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Yet Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz was just as much devoted to his studies. Theory and practice were, to him, always merely two sides of the same coin. True belief, for Gonzalez Ruiz, was never concerned solely with orthodoxy, a term derived from the ancient Greek denoting ‘correct belief ’, but to an equal extent with orthopraxy (correct action).[1] In an interview published in 2001, four years before his death, the Spanish theologian, whose work has been translated into all the major languages of the western world, noted that he had never accepted the standard division of theology into dogmatic theology, focusing on the theoretical truths of faith, and pastoral theology, concentrating on the practical applications of these theoretical truths: ‘I always felt that theology is a pastoral stance and that pastoral activity must in some way be theological.’[2] Starting in 1954, Gonzalez Ruiz began to publish theological articles (and, eventually, close to two dozen book-length works) which rapidly established his name as an authority in biblical studies. What from early on began to characterize the theological contributions by Gonzalez Ruiz was not so much his fervent devotion to the necessity to develop a ‘theology of the world’, a trend receiving a welcome boost by Vatican II, but his ability to substantiate the tenets of such a theology by reference to biblical passages which, in his eyes but not only in his eyes, had pointed the way in the identical direction already several thousand years ago. Equally familiar with orthodox and unorthodox schools of thought in the realm of Marxist philosophy and Catholic theology, Gonzalez Ruiz understood how to employ authorities from Paul the Apostle to Jacques Maritain—and Friedrich Engels to Erich Fromm—to construct an argument which appeared to synthesize the ideas of the entire range of unorthodox Catholic thinkers briefly featured in earlier sections of this chapter.

The necessity for a historical approach to theological studies, the imperative need for the church to shun privilege and to cast its lot with the poor and oppressed, the emphasis on the prophetic and messianic tradition within Christian practice and Christian thought, the defence of the necessity for humanity to construct its own world—without losing sight of the presence of God beyond this world: these and other tenets of the emerging tradition of Western European ‘liberation’ theology found powerful and evocative expression in the theology of Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz. In this concluding subchapter of Chapter 1, rather than developing one or several particular points of Gonzalez Ruiz’s theology, I instead wish to highlight several insightful and lively passages to present the overall flavour and context of his work.

In 1967, writing for the flagship opposition journal, Cuadernos para el dialogo, Gonzalez Ruiz straightforwardly asserted that ‘capitalism must be considered from a Christian moral perspective as intrinsically perverse’,[3] a declaration of disgust which, every reader then knew, did not hark back to the supposed golden age of Catholic civilization in bygone centuries, but looked forward to a future age when humanity could develop freely without cumbersome, unwanted, and unnecessary hierarchies and inequalities blocking its path. ‘The New Testament, above all Paul, distinguishes between “power” (exousia) and “strength” (dunamis). Power is a technique of command; strength is the creative capacity of an ideal. [... ] The “strength” of the ecclesial community stands in inverse relationship to “power”. If the church lets itself be dazzled by power, it automatically loses part of its strength.’[4] As the title of one of Gonzalez Ruiz’s more famous texts gives away, ‘God is at the grassroots’ (Dios esta en la base). Correspondingly, there are many passages celebrating the messianic message of Christianity as, even and especially within the Catholic church, there was a need for the creative interaction between leadership and ranks. ‘An ecclesiology which is constructed from below inevitably results in the revalorization of the charisma of prophecy.’[5] Yet such charismatic leaders were neither removed in spirit from their followers nor were they unconcerned with earthly concerns and the details of the here and now. ‘Prophets, the religious leaders of the people, were in no way men who fled from reality and who solely kept themselves busy with “spiritual matters” in the Hellenic sense of the expression. To the contrary! They were marvellously informed about the political and social conditions determining the life circumstances of their people, and they spoke a concrete language, direct and committed.’[6]

‘About a century ago,’ wrote Gonzalez Ruiz in one of his most memorable phrases, ‘Karl Marx proclaimed an authentic cultural revolution within the realm of philosophy when he declared in his Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” I believe’, Gonzalez Ruiz added, ‘that within the realm of theology we must proclaim an equivalent cultural revolution: “Theologians have hitherto only interpreted the saving gesture of God; the point is to make it happen.”’[7] Or, as he stated later on in a similar vein, ‘it is not honest to speak about a “theology of revolution” if one has not previously carried out a “revolution of theology”’.[8] ‘As a consequence of what has been said so far, it is logical that the unit of measurement which one must employ, when judging major thought systems which intend not only to interpret but also to transform the world, is their relationship to practice.’[9]

  • [1] The side-by-side discussion of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘orthopraxy’, in the wake of 1968 astandard feature of Left Catholic thought, was a constant in Gonzalez Ruiz’s vocabulary then;note, for instance, the brief but pithy discussion in Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base(Barcelona: Estela, 1970), p. 19.
  • [2] ‘Gonzalez Ruiz, el teologo “cheua”’, conversation with Rafael Gomez, El ciervo (607),October 2001, p. 21.
  • [3] Cited in Javier Munoz Soro, Cuadernos para el dialogo (1963-1976). Una historia culturaldel segundo franquismo (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2006), p. 101.
  • [4] Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base, pp. 71-2.
  • [5] Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base, p. 94.
  • [6] Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz, El Cristianismo no es un humanismo (Barcelona: Peninsula,1973), p. 73, a work first published in 1966 and placing particular emphasis, amongst othertopics, on the theological possibility and necessity of a Christian-Marxist dialogue.
  • [7] Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base, p. 12.
  • [8] Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base, p. 175.
  • [9] Gonzalez Ruiz, Dios esta en la base, p. 24.
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