The Major Tenets of Liberation Theology

The Aims of Theology

“Theology is an understanding which both grows and, in a certain sense, changes. If the commitment of the Christian community in fact takes different forms throughout history, the understanding which accompanies the vicissitudes of this commitment will be constantly renewed and will take untrodden paths.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (1973)

“Much contemporary theology seems to start from the challenge of the nonbeliever. He questions our religious world and faces it with a demand for profound purification and renewal.

…But the challenge in a continent like Latin America does not come primarily from the man who does not believe, but from the man who is not a man, who is not recognized as such by the existing social order: he is in the ranks of the poor, the exploited; he is the man who scarcely knows that he is a man. His challenge is not aimed first at our religious world, but at our economic, social, political, and cultural world; therefore, it is an appeal for a revolutionary transformation of the very basis of a dehumanizing society.

The question is not therefore how to speak of God in an adult world, but how to proclaim Him as a Father in a world that is not human.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, “Liberation, Theology, and Proclamation” (1974)

“In our theological efforts we have called this ‘Theology of Liberation’ because ‘liberation’ is very often translated to ‘salvation.’ How do we say to the poor, ‘God loves you’? This question is larger than our answers. It means it is an open question, and we try in this liberation theology, and I can say in the different liberation theologies, to try to answer this point.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, remarks at Elmhurst College (2009)

Love of Neighbor

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, New International Version

“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.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, “Liberation Praxis and Christian Faith” (1979)

Christian Duty to Address Social Injustice

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalm 82:3-4, New International Version

“The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.”

1983 CIC, canon 222.2

“According to Catholic teaching, through one’s words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. Therefore, when instituting public policy one must always keep the ‘preferential option for the poor’ at the forefront of one’s mind. Accordingly, this doctrine implies that the moral test of any society is; ‘how it treats its most vulnerable members.’ The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor.”

Option for the Poor, Major themes from Catholic Social Teaching, Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis.

“I am not refusing the necessity, even today, of immediate help to the poor, but I say it is not enough. Today the call is to try to change the social structure and to change some mental categories—to be clearer about mental categories, the feeling of superiority, for example, to some cultures. This is a mental category and we need to change this.

In the ultimate analysis, poverty means death; unjust and early death. Missionaries of the 16th century, some years after their arrival on this continent, said, ‘The Indians are dying before their time.’ Well, it was true certainly, but it’s true today also. The poor are dying before their time because poverty means death—unjust and early death.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, remarks at Elmhurst College (2009)

“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. As Paul Ricoeur says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty. Because of this solidarity—which manifests itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one’s social class—one can also help the poor and exploited 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.”

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (1973)

Keep Hope Alive

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

– Psalm 9:18, New International Version

“We must also engage in our work hopefully. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. Optimism merely reflects the desire that external circumstances may one day improve. There is nothing wrong with optimism, but we may not always have reasons for it.

The theological virtue of hope is much more than optimism. Hope is based on the conviction that God is at work in our lives and in the world. Hope is ultimately a gift from God given to sustain us during difficult times. Charles Péguy described hope as the ‘little sister’ that walks between the ‘taller sisters’ of faith and charity; when the taller sisters grow tired, the little one instills new life and energy into the other two. Hope never allows our faith to grow weak or our love to falter.”

Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutierrez, America Magazine (Feb. 3, 2003)

Edited by L. Christopher Skufca (Camden Civil Rights Project)

Learn more about Father Gustavo Gutierrez on his Bio Page

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