Pablo Richard – A Positive Document on the Theology of Liberation (1984)

[Pablo Richard Guzmánis (1939) is a Chilean Catholic liberation theologian. His major work is Cristianismo, lucha ideológica y racionalidad socialista. He was also a member of the Christians for Socialism movement in Chile.]

[The following text was reprinted in the HOAC’s (Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica) publication Noticias Obreras, Num 890. All the images are from the original article.]

The Chilean liberation theologian, Pablo Richard, has issued a declaration referring to the CDF’s “Instruction on certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation (TL). Richard, who is a Doctor in Theology and Sociology, worked for six years with the Base Ecclesiastical Communities in Central America, and is the author of various books and numerous theological articles.

Below we have transcribed the complete text of his declaration:

1. We welcome with joy and hope this positive document on TL, since it is not a condemnation, but a discernment between the different currents of this movement.

2. We are gladdened by the pastoral preoccupation of this Instruction, since it demands that it “in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the ‘preferential option for the poor’” (Introduction).

Equally, we say that this Instruction “must not be taken as some kind of approval, even indirect, of those who keep the poor in misery, who profit from that misery, who notice it while doing nothing about it, or who remain indifferent to it” (XI, 1).

Let this warning hinder, then, all manipulation of the document, on the part of the media, to scandalize or confuse the poor and believing people of Latin America (Cf. Mark 9:42).

Acceptance of the Document

3. Out of obedience of faith, love for the Church, and intellectual honesty, I declare publicly my identification with the following declarations, warnings, and rejections, of the Sacred Congregation:

4. I accept as an “authentic ‘theology of liberation’ […] one which is rooted in the Word of God, correctly interpreted” (VI, 7), this “theological and pastoral movement” was born in the first place in Latin America (III, 2), to discern and interpret, in the light of the Gospel, “the powerful and almost irresistible aspiration that people have for ‘liberation’” (I, 1).

5. We accept that “a theology of liberation correctly understood constitutes an invitation to theologians to deepen certain essential Biblical themes with a concern for the grave and urgent questions which the contemporary yearning for liberation, and those movements which more or less faithfully echo it, pose for the Church. We dare not forget for a single instant the situations of acute distress which issue such a dramatic call to theologians” (IV, 1).

Referring to a liberating Biblical hermeneutic, we fully agree with the document when it says that “the mistake here is not in bringing attention to a political dimension of the readings of Scripture, but in making of this one dimension the principal or exclusive component. This leads to a reductionist reading of the Bible” (X, 5).

We accept with joy all the Biblical foundations, and hermeneutical warnings offered by the Instruction, especially on the radical liberation from sin, the law, and the flesh, in order to live a life according to the spirit; the historical liberation of Exodus, in which “God is recognized as the Liberator” (IV, 3, 4), and the mysterious presence of Jesus in the poor, according to Mt 25:31-46 (IV, 9), which has constituted the original and most fruitful spiritual experience of the TL.

6. We accept the orientations that it directs to theologians: “aware of the ecclesial character of their vocation, theologians will collaborate loyally and with a spirit of dialogue with the Magisterium of the Church.” (XI, 4).

We accept with joy all the magisterial texts contained in chapter 4 of the document, since they respond to the challenge proclaimed by the Instruction: “In order to answer the challenge leveled at our times by oppression and hunger, the Church’s Magisterium has frequently expressed her desire to awaken Christian consciences to a sense of justice, social responsibility, and solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and to highlight the present urgency of the doctrine and imperatives contained in Revelation” (V, 1).

Rejection of Marxism

We reject, with the terms and arguments of the CDF’s Instruction, all theological output which, under the name of the “Theology of Liberation”, proposes “a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church” (VI, 09).

We especially reject every theology that has as its root “Marxist ideology” or a “hermeneutic marked by rationalism”, as interpreted by the Instruction (VI, 10).

We equally reject all ideology that intends to take Marxism as its “ideological core” which would exercise the [f]unction of a “determining principle” of theological reflection (VIII, 1). For us, the only root of theology is the experience of God, in the light of the faith, in the world of the poor and in the struggle for justice. We do not recognize other determinant principles of our theological reflection except the living word of God ecclesially interpreted.

8. Referring to the use of the social sciences, we recognize with satisfaction the document’s affirmation: “It is clear that scientific knowledge of the situation and of the possible strategies for the transformation of society is a presupposition for any plan capable of attaining the ends proposed” (VII, 3).

Likewise, we recognize the necessity of “a careful epistemological critique” so as to overcome“an almost mythical fascination” with theory which imposes itself as necessary, by the sole fact of presenting itself as “scientific”. (VII, 4).

We accept with the utmost rigor the principle established by the CDF that “the use of philosophical positions or of human sciences by the theologian has a value which might be called instrumental, but yet must undergo a critical study from a theological perspective. In other words, the ultimate and decisive criterion for truth can only be a criterion which is itself theological” (VII, 10).

Rejection of Reductionism

9. We accept that in the case of Marxism, the previous criticism and discernment makes it especially necessary to discriminate any totalizing conception of the world which integrates the observation and analysis of reality into a philosophical-ideological structure (VII, 6). We especially reject metaphysical materialism and atheist philosophy as contrary to the Christian faith.

We categorically reject an ideological Marxism that reduces scientific knowledge, consciousness, truth, and ethics, to the necessary and absolute logic of the class struggle (VIII, 2-7).

We reject a theoretical conception of the class struggle as a universal and totalizing law that determines all aspects of religious, ethical, cultural, and institutional existence (VIII, 8).

10. We reject a TL that denies the theological reality of faith, hope, and charity, and which signifies a radical politicization of the claims of the faith and theological judgement, subordinating it all to a purely political criterion (IX, 5-7).

11. We fully agree with the Instruction’s ecclesiological criteria. We reject, as a result, all sociological and political reduction of the Church, which denies its specific reality as the grace and mystery of the faith (IX, 8).

We recognize with joy and hope the positive signification that the document attributes to the “Church of the poor” (IX, 9) and to the expression of the “Church of the people” (IX,11). We identify ourselves fully with the document when it states that “It is in light of the Beatitudes, and especially the Beatitude of the poor of heart, that the Church, which wants to be the Church of the poor throughout the world, intends to come to the aid of the noble struggle for truth and justice” (XI, 5).

But we also reject, with the document, a purely ideological interpretation of the Church from the perspective of the class struggle. We are glad that the Instruction positively acknowledges “a fraternal correction of pastors of the Church whose behavior does not reflect the evangelical spirit of service and is linked to old-fashioned signs of authority which scandalize the poor”.

Nevertheless, it would be a theological absurdity to imagine a TL which “[denounces] members of the hierarchy and the magisterium as objective representatives of the ruling class which has to be opposed” (IX, 13 and X, I).

Equally absurd would be a theology that considers the relationship between the hierarchy and the “base” as a “relationship of obedient domination to the law of the struggle of the classes” (X, 15).

If such falsely liberating theologies emerge, we will never identify ourselves with them.

Promotion of the Poor

The authentic TL, which we identify with, recognizes in all its integrity the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man (X, 7), and it confesses always its faith in the “Incarnate Word, dead and risen for all men” (X, 11).

We value, against a rationalist hermeneutics, the Jesus of history, without ever opposing it to the Christ of faith. The rescuing of the Jesus of history, with all its evangelical radicality, does not mean reducing it to a purely political fact, where Jesus would be nothing more than a symbol (X, 11-12).

We recognize with joy that the Instruction recovers the most positive aspects of the ToL,  which we have always upheld, when it affirms: “the experience of those who work directly for evangelization and for the advancement of the poor and the oppressed is necessary for the doctrinal and pastoral reflection of the Church. In this sense, it is necessary to affirm that one becomes more aware of certain aspects of truth by starting with ‘praxis’, if by that one means pastoral ‘praxis’ and social work which keeps its evangelical inspiration” (XI, 13).

14. We fully agree with the CDF’s document’s […] emphasizing of the “transcendence and gratuity of liberation in Jesus Christ” [this phrase is in the Spanish version of the CDF’s document, but as far as I could tell, not in the English version on the Vatican website], “the true nature of the means of salvation”, “the real meaning of sin, the necessity for conversion, and the universality of the law of fraternal love.” We insist, with the document, on the specific character of the Reign of God, on the transcendence of the human person, and respect for the religiosity of the people (XI, 17).

15. We would have liked the Instruction to go deeper into spirituality, which is the primary richness that TL has always possessed and which it still has today, likewise, in what Pueblo calls “the evangelizing potential of the poor”, where theology finds its strength and inspiration.

16. We would like to end with the words of Monsignor Román Arrieta, President of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica and the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America, who says, in reference to this same document, that: “The preferential option for the poor, far from threatening to divide us, will become the strongest core of our cohesion and unity “