A few months ago I posted what I see as the three primary aims for theology: fidelity, intelligibility, and liberation/practical relevance. I have been glancing back at Roberto Goizueta’s appropriation of theological aesthetics in Christ Our Companion and have been struck by where the weight of his argument lies as he theologically engages religious symbols such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Latino/a popular Catholicism. Goizueta, as someone fundamentally influenced by Latin American liberation theology (and particularly the theology of Jon Sobrino) expectedly argues for the liberating character of Latino/a religion. For example, it is liberating since, as community that is predominantly poor and marginalized (both within the United States and as the ‘other’ on beyond our border), it is here that we encounter Jesus Christ today. The sacramentality of the poor (the presence of God among the crucified people) is key throughout the book and is one of the most basic commonalities Goizueta has with Sobrino and others. As I said, this is not unexpected. What struck me is the place of “fidelity” within Goizueta’s argument. He argues that Latino/a popular Catholicism is a place in which the “pre-modern” synthesis of cosmos, individual, and God (described by Louis Dupré) still flourishes (70). Therefore, attending to popular Catholicism is seen as a form of ressourcement of this pre-modern synthesis which makes available “aspects of that tradition that have been obscured by modern and postmodern Western culture” (146) and which is also liberating because of its holistic, organic worldview. A central reason for turning to Latino/a popular Catholicism in simply that the common people believe in God, Christ, and the saints. Judged as “naively materialistic, superstitious, and infantile,” these common people call (Western) modern and postmodern intellectuals to religious conversion by a real engagement with the symbols of their faith (62-63; 96, 100).
At the end of the book Goizueta switches from his earlier, straightforward designation of “pre-modern” and, drawing upon Enrique Dussel, calls the worldview of Latino/a Catholicism “transmodern”: characterized “by a holistic, organic epistemology rooted in the act of solidarity with the victims of history” (154). The term thus takes the pre-modern world of popular Catholicism which Goizueta sees as a ground of ressourcement and links it to the preferential option for the poor.
Roberto Goizueta’s Christ Our Companion attempts to bring together the discourses of US Latino/a Catholicism, Latin American Liberation Theology, and Theological Aesthetics (represented by Hans Urs von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart) (24). More precisely, he argues that Latino/a Catholicism, properly understood, unites the fundamental insights of theological aesthetics with the methods and goals of liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez and Jon Sobrino. At the beginning Goizueta notes a key similarity between theological aesthetics and liberation theology: both retrieve the significance of lived faith by seeing theology grounded in and oriented towards discipleship. This is clearly seen in the centrality of saints and martyrs in Balthasar and Sobrino. Goizueta’s engagement with liberation theology is common in Latino/a theology; his engagement with theological aesthetics, although not entirely unique, is noteworthy, and I would like to explore how appropriates it within his theology.
There are various themes that can fall under the umbrella of “theological aesthetics.” Balthasar describes his as a two-fold theory of the objective appearance and subjective perception of divine glory (Love Alone is Credible, 12). He does this with an analogy to earthly beauty. Structurally, this involves an extensive discussion of the fundamental principles of form/content and disclosure/receptivity. The former calls our attention to particularity: divine love is revealed through the particular form of Jesus Christ and most of all in the kenotic, self-emptying form of his life. The latter calls our attention to gratuity, divine initiative, and contemplation: the disclosure of divine love is a free, gratuitous act of God which we contemplate and to which we respond in discipleship. Goizueta’s appropriation begins with the Johannine affirmation that “God loved us first” or the “foundational priority of God’s love” (Christ Our Companion, x): “Before I look at Christ, Christ has already looked at me. Before I do, think, or feel anything, God has already lovingly looked into my eyes and, smiling, called out my name. Every other article of Christian faith, every theological statement, is little more than a footnote to this central belief: my entire life is a response to a Lover whose very gaze and call have created me and named me, thereby compelling a response” (8). The disclosure of divine love in Jesus Christ is unexpected and gratuitous, demanding a response of receptivity in discipleship. Goizueta, drawing upon Gutiérrez, places the preferential option for the poor within the realm of gratuity. The ultimate ground of the preferential option is seen as God’s free option on behalf of the poor; Christian praxis on behalf of the poor flows from the grateful, contemplative reception of divine love (98, 101).
The theme of particularity is central in Goizueta’s appropriation of theological aesthetics: “[Jesus] became a particular human person in a particular time and place – and continues to be revealed in particular persons in particular times and places” (127). “If the content of revelation (the ‘what’) is not intrinsically related to the particular form of revelation, then the form itself (the person of Jesus Christ, or Juan Diego, or Guadalupe) is relativized precisely as revelation, as the inbreaking or irruption of the real in our world…belief alone does not save; what saves is the object, or content of that belief, that in turn evokes a practical response on our part. If Christ is not crucified and risen, our hope – the hope of the poor – is in vain” (90-91; 94-95). Goizueta’s argument is that Latino/a popular Catholicism lives out this aesthetic worldview. They really believe in Jesus Christ and they encounter Jesus in the concrete, particular moments of everyday life and devotion (110). He further argues that Latino/a Catholicism is more attentive to particularity than Balthasar on four key points. First, extending Balthasar’s own focus on the cross as the revelation of divine glory, Latino/a Catholicism focuses on the cross but sees in it Christ’s solidarity with the crucified victims of our world. Second, a theological aesthetics is inherently connected to demand to remember, and in particular to remember the victims of history (12-14). Third, aesthetic receptivity must include what Ellacuría and Sobrino call being honest with reality of the world and the oppression within it (22). Finally, he argues that this receptivity must attend to the particular place where Jesus continues to be encountered today: the crucified peoples (23, 36).
In a subsequent post, I hope to say more about Goizueta’s argument for Latino/a popular Catholicism as a source for theological reflection. The heart of the book, however, is Goizueta’s demonstration that the key concepts of gratuity, particularity, and receptivity in Balthasar’s aesthetics, fundamentally shaped by the preferential option for the poor, flourish within Latino/a Catholicism.
I am reading Roberto Goizueta’s new book Christ Our Companion: Toward a Theological Aesthetics of Liberation and I hope to post some reflections on it in the near future (particularly on the appropriation of aesthetics within the logic of liberation theology). For now, I want to post two quotes which further illustrate three points I made in my note on the Kingdom-World-Church theses: 1) the de-centering of the Church vis-a-vis a poor; 2) the sacramental role of the crucified people as mediators of the presence of Christ; 3) the methodological aspect of the preferential option for the poor (an aspect emphasized throughout the work and, in my view, affirmed too exclusively in the first passage below: “nothing other than”). As I said in my earlier post, the first supports the idea that mission precedes church within the theses; the second and third seem to be at odds with central affirmations of the theses. The theses are, of course, only theses; by definition they await further exploration and substantiation. Nevertheless, the complexity of liberation theologies must be kept in mind as the affirmations of the preferential option and the ‘church of the poor’ in thesis 11 are developed .
The preferential option for the poor is nothing other than the assertion that the crucified people of history are the privileged mediators of God’s mercy in the church and in the world. The crucified people are the privileged historical mediation of the crucified and risen Christ in the world. When they extend mercy, they embody Christ’s own offer to the apostles after the resurrection: ‘Peace be with you’ (36).
‘The Spirit of Jesus is in the poor,’ asserts Jon Sobrino, ‘and, with them as his point of departure, he re-creates the entire Church. If this truth is understood in all its depth and in an authentically Trinitarian perspective, it means that the history of God advances indefectibly by way of the poor; that the Spirit of Jesus takes historical flesh in the poor; and that the poor show the direction of history that is in accord with God’s plan.’ In no way does this suggest a ‘parallel church’; rather it specifies the privileged (not exclusive) sociohistorical locus wherein the church is church and discovers what it means to be church…the ecclesiological image of the church of the crucified people posits not a new church but ‘a new mode of being the Church’ (38 – quoting Sobrino’s The True Church and the Poor, 93, 96).