Anton Boisen – A German Perspective



If you are involved with pastoral care in general or Clinical Pastoral Education in particular there is no way you escaped the legacy of Anton Theophilus Boisen. A great approach to this struggling soul is his Autobiographical Study Of Mental Disorder And Religious Experience “Out of the Depths”. It is a available as a free ebook (Nook and online). I just want to focus on one aspect of his personality, i. e. his German roots. He describes them in the most beautiful words:

“Music was an important part of my father’s plan of education, and he was particularly fond of some of the fine old German hymns and folk songs.” (Page 22)

“My pleasantest memories of Professor Boisen are associated with his love of nature and his fine appreciation of German literature, German life, German history and German scenery. He could speak of each of these in a strain of vigor and of poetry such as one rarely hears. He once laid out a tramp for us through Holstein and Thuringia and was never weary of telling us of the beautiful things we should see on the road, the rocks and lakes and glens and castles, the Inselberg, the Liebenstein, and the forest-hidden Ukleisee, which, alas, we shall never see with his eyes.” (Page 28)

Don’t be mislead into thinking that growing up with German roots is all romantic and easy. The German soul comes with a very special set of challenges. Boisen grew up with the cultural background of German immigrants. To me that explains some of his personality traits that are also known as Prussian virtues. Examples of Prussian virtues are according to wikipedia:

  • – Austerity or Thrift (German: Sparsamkeit)
  • – Bravery without self-pity (German: Tapferkeit ohne Wehleidigkeit) “Lerne leiden ohne zu klagen.” Translation: “Learn to suffer without complaining about it.”
  • – Cosmopolitanism (German: Weltoffenheit)
  • – Courage (German: Mut)
  • – Determination (German: Zielstrebigkeit)
  • – Discipline (German: Disziplin)
  • – Frankness or Probity (German: Redlichkeit)
  • – Godliness, coupled with religious tolerance (German: Gottesfurcht bei religiöser Toleranz) “Jeder soll nach seiner Façon selig werden.” Translation: “Everyone shall be blessed according to their own belief.”
  • – Humility or Modesty (German: Bescheidenheit)
  • – Incorruptibility (German: Unbestechlichkeit)
  • – Industriousness or Diligence (German: Fleiß)
  • – Loyalty (German: Treue)
  • – Obedience (German: Gehorsam) “Seid gehorsam, doch nicht ohne Freimut.” Translation: Be obedient, but not without frankness.
  • – Punctuality (German: Pünktlichkeit)
  • – Reliability (German: Zuverlässigkeit)
  • – Restraint (German: Zurückhaltung)
  • – Self-denial (German: Selbstverleugnung) The German author and soldier Walter Flex (1887-1917) wrote “Wer je auf Preußens Fahne schwört, hat nichts mehr, was ihm selbst gehört.” Translation: “He who swears on Prussia’s flag has nothing left that belongs to himself.”
  • – Self-effacement (German: Zurückhaltung) “Mehr sein als scheinen!” Translation: “Be better than you appear to be!”
  • – Sense of duty or Conscientiousness (German: Pflichtbewusstsein)
  • – Sense of justice (German: Gerechtigkeitssinn) Jedem das Seine or Suum cuique
  • – Sense of order (German: Ordnungssinn)
  • – Sincerity (German: Aufrichtigkeit)
  • – Straightness or Straightforwardness (German: Geradlinigkeit)
  • – Subordination (German: Unterordnung)
  • – Toughness (German: Härte) “Gegen sich mehr noch als gegen andere.” Translation: “Be harder against yourself than you are against others.”

Ever wondered why Germans are so tense? I hope this gives you an idea. “Cut yourself some slack!” or “Don’t beat yourself up all the time!” hardly resonate with people of this upbringing. And please feel free to find my own counter-transferences in this study.


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