Rorate Caeli

Deus Caritas Est : Liberation Theology dead and buried - I

There are some interesting aspects to comment in the Pope's first encyclical, the first papal encyclical since 2002 . I have already presented a few grave translation problems (read here), which clearly disrespect the literalness of the Latin typical text (more observations here); I have also made clear my opinion that "the most sublime portions had already been explored by previous pontiffs (and this is all very good, the last thing the Church needs now is more innovation)"(source). The letter contains, however, words which make clear that "Liberation Theology" may finally be considered as gone for good.

The movement known as "Liberation Theology" exploded in Latin America (and in several niche spots around the world) in the late 1960s, and it can be said that defeating it was one of the greatest doctrinal achievements of Pope John Paul II, who inherited, in this as in every other field, a disastrous legacy from Paul VI -- a theological hemorrhage which, one must admit, John Paul succeeded in stopping. But, though defeated, Liberation Theology has survived and it still thrives in many diocesan and religious seminaries in Latin American and Asia (and North America?...).

Cardinal Ratzinger was in the forefront of the movement to stop the spread of this theological ailment -- and the first significant steps were the Instruction "Libertatis Nuntius" on certain aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation' (1984) and the process which led to the "Notification to Father Leonardo Boff" (1985).

The second significant step was the highly regarded centennial encyclical of Rerum Novarum, Centesimus Annus (1991). Let us remember its significant comments on the market economy:

...can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress? The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy".

This is poison to the worldview of "liberationists", which is essentially Marxist.It destroys what they view must be the unified position of the "People of God" in economic matters: some kind of socialist struggle (or non-interventionism, but inevitable conflictual evolution, for the Teilhardian "liberationists") which will establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. As Pope John Paul made clear in Centesimus Annus, however:

When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a "secular religion" which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world. But no political society — which possesses its own autonomy and laws — can ever be confused with the Kingdom of God.

Explaining Centesimus Annus in plain words, Rocco Buttiglione (by the way, after 2004, the most famous victim of European religious persecution) wrote in 1991 that the liberty celebrated in that encyclical (true liberty, not political "liberation" with Marxist overtones) is not a value which is good in itself; rather:

Freedom is given to man in order to make possible the free obedience to truth and the free gift of oneself in love. Truth and love are the measure of freedom and of the rules of the self-realization of freedom, in the field of economics as well as in all others.
Dr. Buttiglione's words provide a clear bridge to the death of Liberation Theology in Deus Caritas Est, a death caused by Charity (as shall be seen in the second part of this series).


  1. Rocco Buttiglione also has a new site which is well worth looking at.

  2. Liberation theology is alive and well and being taught to impressionable students in the hallowed halls of Catholic academe in North America.

    My two siblings attended, respectively, the University of Notre Dame and Boston College, which are widely considered the premier Catholic institutions of higher education in the U.S. Both of them are now rabid proponents of liberation theology. One graduated with a theology degree and now professes to be a socialist by inclination. When I asked if papal encyclicals -- specifically Centesimus Anni -- and the Catechism were required reading and study for theology majors, I was informed that those documents really didn't matter all that much.

    Glad to know that my parents invested so much in that "Catholic" education.


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