José Miguez Bonino: Jürgen Moltmann in Latin America, 70s-90s

For more than five centuries now, Europe has been constantly present in what she herself baptized as “Latin America.” As the so-called “new world” tries to understand itself, some of its interpretations celebrate that presence while others bemoan it, but no serious interpretation can ignore it What is true of the general history and culture of Latin America is perhaps even more significant for its religious and theological tradition. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the theological production of the last three decades that has come to be known as Latin American “Liberation Theology” would relate to the more significant trends in North Atlantic-and above all European-theology. In particular, the work of Catholic theologians like Juan Luis Segundo, Gustavo Gutierrez, Hugo Assmann or Leonardo Boff or Protestants like Rubem Alves, Emilio Castro, Gonzalo Castillo, Julio de Santa Ana or myself can easily be shown to have watered at the sources of the Catholic theological renewal represented by Rahner, de Lubac or Congar and/or the Protestant post-First World War Barthian stream. Even as we tried to liberate ourselves from the burden of our Eurocentric inheritance and to root our theology more and more deeply in the native soil of our land and people, our work betrayed-as many critics have amply documented-the constant use of categories, presuppositions, and methods created and developed overseas. After all, for all their originality-which cannot be denied Medellin is a Latin American interpretation of Vatican II and !SAL (the Latin American “Church and Society” movement) is a daughter of the World Council of Churches (more specifically, the developments of the Life and Work movement).

J. Moltmann and Latin America

moltmannIn this love-hate relationship between European and Latin American Liberation Theology, few people have played such a significant role as Jurgen Moltmann. To explore that relationship during the last twenty-five years is to write a significant chapter in the history of this movement and, perhaps, to uncover something of its strength and shortcomings. This paper is no more than an initial attempt to explore that territory. A few dates and events will suffice to indicate the itinerary of this trip.

I . As Rubem Alves was preparing his doctoral dissertation at Princeton (New jersey, USA) in 1965-68, his intended title (“T awards a Theology of Liberation”) was transformed by advisers and editors into “A Theology of Human Hope”‘ to yoke it to the wagon of “The Theology of Hope” which Moltmann had launched in 1965. In fact, his thesis can be understood (or misunderstood)-as we shall comment below-as a counterpoint to Moltmann’ s book. And when Gustavo Gutierrez published the epoch-making “Theology of Liberation” (and not “A” Theology of Liberation as the English translation put it) in 1971 (following several papers with the same title) Moltmann’s thought is discussed, mostly in positive terms, in at least three sections of the book.

2. 1973 marks an interesting turn in the discussion. In May of that year the World Council of Churches convened a four-day symposium on liberation theology in Geneva at the Ecumenical center in Bossey. Hugo Assmann and Paulo Freire from Latin America, and black theologians James Cone (from USA) and Bodipo Malumba (from Africa) and some sixty theologians from Europe sustained what was characterized as “heated debates that did not materialize into an open confrontation-but retrogressed into periods of awkward silence.”‘ In 1970, Hugo Assmann had already published an article in which he indicated the “suspicion” that, against the will and intention of their proponents, European “political theology” might be functional to the reactionary dogmatics and ethics, in which political theological discussion derived supposedly “pure” and “uncommitted” dogmatic formulations; second, by refusing to bring down their “political discussion” to the level of concrete political options, they left an indeterminate space in which all kind of reactionary “third positions” could find a refuge. In the polarized environment of 1973-76, when the internal dynamics of liberation movements drove them to believe that a “popular liberation breakthrough” was imminent and, on the other hand, when the aggressive policy of the United States was pushing the armies of Latin American countries to take over power and launch a “security state” with total repression of all dissent, Assmann radicalized his critique; there was no space for third positions: those who were not with the one and only socialist revolution were against it. Dialogue, in this context, can easily prove confusing or useless-or both. 5 Moltmann, in his tum, interprets Assmann’s position as “[the announcement … that ‘incommunication’ was to take the place of dialogue with European theologians because they were Europeans …. “‘

3. More ironic-or perhaps more ambiguous-theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez (Theology of Liberation, 1971 ), Leonardo Boff (Jesus Cristo Libertador, 1972), Jon Sobrino (Christology at the Crossroads, 1976), or myself (Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation, 1975), although sometimes sharing some of Assmann’s questionings, found in Moltmann’s writings (by that time The Crudfied God was already published) some important insights which were worthy of careful consideration and discussion. It is in response to both the
rejection and the invitation to dialogue that Moltmann writes his Open Letter to me in 1976.

4. Slowly, in the years that follow, the occasions of encounter, discussion, and interface increased. In September 1977, invited by ISEDET (lnstituto Superior Evangelico deEstudios T eologicos) Moltmann offered lectures in Buenos Aires that are published in Spanish under the title, Temas para una teologia de la esperanza, with comments which Armando J. Levoratti and Jose Miguez Bonino offered in the occasion of the lectures.’ In the following month, October 1977, the “Comunidad Teologica de Mexico” organized a symposium with Moltmann’s participation together with James Cone (Black theology) of the USA, Sergio Martinez Arce of Cuba and several theologians from Central and South America. In a sense, this last meeting had something of the hardness of the Geneva symposium. “Moltmann,” comments Jean Pierre Bastian in his preface to the publication of the Latin American contributions to the debate, “has been an important teacher for many of us in Latin America, and the difficulty of communication and understanding with this spokesperson for the most progressive European church invited to a reflection on the theological production related to different Christian praxis.”’

Coincidences and Disagreements

Dios_crucificado_con_sangre_de_JuanR_MorenoAs I was looking back and re-read all this material, I had a strange feeling: it all looked so distant, so old-fashioned. We speak now a different language, pose different questions, have other expectations, struggle at different fronts. And yet, at another level, we move in the same history, face the same theological and social dilemmas, and carry some of the same burdens. Was there something fundamental at stake in the coincidences and the disagreements of Latin American and European theologians? Is there something to be learned in view of Christian thinking and praxis as we move into a new millennium? Can we trace some parallel, converging or divergent lines in the movement of Latin American Liberation Theology and the theological production of Professor Moltmann in the two decades between the 1970s and the 1990s?

— José Miguez Bonino, “Reading Jürgen Moltmann from Latin America” in The Asbury Theological Journal, Vol 55, No 1 (Spring): 2000. Full article found here.

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