Posts Tagged Leonardo Boff

What type of Church has salvation? Leonardo Boff

What type of Church has salvation?

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


The core of the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth was not the Church, but the Kingdom of God: a utopia of total revolution/reconciliation of the whole of creation. This is so true that the Gospels, with the exception of St. Matthew, never speak of the Church, but always of the Kingdom. With the rejection of the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth, the Kingdom was also gone. Instead, the Church appeared as a community of those who gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus and kept His legacy, trying to live it throughout history.

From the beginning, a bifurcation was established: the bulk of the faithful took Christianity as a spiritual path, in

in the eastern church he is “St. Constantine”

dialogue with the cultural environment. Another, much smaller, group, under the control of the Emperor, took over the moral leadership of the severely decadent Roman Empire. In organizing the community of faith, this group copied the imperial juridical-political structures. This group, the hierarchy, structured itself as «sacred power» (sacred potestas). This was a very risky path, because if there is one thing that Jesus always rejected, it was power. To Him, the three expressions of power, as they appear in the temptation of the desert –prophetic, religious and political–, when they reflect domination rather than service, belong to the sphere of the diabolical. Nevertheless, this was the path followed by the Church -a hierarchical institution, modeled on an absolutist monarchy that refuses to allow the laity, the great majority of the faithful, to participate in that power. The Church thus comes down to us under a cloud of very deep distrust.

It so happens that love disappears when power predominates. In effect, the organizing principle of the hierarchical Church is bureaucratic, formal and often inflexible. In the hierarchical Church, everything has a price; nothing is either forgotten or forgiven. There is practically no space for mercy, or for a true understanding of the divorced and of the homo-affectionate. Its imposition of priestly celibacy, deeply-rooted anti-feminism, distrust of everything related to sexuality and pleasure, the cult for the personality of the pope, and its pretense of being the only true Church and the «unique guardian of the eternal, universal and immutable natural law established by God», brought it, in words of Benedict XVI, to «assume a directive function over the whole humanity». In 2000, then cardinal Ratzinger repeated in the document, Dominus Jesus, the medieval doctrine that «outside the Church there is no salvation» and that those who are outside «are in grave risk of damnation». This type of Church surely does not have salvation. It is slowly losing sustainability all over the world.

What would be a Church worthy of salvation? It would be one that humbly returns to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the simple and prophetic laborer, incarnated Son, imbued with the divine mission of announcing that God is here, with divine grace and mercy for all; a Church that recognizes other Churches as different expressions of the sacred inheritance of Jesus; that is open to dialogue with all religions and spiritual paths, seeing therein the action of the Spirit that always arrives before the missioner; one that is ready to learn from the accumulated wisdom of all of humanity; that renounces all power and spectacularizing of the faith, such that it is not a mere facade of a non-existent vitality; one that appears as «advocate and defender» of the oppressed of any class, that is willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom, as did her founder; where her pope would courageously renounce the pretense of juridical power over everyone and instead would be a symbol of reference and of unity of the Christian Proposal, with a pastoral mission of strengthening all in faith, hope and love.

Such a Church is in the range of our possibilities. We need only to immerse ourselves in the spirit of the Nazarene. Only then would it be the Church of humans, the Church of Jesus of Nazareth, of God, the corroboration of the truth of Jesus’ utopia of the Kingdom. It would be a place for realizing the Kingdom of the liberated, to which all of us are called.


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Sustainability: an attempt at defining it

 by Leonardo Boff

Sustainability: an attempt at defining it

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


There is a conflict these days among the different ways people understand sustainability. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the UNO is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability.) I will try to make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible:

Sustainability is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything.

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric, without consequences.

Leonardo Boff

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It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece? by Leonardo Boff

   It All Began in Greece. Will It All End in Greece?

                                             Leonardo Boff

                                    Earthcharter Commission


Our Western civilization, now globalized, has its historic origins, in ancient Greece, during the VI Century, before the current era. The world of myth and religion, which was then the organizing principle of society, collapsed. To bring order into that critical moment, over a period of about 50 years, one of the greatest intellectual creations of humanity took place. The era of critical reason appeared, expressed through philosophy, democracy, theater, poetry and aesthetics. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the sophists were paradigmatic figures who gave birth to the architecture of knowledge, underlying the paradigm of our civilization; there were Pericles, the governor at the head of the democracy; Phidias, of the elegant aesthetics; the great tragic writers, such as Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus; the Olympic Games, and other cultural manifestations, too numerous to list here.

The new paradigm is characterized by the predominance of a type of reason that omits any awareness of the Whole, any sense of the meaning of the unity of reality, that characterized the so-called pre-Socratic thinkers, founders of the original thinking. In this moment the famous dualisms were introduced: world/God, man/nature, reason/sensibility, theory/practice. Reason created metaphysics, that in Heidegger’s understanding objectifies everything, and sets itself as the holder of power over that object. The human being no longer felt he was part of nature, but placed himself above her, and subjected nature to his will.

This paradigm reached its highest expression one thousand years later, in the XVI century, with Descartes, Newton, Bacon and others, founders of the modern paradigm. The dualist and mechanical world view was consecrated by them: nature on one side and the human being on the other, prior to and above nature, as her “teacher and owner” (Descartes), the crown of creation in function of which everything exists. The ideal of boundless progress was developed, that assumes that progress can continue infinitely into the future. In recent decades, greed to accumulate transformed everything into merchandise, to be negotiated and consumed. We have forgotten that the goods and services of nature are for everyone and cannot be appropriated only by a few.

After four centuries of applying this metaphysics, this is, this way of being and seeing, we see that nature has paid a high price for this model of growth/development. We are now reaching the limits of her possibilities. The scientific-technological civilization has reached a point where it can destroy itself, profoundly degrading nature, eliminating a great part of the life-system and, eventually, eradicating the human species. It could result in an eco-social armagedon.

It all began in Greece thousands of years ago. And now it looks as though it all will end in Greece, one of the first victims of the economic horror, whose bankers, to salvage their profits, have pushed the entire society into desperation. It has reached Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. It could extend to Spain and France, and perhaps to the entire world order.

We are witnessing the agony of a millenarian paradigm that is apparently completing its historic trajectory. It can still be delayed for a few decades, in a moribund state that resists death, but the end is predictable. It cannot reproduce itself with its own resources. 

We must find another way of relating to nature, another form of production and consumption. It must develop an awareness of dependency with the community of life and of collective responsibility for our common future. If this change does not begin, we will be sentencing ourselves to extinction. Either we transform ourselves, or we will disappear.

I make my own the words of the economist-thinker Celso Furtado: «The people of my generation have shown that it is within the reach of human ingenuity to lead humanity to suicide. I hope the new generation shows that it is also within the reach of the human being to open a path to a world where compassion, happiness, beauty and solidarity prevail.» If, that is, we change paradigms.


Leonardo Boff


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“Only a God can Save us” – Leonardo Boff

“Only a God can Save us”

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


This phrase does not come from a pope, but from Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the most profound German philosophers of the XX century, in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, of September 23, 1966, but only published on May 31, 1976, a week after he died. Heidegger was always an attentive observer of the threatening destinies of our technological civilization. To him, technology, as an intervention in the natural dynamics of the world for human benefit, had penetrated our way of being in such a way that it had become second nature.

We cannot imagine ourselves today without the vast scientific-technological apparatus on which our civilization is based, but which is dominated by an opportunistic compulsion that translates into the formula: if we can do it, we must do it, without any ethical considerations. Weapons of mass destruction came from this attitude. They exist, so why not use them?

For the philosopher, such a technique, without conscience, is the clearest expression of our paradigm and mentality, both born at the dawn of modernity, in the XVI century, but whose roots already existed in classical Greek metaphysics. This mentality is guided by exploitation, by calculation, by mechanization and by efficiency, applied in all fields, but mainly in relation to nature. This understanding has so overtaken us that we consider technology to be a panacea for all our problems. Unconsciously we define ourselves in opposition to nature, which must be dominated and exploited. We, ourselves, become objects of science, as our organs and even our genes are manipulated.

The divorce of human beings from nature is shown by the ever increasing environmental and social degradation. The maintenance and acceleration of the technological process, according to the philosopher, can lead us to eventual self-destruction. The death machine was already built decades ago.

Ethical and religious calls, and, least of all, simple good will, are not enough for us to escape this situation. It is a metaphysical problem, that is, of a way of seeing and thinking about reality. We are on a fast moving train; headed towards an encounter with the abyss ahead, and we do not know how to stop it. What can we do? That is the question.

If we wanted, we could find a different mentality in our cultural tradition, in the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus, among others, who still recognized the organic connection between human beings and nature, between the divine and the earthly, and nourished a sense of belonging to a main Whole. Knowledge was not placed at the service of power, but of life, and of the contemplation of the mystery of being. Or, it could be found in all the contemporary reflections about the new cosmological-ecological paradigm, that see the unity and complexity of the sole and great process of evolution, from which all beings emerge and are interdependent. But this path is forbidden to us by the excess of techno-science, of calculating rationality, and by the immense economic interests of the great consortiums that live off the present status quo.

Where are we headed? It was in this context that Heidegger pronounced this famous and prophetic sentence: «Philosophy cannot directly provoke a change of the present situation of the world. And this is not true only for philosophy but also for all activity of human thought. Only a God can still save us (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten). The sole possibility we have, in thought and poetry, is to prepare our availability for the appearance of that God or for the absence of God in sunset times (Untergrund); given that we, if God is absent, will disappear.» 

What Heidegger affirmed is also being forcefully expressed by notable thinkers, scientists and ecologists. Either we change our ways, or our civilization endangers its own future. Our attitude is one of openness to an advent of God, that powerful and loving energy that sustains every being and the whole universe. That God can save us. This attitude is well represented by the openness of poetry and free thinkers. And since God, according to Scriptures, is «the supreme lover of life» (Sabiduría 11,24), we hope that God will not allow a tragic end for the human being. Humans exist to shine, to live in harmony and to be happy.


Leonardo Boff

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Judgment Day For Our Culture? Leonardo Boff

Judgment Day For Our Culture?

Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission


The end of the year offers a chance to make an accounting of our human situation on this planet. What can we hope for and what way will history go? Those are worrisome questions, because the global landscape is somber. A crisis of structural magnitude lurks in the heart of the dominant economic-social system (Europe and United States), with repercussions for the rest of the world. The Bible has a recurrent theme in the prophetic tradition: judgment day is near. It is the day of revelation: the truth comes out, and our mistakes and sins are revealed as enemies of life. Great historians like Toynbee and von Ranke also speak of judgment of entire cultures. I believe we really are faced with a global judgment of our way of living on the Earth, and of the relationship we maintain with her.

Considering the situation at a deeper level, one that looks beyond the economic analysis prevailing with governments, businesses, world forums, and the media, we can see with ever more clarity the contradiction that exists between the logic of our modern culture, with its political economics, individualism and consumerism, and the logic of the natural processes of our living planet, the Earth. They are incompatible. The first is competitive, the latter, cooperative. The first is exclusive, the latter, inclusive. The first puts its principal value on the individual, the latter, on the good of all. The first gives centrality to merchandise, the latter, to life in all its forms. If we do not do something, this incompatibility could lead us to a very severe impasse.

This incompatibility is aggravated by the premises underlying our social process: that we can grow without limits, that the resources are inexhaustible and that material and individual prosperity bring us the happiness that we so desire. These premises are illusory: resources are limited and a finite Earth cannot sustain infinite development. Prosperity and individualism are not bringing us happiness, but great loneliness, depression, violence and suicide.

There are two problems that interact, and could cause upheavals in the future: global warming and human overpopulation. Global warming is a term that encompasses the impact our civilization has on nature, threatening the sustainability of life and the Earth. The result is the annual emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times more destructive than the former. The accelerating thawing of the frozen soil of the Siberian tundra (the permafrost), will create in the coming decades the danger of an abrupt warming of 4 to 5 degrees centigrade, that could devastate great portions of life on Earth. The increase in human population causes more goods and natural services to be exploited, more energy used, and more greenhouse gasses to be expelled into the atmosphere.

The strategies for controlling this threatening situation are largely ignored by governments and decision-makers. Our deeply rooted individualism has precluded a consensus from being reached in UN gatherings. Each country sees only its own interests, and is blind to the collective interest and the planet as a whole. And this way we are recklessly approaching an abysm.

But the mother of all the above-mentioned distortions is our anthropocentrism, the conviction that we human beings are the center of everything, and that everything has been created for us alone, losing sight of our dependency on everything around us. That is the source of our destructiveness, that causes us to devastate nature to satisfy our desires.

Some humility and perspective is urgently needed. The universe is 13.7 billion years old; the Earth, 4.45 billion; life, 3.8 billion; human life, 5-7 million; and the homo sapiens, some 130-140,000 years. Consequently, we were born only “few minutes” ago, the fruit of all the previous history. And from sapiens we are going to demens, threatening our companions in the community of life.

We have reached the apex of the process of evolution, not to destroy, but to guard and care for this sacred legacy. Only then will judgment day reveal our true identity and our mission here on Earth.


Leonardo Boff

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Facing loss and nourishing resilience – Leonardo Boff

Facing loss and nourishing resilience, that is, learning from crises, is a great personal challenge

Leonardo Boff’s weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We are all subject to the iron law of entropy: everything is decaying slowly, the body weakens, the years leave their marks, disease takes away our vital capital uncontrollably. That is the law of life, which includes death.

But there are cracks that break the natural flow. They’re the losses caused by traumatic events like the betrayal of a friend, job loss, loss of a loved one through divorce or sudden death. Tragedy is also a part of life.

Facing loss and nourishing resilience, that is, learning from crises, is a great personal challenge. The experience of mourning is especially painful, as it shows the full weight of the Negative. Mourning has one intrinsic requirement: it demands to be suffered through, and overcome positively.

There are many specialized studies on grief. According to the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, experiencing and overcoming it involves several stages.

The first is denial: Faced with the paralyzing fact, the person naturally exclaims, “it can’t be,” “it’s a lie.” Disconsolate wailing erupts that no words can contain.

The second stage is anger that is expressed: “Why precisely to me? What happened isn’t fair.” It’s the moment the person perceives the uncontrollable limits of life and doesn’t want to acknowledge them. It’s common for him to blame himself for the loss, for not having done or for having stopped doing what should have been done.

The third stage is characterized by depression and existential void. We shut ourselves up in our own capsule and pity ourselves. We are reluctant to get back on our feet. Here, every warm hug and word of consolation, though it sounds conventional, gains unexpected meaning. It’s the longing of the soul to hear that there is meaning and that the guidestars were only obscured but haven’t disappeared.

The fourth is the self-empowerment through a sort of negotiation with the pain of loss: “I can’t succumb or sink completely, I have to bear this rending to raise my family or get a degree.” In the middle of the dark night, a point of light announces itself.

The fifth is resigned and calm acceptance of the inescapable fact. We have finally incorporated that scarring wound into our existential journey. Nobody leaves mourning the same as when they go into it. The person forcibly matures and finds that loss is not necessarily total, but always brings an existential gain.

Mourning is a painful journey, so it has to be cared for. Allow me an autobiographical example that better clarifies the need to take care of mourning. In 1981, I lost a sister with whom I had a special affinity. She was the last of the sisters of the 11 siblings. When she was a teacher, at 10 o’clock one morning, in front of the students, she gave a huge cry and fell dead. Mysteriously, at age 33, the aorta had torn.

Our whole family, who came from various parts of the country, was disoriented by the fatal shock. We wept copious tears. We spent two days looking at pictures and remembering, sorrowfully, the events in the life of the beloved little sister. The others could take care of mourning and loss. I had to leave shortly afterwards to go to Chile, where I had to give lectures to all the friars of the Southern Cone. I left brokenhearted. Each talk was an exercise in getting beyond myself. From Chile, I went to Italy where I gave talks on the renewal of religious life for an entire order.

The loss of my dear sister tormented me as something unbearably absurd. I started to faint two or three times a day with no evident physical reason. They had to take me to the doctor. I told him the drama that was going on. He understood it all intuitively and said, “you still haven’t buried your sister and you haven’t kept the necessary mourning period. Until you take care of your grief and bury her, you aren’t going to get better. Part of you died with her and needs to be resurrected.” I canceled all the remaining programs. In silence and prayer, I took care of mourning. When I got back, in a restaurant, as we remembered our dear sister, my theologian brother Clodovis and I wrote on a paper napkin what we then put in the memento book to her blessed memory:

“For thirty-three years, like those of Jesus / Years of hard work and suffering / but also much fruit / Claudia bore the pain of others / In her own heart, as rescue / She was clear as the mountain stream / Kind and gentle as the flower of the field / She wove, stitch by stitch, and in silence / A beautiful brocade / She left two strong and beautiful little ones / And a husband proud of her / Happy are you, Claudia, for the Lord on His return / Found you standing, working / Lamp lit / And you fell into His lap / For the infinite embrace of Peace.”

Among her papers we found this sentence: “There is always a sense of God in all human events — it’s important to discover it.” Until today we go on looking for that sense that we can only glimpse through faith.

Reprinted from Leonardo Boff’s weekly column (Sept. 30/11).

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To Awaken the Shaman Dimension

06/12/2011   by Leonardo Boff

The concept of sustainability, considered in its widest sense and not reduced just to development, embraces all actions focused on maintaining the existence of other beings, because they have the right to coexist with us. And only starting from this premise of coexistence do we utilize, with sobriety and respect, a part of them to satisfy our needs, while also preserving them for future generations.

The universe also fits within this concept. From the new cosmology, we now know that we are made of the dust of stars and that passing through us is the mysterious Basic Energy that nourishes everything and which unfolds into the four forces –gravitational, electromagnetic, nuclear strong and weak– that, by always acting together, maintain us as we are.

As conscious and intelligent beings, we have our place and our function within the cosmologic process. Although we are not the center of everything, we certainly are one of those forward points through which the universe turns into itself, that is to say, the universe becomes conscious. The weak anthropological principle allows us say that, for us to be what we are, all the energies and processes of evolution had to organize themselves in such an articulated and subtle manner that our appearance was possible. Otherwise, I would not be writing here.

Through us, the universe and the Earth look at and contemplate themselves. The capacity to see appeared 600 million years ago. Until then, the Earth was blind. The profound and starry sky, the Iguaçu Falls, where I am now, the green of the nearby jungles, could not be seen. Through our sight, the Earth and the universe can see all of this indescribable beauty.

The original peoples, from the Andean to the samis of the Arctic, felt one with the universe, as brothers and sisters of the stars, making a great cosmic family. We have lost that feeling of mutual belonging. They felt that the cosmic forces balanced the paths of all beings and acted within them. To live in consonance with these fundamental energies was to have a sustainable life, filled with meaning.

We know from quantum physics that consciousness and the material world are connected and that the manner a scientist chooses to make his observation affects the observed object. Observer and observed object are inseparably linked. Hence the inclusion of consciousness in scientific theories and in the very cosmic reality is a fact that has already been assimilated by a large part of the scientific community. We form, in effect, a complex and diversified whole.

The figures of the shamans are well- known. They were always present in the ancient world and are now retuning with renewed vigor, as quantum physicist P. Drouot has shown in his book, The shaman, the physicist and the mystic (El chamán, el físico y el místico, Vergara, 2001) for which I was honored to prepare a prologue. The shaman lives a singular state of consciousness that allows him to enter into intimate contact with the cosmic energies. The shaman understands the call of the mountains, the lakes, the woods and the jungles, the call of the animals and of human beings. The shaman knows how to direct such energies towards healing ends and to harmonize them with the whole.

Inside each of us lies the shaman dimension. That shaman energy causes us to stand speechless in the face of the immensity of the sea, to sense the eyes of another person, to be entranced on seeing a newborn child. We need to liberate the shaman dimension within us, so as to enter into harmony with all around us, and to feel at peace.

Could not our desire to travel with the spacecrafts in cosmic space perhaps be the archetypical desire to search for our stellar origins, and the desire to return to our place of birth? Several astronauts have expressed similar ideas. This unstoppable search for equilibrium with the entire universe and to feel that we are part of the universe pertains to the intelligible notion of sustainability.

Sustainability includes valuation of this human and spiritual capital. Its effect is to generate within us respect, and a sense of sacredness, before all realities, values that nourish the profound ecology and which help us to respect and live in symbiosis with Mother Earth. This attitude is urgently needed, to moderate the destructive forces that have overtaken us in recent decades.

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