Social transformation: The ecclesiology of Juan Luis Segundo

Patrick Francis Rice, Fordham University


The question of how the Church should relate to the temporal order continues to provoke new questions and stir controversy. Juan Luis Segundo believes that the Church has a vital role to play in God's design for the humanization of the whole creation. His methodology of the hermeneutical circle provides a framework for analyzing the location of the Church in society and it surfaces the changes needed in pastoral practices in order to make the ecclesial community a transformative force. In Segundo's approach, theological analysis relates to empirical realities and sociological conclusions provide the matter for theological reflection. Segundo criticizes any theology that refuses to use the contemporary social sciences, as well as any theology that rejects political commitment on the grounds of remaining impartial. To adopt a neutral attitude is to opt for the status quo. Human activity has immense value and the church has a vital role to play in fashioning a society according to the heart of God. It is only through concrete actions, programs and ideologies that faith can respond to human need. Universal concepts and generalized statements are inadequate. The impact of cultural, political and economic factors must be assessed and taken into account. Segundo argues that his concept of Church which was initiated prior to Vatican II resonates with the view of Church put forward in Gaudium et Spes. He contends that his ecclesiology is a development and application of the vision of Vatican II to the concrete reality of Latin America. In his book Theology and the Church: A Response to Cardinal Ratzinger and a Warning to the Whole Church, Segundo points out that currently there is an attempt by the Vatican and some Church leaders in Latin America to discredit Liberation Theology. The Uruguayan author rejects the Vatican criticism of his theology and argues that if his theological presuppositions are false so also is the vision of Vatican II. According to Segundo, Cardinal Ratzinger has in effect rejected the second Vatican Council with its openness to the world, to history and to ecumenism. It is clear that Segundo provides an ecclesiological vision grounded in a modern Christology that challenges us to read the signs of the times. He makes use of social science and invites us to create ideologies responsive to human need, that will result in transformation and social change. Segundo's concept of ecclesiology needs to be assessed by comparison with contemporary models of Church. An examination of the ecclesiology of Johannes Metz and Avery Dulles highlights the value of Segundo's contribution. His theological vision has profound implications for social ministry, evangelization, education, liturgy and pastoral care.

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Recommended Citation

Rice, Patrick Francis, "Social transformation: The ecclesiology of Juan Luis Segundo" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9542376.