What is praxis?

Reflection on Praxis: “Theology without action is the theology of demons.”

“What is praxis” is a question I often hear from students. During my career in technology, I taught a comparative religion class, usually at a community college, and I did this if I was based in Chicago, Silicon Valley, or Texas. I taught this class full-time before entering technology, and I found the community college environment much more engaging. Students were older, working during the day, and struggling to make ends meet.

Our discussions of Praxis in various religions came from the student’s hearts, guts, and daily lives. In many religions, Praxis involves taking action in life and is practiced especially concerning ascetics and liturgical life. Praxis is the basis of the understanding of faith and works in many religions of the East, including Eastern Christians. There is no separation. I often would mention in class the dictum of Maximus the Confessor: “Theology without action is the theology of demons.”

If we look at Eastern Christianity, we see more of the understanding that Jesus invites us to take action in his life. The Eastern lungs of Christianity require not just faith but the correct practice of faith understood by the followers of Jesus. We see less in the Western lung of Christianity for many decades, and my speculation is the West was more busy being an empire ruling the world rather than caring for the habitants of the world. Until the Industrial Revolution, Western Christianity started embracing Praxis’s importance.

In the context of Eastern Christianity, Praxis is not the opposite of theology in the sense of ‘theory and practice.’ Instead, it comprehends what all believers do is considered ‘living Orthodoxy.’

Praxis is strongly associated with worship and liturgy because what one does in one’s life, living the teachings of Jesus and the early followers of Jesus (Patristics), means giving “right glory” or “right worship,”

The two can’t be separated. We see this in the understanding of Richard Rohr and why he named his organization “Center for Action & Contemplation.” You can’t divorce the two.

In the West, with the Industrial Revolution, the writings of Kant, Marx, Leo XIII, and Joseph Cardijn, with the introduction of movements within the West to address the care of people, we see the introduction of “liberation theology” applying the Gospel to that Praxis understanding to guide and govern its daily lives.

Albert Nolan wrote a book called “Jesus Before Christianity” The updated version has a forward written by Helen Prejean. Albert writes in his book, “I did not write about Jesus’ prayer experience. I did write about Jesus, a unique experience of intimate closeness to God.” For Albert, the idea of what Praxis meant was living the intimate closeness to God. Albert was a colleague of Joseph Cardijn and others who sought and fought for justice in establishing the movements of Praxis. For Albert, his life work involved the role of Praxis and the struggle against apartheid in his home country.

More than ever, we need a strong sense of Praxis. If one has any doubts, watch the evening news.

I recommend reading two more books by Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom in 2006 and Hope in an Age of Despair: And Other Talks and Writings in 2009.

And as you read these, reflect on the words of Maximus the Confessor: “Theology without action is the theology of demons.”

Richard Pütz

José Comblin 1923-2023

Today is the centenary of the birth of French liberation theologian, missionary and JOC chaplain in Brazil, José Comblin.


Born in Belgium in 1923, Joseph Comblin was ordained to the priesthood in 1947.

In 1961, he published a famous book “Echec de l’Action catholique?” ( Failure of Catholic Action?), which was widely interpreted as a critique of the Cardijn movements.

Nevertheless, Comblin went to work first in Chile from 1962-65 and then to Brazil at the invitation of Dom Helder Camara.

He organised several campaigns of popular evangelisation in rural areas (which he described as “theology of the spade”) and participated in the creation of the first “base communities”. 

He also became a YCW chaplain in Campinas, Brazil.

His political activism and his publications provoked the irritation of the Brazilian and Chilean military regimes, which expelled him in 1972 and 1980 respectively.

Authorised to return to Brazil in 1980, he continued his mission of evangelization among the poor, while publishing numerous works, including Teologia da libertaç ão, teologia neoconservadora e teologia liberal (“Theology of liberation, neo- conservative and liberal theology”) in 1985.

José Comblin died on March 27, 2011 in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.


Jose Comblin (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Jose Combin (Encyclopedié Universalis)