Liberation Theology Founder Dead at 70

Article excerpt

Jesuit Fr. Juan Luis Segundo, one of the founders of liberation theology and one of Latin America's most prominent theologians, died Jan. 17 of an obstruction in an artery. He was 70 years old.

Along with a handful of other theologians who, in the late 1960s and '70s, began connecting the experiences of Latin America's poor to the gospels, Segundo revolutionized the way many Christians viewed the mission of church. He and others like slain Salvadoran Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria and Peru's Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez were among those who made liberation theology a household term in North America and Europe, challenging millions of consciences along the way.

Segundo spent most of his life in Uruguay, but his writings were published in several languages worldwide. He was a prolific writer, challenging the ways theologians had been doing theology and the institutions in which they were doing it.

Segundo was on principle "suspicious." He did not believe that theology could be done without unspoken presuppositions or ideological shackles. He reproached Dutch Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx for his "naive belief that the word of God is applied to human realities inside some antiseptic laboratory that is totally immune to the ideological tendencies and struggles of the present day."

In The Liberation of Theology in 1975 Segundo wrote that "the liberation theologian's suspicion is that anything and everything involving ideas, including theology, is intimately bound up with the existing social situation, in at least an unconscious way."

The fundamental difference between traditional academic theologians and liberation theologians, he said, was that the latter felt "compelled at every step to combine the disciplines that open up the past with the disciplines that help explain the present."

Gutierrez was careful to call his land-mark book not The but A Theology of Liberation. More systematic versions of liberation theology like Segundo's five-volume A Theology for Artisans for a New Humanity seemed to depart from these modest origins and to challenge European thinkers like Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner. Indeed, because of his scholarship and wide range, Segundo has been called "the Karl Rahner of liberation theology. …