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Freedom: A Christological Contribution

by Waldemar Labusga Monday, Dec. 25, 2006 at 4:51 AM

Christmas is a revolution, a new beginning and a change of loyalties where weakness becomes strength and power is seen as blindness. Poverty of spirit keeps us from the idolatry of riches and power as ends-in-themselves.


By Waldemar Labusga

[This chapter from a 2000 dissertation at the University of Munich is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

After reflecting on questions of contemplation and politics, the problematic of freedom and liberation will be discussed in relation to the person of Jesus. The two themes are closely connected. The division is purely methodical…. Freedom is a dynamic state requiring repeated marks of liberation. Freedom needs liberation.

The longing for freedom – like love – is probably the strongest human motivation. Dictators try to repress this longing; democrats reflect how freedom and liberation can be strengthened or defended. In their name, revolutions were organized; people fell in wars and were guillotined. Freedom and liberation are praised in hymns and expounded in thick books. In Latin America, the ideal of freedom has been a sublime ideal since the origin of free Latin American states at the beginning of the 19th century. (1)

In June 1990, Segundo Galilea’s book “Ascenso a la Libertad” (Ascent to Freedom) appeared in Buenos Aires – when a redefinition of Central and Eastern European identity was dared in a true “intoxication of freedom.” The author concentrates on the theme of freedom, “possibly the most radical and most central problem of our present world. Freedom is what identifies and distinguishes people from all other creatures. It is his or her only true property that cannot be taken away.” (2) The author’s reflections have a maturity and a clarity (3) bestowed by “office and years.” (4) The work is divided in three chapters: 1. The Deceptions of Freedom; 2. Christ’s Freedom and 3. Ascent to Freedom.

Galilea’s calm balanced tone is striking although this theme was the great theme in Latin America and Europe at that time. “People never spoke so much about freedom and liberation. This is probably because we speak and preach more about what we don’t have or scarcely have” (5) according to the motto: “The provocation is greatest where it is most lacking.” The idea of freedom in its different forms has an enormously strong attraction: public freedoms, the freedom of women and ethnic minorities, freedom of conscience and freedom of worship and so forth. However a person does not know what constitutes his true freedom. But this ignorance does not hinder him from seeking it, sometimes at a very high price. Often he does not seek it where it can be found. “The price of errors in seeking freedom is very high. The new forms of slavery are worse than the past forms.” (6)


In its history, Christianity has been a liberating and freedom-loving religion. This characteristic goes back to its founder. That Jesus was a perfectly free person sounds almost like a platitude. Although he identified completely with his environment and incarnated in the Jewish culture, he seemed surprisingly free from many aspects of public life. Neither the version of the Jesus-Essene Christology and the revolutionary Jesus christology reflect the real nature of the messianic sending of the master from Nazareth.

Jesus’ position in the society of his time and his standpoint on the problem of the liberation of his own nation were different. He was completely free and not allied with the Essenes or the Zealots or influenced by either of these groups. (7) In the following, several characteristics of his freedom emphasized by Galilea will be described.

Jesus proclaimed programmatically his message of freedom in his first public appearance: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (8) He also spoke indirectly about freedom in the Sermon on the Mount. (9) The purpose of the beatitudes is “instruction on the true way of spiritual freedom.” (10) Jesus summarized this as follows: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (11) Jesus stressed the freedom of the heart. (12) The heart is the source of good and evil. (13) “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (14)

Jesus’ freedom could be seen in his freedom from the law understood by many merely as the legalist observance of practices and commandments. (15) He did not follow the empty juridical and religious norms of the time that violated faith, hope and love. Through his conduct, he clearly put in question laws accepted as self-evident. He criticized fasting for fasting’s sake. (16) He opposed a strict interpretation of the Sabbath laws. (17) He disagreed with the temple tax (18) and questioned all human doctrines and regulations that claimed the authority of the divine law. (19) He decried all practices that were propounded by the scribes that were not originally obligatory. (20) On the other side, he fulfilled some regulations that were not obligatory to avoid giving offense to people (for example, the tax for the emperor). (21)

Jesus’ freedom appeared in his public effectiveness, Galilea explains. This freedom allowed him to abandon his customary criteria and apply others. As an example, the Chilean names Jesus’ decision to do no miracles or signs until the wedding at Cana at the urging of his mother. (22) Secondly, the Canaanite woman persuaded Jesus although he was originally “only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (23) “In the course of his mission and in light of changing circumstances, he modified his `pastoral strategy’ with perfect freedom.” (24)

Jesus was free to say the truth although the consequences could be dangerous for him. Before the Sanhedrin (25) he declared himself the Son of man and before Pilate (26) a king. He had no fear of exposing Herod. (27) He was not afraid of being himself. “The weight of the powerful never reduced Jesus’ freedom.” (28) His inner freedom allowed him to relate to everybody without respect of person in a culture that was not free from discriminations and prejudices. He met with the Samaritans (29) who were hated by the Jews. He socialized with the poor and despised (30) without losing sight of the rich. (31) In Israel’s thoroughly “machismo society” (32), he related freely with women (33) and accepted some women in the group of his closest disciples. (34) He maintained contact with the Pharisees and scribes although they constantly criticized him and wanted to set a trap for him. For the sake of God’s reign that exists for everybody, he was not afraid of contact with persons of shady reputation. (35) “He was everyone’s friend and not manipulated by anyone. In view of the political parties, ideologies and religious groups of his time, Jesus appeared so free that he was accused of everything. Jesus was always simply himself.” (36)

The four elements of Jesus’ freedom, from the wrongly understood law, in his public effect, freedom of speech and free association with everybody showed that Jesus was a person with an optimum of inner freedom. This inner freedom is the root and basis of outer freedom. The more strongly a person feels inwardly free, the freer and more unconstrained he acts outwardly.

“Inner freedom […] is the foundation and guarantee of all outward personal and collective liberation.” (37) Thus Jesus can be presented paradigmatically as one who practiced and attained true freedom. Galilea focuses here on inner (spiritual) freedom understood as gradual liberation from conscious and unconscious fetters, not ethical freedom. Ethical freedom is less important than spiritual freedom. “Ethical freedom is the ability of the person to distinguish between good and evil. […] Spiritual (inner or Christian) freedom is the ability to choose between good and evil.” (38)


Gal8ilea joined the ideal of freedom lived and proclaimed by Jesus with the ideal of discipleship. Jesus’ model sometimes seems too high and unattainable. “Sell all you have, give to the poor and you will have an eternal treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me! (39) “None of you can be my disciple without renouncing on all his possessions.” (40) “If your right hand seduces you to evil, cut it off and cast it away!” (41) “If the grain of corn does not fall in the ground and die, it remains alone.” (42) “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever rejects his life in this world will preserve it to eternal life.” (43) “Love one another.” (44) “You should be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (45) “Whoever would be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (46) Thus Christ’s discipleship includes the dimension of following behind the suffering, weak and crucified Jesus. (47)

According to Galilea, these demands are overwhelming because the ideal expressed in these words is hard to attain. Nevertheless whoever really sees Jesus of the gospels and follows him does not feel oppressed or depressed by these claims. They are filled by the creative inspiring example of the one who first lived these demands, Jesus himself. They are a permanent invitation to development, growth and will power. They free the Christian and give him or her a feeling of humanism. Interestingly enough, there are always Christians who turn to the gospel and to Christ where the demands are much greater although they escaped past challenges in other areas and felt threatened by them. This probably happens because they are led “to greater love and a deeper sense of freedom.” (48)


For Galilea, there is a crucial connection between Jesus’ freedom and his poverty. This plays a key function in his life. The Lord who commends freedom to persons is himself free and poor or free because he is poor. In this bearing as a poor man, he faces the Father and people. He attained genuine freedom through different forms of poverty. This poverty was expressed in his faithfulness to the mission of the Father. (49) He renounced on all forms of personal demands and claims. He humbly accepts his personal history: the place, circumstances of life and people who surround and follow him. This is the acceptance of kenosis, the acceptance of a position of God’s servant. (50) Therefore he can recommend this lifestyle to others. (51) He can lead them to freedom in love and to poverty in the sense of a self-forgetting. (52) His conduct toward the disciples is one example. He accepts them with all their sluggishness and coarseness. He does not judge or exploit his leading position to meddle in the normal development of persons. (53) “If you would” (54) are his introductory words. Nevertheless he does not stop preparing his disciples for the future.

Jesus – in complete freedom – lives and practices the different forms of poverty. He is not committed to a simple form of poverty. As he lives poverty, he adjusts to the changing situation. He accepts one form of poverty in Bethlehem, another in Nazareth, another in his public effectiveness and another radical poverty in his passion and cross. (55) A certain primacy of freedom over poverty appears in the example of Jesus. (56) Freedom is the key to evangelical poverty. Freedom constitutes the border between Christian solidarity and the solidarity forced by ideological systems. The first is liberating and creates brotherliness and sisterliness. The second is oppressive and creates a soulless collectivism. One characteristic of the highest human ideals is that they must be voluntarily accepted (for example, brotherliness, voluntary poverty or celibacy). If they are forced, they lead to the opposite effect: they dehumanize.” (57)

Galilea tries to find a middle way and simply grant the problematic of poverty its true rank. This is not self-evident in Latin America where the subject of poverty led to drastic differences of opinion in church and theological circles on account of the immense number of people living in misery. On one hand, a preferential option for the poor is completely justified and repeatedly confirmed. On the other hand, it may not be instrumentalized or absolutized into the only criterion of true Christian engagement.


Jesus’ radical freedom appeared – partly paradoxically – in his faithfulness to the mission charged by the Father. Galilea presents an interesting study of Jesus’ faithfulness by describing narratively the historical development of Jesus’ public effect. Jesus lived this faithfulness concretely in the historical circumstances of his mission surrounded by people and immersed in situations marked by sin. He endured injustice to the bitter end of the cross. Thus the cross according to Galilea is on one side “the sign of the over-dominant power of evil, sin and injustice in the world” and on the other side “the extreme proof of Jesus’ faithfulness.” (58) “For Jesus, the cross is the mission to liberate people turned to tragedy on account of the sin of people.” (59) The faithfulness practiced by Jesus was manifest in his engagement for the cause of the Father after the initial successes.

With his person, great expectations awakened in the people. Galilea shows how Jesus at the beginning of his effectiveness enjoyed great respect, social influence and even power. But when he radicalized his demands and thereby disappointed people in their expectations, he experienced a certain “impoverishment” and several conflicts with the religious and imperial authority. In a very graphic way, the Chilean shows how the people waiting for a messiah saw the fulfillment of their hopes in Jesus. He brought the message of salvation to the poor, liberation to the captives, freedom to the oppressed and reconciliation to everyone. (60) He demonstrated his power in healings, multiplied bread and provided additional wine at the marriage feast. The crowd besieged him to he and his disciples had no time to eat. He held great addresses and had to flee in nearby regions at night to gain some rest. In this time, many wanted to make him king which was a repetition of the wilderness temptation:” to enjoy earthly esteem at the expense of faithfulness to the Father. However Jesus did not succumb to this temptation. (61) Instead he decided to radicalize his demands. He did this although this foreseeably provoked a crisis in the multitude. “You do not seek me because you have seen signs but because you ate the bread and were filled.” (62) The crowd was not ready for that. Even his closest disciples abandoned him.

A phase of “impoverishment” began for Jesus; he was misunderstood, questioned and lost popularity. He made the experience of the “servant of God.” He did not work any miraculous signs any more and spoke little about messianic expectations or the power of the reign. Jesus’ main theme was discipleship and the cross that had to be borne. He announced his persecutions, passion and death. An enormous conflict with the leaders of the people began. (63)

The conflict that erupted around Jesus was above all a religious conflict. High priests, Pharisees and teachers of the law were among his persecutors. First they tried to discredit him. Later they resolved to hand him over to the Roman occupiers. Tension grew during his last sojourn in Jerusalem. In entering the city, he felt signs of solidarity from the masses. This was a repetition of the wilderness temptation: the possibility of becoming a political messiah who had strength in power, not in prophecy. This temptation was much clearer and more dramatic than before. In the night before his suffering, a depressed Jesus went to the olive garden to renew his faithfulness to the will of the Father. The crisis was very serious. Jesus seemed defeated; his sweat turned into blood. The cruel death on the cross followed. Jesus’ faithfulness was put to the most extreme test. However his resurrection is the proof that this faithfulness was not in vain. From then on, Galilea said, those who follow Jesus in the cross sacrifice transform this terrifying experience into a source of liberation and sanctity.


Jesus worked completely free uninfluenced by the contemporary power constellations. He invited the poor and degraded in his reign. He condemns every privilege and inequality regarding God’s universal fatherhood in his reign. With the example of his effectiveness, he confirms the themes of his message by attaching great importance to lived poverty. Jesus’ religious message liberating from sin refers to individual persons and also contains an historical, social, economic and political moment. This moment puts whole societies in question. This is important for societies in which people must live in injustice and oppression. (65) For every epoch, his message represents a criticism of dominant power, unjustly distributed property and the monopoly on knowledge.


The problematic of liberation is inwardly connected wit the theme of freedom. Since the first publication of Gustavo Gutierrez’ “Theology of Liberation,” liberation has been the great keyword of Latin American theology. The ideas of different authors on the theme “liberation” will be sketched here. Leonardo Boff envisions a future “liberation of the poor by the poor themselves as historically organized, enlightened subjects of their own liberation interwoven with other allies who adopt their struggle.” (66) He regards liberation as an essential part of Christian redemption. Redemption may not be reduced to the dimension of economic, political, social and ideological liberation but also does not occur without it. (67) “Like every person, the poor have a twofold hunger, a hunger for bread that can be satisfied and a hunger for beauty that can never be quenched. Therefore liberation may never be limited merely to the material, social or spiritual aspect. Rather liberation is only genuine when it is responsive to the whole fullness of human longings. (68) One should strive for a comprehensive liberation that covers all dimensions of human life: bodily and spiritual, personal and social, historical and transcendent. All reductionism, whether only to the spiritual or the material dimension, does not correspond to the nature of the psychosomatic unity of the human being. (69) All true liberation begins with a deep encounter with God. In this encounter, the person receives the commission to be engaged in the liberation processes.” (70)

For Boff, liberation is not the same as freedom. Liberation is an “act that creates spaces of freedom.” (71) For the Brazilian, the beginning and source of the theology of liberation lies here. Liberation theology was “born out of a deep spirituality, out of the Christian’s encounter with the Lord,” (72) an encounter that occurs amidst and among the poor. This theology reflects about “the reality of the people besmirched with the blood of the innocent, the reality of poverty, oppression and premature death. For Leonardo Boff, the greatness of this theology consists in that it emphasizes the problems of the people. (74) Strictly speaking, every theology should do this. Either theology reflects critically about reality and is liberating or it ceases being theology and becomes an ideological power that deceitfully maintains and sells the unjust status quo as just. For Boff, liberation is a reality that is much greater than liberation theology. (75) Therefore “the people do not stop fighting for their own rights even if liberation theology is condemned.” (76)

Zenteno, a Central American author, speaks of the way liberation is understood by the destitute and exploited people: “What is central is the freedom that is clearly connected with the economic, political and ideological plane, not an anonymous liberation or purely psychological liberation. […] When illiterates speak of freedom, they say: `being free means the rich do not make slaves of us any more as in the past. The expe4rience of the people leads us to what liberation theology calls the reality of oppression and understands liberation as a process or movement of the people.” (77)

For Clodovis Boff, the younger brother of Leonardo, liberation consists above all in social liberation, “the historical task of the present time.” However the idea of liberation for him remains “open upwards” to soteriological liberation. In traditional theology, the starting point is the soteriological dimension (liberation from sin and eternal death) and the goal is the social dimension – liberation from historical oppression. In contrast, liberation theology begins with the latter and then arrives at the former. Right at the beginning it grapples with the “naked raw reality of oppression.” Both ways of looking at things are complementary. Starting at the first or second point simply reflects “pastoral methodology,” not theological credibility as sometimes suggested. (78)

What are Galilea’s ideas on this subject? The problematic of inner freedom is the starting point of his presentation. Inner freedom is understood as the root of all other dimensions of freedom and liberation. For the subject of social liberation, estrangement is the caricature of freedom and liberation. The way of freedom and liberation means confronting crisis situations discussed in the next section. The section ends with the representation of the person of Jesus Christ as the model of all Christian liberation and the only truly trustworthy liberator.


Galilea is convinced that inner freedom [synonymous with the terms freedom of the spirit and Christian freedom (79)] is the foundation of all outward personal and collective liberation. (80) If inner freedom is lacking, outward liberation and freedom develop in new bondages and estrangements. This was the fate of the first “documented” (81) liberation of human history in the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (82) and also in the present ultra-modern world where consumption and advertising create new dependencies for people. It is always easier to be satisfied with full fleshpots (83) even in chains than to take the laborious way of inner freedom. “The paradox is that people want to be really free and content themselves with an illusion of freedom.” (84) Thus liberation is sometimes mistaken with attaining a high living standard.

“The great bondage of the human heart is fear of freedom. We prefer having what is necessary instead of taking life in our hands. We prefer bread to freedom, the security demonstrated by others to responsibility. […] The most radical liberation that only the gospel can bring is going the long way of freedom and abandoning the bondages disguised as freedom.” (85) This is also the reason why the advancement, development and raising consciousness of the people always appear suspect to those who prefer giving people panem et circenses to confronting them with the danger of freedom and allowing them to organize their own life. A “contextualization” of the problematic of liberation in relation to living standard sometimes occurs.

“Given the historical realities, `liberations’ and `bondages’ are relative and change their value. In a certain time or place, economic advancement can represent an essential liberation. In another situation, a false dominant humanism can transform advancement into a new source of bondages.” (86)

What is inner freedom in the final analysis? Galilea understands the process of attaining inner freedom as a way to maturity. “Being mature means being free.” (87) Being humanly mature is a life-long task and is impossible in a week or a year. Consequently Galilea understands liberation as a long, evolutionary development or gradual attainment of ever-greater human maturity and not as a fast revolutionary act. The motor of this process is love, the “axis of our life that brings our freedom to maturity.” (88)


Liberation has a social dimension and not only a personal and individual plane. For Galilea, this social dimension is the effort around a social net of relations among sectors and groups of society, a culture, economy and form of politics in which the obstacles for the inner freedom of people are optimally reduced.” (89) From this definition, Galilea is not an advocate of a radical, revolutionary change of social conditions. For him, a kind of justly organized “welfare state with a heart” with a certain dose of human warmth would probably be ideal. He is aware of the dangers of a well-organized welfare state wher3e everything functions perfectly and human relations congeal. He describes such a state in his parable of the “land where people enjoy all democratic and personal freedoms” and society has “just laws and organization but is cold and selfish” and “people feel an ever-greater emptiness that they try to fill with drugs, alcohol, sex and irrational violence.” (90) Such a society is certainly not ideal for the Latin American. A future liberation may not lead to such a state. On the other side, he is also conscious that a sudden and poorly prepared revolutionary upheaval awakens many hopes in people that cannot be fulfilled in the end.

All the important revolutions of the 20th century ended that way, beginning with the 1917 October revolution in Russia, the 1956 Cuban revolution and up to the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. For Galilea, the ultimate criterion of a true social liberation is the access of the largest possible number of people to inner freedom.” (91) This is the characteristic of a just social liberation. If people feel threatened in their inner freedom in a “liberated” land, such a social liberation is invalid and even harmful. “A liberation that does not lead to more brotherliness and freedom is not authentic.” (92)


The great danger on the way of liberation, according to Galilea, is estrangement. Estrangement is produced by modern societies and cultures when they underrate the importance of inner freedom. For the author, alienation is one of the sad results of the separation between culture and the gospel. Strictly speaking, alienation consists in people “acquiring habits, attitudes and criteria that do not correspond to their own identity. […] We are no longer ourselves. We are what others want us to be.” (93) The new clever commercialized offers of advertising (“Buy this,” wear that”) and the messianism of ideologies (“This is the true solution,” “This corresponds to the expectations of the people”) lead to constantly new kinds of estrangement when not accompanied by a true freedom. Human liberations, particularly collective liberations, always remain ambivalent when they do not lead people to growing inner freedom. Social liberation without inner freedom leads to a new form of estrangement.” (94)

Three examples are offered. The first comes from an inner church realm, pastoral activism, and represents one of the subtlest forms of alienation. It first appears as something good. “Many good works are done. Nevertheless this activism, strictly speaking, is a form of veiled Pelagianism, an interpretation in which everything depends on people and God’s grace falls into oblivion. An activist should keep still for a moment, question God and distinguish whether what he wants to do is what he should do.” (95) Another form of subtle estrangement is being against someone or something “in the state of struggle.” (96) This attitude casts shadows on freedom because it makes the person partisan and no longer free in his or her judgments and opinions. With this attitude, “love is replaced with pure dogmatism.” (97)

Societies like individual persons create different forms of estrangement. (98) Parallel to inner freedom, Galilea speaks of inner estrangement (99) which is “a demon of all societies, cultures and political ideologies.” (100) Alienations like wealth, power, comfort and hedonism are produced in rich societies. These alienations leave people in the illusion of living in utmost freedom. In poor societies, the forms of estrangement are mostly external – poverty and oppression – but constantly endanger the inner freedom of the poor. In both cases, Galilea sees a space for evangelization. Evangelization’s task would be proposing concrete, simple and local alternatives to maintain Christian freedom. “These small steps in the social net are more important than any great system changes.” (101)


This way of liberation is obviously not always simple. Setbacks occur. Phenomenological analysis confirms this. Crises erupt in the personal and social realms. Galilea is surprising with his very positive view of crisis. For him, crisis is a stage on the way to true (inner) freedom. “Crisis consists in seeing the inadequacies of our freedom in the starting points, projects and values central to our life and our ideals.” (102) The values important up to now are unmasked as lies (103) creating emptiness. With new freedom, better and more authentic values must be chosen. “Crisis is the phase between perception of false freedoms and access to greater freedom. It is a period of uncertainty, searching and decision.” (104) The longer this time period, the deeper the crisis. The end of a crisis occurs when a person or society gains a new synthesis of values and projects. Then a person or society becomes freer and more authentic on the way of growing inner freedom. […] Christian freedom make us unclassifiable according to conventional labels.” (105)


Here we can ask whether Galilea understands Jesus Christ as liberator like his contemporary colleagues in Latin America. This question can be answered “Yes” from the start. In the book “El seguimiento de Cristo,” Jesus is presented as an authentic liberator in the deepest sense of the word without being a politician or seizing temporal leadership. Moreover he is a dangerous liberator for the establishment, far more dangerous than revolutionary politicians, zealots and others. On the Day of Judgment, the rulers preferred releasing Barabbas who was probably a zealot in order to kill Jesus.

“For the system, Jesus is more dangerous than a revolutionary and his message more subversive than a political manifesto.” (106) Jesus’ “dangerousness” is not limited only to his contemporaries. His message is threatening for dictators of all ages. “Since Jesus proclaims faithfulness to the will of the Father, the true God, and puts in question the imperial authority and the religious Jewish theocracy, Jesus is a danger for every power that stylizes itself as divine and a scandal for a religious class that pretends to acknowledge a God of the law and observance of the law.” (107)

Theology of liberation has often been criticized for striving for a politization or “sociologization” of theology reducing theology to politics or sociology. Galilea answers that liberation theology is protected from becoming a political ideology or “sociologism” (108) because it “believes in Jesus as the only trustworthy liberator.” (109) Christ is not one liberator among others but the Liberator because he redeems from guilt through his cross and resurrection and is also the source of human liberations with his redemption. Christ can be found in the root of every historical process that frees persons from socio-political injustices and bondages. The root of all oppression is sin. Only Christ’s redeeming grace can destroy this root. Only Christ reaches all dimensions of human liberation. This liberation happens in the interior of every person and in the exterior or framework of a society. (110)

Liberation by Jesus is historical, that is it is realized in time and in an eschatological tension to the full Easter liberation. (111) Liberation is the redemption by Jesus occurring in history.” (112) Therefore every authentic historical liberation and ideal of justice changing society can appeal to him. (113) Thus Jesus is the model for Christians and the church as an institution. He remains the prophetic figure in the liberation of the oppressed. (114). “Jesus Christ the Liberator is the teacher of the church and its mission, leading the church to true balance in the pastoral, balance between prophecy and politics. The God who must be proclaimed enters in conflict sooner or later with the ever-new idols that oppress people. God’s honor is a free person.” (115) Service in liberating people is the great goal of the church’s mission. The reign proclaimed by the church is realized in history. […] Finally, the pastoral becomes sterile and empty of an important christological dimension when the poor are not evangelized. (116) Every person who accepts the gospel becomes poor so that the blind, weak, despised and poor can feel privileged in the church.

“Proclamation of the beatitudes is never out of fashion but is essential for evangelization in every society and culture.” (117) “Liberation theology […] believes in Jesus as the only credible Liberator. […] Jesus’ liberation is the only all-embracing liberation.” (118)


Another theme emphasized by Galilea and other theologians in Latin America is the problematic of poverty. Poverty is the theme of Latin American theology and not one theme among many. The “Sitz im Leben” of this theology is a world region where more than 30 percent of the population, 210 million people, live in distress. (119) The social disparities there are inconceivable for an average (Western-) European. This inequality must be seen and experienced, e.g. people living in the “villas” (120) and “favelas” (121), to appreciate the extent of this problem. (122) Latin American liberation theologians rightly point out that the degrading distress of millions is the real problem of theology on the continent, not atheism as in Europe and North America. The great theological question in Latin America is “How can a merciful God be preached to poor Christian people in view of the death and suffering of millions?” not “How can God be proclaimed given atheism and agnosticism?”

Never before in the history of theology have the poor been emphasized this way. Poverty has the central theoretical place for Latin American theology. The poor are the starting point for reflection about God, Jesus Christ, grace, history, the mission of the church, the meaning of economic and political order and the future of societies and humanity. Never has such a central theological place been assigned to them as liberation theology does. Liberation theology understands the poor as a being of boundless communication with longings and a hunger for beauty, not as a needy being. (123) “Poverty” has always been a sensitive theme in the church. The “institutionalized” vows of poverty by monks and nuns are one example. However for many, the past praxis of poverty was too weak. A change occurred on the basis of the new perspective provided by liberation theology. “From a poverty that aimed at parts (poverty of monks and nuns), liberation theology passed over to another form of poverty, that of engagement and struggle for the liberation of the oppressed (that also contains a political dimension).” (124)

But who are the poor? Leonardo Boff says one is poor in the current sense who suffers privation (food, lodging, clothing, work, culture) and in the popular understanding those who have, who help the poor liberate themselves from their poverty. This strategy […] underlying every kind of assistentialism and paternalism in history is neither effective nor sufficient and keeps the poor dependent, not liberated. (125) To the Brazilian, one first becomes an ally of the poor when their priority is not contested. The poor must have the possibility of becoming a subject.

A lingual problem should be explained here. The Spanish word pobreza corresponds to the German term Armut (poverty). On one hand, poverty can mean distress in the material sense and on the other the religiously motivated poverty (of Jesus or the “evangelical poverty” of monks and nuns). The German word Not (distress) is equivalent to the Spanish la miseria. For example, miseria humana refers to the human distress, of people in degrading situations, of “distress crying to heaven.” In relation to the economic distress of millions of people in Latin America, miseria or distress in the strict sense should be underscored, not pobreza or poverty. Still the authors are not entirely consistent. (126) In the final analysis, poverty cannot be defined exactly. The term paraphrases a state where people cannot possibly live with dignity. This includes “the lack of material goods, natural, bodily, mental and spiritual deficiency, oppression, dependence and discriminations of all kinds.” (127) A similar paraphrase is found in Galilea when he says: “The poor (are) persons, groups, social classes and countries who live in `sub-human’ (128) material conditions in different degrees.” (129)


One of the reasons for the negative social development in Latin America is “an idolatrous absolutizing of wealth and private property.” (130) The masses of the poor are the sad result of the unjustly organized societies. The “oppressed cry for respect of their dignity and freedom.” (131) Great hopes of finally solving the problem were joined with the political democratization process in Latin America. Civil governments were introduced in nearly all states of the continent after many years of military control. (132)

However despite the democratization, the areas of poverty on the continent became larger, not smaller. People describe the time of the 1980s as a “lost decade.” (133) The same thing happened – with several gratifying exceptions – in the 1990s. (134) The situation is more or less the same in all countries of Central- and South America: a rich oligarchic elite and a poor majority. The middle class either hardly exists or finds itself in an intense process of impoverishment.


Given this often-depressing situation, the reality of Latin America has been seen since the 1960s from the perspective of the poor – at least in some circles of society. Representatives of the Catholic Church play an essential role. They realized more and more that something special must be done in this situation. A process of approach began between the church and the poor. This development was described differently: “Exodus to the poor” (135), “exodus from the center to the periphery” (136) or “entering the milieu of the poor.” (137)

A “preferential option for the poor” was emphasized. (138) Leonardo Boff paraphrases this as follows: “The option for the poor in praxis means taking the place of the poor, adopting their cause and struggle and in the extreme case taking their often tragic fate on oneself.” (139)

The option for the poor shook the ecclesial structure on different planes. This option inspired several bishops to leave their residences and palaces and move to simple houses in the poor suburbs. Many priests are interested more and more in the slums. (140) and laity are engaged in social conflict situations. “The preferential option for the poor led some monastic communities to leave their past works in the education system and the health system in affluent parts of town to set out to the poor and share their daily life. These little communities can be found among Bolivia’s mining people, in Colombia’s tropical forest, among Haitian farmers and Peru’s Andean Indians.” (141) The church has nourished the people and the poor live with growing hope.” (142) These are the very concrete poor of the continent in their different forms and life situations, not some imaginary “poor.” (143) They are understood collectively as a people and social class and not only individually in the I-you relation.

The distress of people is interpreted structurally as the result of an unjust social structure. The mechanisms of this unjust system “enlarge the gulf between poor and rich.” (144) Among the many faces of the poor are: hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, premature death, deteriorating living and working conditions and social security, violence in work relations, in families and sexuality, growing aggressiveness, murder and war for land, quoting Joao Bautista Libanio.” (145)


That Latin American theology listened again to the voice of the poor (146) and declared the poor the center and principle of its own reflection was a stroke of luck. (147) For example, Enrique Dussel used the term “the school of the poor,” Leonardo Boff speaks of “the church born out of the poor” (ecclesiogenesis), Gustavo Gutierrez wrote the book “The Historical Power of the Poor” (148) and Jon Sobrino speaks of the “often irritating invasion of the poor (149) in the consciousness of society and the church.” (150)

Theology has understood that the way to God leads through the poor. “Going to God means going to the poor.” (151) “Christ’s hidden face is found in the poor and oppressed. Encounter with Christ occurs in reality in these poor and oppressed.” (152) Latin American theologians have learned among the exploited that poverty is an ethical, mystical and theological experience and a human and theological event, not only an economic situation with a moral dimension.” (153) By demanding their rights, the exploited and believing people experienced an exodus from their marginal position and simultaneously were the first-rate strength of the church and theology. Theology has put down its roots in the faith of the people and thanks to this faith rediscovers the true God.” (154) The bishops assembled in Medellin and Puebla gave their official approbation to the ecclesial option for the poor. (155) The conference in Santo Domingo (1992) also confirmed the option adopted in Medellin and Pueblo. (156)


For Segundo Galilea, the thematic of the poor was in the center. This has biographical and scholarly reasons. He spent the first years of his service as pastor in the slums of Santiago. For many years, he was active in countries with a very large poor population (for example, Ecuador). Long before the theology of liberation and the preferential option for the poor were heard, he wrote works that grappled critically with the theme of poverty. (157) He was clear from the beginning. The poverty of millions of people in Latin America is an evil to which one cannot resign. (158) While this statement seems a commonplace if one analyzes the current dominant mentality, many in the “rich West” (or “North”) simply accept the distress of millions of people in the southern continent as an unchangeable fate. Galilea’s second statement is that “the undignified human distress experienced there leads to de-Christianization” (159) with all conceivable social consequences, above all violence and corruption. This context hides the danger of taking from the poor “their greatest wealth, namely God.” (160)

Galilea asks about the role of the poor in the whole structure of Christianity. For him, Christianity is the only religion in which God can be found in people, especially in the weakest. For example, the brotherliness and sisterliness in Christianity can only be understood from the perspective of the poor. “A true conversion to the Lord always means simultaneously a serious love and affection to the poor. This idea can be found in the Bible, particularly in the prophets of the exile.” (161) At certain places and in certain times, there was trifling appreciation for the poor. However sensitivity for them has generally remained an essential element of the Christian life. The saints of all times who always showed a watchful attention for the poor and the God living in them are a concrete example. (162)


As with nearly all themes occupying Galilea, he tries to first consider the person of Jesus represented in the gospels in the problematic of the poor. He offers inspiration with his words and deeds. For the Chilean, Jesus Christ is God’s definitive revelation as the god of the poor. He is the God who brings justice and brotherliness to the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus reveals himself as the God of the poor through his lifestyle and proclamation.” (163)

Jesus lived in a poor milieu for most of his life. In his mission, simple people surrounded him. Although he brought the hope of the reign to everyone, most of his signs of liberation accompanying his proclamation were realized among the poor and sick. His death, the death of an abandoned one, is the final confirmation of his identification with the poor. “Through his life, Jesus leads his disciples in the preferential option for the poor.” (164) Galilea understood the Matthaean and Lukan Jesus this way.


According to Galilea, the Jesus represented in Matthew’s Gospel identifies with the poor and urges his disciples to love the poor. In the speech on the world judgment (165), Jesus demands serving the poor. Starting from the words “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom […] because I was hungry and you gave me food (166); away from me, you cursed […] because I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat.” (167), sensitivity for the poor appears as a conditio sine qua non for redemption and entrance in the kingdom. According to Galilea, Jesus in this parable shows an important criterion for distinguishing the “good” from the “bad.” This criterion is relation to the poor represented here by the hungry, thirsty and homeless. (168) The conditions of redemption should not be reduced to this parable since Jesus also shows other criteria, for example God’s love, prayer, truth, and faithfulness. However love for the poor is certainly one of the most important criteria. (169) The master from Nazareth goes even further, Galilea shows. He identifies with the poor. Christian sensitivity for the poor finds its deepest substantiation here.

The poor are the sacrament of Christ. An encounter with him is like an encounter with Christ. The reason for this lies in Jesus’ self-identification with the poor. “All you have done to one of the least of these, you have done to me.” (170) The biblical dialectic is found here again: “While Christ identifies with every human being, poor or rich, near or far, he identifies especially with the needy.” (171)


Galilea discovers that the Lukan Jesus goes a step further by urging his disciples to become poor. The Lukan Jesus declares poverty the condition of discipleship. He makes poverty the criterion for the credibility of proclamation. The liberations of the poor that he carried out had the goal of demonstrating a God who remains faithful to his promises. In the meantime, this knowledge has become a part of the common heritage, Galilea says, so that Jesus’ love for the poor and oppressed is expressed most strongly in his discourse on the plain and more concretely in the beatitudes of Luke. (172) With the declaration “Blessed are you poor for yours is the kingdom of God” (173), Jesus proclaims the gospel as “Good News” of brotherliness and liberation for the poor. In his message about poverty, Jesus invites people to solidarity with the needy and urges his disciples to become poor themselves and follow him as a poor one.

“The beatitudes are a call to have compassion with the poor and a demand to become poor.” (174) Correspondingly, poverty is not an evangelical counsel directed for example at monks and nuns but Christ’s call to every Christian as a simple demand of Christianity. (175)

The Lukan Jesus teaches that the credibility of the gospel has to do with love for the poor. The attention given to the poor becomes the criterion of the trustworthiness of the proclamation, Galilea says. In the synagogue of Nazareth (176), Jesus strengthens the credibility of his appearance by speaking of the poor. He takes up the text of Isaiah: “The Spirit of God the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring Good News to the poor” (the poor as the privileged in evangelization), “to proclaim release to the prisoners and liberation to th3e captives” (the poor as the privileged in liberation) (177). Jesus joins the summons to conversion with the attempt to liberate people from their dependencies. (178)

Galilea points out the same theme, love for the poor as confirmation of the authenticity of the proclamation in Lk 7,18ff. John the Baptist and his disciples are uncertain whether Jesus is really the expected Messiah. (179) He did not answer their question directly but referred to the signs of the kingdom: “The blind will see, the lame will walk and lepers will be cleansed; the deaf will hear, the dead will rise and the gospel will be proclaimed to the poor.” (180) For Jesus, the liberation of people from their problems and the evangelization of the poor were signs of the trustworthiness of his mission.

For the mission of today’s church, this means evangelization and liberation of the poor should take place simultaneously without ignoring one of these elements. The liberation that Jesus offered went beyond bodily healing. Jesus de-marginalized the expelled. The healings of the possessed, lepers and the blind – persons from a social class who were especially privileged in Jesus’ healings – are typical here. The reason was that “the blind, lepers and possessed were the `pariahs’ of that society.” (181)

Galilea says the above-mentioned liberations carried out by Jesus were partial and not suffici3ent from the standpoint of a definitive global liberation. A global liberation must go deeper to the roots and structures of the oppression of the poor in his time. However the goal of Jesus’ mission was not a complete liberation. His task did not consist in solving all the categories of suffering and all the social problems of his epoch. This was not even the first reason of his healings and signs. “The deeper significance of his human partial liberations was to show that the Good News is an authentic and credible reality. The goal of these liberations was preserving hope in a God who remains faithful to his promises and visits his people.” (182) Alongside the partial liberations of the poor from their distresses, Jesus proclaims simultaneously the Good News of God’s reign. He evangelized them and called them to faith and conversion, that is to what is described today as “inner liberation.” (183): liberation from sin, egoism and spiritual bondages. For Jesus, this inner liberation is the guarantee of a social liberation, the inner foundation for the outer liberations. (184)


Galilea refers to an interesting paradox and surprising fact that can be discerned in reading the gospels: Jesus speaks more often about wealth and the rich than poverty and the poor. His attitude toward the rich is positive. He does not condemn money in itself. He only condemns the attitude of people who become dependent on money. The main danger of wealth is that it becomes “lord” of the human heart, a “god” or “idol” that allows no free space any more for the true God. (185)


In this context, the Latin American asks whether there is a Christian meaning of money. Firstly, he declares the historical fact that money was invented to facilitate the transfer and distribution of goods. Therefore money according to its origin should serve the just distribution of wealth. (186) However money became an end-in-itself and degenerated into a source of exploitation in the course of time. Given the injustice in the world, Jesus’ words about Divine Providence (of the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky) (187) sound almost like blasphemy or at least carelessness. His petition “Give us today our daily bread” (188) is not fulfilled on account of the slaves of possessions who constantly “build ever larger barns” (189) to store their riches. (190) Capital should be a sign of human labor, of the sweat and blood of campesinos, miners, laborers and intellectuals. In the Jesuan view of things, money should be a means of reconciliation between poor and rich and a way to equality and justice. “As none is absolute owner of the earth, no person is also the absolute owner of money.” (191) Here the Chilean quotes the parable of the Good Samaritan (192) who overcomes all prejudices to help a needy person and the “strange” parable of the wise steward (193) who from a corrupt position becomes a helper of the needy and exploited. (194)


Galilea concentrates on the practical question of the use of money in the apostolate of the church. How can “damn money” that is often a source of power and senseless exploitation be used on a large scale in the mission of the church? He comes to the insight that the church to be credible with its message of the beatitudes must give a witness of “poor and simple resources” in the apostolate. (195) “The evangelization of the poor and also of the rich must always happen `from the milieu of the poor.’ The milieu of the poor is not a `social place’ but rather solidarity and engagement for the cause of justice.” (196) Representatives of the church first become credible in this way.

Galilea makes a comparison with the situation of the pre-Constantine church. “At that time witness had a primary significance and was the soul of the conversion of the ancient world. We believe the testimony of the church (197) will be increasingly important for evangelization in today’s America […]. This testimony concentrates on two elements, love and poverty, Paul VI tells us. We find both in the gospel. The church has always regarded them as the effective presence of Christ’s spirit.” (198) In this sense, the church follows the fate of the rich who according to the gospel (cf. the parable of the good Samaritan) cannot be redeemed without making “brothers” out of the needy. (199) Poverty is expressed in deficiency of money and renunciation on prestige, criticism and different kinds of “power.” “The proud oppose the poor, not the rich.” (200)

In his reflections, Galilea reaches a thesis that cannot be found in this form in other liberation theologians. A “mystification” of the poor and their “glorification” was very simple in the atmosphere of a true “boom of the poor” in Latin American theology. The Chilean corrects this mystification. “The poor is not only the oppressed or the socially needy; he is a sinner like every human being who needs conversion.” (201) The evangelization of the needy and oppressed does not only consist in their conscientization and accompaniment in their liberation process. Work for justice and rights of the weak are only part of the truth. Evangelization is a call to conversion, to faith in Jesus Christ, to inner freedom and to service to the “others.” “The poor should also remain faithful to the `option for the poor.’ This is universally valid as a Christian category.” (202)


This does not hinder Galilea from urging the preferential option for the poor like Latin America’s other theologians. This cannot be otherwise on a “continent of the poor” where the needy constitute the believing majority. In praxis, this option means that one takes the place of the poor, adopts his cause and his struggle and in the extreme case takes his often-tragic fate on himself. What motivates Christians to be engaged for the poor?

There are very different motives including the idealist sacrifice of one’s life for the needy and the simple human interest in the “wholly other” and the unknown. Galilea does not reject these legitimate reasons. However he warns that sooner or later a “purification” (203) of motivations must occur to wrestle through to the “specifically Christian.” For him, this “specifically Christian” was love in the form of charity. “The concrete poor who encounter us on the way” should be helped, not only the poor generally as a social group.”

In his theological reflections on the problematic of the preferential option for the poor, Galilea starts from the reality of God’s reign realized in the world. (204) Christian brotherliness is the other form that this reign assumes in the world. (205) Jesus died “to gather God’s scattered children again” (206), the children dispersed by hatred, exploitation and sin.

“Brotherliness among people has its foundation in God’s universal fatherhood, in Jesus the universal brother and axis of brotherliness and in Mary, the mother of humanity.” (207) However the attempt to create a society of brotherliness instead of a society of hatred encounters many obstacles. The first is the obstacle of power when exercised with violence and injustice. The second is the temptation of riches that leads to discontentment and enmity – in the case of its unjust division (obviously Latin America’s case) – instead of uniting people. (208) To become a servant of the poor, one needs a far-reaching solidarity with them. (204)

The way to this solidarity leads through poverty in the spirit. (210) The evangelist Matthew shows how one can be poor with a poverty that is liberating for others. (211) According to Galilea, poverty in the spirit emphasized by Matthew is an inner attitude that must accompany every form of evangelical poverty. Poverty in the spirit means having an open heart. The poor in spirit is free from persons and things. For the sake of God’s reign, he is ready “to renounce on all his possessions.” (212) He is free – ready to forego every thing, project, prestige and person that could disturb his relation to Christ. (213) With a sincere poverty in the spirit, the inner attitude is always manifested in outer practices. Outward poverty grows out of inner conviction as a lifestyle. A poverty in the spirit not bound with a poor life style in solidarity with the poor would not be authentic.

In this context, Galilea warns of an ideologizing of the preferential option for the poor. This option may not be just a fashion. (214) “The deepest motivation for this option is the desire to follow Jesus.” (215) Jesus invites his disciples to enter the world of the poor and become themselves poor in spirit, not bound in material things and to use money for the service of justice. (210) He brought his message of God’s reign to all people without exception. This is a message of inner redemption in a special way. How he attempted to alleviate all forms of human distress can be learned on the pages of the gospel. (217)

The scene of the multiplication of bread is important here. (218) In the first place, Jesus tries to still the hunger for God and eternal life. But at the same time, he stills the hunger for bread for those who need it. “He is the master of integrating the religious and social dimensions.” (219) The reign brought by Jesus is there for everyone, not only for the poor. However it is appointed in a preferred way for the poor. This does not happen because the poor are better persons but because “the coming of God’s reign is `Good News,’ particularly for the poor.” (220) God loves all people but the weakest and oppressed have priority. He brought this attitude toward the poor to his disciples. (221)

The preference of the poor has another reason, that they are sinners. Jesus “came to call sinners, not the just.” (222) The poor one is affected by the temptations of egoism and greed like every person, even more intensely than the rich. “Experience shows that giving the poor wealth and power is the fastest way to corrupt them. The greatest oppression often occurs where the poor are socially ascending.” (223) Galilea warns that development work among the poor should include the call to faithfulness to the values of the gospel. Only preaching social liberation to the poor without simultaneously recalling the demands of the gospel means entangling them in new forms of slavery. “Like every person, the poor faces the temptation of ambition, egoism, oppression and riches. These sins often do not determine his life because of the lack of opportunities, opportunities enjoyed by the rich.” Expressed theologically, “the redemption in Jesus cannot be reduced to a purely social liberation. Conversion to the gospel is necessary.” (224)


In his book “Aspectos criticos de la espirituadidad actual,” (225) Galilea propounds seven theses on the connected themes Poverty – Wealth – Liberation – Sin. He tries to set the whole problematic in the light of the gospel and often comes to surprising conclusions. Although these questions were already treated in part, the theses should be presented in detail.


“Jesus seeks sinners. His message is directed especially at their conversion. […] The poor and the rich, poverty and liberation must be seen in this perspective.” (228)

Galilea knows this statement – classical in Christianity – can first surprise if not disappoint Christians engaged in the liberation process of the people. The first addressants of Jesus’ mission are sinners, not the poor. From the gospel, this assertion is undeniable and confirmed by the three parables in Lk 15 (the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son/merciful Father). These parables were told as answers to the frequent criticism countering Jesus: “He keeps company with sinners and even eats with them.” (227) For the Pharisees, this was a scandal. “It is as though a priest would meet with some ruthless capitalists, corrupt politicians or on the other side with subversives and guerillas […]. Jesus’ great search focuses on sinners in their concrete categories. This is a shocking statement for the Pharisees then and today.” (228)


“Together with the search for sinners, Jesus had a special love or option for the poor. Liberation of the poor is a sign of the presence of the reign and a sign that the redemption of sinners is a fact.” (229)

From the gospel (particularly Lk), this statement is unquestionable. If sinners (and not the poor) are the first addressants of his message, then the poor are the preferred addressants. This is incredible and sensational because it involves the real poor: the oppressed, exploited and needy. (230) The poor, starving, hated and insulted who are blessed (231) are the concrete poor, starving, hated and insulted – a sociologically identifiable category. The rich, satiated and praised that face the woes are just as real as a sociological category. (232) This contrast of the blessed poor and the sinful rich is characteristic for Lk (e.g. Magnificat). (233) According to Lk, poverty and riches are connected categories and this connection has something to do with sin.” (234)

Galilea now draws practical-theological conclusions from his reflections. He says in the third thesis:


“Every historical epoch must identify both the `poor’ and `sinners’ in sociological categories. This `incarnation’ is the necessary historical reference to orient the mission of Christians but does not exhaust the evangelical and theological content of the terms `poor’ and `sinner.’” (235)

The poor and the sinner are identifiable sociologically in the gospel. This can be read in the Lukan text of the beatitudes and the text of the Last Judgment in Mt 25,31-46. The marginalized have a clear sociological profile there. They are the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, prisoners and sick. On the other hand, this sociological identification does not exhaust the great wealth of meaning of the biblical ptochoi. “The dialectic between the biblical and social categories that are mutually related is a characteristic feature of the redemption realized in history.” (236) According to Galilea, liberation theology insists that the biblical categories “poor,” “sinner” and “rich man” have their correspondences in the concrete situation of the contemporary world. Like Christian charity, they seek their historical expression in the historical solidarity movements as eschatological redemption finds its historical symbol in the liberation of the poor. This correspondence is always precarious, analogous and incomplete.

If the biblical poor in the sense of Lk 6 and Mt 25 are identified – provisionally and analogously – in Latin America’s present situation, they are the small farmers and exploited workers, the marginalized Indians and blacks, the jobless, the explo

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