Sobrino right to apply Gospel to injustice, Vatican paper says

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano says that Spanish Jesuit Jon Sobrino was right to apply the Gospel to concrete situations of social injustice but the liberation theologian risked going astray with his "Jesus of history".

According to the article by Fr Antonio Stagliano, director of a theological institute in Naples, Italy, the problem in Fr Sobrino's work lay in his new type of Christology that seemed to prefer the "Jesus of history" to the "Christ of faith", Catholic News Service reports.

The article, published last Friday, came 10 days after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note warning of "erroneous or dangerous propositions" in the work of Fr Sobrino.

Typically, such follow-up articles are arranged by Vatican officials to emphasise and explore arguments in the original notification.

The article said Fr Sobrino begins with a "very just" application of theology to the concrete situations of extreme poverty and injustice in Latin America and other parts of the world.

It said Fr Sobrino rightly believes that the Christian faith cannot act as a "sedative" in the face of such injustice, which affects millions of people.

"The concern for orthodoxy (the truth of Christ) should be better connected with the practice of liberation with Christ, the liberator: Christ cannot be reduced to a 'sublime abstraction,' as seems to happen in some European Christologies," the article said.

In a telephone interview, Fr Stagliano said he was summarising Fr Sobrino's thinking on this point and agreed with it himself.

He said the risk of an overly abstracted Christian faith - one that reduces the event of Christ's incarnation to a doctrine - is a real one and was one reason Pope Benedict XVI wrote his 2005 encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love").

In that sense, Fr Stagliano said, his article offered a positive assessment of Fr Sobrino's "theological perspective," but noted that his theology has raised some serious doubts, as well.

The article said problems arise when Fr Sobrino makes the social setting of the poor the most crucial element in understanding Christ's saving mission. His approach tends to raise the human profile of Christ and neglect the transcendent aspects, as well as diminish the importance of Christ's resurrection, it said.

It also risks transforming the church's preferential love for the poor into an exclusive, class-based concern that ceases to be universal, the article said.

Fr Stagliano said Fr Sobrino's work presents another risk, that of undervaluing the importance of the church. The church should be seen as a continuation of Christ's saving sacrifice and as the one place where theologians can find their own work authentically evaluated, he said.

Vatican newspaper says Jesuit was right to apply Gospel to injustice (Catholic News, 28/3/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Jon Sobrino (Wikipedia)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Vatican)
The Jesuit Portal
Australian Jesuits

Christ hides his divinity, Melbourne Jesuit says (CathNews, 16/3/07)
No bar for liberation theologian but work "erroneous" (CathNews, 15/3/07)
Liberation theologian to be silenced (CathNews, 13/3/07)
Liberation theologian named to key Vatican post (CathNews, 1/11/06)

29 Mar 2007