Christian Theology

Simone Weil’s Christian Approach to Education

Jessica Hooten Wilson read

“When I question students at my Christian college about how their faith affects their learning practices, they stare blankly at me or scribble a note about being motivated by the true, good, and beautiful. But studying (and education) for Christians should look different than a secular approach, though many students cannot articulate these differences.

To clarify the connections between their beliefs and education, I teach Simone Weil’s “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” (1942), a great essay with an unwieldy title.

Weil, born in Paris in 1909, taught for a number of years in the 1930s in France, where she also participated in the French resistance to Nazi occupation. A series of mystical experiences led her to affirm the truth of Christianity. Her reflections on school studies are directed to the Dominican Father Joseph-Marie Perrin in Marseille, intended for the benefit of the Catholic students whom he served.

Considering the context of World War II, Weil’s comments echo C.S. Lewis’ 1939 admonition to Oxford students, “Learning in War-Time.” To a church filled with young men ready to leave their studies and join the fight, Lewis insisted on learning as “advancing to the vision of God” and cultivating humility in the student. Like Lewis, Weil directs students’ vision toward the higher ends of education. . . .”

Jessica Hooten Wilson is a Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence, Humanities and Classical Education at the University of Dallas.

Suffering Divine Things: Simone Weil and Jewish Mysticism

Rico Sneller read

To what extent can man suffer God? The verb ‘suffering’ as such is ambiguous, for it can either mean bearing ‘pain’ (‘to suffer from’), or tolerating something. In other words, ‘suffering’ can be both intransitive and transitive. Whereas the first meaning seems to be predominantly passive, the second, while still fairly passive, is more active. In both cases, however, a kind of interpenetration of both ‘parties’ is implied: that which I am suffering is somehow inside me, whether I want it or not. Anyhow, the question, ‘can man suffer God?’, turns out to be in need of clarification before it can be answered at all.

In this contribution, I will study a Jewish author who ‘exchanged’ her Judaism for Christianity: Simone Weil (1909-1943). I will try to see what she writes about suffering God, it being my hypothesis that suffering God is a more adequate notion than the vaguer ‘experiencing’ God. Suffering God, or rather, suffering divine things might be a notion accounting for the conflation of ethical, spiritual, and global dimensions. I will try to shed some light on Simone Weil’s views by relating them to some motives from the Jewish mystical tradition: ‘cosmoeroticism’, kawanna and tsimtsum.

Mahmoud Masaeli, ed., Spirituality and Global Ethics (Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2017), pp. 9-26

Traces of Resurrection: The Pattern of Simone Weil’s Mysticism

Stuart Jesson read

Abstract: In her “Letter to a Priest,” Simone Weil makes the following, typically bold, assertion concerning belief in the Resurrection: “Hitler could die and return to life again fifty times, but I should still not look upon him as the Son of God. And if the gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s Resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The Cross by itself suffices me.”1 This statement has often served as an indication that Weil’s version of Christian mysticism has no place for the Resurrection. Throughout the collection of short essays, articles, and notebooks produced at the end of her life Weil reflects frequently, in profound and intriguing ways, on the significance of death, its effect on human thought, and its place in moral and spiritual life. Not only is death “the source of all untruth and of all truth for men,”2 the crucifixion of Christ becomes the center not only of her spirituality but also of her metaphysics; creation, for Weil, is the cross that crucifies God.3 In some of the more extreme formulations scattered through the notebooks, in particular, Weil gives that impression that she sees life as a cosmic mistake that it is the task of spiritual life to rectify, through acceptance of death: “Birth involves us in the original sin, death redeems us from it.”4 Death is the humiliating destiny of all finite creatures, but if one can refuse the various compulsive ways there are of evading the thought of this, and consent to, or even love this necessity, one thereby participates in the process of “decreation,” the eradication of the autonomous self.

Stuart Jesson, “Traces of Resurrection: The Pattern of Simone Weil’s Mysticism,” in T. Cattoi T. & C.M. Moreman, eds, Death, Dying, and Mysticism. Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Mysticism, New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2015), pp. 49-64.

Stephen Plant on Simone Weil: Parts I & II

Stephen Plant watch

Dr. Plant is Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall and lectures on Christian theology and on ethics in the Faculty of Divinity. He has written and edited several books including Bonhoeffer (Continuum, 2004), Simone Weil: A Brief Introduction (Orbis Books 2008), Letters to London (SPCK, 2013), and Taking Stock of Bonhoeffer ( Ashgate, 2014). From 2007-13 he edited the influential journal Theology for SPCK/SAGE. His current research includes theology and international development, on which he is writing a book for Bloomsbury Press, and the theology and life of Karl Barth. He is willing to consider doctoral students in 20th century Protestant theology, theology and international development, and political theology.

YouTube, April 22, 2012 // Part 1 here  // Part 2 here

René Girard’s Mimetic Desire as Seen in the Writings of Simone Weil

E. Jane Doering read

Rene Girard’s expansive comments apropos Simone Weil to a French journalist in 1987 give food for exploring intertwining of themes in the thought of Girard and Weil, whom he considered one of the greatest intellects of her time. I plan to expand those concepts of Weil that he admired: mimetic desire, reciprocal violence, collective victimization, Christ as the Truth, and caritas, while testing their limits, and suggest divergences of thought: on historical progress; disdain for the Old Testament, despite her Jewish ancestry; and the Revelation in respect to non-Christian societies.

In the concept of mimetic desire, Girard applauded Simone Weil’s horror of the “Great Beast” mentality, which she found even in the Church. He praises her insights into Christ’s parable of the adulterous woman for its mimetic group behavior but also for its implied concepts of punishment. The mimetic rivalry that holds primacy in her “The Iliad: A Poem of Force,” impelling the Greeks and the Trojans to destroy each other, had a decisive influence on Girard.

Girard prized Simone Weil’s “theory of the human condition,” illuminated by the Gospels: Christ incarnates the Truth; to pursue the Truth implies always going toward Him. Loving God and loving the order of the world are one, and love of neighbor must govern social decisions. Weil selflessly spent her early activist energies on encouraging marginalized workers to improve their inhuman working conditions. Weil’s concept of decreation has its model in Christ, i.e., He is the innocent, pure, victim, a model of selflessness, free consent to God’s love, and total obedience. In the Bhagavad Gita, Weil found corroboration of her ideas for minimizing violence and its contagion.

The two principal Girard texts for my presentation will be: Violence and the Sacred, and Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre.

E. Jane Doering, “René Girard’s Mimetic Desire as Seen in the Writings of Simone Weil” at Transforming Violence: Cult, Culture, and Acculturation, (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University, 2010).


The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil

E. Jane Doering & Eric O. Springsted, editors read

“Anyone interested in Simone Weil will want, and need, to read this superb collection.”―Diogenes Allen, Princeton Theological Seminary   “These essays―some written by leading specialists in Simone Weil’s thought, others by prominent theologians and philosophers of religion―are especially valuable not only for elucidating Weil’s reading of Plato but also for showing what one or another form of Christian Platonism can mean for us today.”―James A. Wiseman, O.S.B., Catholic University of America

“This remarkable and penetrating collection of essays on Simone Weil’s religious philosophy illumines the living intersection between serious metaphysics and ethics. The authors carefully examine this relation that much post-modern reflection has until now only skimmed, but that Weil herself managed to embrace with breathtaking intellectual discipline and self-giving. The book is a bracing testimony to the deep moral consequences of classical ontology and its challenging Christian reorientation.” ―The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, Ascension Episcopal Church, Pueblo, Colorado

In this book a group of renowned international scholars seek to discern the ways in which Simone Weil was indebted to Plato, and how her provocative readings of his work offer challenges to contemporary philosophy, theology, and spirituality. This is the first book in twenty years to systematically investigate Weil’s Christian Platonism.

University of Notre Dame Press, 2004

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil: A Study in Christian Responsiveness

Vivienne Blackburn read

The book is the first major study to bring together the two early twentieth-century theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, and Simone Weil, French philosopher, and convert to Christianity. Both were victims of Nazi oppression, and neither survived the war. The book explores the two theologians’ reflections on Christian responsiveness to God and neighbour, being the interdependence of the two great commandments of the Jewish Law reiterated by Jesus. It sets out the common ground and the differing emphases in their interpretations. For Bonhoeffer, responsiveness was the transformation of the whole person affected by faith (Gestaltung), and the responsibility (Verantwortung) for one’s actions which it implies. For Weil, responsiveness was the hope and expectation of grace (attente) reflected in attention, the capacity to listen to, understand, and help others. Both Bonhoeffer and Weil faced a world dominated by aggression and horrendous suffering. Both endeavoured to articulate their responses, as Christians, to that world. The relevance of their thought to the twenty-first century is explored, in relation to perspectives on grace and freedom, on aggression, suffering, and forgiveness, and on the role of the church in society. Conclusions are illustrated by reference to contemporary theologians including Rowan Williams, Daniel Hardy, Frances Young and David Tracy.

Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2004

The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutierrez

Alexander Nava read

Two Christian thinkers—philosopher Simone Weil and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez—are brought together here. While very different in background, situation, and in their writings, Weil and Gutiérrez display striking points of contact in their lives and work. Author Alexander Nava finds that together the two provide a philosophical and theological vision that integrates the mystical and the prophetic, two dimensions of the Christian tradition that are often considered mutually exclusive. Exploring the thought of Weil and Gutiérrez, this book shows that both are suspicious of forms of mysticism that minimize the harsh reality of suffering and violence, and that both have a serious mistrust of prophetic traditions that deny the contributions of mystical interpretations, practices, and ways of speaking to and about the Divine mystery. Nava proposes that dialogue between the thought of Weil and Gutiérrez and between the mystical and prophetic traditions can lead to a more authentic understanding of the diversity and creativity of religious thought.

Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001

The Symbolism of the Cross in the Writings of Simone Weil

J.P. Little read

Simone Well saw in the symbol of the cross, that focal point of Christianity, a wide range of meanings, and drew from them a corresponding variety of conclusions, some of which, of course, are at odds with orthodox Christian theology, but which demonstrate her constant care to derive as rich a significance as possible from any one image.

Religious Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 175-183