MOTHER BASILEA (KLARA) SCHLINK TIMELINE
1904 (October 21): Klara Schlink was born in Darmstadt, Germany.
1914 (August): Germany invaded France via Belgium and Luxemburg.
1919 (June 28): The leaders of the Central Powers, including Germany, admitted guilt for World War I and accepted substantial financial penalties at the Treaty of Versailles.
1922: Schlink underwent serious illness and had a definitive conversion experience.
1923: Schlink enrolled in Evangelisches Fröbelseminar, Kassel.
1924: Schlink enrolled in the Soziale Frauenschule, Berlin.
1925: Schlink enrolled in Bibelhaus Malche.
1926: Schlink returned to Darmstadt as a church youth worker.
1928: Schlink returned to Berlin, completed degree at the Sozile Frauenschule.
1929: Schlink joined faculty of Bibelhaus Malche as the Great Depression struck Germany, causing widespread unemployment.
1930: Schlink began doctoral work in psychology of religion at the University of Hamburg.
1931: Schlink merged households with longtime friend Erika Madauss.
1932 (July): The National Socialist (Nazi) Party received more votes than any other party, but fell far short of a majority at just over thirty-seven percent of the vote.
1932, November: The Nazi Party received a smaller share of the votes (just over 33 percent), but still more than any other party. Communists came in second. These were the last free German national elections until after the Third Reich.
1933 (January 30): Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and just weeks later arson destroyed the Reichtsag; the Aryan Paragraph excluding Jews from civil service jobs was instituted later that year.
1933: Schlink became national leader of the German Christian Women’s Student Movement (Deutsche Christliche Studentinnenbewegung, DCSB).
1934: Schlink received a doctoral degree in psychology of religion.
1935: Schlink and Madauss quit their jobs, moved into Schlink’s parents’ home in Darmstadt, and attempted to co-found a Bible college, which was unsuccessful.
1936: Schlink and Madauss became co-leaders of a girls’ Bible study, a pivotal point in their mission.
1939 (September–October): Germany invaded Poland.
1939: Schlink began part-time work in the local churches’ women’s assistance circles and as traveling secretary of the Wiesbaden-based Muhammedaner-Mission.
1942 (January 20): Wannsee Conference was held at which German leaders planned the mass murder of European Jews.
1944 (September 11): Allied bombers decimated Darmstadt, spurring Schlink, Madauss, and their spiritual charges to pray with unprecedented fervor.
1945 (May 7): Germany surrendered to the U.S. Army at Reims, France.
1947: Schlink took the name Mother Basilea and, together with Mother Martyria (Erika Madauss) and Methodist pastor Paul Riedinger, formally founded the Ecumenical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt.
1949: The Sisterhood established its own publishing house. Schlink published Das könighliche Priestertum (The Royal Priesthood), Dem Überwinder die Krone (To the Victor Goes the Crown), and Gewissensspiegel (Mirror of Conscience).
1950: The Sisterhood began construction on their Motherhouse, located near Darmstadt. Initial construction completed in 1952.
1953: Schlink embarked on extensive travel seeking ecumenical alliances.
1955, spring: Schlink perceived God’s call for the Sisterhood to expand their landholdings adjacent to the Motherhouse and to build guest housing, work stations, a larger chapel, and immersive, Israel-themed prayer gardens. The community was named Kanaan.
1955 (Fall): Schlink traveled to Israel.
1956: The sisters staged their first dramatic production, which depicted Gentile persecution of Jews, at the National Protestant Church Convention in Frankfurt.
1959: The sisterhood finished acquiring all requisite land for Kanaan.
1963: Schlink made a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. The Sisterhood changed its name to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary (Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft).
1964: Schlink called for national moral renewal, was rebuffed by Germany’s Protestant bishops. The Sisterhood collaborated with young lay people to launch Operation Concern for Germany.
1966: The sisters completed the construction of Kanaan.
1968–1983: The sisters established twelve branches worldwide.
1980: Schlink announced the cessation of many of the sisters’ public-facing ministries.
1998: A ruling council of twelve sisters assumed leadership of the Sisterhood.
1999: Mother Martyria (Erika) Madauss died in Darmstadt.
2001 (March 21): Mother Basilea (Klara) Schlink died in Darmstadt.
Klara Schlink was born into a solidly middle-class (Bildungsbürgertum) family. [Image at right] Her father was a professor of mechanical engineering. In her later memoir, she described her childhood self as “stubborn” and “willful,” even as she demonstrated early leadership potential in her sometime reign over neighborhood children (Schlink 1993:13–14). Her involvement in religion was consistent with her social standing for that generation, but otherwise cursory. When she completed her confirmation process in the state Lutheran church (Landeskirche), it had minimal impact on her inner life.
In her mid-teen years, a bout of serious illness changed that. In its midst, she experienced what she described as a personal encounter with Christ crucified (Schlink 1993:32). She marked that moment as her conversion, from which point her love of Christ permeated her lifestyle and every major decision.
After completing high school (Gymnasium), she briefly enrolled in the Evangelisches Fröbelseminar, in Kassel, before commencing studies at the Soziale Frauenschule of the Inneren Mission in Berlin. During this period, she immersed herself in the folk songs and dances of the youth movement (Jugendbewegung) that characterized the Weimar era in Germany. Struggling to discern a linear path forward, she transferred her studies for the third time in as many years, this time to Bibelhaus Malche, a preparatory academy for young women preparing to be missionaries and pastor’s assistants (Schlink 1993:36; Faithful 2014:22–3).
Each move had taken her geographically further from home. It was, perhaps, fitting then that the following year she began a two-year stint as a church youth worker back in Darmstadt. Then she returned to Berlin and completed a degree at the Soziale Frauenschule. Afterward, she briefly joined the faculty of Bibelhaus Malche, where she taught German, psychology, and church history (Schlink 1993:102–03, 115; Faithful 2014:25–26).
The following period of her life brought greater clarity and momentum, although her greatest work remained further distant. She completed her doctorate in psychology of religion at the University of Hamburg in 1934. The title of her dissertation was “The Meaning of Sin-Consciousness in the Religious Struggles of Female Adolescents.” Early in her doctoral studies, she merged households, including income, with her close friend Erika Madauss (Schlink 1993:126–28).
Schlink became national leader of the German Christian Women’s Student Movement (Deutsche Christliche Studentinnenbewegung, DCSB) shortly after Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany. [Image at right] In that capacity, she refused to implement the Aryan Paragraph, which legally excluded people of Jewish descent from civil service, including positions in organizations tied to the state churches (Landeskirchen), including the DCSB. She stopped short of proclaiming alignment between the DCSB and the Confessing Church, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer-affiliated movement within the state churches opposed to Nazifying the churches. Her rationale: only the most committed Christians were ready to make that leap. She felt called to remain open for students who were uncertain about their allegiances (Schlink 1993:128–32; Hilpert-Fröhlich 1996:159–73).
After Schlink completed her studies in 1935, she stepped down from leadership of the DCSB, Madauss resigned from her job, and both women moved into Schlink’s parents’ home in Darmstadt. There the two attempted to co-found a Bible college. They received no applicants and soon marked the venture as a failure (Hilpert-Fröhlich 1996:165; Schlink 1993:147–51).
What happened instead must have seemed far more humble at the outset, but proved more momentous in the end. Schlink became co-leader with Maudauss [Image at right] of a girls’ Bible study (Mädchen Bibelkreis) based at Darmstadt’s St. Paul Lutheran Church (Paulusgemeinde). Against state ordinances, the two persisted in teaching from the Hebrew Bible. This is the chief reason for which the Gestapo twice summoned Schlink for interrogation (Schlink 1993:155, 161–65, 186–87, 209).
By 1940, the Bible study had grown to include roughly one hundred participants, split into various subgroups (Schlink 1993:187). Meanwhile, Schlink began part-time work in the local churches’ women’s assistance circles (Fraunhilfskreisen), which provided relief as more and more husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons left for the front lines. Schlink simultaneously began additional part-time work as traveling secretary of the Wiesbaden-based Muhammedaner-Mission, an organization aimed at converting Muslims to Christianity, although Schlink seems not to have been directly involved in that task. During her travels throughout Germany in that role, she expanded her network of contacts in Methodist, Pentecostal, and other “free church” circles, that is, unaffiliated with the state churches (Landeskirchen). This was how she met Methodist pastor Paul Riedinger, who served as a spiritual mentor (Schlink 1993:183–85, 205, 213).
The Allied bombing of Darmstadt in 1944 produced a night of fervent prayer for Schlink, Madauss, and the participants of their Bible studies. Schlink later credited that event as the turning point in their lives, laying the foundation for the eventual Sisterhood (Schlink 1993:191). Most of their homes were destroyed but, physically, the women seem to have been otherwise unscathed. The Schlink family home was sufficiently intact to serve as a refuge for several dozen of the young women during the ensuing months.
Shortly before the German military surrendered Darmstadt to the Allies, Schlink and Madauss led a multiday, countryside retreat for several of the young women, along with Lutheran pastor Klaus Hess, a close associate of Paul Riedinger. This represented a further turning point, as a core group of particularly committed young women began to coalesce (Faithful 2014:32–33).
In 1947, under the names Mother Basilea and Mother Martyria, respectively, Schlink and Basilea formally founded the Ecumenical Sisterhood of Mary (Ökumenische Marienschwesternschaft). [Image at right] pastoral care for the sisters (Schlink 1993:220–21; Faithful 2014:39).
As their earliest published account of the founding attests, their charism (their mission as an order) contained many dimensions: a balance between contemplation and action, between communal life, social service (Diakonie), and prayer. Even at the outset, the latter contained significant inteIrcessions “for our people (Volk)” (Marienschwestern 1953:35).
Within two years, now with thirty-five members, the Sisterhood had established its own publishing house (Marienschwestern 1953:39). [Image at right] Mother Basilea published her first three tracts: The Royal Priesthood (Das königliche Priestertum), To the Victor Goes the Crown (Dem Überwinder die Krone), and Mirror of Conscience (Gewissensspiegel). This marked the beginning of the sisters’ expansive print ministry, largely consisting of tracts, pamphlets, and additional books of varying lengths, almost exclusively composed by Schlink (Schlink 1949, 1995, 1972).
In 1950, the Sisterhood received a parcel of land as a gift from the family of one of the early sisters. It was large enough to accommodate the sisters’ new Motherhouse and attached Chapel of Jesus’ Suffering. In the spirit of the postwar “women of the rubble” (Trümmerfrauen), the sisters performed much of the manual labor themselves.
Schlink received a private audience in 1953 with Pope Pius XII (p. 1939–1958), whose response to Hitler and whose treatment of Jews has come under harsh criticism in recent years. Back in Germany, she embarked on “reconciliation travel” to meet with leaders of various Protestant groups from which the Sisterhood had become estranged during the war.
The following year, after a period of intense and prolonged prayer in solitude, Schlink concluded that Jesus had experienced ongoing suffering because of Christians’ mistreatment of Jewish people, “the people of his special love” (Schlink 1993:340). Jewish people became a dominant priority in Schlink’s efforts from that point forward.
In 1955, despite significant prohibitions against most Gentile Germans, Schlink and Madauss traveled to Israel. Based on the needs they perceived, they agreed to assign two sisters as full time, unpaid hospital staff there. In the years to come, Schlink understood herself to have received a vision from God to build a care home for Holocaust survivors there (Schlink 1993:344–48; Faithful 2014:70). Schlink spearheaded fundraising efforts and assigned additional sisters to serve in Israel, making this vision a reality.
Back in Germany, after another prolonged personal retreat, she proclaimed a vision for Kanaan, an expansive complex to surround the Motherhouse in Darmstadt. It would include prayer gardens inspired by the landscapes of Israel–Palestine and a larger chapel, to accommodate public worship services and dramatic productions (Schlink 1993:361; Faithful 2014:70–71).
In 1956, at the National Protestant Church Convention in Frankfurt, the sisters performed a dramatic retelling of the history of Jewish people’s persecution at the hands of Gentile Christians. For many in the audience, this represented a pivotal event in their understanding of German Gentile Christians’ complicity in the Holocaust. This was all the more striking, given that the suffering of Germans at the hands of the Allies loomed large in postwar West German discourse, as did the dangers of the Soviets and revisionist (viz. exaggerated or fraudulent) success stories of resistance against Hitler’s regime. Contrary to common assumptions, a major reckoning with the Holocaust in German public discourse was still some decades distant. Only when the children of the war generation came of age, did this occur more substantially. Under Schlink’s leadership, the sisters represent one of the earliest and most prominent exceptions (Schlink 1993:349; Faithful 2014:74, 143–44).
After receiving the blessing of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Porphyrios III, Schlink made a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai in 1963. Thereafter, a series of events marked the reorientation of the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood changed its name to the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. On the one hand, the Sisterhood’s new name in German (Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft) helped allay longstanding criticisms that they were not adequately Protestant (evangelisch). On the other hand, the English version of the title marked a deliberate alignment with the evangelical movement in the English-speaking world, along with its attendant apocalypticism and Christian Zionism, which pushed the Sisterhood even further from mainstream German church life (Schlink 1993; Faithful 2014:89–91).
In 1964, Schlink published the tract And None Would Believe It, representing her vision for moral renewal and for Christian unity against “soulless sexuality,” a “kind of poison […] spreading throughout the entire world in epidemic proportions” (Schlink 1967:12, 16). [Image at right] Germany’s Protestant bishops unanimously declined the invitation to join her crusade. American and Canadian evangelicals proved more receptive, however, paving the way for Schlink to travel to North America. Sponsored by the Sisterhood, Operation Concern for Germany formed around that vision, a movement for a committed group of young lay people seeking an alternative to what they saw as the excesses of their generation (Faithful 2014:91–94). Further positioning herself as a cultural reactionary, Schlink took stances in the coming decades against yoga, the New Age movement, rock music, and Islam (Schlink 1982:90; 1992:18; 2001:12; 2004:11).
In the ensuing decades under Schlink’s leadership, the sisters established a number of small branches throughout the world in addition to that in Israel. They included the following (those with an asterisks indicate they are now closed): Phoenix, Arizona (Canaan in the Desert); Alberta (Canaan of God’s Glory) and New Brunswick* (Canaan in the Woodlands), Canada; Australia (Canaan of God’s Comfort); Brazil; Paraguay; Japan*; South Africa*; England (Jesus’ Return); and the Netherlands* (Klein Kanaäncentrum). The sisters have since added Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Korea, Norway, and Switzerland to their list of branches, even as some earlier branches have closed. The specific locations have varied, but the number of branches has remained steady at twelve. Following Schlink’s lead, they built small chapels, staffed by sisters or lay volunteers, to bear witness to God’s glory in rural Switzerland. In the Bavarian Alps overlooking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, they erected a monument celebrating God’s mercy (Faithful 2014:94–95; Kanaan.org).
After its initial growth, the Sisterhood itself developed a substantial and stable number of members (approximately 120). As the first generation of sisters began to age, they were joined by a growing number of recruits from the nations where they conducted outreach. A Protestant men’s religious order, the Kanaan Brothers of St. Francis, and a tertiary order, the Sisters of the Crown of Thorns, also call Kanaan home. These subsidiaries also formed under Schlink’s leadership (Faithful 2014:91).
In 1980, Schlink announced the cessation of many of the sisters’ public-facing ministries, including their theater productions (Jansson and Lemmetyinen 1998:120–24, 221). Their publication ministry continued apace. By the end of her life, Schlink had published more than one hundred titles, most of them translated into numerous languages, including by the sisters themselves. By the late 1990s, Schlink had handed control of the Sisterhood over to a ruling council of twelve sisters (Faithful 2014:95).
In 1999, Mother Martyria (Erika) Madauss died in Darmstadt. Her sister in faith, Mother Basilea (Klara) Schlink died in Darmstadt in 2001. The women are buried side-by-side in the gardens of Kanaan near the Motherhouse, surrounded by their spiritual children.
Mother Basilea Schlink extended a call to radical simplicity. To love God and be loved by God, that was enough and all her teachings found their source in that deep wellspring. My All for Him situated this teaching as a form of “bridal mysticism,” with deep roots in Jewish and Christian readings of the Song of Songs (Schlink 1998:21; Jansen 2005:155–57). A faithful soul would surrender all to Christ and seek him as her Bridegroom. God is worthy of love and not just any love, but a self-sacrificial and unrestrained one. That is the central refrain in Schlink’s teaching.
Externally, this simple but all-consuming love for God took the form of exhorting others to follow suit. Evangelism in an increasingly secular context served as subtext for all of Schlink and the sisters’ outreach efforts. In their bleak early years in postwar Germany, for example, they often combined evangelism with hunger relief, childcare, and other forms of social support (Schlink 2007:101–06).
The sisters’ monastic way of life was a further extension of that same simplicity of devotion. Their order was one of several ecumenical and Protestant lay communal and monastic groups that found their impetus in Europe during World War II. Taizé is but one other prominent example. The trauma of the conflict generated a deep spiritual hunger and an acknowledgment, among the dedicated few who heeded the call, that conventional lifestyles and theologies were not adequate to address conditions in the modern world. Pastel habits, emblazoned with prominent white crosses, distinguished the sisters. They swore vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience to the Sisterhood itself (Faithful 2014:3–8, 88).
The sources of the sisters’ prayers were myriad. Based on later observers’ accounts of life at Kanaan, these prayers seemed to be a blend of Psalms, standard Lutheran liturgical prayers, prayers of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic saints, formal prayers written by Mother Basilea for various occasions, and, most often, long-form extemporaneous prayers by the sisters themselves (Faithful 2014:81–87, 180). The consistent tone is what many observers have found so striking: the earnest, gentle quality of children pleading with their heavenly Father.
Indeed, prayer represents one of the most consistent topics in Mother Basilea’s writings. These include charismatic-style guides for spiritual warfare, such as Building a Wall of Prayer and Kingdom of Angels and Demons (Schlink 1999, 2002). Although largely in private, the sisterhood embraced speaking in tongues and other aspects of charismatic praxis under Schlink’s leadership (Schlink 2002:21, 41–45, 81). Such impulses have existed in the sisterhood alongside more traditional concerns, as evident in Mary: the Way of the Mother of Our Lord and Ways Through the Night to the Holy Trinity (Schlink 1989, 1985).
Schlink frequently led the sisters in a process of discernment as follows. When confronted with a momentous decision, they would seek God in prayer, setting aside even more time than usual for private contemplation and for group prayer together. Under guidance from their leader, the sisters might draw a verse from a basket, typically cut from that year’s watchwords of the Moravian Church (Herrnhutter Brüdergemeine), fittingly one of Protestantism’s oldest communitarian groups. The leadership (that is, Mother Basilea) would then guide the sisters to the optimal interpretation of those words, in light of their perception of God’s leading in their hearts and in their external circumstances. In the face of tragedy, they would plead to God for mercy together in prayer. In the face of God’s perceived generosity, they would come together to sing for joy. For example, they responded to an early victory, in the form of a generous gift of some of the land that would become Kanaan, with choruses of the old hymn “Nun Danket Alle Gott” (“Now Thank We All Our God”) (Schlink 2007:14–16; Faithful 2014:62–64).
In the tradition of “faith missions,” this discernment frequently included perceiving God’s promise of providing specific funds, land, personnel, or other material, and then waiting, trusting that God would provide. This apparently accounted for all of the sisters’ fundraising. Given the way that most well-established Christian bodies in Germany (Protestant and Catholic alike) are part of deeply entrenched institutions, state and otherwise, this positioned the Sisterhood in a liminal space: not quite “free church,” but institutionally independent of the Landeskirche (apart from the occasional borrowed pastor), and consistently on good terms with a small but critical mass of people in both circles (Faithful 2014:64–67).
Basilea Schlink’s straightforward, passionately personal reading of scripture stands in contrast to the nuanced, analytic approach of her older brother, ecumenical theologian and University of Heidelberg professor Edmund Schlink (1903–1984). Mother Basilea found little use for elaborate theological systems. Hers was an earnest heartfelt faith, which resonated with Lutheran Pietism and the Holiness-Charismatic-Pentecostal “free church” circles from which Sisterhood would increasingly draw its members (Faithful 2014:89–95). From her perspective, sola scriptura simply did not need to be particularly complicated.
Schlink preached the collective national guilt of Germans against “God’s chosen people, the Jews.” All Germans were guilty of the Holocaust (Schlink 2001:9–15). None of their hands were clean. To that end, priestly souls such as those of the sisters needed to offer spiritual sacrifices, interceding in repentance on behalf of their sinful nation. Thereby they might hope to hold back the wrath of God that Germany had surely earned.
It should be unsurprising, then, that a particularly strong burden of moral purity fell on the sisters. The order practiced the ancient Benedictine Chapter of Faults (Faithful 2014:88). Once common in Catholic orders before Vatican II, it was a process of older members of the order regularly and formally confronting the younger with their perceived spiritual shortcomings. The latter would have no recourse but to accept the criticisms and to promise repentance.
Less surprising, still, is that Schlink’s teachings about Jewish people situated her and the Sisterhood as part of Christian Zionism. [Image at right] According to the general assumptions of that growing movement, the return of Jewish people to the Promise Land heralded the End Times, in which Jewish people would convert to Christianity en masse before a final battle between Christ and the antichrist (Smith 2013:7–23). None of this is explicit in Schlink’s teachings, but the apocalyptic themes and tone of her work, along with her broadcasting in proximity to less sanguine Christian Zionists on evangelical television networks in the United States, situate her within that loose movement nonetheless. In their presumed apocalyptic opposition to Israel, “the Arabian countries and the communist countries” were cast together as “the godless nations,” a recurring Christian Zionist trope (Schlink 1986:16).
Prophecy, too, featured prominently in Schlink’s teachings. Although she did not label herself a prophet, she did make claims about the future. For example, former sisters have alleged that Mother Basilea anticipated the persecution of Christians in Germany and the destruction of Kanaan (Jansson and Lemmetyinen 1998:120–28; Faithful 2014:94). Some of Mother Basilea’s statements in print are definite, yet vague, such as the claim that “we have entered into the last times” (Schlink 1986:43). But in the same breath she might offer specifics so qualified as to elude confirmation: “No one knows how long or how short the time will be between the Six Day War and the next war, which may be the decisive one prophesied by Ezekiel. Yet, we must assume that the time span is short” (Schlink 1986:57). Such rhetorical nuance has made it possible for it to seem that Mother Basilea’s predictions have come to pass. At the same time, it is telling that The End is Near has been out-of-print for some time (Schlink 1961).
The blending of the various elements of this spirituality took physical form in Kanaan (Evangelishe Marienschwesternschaft 2022). And like that spirituality, the styles of the elements that constitute Kanaan’s built environment represent at once a unified whole, fundamentally simple in its ethos, and an eclectic bricolage, replete with sculptures, reliefs, murals, meticulous landscaping, and ample benches and boxes of pamphlets written by Mother Basilea. The Street of God’s Triumph leads the way into the grounds, flanked by memorial stones, inscribed with the names and dates of significant events in the building of Kanaan. Visitors to the prayer gardens can drink from the Father Fountain; remember Christ’s birth at the Bethlehem Grotto; contemplate Christ’s teachings at the Mount of the Beatitudes next to the Sea of Galilee, a modest pond; seek illumination on Mount Tabor, a small hill; kneel in repentance before a life-sized crucifix in the neo-gothic Chapel of Jesus’ Suffering, where the sisters commemorate the Passion with the public every Friday; further contemplate Christ’s sacrifices at one’s own pace in the Garden of Jesus’ Suffering; and rejoice in Christ’s victory in the modernist Jesus Proclamation Chapel, the site of Sunday worship and the occasional “heaven celebration,” in which sisters wave palm fronds as they sing, jubilant at the promise of the Kingdom to come. Some might say the architect was Schlink. She, however, would argue that the true architect was God.
Mother Basilea was at once firm and gentle, shaping her Sisterhood as a bold visionary and as a self-styled passive intermediary of the hand of God (Schlink 1993:302; Faithful 2014:62–4). This paradox, between Schlink’s own designs and her complete surrender to the divine, permeates her self-descriptions in her memoir and subsequent printed teachings. Mother Martyria handled the day-to-day pastoral care of the Sisterhood, while Mother Basilea wrote, undertook retreats in solitude, and traveled the world. Schlink’s work was at once independent and utterly dependent on the support of her spiritual coparent, Mother Martyria, and their children.
Her control over the Sisterhood, although gentle, was uncontested, some would say absolute (Jansson and Lemmetyinen 1998:38). Even to the lay public, this is clear in subtle ways in the sisters’ written materials. Any brief Bible verse distributed by the Sisterhood is likely to be accompanied by some further quote from Mother Basilea, by way of interpretation. Plaques pairing her words with the words of scripture abound in Kanaan. Her authority within the Sisterhood appears to be second only to the authority of God.
Beneath an outward simplicity, Schlink’s teachings, practices, and leadership embody an eclectic diversity, replete with tensions and the occasional contradiction.
Throughout the sisters’ existence, beginning under Schlink, they have been at odds with the mainstreams of postwar German society. Initially, it was the fervor of their commitment to Christ. Then, still early on, it was Schlink’s insistence on collective German guilt for the Holocaust. This garnered significant national attention and positioned the Sisterhood at the vanguard of shifting West German society away from mere survival and national self-interest. One hypothetical path forward, in which the sisters might have sustained their relevance would have been to drive that point home: to reiterate again and again to the war generation their complicity through their inaction and their, at times, active support for and involvement in the sins of the Third Reich. Instead, Schlink added to this concern a hard line against the sexual revolution and the priorities of the 1960s generation writ-large (Schlink 1967:11–33; Faithful 2014:92–94). This served, for the most part, to alienate the younger generation and generally isolate the Sisterhood, with notable exceptions among ardent allies.
Ironically, Schlink’s rhetoric and conceptual framework regarding Israel was itself tinged with nationalism. [Image at right] “The German people (Volk) had sinned against God’s true chosen people (Volk), the Jews” (Schlink 2001:8; cf. Schlink 1956:7). Such constructions conflated Germans with Germany’s Gentile Christians and “the Jews” with all racial/ethnic Jewish people and Israelis, together conceived as a monolithic whole, never mind the great many Jewish victims of the Holocaust who were also Germans. With roots both in her reading of the Hebrew Bible and in German nationalist thought of the preceding two centuries, Schlink insisted that each national people (Volk) had moral agency and a distinct relationship with God (Faithful 2014:114–26).
Compounded with this, Schlink’s Christian Zionism has its own set of issues. Most notable is the tacit assumption that Jewish people must convert to Christianity in order to receive salvation and that they are pawns, so to speak, in God’s eschatological end game. As with much of the rest of Schlink’s Christian Zionism, this is subtext rather than text. But for some Jewish observers of the Sisterhood, such implicit expectations have seemed evident (Faithful 2014:77–80).
Schlink’s early commitment to interconfessional unity was evident in the name of the Ecumenical Sisterhood of Mary. However, this seemed lost, or at least diminished, in the shift to become the Evangelical (Evangelische) Sisterhood of Mary. The ecumenism remained on some level. After all, they were Protestant nuns. But given the ecumenical movement’s diminished prominence and leftward turn, it should perhaps be unsurprising that Schlink looked elsewhere for likeminded Christians. Her programs have aired in the English-speaking world on evangelical Christian television networks featuring other apocalyptic Christian Zionist evangelists, many of them less gentle and less ostensibly selfless (Benny Hinn, for example, has been keen to promote Schlink and his connections to the sisterhood: Hinn 2017, 2022).
Apocalypticism generates a sense of urgency but, when paired with prophetic specifics and prolonged deferment of the anticipated End, it also can generate confusion, doubt, and a sense of futility. At various points, Schlink seemed to indicate the beginning of the End Times. After all, the Cold War lent itself to this. But such warnings may have, in retrospect, served as a distraction from other priorities, such as continuing to underline the dynamics that made the Holocaust possible.
Some critics have wondered whether the successes of the Sisterhood have been more the fruit of the postwar West German “economic miracle” (Wirtschaftswunder) than miracles of God, as Schlink claimed. That the sisters’ successes seemed to be both this- and other-worldly, not in spite of their childlike simplicity but because of it, seems to have rankled a certain segment among the staid Lutheran traditionalists. In other words, hints of God answering prayers in tangible, literal ways were bad enough, but claims of proof were too much for some outsiders to bear without taking significant offense (Faithful 2014:7, 82–87).
As the Sisterhood grew, there was some discontent. A handful of women left the group. A few published allegations of emotionally traumatic and spiritually oppressive practices, such as the Chapter of Faults being used as a tool to belittle younger sisters (Jansson and Lemmetyinen 1998:38; Faithful 2014:146). Perhaps at the foundation of some of the potentially problematic aspects of Schlink’s role within the Sisterhood was the absence of external accountability. Granted, this is a norm in many religious circles, especially charismatic ones, in which the sisters might fall (depending on one’s definitions of “charismatic”). But too little oversight can bring potential problems such as those alleged by former sisters.
SIGNIFICANCE TO THE STUDY OF WOMEN IN RELIGIONS
Mother Basilea Schlink raised a prophetic voice in an inflexible society, anticipating the future and contending with the past alike. She cofounded a movement that, for a time, shaped Germany, contributing to discourse about justice for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust at a time when few such voices existed. Her Sisterhood continues to offer an alternative way of life for those seeking to heed a call to lives of radical repentance and devotion. Eager as she was to share credit with Madauss and with Riedinger, Schlink is one of the few women (perhaps the only) in the history of Christianity to found a religious order independent of male authority and by means of the strength of her own individual leadership.
This was all in spite of herself. In her view, her strength was not her own any more than her visions for the Sisterhood and for Kanaan. God was her strength, God’s was the vision. She was but a passive vessel. Or at least that is what she claimed, her gentle demeanor belying deep strength (Schlink 1993:324–25; Faithful 2014:166–68). At once a visionary breaker of boundaries and an arch-traditionalist, she considered writing to be “men’s work” (Schlink 1993:302). Yet it became one of her most consistent tasks. She defied the gender norms of her generation in some ways, even as she committed to reinforcing them in others.
That she is relatively unknown beyond certain circles is a testimony not so much to any lack of significance as to her commitment to follow her perception of God’s call, no matter the cost. For a time, her star shone brightly for all her nation to see. Her disciples continue to shine the light of her legacy. Few people of any gender can claim to have accomplished so much.
Image # 1: Mother Basilea Schlink. Photo used with permission.
Image # 2: Klara Schlink. Photo used with permission.
Image # 3: Erika Madauss. Photo used with permission.
Image # 4: Early construction on Kanaan. Photo used with permission.
Image # 5: Print shop at Darmstadt. Photo used with permission.
Image # 6. Mother Basilea Schlink. Photo used with permission.
Image # 7: Two members of the Evangelical Sisterhood in Talipot, Israel, which served Holocaust survivors visiting Israel. Photo used with permission.
Image # 8: Kanaan in the twenty-first century. Photo used with permission.
Evangelishe Marienschwesternschaft. 2022. Accessed from https://kanaan.org/ on 2 March 2023.
Faithful, George. 2014. Mothering the Fatherland. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hilpert-Fröhlich, Christiana. 1996. “Vorwärts Geht es, aber auf den Knien”: Die Geschichte der christl
Hilpert-Fröhlich, Christiana. 1996. “Vorwärts Geht es, aber auf den Knien”: Die Geschichte der christlichen Studentinnen- und Akademikerinnenbewegung in Deutschland 1905-1938. Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus-Verlagsgesellschaft.
Hinn, Benny. 2022. “3 Women Who Were ‘One With God.’” Accessed from https://charismamag.com/spriritled-living/woman/benny-hinn-3-women-who-were-one-with-god/ on 2 March 2023.
Hinn, Benny. 2017. “A precious time with the Sisters of Mary in Darmstadt.” Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJZNxP5WfyI on 2 March 2023.
Jansen, Saskia Murk. 2005. “Bridal Mysticism (Brautmystic).” Pp. 155-57 in The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Jansson, Marianne, and Riitta Lemmetyinen. 1998. Wenn Mauern fallen…: Zwei Marienschwestern entdecken die Freiheit des Evangeliums. Bielefeld: Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung.
Marienschwestern, Oekumenische. 1953. Das Tat Gott under deutscher Jugend, 1944-1951. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft.
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2007 . Realitäen: Gottes Wirken heute erlebt. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Realities: The Miracles of God Experienced Today.)
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2004 . Christen und die Yoga Frage. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Christians and Yoga?)
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2002 . Reiche der Engel und Dämonen. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as The Unseen World of Angels and Demons.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2002 . Wo der Geist weht: Wesen und Wirken des heiligen Geistes damals und heute. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Ruled by the Spirit.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2001 . Rockmusik: Woher – Wohin? Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Rock Music: Where From? Where To?).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 2001 . Israel mein Volk. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Israel My Chosen People: A German Confession Before God and the Jews.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1999 . Building a Wall of Prayer: A Handbook for Intercessors. London: Kanaan Publications.
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1998 . Alles fúr Einen. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as My All for Him).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1996 . Dem Überwinder die Krone. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as To the Victor the Crown.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1993 . Wie ich Gott erlebte: Sein Weg mit mir durch Sieben Jahrzehnte. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as I Found the Key to the Heart of God: My Personal Story.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1992 . New Age aus biblisher Sicht. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as New Age from a Biblical Viewpoint).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1989 . Maria: Der Weg der Mutter des Herrn. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Evangelische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as Mary, the Mother of Jesus.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1967 . And None Would Believe It: An Answer to the New Morality. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. (Originally published in German as Und keiner wollte es glauben.).
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1961. Das Ende ist nah. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Oekumenische Marienschwesternschaft.
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1956. Israel: Gottes Frage an uns. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Oekumenische Marienschwesternschaft.
Schlink, M. Basilea. 1949. Ihr aber seid das königliche Priestertum. Darmstadt-Eberstadt: Oekumenische Marienschwesternschaft. (Published in English as The Royal Priesthood.)
Smith, Robert O. 2013. More Desired than Our Owne [sic] Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Greschat, Martin. 2002. Die evangelische Kirche und die Deutsche Geschichte nach 1945: Weichenstellungen in der Nachkriegszeit. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer.
4 March 2023