John didn't give the beggar whom they passed some silver or gold, they gave him what was of greater value through prayer and itnercession, the presence and power of Jesus!

Now back to JPII and what he has done specifically to combat Liberation Theology.  His trip to Latin America in 1979 was by far the most influential action he took to put an end to heresy, not that this was his only reason for visiting Mexico in particular, but that he timed his address to the Bishops there at the most opportune of moments.  Why?  Because Liberation Theology was in its hey-day right after Vatican II, and JPII's Pontificate meant to implement the council properly--not with just the "spirit of Vatican II".  Here is JPII's warning against unfounded interpretations of Jesus' message in the council:   

  This idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive man from Nazareth, does not tally with the       Church's catechesis. By confusing the insidious pretexts of Jesus' accusers with the—very different—attitude of Jesus himself, some people adduce as the cause of his death the outcome of a political conflict, and nothing is said of the Lord's will to deliver himself and of his consciousness of his redemptive mission. The Gospels clearly show that for Jesus anything that would alter his mission as the Servant of Adonai was a temptation (cf. Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He does not accept the position of those who mixed the things of God with merely political attitudes (cf. Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Jn 18:36). He unequivocally rejects recourse to violence. He opens his message of conversion to everybody, without excluding the very Publicans. The perspective of his mission is much deeper. It consists in complete salvation through a transforming, peacemaking, pardoning and reconciling love. There is no doubt, moreover, that all this is very demanding for the attitude of the Christian who wishes truly to serve his least brethren, the poor, the needy, the emarginated; in a word, all those who in their lives reflect the sorrowing face of the Lord (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8).  (Entire excerpt taken from CELAM 1979 conference address, par. I.4).       

The essential untruth of Liberation Theology is that it looks for a different messiah besides Jesus!  That is JPII's warning to the church in Latin America, stop looking for another messiah! Some may be able to make the poor prosper for a time, and relieve the suffering of the hungry or the homeless, but they cannot take away the sins of the world like Jesus.  They cannot reconcile all mankind to the heavenly Father, and so gain access to heaven!  

In North America, the dilemma of Liberation Theology is different though, as we have never looked at a single man as a messiah--much less our rebellious founding fathers.  Instead, we subscribe to the "prosperity gospel", believing that we will never suffer as Christians if we have wealth.  That is to say that if you give your life to God, then you will never have to worry about finances and bills, because you "made it".  

In reality, the poor are much more rich in faith than the wealthy of the United States, as Mother Theresa diagnosed the U.S. with the worst "spiritual poverty" she had ever seen.  Liberation Theology and the prosperity gospel are contradicted by the faith of the poor, the addicted, and the abandoned.  The wealthy are called to be good stewards of their possessions, recognizing that they themselves are on borrowed time, with borrowed goods for the sake of true human development.  They cannot segregate themselves from the poor in the public sphere, nor can they try to eradicate poverty by strictly monetary or material measures.  A shared faith and love for the Lord, despite various trials, will draw out true theology from the Church in every country.  Until then, the recognition and dismissal of liberation theology will point us to the right track.    

Below is an article that reinforces my points:

ROME, SEPT. 28, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Liberation Theology and the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of the poor were discussed by Bishop Martin Kay Schmalhausen SCV, Bishop of the Prelature of Ayaviri, Peru.
Bishop Schmalhausen was interviewed by Johannes Habsburg for the program "Where God Weeps," in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: Peru is the country where Liberation Theology was born and that also brought reflections that, while very beautiful and interesting, were not the answer to poverty and social injustice and not an authentic Christian response. Why is Liberation Theology not that answer that the church can offer to these challenges of injustice and the need?
Bishop Schmalhausen: The perspective was wrong, very wrong unfortunately. We need liberation, liberation of the human heart from sin. We cannot make that liberation, Jesus Christ makes it, it is he who reconciles us, it is he who forgives us, it is he who makes a man new again and makes us new. That's the only, the authentic liberation that is capable of arousing and achieve real social change. Social change begins in the human heart.
Q. But with Liberation Theology, the roles were reversed...
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, according to it, it is we who frees man, who liberates society, we who are here to restore the dignity of the human person and Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the Savior became a political leader. In this reversal of roles, we have lost a lot of energy, and we have left a long open field for much confusion and bewilderment. In that sense, you cannot think of Liberation Theology in partnership with the principles of Marxism, seeks a social demand of the poor simply for economic, social, political reasons ... forgetting that the whole question of man is in his heart. And that heart is transformed, transfigured by the Lord and by his grace.
Q: But precisely atheist-Marxist approach leads to heart more violence and conflict.
Bishop Schmalhausen: I think here we have a very serious problem; liberation theology posed a direct opposition to the Gospel, something which hadn't been seen. A conflictual perspective that belies, radically, the dynamics of love and reconciliation that the Lord has come to bring; No hate, but unity: unity in truth and in love and that's what makes reconciliation.
Q: If this is not the answer to social injustice, but inequalities still exist, what we can offer in response? How does the Church respond to this challenge?
Bishop Schmalhausen: I think there are different levels to answer this. First, I think it is a mistake that as a Church we pretend to substitute the State. The State has a responsibility, a social role and must assume it, it must assume this role and not think that others will do it. In the region where I live, for example, there is a lack of state and it is certainly a shout, we would say, that is compelling.
Q: And is that where the Church is called to subsidize?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, the Church cannot ignore the personal, family, and social concerns and anxieties that  God's people live in, that our faithful live in and therefore we have to be close to them. Wherever possible, we have tried, but certainly my Prelature, which I can say in all honesty, is bankrupt, but by aid of others, of generous Catholics also of some companies who see the importance, the social responsibility they have in the area, we have been able through Caritas to organize some activities of importance in the area of health, drinking water for communities, education, and so we put our grain of sand.
Q: But that's not all the help that is expected from the Church, only at that level?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Exactly, that's only one level, then the other level is the level of evangelization, that means an announcement of the Gospel, close, clear, direct that really satisfies the hunger for God within people's hearts. There is no social justice, there will be no social justice if you do not touch and help the conversion of hearts. And I have no hesitation in saying, here where I live and where the vast majority is very poor, however the injustices among themselves can be atrocious.
Q: I mean everyone needs a change of heart, not just the wealthy.
Bishop Schmalhausen: Correct. The first task of the church is this, without however neglecting the other side of effective charity, charity that gives concrete help. But the first task of evangelization of the church is the conversion of the heart. Therefore, a priority for us is the presence of priests, religious communities and our well trained laity - catechists and leaders in Christian communities where there are no priests - so that together, we as a body shape ourselves and grow and mature in the faith.
Q: You found your calling in a full Christian church movement, how do we wake up the lay people in Latin America to transform the world in Christ? It is a challenge because the lay often separates faith from their real life, how do we break that artificial barrier that we have created?
Bishop Schmalhausen: We need to help the Christian life to be part of everyday life. We need to overcome the divorce between faith I profess, that I say and then what I  sometimes do that has anything to do with that faith. This is in regards to parish communities. It is undisputed, moreover, that the Holy Spirit has raised in the bosom of the church - as we have heard so many times from [Pope] John Paul II and our beloved Pope Benedict XVI - the presence of movements. They are a touch of the Holy Spirit, an action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, to assist in this task that lay people can live a personal Christian commitment in a particular community in which they feel they have a sense of belonging and rootedness and then where they also learn to project their faith in a commitment to society.  


Anonymous said...

The recent passing of Hugo Chavez (03/06/13) is evidence that Liberation Theology is losing its grip on South America.
Venezuela can no longer treat Chavez as a messiah for government dependence, nor as a Caesar for unjust allegiance. His passing, in conjunction with Fidel Castro's recent death, prove to be the end of an era of marxist totalitarianism.

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that Arianism goes along with liberation theology, insofar as it says "man can do it" without God's grace.
In contrast, the other heresy called Donatism says that "man can't do it" even with God's grace.

True theology proves to be a cooperation between man and God, best lived out by Mary the Theotokos.

Pessoa said...


As the new pope, Francis might very well reconcile the LT followers with pro-life philosophy, thereby forming: pro-lifers who serve the poor and addicted. This would be a great achievement indeed.
Meanwhile his dealings with Syria call to mind St. Francis' meeting with the Sultan (see St. Bonaventure Life and Legend of St. Francis)

Dietrich said...

Check out Leo XIII'a encyclical:

He attributes the reformation, masonry, and others to socialism