Theological Ca Tegories

Now I should like to reflect on some dialectical categories that are involved in liberation theology .The term "dialectical" should be em phasized, because it points u p a difference with older ways of thinking. Much of Christian scholastic thinking was "substantialist" in nature. In other words, it centered around the notion of "substance," and then talked about it as the substratum of "accidents" which concretized and individualized a given substance. By contrast, "dialectical" thinking focuses on the relationship between two things. The dialectical approach is profoundly Christian. Consider the mystery of the Trinity, for example. We talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Such terms as "Father" and "Son" would be meaningless without each other. "Son" implies a "Father," and "Father" implies a "child." We cannot ponder the Trinity without using some sort of dialectical thinking.

I should like to stress that the notion of liberation is very concrete. It cannot and should not be used in some abstract sense that deprives it of all meaning. The term "liberation" is a very Christian one, deriving from the Hebrew notion in the Old Testament. God told Moses to "liberate" his people from Egypt. This notion of liberation came down through Christianity to such thinkers as Hegel and Marx, and it was hen passed along to many of today's liberation fronts. Christians often translate it into such terms as "salvation" and "redemption," but behind all these notions lies the dialectic of oppression and exodus. If we turn liberation into some abstract sort of salvation, then the term loses all meanIng.

If we want to use the term "liberation" in a meaningful way, we must be cognizant of the concrete oppression that weighs down upon us. We must realize that sin and its power is oppressing us and forcing us to live in a situation of injustice. Starting from that awareness, we can begin the process-the concrete process-of liberation. It is not some vague, abstract risk we take. It is a very concrete risk, analogous to the risk which Christians took in the Roman empire when they denied the divinity of the emperor. When we take cognizance of the oppression under which we labor and proclaim its existence, we face the risk of torture and even death. We cannot continue to live tranquilly within the established order, for that established order is grounded on sin and unjust domination.

Many people make much of law and order. But one must consider what type of order is involved. If the established order is grounded on domination of other human beings, then it should not be respected. To obey laws that are part of such an order is to commit sin. There are times when the Clegal order turns into an established immorality, when few legal actions are morally good. Within the context of an unjust totality, illegal actions may be good. They may go beyond the injustice of the established order and contribute to the process of authentic human liberation. Liberative action may be illegal in one sense just as the Hebrew exodus was illegal in the eyes of the Egyptian pharaoh. In another sense, however, it may be supremely right. It may accord with the justice of a new order that will trul y serve the needs of the Other instead of suppressing those needs as the old order does.

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