Beyond Patriarchy: Teachings on Mysticism from Dorothee Soelle

Dorothee Soelle combined the mystical tradition and prophetic activist traditions wonderfully—as did her mentor, Meister Eckhart. And the Beguines of the women’s movement of the Middle Ages about whom she also wrote in depth.

Beguine statue in Begijnhof, Amsterdam, placed in courtyard in 1984 three years after the death of Sister Antonia, the last Beguine of the Begijnhof. Sculptor: Margaretha de Goede-Taal. Wikimedia Commons.

Soelle teaches mysticism as an alternative to patriarchy: We must approach mysticism, which comes closest to overcoming the hierarchical masculine concept of God.

How does she understand mysticism? The mystical certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God grows when we ourselves become one with love by placing ourselves, freely and without guarantee of success, on the side of love.

The authentic language of religion is that of mysticism, she insists. The language of religion, by which I do not mean the stolen language in which a male God ordains and imperial power radiates forth, is the language of mysticism: I am completely and utterly in God, I cannot fall out of God, I am imperishable. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of God?’ we then ask with Paul the mystic: ‘neither death nor life, height nor depth, neither present nor future’ (Romans 8:35 and 38).

Dorothee Sölle: “Evangelical Political Mysticism in the 20th Century.” How to become a Mystic. Shortcuts to Enlightenment

She speaks of what feminism brings to the table. In feminist theology therefore, the issue is not about exchanging pronouns but about another way of thinking of transcendence. Transcendence is no longer to be understood as being independent of everything and ruling over everything else, but rather as being bound up in the web of life….That means that we move from God-above-us to God-within-us and overcome false transcendence hierarchically conceived.

I would add, to fill out the panentheism language fully, the us-within-God awareness as well.

And who is Christ in all this? If Jesus of Nazareth was the poor man from Galilee who was tortured to death, then Christ is that which cannot be destroyed, which came into the world with him and lives through us in him. When I say Christ, I always think also of Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen and Martin Luther king Jr….as well as of all resistance fighters who are sitting in prison today. 

Matthew Fox speaks about “Dorothee Soelle and Ernesto Cardenal on Cosmic Love and Beauty.” Matthew Fox on YouTube

For Soelle, Christ is a name which for me expresses solidarity, hence suffering with, struggling with. Christ is the mysterious power which was in Jesus and which continues on and sometimes makes us into ‘fools in Christ,’ who without hope of success and without any objective, share life with others.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 278, 279, 277, 276.

See also, Matthew Fox, “Liberated and Liberating Sisters: Meister Eckhart Meets Dorothee Soelle, the Beguines Mechtild of Magdeburg and Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich, in Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Spiritual Warrior for Our Times, pp. 77-98.

Banner image: “The Elemental Mystic Rose.” Image by Daniel Arrhakis on Flickr.


Queries for Contemplation

Does Christ for you represent solidarity and is your God a God-within-us and an us-within-God rather than a God-above-us? What difference does that make?


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.

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack

To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship.  His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.

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