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"A Theology of Liberation" by Gustavo Gutierrez

written by Marco Apolloni

Gutierrez says:

This book is an attempt at reflection, based on the gospel and experiences of men and women committed to the process of liberation in the oppressed and exploited land of Latin America. It is theological reflection born of the experience of shared efforts to abolish the current unjust situation and to build a different society, freer and more human[1].

Is Gutierrez a Marxist? The «theology of history» by Gutierrez begin in action and try to transform the society. Maybe, for this reason, but for sure not at one hundred per cent, because he has a different approach and, therefore, as well as a different point of view which not concern the true dimension of «historical materialism», one basilar concept in Marx philosophy. In this sense, besides, occur to consider the hide aspect of the reversible corruption of the Church in Latin America, connecting directly with the dirty and dark power of its national government. The situation of poverty in Latin America is really dramatic, in fact, this is the schema of this unequal society: 5 % Elite; 10 % Middle class; 85 % Poor. Therefore, before the transformation of the society, Latin America population has more need of a radical transformation of its corrupt Church. There is a beautiful movie by the Brazilian director Walter Salles entitle The diary of the motorbike, that tell the true story of the Argentinian well-known revolutionary Ernesto «Che» Guevara, before who him became the man-symbol of the Cuban Revolution leaded by Fidel Castro. This movie exactly is very interesting because tell of a strange and mystic travel across the Latin America, where he saw the degree of dramatic poverty of the population, but hide inside the eyes of this common people he saw the revolutionary spark light by the flame, which burns inside their angry soul. In fact, the final exclamation of him at his faithful and devoted friend Alberto Granado - as well as his adventurous and courageous travelling companion - is: «There is too much injustice in this world». There is a stupefying observation by Gutierrez who said:

In a continent like Latin America the challenge does not come in the first place from the non-believer but from the non-person… The non-person does not question so much our religious world, as our economic, social political and cultural world… The question, then, will not be how to speak about God in a adult world but how to announce him as Father in a non-human world[2].

However, before express my personal opinion on the question above putted, I would proceed gradually. The 11th thesis against Feuerbach by Marx says: «Philosophers have only tried to understand the world, the real need, however, is to change it». The subliminal message here, concern who for him is arrived the time of change, the time where everything must become possible and the philosopher, finally, must play the match and not only look it, and also try to score for win. In his work Gutierrez talk in one passage of the French philosopher Maurice Blondel, the «father» of the spiritualistic philosophy and said who this eminent studious is nowadays one of the most important exponent of the modern theology, but we do not need forget who him was the master of an other as much important French philosopher Henri Bergson, theoretical of the «evolution creator», that is - for the Italian great Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci - inseparable and impossible to conceive without the «historical ring» of Marxism[3]. Well, in this sense, Gutierrez may be considered a Marxist because in the modern universe of thought we cannot talk about every individual doctrine without consider the Marxism cultural phenomenon, why not as well as for the theologian thinker like Gustavo Gutierrez. There is a beautiful poem of the famous American poet Walt Whitman that says:

I will make the poem of materials, for I think they are to be the most spiritual poems, And I will make the poems of my body and of mortality, For I think I shall then supply myself with the poems of my soul and of immortality[4].

Therefore, if is possible to unite the soul and the material for Whitman, why to consider this impossible also for the case of Gutierrez thought? But, on the other hand, we must consider also who Marx was basically an atheist thinker. Therefore, in his vision the divine nature is absolutely absent, because for his Creed all merge in the human nature, for this reason when we talk about Marxist doctrine we can call it a sort of New Humanism. The famed assertion of Karl Barth: «Man is the measure of all things, since God became a man»; it is completely insubstantial for Marx philosophy because the Rebirth of Jesus Christ is not a Marxist historical process that may be historically demonstrate. Believe or not believe in this, it is only an «act of trust» - like is commonly called -, in fact, who was Jesus Christ if not a great man-prophet with great ideals and who fought for the noble cause of his people and eventually died crucified? A part this, there is an other aspect that represent an inaccessible barrier for say who Gutierrez is an orthodox Marxist, but rather an ecclesiastic Marxist thinkers, in a certain sense. I do not think, personally, who Gutierrez may be agree this Marxist assumption: that the brain is the true site of the soul and that then both correspond at same sensitive and visible human powerful organ. Like Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology: «Is not the conscience that determines the life, but the life that determines the conscience»[5]. Maybe for Gutierrez life take part in the establish of the conscience, in fact this is enough intuitive if we read this passage of his work A theology of Liberation:

The liberation form Egypt, linked to and even coinciding with creation, adds an element of capital importance: the need and the place of human active participation in the building of society, and assuming its destiny in history, humankind forges itself[6].

And again Gutierrez says:

…the liberating and protagonistic role of humankind, the lord of creation and co-partecipant in its own salvation…[7].

But in this cleaver lines float the presence of a divine inspiration, «participation» in fact means who one man is not alone in the creation or re-creation - as you like - of himself, in Marx instead one man is the only protagonist and not only co-protagonist in the creation or re-creation of himself, this is absolutely clear in Marx prospective and it is not possible to say the contrary. One fundamental aspect for understand the reason, which are determined the connection between Gutierrez theology and Marx philosophy, is the Marxist crucial conception of escathology, that is in Marx thought a finalistic vision of the history which derives from the next evolution of the class fight. The Christianity redemption of the humankind in history it is possible and plausible to compare it with the Marxism, in fact, for some like Walter Benjamin, important German Marxist thinker, exist the true dimension of the redemption in the appearance of the Messianism, or rather, the conception who someone appear for broke the continuum of history, for interrupt the «eternal return of the equal» - Nietzsche theory - and thus for redeem the class of exploit oppress and light the spark - name of an old magazine directed by Lenin - of the Revolution in his generous heart, for defeat finally the despotic oppressor. This symbolize the revolutionary moment for excellence, where «Marxist praxis» realize itself and the theory moves in action. Praxis means exactly: «thinking in action» - like in the clear and cleaver Marxist conception of Antonio Gramsci -, then the most interesting fact it is not particularly the definition but the process which transform the theory into practice. For understand better this, occur to understand completely the complex and reversible - only for one Marxist and Revolutionary thinker - process that is history. In fact, we do not never forget who Marx was a disciple of Hegel and he inherited from him some important aspects of Hegel and his «philosophy of the history», also if change or convert the master thought in his original and materialistic vision of the history, in despite to the idealism of his master, in this fact he was inspirited from the other his master Feuerbach: controversial author of The essence of Christianity, book that criticize strongly the idea of the religion in the human history, therefore, principal influence for successive atheists author like Karl Marx and Frierich Engels and, above all, their radical critic about religion, notorious phrase derives from the article by Marx For the critic of philosophy of the law by Hegel: «The men create religion, not religion create men»[8]. Nevertheless exist also a serious risk about the messianic vision in general, which it may incur in terrible and bloody episodes type the Nazism, with evil figure of Hitler a sort of Anti-Christ, who was a misunderstanding of the «Superman theory» by Nietzsche, that unleash the devastate development of the indelible tragedy of Olocaust, where billion of Jewish people and others racial minority - like gipsy people and also communist political opposing - died brutally. Between the conception of the history by Marx and Gutierrez exist many evident and document instances, like in this case where Gutierrez says explicitly:

To (theologically) reflect on the basis of the historical praxis of liberation…is to reflect with a view to action which transforms the present. But it does not mean doing this from an armchair; rather it means sinking roots where the pulse of history beating at this moment and illuminating history with the Word of the Lord of history, who irreversibly committed himself to the present moment of humankind to carry it to its fulfilment[9].

And one more time Gutierrez says:

Sin appears, therefore, as the fundamental alienation, the root of situation of injustice and exploitation[10]

«Sin» is an impediment to obtain the eternal life, what is exactly present life if not a kind of qualification for the next life? But we need to consider one basilar fact, if you are poor, you are thirsty and hungry , you can steal and kill only for one piece of bread or meat. In fact, poverty - in a certain sense - implies also criminality and vice versa. Therefore, occur to build again from its foundation the whole social apparatus. Salvation begin with Creation - for me, the curious synonymous with Gutierrez call Marxist praxis -, and this means a rebuilding of a New World. This justify the intrinsic connection that exist for Gutierrez between concept which Salvation and Creation, or better, we can say Re-Creation, but for re-create something occur quick and immediate action, or rather, putting into effect the crucial concept of praxis. At this intention Gutierrez say clearly:

Salvation is not something otherworldly, in regard to which the present life is merely a test. Salvation - the communion of human beings with God and among themselves - is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and leads it to its fullness in Christ[11].

The so called «theology of the event» - or «acts of liberation» - by Gutierrez theologian is bases on these two basic theological assumption: the first, single vocation to salvation - all human action has religious value -; the second, Salvation in a reality which occur in history. Besides, the priority of praxis is one crucial idea in Marx philosophy as well as in Gutierrez theology. In this sense, the irruption of the poor in the history, who predicted fairly by Marx, is a theology of the «signs of the times» - so called since John XXIII and Vatican Council II - and means the indispensable demand of the people to satisfy their basilar needs. The liberating praxis for Gutierrez means: schools; clean water; trade unions; land reform; etc. Because, in fact, the radical transformation of society implies that we must create it at image and resemblance of our dreams, because like said the beat poet Delmore Schwartz: «In dreams begin the responsibilities». If we fight together for our dreams, maybe we can have some possibilities of create and as well as save our world, often undervalue and careless. There is an amazing book of the philosopher Hans Jonas entitle The principle of responsibility[12], that talk about this delicate argument and good for an acquisition of an individual consciousness, fundamental for everyone daily life…
And always Gutierrez says:

…human liberation and the growth of the Kingdom both are directed towards complete communion of human beings with God and among themselves. They have the same goal, but they do not follow parallel roads, not even convergent ones. The growth of the Kingdom is a process which occurs historically in liberation, insofar as liberation means a greater human fulfilment… Moreover, we can say that the historical, political liberating event is the growth of the Kingdom, not all of salvation[13].

On the other hand, if in his work Gutierrez is or not guilty of collapsing the Kingdom of God into human action; I think he is in part guilty, but what is the real problem if the fight for this world prepares the field for the superior and messianic Advent of the Kingdom of Heavens? Theologically it is right fight before for the own place in the world and then for the consecutive celestial own place. In this sense, if theology and philosophy begin to fight together for the common purpose of make better this Earth, this is an extremely important and good sign for the whole humankind, or rather, working together for building the Marxist «perfect society»: more just, equal and dignified for all people. Therefore, I think it is not thus important if some Marxist philosopher differently to theologian does not believe in the other metaphysics world, but meanwhile they instead fight tenaciously for this physics world against the social differences and injustice, rather the most important thing I think is whose they believe exactly together in the infinite possibilities of improvement of this kind of society. «Redemption» or «class fight» what is the difference? I do not see any difference, in fact, the aim is the same. Besides, I would defend Gutierrez from the banal accuse of reductionism that is for me the reductionism of itself, because is completely human simplify the entire world in some specific and analytic concepts, even if it is too much big and, therefore, too much difficult to understand for every respective person. One good example of the truth of my words is the Aristotelian eminent «theory of categories», which try to reduce the world in some key points. Finally, my conclusion is we can try to find an invisible connection between Modern Theology and Marxism, because each one is basilar for the survival of the other one, in fact, if the first one try to study and possibly understand the Absolute Spirit, instead, the second one try to study and as much possibly to understand the Absolute Brain. This is their principal and as well as unique essential distinction in terms, but both are for the human anthropology an irrepressible and oppressive demand. For use the same words of Gutierrez:

Contemporary theology does in fact find itself in direct and fruitful confrontation with Marxism, and it is to a large extent due to Marxism’s influence that theological thought, searching its own sources, has begun to reflect on the meaning of the transformation of this world and human action in history[14].

If we read carefully this thought above cited, we can recognise who Gutierrez for many - but I precise not all - aspects is on the same wavelength of Marxist weltanschuung[15]. In a modern world where many values are forget, therefore, its perfect metaphor is the evocative image used by the poet Thomas Sterns Eliot in his masterpiece The waste land, or rather, one world without the essential «sense of sacred» and where everything seems admit, the re-discovery of the most precious things like may be religious values exactly, also for one atheist and humanist thinker, is a very important «sign of times», I said that also for one non-believer because I think who every one believes, if not in God, in a religious life because what is life if not a mysterious gift - for sure! - gave us from the invisible power which rules our life, like the fate for the ancient Greeks, for instance? Against neo-positivism philosophies of every kinds, also if we believe in the science progress which are basilar for the human correct evolution, but we do not believe in one science without ethic, which is indispensable for live the life in the fullness and stillness of an individual and responsible conscience, therefore, at this intention is not important if we believe in a Christian ethic or in a Marxist ethic or else in both of them together, the most important in fact is to have one ethic which drives our existence, even if own life is without a spiritual-material guide and like said Walt Whitman in his legendary verse taken from Leaves of grass wrote under a strength influence of Sacred Scripture: «I will make the poem of materials, for I think they are to be the most spiritual poems»…


- A theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez, London, SCM, 1988;
- Praxis de Liberacion by Gustavo Gutierrez, (?), (?), 1979 ;
- Works chooses by Marx-Engels, Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1966;
- The essence of Christianity Ludwig Feuerbach, (?), (?), (?);
- Latino-americana by Ernesto <> Guevara, Milan, Feltrinelli Editori, 2004;
- The principle of responsibility by Hans Jonas, (?), (?), (?);
- Notes from the prison by Antonio gramsci, section Philosophy of praxis, (?), (?), (?);
- The waste land by Thomas Stearns Eliot, Milan, Feltrinelli Editori, 2003;
- Leaves of grass by Walt Whitman, Milan, Oscar Mondadori Editori, 1991;

[1] A theology of liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez, London, SCM, 1988, p. XIII.
[2] Praxis de Liberacion, p. 72f, cited at Kirk, 1979 p. 57.
[3] Notes from the prison by Antonio Gramsci, section Philosophy of praxis…
[4] Taken from his masterpiece Leaves of grass and from the poem From Starting from Paumanok, but from an Italian version, Oscar Mondadori Classici (1991), with the original text next to…
[5] Chooses Works by Marx-Engels, Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1966, p.239-240.
[6] Ibid. p. 90.
[7] Ibid. p. 101.
[8] Ibid. reference 5, p. (?).
[9] Ibid. p. 12.
[10] Ibid. p. 103.
[11] Ibid. p. 85.
[12] He was one of the most important studious of the «gnosis», but in this book he tried to combine the work The principle of desperation by Gunther Anders and the other work The principle of hope by Hans Bloch, and besides he tried to find one «midst position»…
[13] Ibid. p. 104.
[14] Ibid. p. 8.
[15] German term which means: «vision of the world»…

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