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Back to 2019-09-30-Opinión-TEO-Prosperidad y fe cristiana

Ramiro Pellitero Iglesias, Professor of Theology, University of Navarra, Spain School

Prosperity and Christian faith

Fri, 04 Oct 2019 12:37:00 +0000 Posted in Church and evangelization

On several occasions Pope Francis has referred to a current current of thought, which has arisen in fundamentalist Christian environments and is very widespread today due to media support. It is the so-called "prosperity theology". It holds the conviction that God wants Christians to have above all a prosperous life, to be rich, healthy and happy. According to this, prosperity should be at the center of a prayer that is addressed to God as the one who makes the thoughts and desires of the pray-er come true.

            It has been observed that "the danger of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which places man and his well-being at the center, is to transform God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian and eminently sensationalist and pragmatic phenomenon" [1].[1].

Characteristically, it is pointed out that in these approaches "there is no compassion for people who are not prosperous, because, clearly, they have not followed the 'rules' and, therefore, live in failure and, consequently, are not loved by God."[2].

And in this way, central themes such as God's covenant with the people of the Old Testament or the divine filiation as the central doctrine of Christianity are approached. Everything is reinterpreted in the sense of material, physical and spiritual prosperity.

In this perspective, faith would be seen as a merit for climbing the social ladder. While the poor feel guilty for two reasons: "on the one hand, he considers that his faith is not enough to move the provident hands of God; and, on the other hand, his status of misery is a divine imposition, an inexorable punishment accepted with submission."[3].

As a result of this way of thinking -which reaches millions of people through its preachers on television, Internet and social networks-, individualism is increased, solidarity is diminished and a certain miraculous attitude is fostered: it is thought that wealth would be related to "faith" staff; but this does not influence the attempt to overcome real situations of poverty, as the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches.

            2. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has explained the Christian meaning of prosperity, warning of the possible influence of this "prosperity theology" in the Church.

In Brazil, in a speech to committee of CELAM coordination (28-VII-2013) he warned against the functionalism that would like to consecrate a certain "theology of prosperity" in the pastoral organization, entrusting everything to efficiency and success, to results and favorable statistics.

In South Korea in August 2014, he referred to the "temptation of prosperity" that can lead to a Church of the affluent or welfare, forgetful of the poor.

This concern of the Pope was also expressed in some of his homilies at Santa Marta. Salvation is not a "theology of prosperity," but a gift that comes from Jesus Christ; and the power of the Gospel is not that of maneuvering to do great enterprises but the power to expel impure spirits (cf. Homily 5-II-2015). It is a typical deception of a "theology of prosperity" to think that God makes you see that you are righteous and gives you plenty of riches. To the rich young man his riches did not serve him for good but became chains that prevented him from following Jesus (cf. Homily, 19-V-2016).

Francis has linked this mentality to a form of Pelagianism, that is, to the pretension of salvation by one's own strength, the adoration of one's own will and capacity, the self-centered complacency opposed to true love (cf. Exhort. Gaudete et exsultate, n. 57).

He has also posed it as a form of gnosticism, which seeks to control reality with one's own mind, to use religion for one's own benefit, at the service of psychological lucubrations. On the other hand, "God infinitely surpasses us, he is always a surprise and it is not we who decide in which historical circumstance to meet him, since it is not up to us to determine the time and place of meeting" (Ibid. 41).

            Joseph Ratzinger at plenary session of the Executive Council development of the Second Vatican Council warned against the advance of a "generalized secularism" (living as if God did not exist). At the same time he observed an excessive optimism on the part of Christians, based on the Incarnation of the Son of God, but forgetting the "realism of the Cross".

Certainly," he pointed out, "the Son of God has become flesh in this world; but this should not lead us to triumphalism or to the Pelagianism of thinking that salvation is achieved only by our efforts, by our human achievements. Christian love for the world is a love from the heart of Christ pierced for us on the Cross.[4].

Indeed, and the Council explained that Christ is risen and lives among us. That is why the Kingdom of God already exists, but not yet fully, but only in seed or in outline. The Church is the seed and instrument for the coming of the Kingdom of God.[5].

The human work contributes to provide as the "subject", as a sketch or "glimpse" of the Kingdom. But God alone will consummate his Kingdom at the end of history, assuming and at the same time illuminating and transfiguring all our efforts in unsuspected ways. For this reason, the Council affirmed that temporal progress "can contribute to the ordering of human society," so that progress "is of great interest to the kingdom of God." And at the same time, it stressed, "temporal progress and the growth of the kingdom of Christ must be carefully distinguished."[6].

At final, today it is necessary to explain the Christian meaning of love for the world, which has been created good by God and redeemed by Christ. It has been entrusted to us to transform it, collaborating in the sanctification of human activities, as a loving response to the action of the Holy Spirit and in the context of the mission statement of the Church.

In other words, the Christian loves the world because he loves Christ and the Church. It is that love that leads him to seek to improve this world and thus serve everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, working well, with honesty and skill and at the same time in the spirit of the Beatitudes and the works of mercy. That is progress and that is prosperity in a Christian perspective.

According to the needs of each era, evangelization requires certain emphases. Today it implies, among others, the training in the Christian experience (prayer, sacraments, participation in the living community that is the Church, through the parish, movements or other Christian communities), the promotion of popular piety (and eventually its purification), as well as the Education of faith in what refers to the Christian proposal of salvation. This proposal includes in turn the ordering of the world according to God - to work well and to work for love - and in order to eternal life, and the Social Doctrine of the Church.


[1] Cf. A. Spadaro and M. Figueroa, "The danger of a different Gospel," at, published on 18-VIII-2018. Authors and cultural roots of this approach are noted at article .
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Cf. J. Ratzinger, "Sentire ecclesiam" (text of 1963) in Obras completas VII/1: Sobre la teaching del Concilio Vaticano II, BAC, Madrid 2013, 269-276.
[5] Cf. Dogmatic Const. Lumen gentium, 5.
[6] Cf. past Const. Gaudium et spes, 39.