The preferential option : a diachronic analysis of the meaning of 'liberation' and the use of Marx in Gustavo Gutiérrez.


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This dissertation both corrects an error and fills a lacuna in contemporary secondary literature on Gustavo Gutiérrez. Against a substantial trend in recent studies on the theologian, I argue that Gutiérrez was much more dependent on Marxist analysis in his early work than is today often recognized or, in some cases, admitted. I propose, as well, a novel thesis for Gutiérrez’s development on the topic of Marxist analysis that explains seeming contradictions within his work that have given rise to these errors. I argue that Gutiérrez’s pre-1989 work should be divided into an “Early” and a “Late” era, separated by the third meeting of the Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano y Caribeño (CELAM). The conference was organized by anti-liberationist elements within the Church hierarchy in order to strangle the upstart Liberation Theology movement, but creative interference by Gutiérrez, other Liberation Theologians, and a cadre of sympathetic bishops forced the anti-liberationist faction of the conference into a compromise. The official proceedings of Puebla condemned the theory of Marxist analysis but affirmed Gutiérrez’s basic ethical vision, which it formalized as the “preferential option for the poor.” After Puebla Gutiérrez’s public self-presentation on the topic of Marxist analysis changed drastically and consistently along precisely these lines. In his work immediately after the conference and consistently until his revision of Teología de la liberación, Gutiérrez began writing about Marxist analysis in a way that would fit within the “Puebla Compromise,” both keeping him within the good graces of the Church and simultaneously allowing his advocacy for the poor to retain the Church’s imprimatur rather than coming under its censure.