An Integral Liberation

If the key to Gutiérrez' method is the option for the poor, the content of his theology is centered on the notion of "liberation." (Note, again, that Gutiérrez never claims that the content of his "theology of liberation" is dramatically new; on the contrary, the call to liberation has always been at the very heart of the Christian kerygma.) That notion must also be viewed integrally, without separating its various dimensions. According to Gutiérrez, liberation should also be understood as encompassing three distinct though inseparable dimensions: (1) political liberation, (2) psychological, or anthropological liberation, and (3) liberation from sin (Gutiérrez 1973: 21-42). At its first level, liberation involves the transformation of social structures. At a deeper, second level, liberation entails an interior, psychological transformation through which the poor person comes to affirm his/her historical agency. Accustomed to seeing him/herself as merely a passive object of history, acted upon by historical forces and serving the interests of the powerful elites, the poor person now becomes an authentic historical agent, capable of exercising his/her rights and responsibilities as an actor, an authentic subject. Finally, at the deepest, third level, liberation is identified with salvation itself, that liberation from sin effected through the crucified and risen Christ.

Gutiérrez repeatedly underscores the fact that the three dimensions, while theoretically distinct, are always, in practice, intrinsically connected aspects of one, single liberative process. The third, deepest level remains qualitatively different, however, in that its realization is completely dependent on God's activity; salvation is pure gift. While we can and must work for social and personal transformation, the deepest and fullest realization of these is brought about through God's gratuitous love in the person of Jesus Christ. At the same time, that love is always made concrete in history; so, insofar as we help transform history in accord with God's will, we simultaneously open ourselves to and encounter God's grace in history.

Gutiérrez' understanding of liberation is accompanied by a correspondingly holistic, integral notion of sin. On the one hand, human effort alone can never uproot sin at its deepest level. On the other hand, sin is never merely "spiritual" but always manifests itself concretely in the lives of individual persons and in social structures that facilitate and foster sinful behavior. If sin can be defined as the rupture of communion with other persons and God, that rupture is objectified in and mediated by the entire web of structures, organizations, and institutions within which we live out our relationships with others and with God. Those structures may foster values and behavior that impede communion (for example, by implicitly or explicitly fostering violence, conflict, greed, etc.) or they may foster values and behavior that facilitate communion (for example, by rewarding cooperation, compassion, service, etc.). In other words, the human struggle for communion and against sin always reflects the fact that the person is intrinsically a social being who is intrinsically connected to others and to God.

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