Jon Sobrino

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Jon Sobrino

Jon Sobrino - 2013.jpg
Sobrino in 2013
Born (1938-12-27) 27 December 1938 (age 84)
Barcelona, Spain
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Roman Catholic)
ChurchLatin Church
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
School or traditionLatin American liberation theology
InstitutionsCentral American University
Notable works
  • Jesus the Liberator (1991)
  • Christ the Liberator (1999)

Jon Sobrino SJ (born 1938) is a Jesuit Catholic priest and theologian, known mostly for his contributions to Latin American liberation theology. He received worldwide attention in 2007 when the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a notification for what they termed doctrines that are "erroneous or dangerous and may cause harm to the faithful."


Born 27 December 1938 into a Basque family in Barcelona, Sobrino entered the Society of Jesus when he was 18. The following year, in 1958, he was sent to El Salvador. He later studied engineering at Saint Louis University, an American Jesuit university, and then theology at Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt in West Germany for his Doctor of Theology (Dr.theol.) degree. Returning to El Salvador, he taught at the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, which he helped to found.

On 16 November 1989 he narrowly escaped the murder of the UCA scholars by the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army. By a coincidence, he was away from El Salvador when members of the military broke into the rectory at the UCA and brutally murdered his six fellow Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Amando López, and Joaquín López y López, as well as their housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 16-year-old daughter Celina Ramos. The Jesuits were targeted for their outspoken work to bring a resolution to the brutal El Salvador Civil War that left about 75,000 men, women, and children dead, mostly civilians.

Investigated by the Vatican throughout his career as a professor of theology, he has remained an outspoken proponent of peace, joining protests in 2008 of the continued training of Latin American military officers in torture techniques at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning.[2]


Sobrino's main works are Jesus the Liberator (1991) and its sequel Christ the Liberator (1999), along with Christology at the Crossroads (1978), The True Church and the Poor (1984), Spirituality of Liberation (1990), The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross (Orbis, 1994), No Salvation Outside the Poor, and Prophetic-Utopian Essays (Orbis, 2008).[2]

Vatican notification[edit]

Because of the theological positions he took in his works, Sobrino was the subject of a theological notification; a critique statement and an admonishment by the Vatican and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2007.

The congregation declared that Sobrino placed too great an emphasis on the human nature of Jesus Christ, downplaying Jesus' divine nature, and that his "works contain propositions which are either erroneous or dangerous and may cause harm to the faithful."

While certain of his teachings were declared false, the congregation did not condemn or censure him, or prohibit him from teaching or lecturing. However, Federico Lombardi at the Vatican Press Office hinted at the possibility that his bishop or superior in the Jesuit order might choose to take action.[3]

The congregation emphasized in the notification that it was issued as part of its service "to the people of God, and particularly to the simple and poorest members of the Church." They emphasized the people's "right to know the truth ... about Christ" and therefore their corresponding duty to intervene. The notification was premised on Benedict XVI's teaching that "the first poverty among people is not to know Christ."

According to the Notification, Sobrino's erroneous propositions concerned: "1) the methodological presuppositions on which the Author bases his theological reflection, 2) the Divinity of Jesus Christ, 3) the Incarnation of the Son of God, 4) the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, 5) the Self-consciousness of Jesus, and 6) the salvific value of his Death."[3]

At the root of what the Vatican saw as Sobrino's error is his affirmation that "the 'Church of the poor' is the ecclesial 'setting' of Christology and offers it its fundamental orientation." However, the Vatican believes that it is "only the apostolic faith which the Church has transmitted through all generations that constitutes the ecclesial setting of Christology and of theology in general."[3]

Contrary to criticisms that the Vatican acted without due consultation and unfairly, the Vatican says that a Notification is made after notifying the author of the statements that are seen to be problematic and after awaiting a reply from the author who is given 3 months whereby to respond.[4]

Retired professor of theology Peter Hünermann (then Tübingen, Germany)[5] declared in April 2007 that the Vatican notification was a "shock" for all theologians, because along with Sobrino "the most distinguished exegetes and systematic theologians – both Catholic and Protestant – stood in the dock".[6] Supported by more than 100 professors of Catholic theology, Hünermann also demanded an "intelligent redevelopment" of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because, as successor organization of the Holy Office, it still had the structure of an "early modern board of censors".[7]

Sobrino's work was reviewed by a number of theologians, including Bernard Sesboüé [fr], José Ignacio González Faus [es], Javier Vitoria, Carlo Palacio of Belo Horizonte, and Martin Maier, editor of the German Jesuit periodical Stimmen der Zeit. These theologians found no doctrinal errors in Sobrino's works. It is not apparent that their findings have been considered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[8][9]


  1. ^ Erichsen, Ola Bakken (2013). Jon Sobrinos korsteologiske konstruksjon : Hvordan og hvorfor konstruerer Jon Sobrino sin korsteologi? (master's thesis) (in Norwegian). Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo. p. 13. hdl:10852/37106.
  2. ^ a b John Dear. "With Jon Sobrino at the SOA Protest". NCROnline. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Vatican Criticizes Jesuit Liberation Theologian, Issues No Sanctions Catholic News Service, 15 March 2007
  4. ^ Holy See - Vatican City State
  5. ^ "Liberation Theologian Barred from Teaching and Publishings". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  6. ^ Hünermann, Peter (2007). "Moderne Qualitätssicherung? Der Fall Jon Sobrino ist eine Anfrage an die Arbeit der Glaubenskongregation". Herder-Korrespondenz (in German). 61 (4): 184–188.
  7. ^ "Theologians Back Call for CDF "Restructuring"". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  8. ^ Pope, Stephen J. (2015). Hope and Solidarity: Jon Sobrino's Challenge to Christian Theology. Orbis Books. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-60833-276-2.
  9. ^ Allen, John L., Jr. (14 March 2007). "Vatican Censures Sobrino, Who Calls Procedures 'Not Honest'". National Catholic Reporter.

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