Saturday, 27 September 2014

Footnotes on Liberation Theology

Footnotes on Liberation Theology

Liberation theology is a Christian response to the conditions of poverty in Roman Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor". Detractors have called it Christianized Marxism.

Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s. Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez, who wrote one of the movement's most famous books, A Theology of Liberation. Other noted exponents are Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Jon Sobrino of Spain, Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay.

Some liberation theologians base their social action upon the Bible scriptures describing the mission of Jesus Christ, as bringing a sword (social unrest), e.g. Isaiah 61:1, Matthew 10:34, Luke 22:35–38 — and not as bringing peace (social order). This Biblical interpretation is a call to action against poverty, and the sin engendering it, to effect Jesus Christ's mission of justice in this world.

Wikipedia reference:

So can the activities of the New York Carmelites be described as an early form of Liberation Theology?

The history of British colonialism in Ireland and the exploitation of its indigenous people dating back to the Tudor plantations was directly linked to the ascendancy of the Protestant church over the Roman Catholic church across Great Britain and Ireland. The anti-Catholic campaign was ruthlessly reinforced in Ireland by Oliver Cromwell between 1649 and 1650, and cemented further with the defeat of James II by William of Orange in 1691. Whilst many of Ireland’s greatest nationalist heroes and champions, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, W B Yeats, Sir Roger Casement and Charles Stewart Parnell were from the Protestant tradition, the prolonged and brutal oppression of ordinary Catholics, the Catholic aristocracy and the clergy through the application of strict penal laws, prohibition of the Mass and banishment of priests and bishops from the kingdom meant that Catholicism in Ireland therefore became deeply fused with the nationalist cause.

Timothy J. White in his essay The Impact of British Colonialism on Irish Catholicism and National Identity: Repression, Reemergence, and Divergence writes:

Part of British imperial policy in Ireland went beyond an effort to control Irish territory and included an effort to transform Irish religious beliefs and practices. The Irish who had long identified with the Catholic Church and practiced Catholicism resisted the British effort to create a national Church of Ireland that would correspond to the established Church in England. The Irish clung to their religious beliefs and practices not only because of their faith but also because it became a symbol of their identity and a means of political resistance to British imperial policy. Ultimately, Irish Catholicism emerged stronger and more connected to national identity because of British imperialism and the Irish effort to resist it.

The Irish Catholic community became politicised during the O’Connell-led Catholic emancipation and repeal campaigns of the early 1800s and Catholic priests on a grass-roots level also became significant activists during Michael Davitt’s Land League struggle (1879-82) and in Parnell’s Home Rule campaign of the 1880s.

Perhaps though it is this point which is crucial, that support given by the Catholic church to the Irish independence struggle came largely from priests on a grass-roots level, rather than from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Priests living amongst their flock as the Carmelites were doing in the tough Irish neighbourhoods of Manhattan and the Bronx in the early 20th century, being so in-touch with the voices of their parishioners to recognise that self determination was fundamental to true democracy and that it was within the context of the negation of democracy under British domination back home in Ireland that armed struggle had to be considered.

A position which argued that resistance to the force of the British in Ireland was as morally justified as the resistance armies in European countries being dominated by Germany. 

Retrospectively the church hierarchy has acknowledged that the armed struggle of 1916 to 1921 was morally justified as it resulted in self determination, democracy and the removal of the tyrannical forces of occupation which oppressed both the majority indigenous population of Ireland as well as the Roman Catholic church for several centuries. Individuals mentioned in this research, such as De Valera, Collins, Boland and Mellows alongside the clergymen like Flanagan, O’Connor and Magennis who hid and supported them can now be regarded as heroes and liberators.


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