Wednesday, March 14, 2007

CDF Notification: Fr Jon Sobrino SJ

From today's Bolletino:
1. After a preliminary examination of the books Jesucristo liberador. Lectura histórico-teológica de Jesús de Nazaret (Jesus the Liberator) and La fe en Jesucristo. Ensayo desde las víctimas (Christ the Liberator) by Father Jon Sobrino, SJ, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because of certain imprecisions and errors found in them, decided to proceed to a more thorough study of these works in October 2001. Given the wide distribution of these writings and their use in seminaries and other centers of study, particularly in Latin America, it was decided to employ the "urgent examination" as regulated by articles 23-27 of Agendi Ratio in Doctrinarum Examine.

As a result of this examination, in July 2004 a list of erroneous or dangerous propositions found in the abovementioned books was sent to the Author through the Reverend Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

In March of 2005, Father Jon Sobrino sent a Response to the text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Congregation. This Response was studied in the Ordinary Session of the Congregation on 23 November 2005. It was determined that, although the author had modified his thought somewhat on several points, the Response did not prove satisfactory since, in substance, the errors already cited in the list of erroneous propositions still remained in this text. Although the preoccupation of the Author for the plight of the poor is admirable, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the obligation to indicate that the aforementioned works of Father Sobrino contain notable discrepancies with the faith of the Church.

For this reason, it was decided to publish this Notification, in order to offer the faithful a secure criterion, founded upon the doctrine of the Church, by which to judge the affirmations contained in these books or in other publications of the Author. One must note that on some occasions the erroneous propositions are situated within the context of other expressions which would seem to contradict them3, but this is not sufficient to justify these propositions. The Congregation does not intend to judge the subjective intentions of the Author, but rather has the duty to call to attention to certain propositions which are not in conformity with the doctrine of the Church. These propositions regard: 1) the methodological presuppositions on which the Author bases his theological reflection, 2) the Divinity of Jesus Christ, 3) the Incarnation of the Son of God, 4) the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, 5) the Self-consciousness of Jesus, and 6) the salvific value of his Death.
The whole thing is worth reading - it strikes me as a fine example of how a Christological text should be examined and evaluated with discernment and I'm sure that the critiques applied to Sobrino's writings could easily be applied to many other contemporary theological authors. It is worth noting that in addition to highlighting those areas where Sobrino explicitly contradicts a magisterial or creedal statement, the orientation of his method is also subjected to criticism:
2. In his book Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological View, Father Sobrino affirms: "Latin American Christology…identifies its setting, in the sense of a real situation, as the poor of this world, and this situation is what must be present in and permeate any particular setting in which Christology is done" (Jesus the Liberator, 28). Further, "the poor in the community question Christological faith and give it its fundamental direction" (Ibidem, 30), and "the Church of the poor…is the ecclesial setting of Christology because it is a world shaped by the poor" (Ibidem, 31). "The social setting is thus the most crucial for the faith, the most crucial in shaping the thought pattern of Christology, and what requires and encourages the epistemological break" (Ibidem).

While such a preoccupation for the poor and oppressed is admirable, in these quotations the "Church of the poor" assumes the fundamental position which properly belongs to the faith of the Church. It is only in this ecclesial faith that all other theological foundations find their correct epistemological setting.

The ecclesial foundation of Christology may not be identified with "the Church of the poor", but is found rather in the apostolic faith transmitted through the Church for all generations. The theologian, in his particular vocation in the Church, must continually bear in mind that theology is the science of the faith. Other points of departure for theological work run the risk of arbitrariness and end in a misrepresentation of the same faith,
In addition to asking oneself what an author is saying in a particular text, we need to ask ourselves, 'Why is he saying that? What motivates him? What assumptions does he start with? To what end is he directing his writing?'
Those who have a little theological formation will appreciate how ancient many of Fr Sobrino's errors are. The same confusions and mistakes keep cropping up throughout history. One, however, which is a more 'modern' heresy than most is the question of the human conciousness of Christ and the possibility of His 'having faith'. It's extremely useful that this Notification serves as a reminder of the Church's teaching on this issue:
8. Citing Leonardo Boff, Father Sobrino affirms that "Jesus was an extraordinary believer and had faith. Faith was Jesus’ mode of being" (Jesus the Liberator, 154). And for his own part he adds: "This faith describes the totality of the life of Jesus" (Ibidem, 157). The Author justifies his position citing the text of Hebrews 12:2: "Tersely and with a clarity unparalleled in the New Testament, the letter says that Jesus was related to the mystery of God in faith. Jesus is the one who has first and most fully lived faith (12:2)" (Christ the Liberator, 136-137). He further adds: "With regard to faith, Jesus in his life is presented as a believer like ourselves, our brother in relation to God, since he was not spared having to pass through faith. But he is also presented as an elder brother because he lived faith as its ‘pioneer and perfecter’ (12:2). He is the model, the one on whom we have to keep our eyes fixed in order to live out our own faith" (Ibidem, 138). These citations do not clearly show the unique singularity of the filial relationship of Jesus with the Father; indeed they tend to exclude it. Considering the whole of the New Testament it is not possible to sustain that Jesus was "a believer like ourselves". The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus’ "vision" of the Father: "Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father". This unique and singular intimacy between Jesus and the Father is equally evident in the Synoptic Gospels.

The filial and messianic consciousness of Jesus is the direct consequence of his ontology as Son of God made man. If Jesus were a believer like ourselves, albeit in an exemplary manner, he would not be able to be the true Revealer showing us the face of the Father. This point has an evident connection both with what is said above in number IV concerning the relationship between Jesus and the Kingdom, and what will be said in VI below concerning the salvific value that Jesus attributed to his death. For Father Sobrino, in fact, the unique character of the mediation and revelation of Jesus disappears: he is thus reduced to the condition of "revealer" that we can attribute to the prophets and mystics.

Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, enjoys an intimate and immediate knowledge of his Father, a "vision" that certainly goes beyond the vision of faith. The hypostatic union and Jesus’ mission of revelation and redemption require the vision of the Father and the knowledge of his plan of salvation. This is what is indicated in the Gospel texts cited above.

Various recent magisterial texts have expressed this doctrine: "But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision".

Though in somewhat different terminology, Pope John Paul II insists on this vision of the Father: "His [Jesus’] eyes remain fixed on the Father. Precisely because of the knowledge and experience of the Father which he alone has, even at this moment of darkness he sees clearly the gravity of sin and suffers because of it. He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father's love by sin".

Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the immediate knowledge which Jesus has of the Father: "Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father". "By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal".

The relationship between Jesus and God is not correctly expressed by saying Jesus was a believer like us. On the contrary, it is precisely the intimacy and the direct and immediate knowledge which he has of the Father that allows Jesus to reveal to men the mystery of divine love. Only in this way can Jesus bring us into divine love.
There's lots of interesting stuff in the notification - an analysis of it in a classroom would provide a very useful lesson in Christology and theological method. (It would be fascinating to learn who precisely drafted this Notification.) I also find it interesting (although I don't think the notification says this explicitly) that the condemned position of Sobrino in section VI of the Notification seems to lead to a form of Pelagianiam. The great mysteries of Christianity stand and fall together.

3 comments:

Sharon said...

I have read that Sobrino's books are used in some seminaries. Does this mean that they may still be used?

Anonymous said...

Sharon, why not!!! surely we should be able to examine and decide if what he says matches up with the teaches of Jesus. If what he says is not true, why suppress it as it will be very obvious. 1 tIM 3:16-17 At the end of the day it is the scripture that make us wise unto salvation.

Anonymous said...

I have some thoughts on Sobrino in

http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/04/joseph_ratzinge.html

The claims that Jesus enjoyed the beatific vision in his mother's womb is hardly compatible with full recognition of his humanity. If the author of the article claiming this believes that the beatific vision of the embryo Jesus is a necessary consequences of the divinity of Christ, then he himself is guilty of heresy in suggesting that Jesus did not enjoy the beatific vision from the first moment of conception but only after a while.