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Liberation Theology and Ethics

  1. Eduardo Mendieta

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee421

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Mendieta, E. 2013. Liberation Theology and Ethics. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Theology, as the word indicates etymologically, is the rational elucidation of God. Most concretely, it is the explication, justification, and clarification of a specific community of faith witnessing to its God. Religion, the name for what binds a community in a ritual, issues in theology. There is no religion that is merely personal, which is why theology takes shape in a community of faith. A personal theology would be an oxymoron. There is first the practice of a certain belief in a God that has been revealed, and then subsequently there is an attempt to understand what that revelation or belief entails. For this reason theology in the most general sense is also considered “apologetics,” that is, it is a defense of what is taken to be a certain truth and what that truth entails. A classic example of how theology is apologetics is St. Augustine's The City of God against the Pagans (413–26), a book that elaborates an apologetics of the Christian faith against the imputation that Christians were to blame for the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 ad (see Augustine, Saint). Saint Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologica (1265–74) dispenses with the “against Pagans,” but it is nonetheless a compendium of all the possible objections and rebuttals that could have been brought against the Christian conception of God (see Aquinas, Saint Thomas). As such it is the most comprehensive apologetics ever written by a Christian theologian. From Augustine to twentieth-century theologians, apologetics has been the subtext of theological reflection. That all theology is always apologetics directs us to another fundamental aspect of theology, namely that all theology has ethical consequences. How faith is justified among a community of believers and before others entails how relationships internal and external to that community are established, preserved, nourished, and respected. Theology and ethics are intricately linked. If theology is “faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum)” as St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) put it, then all theology is also an ethics. To seek to understand one's faith is to seek to understand what is required of one with respect to God, and therefore with respect to other human beings. Theology aims to clarify a right relation to God so as to be in a right relation to other human beings and to creation. For this reason, theology has an eminently practical dimension. All religious beliefs imply certain ethical commitments.


  • twentieth century;
  • Aristotle;
  • Christianity;
  • Kant, Immanuel;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • cognitivism;
  • colonialism;
  • community;
  • poverty