31 July 2019

Liberation Theology (1)

May Day ... and, in the pre-Pius XII rite, the churches were decked out in red to celebrate the Holy Apostles Ss Philip and James. In the old Breviary, (si tunc temporis non legitur de Epistula B Iacobi) the first sixteen verses of the Letter of James are today read in the First Nocturn of Mattins*; a passage which Archbishop Cranmer transferred to be be the Epistle of the Mass; " ... so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways". The Breviary has this entire Epistle, with its lucid (Amos-like) teaching about the Righteous Poor and the Righteousness-despising Rich, read during the week after Easter IV.

Now ... just suppose that S Joseph the opifex had always been commemorated on May 1; imagine that Paul VI had then replaced him with the Blood of the Martyred Apostles and the anti-plutocratic theology of S James; Catholics of a certain tendency would have grabbed at this as evidence that the poor Pontiff was a secret Marxist! Go on! Admit it!

The Church's attitude to Liberation Theology is still fossilised in the 1980s. I believe it should be unfossilised. I once hoped that our present Holy Father would do it ... but, most sadly, the Kaspers and the Marxes persuaded him by 'poor' the Scriptures meant well-heeled unrepentant German adulterers.

It is commonly held that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned Liberation Theology in the 1980s; and that this is all that needs to be said. That is a travesty of the truth. There were in fact two documents, with only a couple of years between them, and, a couple of years after that, a significant Encyclical by S John Paul II ('1984', '1986', '1988')

'1984' was, indeed, negative. We must remember that the period beteeen 1960 and 1984 came during the polarised situation of the Cold War; of blacks and whites. It was also a time when there were vivid memories of clergymen such as Fr Camillo Torres, the clerical Che Guevara, who left Altar, Breviary, and Rosary behind him and died fighting as a guerilla. There were indeed clergy who drew their inspiration from Marx rather than from the Magisterium or the Bible, and who saw themselves as commissioned to lead their congregations in cathartic wars of political liberation. During this period, "The  Historical Jesus", that protean individual, was, as represented by Professor Sammy Brandon, a Freedom Fighter. And there was a simplistic (and profoundly erroneous) assumption that Scriptural references to "the Poor" related solely to the economically disadvantaged per se. In such a situation, it would have been a dereliction of duty if the Congregation had not laid down clear markers. And, in 1984, it did so. But that was not the end of its interest.
To be continued.

*FOOTNOTE  In the very nice 1946 Burns Oates Breviary which I use, in lectio ii, the print-setter suffered parablepsis so that his eye slipped from (exaltatione) sua to (humilitate) sua, missing out the intervening words, thus making it the poor man rather than the rich who sicut flos foeni transibit!

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