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  • Uniting Spirituality and Theology: Jon Sobrino’s Seeking Honesty with the Real
  • Todd Walatka (bio)

Jon Sobrino’s theology flows from the deep wells of spirituality; his work unites spirituality and theology in a harmonious and powerful way. The bare fact and the precise way in which Sobrino unites spirituality and theology could be demonstrated through an extensive study of the spiritual resonances found throughout his works, yet a more local analysis is adequat e to the task. It is well known that Sobrino offers a greatly expanded view of martyrdom, and this paper contends that Sobrino’s theological argumentation in this expansion reveals the unity of spirituality and theology in his work in an exemplary way. Indeed, it is only in the light of his spirituality that one can adequately understand what Sobrino is up to in his discussion of the martyrs of El Salvador. In turn, an appeal to his theology of martyrdom shows the full extent to which his theology is a spiritual discipline and provides one concrete path for integrating spirituality and theology today.

My argument proceeds in three steps. 1) After a brief discussion of theology and spirituality, I explore Sobrino’s account of a spirituality of liberation as grounded in engaging reality. In particular I draw out the idea of being “honest with the real.” 2) I detail Sobrino’s expanded view of martyrdom. Initially he seeks to include under the title of “martyr” not only those who are killed out of hatred of the faith (odium fidei), but also those like Archbishop Romero who are killed out of hatred for justice (odium justitiae). He further extends the idea of martyrdom to include in some way anonymous poor persons who are killed needlessly without any active resistance. 3) In the final section I offer an account of why Sobrino makes the moves he does in light of the spirituality which guides his work. I contend that his theology of martyrdom is his own attempt to be honest with reality, his own attempt to live out a spirituality of liberation. Furthermore, I contend that this theology must be understood as a provocation—as prophetic speech—which calls for others to be “honest with reality” in the fullest sense of the phrase.

The Spirituality of Liberation

From around the middle of the twentieth century forward one finds a strong call to reunite theology and spirituality. Many have argued that without a connection [End Page 76]

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“Esmeralda” © 2011 Jonathan B. Johnston

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to spirituality, theology loses its inner source and vitality; as Hans Urs von Balthasar comments, it fails in its purpose to “[bring] men and their whole existence, intellectual as well as spiritual, into closer relationship with God.”1 The precise way in which theology and spirituality should come together is a matter of some debate.2 Most importantly, this relationship cannot be one of theology simply dictating the terms of spirituality.3 Whether we define theology traditionally as “faith seeking understanding” or follow a newer definition such as “critical reflection on praxis,”4 the concrete, lived faith of the individual and community should provide resources, guidance, and questions for theology. In this respect, theology becomes an outgrowth of the primary experience of faith, and, as it becomes a distinctive discourse, theology operates in part as a servant for spirituality, both by providing a deeper understanding of one’s experience and in clarifying and critiquing (in light of, for example, the Bible, Tradition, and reason) possible narrow and even destructive tendencies in a particular spirituality.5

This recognition of the productive union of spirituality and theology also points to a positive theological diversity within the Christian tradition. As Sandra Schneiders notes, one never encounters “spirituality in general,” but rather concrete, particular spiritualties shaped by various theological, cultural, historical, and social frameworks.6 Thus, spiritualties give rise to distinct theologies which seek to speak of universals (God, for example) from within their particular traditions and (ideally) in dialogue with other perspectives. In this account, then, liberation theology7 is a theology that flows forth from a spirituality of liberation alive in the people and Church in Latin America...


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