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Winter Books

Slim book links young Hispanic theologians to Raner’s thought

By Miguel H. Díaz
Orbis, 154 pages, $25


Miguel H. Díaz , academic dean at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., opens a new chapter in the development of U.S. Latino theology with this book. An adaptation of his University of Notre Dame doctoral thesis, it is part of Orbis’ cutting-edge Faith and Cultures Series.

Cuban-American Miguel Díaz is one of an outstanding new generation of lay Latino theologians actively involved in the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States founded in 1988 by an older generation of Latino scholars. Pioneers like Virgil Elizondo can now joyously speak of a growing cohort of theologians -- the vast majority laywomen or men -- advancing the agenda of U.S. Latino theology.

In five concise and lucid chapters, Díaz compares and contrasts the theological contributions of Latinos/as María Pilar Aquino, Virgil Elizondo, Orlando Espín, Alejandro García-Rivera, Roberto S. Goizueta, Sixto García, and Ada María Isasi-Díaz with those of Karl Rahner, arguably the most influential 20th-century theologian.

Díaz focuses on themes from theological anthropology in all these writers. The Latinos/as formulate the issues in terms of notions such as mestizaje (that unique mingling of races and cultures that constitutes a Latino way of being), the formative role played by popular religion, the ongoing struggle for life, creatureliness, accompaniment and solidarity, and relationality.

These themes are described and explained in terms of the “turn to the subject” or to the “human” that has been characteristic of theology in the 20th century and, we expect, the 21st century. Among mainstream Western theologians, no one did more to advance the cause of theological dialogue with human realities than did Rahner with his masterly treatment of such fundamental issues as sin, grace, salvation and the human person.

Rahner’s theology engages Latino theology at several points even though U.S. Latino and Latin-American liberation theologians, rightly at times, criticized Rahner and a fortiori other mainstrean European theologians. Usually their theologies lack historical sense and disregard the powerful influence of perspectives rooted in culture, ethnicity, social class and gender that powerfully influence the pursuit of truth. Feminist and liberation theologies, of course, have led the way in making just this point.

In the final chapter, Díaz engages in a rich and nuanced conversation regarding similarities and contrasts in the respective approaches taken. This is a relatively small book that condenses a great deal of Rahnerian and U.S. Latino theology exceedingly well.

The author writes crisply and does a superb job of making Rahner’s profound insights accessible to the general reader. Díaz’s familiarity with the sources is impressive. He seems to have read everything as evidenced by the helpful, rich footnotes and extensive bibliography. This is no small accomplishment. Díaz demonstrates the reality of a certain “teología de conjunto” among the Latinos/as he analyzes; that is, he highlights certain communal experiences and values like solidarity that inform U.S. Latinos/as as they do their theologies.

His concise, on-target reflections reveal that U.S. Latino theology is maturing and becoming more substantive. Moreover, he has done a service to U.S. Latino theology by demonstrating the methodological consistencies among the theologians chosen while respecting the integrity of each thinker. More important, he brings U.S. Latino theology into a systematic dialogue with one of the best of First World theologies.

In doing so, Díaz is moving U.S. Latino theologians beyond what may have appeared to be a narrow, one dimensional focus -- on themselves and their people -- to a constructive dialogue with mainstream theological currents. After the initial “boom” and the novelty of U.S. Latino theology’s existence gradually wears off, recent works such as Jesuit Fr. Eduardo Fernández’s La Cosecha: Harvesting Contemporary U.S. Hispanic Theology (Liturgical Press) and this one open a new phase in the evolution of U.S. Latino theology.

Díaz’s monographic approach emphasizes the untapped richness of theologies of the human. Fr. Robert J. Schreiter notes this in his foreward and places Díaz’s project in the larger context of globalization: Theologies of the human like U.S. Latino and Rahnerian theologies respond to the growing interest in the common humanity of all that ultimately is a source of unity for a human race torn and threatened by its vast diversity.

This reviewer was surprised, however, that the work does not integrate the language of inculturation more explicitly. I believe this could be done easily and would give the book an even more obvious link to the vast literature and concern regarding how “culture” is the way people express and constitute their humanity. That simple idea was not sufficiently developed in this reviewer’s opinion.

In any event, the entire theological community now has a major resource for pursuing an ever-deeper dialogue regarding the meaning of the human reality in the light of Christian revelation.

I hope it will build bridges among thoughtful Christians and all people of good will by lifting up a theological anthropology that affirms the common graced humanity of each and every human being.

Jesuit Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, director of the Loyola Institute for Spiritualiy in Orange, Calif., and a Loyola Marymount University adjunct professor, was co-founder and first president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, and is author of Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the United States (Orbis).

National Catholic Reporter, October 26, 2001