Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dorothee Sölle on Inseparability of God and Love: Implications for Catholic Discussion of Welcome Tables

Because the following posting seems (to me, at least) so pertinent to the post-synod discussion right now about the Catholic (un)welcoming table for gay folks (I also don't forget divorced and remarried folks), I'm going to do something I seldom do, and repost a piece from the past. I first posted this piece in December 2010. I've made a few minor changes to it as I repost it now:

Dorothee Sölle writes, in The Strength of the Weak, trans. Robert and Rita Kimber (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984):

God and love are inseparable.  It is not possible — and this is probably the gravest error of all conservative theologies — to tear God and love apart and to say that God is primary and permanent while love is some secondary, derivative thing (p. 136).


We will be struck by the fact that love is indivisible, that it cannot be broken into sexual love, chastity, and love in the social and political realm.  We know already that those who condemn the power of sexual love make other people incapable of the love we call charity and mercy (p. 138).

And this is why, increasingly, those intent on promoting a right-wing theocratic understanding of Christian truth and Christian values simply do not speak much at all any longer of love. The reality of love, its sheer facticity — and, above all, its centrality in the Judaeo-Christian scheme of things — proves exceptionally problematic for right-wing Christians today.

And so it's easier to talk about truth, instead. To the extent that many contemporary Catholics of the right have substituted the term "truth" for "love" as the end-all and be-all of the scriptures and tradition and of the life of discipleship, they have departed from what is most central in scripture and tradition, and have a very serious theological problem on their hands.

It is quite an indictment of the contemporary church — at least, of a powerful wing of the contemporary church — that it simply no longer talks much at all about love. As it talks endlessly about The Truth, which Christians of the right imagine with great glibness that they (and their churches) possess in some exclusive and unilateral way. (And this indictment includes the vacillating, never-willing-to-commit liberal center of the churches every bit as much as it does the right, though the former are less inclined to talk about possessing The Truth as they talk in unfocused, commitment-avoiding generalities about love.)

And yet the heart of the Judaeo-Christian revelation is about how we cannot know the truth Who is God apart from love, since God is love. And God is love that, from the Christian viewpoint, chooses to enflesh itself, so that one cannot know either truth or love while denying the enfleshed reality of those one wishes to ignore, erase, place outside the boundaries of salvific love. As Sölle notes in Beyond Mere Obedience: Reflections on a Christian Ethic for the Future, trans. Lawrence W. Denef (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1970), "Christ made God manifest by making invisible people visible — the poor, women, all those deprived of their rights" (p. 163).

The photo of Dorothee Sölle is from Unsere Kirche, and is used in this memorial tribute to Sölle by Gesine Lübbers at the Denkmal! Aktuell site of the Westphalian Lutheran Church.

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