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Jon Sobrino: Where to Start?

There are a number of good places to start for understanding the work of Jon Sobrino. Chronologically, his Christology at the Crossroads, Spirituality of Liberation, and The True Church and the Poor all come in the late 70’s to mid 80’s.  Most people probably begin with his two volume Christology, Jesucristo liberador. Lectura histórico-teológica de Jesús de Nazaret (English: Jesus the Liberator) (1991) and La fe en Jesucristo: ensayo desde las víctimas (English: Christ the Liberator) (1999). Another very helpful volume is his collection of essays The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross (1992). The introduction and first two chapters of this book on the principle of mercy and theology in a suffering world are an excellent place to start in Sobrino’s corpus.

These are all important works (not to mention others such as Witnesses to the Kingdom and Where is God?). However, if you want to get a sense of what Sobrino is up to or want a quick refresher, I would highly recommend his small (128 pages plus notes) book No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays (2007). This passionate, challenging, and provocative book is a collection of important essays from the last decade. There is a certain amount of repetition due to the nature of such a collection but not too much. I don’t want to write a full review of the book here so let me just point out a number of its strong points:

  • The influence of Ignacio Ellacuría and Archbishop Romero are clear throughout. These two figures have shaped Sobrino’s thought in fundamental ways and this is apparent in most of the essays . The volume opens immediately with reflections from Ellacuría in the prologue and first chapter. It concludes with a powerful reflection on Ellacuría’s own account of Romero’s life and death. Romero is ever-present in Sobrino’s works but I would be hard-pressed to find a better place to turn than this final chapter and in particular the powerful section on Romero as a follower of Jesus (121-126).
  • Fundamental ideas developed over decades are presented clearly and concisely: The Kingdom of God, the anti-Kingdom, the God of Life vs. the idols of death, the “Crucified People” and the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh,” his expansive reading of martyrdom, salvation through the bearing of sin, the epistemological value of following Jesus, the need to be “honest with the real,” resurrection as the raising up of the victims, the call to live as risen beings in history, etc. These themes are developed more thoroughly elsewhere (e.g. the last two are the center of Christ the Liberator) but nowhere else so succinctly.
  • Special mention should be made of his nuanced account of the option for the poor in chapter 2: along with an account of the diversity among the “poor,” he develops a vision of the option as fundamental, theological, dialectical, partial, prophetic, utopian, political, and merciful; he argues for positive and humanizing values found among the poor but I also found a stronger recognition of the ambiguity within the world of the poor than in earlier works.
  • Sobrino continues the more detailed criticism of the First World found in Where is God? with critiques of capitalism, globalization, and the U.S. This is clearest in the first 10-15 pages of the third chapter (from which we get the title of the book: “Extra Pauperes Nulla Salus: A Short Utopian-Prophetic Essay”) but is present throughout.

The passionate, prophetic side of Sobrino’s thought permeate these essays.  New readers of Sobrino should be able to follow what he is doing and those familiar with his thought will find earlier work reiterated and sometimes developed in interesting ways. Ironically Christology is not as central in this book in comparison to the rest of Sobrino’s corpus. Nevertheless, given the way in which Christology, anthropology, methodology, and his theology of martyrdom mutually shape one another, the reader should leave with enough of a sense of his Christology as well. No Salvation Outside the Poor challenges the reader to re-envision what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today in a world of scandalous inequality and suffering and offers a great introduction to the thought of Sobrino and key themes in Latin American liberation theology more broadly.

* There are not many secondary sources out there on Sobrino. Luckily, in 2008 an outstanding collection of essays were published: Hope and Solidarity: Jon Sobrino’s Challenge to Christian Theology. This volume also has the added benefit of coming out after the 2007 Vatican notification on Sobrino’s works and many of the essays engage the questions raised by Rome.

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