You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times. Mt. C. 16, V. 3
The Thomas O’Meara and Paul Philibert book, Scanning the Signs of the Times, provides sketches of seven French Dominicans who contributed the theological base for Vatican II. (see blog posting-1/28/2015) One important question that a reader might ask: is the French Saulchoir Dominican Studium also the incubator for Gustavo Gutierrez’ Liberation Theology? The O’Meara Philibert book, Scanning, notes Gustavo Gutierrez was one of the ‘important theological personalities’ that studied at Le Saulchoir. (Scanning – p. 22)
After he finished his studies Gutierrez followed the path of the Saulchoir worker priests to live and work in a slum area of Lima, Peru.
A look at two themes of Liberation theology shows the influence of Le Saulchoir. Let us consider the locus of theology and liberation.
The Locus of Theology
The Scanning article on Le Saulchoir founder M.D. Chenu states,
Chenu had come to understand that the locus of theology, the place where theological reflection emerges, is the convergence between the living faith of believers and their confrontation with the changing world. (Scanning p. 38)
What is the ‘locus’ for Liberation Theology? Gustavo Gutierrez in, A Theology of Liberation, quotes Le Saulchoir professor Yves Congar:
Seen as a whole, the direction of theological thinking has been characterized by a transference away from attention to the being per se of supernatural realities, and toward attention to their relationship with man, the world, and with the problems and affirmations of all those who for us represent others. (A Theology of Liberation, p. 7)
There is no horizontalism in this approach. It is simply a question of the rediscovery of the indissoluble unity of man and God. (Ibid.p. 8)
The conclusion is “…the very life of the Church appears ever more clearly as locus theologicus.” (ibid. p. 8) “Theology follows, it is the second step…Theology does not produce pastoral activity; rather it reflects on it. (ibid p. 11) Gustavo Gutierrez, the student of Le Saulchoir explained the role of theology as expressed by fire of faith and revolution in Latin America.
Le Saulchoir Dominican Luis-Joseph Lebret, who had a dominant influence on the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, was asked by Paul VI to help with a new encyclical on development. (Scanning, p.73) Lebret agreed and the new encyclical was known as Populorum Progressio. The encyclical signaled an important change in Catholic Social Teaching in that it encompassed global problems of poverty and the responsibility of the rich countries to the poor. Development in the poor countries was advocated. Some were dissatisfied with the term development since it seemed to sanction the system that brought about poverty. All that was needed was some adjustment. But why should poor countries look to the rich countries as a model? The rich countries also had their poor; are bourgeois values really the answer?
Gustavo Gutierrez replies,
The encyclical Populorum Progessio is a transitional document. …ultimately it addresses itself to the great ones of this world to carry out the necessary changes. … The outright use of the language of liberation would have given a more decided and direct thrust in favor of the oppressed, encouraging them to break with their present situation and break with their own destiny. (A Theology of Liberation, p. 34-35)
When and where did the notion of liberation enter the discussion. The Saulchoir Dominicans were Thomists but open to other philosophical viewpoints on freedom. Gutierrez knew Kant, Hegel and Marx. But what about liberation; where did this term appear? Congar’s work, Chistianisme et Liberation,is cited three times in Gutierrez’ book, A Theology of Liberation. Is this the source for the theology that dramatically changed Catholic Social Teaching?
But scripture is the base for the construction of liberation theology. The prime importance of scripture is from Le Saulchoir. Scanning … reports, that Le Saulchoir produced scripture scholars Benoit and deVaux, who achieved fame for their work at the Ecole Biblique, which was founded by Marie-Joseph LaGrange, O.P. of the Toulouse province. (p. xvi & p. 22) Gutierrez built the foundation of Liberation Theology on the book of Exodus. Gutierrez explains,
The Exodus experience is paradigmatic. It remains vital and contemporary due to similar historical experiences which the people of God undergo. (A Theology of Liberation, p. 159)
Also consider Gutierrez statement in: the post Puebla Conference book, We Drink From Our Own Wells.
Liberation is an all- embracing process that leaves no dimension of human life untouched, because when all is said and done it expresses the saving action of God in history. (p. 2)
A Theology of Liberation, offers a further explanation to keep in mind.
The liberation of Israel is a political action. It is the breaking away from a situation of despoliation and misery and the beginning of the construction of a just and fraternal society. (p. 155)
Gutierrez references Le Saulchoir scholors Congar (Christianisme and Liberation, (p. 181) and deVaux (p.224) to support his position.
We can easily trace Vatican II and Liberation Theology (also M. Fox’ Creation Theology) back to Le Saulchoir, but Le Saulchoir faculties of theology and philosophy closed in 1974, a sign of the times. What is the future of theology the struggle for social justice and its understanding through the eyes of faith?