Liberation theology

Liberation theology is an important and controversial school in the theology of the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It has had particularly widespread influence in Latin America and among the Jesuits, although its influence has diminished since important parts of its teaching were rejected by the Vatican.

The current pope, Benedict XVI, has also been long known as an opponent of liberation theology, and indeed in his position (1981-2005) as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was a key enforcer of the previous pope, John Paul II's, opposition to materialist and certain Marxist tendencies in liberation theology.



In essence, liberation theology explores the relationship between Christian theology (usually Roman Catholic) and political activism, particularly in areas of social justice and human rights. The main methodological innovation of liberation theology is to do theology, i.e., speak of God, from the viewpoint of the economically poor and oppressed of the human community. According to Jon Sobrino, S.J., the poor are a privileged channel of God's grace. According to Phillip Berryman (see the bibliography), liberation theology is "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor."

Liberation theology focuses on Jesus as a liberator. Emphasis is placed on those parts of the Bible where Jesus' mission is described in terms of liberation, and as a bringer of justice. This is interpreted as a call to arms to carry out this mission of justice -- literally by some. A number of liberation theologians add Marxist concepts such as the doctrine of perpetual class struggle.

Liberation theologians usually do not teach in universities and seminaries. They tend to have much contact with the poor, and interpret scripture partly based on their experiences in this context -- what they label praxis.

Due to the controversial nature of these topics, their place within the Church and the extent to which Church officials should uphold them have been a matter of corresponding controversy. Although liberation theology is partially compatible with Catholic social teaching as expressed in official statements, it has been rejected by the Vatican based on the Marxist concepts that tend towards materialism; this aspect of liberation theology is the most objectionable to orthodox Catholic critics who regard it as "incitement to hate and violence (and) the exaltation of class struggle" [1] ( However the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has praised that aspect of the movement which rejects violence and instead "stresses the responsibility which Christians necessarily bear for the poor and oppressed" [2] (

Pope John Paul II largely put an end to official support for liberation theology among the Catholic Church's hierarchy by his statement in January 1979, on a visit to Mexico, that "this conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church's teachings." However, it retains a degree of support, especially among the laity and individual priests. And indeed John Paul himself acknowledged that Marxism contained within it a "kernel of truth" about the exploitative nature of capitalism.

Liberation theologians

Passages from the Bible

  • He 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)
  • 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)
  • The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common. With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all; nor was there anyone needy among them, for all who owned property or houses sold them and lay them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to everyone according to his need. (Acts 4:32-35; see also 2:42-47)
  • The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61:1-2)
  • Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.. (James 5:1-6)

See also:


  • Berryman, Phillip, Liberation Theology (1987)
  • Sigmund, P.E., Liberation Theology at the Crossroads (1990).
  • Hillar, Marian, "Liberation Theology: Religious Response to Social Problems. A Survey", published in Humanism and Social Issues. Anthology of Essays. M. Hillar and H.R. Leuchtag, eds., American Humanist Association, Houston, 1993, pp. 35-52. [3] (
  • Gutierrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation, Orbis Books, 1988

External links


de:Befreiungstheologie es:Teología de la Liberación eo:Teologio pri liberigo fr:Théologie de la libération it:Teologia della liberazione ko:해방 신학 zh-min-nan:Tháu-pa̍k sîn-ha̍k nl:Bevrijdingstheologie pt:Teologia da libertação ja:解放の神学 sv:Befrielseteologi


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