Fortress Press

The Power and Vulnerability of Love: A Theological Anthropology

The Power and Vulnerability of Love

A Theological Anthropology

Elizabeth O'Donnell Gandolfo (Author)


What is it about human beings that makes us capable and even desirous of inflicting terrible suffering on others (and ourselves)?  If human beings—not God—are the cause of evils such as extreme poverty, violence, and oppression, it is imperative that we probe the depths of the human heart to uncover why we, who are made in the image of Divine Eros, fail so miserably to love. Gandolfo constructs a theological anthropology in response to these pivotal questions. Gandolfo maintains that such an anthropology—and a response to these questions—begins with the condition of human vulnerability. Drawing on women’s experiences of maternity and natality, she argues that vulnerability is a dimension of human existence that causes us great anxiety, which in turn sets in motion tragic attempts by individuals and interest groups to eliminate their own vulnerability at the cost of vulnerable others. Yet vulnerability not only forms the basis for violence but also affords the possibility of human openness to the redemptive work of divine love. Poised paradoxically between tragic and redemptive vulnerability, human beings need existential resources and empowering practices to cope with and manage our vulnerability in more courageous, peaceful, and compassionate ways.  
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451484670
  • eBook ISBN 9781451494204
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 360
  • Publication Date February 1, 2015


Part I: The Vulnerability of the Human Condition
1. The Fundamentals of Human Vulnerability
2. The Complexity of Human Vulnerability
3. The Violation of Human Vulnerability
4. Violated Vulnerability and the Violence of Privilege

Part II: The Trinitarian Dynamics of Divine Love and Human Redemption:
A Theological Anthropology of Resilience and Resistance 
5. Do Not Be Afraid
6. And She Gave Birth
7. Rachel’s Lament and Mary’s Flight

Part III: To Suckle God with Exercises of Love
8. Practices of Resilience and Resistance
9. Conclusion: Contemplating Vulnerability


"With this book, an important new theological voice challenges us to reconceive suffering and redemption through the lens of maternal vulnerability and resilience. Combining insights from liberation and contemplative theology, Gandolfo is relentless in her attention to the hidden corners of human pain and perhaps even more relentless in her witness to divine compassion. This is an important text for feminists and systematic theologians, as well as for Christians thirsty for hope that emerges from the depths of anguish."
—Wendy Farley
Emory University

"It's so refreshing to read a work that takes vulnerability so seriously. Our challenge is not sin but vulnerability. This changes everything (to see how, you need to read the book). Most impressively, Gandolfo could not know what she knows without direct encounter with mothering, including other mothers' narratives and practices. I love how she weaves maternal knowledge and Christian sources into a conceptually rich portrait of what it means to be human."
Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore
Vanderbilt University

"As various scholars in the humanities increasingly name the temptation to deny our vulnerability as the source of so many of the problems facing our world, Gandolfo offers a heart-achingly stunning theological exploration of maternal experiences in a way that illuminates our human capability for the life-giving vulnerability that we so desperately fear and that our world so desperately needs. Since she plumbs the depths of suffering revealed in contexts of intimate relationships and practices of care in order to name sources of and resistance to violence, this is a must-read for constructive, feminist, political, and liberation theologians."
Maureen O’Connell
La Salle University