Class Notes: 10/30

In today’s class we continued to talk about the revolution in Nicaragua, and liberation theology specifically. Dr. Holt discussed how Catholicism has changed both in practice and in numbers in Latin America over time. In general, the number of people in Latin America identifying as Catholic has declined over the past 100 years, with the biggest drops coming after the 1950s. It can also be seen that protestantism is growing in this region, specifically in Brazil and countries in Central America. Dr. Holt also explained that the Catholic church itself changed as a result of this, and tried to become more connected to its members. One example of this is changing the language of mass to the native language of whatever country it is done in.

Next, we broke into groups to talk about Liberation Theology and passages from the Gospel of Solentiname. We discussed how the interpretations of the bible from Ernesto Cardenal and the people in his discussion groups both differed and was similar to conventional interpretations. We also discussed the disagreements over the meanings and ramifications of this text and Liberation Theology in general. For example, some view this doctrine as going back to the original meaning of the bible, and a rejection of the more aristocratic church, while others viewed it as a thinly veiled way to support communism through a religious text.

Definition of Liberation Theology from Brittanica:

Liberation theology, religious movement arising in late 20th-century Roman Catholicism and centered in Latin America. It sought to apply religious faith by aiding the poor and oppressed through involvement in political and civic affairs. It stressed both heightened awareness of the “sinful” socioeconomic structures that caused social inequities and active participation in changing those structures.

Liberation theologians believed that God speaks particularly through the poor and that the Bible can be understood only when seen from the perspective of the poor. They perceived that the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America was fundamentally different from the church in Europe—i.e., that the church in Latin America should be actively engaged in improving the lives of the poor. In order to build this church, they established communidades de base, (“base communities”), which were local Christian groups, composed of 10 to 30 members each, that both studied the Bible and attempted to meet their parishioners’ immediate needs for food, water, sewage disposal, and electricity. A great number of base communities, led mostly by laypersons, sprang into being throughout Latin America.

Key Terms:

  • Liberation Theology: See above
  • Ernesto Cardenal: Nicaraguan Catholic priest and one of the most well known promoters of Liberation Theology.
  • The Gospel of Solentiname: Commentaries on the Christian gospels, written by Ernesto Cardenal which show the ideas of Liberation Theology.




  • What can explain the dramatic drop in the percentage of Catholics in Latin America?
  • Is Liberation Theology a return to the original meaning of the bible, a thinly veiled justification for marxism, or something else?
  • Should the Catholic Church have reacted so harshly to the ideas presented by Liberation theology like it did?

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