Although he died in December 1968, at around the same time that Liberation Theology was coming into existence in an explicit way but before it would be widely known inside and outside of the North American academy, Thomas Merton anticipated similar strands of the Truth of Revelation, which forms the core of Liberation Theology. In his little book, Opening The Bible, Merton highlights the scriptural foundations for theology and action in the world. It is striking how prescient his thought is, how compatible it is with the work of the Latin American theologians at that time and afterward.
We must never overlook the fact that the message of the Bible is above all a message preached to the poor, the burdened, the oppressed, the underprivileged. There is no need to remind the reader ho Marx capitalized on the fact. But Marx assumed that the Bible was essentially a deliberate fraud on the part of a ruling class to deceive the poor and make them accept their lot by means of a mystification. This is not the place to spell out apologetic arguments against the Marxian contention that religion is the “opium of the people,” when in fact we are also aware that even the revolutionary eschatology of Marx himself can be shown to be largely based on a biblical pattern. For precisely one of the central messages of the Bible is that the ultimate meaning of [humanity’s] existence on earth is to be found in history, and that the human race is moving toward a final accounting in which history itself will see that the injustice of oppressors will be punished and those they oppressed will receive their just reward.
The Bible also points out that [humanity] is to act as God’s collaborator in setting up a definitive kingdom of justice and peace.
Here Merton anticipates the development of various forms of political theology — particularly that of the apocalyptic — and echoes some of his contemporaries in terms of the historicity of Christian theology, especially a theology of Revelation. It really makes me wonder where his thought would have gone if he lived another ten, twenty, thirty years or more.