Dorothee Soelle felt that there is a clear danger evident in the history of Christianity of elevating Christ to a position of idolatry that she calls Christolatry.  She also offers the medicine for it—mysticism. 

A short exploration of Reiki, a hands-on form of energy healing received by a mystic seeking for the way Jesus healed. Lisa Biagetti.

She writes: The goal of the Christian religion is not the idolizing of Christ, not christolatry, but that we all “are in Christ,” as the mystical expression goes, that we have a part in the life of Christ.  

This part is to recognize our capacities for compassion and our vocations as healers ourselves.  Compassion is often born of one’s own wounds that allow us to recognize the wounds in others. 

This savior is a wounded healer, and he heals so that we may become as he is. Be as he is, laugh as he laughs, weep as he weeps. Heal the sick, even those who without knowing it have contracted the great neuroses of our society, who know no mercy within themselves and their children when they consent to the nuclear state and technologies inimical to life.

As part of an effort to oust transients from Bullhead City, AZ, 78-year-old grandmother Norma Thornton was arrested and criminally charged for feeding the homeless. Institute for Justice

What does it mean to practice compassion?  “To feed the hungry means to do away with militarism. To bless the children means to leave the trees standing for them.”

Soelle replaces idolatry that puts Christ on a pedestal with the mystical understanding to be “in Christ.”  Mysticism heals religion when religion wanders off target and becomes unbalanced and idolatrous.  As Carl Jung says, “only the mystics bring what is creative to religion itself.”

Soelle says that Christolatry is the opposite of mysticism or being “in Christ”and she invokes Soren Kierkegaard’s distinction between those who esteem Christ and those who follow him.

If I esteem him then I lift him ever higher and have nothing to do with him; I use my admiration to keep myself free of Christ…’Look and see,’ he says to me and shows how the lame begin to walk. He does not say, ‘close your eyes; I’ll do everything.’

Insurrectionist carrying poster with Jesus in a MAGA hat at the Capitol, 1/6/21. Photo by Tyler Merbler on Flickr.

Soelle warns what hagiography can do to us: We put people (Jesus included) on pedestals often to get them out of our hair so we don’t have to change our lives.  

Following Christ is very different from idolizing him. It is carrying on his work, since he cannot do everything.  We are encouraged to become adults spiritually and to develop our powers of creativity and compassion to make a difference. 


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 273.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: On a pedestal atop a mountain: “Christ the Redeemer” statue, Mount Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Yvon Maurice on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Have you come to learn the difference between esteeming Christ and following him?  What follows from that?  Do you wish everybody did?


Recommended Reading

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
“Our world is in crisis, and we need road maps that can ground us in wisdom, inspire us to action, and help us gather our talents in service of compassion and justice.  This revolutionary book does just that.  Matthew Fox takes some of the most profound spiritual teachings of the West and translates them into practical daily mediations.  Study and practice these teachings.  Take what’s in this book and teach it to the youth because the new generation cannot afford to suffer the spirit and ethical illiteracy of the past.” — Adam Bucko, spiritual activist and co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation for Homeless Youth.


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10 thoughts on “Dorothee Soelle: From Christolatry to Mysticism”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you begin by saying that Dorothee Soelle wrote: “The goal of the Christian religion is not the idolizing of Christ, not christolatry, but that we all ‘are in Christ,’ as the mystical expression goes, that we have a part in the life of Christ.” So you say, “This part is to recognize our capacities for compassion and our vocations as healers ourselves. Compassion is often born of one’s own wounds that allow us to recognize the wounds in others.” You say that “this savior is the wounded healer”–as John Henry Nouwen wrote in his book, The Wounded Healer, and just as the shaman is as well. Soelle replaces the idolatry that puts Christ on a pedestal with the mystical understanding to be “in Christ,” and she invokes Soren Kierkegaard’s distinction between those who esteem Christ and those who follow him. “If I esteem him then I lift him ever higher and have nothing to do with him; I use my admiration to keep myself free of Christ…’Look and see,’ he says to me and shows how the lame begin to walk. He does not say, ‘close your eyes; I’ll do everything.’” You ask us: “Have you come to learn the difference between esteeming Christ and following him?” Yes, and as a result I have stopped calling myself a Christian, and rather call myself a “follower of Christ.” Then you ask: “Do you wish everybody did?” Of course !!!

  2. Avatar

    Something written a few days back.
    The Call to Life is The Call to Discipleship”

    The only way to Life is through Life and that is the only Life. That is our only ‘call’ to answer, the one that moves us to finally travel through Life as we were meant to. There is no getting around ‘the call’, only procrastination and suffering to endure which goes beyond the suffering and any pain anticipated in answering the ‘call’.

    “To Answer the Call”
    The path to love will surely bring love will it not?
    The path to joy will surely bring joy will it not?
    The path to peace will surely bring peace will it not?
    Any path will surely bring death, but only one will bring forth Life.

    We are the wounded with broken hearts to heal.
    We are lost and now can be found on bended knee and arms extended.
    We have a smile that only our hearts can reveal.
    Life on earth can be heaven bound without the wait that many presume.
    Discipleship is in our blood and the glint in our eye is the Light You shine forth.
    The Spirit abounds within us, and we can ‘see’ the Glory and Honour of serving Thee.
    — BB.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Bill, Thank you for sharing with us your poem: “To Answer the Call,” because “The Call to Life is The Call to Discipleship.”

  3. Avatar

    To follow Christ is to be a temple, a vessel, a channel of love, compassion and mercy… to express the manifestation of the Holy Spirit of this in many diverse ways, which freely flows from within and through oneself and one’s life… just as Jesus exemplified in his life, through his relationships with all, including nature. Some know this as the wisdom heart pathway of the mystic… rooted in co-creative spirituality, the Oneing With the love, compassion and mercy of God, the essence and presence of the Holy Spirit of the Divine, dwelling incarnate within one’s humanity and one’s soul. The truth within this Cosmic Christ mystery, is that we are all mystics.

    Others, through greed for power, condemned this truth as heresy, lest it resurrect from within… which they established on the false edicts, doctrine and dogma of original sin… which the idea of was introduced by the Emperor Theodosius and sanctioned by Augustine; in order to oppress, suppress and control this inherent sacred mystical reality offered all; so that it be relegated and controlled by their heirarchal/patriarchal order of priests, cardinals, bishops and popes within their religious institutions only… deeming themselves as the sole heirs, worthy of such blessings of the Holy Spirit’s essence and presence. This model of authoritative absolutism is the reign of terror that has unfortunately unfolded within the history of the Christian religion to this day.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Today you mentioned in your comment that the: “doctrine and dogma of original sin… which the idea of was introduced by the Emperor Theodosius and sanctioned by Augustine”–I think it was the other way around–that original sin was introduced by Augustine and then was sanctioned by the pope and Honorius and Theodosius, the joint emperors. But that’s just “knit picking”–what you said in this is what really mattered to me: “To follow Christ is to be a temple, a vessel, a channel of love, compassion and mercy… to express the manifestation of the Holy Spirit of this in many diverse ways, which freely flows from within and through oneself and one’s life… just as Jesus exemplified in his life, through his relationships with all, including nature… The truth within this Cosmic Christ mystery, is that we are all mystics.” Thank you !!!

  4. Avatar

    Important DM Matthew because many Christians are guilty of putting Jesus on a pedestal since, as you explain, the Nicene Creed of the fourth century. The True Living Spirit of Christ within and among us, as experienced, lived, and taught by the mystics and saints of all genuine spiritual traditions around the world through human history, has been lost with severe and destructive/suffering consequences for humanity up to the present day. Instead of being aware that we’re All Divine Loving Beings and Sacred Children of our Source~Creator~Sustainer, egocentric and related toxic, unbalanced ‘male’ patriarchal values have separated us from this awareness/experience of this Loving Divine Presence within and among us, including Sacred Mother Nature and All Her graceful abundance and creatures… Cosmic Christ Sophia Consciousness is realization of our Loving co-Creative Evolving Oneness….
    ????

  5. Avatar

    One of the problems in admiring from afar, as in idolizing Jesus, as you point out, is absenting oneself from any responsibility to act for good in the world. It reminds me of the old saying, “Let George do it.” And this idolization tends to make a person focus on a ticket to heaven, an evacuation plan, and to expect the return of Christ to make things right. There is no real concern for neighbor or even for oneself, if a confession absolves one of all sin, at least for the week. There is no reason to do anything but follow the directions of whatever religious group one claims membership in. I again am grateful in not growing up with a static creed (later there was a lovely UCC creed but I have never been able to find it again) but rather with the idea of following the golden rule, the great commandment, the sermon on the mount. And, as we all know, that is not easy and carries a lot of risk, as in the grandmother being arrested for feeding homeless people. The only way that we can follow Christ effectively is to know that Christ is in us and gives us the strength to do so. IMO.

    As happens often, Matthew’s DM and Richard Rohr’s DM recently are complementary. I am most grateful for these modern mystics.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, I wanted to talk about two things you commented on today. The first was: “One of the problems in admiring from afar, as in idolizing Jesus, as you point out, is absenting oneself from any responsibility to act for good in the world.” This idolizing Jesus or “Christolatry”–this admiring him from afar, is something I have never done. I became a Christian during the “Jesus Freak movement,” and what brought me in was the double album: “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It spoke to me because it emphasized his human nature–Jesus was my brother… The second was your reference to what is actually called the “Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ.” In the United Church of Christ they emphasize that this is not a creedal statement which decides who is in and who is out. Rather, it is a statement of the general things we hold in common as Christians.

  6. Avatar

    Mysticism is a call to the depths of our being, for transformation from being “watchers” to discovering, living and acting from the integrated, internalized convictions that unfold from the unitive, non-dualistic center of Being, the center Jesus modeled for us. It is a whole-self/Self revelation, and calls for a similar lived expression. That means intellect AND intuition, body AND soul .
    We live mostly from an ego/intellect/watcher/ “in our heads” viewpoint, so worshiping an “other-Jesus” is comfortable and familiar. That works for many people, but some will hunger for more depth. They may feel numb and bored by “watching” their religion. For these people, mysticism offers a rich tradition of wisdom combined with direct, deep participation and challenging transformation. And it is a Path, a lifelong unfolding and deepening, so people don’t ever have an “endpoint,” a nice ego-inflating, intellectual “mastery.” Everyone is an unfinished work-in-progress. And there’s always more wisdom to discover.
    Mysticism is a call to action, to deeper compassion, and to healing of both others and self. It is following the example of the highest Good, Jesus, the Prime Examplar. Mysticism is the unfolding of the soul’s core, Love in Action, and we are called to be and do likewise — if we choose.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, Today you write that mysticism: “is a Path, a lifelong unfolding and deepening, so people don’t ever have an ‘endpoint,’ a nice ego-inflating, intellectual ‘mastery.’ Everyone is an unfinished work-in-progress. And there’s always more wisdom to discover.” Well said, and Amen !!!

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