The Catholic University of America

 Simon Kim Defense

Final Examination of Rev. Simon Kim

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 

April 13, 2011 at 10:00a.m., Caldwell Room 125


Rev. John T. Ford, C.S.C., S.T.D. 


Theology of Context as the Theological Method of Virgilio Elizondo and Gustavo Gutiérrez

Virgilio Elizondo (1935-) has been called “the father of Hispanic/Latino theology” because of his lifework on behalf of Mexican Americans living on the borders of life.  The margins, especially the frontera of Mexico and the United States, indicate “non-being” where  persons are accepted neither by the dominant society nor by their own ethnic group.  Rather than accepting this demoralizing state of being caught in-between two worlds, Elizondo has turned “non-being” into a blessing by prophetically reminding us that our future is a mestizo reality where cultural, social and biological mixture is a natural process.  A mestizo himself, Elizondo has made his mixed-heritage a hermeneutic lens for understanding the Galilean Jesus: Jesus understands his own mestizo-type upbringing in the region of Galilee as one of election as God’s beloved.  With this election comes mission, a mission that requires Jesus to confront Jerusalem’s elites and not to disregard those on the margins for it is there that the revelation of God’s love is found.  By giving theological significance to the region of Galilee, Elizondo has surfaced similarities of Jesus’ surroundings with those living on the border of two worlds in the Southwestern region of the United States.  In addition, Elizondo considers mestizaje an important characteristic of Our Lady of Guadalupe: through the mestiza morena, Mexican Americans can discover meaning in their existence as God’s revelation comes to one of their own in Juan Diego.

Gustavo Gutiérrez (1928-) has been called “the father of liberation theology” because of his lifework on behalf of the poor in Latin America.   With the irruption of the poor in Latin America during the 1960s, Gutiérrez began asking questions about how to speak of God as Father to those who live in extremely dehumanizing situations.  In his theological reflections, Gutiérrez has consistently stressed the preferential option for the poor by expounding on the definitions of poverty promulgated by the Latin American Episcopal Conference at Medellín (1968) along with the teachings of Puebla (1979).  Thus, poverty is always a material reality (the poor), a spiritual reality (preferential) and a reality that requires commitment through solidarity (option).  The preferential option for the poor is further developed in Gutiérrez’s writings through his meditations on the life of Job and the identification of the unjust suffering of this Old Testament figure with the masses of those living in poverty in Latin America.  Like Job, the cries of today’s poor do not go unheeded, since God is revealed as Go’el, the defender of the poor;   Job realizes that there are also others who are innocent but still suffer.  The social doctrine of Gutiérrez is also exemplified his other hero, Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474?-1566) who tirelessly worked on behalf of the indigenous population during the Sixteenth Century Spanish Conquest.  Las Casas defended the dignity of the poor found in the oppressed native population because they resembled the chosen poor of the gospels.

Through the desire of Pope John XXIII for the Church to be a Church of the poor and the path of theological investigation set forth by the Second Vatican Council, theologians like Virgilio Elizondo and Gustavo Gutiérrez have been able to take seriously their specific personal contexts in order to develop a way of speaking about God to suffering perople.  This study illustrates a theology of context with a theological method where scripture, tradition and context are utilized to develop a particular theology that has universal implications.