Leonardo Boff, Harvey Cox & Liberation Theology
CHRIST & NEIGHBOR
Author’s Note: Recently a panel discussion was held at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. The main speaker was Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian on the faculty of Harvard Divinity School, and the subject was his new book, The Silencing of Leonardo Boff. I was one of the three responding panelists making brief presentations. What follows is the essence of my response.
As we have learned to expect, this is another brilliant Cox book — highly readable, as timely as today’s newspaper, and manifesting a wide-ranging familiarity with today’s bewildering panorama of theological trends. There is also a solid core reflecting Harvey’s own preferential option for the poor, particularly as it is duplicated in liberation theology in general and the writings of Leonardo Boff in particular.
But a critic is supposed to criticize. So much for the good stuff. You don’t want unadulterated praise. You want conflict, argument, dialectic. So here goes.
The book is especially satisfying if you are not too interested in the reasons why Cardinal Ratzinger censured Boff’s book and silenced him for a year, but are willing to accept Harvey’s assumption that of course this was too obvious and indefensible to require much elaboration. Out of 188 pages of written material, less than one is devoted to Ratzinger’s Notification of March 11, 1985, in which he gave his reasons and cited 35 different pages of Boff’s book, Church: Charism and Power, as containing questionable or downright dubious assertions.
In the first chapter of his book Harvey reports that a pro-Boff bishop suggested that Boff draw up an indictment accusing Ratzinger> of heresy. Boff turned down the suggestion because, “having been himself the object of such an inquiry he did not want to subject anyone else to it.” This is ironic because I concluded from reading Boff’s book that he has not only indicted and, in his own view, convicted Ratzinger of heresy, but has convicted the papacy, the hierarchy, and the entire Catholic Church of heresy from about the time of Constantine, Theodosius, and Gregory the Great to the present day. How in the world this Church has survived for 2,000 years and enrolled nearly a billion members is something that boggles the mind, assuming all the things Boff says about her and them are true. How and why Boff himself still belongs to such a church is equally mystifying.
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