Dorothee Soelle: Mystic and Rebel

Renate Wind, Fortress (2012), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Soelle (1929-2003) was a prolific theological writer (25 books in English translation), rethinking Christian convictions in light of WWII and the Holocaust.  She organized ‘evening prayers’ from 1968-1972 as discussion groups held in the Cologne’s St.  Anthony’s Church, fostering critical thinking.  The over 1000 participants found that ‘dealing with theological issues necessarily leads into political engagement’ (p 57); issues such as the Vietnam War, the arms race and especially the rearmament of Germany, third world development, and women’s roles were central to discussion.  Her doctorate centred on the relation of theology and poetry and made her a popular speaker; her outspoken opinions resulted in both state and church refusing to grant academic employment.  (Some of her statements:  ‘Every theological statement must be a political statement as well.’ ‘The Third World is a permanent Auschwitz.’)  1975 – l987 saw her engaged six months out of the year as successor to Paul Tillich at Union Theological Seminary, New York (the other six months were spent with her husband in Germany).

Wind’s book is a moving overview of Soelle’s life and writing, carefully augments and illustrated by Soelle’s poetry.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.