Gregory Baum

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Gregory Baum, OC (born June 20, 1923[1]) is a Roman Catholic Canadian theologian. He became known in North America and Europe in the 1960s for his work on ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and the relationship between the Catholic Church and Jews. In the later 1960s, he went to the New School for Social Theory in New York and became a sociologist, which led to his work on creating a dialogue between classical sociology (Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim, Toennies, Weber, etc.) and Christian theology.[2]

In the 1970s, he welcomed the insights of the Theology of Liberation that came from Latin America and other societies. He also became interested in the work of Karl Mannheim and developed an program of ideology critique that he hoped would eliminate the ideological elements in religion, especially those elements that preached contempt for others and allowed Christians to remain unmoved by the suffering of the victims of social injustice and structural violence.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Baum continued his study into ideology critique by integrating the work of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. He connected the Frankfurt School's concept of "the end of innocent critique" with the Catholic Church's "preferential option for the poor." Both concepts extended his interest in ideology critique. Since Baum has always been interested in social ethics, he also studied the work of Karl Polanyi, with whom he sympathized greatly.[3] It was also in the late 1980s that Baum moved to Quebec and developed an interest in Quebec Catholicism, which he saw as more progressive and contextual than its English Canadian and American counterparts.

Early life[edit]

Born of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father, in Berlin, Germany, he came to Canada from England as a war refugee.[4] He arrived by boat in Quebec in 1940 with other Germans, most of them Jewish, and they were interned in refugee camps, under military control. After some transfers between Quebec, Trois-Rivières, New-Brunswick and Farnham, he was finally interned to Sherbrooke. Being only 17 years old at this time, he considers this period of his life as an incredible adventure. Among the refugees, some intellectuals hastened to set up inside the camps educational systems of which he took advantage. Although Canada had no law for the refugees at this time, a lady who met them in these camps pressured the government so that some could complete their studies outside of camps with financial aid (scholarships) that she had collected.


He was the professor of theology and sociology at University of Saint Michael's College in the University of Toronto and subsequently professor of theological ethics at McGill University's Faculty of Religious Studies. He is currently associated with the Jesuit Centre for Justice and Faith in Montreal.

During the church council Vatican II he was a peritus, or theological advisor, at the Ecumenical Secretariat, the commission responsible for three conciliar documents, On Religious Liberty, On Ecumenism, and On the Church's Relation to Non-Christian Religions.

In particular, he advocated the position, as a response to the Holocaust, of the rabbi and philosopher Emil Fackenheim regarding the cessation of efforts to convert the Jews, famously stating: "After Auschwitz the Christian churches no longer wish to convert the Jews. While they may not be sure of the theological grounds that dispense them from this mission, the churches have become aware that asking the Jews to become Christians is a spiritual way of blotting them out of existence and thus only reinforces the effects of the Holocaust."[5] He composed the first draft of the conciliar document Nostra aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, that was later expanded to address all the world religions. It was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.

From 1962 to 2004, he was the editor of The Ecumenist, a review of theology, culture and society, which is now published by Novalis. He was also a member and frequent editor of the international Catholic review Concilium.

In 2012 he signed the Catholic Scholars' Jubilee Declaration on reform of authority in the Catholic Church.[6]

After retirement, Baum developed an interest in Islam, especially the work of Tariq Ramadan, the European reformer, whom he admired greatly.

Personal life[edit]

In his autobiography, published in 2017, Baum revealed his homosexuality. In Chapter 32, he talks about his first gay experience: "I was forty years old when I had my first sexual encounter with a man."[7] He further states, that "I did not profess my own homosexuality in public because such an act of honesty would have reduced my influence as a critical theologian."[8] He also called himself "the first Catholic theologian who publicly defended the ethical status of homosexual love".[9]


  • That They May Be One, Newman Press, 1958.
  • The Future of Belief Debate (ed.), Herder & Herder, 1967.
  • The Credibility of the Church Today, Herder & Herder, 1968.
  • Man Becoming, Herder & Herder, 1970.
  • Religion and Alienation, Paulist Press, 1975.
  • Truth Beyond Relativity: Karl Mannheim's Sociology of Knowledge, The Marquette Lecture, Marquette University Press, 1977.
  • The Priority of Labour: Commentary on John Paul II’s `Laborem exercens,’ Paulist Press, 1982.
  • Theology and Society, Paulist Press, 1986.
  • Compassion and Solidarity: The Church for Others (The 1987 CBC Massey Lectures), Anansi Press, 1988.
  • The Church in Quebec, Novalis, 1992.
  • Karl Polanyi on Ethics and Economics, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996.
  • Nationalism, Religion and Ethics, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.
  • Signs of the Times: Religious Pluralism and Economic Injustice, Novalis, 2008.
  • The Theology of Tariq Ramadan: A Catholic Perspective, University of Notre Dame Press, 2009.

A second edition of his seminal 1975 book, Religion and Alienation was republished by Novalis in 2006.


He holds honorary doctorates from Huron University College, London, Ontario; St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, N.S; Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio; Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.; Waterloo Lutheran University, Waterloo, Ontario; McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario; Concordia University, Montreal.

In 1990, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of being "a guide and inspiration to generations of students of many different faiths and backgrounds".[10]


  1. ^ O'Brien, John Anthony (1964). Steps to Christian unity. Doubleday. p. 268. 
  2. ^ Baum, Gregory (2006). Religion and Alienation, 2nd Edition. Ottawa: Novalis. p. 15. 
  3. ^ Baum, Gregory (2006). Religion and Alienation, 2nd Edition. Ottawa: Novalis. pp. 238–240. 
  4. ^ refugee
  5. ^ Ed. Gregory Baum, The Twentieth Century. A Theological Overview, (Orbis Books Maryknoll, New York - G. Chapman, London 1999), cited in Ucko, Hans. "Towards an Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversions". 
  6. ^ "Gregory Baum". 
  7. ^ Baum, Gregory (2017). The Oil Has Not Run Dry. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-7735-9996-3. 
  8. ^ Baum, Gregory (2017). The Oil Has Not Run Dry. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-7735-9996-3. 
  9. ^ Baum, Gregory (2017). The Oil Has Not Run Dry. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-7735-9996-3. 
  10. ^ "Order of Canada citation". 

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