Saint Paul University in Ottawa has conferred an honorary doctorate on the Peruvian theologian Father Gustavo Gutiérrez during a November 7 ceremony in the university’s chapel. Rector Dr. Chantal Beauvais said that the degree is the university’s way of showing “profound gratitude to Father Gutierrez and to recognize his contribution to Catholic theology. We are celebrating a contemporary witness to something that we value – reflection in action.”
Fr. Gutiérrez was born in 1928 in Lima, Peru and is regarded as one of the key founders of liberation theology — which focuses upon the emancipation of the poor and the oppressed. Latin American bishops later described this focus as the “preferential option for the poor.”
As a child and adolescent, Gutiérrez was frequently ill but he went on to studies in literature and medicine. Later he shifted to studying psychology and philosophy in Switzerland and France, where he also obtained a doctorate in theology. He was ordained in 1959 and later taught at the Catholic University in Lima, but he also spent much of his time living and working as a parish priest among the poor in that city.
A Theology of Liberation
His seminal book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation (1971), outlines his description of the Christian witness as an act of loving solidarity with the poor as well as a protest against their poverty. That poverty, he says is the result of unjust and sinful social structures.
Fr. Gutiérrez and other liberation theologians came under papal investigation and in some cases censure for their views. His joining the Dominican order in 1988 was likely his way of seeking a degree of institutional protection from that group against his detractors.
Blessed are the poor
In her remarks, Dr. Beauvais added that Fr. Gutiérrez “has articulated the impact that theology should have upon our lives. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the oppressed, not in some future utopian society but in the here and now. It’s all about walking the talk and for that we need a particular kind of spiritual intelligence.”
Fr. Gutiérrez, speaking mainly in French, thanked the university and said that the central preoccupation of his life and work has been to answer one question – how do we tell the poor that God loves them?” He said that it is important to place the kingdom of God within human history.
Fr. Gutiérrez now teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
No rock star
During the conferring of his honorary degree in Ottawa Fr. Gutiérrez was wearing dark glasses. Dr. Beauvais joked that he is not a rock star, but rather that he is recovering from recent surgery to his eyes.