Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jon Sobrino Refuses to Accept or Sign the CDF's Notification

Nor should he accept or sign it. Good for him.

The Curial campaign against the Society of Jesus continues... This week it was reported that the CDF has issued a notification that two books written by Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ, Jesus the Liberator (1991), and Christ the Liberator (1999), contain statements that are "either erroneous or dangerous" and "may cause harm to the faithful."

I concede that I haven't read either of the two books in question, but I'm somewhat familiar with Sobrino's work and his thought from having read a book he'd written about Archbishop Oscar Romero some years ago. Fr. Sobrino was a theological advisor to Oscar Romero, and just barely missed being killed along with the six Jesuits who were murdered by a right-wing death squad in El Salvador in 1989.

The CDF notification objects that:

• Sobrino’s method makes the “church of the poor” the central context for theology, thus minimizing or ignoring the apostolic tradition of the church, especially as expressed in the declarations of early church councils;
• It’s not sufficiently clear in his work that the divinity of Christ is taught by the New Testament itself, as opposed to being a product of later dogmatic development;
• In places, Sobrino tends toward the ancient Christological heresy of “assumptionism,” treating the historical Jesus as a separate figure who was “assumed” by the divine Son of God;
• Sobrino makes too strong a distinction between Christ and the Kingdom of God, thereby devaluing the “unique and singular” significance of Christ;
• Jesus’ self-consciousness as messiah and as the Son of God are not sufficiently clear;
• The death of Christ on the Cross is reduced to a moral example, rather than understood as having universal significance for salvation.

It sounds to me like the CDF has Fr. Sobrino confused with the late Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar. Liberation Theology is not liberal theology. It powerfully and profoundly challenges comfortable people like me in a radical way, but I'd hardly call it liberal.

Besides, when did the CDF start feeling comfortable throwing their weight around regarding things written by theologians that aren't "sufficiently clear" enough for them?

Fr. Sobrino has indicated his refusal to accept the finding of the notification... a December letter to Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Jesuits, Sobrino said he could not accept the Vatican’s judgment for two reasons: first, because it misrepresents his theology; and second, because to do so would be to acquiesce in what he described as a 30-year-long campaign of defamation against liberation theology, which, Sobrino wrote, “is of little help to the poor of Jesus and to the church of the poor.”

Sobrino says it would not be honest for him to accept the Vatican’s findings, and that to do so would be to question the judgment of these other theologians.

Second, Sobrino complains to Kolvenbach about harassment from church authorities which he describes as reaching back to 1975, the year in which he first had contact with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and 1976, when he first heard from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He describes the Roman Curia’s methods as “not always honest or very evangelical.”

“I think that to endorse these procedures would not in any way help the church of Jesus to present the face of God to our world, nor to inspire discipleship of Jesus, nor [to advance] the ‘crucial fight of our time,’ which is for faith and justice,” Sobrino writes.
The few remaining liberation theologians have strong adversaries among the Latin American cardinals today, in men such as Cardinal Trujillo and Cardinal Castrillon de Hoyos. In my opinion, the entire Latin American episcopate put together, whining about the Latin Mass while the whole continent is turning to Pentecostalism due to their inattention, isn't worth one of the former visionary bishops of yesteryear, such as Oscar Romero, Dom Helder Camara, Paulo Arns, and Aloísio Lorscheider.


crystal said...


interesting post. I've read a couple of articles by Fr. Sobrino in The Way, a Jesuit spirituality joutrnal. It's depressing to see liberation theology getting buried by the Vatican and the Opus Dei guys in Lating America.

On the subject of Jesuit bashing, I saw mention of a book today called The Wily Jesuits and the Monita Secreta. It's about a forged document from the 1600s, that was supposed to have been a Jesuit conspiracy plot written by the then general of the Jesuits.

Charles of New Haven said...

An odd coincidence; the same day this came out I was given one of Sobrino's older answers to the CDF as a Spanish translation exam!

Liam said...

Great post, Jeff. I can't add anything, you've summed it up perfectly.

Steve Bogner said...

It all sounds like internal political squabbling to me; and I agree with Sobrino when he says this is all 'of little help to the poor of Jesus and to the church of the poor'.

The church - and its theology - is diverse; that's what has helped it last and prosper. When it starts turning so inward, people naturally get lost to other movements. I think that when church bureaucrats stay isolated for too long, away from the real needs of the people making up the church, things like this happen.

Jeff said...

Hi everybody,

Sorry I’ve been slow getting around to answering posts. My computer time has been very limited this week. There’s a really big post I’d like to put all together for St. Patrick’s Day, but I don’t know if I’m going to make it… In fact, Anne urges me to give up blogging for Lent, but what better time than Lent is there to blog? :-)


Ha. That book about the Jesuits looks like Jack Chick’s “Alberto Rivera” of its day. The Jesuits have always been feared and mistrusted for supposedly being duplicitous. I just finished re-reading Robert Graves’ memoir Goodbye To All That, and as a self described member of Britain’s “governing class” he makes a critical reference about a friend of his who uses a “jesuitical” syle of argumentation.

Hi Friar,

I’ve been meaning to stop in for a visit. A response to the CDF as a translation assignment? Very interesting. I wonder if it was persuasive, and I wonder what your professor was trying to put across in choosing that.

Hi Liam,

Eusebius and Venerable Bede sharing the honors, eh? I guess that’s a good thing, although I do have my suspicions regarding some voting irregularities. Where’s that Cowboyangel at?

Hi Steve,

True, these bureaucrats can get caught up in a world of their own, far removed from everyone else. Sometimes I think the Curia believes the average man and woman in the street are reading the works by these theologians more than they actually are.

cowboyangel said...


I was all ready to commend you on another fine post about important spiritual matters, when - from out of nowhere - you publicly link me with certain voting irregularities at Liam's blog.

The only "irregularity" I prefer to comment on was that someone snuck in at the last second and added one more vote for Bede. Imagine that! After all my hard work!

I mean, by hard work, that I may or may not have suggested to some people - in no way coerced - to vote for Eusebius. I may try to clarify a few things at Liam's blog.

Interresting to read your post. Glad to see that Sobrino refused to accept their findings for the reasons he stated. My father explained to me at one point some of the political machinations within the Church in Mexico revovling around Bishop Ruiz and the movement in Chiapas. It's an age-old story, I'm afraid. Is the Church going to truly minister to the poor, or simply give absolution to those in power?

Jeff said...


Don't go reading between the lines, now... Where did I actually accuse you of fomenting voting irregularities (he asked jesuitically)? :-D

Funny about that last Bede vote... I've really got nothing I can say, cuz my guy Raz got crushed with Alan Keyes kind of numbers... At any rate, if you continue to politick for John Edwards like you did for Eusebius, the guy might just have a chance.

Regarding Chiapas, I don't know much of anything about the Ruiz situation. I did read a disturbing article a little while back about tension between Catholics and evangelicals in Chiapas. The evangelicals were claiming that they were being forced to attend Catholic street festivals. etc... It might tie into the rebel movement somehow.

cowboyangel said...

Interesting you see me as politicking for Edwards. I don't feel like I'm anywhere near making up my mind. Actually, I just finished reading Obama's book and Bill Richardson's book. And I was hoping Chuck Hagel would run, but he bailed out.

Ruiz was the Bishop in Chiapas who worked with the indigenous so much. He participated in a lot of the negotiations between the Zapatistas and teh government, as the indigenous trusted him a lot. But he retired. My fatyher said the Church in Mexico was replacing all of the people like Ruiz with much more conservative people, part of JPII's purge of the Liberation Theology people from Latin America.

crystal said...

BTW, did you see the main article in the Tablet on Sobrino?

Jeff said...


Sorry about that. After your vociferous defense of Edwards, I thought you had decided on that campaign. I like Bill Richardson a lot, but he's been rather invisible so far in this race for some reason.


Thanks for calling our attention to that article.

One area of particular concern to the Vatican appears to be Fr Sobrino's criticism of the hellenisation of Christianity during the early Church councils. "Although he does not deny the normative character of the dogmatic formulations", the Notification says, "neither does he recognise in them any value except in the cultural milieu in which these formulations were developed." The Jesuit's critique, shared by many proponents of inculturation, is a direct contradiction to the assertions Pope Benedict made in his lecture last September in Regensburg, where he suggested that intrinsic to Christianity is its encounter with the Greek world...

Perhaps the Pope and his collaborators at the CDF believe their kinder and gentler approach will gain a more sympathetic hearing and help put the final nails in the coffin of liberation theology. But, on the other hand, this particular Notification could have the opposite effect and help increase Fr Sobrino's popularity and revive a form of theology that many people already thought was waning.

These two books by Sobrino sound very interesting. I think I'll order them both. Want me to send them to you when I'm done?

crystal said...


that's very kind, but are you sure you wouldn't want to keep them?

cowboyangel said...

Edwards is definitely one of the candidates I'm considering. This afternoon I started reading his book, Four Trials. We'll see how that goes. I didn't mean to be overly vociferous in my defense of him - I just thought he deserved a shot.

Richardson has been rather invisible - moreso in the East. the media has decided it can't talk about more than 3 candidates in the same article, so he usually gets ignored. But I have a feeling he could come on in time. I think people will be sick of hearing about Obama and Hillary by the time summer hits, and they'll start looking around more.

Richardson's quietly raising money and says he doesn't have enough to compete with Hillary and Obama right now but will have enough to do what he needs to do. I think he just has to hang in there until the primaries, and then we'll see what happens. With so many Western states moving their primaries up, Richardson might come out of February doing well.

He certainly has the most experience, I would say, out of any of the candidates running in either party. I read a good line somewhere that said, "Hillary's got the machine, Obama's got the magic, but Richardson's got the resume."

To be honest, I have a hard time imagining someone who's half Mexican becoming President of the Unites States in the current anti-Mexican immigrant climate, but I think he has a good shot at VP, especially if Hillary gets the nomination.