In his 1st Encyclical, which is traditionally understood to be a new pope’s manifesto for his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI signals his continuity with his predecessor John Paul II. First, Benedict XVI strongly rejects liberation theologies, or any ideologies, controlling the programs of the church.1 This theme is accentuated in the text, including but not limited to the following:2
28a. The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics…. The Church’s social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law.… It recognizes that it is not the Church’s responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.… A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.
29. We have seen that the formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of autonomous use of reason…. The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society…is proper to the lay faithful.
31. Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems….
33. With regard to the personnel who carry out the Church’s charitable activity in the practical level, the essential has already been said: they must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world….
35. [W]e are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world.
37. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures.
Secondly, in this encyclical Pope Benedict XVI exalts Mary, as did his predecessor, John Paul II, whose motto was “Totus Tuus” (totally yours, Mary):
41. Mary speaks and thinks with the Word of God…her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God… Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God….
42. Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers…[Believers] constantly experience the gift of her goodness and the unfailing love which she pours out from the depths of her heart…. To her we entrust the Church and her mission in the service of love.
1 In contrast, liberation theology is the driving force of mission in the ELCA under the guise of the mandate to become “a public church.” The hallmarks of liberation theology – class analysis, the preferential option for the poor, the church as a religious/political change agent – are the controlling motifs of the Presiding Bishop’s special “theological consultant,” Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, in her book, Public Church for the Life of the World.
In this book, Moe-Lobeda (like Hanson, a graduate of Union Seminary, a center for liberation theologies), lifts up “experience” as a distinctive guidepost for Lutheran theology (4), “the preferential option for the poor” (29), the “unique justice-making responsibility of the church” to unmask and challenge oppressive “social structures” (26), and asserts that “context” even defines the meaning of sin and salvation (37, 47-48).
Hanson frequently commends Moe-Lobeda’s vision and book, most recently in The Lutheran, February 2006, p. 53.
Bishop Hanson affirms what Pop Benedict XVI rejects, a political mandate for the church to form just social structures:
“A public church: being part of publicly turning this culture, this society, away from the patterns of consumptive living that are destroying species of life every day, toward a pattern of earth-sustaining life. Turning us away from a preoccupation with violence and war as a remedy for the world’s conflicts, toward our vocation as peacemakers” (Mark Hanson, Address at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry,” 3/29/04, emphasis added).
2 Cited by paragraph; Vatican translation; emphasis added.