The Cross and the Sickle

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An evaluation of the church's volatile relation with Marxism through the study of the controversy on Liberation theology

Submitted: August 12, 2013

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Submitted: August 12, 2013



An Evaluation

In the Quod Apostolici Muneris, Leo XIII called socialism as the “deadly plague that runs through the fibres of human society.”[1] The Pope’s bout with spectre that rises on the western world is the finest expression of the Church’s fight against Marxism which in every level of its thought should be and must be rejected. The message of Marx which reverberated through the Western and Eastern Europe found itself an enemy in the church. It was seen as the protector of the status quo of Imperialism, the height of capitalism’s development.

From the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, the cross and the sickle were common belligerents in the struggle of ideologies, between a materialist conception of human existence and a supernatural one. The left saw the Pope (or the Patriarch of Moscow) as the supernatural counterpart of the King which along with him should be deposed by the workers. The suppression of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia as well as the persecution of the Catholic Church during the Spanish Civil War demonstrates Marxism’s anger upon the church which it saw as the “Opium of the Masses.”

In these historical events following the rise of socialist nations to the downfall of the Soviet Union, there has been a volatile relationship between the cross and the sickle, arising in church scandals of doctrine and philosophy, leading to various decisions of the church that remain controversial. The silencing of Gustavo Guttierez and the still non-proclamation of Oscar Romero to sainthood only shows the church’s continuing struggle with communism and the leftist movements both European and South American. Cardinal Ratzinger’s notes on Liberation theology say:

Liberation theology is a phenomenon with an extraordinary number of layers. There is a whole spectrum from radically marxist positions, on the one hand, to the efforts which are being made within the framework of a correct and ecclesial theology, on the other hand, a theology which stresses the responsibility which Christians necessarily hear for the poor and oppressed.[2]


Ratzinger’s view on Liberation theology is based on a loose accusation by Liberation Theology’s detractors, stating its coalescing relation with Marxism. If we follow Ratzinger’s points on Liberation theology, liberation theology becomes a politico-theological movement in which economics and politics underlie the fundamental relations of human beings.

The whole mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is reduced to the unfolding of the historical process of liberation and class struggle. The hermeneutics of the gospel becomes centered on the liberating verses where Jesus promises salvation to the poor and difficulty for the rich. The kingdom is transformed from a heavenly banquet to the construction of the Marxist utopia. Hope therefore is related to revolution and praxis, without which the whole Christian message is nothing. The challenge to orthodoxy lies in Liberation theology’s heavy reliance on orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy; reason thunders out to demand the emancipation of the poor from the constrictive systems of modern society.

Society as understood by the Marxist could only lead to class struggles that to go against the tide of the struggle meant to protect the status quo. Years after the controversy on Liberation theology and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union, the hopes and dreams of the Marxist utopia descended down with the last stone of the Berlin Wall. Revolution, praxis and class struggle seems to be a distant memory of the past when ideologies divided the whole geo-political spectrum. Evaluating the post-Soviet theologico-philosohical milieu meant to go out of the boundaries of Marxist thought as well as the current controversies of the period leading to the events of 89.

The theological views of Ratzinger are still carried before and after his papacy; but with the advent of Francis’ radical papacy, the hope for a reconciliation for liberation theology could only be all the more possible. The church of the poor could only start from a radical critique of 21st century economic structures that are far from the Capital but still carry the same worker-bourgeois class reification.


[1] Quod Apostolici Muneris

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), “Liberation Theology”

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