Boff, Leonardo (1938–)

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Boff, Leonardo (1938–)

Leonardo Boff (b. 14 December 1938), Brazilian theologian. A Franciscan priest born in Concordia, Brazil, Boff is arguably Brazil's best-known theologian and is one of the world's foremost liberation theologians. He studied theology in Brazil and Germany, where he did his doctoral work, and was ordained in 1964. His book Jesus Christ, Liberator, which portrayed Christ as a liberator of the poor, brought him international visibility and acclaim after its publication in 1972 (English trans. 1978). Since then, Boff has published scores of books that deal with a wide range of themes. In 1972 he was named editor of Brazil's foremost theological journal, the Revista eclesiá stica brasileira.

In the late 1970s, as Brazil's military regime began to show signs of unraveling and as the opposition conquered new spaces for contestation, Boff became more involved in writing about explicitly political themes. He expressed his support for the leftist Workers' Party and, in the mid-1980s, declared his admiration for the Soviet Union.

In the mid-1970s, the Vatican began investigating Boff's work on the grounds that it strayed too far from Catholic orthodoxy. Boff's life after the publication of Church: Charisma and Power (1981; English trans. 1985) was marked by increasing controversy as his work came under attack by conservative theologians and clerics. Calling for a church born from the faith of the poor, Boff's book criticized the Catholic church for being authoritarian and excessively concerned with power. Conservatives counterargued that Boff was unduly critical of the institution, and that the pope and bishops must assume responsibility for leadership in the church. In this view, popular religion therefore holds no special claim to truth in the church.

In September 1984, Boff went to Rome to defend his writings. After several months of deliberation, the Vatican formally criticized Boff's work in May 1985, imposing a silence that was lifted the following year. Because Boff was so prominent, this sanction was broadly perceived as an attack upon the liberation theology movement. In May 1991, Boff was again sanctioned by the Vatican, which required him to resign as editor of the Revista Eclesiástica Brasileira and ordered him not to publish any works for a year. In 1992, Rome tried to silence him again, by preventing him from participating in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that year. In response, he abandoned the priesthood and the Franciscan order.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Modern Period .


Luis Marcos Sander, Jesus, o Libertador: A Cristologia da libertação de Leonardo Boff (1986).

Harvey Cox, The Silencing of Leonardo Boff: The Vatican and the Future of World Christianity (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Boff, Leonardo. The Lord Is My Shepherd: Divine Consolation in Times of Abandonment. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006.

Boff, Leonardo. Experimentar a Dios: La transperencia de todas las cosas. Santander: Sal Terre, 2003.

Cadorette, Curt. Liberation Theology: An Introductory Reader. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2004.

Chauí, Marilena de Souza, and Juárez Guimarães. Leituras da crise: Diálogos sobre o PT, a democracía brasileira e o socialismo. São Paulo: Editora Fundacão Perseu Abramo, 2006.

                                Scott Mainwaring