Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération – The review (PE nr. 1082)

Cheza Maurice, Martinez Saavedra Luis et Sauvage Pierre (Dir.), Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération. Les thèmes, les lieux, les acteurs, Editions jésuites, Namur-Paris, février 2017, 655 pages, 52 euros.

What a marvellous work tool! What a great idea to have composed this Historical Dictionary of Liberation Theology in order to make this vast movement better known. It was born in Latin America but it has spread throughout the world. More than ever it is alive and active and Pope Francis is a lively supporter.

As pointed out on page 4 of the hard cover edition, 117 authors belonging to 28 different nationalities contributed to this work. There are 280 entries: 12 focus on key themes ((Liberation Christology, Small Christian Communities, etc.). 25 countries are represented (mostly Latin American, North American, European, but also African and Asian). 178 people, of whom about 15 are Protestant, and 65 institutions and magazines contributed (theologians, historians, sociologists, philosophers and pastoral workers engaged in the liberation of their people).

As a result, a broad historical overview of Liberation Theology is proposed, from the beginning to the present day covering the origins, the evolution and present day reality of the movement (p.507-622). The Dictionary is published just before the 50th Anniversary of the movement’s foundation. In fact, it was in 1968 that the expression “Liberation Theology” first appeared linked with the 2nd CELAM Conference at Medellin in Mexico (August-September 1968).
Here is a quick panorama of the different stages of the movement: the early development (1969-1971), thwarted growth, (1972-1979), fidelity and transformation (1989-2013), a new impetus (from 2013).

It would be too long and tedious to present all the elements of the Dictionary. I was particularly interested by two entries: A Latin America martyrology: 279 Christians suffered martyrdom for having defended the rights of poor people between 1964 and 2013 and the Pact of the Catacombs which was a pact a number of Bishops attending Vatican II made. They agreed to adopt a preferential option for the poor by two actions; to assume a simple lifestyle and practice evangelical poverty in their way of life and to give priority to the evangelisation of the poor. In fact one could say that Liberation Theology was born out of Vatican II.

I should also draw attention to the African collaborators, among them two African theologians, Paulin Poucouta a biblical scholar already well known to our readers and Fidèle Mabundu also a biblical scholar and Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of the Congo (Kinshasa). Among the entries, there are articles on some African Liberation Theologians such as Jean-Marc Ela, Laurenti Magesa, Engelbert Mveng, and John Mary Waliggo. Representing South Africa, we find the names of Manas Buthelezi, Denis Hurley and Albert Nolan. As pointed out in the foreword other names could well have been added: Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Teresa Okure, Mawusée Togboga, Josée Ngalula, etc.

Finally, let us note that just one WF confrere merits an entry: Jacques Van Nieuwenhove (p. 471-472).

Guy Theunis, M.Afr.

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