Issue Date: February 8, 2008
Shaping the moral landscape
Orbis Books is the book publishing arm of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Founded in 1970 by Nicaraguan Maryknoll priest Miguel DEscoto with Philip J. Scharper as its first editor in chief, its initial aim was to amplify theological voices from the Third World. It was in this role, as the primary publisher of liberation theology, that it earned its reputation.
Orbis quickly shaped the theological landscape, bringing to the
attention of North American Catholics the revolutionary thoughts of Catholic
theologians in Latin America, theologians who had taken their lead from the
church reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and a fresh,
justice-oriented interpretation of the Gospels. One of the earliest and most
widely read books on liberation theology was published in English by Orbis. The
work was A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation by
Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian often called the father of
In addition to South American theologians, other prominent Third World writers were being published by Orbis. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then an obscure Haitian priest, was one. Aristide was later elected president of Haiti, only to be overthrown in a military coup.
Ellsberg remembers getting up at dawn one morning to watch a television report of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist, being released from prison. Ellsberg recognized two Orbis authors, Allan Boesak and Frank Chikane, both South African clergymen and activists, at Mandelas side. It was a time when there seemed to be a direct link between Orbis Books publishing and the unfolding of great historical dramas.
Orbis, like the church and wider world, has shifted its focus in recent years. Orbis has retained its emphasis on Catholic social teaching, while expanding its publishing efforts into such areas as ecology, feminist ethics, Byzantine spirituality, Zen Buddhism, African religions and Asian spirituality. The challenge has been how to remain faithful to our original mission while continuing to respond to new questions, new challenges, said Ellsberg, who marked his 20th anniversary as Orbis editor in 2007.
-- Tom Fox
National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2008
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