Leonardo Boff

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Leonardo Boff 2003

Leonardo Boff (born December 14, 1938 in Concordia , Santa Catarina ) is a Brazilian Catholic theologian . He is one of the main proponents of liberation theology and tries to commit his church to the defense of human rights for the poor .


Origin and academic background

As the son of Italian immigrants, Boff attended school in Concordia, then in Rio Negro ( Paraná ) and in Agudos ( São Paulo ). In 1959 he joined the Franciscan order .

He studied philosophy in Curitiba and theology in Petrópolis ( Rio de Janeiro ) with Bonaventura Kloppenburg , Konstantin Koser and Paulo Evaristo Arns . In 1964, Boff was ordained a priest . He then did guest studies at the Universities of Würzburg, Louvain and Oxford and from 1965 to 1970 continued studying with Karl Rahner at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich . There he received his doctorate in dogmatics under Leo Scheffczyk in 1970 ; the second reviewer of the work was Joseph Ratzinger . After returning to Brazil, Boff succeeded Bonaventura Kloppenburg in 1970 as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Philosophical-Theological College ( Instituto Teológico Franciscano ) in Petrópolis (until 1991). In addition, he was in charge of religion and theology at Vozes , the largest Catholic publisher in Latin America, which also published many of his books. At the same time he was editor of the theological journal Revista Eclesiástica Brasileira .

Disputes with the official church

In 1985 the Vatican issued a one-year ban on speaking and teaching (see below), which made him famous around the world. He used the penance of silence imposed on him to write further books that carried out his Christology , ecclesiology and doctrine of the sacraments.

In 1987, after a trip to the Soviet Union, Boff praised that socialism there guaranteed “better conditions for a truly Christian life” than in the capitalist countries.

After Boff continued to deal with celibacy, the exercise of power by the Roman Curia and the theological incompetence of some Brazilian bishops in various articles in the Revista Vozes , he was punished again in 1991 with disciplinary punishment. After an intervention by Cardinal Ratzinger and the Bishop of Petrópolis, José Fernandes Veloso, he had to resign from the leadership of the Catholic newspaper Revista Vozes and leave his residence in Petrópolis. In September 1991, Boff announced that he would stop fighting the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. In June 1992 he finally resigned from the Franciscan order and was promoted to the laity.

After the resignation of the priesthood

After giving up his priesthood , in 1992 he took over a specially created chair for ethics and spirituality at the State University in Rio de Janeiro . He now devoted himself increasingly to his activities as a theologian, author and leading associations and social movements. Among other things, he extended liberation theology to include ecological issues in order to develop it further into a “theology of life”.

Boff, who speaks fluent German , has also taken on numerous visiting professorships, including a. at the Universities of Lisbon (Portugal), Salamanca (Spain), Harvard (USA), Basel (Switzerland) and Heidelberg (Germany). He appeared as a book author and editor of theological journals and was a member of the theological commission of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference , the Conference of Religious in Brazil and the Latin American Conference of Religious. He received numerous honorary degrees in the course of his academic career.

In 2001 he received the Right Livelihood Award with three other awardees . He wrote more than 60 books in the field of theology, philosophy, anthropology and mysticism , including an independent ecological “global ethic”, a humorous explanation of the sacraments, books on the “logic of the heart” and “compassion” as central starting points for socialist engagement . Today he no longer speaks of "liberation", but of "protection of life" for the "excluded" and points to the current reality of his country: There, a third of the population - 50 million people alone - receive no state aid against crime, starvation and Unemployment.

In the ecological reserve Jardim Araras near Petrópolis he lives with the human rights activist Marcia Maria Monteiro de Miranda and their six children from their first marriage.

The "Fall Boff"

After Boff had been under observation by the Vatican since 1971 because of his "heresy", the publication of Kirche: Charisma und Macht (1981; German 1985) led to an open conflict with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . In the work, which was subtitled "A militant ecclesiology " and was a collection of several earlier writings, Boff et al. a. against hierarchical and undemocratic church structures and called for a revolutionary church that clearly stood on the side of the oppressed class. The publication led to the "Boff case" (see literature): His second doctoral supervisor, the Franciscan Bonaventure Kloppenburg, publicly accused him of heresy . When Boff wrote to Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking for advice, he received a summons to Rome in May 1984 . The secret conversation with the Curia took place in September . Although Boff appeared to have been rehabilitated afterwards, on May 9, 1985 the congregation imposed a ban on speaking and teaching ("penitential silence") for one year. In 1986 he got his teaching permit back one month before the deadline.

The core of the conflict between Boff and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not - as with other liberation theologians - the accusation of Marxism in Christian camouflage: rather the theological statements in his book were at the center of the Vatican criticism. For he had placed the “true church” of the Holy Spirit against the “false” church institution with its claims to power over the believers and explicitly referred to the Reformation . He criticized dogmatic sacramentalism and contrasted it with the living, procedural church of the poor: In it - specifically in the form of more than 100,000 basic congregations in Brazil alone - he found the real "sacrament of the Holy Spirit" with the "charism" as the "organizational principle" (Chapter headings).

Ratzinger's summons already named the points of conflict: He accused Boff of that

  • Jesus Christ had not ordered a specific church form for him, so that other than the Catholic church model based on the Gospel would be conceivable,
  • Revelation and dogma only played a subordinate role for him, so that there was insufficient protection against heretical distortion of the Christian faith (Boff had even praised the liberating elements of the “ syncretism ” of popular piety in one chapter );
  • Boff described the historical abuse of power by the church institution in an unnecessarily polemical and disrespectful manner, thereby damaging church unity.

After his justification to the Curia, Boff declared that he had recognized dogma as protection from heresy; however, it is the living Holy Spirit himself who protects the church from heretical torpor in "timeless truths". The timeless conception of dogma can only lead to the loss of faith. Boff continued to sharply criticize the social function of the church hierarchy and accused her of “religious exploitation” of the poor people's hopes. Forgiveness offered “from above” shows a paternalistic understanding of the sacrament: “The Church of the Rich for the Poor denies the power of the people to free themselves.” The Curia refuses to enter into dialogue with the people themselves; European theologians could not understand the real faith experience of the poor in the slums. Their dominance can only lead to further marginalization of the poor, political concentration of power and ecclesiastical and institutional hubris . In contrast, he wanted to establish the power of the church in the “service” of the living, changing church of the poor, who share their lives with the people and reduce privileges.



  • "If we don't change, we'll die out like dinosaurs."
  • "In a few years we will all be socialists - either we share what little we have or there will be nothing for anyone."
  • "Today new pastors are trained entirely in the Vatican mentality - turned inward, with no interest in social issues."
  • "You are not poor, you are made poor."

See also

Works (selection)

  • The church as a sacrament in the horizon of world experience: attempt to legitimize and lay the foundations of the church on a structural and functional basis following the Second Vatican Council (= denominational and controversial theological studies , volume 28), Bonifacius-Druckerei, Paderborn 1972, ISBN 3-87088-063 -5 .
  • The rediscovery of the church: base communities in Latin America (=  Grünewald series ). Grünewald, Mainz 1980, ISBN 3-7867-0802-9 (Original title: Eclesiogênese . Translated by Horst Goldstein).
  • What comes after. Life after death. Müller, Salzburg 1982, ISBN 3-7013-0646-X .
  • Church - Power and Charisma. Patmos, Düsseldorf 1986, ISBN 3-491-77293-1 .
  • The Boff case. A documentation. Patmos, Düsseldorf 1988, ISBN 3-491-77640-6 .
  • Jesus Christ, the deliverer. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1989, ISBN 3-451-20719-2 .
  • Little doctrine of the Trinity. Patmos, Düsseldorf 1990, ISBN 978-3-491-77788-0 .
  • Our home the earth. Hear the cry of the oppressed. Patmos, Düsseldorf 1996, ISBN 3-491-77984-7 .
  • The logic of the heart. Paths to New Mindfulness. Patmos, Düsseldorf 1999, ISBN 3-491-72422-8 .
  • Cry of the earth, cry of the poor. Patmos, Düsseldorf 2002, ISBN 3-491-70354-9 .
  • Little doctrine of the sacraments. Patmos, Düsseldorf 2003, ISBN 3-491-77054-8 .
  • House made of heaven and earth - tales of the Brazilian indigenous people. Patmos, Düsseldorf 2003, ISBN 3-491-45015-2 .
  • Experience God. The transparency of all things. Patmos, Düsseldorf 2004, ISBN 3-491-70374-3 .
  • The lord is my shepherd. Psalm 23 interpreted by LB Patmos, Düsseldorf 2005, ISBN 3-491-70388-3 .
  • Fundamentalism and terrorism . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-525-56443-1 .
  • Virtues for a better world. Butzon & Bercker, Kevelaer 2009, ISBN 978-3-7666-1285-4 .
  • The earth is entrusted to us. Butzon & Bercker, Kevelaer 2010, ISBN 978-3-7666-1355-4 .
  • Future for mother earth. Why we must abdicate as the crown of creation. Preface Heiner Geißler . Claudius, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-532-62427-2 .
  • Mindfulness. The need to change our attitudes. Claudius, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-532-62432-6 .
  • The Holy Spirit: fire of God - source of life - father of the poor. (Original title: O Espírito Santo , translated by Bruno Kern). Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2014, ISBN 978-3-451-33339-2 .
  • Free the earth! A theology for creation . kbw, Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-460-32136-6 (Original title: Liberare la terra . Translated by Gabriele Stein).


  • Gottlieb Matejka: On the world situation of political theology with special consideration of Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutiérrez , dissertation at the University of Vienna 1986.
  • Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger , Leonardo Boff: Documents of a conflict over the theology of liberation. The book “Church: Charisma and Power” in discussion. 2nd Edition. Publik-Forum Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-88095-013-X (= Publik-Forum-Documentation ; full text ).
  • Claus Schwambach: Justification events and liberation process. The eschatologies of Martin Luther and Leonardo Boff in a critical discussion. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996, ISBN 3-525-56239-X (= research on systematic and ecumenical theology 101).

Web links

Commons : Leonardo Boff  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from dpa report from August 12, 1987, printed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 13, 1987, p. 3: Boff praises the living conditions of Christians in the Soviet Union
  2. El País : El Vaticano condena al teólogo Boff al "silencio voluntario" , May 10, 1985
  3. Der Spiegel : He is the Counter-Reformation in Person , May 13, 1985
  4. ^ A b Gerhard Dilger: World Social Forum in the Sign of the Economic Crisis. In: The Standard. January 27, 2009, accessed January 30, 2009 .
  5. Stern No. 30/2008 of July 27, 2008, p. 154
  6. Interview Frankfurter Rundschau, December 27, 2016