Dorothee Soelle: Life and work
Imagier Publishing £12.50
Church Times Bookshop £11.25 (Use code
THE LIFE bit is easy: Dorothee Soelle, born in 1929, died in
2003 after devoting years to intense political activism and
theological engagement. Her context: the spectacular and tragic
events spanned by her lifetime. As a young woman studying theology,
philosophy, and literature in post-war Cologne, and subsequently
both in Germany and in New York, she was a product of her times.
This gave her a role that she seized and engaged with to the full.
Like Bonhoeffer, born 23 years before her, she has become the
closest thing the Protestant community has to a canonised
Interesting that a faith so firmly grounded in the triumph of
faith over works finds its ultimate justification in the testimony
of a life so dominated by works. Soelle dealt with this conundrum
by reminding people that "we stand under grace which demands a
complete change in pattern of faith-ful living."
Is this why appraising her work proves trickier, as there is so
much of it? Andrew Francis is a fan and knows his subject
backwards. He solves the problem of evaluating Soelle by breaking
down her written output title by title, and offering an appraisal
in terms of her own contention that "every theological statement
must be a political statement as well." Ironically, this means that
theology, too, has to make a difference - that is to say, it must
So there are chapters in this brief survey that dwell on
Soelle's books, and on the key theological themes that Francis
extrapolates from these. These include her Christology, sense of
discipleship, emerging eco-concerns, feminism, and, inevitably,
peace-making. Essentially, his book offers an analysis of her
written legacy which is unfailingly warm and insightful. Above all,
he understands that "feminism, mysticism, meditation and theology
were all subjects integral to Soelle's heart and mind, as vital to
her as life itself." If context is all, then she ably embraced and
interpreted her own.
But contexts change, and even saints can date.
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.