At his recent book presentation, a Vatican cardinal explained that although Marxist ideology had sought to influence Liberation Theology, the two have ultimately been shown incompatible.
Cardinal Gehrard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, authored the book “Poor for poor. The mission of the Church,” a collection of his writings on Liberation Theology.
The book was presented Feb. 25 and contains an introduction by Pope Francis and chapters written by Fr. Joseph Sayer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, a controversial Peruvian theologian who is considered one of the fathers of Liberation Theology.
Cardinal Mueller is freinds with Fr. Gutierrez and has visited Peru several times.
He recounted how Fr. Gutierrez brought him to visit the slums in Lima, where he could experience the poverty and the joy of the poor, and could learn that “being poor in spirit means to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.”
After the book presentation, Cardinal Mueller shared with CNA that Liberation Theology began as an application of the Second Vatican Council’s document “Gaudium et Spes” to the situation in Latin America.
But, he added, “when a new theology is developing, there are issues to clarify.”
The need for a clarification led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue two instructions. The first, “Libertatis Nuntius,” issued in 1984, condemned the Liberation Theology Marxist orientation, while the second, “Libertatis Conscientia,” issued in 1986, ackowledged the Liberation Theology preferential option for the poor.
“In this part of the story, the ideology of Soviet Communism put great pressure on Liberation Theology,” Cardinal Mueller said.
He then added that “the Church speaks about poor in a very different way than the Communists do. Christians do not dream of an earthly Paradise, and the Communists always blamed us that the Church only deals with Heaven.”
However, the cardinal stressed, the Church cannot deal “only with earthly things. Man lives in this world, in a world created by God, but he also has a divine and eternal universal vocation.”
“The Church’s task today is coexisting in modern society, but at the same time underscoring that man’s ultimate aim is the Triune God, the God made man, the God of love.”
“If we forget the ultimate aim, we cannot argue anything in favor of human dignity, because we can speak of equality among men only if we refer to God,” Cardinal Mueller stressed.
This is exactly the reason, he continued, why Benedict XVI chose as the theme of the 2007 Aparecida conference “Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ” and also wanted the other phrase of the title – “That all may have life” – to end by specifying: “in Him.”
The Aparecida document and its focus on evangelization guides the narrative of the book by the cardinal, who minimized the split between Liberation Theology and orthodoxy, saying that “more than a purification, there had been a clarification.”
“We have had a dialogue, a serious discussion, because each topic can be approached by a different perspective, but each of us is rooted in the Doctrine of the Faith. Theology is really needed for the actualization of the Doctrine of the Church, but the Doctrine of the Church always remains the same, since the Doctrine of the Church is the Profession of Faith revealed from the Word of God.”
Traces of this kind of discussion between Cardinal Mueller and Fr. Gutierrez over the course of the years can be seen in the book.
Cardinal Mueller recounted to CNA that he and Fr. Gutierrez have had significant discussions on “some, let’s say problematic, issues of the Liberation Theology,” which is always “divided in three stages: watching, judging and carrying out.”
At the first stage, the cardinal explained, “sociology, psychology and philosophy” can be put “in dialogue with the present world,” in order to be able to interpret it.
Cardinal Mueller recounted that he had “perhaps a little influence” in deepening Gutierrez’s dialogue with Medieval, Latin and Greek philosophy, rather than merely with modern philosophy.
Speaking informally with journalists, Fr. Gutierrez also underscored that his discussions with Cardinal Mueller have been very important for him.
Called on the stage for a short speech during the presentation of the book, Fr. Gutierrez, departing from the original ideas from his book “A Theology of Liberation,” stressed that “the idea of service comes directly from the Second Vatican Council.” Christians, he said, are called “to serve and to search for the image of Christ in every man and go toward the ends of the earth and peripheries, as Pope Francis invites us to do.”