Author: Morrill, Bruce T
Date published: March 1, 2013
DOROTHEE SOELLE-MYSTIC AND REBEL: THE BIOGRAPHY. By Renate Wind. Translated from German and edited by Nancy Lukens and Martin Rumscheidt. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. Pp. xvii + 203. $25.
Such luminaries of political and liberation theology as Johannes Baptist Metz, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Gustavo Gutiérrez argued that an adequate theology must approach Christian faith as a praxis of mysticism and politics (or ethics). Their Protestant contemporary Dorothée Soelle, as the title of Wind's biography aptly indicates, was the very embodiment of such praxis. Soelle's theological writings pulse with the restless passion of her prayer life and wideranging political activism. W. poignantly portrays Soelle's agitation with her native post-war-then-cold-war Germany, the Christian churches, capitalist marketdriven society, and US domestic and foreign policy as a constant homelessness, ever bnnging the cry of the poor, including her own cry, to God.
Soelle longed for nome, for the sense of Heimat that alternately eluded or was denied her by academy, church, and country. From the start, the German church and academy scorned the young woman's refusal to submit to their elitist mores, as well as her narrative-and-literary-based theological method, with its pathos-laden insistence on a mutual deep need for love and deliverance on the part of both humanity and God. Late in life she wrote: "That humans love, protect, and save God sounds to most people like megalomania or even madness. But the madness of this love is exactly what mystics live on" (43). It is to Union Theological Seminary's great credit that they welcomed Soelle to their faculty in 1974. So well did she fit and contribute to the school's teaching ethos and midday worship, as well as flourish in the artistic offerings and ethnic diversity of New York City that, after her husband took a position at the University of Hanover, she continued on a half-year basis through 1985. Of course Soelle never allowed colleagues, students, and guests at Union to rest much in complacency of religion, class, nationality, etc.
The strength of this biography - of a "strong and fragile person" (106), as friends remember Soelle - lies in the extent and quality of interviews W. conducted with Soelle's friends, as well as in the inclusion of many of her poems, which allow the deceased to speak eloquently still about the events and people recounted in the chapters.
BRUCE T. MORRILL, S.J.
Vanderbilt University, Nashville