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Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino OP (born 8 June 1928) is a Peruvian philosopher, theologian, and Dominican priest regarded as one of the founders of liberation theology.[1] He currently holds the John Cardinal O'Hara Professorship of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and has previously been a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and a visiting professor at many major universities in North America and Europe.[2]

Gustavo Gutiérrez

Gustavo gutierrez.jpg
Gutiérrez in 2007
Born (1928-06-08) 8 June 1928 (age 91)
ResidenceUnited States
OccupationPriest, professor
EmployerUniversity of Notre Dame
Known forLiberation theology, preferential option for the poor
AwardsPacem in Terris Award, Príncipe de Asturias award, Legion of Honor, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Gutiérrez is a member of the Peruvian Academy of Language, and a founder of Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas. In 1993, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for his tireless work. In 2002 Gutiérrez was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2003 he received the Príncipe de Asturias award. In 2016, he received the Pacem in Terris Award from St. Ambrose University.[3]


Early life and educationEdit

Gutiérrez was afflicted with osteomyelitis as an adolescent, and was frequently bed-ridden. He had to use a wheelchair from age 12 to 18.[4]

He began studying in the faculty of medicine of the National University of San Marcos in Peru in order to become a psychiatrist, then he realized he wanted to become a priest.[5] He completed his theological studies in the Theology Faculty of Leuven in Belgium and in Lyon in France, where he studied under Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Marie Dominique Chenu, Christian Ducoq, and several others.[6] It was also here where Gutiérrez was introduced to the Dominican and Jesuit ideologies, and was influenced by the work of Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and Johann Baptist Metz.[7] His time in Europe influenced Gutiérrez to discuss the openness of the Church to the contemporary world. He was also influenced by Protestant theologians such as Karl Barth and social scientists such as François Perroux and his idea of development.[8][9] In 1959, Gutiérrez was ordained a priest.

Foundations of liberation theologyEdit

When he returned to Peru, Gutiérrez began to formulate his understanding of Latin American "reality" – the foundation and driving force of liberation theology.[10] He states: "I come from a continent in which more than 60% of the population lives in a state of poverty, and 82% of those find themselves in extreme poverty."[11] Gutiérrez focused his efforts on the rediscovery of love thy neighbor as the central axiom of Christian life.[12][13]

An outline of Gutiérrez's theological proposal was drafted in his conference "Towards a Theology of Liberation" during the Second Meeting of Priests and Laity in Chimbote, Peru, between 21 and 25 July 1968.[14] In this proposal, he cites on multiple occasions Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes and Paul VI's Populorum Progressio. To Gutiérrez, the source of the problems of Latin America was the sin manifested in an unjust social structure. His solution to this problem was to emphasize the dignity of the poor by prioritizing the glory of God present in them.[15] This perspective would be refined over the next five years, until Gutiérrez published A Theology of Liberation in 1973.

Liberation theology thus emerged as a biblical analysis of poverty. Gutiérrez distinguished two forms of poverty: a "scandalous state" and a "spiritual childhood." He noted that, while the former is abhorred by God, the second is valued. Gutiérrez identified that each form of poverty was present in Latin America, wherein one hungers for bread and for God. It is only through the manifestation of a committed faith that the purposes of God can be manifested to man, regardless of the color or social class under which he was born. Liberation theology insists on prioritizing the gift of life as the supreme manifestation of God.[16]

Option for the poorEdit

Gutiérrez calls for understanding the reality of the poor. Being poor is not simply lacking the economic resources for development. On the contrary, Gutiérrez understands poverty as "a way of living, of thinking, of loving, of praying, of believing and waiting, of spending free time, of fighting for life." On the other hand, the Dominican emphasizes that poverty is the result of society. While many theologians oversimplify poverty's social roots, for Gutiérrez the origin of poverty is much more complex. In Latin America, it originates from the times of the conquest and to that is added several political, geographical, and personal factors.[17]

The proclamation of the gospel in the midst of the unjust situation in Latin America leads to a praxis based on principles derived from the word of God. In the article Theology and Poverty, Gutiérrez recalls that this option should lead to three well-defined actions. The preferential option for the poor unfolds as a fundamental axis of the Christian life on three levels:

  1. The announcement and testimony of the reign of God denounces poverty.
  2. The intelligence of faith reveals essential aspects of God and provides a perspective for theological work.
  3. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, otherwise known as spirituality, is, on the deepest level, the basis on which everything else rests.

The main biblical foundation for this praxis lies in the kenotic incarnation of Christ. To Gutiérrez, the ministry of Christ among the rejected and despised of his time is a clear example for the contemporary Church. Furthermore, "the incarnation is an act of love. Christ becomes man, dies and rises to liberate us, and makes us enjoy freedom. To die and be resurrected with Christ is to overcome death and enter into a new life. The cross and the resurrection seal our freedom." The freedom of Christ is seen by Gutiérrez as the source of spiritual and economic freedom.[18]

Theological reflection on liberation is not just a simple discourse without practical and concrete implications. Reflection on the situation of the poor leads to what liberation theologians call "liberating praxis", where they attempt to rectify the process by which the faith of the Church builds the economic, spiritual and intellectual liberation of socially oppressed peoples as fulfillment of the kingdom of God. The liberating praxis, then, has its basis in the love that God manifests for us and in the sense of solidarity and fellowship that should exist in interpersonal relationships among the children of God. These are concepts that Gutierrez developed in concert with education activist/philosopher Paulo Freire, whose 1971 seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed explored the concept of praxis and a preferential option for the poor.[19][20]


Liberation theology originated as a call to all believers in Latin America to resume the biblical commitment to the poor. Gutiérrez's continuous message on the reality of this world serves as a rebuke to those who have forgotten this sphere of Christian love. Gutiérrez's thought has marked, consciously or unconsciously, all of Latin American theology. This influence can be observed from the evangelical proposal of the "integral mission" developed years after the origin of liberation,[21] to the development of social ministries within the evangelical churches in the last decades.[22]

Among his most prominent followers are Hugo Echegaray and Luis Felipe Zegarra Russo. His friends include the German theologian Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On the subject of Gustavo Gutiérrez's thought, of which he was a student, Müller stated: "The theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, how it is considered, is orthodox because it is orthopractic and teaches us the correct Christian way of acting, since it derives from authentic faith."[23] On Gutierrez's 90th birthday, in 2018, Pope Francis thanked him for his contributions "to the church and humanity through your theological service and your preferential love for the poor and discarded of society."[24] While Gutierrez's positions were never censored by the Church, he had been asked to modify some of his propositions.[25]

Selected worksEdit

  • On the Side of the Poor: The Theology of Liberation. Co-authored with Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Orbis Books, 2015: ISBN 978-1626981157
  • In the Company of the Poor: conversations between Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. Ed. Michael Griffin and Jennie Weiss Block. Orbis Books, 2013: ISBN 978-1626980501
  • Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ, trans. Robert R. Barr (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993). Originally published as En busca de los pobres de Jesucristo: El pensamiento de Bartolomé de las Casas (Lima: CEP, 1992).
  • The God of Life, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991). Originally published as El Dios de la vida (Lima: CEP, 1989).
  • On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1987). Originally published as Hablar de Dios desde el sufrimiento del inocente (Lima: CEP, 1986).
  • The Truth Shall Make You Free: Confrontations, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990). Originally published as La verdad los hará libres: Confrontaciones (Lima: CEP, 1986).
  • We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, 20th anniversary ed., trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2003; 1st ed., Maryknoll: Orbis, 1984). Originally published as Beber en su propio pozo: En el itinerario espiritual de un pueblo (Lima: CEP, 1983).
  • A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, 15th anniversary ed., trans. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988; 1st ed., Maryknoll: Orbis, 1973). Originally published as Teología de la liberación: Perspectivas (Lima: CEP, 1971).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cornell, George W. (6 August 1988). "Founder of liberation theology deals with acclaim and criticism". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  2. ^ "Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P." Department of Theology: People. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  3. ^ "Pacem in Terris Past Recipients". Catholic Diocese of Davenport. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  4. ^ Hartnett, Daniel (3 February 2003). "Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutiérrez". America Magazine. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  5. ^ "Gustavo Gutierrez biography (spanish)". Gustavo Gutiérrez (1928). Steven Casadont. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  6. ^ Botella Cubells, Vicente (8 de noviembre de 2011)). «Gustavo Gutiérrez, padre de la Teología de la Liberación». Facultad de Teología. Valencia.
  7. ^ Gutiérrez, Gustavo (2001) "Quehacer teológico y experiencia eclesial"; J.J.Tamayo y J.Bosch, eds., Panorama de la Teología Latinoamericana, Estella.
  8. ^ Gorringe, Timothy (12 August 1999), "Theology and Human Liberation", Karl Barth, Oxford University Press, pp. 268–290, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198752462.003.0007, ISBN 9780198752462, retrieved 20 July 2018
  9. ^ Sagasti, Francisco R.; Alcalde, Gonzalo (1999). Development Cooperation in a Fractured Global Order: An Arduous Transition. IDRC. ISBN 9780889368897.
  10. ^ "Gustavo Gutierrez: Essential Writings"; Nickoloff, James. Fortress Press, 1996
  11. ^ Gutierrez, Gustavo (1991). "Juan de la Cruz desde America Latina". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  12. ^ Hahnenberg, Edward P. (1 July 2010). Awakening Vocation: A Theology of Christian Call. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814657331.
  13. ^ "Gutiérrez highlights Pope's 'preferential option for the poor' // The Observer". The Observer. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  14. ^ Gutiérrez, Gustavo (1968) "Hacia una teología de la liberación. Consultado el 23 de julio de 2014.
  15. ^ Botella Cubells, Vicente (8 de noviembre de 2011)). «Gustavo Gutiérrez, padre de la Teología de la Liberación». Facultad de Teología. Valencia.
  16. ^ "Gustavo Gutierrez and the preferential option for the poor". National Catholic Reporter. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  17. ^ Klaiber, Jeffery. "Prophets and Populists: Liberation Theology 1968-1988";Academy of American Franciscan History, 1989
  18. ^ Gutiérrez, Gustavo. Essential Writings. Fortress Press. p. 300. ISBN 9781451410242.
  19. ^ Smith, Christian."The Emergence of Liberation Theology". University of Chicago Press, 1989
  20. ^ Freire, Paulo; Macedo, Donaldo (1 September 2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. Translated by Ramos, Myra Bergman (30th Anniversary ed.). Continuum. ISBN 9780826412768.
  21. ^ "Latin America Consultation on Integral Mission | Micah Network". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Latin America — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  23. ^ Vatican Insider: "Un teologo della liberazione al Santo Ufficio?" 15 October 2011
  24. ^ Arocho Esteves, Junno (7 June 2018), "Pope Francis wishes "father of liberation theology" happy birthday", America, retrieved 7 June 2018
  25. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Watts, Jonathan (11 May 2015). "Catholic church warms to liberation theology as founder heads to Vatican". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 July 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Christian Smith (2002). "Las Casas as Theological Counteroffensive: An Interpretation of Gustavo Gutiérrez's Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 41: 69–73. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.00100.
  • Alexander Nava (2001). The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutiérrez: Reflections on the Mystery and Hiddenness of God. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-5177-1.
  • Robert McAffee Brown (1980). Gustavo Gutierrez: Makers of Contemporary Theology. John Knox. ISBN 0-8042-0651-1.

External linksEdit