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Systematic Christology: Jesus Christ, the Absolute Mediator of the Reign of God

Systematic Christology: Jesus Christ, the Absolute Mediator of the Reign of God

by Jon Sobrino

Chapter 7 from Systematic Theology - Perspectives from Liberation Theology
edited by Jon Sobrino, S.J. and Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J.
SCM Press Ltd 1996 pg 124-145

reproduced on this www.womenpriests website with the kind permission of Orbis publishers. See more details of this book on http://www.maryknollmall.org/description.cfm?ISBN=1-57075-068-8

The chapter will develop, in the form of a sketch, the core of a systematic christology that presupposes the content of the foregoing account (Jesus the Mediator, Christ the Liberator), as well as the specific premises of liberation theology(1),that is: (a) that the central object of the theology of liberation is the Reign of God,(b) that the goal of this theology is liberation, and therefore that it understands itself as the theory of a praxis,(3) and (c) that liberation theology is developed from a determinate locus, that of the poor of this world.(4)


All christology must assert the ultimacy and transcendence of Christ, and the christology of liberation must do so from what it regards as actually ultimate: the Reign of God. To this end, methodologically, liberation christology begins its reflection with the person of Jesus of Nazareth himself, since it is here that the relationship between Jesus and the Reign of God appears with all clarity.

Let us state from the outset that our attention to Jesus is not a reduction of christology to a pure “Jesuology,” but only the selection of a determinate methodology. Whether our approach will be a fruitful one will be seen after the execution of our analysis. But let us observe that it is at least possible for it to be fruitful, as other systematic christologies today have established. Karl Rahner, for example, concludes that a christology could be developed from something central to the historical Jesus and wonders “whether a human being who is the vessel of an absolute, pure love, free of any kind of selfishness, must not be something more than merely human(5) For our purposes, the important thing in this citation does not reside so much in its specific understanding of Jesus (“an absolute, pure love”), but in the proposition of the possibility of constructing christology on the historical Jesus. For our part, we shall attempt to do so in terms of the relationship of the historical Jesus with the Reign of God.

1 Ultimacy of Jesus in Terms of the Reign of God

In the Synoptics, Jesus’ relationship with the Reign of God, which we here define formally as the ultimate will of God for this world, is central. That Reign and its proximity are presented by Jesus as the actual ultimate. This shapes his person, in the exteriority of his mission (with respect to “making history”) and in the interiority of his subjectivity (his own historicity). It is also this that precipitates his historical destiny, that of the cross. His very resurrection is God’s response to one who, for serving the Reign, has been put to death by the anti-Reign. In other words, in order to come to know the specifically Christian element of the Reign of God, one must turn to Jesus. But just so, conversely, in order to know Jesus one must turn to the Reign of God.

Jesus himself asserts this relationship between the Reign of God and his person. At times his assertion is explicit: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I expel demons, then the reign of God has overtaken you” (Matt. 12:28 and par.). At other times he posits this relationship in an implicit but real way: in various of the actions of his praxis which can and should be interpreted as signs of the coming of the Reign in behalf of the poor (his miracles, his exorcisms, the welcome he extends to the weak and oppressed); in his struggle with the anti-Reign (controversies, denunciations, exposé of oppressors); or in his celebration of the presence of the Reign (meals).

Thus, Jesus appears in an essential and constitutive relationship with the Reign of God, with the ultimate will of God - with that which we call systematically the mediation of God. And systematically we call this Jesus, in his relationship with the mediation, the mediator of the will of God; that is, the person who proclaims the Reign, who posits signs of its reality and points to its totality. For systematic christology, the question is how to move from the reality of Jesus as mediator to his reality as definitive mediator of the Reign of God. All christologies must face this question, since all of them must take the step - the leap, really - from Jesus’ historical reality to a profession of his ultimacy. (We could make an exception for those obsolete christologies in which certain of Jesus’ deeds - his miracles, or his prophecies - or his resurrection automatically provide the step, the leap, to the ultimacy of Christ. But almost no one today accepts the miracles and prophecies as automatically forcing this transition, and the leap justified by the resurrection ultimately requires faith in the resurrection.)

In an analysis of the qualitative bound from Jesus as mediator to Jesus as the definitive mediator of the Reign, it must be taken into account whether and where there is some kind of discontinuity that would make that transition reasonable - although to accept it as radical discontinuity will in the last analysis always be a matter of faith. Along these lines we might recall Jesus’ daring proclamation of the imminence of this Reign and the indefectible victory of God, his daring in declaring the symmetry broken forever in which God could possibly come as a savior or possibly as a condemning judge - to all of which would correspond the discontinuity in his hearers: “At last salvation has come for the poor.” This daring on Jesus’ part in announcing the coming of God in the Reign, and in proclaiming the gratuitous, salvific, and liberative reality of God that draws near with the proximity of God, would offer some kind of discontinuity regarding the historical viewpoint, in terms of which theology could now reflect upon the special relationship of Jesus with the transcendent.

At the same time, Jesus appears in continuity with other, earlier mediators - Moses, the prophets, the Servant, and so on. In other words, Jesus appears as a human being immersed in this same current of a historical course traversed with honesty before the truth, mercy before the suffering of another, justice before the oppression of the masses, a loving dedication to his mission, total fidelity to God, indestructible hope, the sacrifice of his life. (This last element - although disdained by christologies that seek only the specific, peculiar element in Jesus - offers a very considerable systematic advantage when it comes to establishing the later dogmatic tenet of the true humanity of Jesus as a participation in the best that the human being has ever been or done.) The assertion of Jesus’ absolute discontinuity is a matter of faith, as we have said. We cannot, therefore, propose a reality of Jesus that would mechanically force the qualitative leap to his status as the mediator (as Rahner cannot move mechanically from Jesus’ love presented historically to a total love in total discontinuity). What we can propose is a reality of Jesus in terms of which we can also gain a meaningful formulation - in our opinion, a more meaningful formulation than we gain from a point of departure in other realities - of this leap to the mediator. What we have called Jesus’ daring can function as an index, a pointer, an indicator, of the transcendent ultimacy of his person. And a grasp of what is human in Jesus - which is in no way novel in its formal characterization - can point to his human ultimacy, not as differentiation, but as fullness of the human.

Christians actually made this qualitative leap after the resurrection. From our perspective we add that the resurrection can also be presented as confirmation of the truth of Jesus as the mediator of the Reign, and not only as an arbitrary act posited by God for the purpose of revealing the reality of that God - which could have just as well occurred in the resuscitation of any other corpse. If this had been the only “reason” for the resurrection the resurrection would be something extrinsic to Jesus’ life and would say nothing of his being as mediator. But if the one to whom “life has been restored” is one who proclaimed the commencement of life for the poor and therefore was deprived of life himself, if the one who has been raised is one who ended as a victim of the anti-Reign, then the resurrection can very well be understood systematically as the confirmation of the mediator, the confirmation of his (objectively) theological daring, and the confirmation of the fullness of the human occurring in his person. Then the qualitative leap of faith can be made, and the christological concept formulated of Jesus of Nazareth as the mediator of the Reign of God.

In terms of the Reign of God, then, the reality of Jesus can be formulated, and in terms of the ultimacy of the Reign the ultimacy of Jesus can be formulated. What must be analyzed - due to the fact that it has been consecrated in the dogmatic formutations - is whether this formulation, in terms of the Reign of God, is compatible with the more usual focus on the divine ultimacy of Jesus in relation to the person of God the Father, as well as with a focus on his human ultimacy (the former, surely, usually being held much more in account in a theological analysis of the historical Jesus than the latter).

Jesus’ Divinity

With respect to establishing the divinity of Jesus, it is clear that the gospels place Jesus in a relationship with the person of God in which he calls God his Father. However, the content of this concept of God as Father is not incompatible with that of the God of the Reign - although each of these expressions of ultimacy has its own specificity. They are not interchangeable as concepts, nor can either be adequately deduced from the other by way of pure conceptual reflection. But at least it must be admitted that they are related, and that to a large extent they converge. To this same extent, Jesus’ relationship with the divine ultimate - on which his own divine ultimacy will be based-can be developed in terms of the God of the Reign and in terms of God as Father. And then, also in terms of the ultimacy of the Reign of God, the divine element in Jesus can be approached. Let us briefly examine the convergence of the God of the Reign with the Father of Jesus.

In both perspectives Jesus appears in a relationship with a God who has a specific content - a positive one for human beings, with the qualities of mercy, justice, partiality toward the poor, the weak, and the little ones, and a God who generates, and elicits, honesty, trust, hope, freedom, joy, and the like. This fundamental convergence can be observed in the texts in which Jesus appears in his personal relationship with God the Father, as well as in the many parables of the Reign that show this kind of God, a God who makes possible and who demands such a relationship.

At the same time, once more in both perspectives, Jesus appears in a relationship with a God who is mystery-who must be allowed to be God, and with whom one must strike a relationship of absolute openness and availability. Thus, in darkness before this Father, Jesus asks that the divine will be done; and in the darkness of the coming of the Reign, he exclaims that only the Father knows the hour of that coming.

Jesus’ personal relationship with the divinity, then, can be analyzed in terms of his relationship with his Father, surely; but it can also be analyzed in terms of his relationship with the God of the Reign. In this sense the mediator of the Reign of God can also be understood as the Son of God without doing violence to either term.

Jesus’ Humanity

When it comes to establishing the humanity of Jesus, Jesus’ relationship with the Reign of God offers greater advantages than any other biblical or dogmatic focus (such as a general profession of his human nature, an analysis of his attitudes, or the like). The fundamental reason for this is that, in confrontation with the Reign of God, the totality of the person of Jesus in action comes into view. Guided by Kant’s three questions - to which we shall add a fourth-in the answer to which is expressed the totality of the human, we readily observe that Jesus’ relationship with the Reign of God evinces (a) the knowledge Jesus has and communicates concerning the Reign of God and the anti-Reign, (b) the hope that he stirs in others and that supports him as well (hope in the coming of the Reign), (c) the praxis he performs in the service of that Reign, and his historical celebration of the fact that the Reign has “already” come.

Should someone wish to argue that this comprehensive actualization of the human element of Jesus can also be deduced from his relationship with the Father, we answer that, quantitatively, there are far fewer texts bearing on Jesus’ relationship with the Father than with the Reign of God; systematically, Jesus’ human interiority is better known from the exteriority of his relationship with the Reign. It is this exteriority that shows us concretely a Jesus who is honest with the truth, merciful and just, a denouncer and exposer, available and faithful. It is this exteriority, required by the building of the Reign of God, that shapes his personal interiority with reference to God.

Finally, his relationship with the Reign sets in deeper relief the specific characteristics of the authentically human: honesty with reality, mercy as a primary reaction, justice demanded in the face of the oppression of the masses, fidelity in trial and persecution, and the “greatest love” of the laying down of one’s life.

In synthesis, Jesus’ human element, when seen in relationship with the Reign of God and in its service, appears with certain particular characteristics. Furthermore - something that is not usually emphasized in systematic christologies - this human element appears as partiality, in Jesus’ placement and incarnation, in the addressees of his mission, and in his very fate. It appears as a human element in solidarity-as a specific realization of the human in regard to other persons, as their brother, as a human being who is for others and who wills to be with others.

2. Comparison of the Christology of "the Mediator of the Rein of God" with Other Theoretical Chrisologies of the New Testament

The ultimacy of Jesus can be established from a point of departure in the Reign of God, then. Now let us compare this way of proceeding with the christologies of the New Testament. We make this comparison for the sake of a better understanding of the specificity, and novelty, of the focus that we have presented, as well as in order to discover a possible biblical justification for our focus.(6)

The Titles

Generally speaking, as the New Testament proceeds, the Reign of God tends to disappear as an expression of the ultimate, and more specifically, as an explanation of the ultimacy of Jesus. Not that there is no longer an expectation of the arrival of the ultimate-now joined to the parousia of Christ - or that the notion of the Reign has no theological equivalent, such as the “new creation,” or “new covenant,” which are also set in an essential relationship with Jesus. But while there are surely these analogies with the Reign of God, the latter - as Jesus proclaimed it - gradually dwindles away, along with an attempt to identify Jesus’ ultimacy in terms of his relationship with that Reign.

Indeed, the christologies of Jesus’ titles and destiny show that some titles by their nature bear more directly on the Reign of God (the Prophet who announces it, the Son of Man who proclaims it at the end of the ages, the High Priest who strikes a new covenant, the Servant who burdens himself with the anti-Reign), but these titles never become central in the New Testament discourse itself and have practically disappeared in later history. The title of Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ) constitutes a case apart: it does bespeak a primordial relation to a people’s hopes of liberation (in various ways, as we know). It is akin, then, to our systematic title Mediator, but in coming to be transformed into the proper name Jesus Christ, paradoxically it lost its essential reference to the Reign of God.

In its place, New Testament christology explicitly developed the ultimacy of Christ in titles that express his direct relation to the person of God: Son of God, Lord, Word, Son. At the same time, although there are titles that express the concrete manifestation of Jesus’ humanity, these never attain the importance enjoyed by the others. Expressions like Revelation’s “lamb that was slain” or Hebrews’ “brother,” for example, do not come to be regarded as titles of Jesus’ humanity.

The reason why theoretical reflection took this direction could seem to be that Jesus’ humanity was too obvious to need this sort of penetration. But the fact is that we have a concentration on the titles that point to Jesus’ relationship with the divinity, and the divinity understood rather as the person of God the Father of Jesus than as the God of the Reign.

The Gospel Narratives

Surprisingly, along with these theoretical “title” christologies, and after certain of them have been developed, the Christian scriptures show us another way of doing theoretical christology: that of the gospel narratives. The latter have, on the other hand, assimilated Jesus’ special relationship with the Father and so profess Jesus as Son of God (in John, simply as Son). But the Synoptics react to this previously established christology by showing Jesus’ ultimacy in his relationship with the Reign of God, and showing the reality of his humanity as history.

They do not doubt that Christ is the Son of God; but they emphasize, and from the very outset, that - in our terminology - the mediator of the Reign of God has a concrete, specific history. In the first place, the gospels turn to Jesus of Nazareth in a very precise manner: by narrating his history. True, the gospels find themselves unable to historicize Jesus without theologizing him. The gospels are theological narratives, then. But the converse is also true: they are unable to theologize Jesus without historicizing him. This is supremely important for systematic christology, at least as a possibility, and it is this possibility that the narrative christology of the preceding chapter reduces to reality.

In the second place - and more decisively for our topic - in the gospel narratives what for Jesus is the ultimate is presented, it is true, in two expressions: Reign of God and Abba. But quantitatively, the former appears more than the latter, and the latter can well - indeed, better, to our view - be understood in terms of the former rather than vice versa. Thus we have an undeniable attempt on the part of the gospels to express the intimacy of Jesus in terms of the Reign of God. In the third place, the gospel narratives present the ultimacy of the Reign in the presence of what we may call an anti-Reign. The Reign, then, is a dialectical reality, subsisting in conflict with its antithesis. This point - which is not frequently made in the systematic christologies - is essential for an understanding of the mediator, as well. The mediator’s mission in behalf of the ultimacy of the Reign is carried out in the presence of and in opposition to other ultimacies. Thus, the mediator proclaims and serves the Reign, but he does so precisely by denouncing and exposing the anti-Reign. He is presented in a, relationship of ultimacy with a God who is his Father, but he maintains this relationship by renouncing and combating the idols (all manner of oppressive power) that hold themselves out as God. He strikes a solidarity with everything human, but he does so by taking upon himself that which is dehumanizing: sin.

To be sure, this dialectical, conflictive dimension of reality is present in other New Testament writings; but the concrete form in which it appears in the gospel is more adequate-by reason of being historical and narrative-to the purpose of making it understood. We might say that Jesus does not appear as mediator, as Son and as human being, on a tabula rasa, but amid a reality with which he struggles. He must come to be mediator, Son, and human.

Finally, the gospel narratives show forth the partiality of God, the mediation, and the mediator. This celebrated central point of the Hebrew scriptures - the partiality or partisanship of God’s revelation in favor of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed - could understandably have lost its central place in the New Testament. After the resurrection, undeniably, the universality of salvation is proclaimed. That is, in order to belong to the new people of God one need no longer belong to any particular people or religion. It is enough simply to be a human being. In this sense Jesus’ vision of a primary mission to the sheep of Israel is transcended. But this real universalism - in which the very existence and self-understanding of the church is at stake implies no reason why the partiality of the mediation and the mediator for the poor should be eliminated. This is the meaning of the gospel narratives: the Reign of God is of the poor. The resurrection of Christ cancels one kind of partiality, that based on religion or ethnic origin. But there is no reason why it should cancel the partiality of the Reign and its mediator based on poverty and oppression. On the contrary, the gospels emphasize this partiality.

Choosing an Approach

We have entertained this brief reflection on two distinct theoretical ways of doing christology in the New Testament, not in order to deny the validity of one of them, that of the titles, which is the more consecrated approach in the history of christology, but in order to come to a realization that, throughout history, christology has de facto developed more along the lines of only one of these possibilities, and that it happens to have been that of an expression of the ultimacy of Jesus in terms of his relation to the person of God. The gospel narratives show that there is another possibility. Theoretical christology can also be done in terms of historicotheological narratives. As Albert Schweitzer remarked, the most important thing about the gospel of Mark is that it should have been written at all. When we proceed in this manner, the ultimacy of Jesus can be expressed in terms of his relationship with the Reign of God.

These two ways of doing christology are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they actually require one another. In this brief systematic sketch, we have expressed Jesus’ ultimacy precisely with a theoretical title, that of the mediator of the Reign of God; but we have done so after, and on the basis of, the previous chapter, which concerns itself with a narrative christology. We have no intention, then, of excluding a christology of titles. However, we do wish to analyze where systematic reflection ought to assign logical priority: whether to narrative or to conceptual titles. Narrative offers the obvious advantage of history itself: Jesus’ real life preceded his theorization at the hands of faith. Furthermore, a narrative approach in christology enables us to avoid the grave dangers that beset a christology of titles divorced from christological narrative. Thus, the gospel narratives not only function as expositive christology, but they also perform a critical and corrective operation vis-à-vis a christology of titles alone.

The most serious danger, in terms of the perspective adopted in this chapter, has already been cited: the titles can incline us to prescind from the central thing about Jesus, the Reign of God, and ignore a christology consistently based on the Reign. Furthermore, the titles, in their concrete, historical development, can lead us to ignore the human element in Jesus (a problem of content for christology), and to the serious error of imagining that we know the content of his titles - his being lord, being Son, being high priest, and so on - before knowing Jesus himself (a methodological problem).

In summary, we may say that Latin American systematic christology sees within the Christian scriptures the theoretical possibility of beginning christology with the evangelical narratives, and of finding in them the ultimacy from which the ultimacy of Jesus will be better understood. Thus, it sees a “New Testament justification” of its particular approach. Finally, it finds in those same scriptures the importance of assigning priority to the narrative concerning Jesus over his pure titles, inasmuch as the dangers to which the former responds in the Christian scriptures continue to be present in current history: ignoring the Reign of God, and the poor as its correlate; neglecting Jesus’ humanity; and manipulating the concrete reality of Christ.


The believer’s faith does not create its object (fides quae). It is of the essence of the Christian comprehension of the faith that God has made a self-bestowal on us by grace. At the same time, however, no object would have come to be recognized as an object of faith had it not occasioned an act of faith (fides qua). Now if, as Rahner explains, nothing created can be an object of faith, then, if there is such a thing as faith, it must be a faith in something actually transcendent. A fides qua, accordingly, testifies to a reality believed in and is an existential help to understanding what the concrete content of this reality is. For christology, this means that, besides being theoretical and analyzing a fides quae, it must also analyze the corresponding fides qua - for existential and pastoral reasons, as well as because to do so will help in an understanding of the object of faith, in this case, Jesus Christ.

1. The Following of Jesus as an Existential Expression of Faith in Christ

The fides qua can become real in the act of accepting the transcendence of Christ, which can be proclaimed liturgically and doxologically. But this fides qua can be expressed in another way, and it seems to us a more radical way, by explicitly con fronting the historical Jesus. To cite Rahner once more:

If the moral personality of Jesus in word and life, really makes such a compelling impression on a person that they find the courage to commit themselves unconditionally to this Jesus in life and death and therefore to believe in the God of Jesus, that person has gone far beyond a merely horizontal humanistic Jesuolatry, and is living (perhaps not completely spontaneously, but really) an orthodox Christology.(7)

An Existential, Praxic Expression of Faith

This, we think, is what has actually occurred in the Christian scriptures. Faith in Jesus was originally expressed in an existential, praxic form, before Christians ever undertook to supply themselves with a theoretical formulation of Jesus’ reality. Thus, they professed Jesus, liturgically and doxologically, as the One raised, the One exalted, the Lord. But while this is an expression of the fides qua, it is not its maximal expression. Jesus’ ultimacy is expressed before all else - and in very principle - in the ultimacy of one’s own life. This means a kind of life that, generally speaking, is nothing other than a reproduction of the life of Jesus. One must have the same sentiments as Christ (Paul), one must keep one’s eyes fixed on Jesus and, as Jesus did, remain steadfast in suffering (Hebrews), and so on. Comprehensively, one must follow Jesus. Thus, the Christian scriptures testify that existential faith has priority over formulations of faith, and that the former is expressed more radically as praxis of faith, as following or discipleship.

A following of Jesus is the maximal expression of faith in Christ, since the formal reason for it (although it may be accompanied by ancillary motivations, such as the hope of a reward) is the sheer fact of the call of Jesus; its content flows simply from the fact that this is the way Jesus was. We see this relationship in the Christian scriptures between the act of faith and following; it is all the more significant when we take account of the opinion of some exegetes to the effect that the historical Jesus did not call everyone to his discipleship, but only those who wished to be his active followers. After the resurrection, however, when genuine faith in Christ begins, “following and discipleship began to be the absolute expression of Christian existence.”(8)

must conclude that, whatever the explicit consciousness that the first Christians were acquiring of Jesus, as indicated in their ascribing titles to him, they were expressing in their very lives and deaths the ultimacy they attributed to him. It is this existential ultimacy that is consecrated in the word “following” of Jesus. This is how the historical Jesus is recovered in faith. When one attempts to reproduce the following of Jesus, then the Reign of God reappears once more in a central place. Let us recall that, in the first stage of Jesus’ public life, discipleship or following meant proclaiming and positing signs of the Reign, while in the second stage it meant steadfastness in the face of the mighty reaction of the anti-Reign. Without the Reign of God, the following of Jesus would have neither its central motivation nor its central content.

Historicization of the Following of Jesus

The following of Jesus throughout history must be historicized and transformed into the continuation of his deed and his intent (as actually occurred in the Christian scriptures), but the most important thing for systematic christology is that there actually be this following in history. This is what is happening in Latin America; the magnitude and quality of the phenomenon are such that christology must take it seriously into account. It cannot be doubted that the act of faith in Christ exists in Latin America, and that this is shown in the following of Jesus and martyrdom. Nor can it be doubted that the continuation of Jesus’ deed and intent in Latin America recovers the fundamental structure of the historical Jesus. Therefore, following stands in an essential relationship with the building of the Reign of God and the destruction of the anti-Reign. This is occurring - in historical factuality, without passing a judgment upon subjectivities - in a clearer fashion, and in a more similar fashion to that of Jesus, than in other forms of following throughout history. Nor can it be doubted that the actual martyrdoms are historically very similar to that of Jesus and inflicted for the same reasons as that of Jesus: the proclamation to the poor of the Reign of God and the defense of the poor in combat with the anti-Reign.

2. Meaning of Following for Theoretical Christology

If this is the case, then we may say that the act of faith in Jesus, the fides qua, still exists today in its maximal expression, following. What we must ask ourselves is whether that following has a meaning for christology, and if so, what meaning.

Witnesses of Faith Shed Light on the Fides Quae

The follower is a witness, someone who reproduces - in historicized fashion - the life of Jesus. To what extent, and in what degree, this occurs is open to discussion, of course, and should be analyzed; but it ought to occur in principle, since otherwise the design of God that human beings be sons and daughters in the Son would be in vain. And if per impossibile there were no such thing as following, we should have the utter failure of God, and Christ would not be the Son. Then, of course, there would be no christology.
But if there actually is following, there can be christology, and account will have to be taken of its content. Human beings may be faulty or defective ways of being Christ, as Rahner says, but this implies positively that there is something of Christ in them. To formulate the same thing in traditional theological terms, and once more positively: if we are by grace what Christ is by nature, then something of the reality of Christ must be knowable even by looking at us, graced ones that we are.

Within this circularity, obviously the criterion of an analysis and verification of the extent to which current witnesses express what is Christian will be Jesus. But it is also clear that these current witnesses can say something about Jesus. This is the familiar hermeneutic problem, only here its circularity is demanded by the very essence of revelation. If Jesus is true God and true human being, then anyone transparent to the divine and the human will say something of Christ.

Our theoretical assertion seems to us to be an undeniable reality in Latin America. Although the argument has to stand on its own, since one can only point to the fact, it happens that many who saw Archbishop Romero - to cite a single example of a faith witness - assert that he made Jesus better known to them. It is also a fact that the Latin American witnesses have at least opened the eyes of us who are exegetes, supplying us with new hermeneutic horizons. It is a fact that peasants who hear the reading of the passion of Jesus state very simply: “Exactly what happened to Archbishop Romero.” Conversely, in terms of their knowledge of Archbishop Romero they better understand the passion of Jesus. It is also a fact that the witnesses have led persons to a more in-depth understanding of how the authentically human becomes a sacrament of the authentically divine. In the words of Ignacio Ellacuría “With Archbishop Romero God has visited El Salvador.”

Theoretical christology can and should incorporate this argumentation. It should argue in part from the reality of current witnesses. That this argumentation ought to be cautious is supremely evident; but it would be even more incomprehensible if no argumentation were ever based on witnesses in order to know the antonomastic Witness, the witness par excellence. It would be vain to ask the witnesses to keep their eyes fixed on the Witness, if thereupon no reflection of him could ever be found in them.

Following Makes Possible the Limit Assertion of the Reality of Christ

Besides supplying content, the following of Jesus expresses the fact that the object of faith is regarded as something ultimate. But like any ultimate reality-which will be a mystery in the strict sense - this object not only is unapproachable, it cannot be directly intuited. It can be meaningfully conceptualized and verbalized after a “journey” - a transition from what is already in some manner subject to experience and verifiable, to the limit assertion in question.

he need to make this journey in order to be able to formulate limit assertions has already been acknowledged by various christologies. For example, it has been emphasized that the limit assertions of Chalcedon can have meaning only after the completion of the theoretical pilgrimage of the New Testament and the tradition of the first centuries. That is, knowing who Jesus was and how he was theorized in the scriptures and church tradition has logical and chronological priority if the limit assertions of Chalcedon are to have any meaning.(9) Without this journey, this pilgrimage, the Chalcedonian formula would be not only mysterious and incomprehensible, in the sense of being ultimately unfathomable, but simply unintelligible, which is not the same thing.

What we wish to emphasize here is that this journey must also - and more radically - be praxic. That is, one must traverse the route of real following in order for the formulation of ultimacy to have any meaning. This need abides throughout history, and it would be naive of theoretical christology to think that the task of traversing the route of actual following, in order to be able to make limit formulations, could be delegated to the first Christians alone, while afterward it would suffice to analyze these formulations, as formulations, and to rest content with a theoretical development of their virtualities throughout the rest of history.

This ultimate task is necessary and good, but - if it is a matter of asserting the ultimacy of Christ - one cannot prescind from the fides qua. Thus, one cannot prescind from realized following. Only in the following of Jesus do we become like unto the reality of Jesus, and only on the basis of this realized affinity does the internal knowledge of Christ become possible. That Jesus is thereupon professed as the ultimate is the fruit of the leap of faith, but it is supremely important to determine with the greatest possible precision the locus of this leap. According to what we have said, that locus is following, since apart from following one could not actually know what is being spoken of when Christ is mentioned. After all, following means doing, in terms of the present, what Jesus did, and doing it in the way that he did it. It means the mission of building the Reign with the attitude and spirit of Jesus. In this praxis a kinship is acquired - greater or lesser, obviously - with Jesus, and this praxis (like all praxis) explains one’s antecedent concept of Jesus, his mission, and his spirit.

On the other hand, our praxis, like that of Jesus, is also subject to the vagaries of history. That is, although its horizon is the ultimate, its concretions are not, and depending on how these come to be, the same praxis can be verification of or temptation for faith itself. As a logical consequence, even following could be the locus of not making the leap of faith, since it could happen that, in following Jesus, one would come to the conclusion that this route does not offer ultimacy. Within following, then, one can make the act of faith and the limit assertion concerning Christ (just as one can omit it). But then this act of faith is transformed into victory, as well, as John’s theology teaches. We can only conclude that a following realized in terms of the present is the reality in which limit assertions concerning Christ can have meaning, or cease to have it.(10) In summary, christology must take serious account of a realized following, for two important reasons of christological epistemology. A contemplation of the witnesses of the faith can help us know the Witness better; and in actual following, a conviction of the ultimacy of Christ can be deepened (or abandoned).


The ultimate finality of theology, as of all Christian activity, is - according to the theology of liberation - the maximal building of the Reign of God. But in our current situation of oppression, this building must be liberation. Therefore liberation theology understands itself as a theory of a praxis, as an intellectus amoris, which must be historicized as intellectus justitiae. This being the case, christology in the concrete must develop and supply a knowledge concerning Christ that by its nature will further the building of the Reign of God. Because that Reign is effected in opposition to the oppression of the anti-Reign, this knowledge of Christ must be a knowledge of liberation, intellectus liberationis.

1. Specific Christological Moment of Praxis

Christology must propose a knowledge concerning Christ such that, of his very nature, this Christ will move a person - the person who knows him, in order that this person may know him - to a salvific activity. This means introducing into the very reality of Christ the dynamism of the dispatch to that salvific activity. It is not, then, a matter of first knowing who Christ is and then adding the knowledge that one of the elements of his reality is to be someone who confers a mission. To be sure, a hermeneutic circularity obtains between an understanding of the being of Christ and a grasp of his conferral of a mission. But at least the moment of dispatch as essential to the being of Christ must be maintained as central.

In the Christian scriptures, it is a matter of conjecture whether the dispatch to a salvific activity is essential to the very being of Christ, in such wise that - systematically speaking - without the availability to be so dispatched one would be unable to know Christ adequately. That at least there is in Jesus this unified duality of being and sending appears in programmatic terms in the evangelical “being with Jesus and being sent by Jesus.” In certain gospel scenes the dispatch even seems to have priority over knowledge of Jesus. And in the scenes of the apparitions, Jesus appears not to “seers,” but to “witnesses”; that is, he is at the same time one appearing and one sending, and correlatively, availability for an activity - bearing witness - is essential, according to the interpretation of certain exegetes, in order to grasp the being of Jesus in the apparitions.

No unequivocal thesis can be deduced from these fragmentary reflections, but at least we have an indication of what interests us here. Both in life and after his resurrection, Christ appears not simply as a someone-in-himself who can simply be known, or even a someone-for us of whom salvation can be hoped, but also as a someone-who-sends, whose mission must be prosecuted. Thus, the praxis inspired by Christ is essential to Christ himself (and to christology). Here we have the context in which we must speak of the christopraxis of liberation.

In this understanding of Christ as one who sends we confront a theoretical novelty. It is not a novelty that Christ is presented salvifically - and let us remember that a salvific concern is what moved the development of christology in the scriptures, in patristics, and in the conciliar dogmas. This is accepted by liberation christology, which formally prosecutes this line and radically transcends the dissociation that began to appear in the Middle Ages between christology and soteriology. The novel element is in

(1) the determination of salvation as liberation, and

(2) the manner in which a concern for liberation has an influence on theoretical christology, that is, not only for having to think the reality of Christ in such a fashion that he can be savior (the interest of the New Testament and of patristic speculation), but in thinking him in such a fashion that he may already produce historical salvation.
In the context of this chapter, this means that it is not enough to assert that Jesus is the mediator of the Reign of God; it must also be asserted that he is the one who of his very nature dispatches to the building of the Reign. He is a mediator by essence sent (the dimension of gratuity with respect to us); and he is a mediator by essence sending (his fundamental demand on us). Besides the sheer fact of the essential dispatch to praxis, a starting point in Christ can determine the content and utopian horizon of that praxis (the Reign of God), the spirit with which to perform it (that of the mediator), and the hope to be maintained amid the praxis (the possibility of defeating the anti-Reign).

2. Christopraxis

Inasmuch as this Reign to be constructed comes into being in the presence of and in opposition to the anti-Reign, the Reign is a good entity, of course. Specifically, it is a liberative entity. This explains why it is called Good News; it is the apparition of the good that is hoped for in the presence of evil, oppressive realities. Consequently, the praxis of building the Reign will be good, but it will also be liberative. In order to show what it is that is good and liberative in the praxis to which Christ sends, let us analyze the various levels of the reality of Jesus in which he appears as Liberator.

Liberative Aspect of Jesus’ Mission

The most specific mission of the historical Jesus is the proclamation and inauguration of the Reign of God in behalf of the poor and outcast. This is how the Markan-Matthean gospel begins, and even more explicitly, in the language of the Good News, that of Luke. This does not militate against the need for salvation from sin or transcendent salvation. Indeed, part of the responsibility of current christology will be to show how all of the plural salvations converge in the Reign of God. But it is with Jesus’ proclamation and inauguration of the Reign for the poor and outcast that one must begin if one would understand liberation. In other words, liberation is the coming of the Reign of God for the poor. In terms of the reality of the poor, the content of liberation will have certain basic minimal content: a just life worthy of a human being. We might call it an economic and sociological opportunity, since what is at stake is an oikos, house and home, the basic element of life; and a socius, or social relationships of authentic kinship. This Reign is formally liberation, and not simply the good that is hoped for, since it will come in contravention of the anti-Reign.

This is what is directly meant - although it is not the only thing meant-when Jesus is called Liberator, and this is why we have called him the mediator of the Reign of God. Without a central inclusion of this meaning of liberation, there can be no christology of liberation. And let us note in passing that it is in this manner, after twenty centuries, that Latin American christology recovers the nucleus of Jesus’ most primitive title, that of Messiah (christos), which had become his proper name, but had been deprived of any reference to a popular hope of liberation.

Someone might object that this conception of liberation neglects a key element of the later New Testament: liberation from sin. Here it must be granted that one of the essentials of the historical Jesus’ liberative mission in behalf of the Reign of God is his salvific attitude toward sinners. But this assertion must be understood precisely and correctly. Those we might call sinful out of weakness, or more precisely, those regarded as sinful by their oppressors, Jesus cordially and affectionately welcomes, with an attitude that includes, but goes further than, simple forgiveness of sins. To the sinners in the sense of oppressors, Jesus announces the Good News, it is true, but in the form of a demand for radical conversion, as in the case of Zacchaeus.

Liberation from sin, even the universality of such liberation, is present in Jesus’ mission, then, although it is present there in historicized fashion and without the elements introduced by later speculation based on explanatory theoretical models (sacrifice, expiation, and so forth, in the New Testament; assumption of the totality of the human, in patristics; satisfaction de congruo, in the Middle Ages). The historical Jesus surely appears as the liberator from sin, but what we must emphasize is that sin, sinner, and forgiveness are all understood in reference to the Reign of God.

Liberative Aspect of Jesus’ Person

Another assertion implied in the denomination of Jesus as Liberator is that the very person of the mediator is liberative. It is liberative because Jesus was as he was. In pure theory, the liberation of the Reign of God could have been proclaimed and furthered by another kind of mediator (acting with power, at a distance from the poor but acting in their behalf, with more rigidity and less tenderness, with more calculation and fewer risks, and so on), who thus could have delivered the victims of oppressive structures, but whose spirit or interior attitude would have been different from that of Jesus.

The liberative element in the person of the mediator is the spirit with which he executes the proclamation and inauguration of the Reign of God. His personal fidelity to God and his mercy to human beings - to summarize systematically, as Hebrews does - his way of being before God and human beings as related in the gospels, the spirit of the Beatitudes as expressed in himself, a life lived in gratuity, his empowerment by truth-all of this is something good, as well as human, and humanizing for others.

We call this spirit of Jesus liberative, not only good, because Jesus came to be thus in the presence of the temptation to be otherwise, as appears in the scene of the temptations. The mediator is shown to be liberated himself, then. This is also liberative for others; yes, one can live this way, delivered from self, delivered from selfishness and dehumanization (a problem that also occurs in historical liberation processes), one can walk humbly with God in history, at once in absolute confidence in a God who is Parent and in total availability to a Parent who is still God.

In Latin America christology has focused from the very beginning on the Jesus who is Liberator of the poor and marginalized, but it is coming to emphasize more and more as well the Jesus who is himself liberated, and who thereby delivers us from ourselves if we keep our eyes fixed on him. But Latin American christology insists on relating the two elements; without this interrelationship, the historical liberation of the poor goes one way and the personal spirit of Jesus another. It observes - not only by virtue of its acceptance in principle of the gospel narratives, but through actual historical experience-that the practice of historical liberation with the spirit of Jesus is efficacious for liberation itself, as Archbishop Romero exemplifies so very well.

To put it simply, many rejoice that Jesus proclaimed and initiated the liberation of the poor of this world (the Reign of God), and rejoice as well that the mediator (Jesus of Nazareth) was as he was. The mediation, and the mediator, are Good News.

Liberative Aspect of Jesus’ Resurrection

In the Christian scriptures it is evident that the Reign of God is not the only symbol of utopia - a new earth and a new heaven. Jesus’ resurrection, as well, is a symbol of this utopia. It is likewise evident that the specific element in the latter symbol is liberation from death. Liberation christology accepts all of this. Nevertheless, the theology of liberation also regards it as essential to determine what elements of historical liberation are generated here and now by Jesus’ resurrection.

In the first place, Jesus’ resurrection generates a specific hope - indirectly, perhaps, for all, but directly for this world’s victims, the addressees of the Reign of God. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection is presented in Peter’s first discourses as God’s reaction to the injustice that human beings have committed against the just, innocent Jesus. In this sense the resurrection is hope especially for this world’s victims, and it is a liberative hope, because it occurs in the presence of the despairing fear that, in history, the executioners may triumph over their victims. It occurs in the presence of the temptation to resignation or cynicism.

A further liberative aspect of Jesus’ resurrection is that it indicates the present sovereignty of Christ over history by generating human beings who are not history’s slaves but its sovereigns. But sovereignty over history does not consist in living immune and detached from history; still less does it mean attempting-intentionally and idealistically - to “imitate” the immaterial conditions of the state of resurrection (as ancient theologies of the religious life recommended). It consists in triumphing over the slaveries to which human beings are subjected by reason of the fact that they live in history.

The fulfilling element in Jesus’ resurrection is shown forth here and now, in history, in the freedom with which the following of Jesus is lived. Liberty is not license here; nor is it some mere type of esthetic or existential freedom. On the contrary, the freedom of the following of Jesus is a freedom to become more incarnate in historical reality, to dedicate oneself more to the liberation of others, to practice the love that can become the greatest love. Here is a freedom, then; realized not in fleeing the historical and material, but in incarnating oneself in it more, for love. Here, when all is said and done, is Jesus’ own freedom, the freedom to lay down his life without anyone’s taking it from him; the freedom of a Paul, voluntarily enslaved to all to save all. The fulfilling dimension of the resurrection is also shown forth in the ability to live with joy in the midst of history. It appears in finding in the following of Jesus the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure for which one will sell everything one owns, for the sake of the joy it produces. It is living for others and receiving from others (grace). It is being able to be with others, being able to celebrate life “right now,” being able to call God Parent, and to call that God, in relationship with all others, our Parent.

This fulfilling dimension of the resurrection is also liberative because it is a victory. The freedom made flesh in history, which does not flee that history, is destined to conquer the slaveries generated by history: fears, failures, persecutions, the cross. Joy transpires in the midst of suffering, and especially in the face of the understandable temptation to sadness, the temptation of meaninglessness. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection is recognized as a liberative element introduced into history itself.

In synthesis, Jesus’ resurrection is liberative because it enables and inspires people to live in history itself as risen ones, as persons raised; because it enables and inspires people to live the following of Jesus, too, as a reflection of the fulfilling, triumphal note of the resurrection with indestructible hope, freedom, and joy. Let us remark in passing that, when this occurs, then the One who has been raised is shown to be Sovereign of history. In this sense, it could be said - and it comes as a shock - that he has left it in our hands to make him the true Sovereign of history.

Liberative Aspect of the (Metaphysical) Reality of Christ

Let us observe, finally, that liberation christology must show that the element of Good News, of liberation, also resides in dogmatic truth concerning Christ, a truth that liberation christology unequivocally accepts.

The assertion that dogma is not only truth but Good News is an assertion of faith, and of an intrinsically gladsome faith. Thus, it is not available to further analysis; although the vere Deus and vere homo can surely be interpreted and received not only as truth, but as the Good News of the bounty, indeed the tenderness, of a God who has deigned to descend to that which is human and the Good News that the human can be a sacrament of God.

Nevertheless, christological dogma can be specifically one of liberation if we reformulate it in the following words: Jesus Christ is verus Deus et verus homo. Then Jesus Christ is strict revelation of that which is supremely basic for the human being - what it is to be God and what it is to be a human being - and is victorious revelation over the innate tendency of human beings to decide beforehand, on their own authority and in their own interest, the truth of both basic realities. Christological dogma appears as liberative if it is accepted not only as an unveiling of what until now has not been known, but as the victorious revelation of repressed truth. That is, it is seen to be liberative if one accepts that the proposition that Christ is vere Deus and vere homo is true not because it fulfills the conditions that we human beings impose on the truth of both realities, but because this truth has the power to transcend - and radically - our self-interested comprehension of the divine and the human.

To say it in simple words, it is great Good News of liberation that at last, despite the innate propensity of human beings to evade and oppress the truth, the truth has appeared of what God is and of what we human beings are. What it is to be God and what it is to be a human being have been seen in Jesus, have been revealed in Jesus, triumphing over the concupiscent inclination of human reason to decide both realities in terms of its own interests.

The fact that the dogma presents the subsistence in Christ of both realities, divine and human, without division yet without confusion, is Good News, liberative news. The manner by which the divine and the human subsist in Christ is a strict mystery and hence not subject to analysis. But if we observe the reverberation of this mystery in historical reality, we can assert that it is indeed Good News.

It is good that the divine and the human be “without division,” especially if their unity be understood as transcendence in history, such that history renders God present historically, and God, being transcendent, causes history to transcend itself and give more of itself. Also good is the “without confusion,” the nonmixing of the two realities, let alone their mutual reduction to each other. History shows that a reduction of the divine to the human necessarily deprives the divine of its mystery, while an elevation of the human to the divine absolutizes the human and transforms it into a troop of monsters: those idolatries that go by the name of despotism and triumphalism. We might say simply that it is good to let God be God and human be human.

History shows how deleterious it is for human beings to violate, on the religious level, this elementary truth of christological dogma. But the violation is just as pernicious in its historical, secular equivalents. For example, utopia (corresponding to the divine) is sometimes divorced from concrete realities in such a way as to be relegated to the trans-historical exclusively, and thus deprived of any influence on the attempt to render it real in concrete realities; thus these realities lose their value as signs of utopia. This is the temptation of the right. Or again, all of the concrete (corresponding to the human) can be subordinated to utopia, as if the concrete had no entity of its own. This is the temptation of the left, even in liberation processes, which can be tempted to replace the whole of the concrete (personal, family, social, artistic) with what is deemed to be the correct route to take to utopia - the political or the military route, depending on the case.

These attempts either to separate the two constitutive elements of dogmatic christology or to reduce one to the other have dehumanizing effects. Hence, the dogmatic formulation of the reality of Jesus Christ is both good and liberative. Despite the dehumanization occasioned by both the separation and the reduction, we human beings undertake to commit these errors because we think that we already know the ultimate structure of reality. The dogma reminds us that the structure of reality is that of transcendence in history, and this is good and liberating news.

Integral, Transcendent Liberation

On the strength of what Jesus does, of the fate that overtakes him, and of what he is, both in his historical reality and in his ultimate transcendent reality, he can and must be called the Liberator. Each of these liberative aspects enjoys its own entity and autonomy, so that none of the three can be deduced from another by pure conceptualization. But if they all be taken together and seen as a whole, then we have the christological basis for the possibility and necessity of the integral liberation so earnestly recalled and demanded by the magisterium.

From a point of departure in Christ, that integral liberation is possible and necessary. But in view of what has been said, we think that there are three things to be insisted upon. First, liberation is transformed into integral liberation not by the mere accumulation of disconnected liberative moments, but by the complementarity of all liberative moments in the dynamics of the following of Jesus. Second, in dealing with the christologic liberative dimension, it is necessary (or, in our view, at least very useful) to invoke a logical reproduction of the route that we have proposed chronologically: to begin with and center on the liberation of the poor, thereupon, in virtue of the very dynamics of that liberation, to integrate the other liberative aspects of Christ. Third, an analysis of the integral liberation of which Christ is the vehicle is carried out ultimately in order to foster a liberative christopraxis.

Finally, let us say that, in terms of the adoption of all of the liberative moments cited, objectively theological, transcendent liberation can be formulated. Those who implement Christ’s mandate to liberate are thereby realizing the demand voiced by God in the Book of Micah: to act with justice and to love with tenderness. In so doing, these persons can walk humbly with God in history. Now they can really interpret theoretically, and live existentially, their own lives as a life with God. And they can, theoretically and existentially, interpret that life as a journeying toward the definitive encounter with God, when God will be in all - the Pauline formulation of the transcendent fullness of the Reign of God.


Let us say a brief concluding word on the locus of christology, as we have developed it in these pages. As we know, liberation theology has developed the topic of the locus theologicus in a new manner, and this by way of its own existential experience. In doing theology from a determinate place or locus, with the poor as the point of departure, it has rediscovered content of extreme importance, content central for the faith. This content has not been rediscovered from a starting point in other loci; hence the extreme importance of an analysis of the theological locus. Theology knows that it must respect a methodological distinction between theological locus and font of theological cognition. “The distinction,” however, as Ellacuría says, “is not a strict one, let alone an exclusive one. The locus itself, in a sense, is a font, in that it is the locus that determines whether the font yields this or that. The upshot is that, thanks to the locus, and in virtue of the same, a certain determinate content is actually rendered present.”(11)

The sketch that we have attempted to present here has been constructed from the theological locus that in Latin American theology, admittedly, is constituted by the poor. We should only wish to add that, in the case of christology, there is an additional, specific reason why theology must be done from the locus of the poor. The poor are not only a reality from which one can reread the whole of theology. They are a reality with which christology must eventually come into confrontation as its object. Thus, with christology, the reason why theology must be done from a theological locus among the poor is more than one of methodological exigency or convenience. It proceeds from revelation itself: the Son of Man is present in the poor of this world.

This presence of Christ in the history of today can be accepted or rejected. But if it is accepted, it would be supremely irresponsible on the part of christology not to take it into central account. This is what is transpiring in Latin America. In simple, nontechnical words Medellín asserts that, where sin is committed against the poor, “there we have a rejection of the Lord’s gift of peace and of the Lord himself’ (Medellín, ”Document on Peace," no. 14, citing Matt. 25). Puebla makes the very carefully considered statement that “with particular tenderness [Jesus Christ] chose to identify himself with those who are poorest and weakest” (Puebla Final Document, no. 196, citing Matt. 25). Archbishop Romero said, in his homilies to a persecuted community, “You are the image of the divine, transfixed with pain,” and he compared the Salvadoran people to the Servant of Yahweh. Ellacuría in a strictly theological reflection, declared that the great sign of the times - the current presence of God among us - is always the crucified people, the historical continuation of the Servant of Yahweh, of Christ crucified.

These statements are not casual ones, nor do their authors intend them as merely pious reflections. They are to be taken seriously. The poor function as the locus of christology in virtue of the concrete content with which they supply that discipline. They tell it something important about Christ. They tell it of his self-abasement, his kenosis, his concealment, his cross. And especially, they function as the locus of christology (and of course of faith and following) because, as locus of the current presence of Christ, they are a light illumining all things, and specifically illumining the truth of Christ.

This argumentation is helpless in the face of questions that can be lodged from other theological loci (and these loci always exist, acknowledged or not). Therefore, it can only invite other christologies to place themselves, as well, in the locus of the poor. But as a counterargument, Latin American christology points to the undeniable fact that, from among the poor as its locus theologicus, it has rediscovered basic christological realities - realities central to the gospel message, as the Vatican Instruction on the theology of liberation observes - which. lo, these many centuries, have slept the sleep of the just.

From the locus of the poor, christology has made the theoretical rediscovery of Christ as Messiah, as Liberator, and as definitive mediator of the Reign of God. But the situation of the poor and the crucified peoples is intolerable. Therefore these poor and these peoples have set christology its fundamental task. It is a praiseworthy endeavor to demythologize Christ in order to present a reasonable Christ, so that the “name” of Christ may be acceptable by the modern, enlightened human being. But it is a more urgent endeavor to “depacify” Christ, lest reality continue to be abandoned to its misery “in his name” - and in extreme cases, to replace an idolatry of Christ, that the poor may come to see in Christ someone for them rather than against them, and no longer think they have to resign themselves to being oppressed “in his name.” Understood as a substantial quid rather than as an accidental ubi, the theological locus has always been decisive for christology. It has given it its profoundly pastoral character. If Luther developed a christology of the “Christ for me,” Bonhoeffer a christology of the “person for others,” Teilhard de Chardin a christology of the “Omega Point of evolution,” and Karl Rahner a christology of the “absolute vehicle of salvation,” it is because reality demanded it, albeit in various ways. Reality itself had posed the questions: How may one encounter a benevolent God, how may one present an authentic Christ, in a world come of age, a world in evolution, a secularized, antidogmatist world? This pre-christological (but pastorally determinative for christology) reality has always been present in creative christologies. It is present today once more in the theology of liberation: the reality of a dehumanizing poverty and of the hope of its eradication.

Gustavo Gutiérrez declares that the decisive question for Latin American theology is “how to tell the poor that God loves them.” Christology responds with Jesus Christ the Liberator, the absolute mediator of the Reign of God to the poor. The reality of poverty both motivates this “theorization of Christ” and renders it possible. The agreeable surprise is that, thus theorized, Christ is a bit more like - it seems to us - Jesus of Nazareth.

Translated by Robert R. Barr


1. Many of the methodological presuppositions of the theology of liberation are analyzed in this volume and in Mysterium Liberationis. For christology specifically, see Chapter 8 in Mysterium. “Christology in the Theology of Liberation.”

2. See, in this volume, Chapter 3, “Central Position of the Reign of God in Liberation Theology.”

3. See Ignacio Ellacuría “La teologia como momento ideolôgico de la praxis eclesial,” Estudios Eclesidsticos 53 (1978):457-76; Sobrino, “Teologia en un mundo sufriente: La teologfa de la liberacion como intellectus amoris,” Revista Latinoamericana de Teologia 15 (1988):243-66.

4. See Ignacio Ellacuría, “Los pobres, ‘lugar teologico’ en América latina,” in Ignacio Ellacuria, Conversion de la Iglesia al reino de Dios (San Salvador, 1985), pp. 153-78.

5. Karl Rahner and K. H. Weger, Our Christian Faith (London: Burns & Oates, 1980), p. 93.

6. An analogous comparison ought to be made with patristic theology, especially in regard to the destiny of the Reign of God, although we cannot address this here.

7. Rahner and Weger, Our Christian Faith, p. 93.

8. M. Hengel, Seguimiento y carisma (Santander, Spain, 1981), p. 105.

9. See D. Wiederkehr, in Mysterium Salutis, vol. 3/1 (Madrid, 1969), p. 558.

10. An analysis of the systematic concept of following or discipleship must invoke an analogy of discipleship precisely in view of the reality of the poor. In his own age - and with his expectancy of the imminence of the Reign - Jesus made different basic demands on, respectively, his disciples and the poor. Of the poor he seems to demand not discipleship, but an active hope in the coming of the Reign. Today a theological treatment of the discipleship of the poor must take into consideration the non-imminence of the Reign. Meanwhile, the material condition of the poverty of our times seems to render the following of disciples impossible, which would lead to the paradox that the poor, to whom the Good News is directly addressed, and whom Christ seeks to liberate, could not acquire a similarity to Christ precisely as disciples. Therefore one must speak of an analogy of discipleship or following. That is, while the poor participate more radically (generally speaking) in the destiny of the cross, and at times, in the hope of resurrection, than disciples do - still, the active aspect of mission can be more absent in the case of the poor, by reason of their material conditions. Thus, Ignacio Ellacuría proposes an analogy of the systematic theological concept of the poor. The poor are:

(1) the material, impoverished poor,
(2) the poor who have become aware of the causes of their poverty,
(3) the poor organized in a struggle to be liberated, and
(4) the poor who wage this struggle with the spirit of the Beatitudes. See Ellacuría, “Los pobres, ‘lugar teologico,’ ” pp. 81-163.

11. Ibid., p. 168.

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