Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Benedict and Liberation Theology

John Allen discusses the "Love/Hate Relationship between Benedict and Liberation Theology" in his coverage of the first day of the Holy Father's visit to South America:
At the heart of Ratzinger’s critique of liberation were two key theological motifs, which recur time and again in his writing on other subjects.

(1) Truth: Because the liberationists argued that theological understanding should follow political commitment, Ratzinger believed they were saying that praxis is the standard for judging the rightness of doctrine. In other words, one decides which Christian teachings are “true” on the basis of how well they support political efforts for social justice. As early as 1968 in his Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger was resisting the “tyranny of the factum,” the tendency to reduce truth to what one does instead of what reality is. This mistake leads some to present Christianity as a tool for changing the world, and to “transpose belief itself to this place.” Thus all doctrine is suspect unless it is useful for social change.

Ratzinger was not simply projecting this understanding onto the liberationists; some did hold this position. Juan Luis Segundo's famous line from Theology for Artisans of a New Humanity was: “The only truth is the truth that is efficacious for liberation.” Similarly, the Brazilian Hugo Assmann wrote in 1976: “The Bible! It doesn’t exist. The only Bible is the sociological Bible of what I see happening here and now.”

(2) Eschatology: Ratzinger's fundamental complaint about liberation theology is that it embodies a mistaken notion of eschatology. The liberationists, Ratzinger believes, are looking for the Kingdom of God on this earth and in this order of history. This sort of utopianism is not merely wrong, Ratzinger says, it's dangerous. Whenever a social or political movement makes absolutist claims about what it can deliver, fascism is not far down the road. It is the lesson of Nazi Germany, Ratzinger argues, and it is the lesson of Soviet Russia.

Thus the goal of Christian must be to strip politics out of eschatology. As he put in his 1987 book Church, Ecumenism and Politics: “Where there is no dualism, there is totalitarianism.”

In Ratzinger's judgment, the consequences of liberation theology's warped eschatology show up in at least four ways.

1. Defections from Catholicism: By promising the poor a reign of justice that never comes, Ratzinger believes, liberation theology actually estranged them from Catholicism and led many of them to seek a transcendental faith somewhere else.
2. Terror. If you allow yourself to believe that a perfect society can be the work of human hands, Ratzinger believes, those hands will end up stained with blood.
3. Dissent: Ratzinger has long believed that, inspired by liberation theology, Catholics will perceive a form of “class struggle” between those who hold ecclesial power and those excluded from it, and will thus demand “liberation” from oppressive church structures.
4. Collapse into the culture: Ultimately, what is at stake for Ratzinger is his Augustinian understanding of the distinction between church and culture. To the extent that liberation theology vests its hopes in secular political progress rather than the liberation only Christ can bring, Ratzinger felt, it lost sight of the cross.

None of this means, however, that Ratzinger has an unremittingly bleak view of liberation theology.

In a more positive 1986 document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Ratzinger declared, “Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a love of preference on the part of the church, which since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members has not ceased to work for their relief, defense and liberation.”

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