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.
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.
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.’
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?
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.