Liberation Theology by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Preliminary Notes
1. Liberation theology is a phenomenon with an extraordinary number of layers. There is a whole spectrum from radically marxist positions, on the one hand, to the efforts which are being made within the framework of a correct and ecclesial theology, on the other hand, a theology which stresses the responsibility which Christians necessarily hear for the poor and oppressed, such as we see in the documents of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) from Medellin to Puebla. In what follows, the concept of liberation theology will be understood in a narrower sense: it will refer only to those theologies which, in one way or another, have embraced the marxist fundamental option. Here too there are many individual differences, which cannot be dealt with in a general discussion of this kind. All I can do is attempt to illuminate certain trends which, notwithstanding the different nuances they exhibit, are widespread and exert a certain influence even where liberation theology in this more restricted sense does not exist.
2. An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church. At the same time it must be borne in mind that no error could persist unless it contained a grain of truth. Indeed, an error is all the more dangerous, the greater that grain of truth is, for then the temptation it exerts is all the greater....

I The concept of liberation theology and its origins and preconditions

These preliminary remarks have brought us right to the heart of the subject, without, however, dealing with the central question: what is liberation theology?
Initially we said that liberation theology intends to supply a new total interpretation of the Christian reality; it explains Christianity as a praxis of liberation and sees itself as the guide to this praxis. However, since in its view all reality is political, liberation is also a political concept and the guide to liberation must he a guide to political action:
"Nothing lies outside ... political commitment. Everything has a political color." A theology that is not "practical"; i.e., not essentially political, is regarded as "idealistic" and thus as lacking in reality, or else it is condemned as a vehicle for the oppressors' maintenance of power.
A theologian who has learned his theology in the classical tradition and has accepted its spiritual challenge will find it hard to realize that an attempt is being made, in all seriousness, to recast the whole Christian reality in the categories of politico-social liberation praxis. This is all the more difficult because many liberation theologians continue to use a great deal of the Church's classical ascetical and dogmatic language while changing its signification. As a result, the reader or listener who is operating from a different background can gain the impression that everything is the same as before, apart from the addition of a few somewhat unpalatable statements, which, given so much spirituality, can scarcely be all that dangerous.
The very radicality of liberation theology means that its seriousness is often underestimated, since it does not fit into any of the accepted categories of heresy; its fundamental concern cannot be detected by the existing range of standard questions.
I would like to try, therefore, to approach the basic orientation of liberation theology in two steps: first by saying something about its presuppositions, which make it possible, and then by referring to some of its basic concepts, which reveal something of its structure.
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