Liberation Theology

By Irwin, Kevin W. | Theological Studies, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Liberation Theology


Irwin, Kevin W., Theological Studies


2. LIBERATION THEOLOGY

The early works of liberation theologians on sacramental theology followed up on some of Rahner's insights by weaving together the theology of the Church and the theology of sacrament in a way that fitted the Latin-American economic and political situation. We shall first consider two of these early authors.

Juan Luis Segundo

Already in 1971, the Uruguayan Juan Luis Segundo raised serious challenges to the conventional liturgical and sacramental practice of the time, particularly regarding triumphalism in cult and church life, in the face of serious economic and social injustices. In The Sacraments Today,(1) he argues for a more authentic sense of community in liturgical celebration, a chief means toward which is the formation and fostering of base communities.(2) He urges a positive interpretation to the "secularization" process to retrieve the necessary prophetic and life-challenging aspects of liturgy.(3) He thus rejects the dualistic separation of sacred from profane and describes liturgy as truly liberating of persons from "demons" such as inequitable land and wealth distribution regrettably inherent in the social structures of underdeveloped countries.(4) Segundo critiques consumerist approaches to the use of sacraments and demonstrates that a sacramental system can in practice support systemic social exploitation.(5) Consequently he argues forcefully for deeper exploration and appreciation of the prophetic dimension of liturgy as celebrating what has not yet been accomplished, in that all of life is not yet pervaded by Christ's liberative Pasch.(6)

The book's structure and use of magisterial sources clearly reflect the beginnings of the move from the conventional post-tridentine concerns about the institution of sacraments, their efficaciousness, and the number seven. The magisterial sources on which he mainly relies are the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II, as well as the documents from the (1968) Medellin Conference of the Latin American bishops. In addition to these, Evangelii nuntiandi of Paul VI and the Final Document from the (1979) Puebla meeting of the Latin American bishops' conference will influence later sacramental writings that take up the issues raised by Segundo.

Leonardo Boff

Somewhat later than Segundo's book are two works by Leonardo Boff of Brazil, in which Boff articulates the sacramentality intrinsic to sacraments and what might be called a sacramental ecclesiology. In the brief essay Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments: Story Theology,(7) his aim is to disclose the way sacraments express the interplay among human beings (especially how they view life and communicate human life), the world, and God. Boff writes in order to "recapture the religious richness contained in the symbolic and sacramental universe that inhabits our daily life." Since sacraments are "basic constituents of human life ... faith sees grace present in the most elementary acts of life."(8) Throughout, sacraments are viewed sub specie humanitatis, to use Boff s term. Sacramental language is essentially evocative, self-involving, and performance-oriented. Sacraments refer to sacred moments and places in order to disclose the sacredness of everyday life, and to engage participants in acts of redemption here and now. They also aim to induce conversion and to change human praxis. In simple language that is often autobiographical, Boff discloses how persons (his father and his school teacher), nature (light), and things (bread, house) can be sacramental, often linking these narratives with principles of sacramental theology (such as their symbolic substructure). The concluding chapter summarizes in a systematic way what he has articulated for popular consumption.

Boff's style and purpose in Church: Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church(9) are similar. …

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