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Idealized portrait of Boehme from Theosophia Revelata (1730).

Jakob Böhme (probably April 24, 1575[1] – November 17, 1624) was a German Christian mystic and theologian. He is considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition. In contemporary English his name may be spelled Jacob Boehme; in seventeenth-century England it was also spelled Behmen, approximating the contemporary English pronunciation of the German Böhme.

Contents

Biography

Jakob Böhme (anonymous portrait)

Böhme was born at Altseidenberg (now a part of Sulików, Lower Silesian Voivodeship), near Görlitz in eastern Germany in April 1575. His father, George Wissen, was reasonably wealthy, but a peasant nonetheless. Böhme's first job was that of a herd boy, however he was deemed to not be strong enough for husbandry. When he was 14 years old he was sent to Seidenberg as an apprentice to become a shoemaker.[2] His apprenticeship for shoemaking was hard; he lived with a family who were not Christians, which exposed him to the controversies of the time. He regularly prayed and read the Bible as well as works by visionaries such as Paracelsus, Weigel and Schwenckfeld, although he received no formal education.[3] After three years as an apprentice, Böhme left to travel. Although it is unknown just how far he went, he at least made it to Görlitz.[2] By 1599 Böhme was master of his craft with his own premises in Görlitz. That same year he married Katharina daughter of Hans Kuntzschmann, a butcher in Görlitz, and together they had four sons and two daughters.[3][4]

Böhme had a number of mystical experiences throughout his youth, culminating in a vision in 1600 as one day he focused his attention onto the exquisite beauty of a beam of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish. He believed this vision revealed to him the spiritual structure of the world, as well as the relationship between God and man, and good and evil. At the time he chose not to speak of this experience openly, preferring instead to continue his work and raise a family.

The shop in Görlitz was sold in 1613 and had allowed Böhme to buy a house in 1610 and finish paying for it in 1618. Having given up shoemaking in 1613, Böhme sold woollen gloves for a while which caused him to regularly visit Prague to sell the gloves.[2]

Aurora and writings

There are as many blasphemies in this shoemaker's book as there are lines; it smells of shoemaker's pitch and filthy blacking. May this insufferable stench be far from us. The Arian poison was not so deadly as this shoemaker's poison,
— Gregorius Richter following the publication of Aurora.[5]

Twelve years after the vision in 1600 Böhme began to write his first book, Die Morgenroete im Aufgang. The book was given the name Aurora by a friend; however Böhme originally wrote the book for himself and it was never finished.[6] A copy was loaned to Karl von Ender, a nobleman, who had copies made and began to circulate the manuscript. A copy fell into the hands of Gregorius Richter, the chief pastor of Görlitz, who considered it heretical and threatened Böhme with exile if he did not stop writing. As a result Böhme did not write anything for several years; however at the insistence of friends who had read Aurora, he started writing again in 1618. It took him two years to finish his second book, which was followed by many other treatises. These were copied by hand and circulated around friends.[7] 1622 saw Böhme write some short works, however these were subsequently published in his first published book on New Years day 1624 under the title Weg zu Christo (The Way to Christ).[4]

The publication caused another scandal and following complaints by the clergy, Böhme was summoned to the Town Council on the 26th March 1624. The report of the meeting was that:

"Jacob Boehme, the shoemaker and rabid enthusiast, declares that he has written his book To Eternal Life, but did not cause the same to be printed. A nobleman, Sigismund von Schweinitz, did that. The Council gave him warning to leave the town; otherwise the Prince Elector would be apprised of the facts. He thereupon promised that he would shortly take himself off."[8]
I must tell you, sir, that yesterday the pharisaical devil was let loose, cursed me and my little book, and condemned the book to the fire. He charged me with shocking vices; with being a scorner of both Church and Sacraments, and with getting drunk daily on brandy, wine, and beer; all of which is untrue; while he himself is a drunken man."
— Jacob Boehme writing about Gregorius Richter on the 2nd April 1624.[9]

Böhme left for Dresden on 8 or 9 May 1624, for two months, where he stayed with the court physician. He was accepted by the nobility and high clergy in Dresden. Böhme's intellect was recognised by clerics and professors in Dresden, who in a hearing in May 1624 encouraged Böhme to go home to his family in Görlitz.[3] During Böhme's absence his family had suffered during the Thirty Years' War.[3]

Once home Böhme accepted an invitation to stay with Herr von Schweinitz who had a country-seat. While there Böhme began to write his last book, the 177 Theosophic Questions. However he fell terminally ill with a bowel complaint forcing him to travel home on 7 November. Gregorius Richter, Böhme's adversary from Görlitz, died in August 1624 while Böhme was away, however the new clergy were still wary. When Böhme wanted to receive the sacrament he was forced to answer a long list of questions. He died some time in the middle of November 1624.[10]

In this short period, Böhme produced an enormous amount of writing, including his major works De Signatura Rerum and Mysterium Magnum. He also developed a following throughout Europe, where his followers were known as Behmenists.

The son of Böhme's chief antagonist, the pastor primarius of Görlitz Gregorius Richter, edited a collection of extracts from his writings, which were afterwards published complete at Amsterdam with the help of Coenraad van Beuningen in the year 1682. Böhme's full works were first printed in 1730.

Theology

The chief concern of Boehme's writing was the nature of sin, evil, and redemption. Consistent with Lutheran theology, Boehme preached that humanity had fallen from a state of divine grace to a state of sin and suffering, that the forces of evil included fallen angels who had rebelled against God, and that God's goal was to restore the world to a state of grace.

There are some serious departures from accepted theology, however, such as his rejection of sola fide and sola gratia, as in this passage from The Way to Christ:

"For he that will say, I have a Will, and would willingly do Good, but the earthly Flesh which I carry about me, keepeth me back, so that I cannot; yet I shall be saved by Grace, for the Merits of Christ. I comfort myself with his Merit and Sufferings; who will receive me of mere Grace, without any Merits of my own, and forgive me my Sins. Such a one, I say, is like a Man that knoweth what Food is good for his Health, yet will not eat of it, but eateth Poison instead thereof, from whence Sickness and Death, will certainly follow."[11]

Another place where Boehme may depart from accepted theology (though this was open to question due to his somewhat obscure, oracular style) was in his description of the Fall as a necessary stage in the evolution of the Universe.[12] A difficulty with his theology is the fact that he had a mystical vision, which he reinterpreted and reformulated.[13] According to F. von Ingen, to Boehme, in order to reach God, man has to go through hell first. God exists without time or space, he regenerates himself through eternity, so Boehme, who restates the trinity as truly existing but with a novel interpretation. God, the Father is fire, who gives birth to his son, whom Böhme calls light. The Holy Spirit is the living principle, or the divine life.[14]

However, it is clear that Boehme never claimed that God sees evil as desirable, necessary, or as part of divine will to bring forth good. In his Threefold Life, Boehme states, “in the order of nature an evil thing cannot produce a good thing out of itself, but one evil thing generateth another”. Boehme does not believe that there is any “divine mandate or metaphysically inherent necessity for evil and its effects in the scheme of things”.[15] Dr. John Pordage, a commentator on Boehme, wrote that “Jacob Behme [sic], whensoever he attributes evil to eternal nature considers it in its fallen state, as it became infected by the fall of Lucifer...”[15] Evil is seen as “the disorder, rebellion, perversion of making spirit nature’s servant”[16], which is to say a perversion of initial Divine order.

Jacob Boehme's House in Görlitz, were he lived from 1590 to 1610
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Cosmology

In one interpretation of Boehme's cosmology, it was necessary for humanity to depart from God, and for all original unities to undergo differentiation, desire, and conflict—as in the rebellion of Satan, the separation of Eve from Adam, and their acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil—in order for creation to evolve to a new state of redeemed harmony that would be more perfect than the original state of innocence, allowing God to achieve a new self-awareness by interacting with a creation that was both part of, and distinct from, Himself. Free will becomes the most important gift God gives to humanity, allowing us to seek divine grace as a deliberate choice while still allowing us to remain individuals.

Boehme saw the incarnation of Christ not as a sacrificial offering to cancel out human sins, but as an offering of love for humanity, showing God's willingness to bear the suffering that had been a necessary aspect of creation. He also believed the incarnation of Christ conveyed the message that a new state of harmony is possible. This was somewhat at odds with Lutheran teachings, and his suggestion that God would have been somehow incomplete without the Creation was even more controversial, as was his emphasis on faith and self-awareness rather than strict adherence to dogma or scripture.

Marian views

Boehme believed that the Son of God became human through the Virgin Mary. Before the birth of Christ, God recognized himself as a virgin. This virgin is therefore a mirror of God's wisdom and knowledge.[17] Boehme follows Luther, in that he views Mary within the context of Christ. Unlike Luther, he does not address himself to dogmatic issues very much, but to the human side of Mary. Like all other women, she was human and therefore subject to sin. Only after God elected her with his grace to become the mother of his son, did she inherit the status of sinlessness.[14] Mary did not move the Word, the Word moved Mary, so Boehme, explaining that all her grace came from Christ. Mary is "blessed among women" but not because of her qualifications, but because of her humility. Mary is an instrument of God, an example, what God can do: It shall not be forgotten in all eternity, that God became human in her.[18]

Boehme, unlike Luther, does not believe that Mary was the Ever Virgin. Her virginity after the birth of Jesus is unrealistic to Boehme. The true salvation is Christ, not Mary. The importance of Mary, a human like every one of us, is that she gave birth to Jesus Christ as a human being. If Mary had not been human, to Boehme, Christ would be a stranger and not our brother. Christ must grow in us as he did in Mary. She became blessed by accepting Christ. In a reborn Christian, like in Mary, all that is temporal disappears and only the heavenly part remains for all eternity. Boehme's peculiar theological language, involving fire, light and spirit, which permeates his theology and Marian views, does not distract much from the fact that his basic positions are Lutheran, with the one exception of the virginity of Mary, where he holds a more temporal view.[18]

Influences

Boehme's writing shows the influence of Neoplatonist and alchemical writers such as Paracelsus, while remaining firmly within a Christian tradition. He has in turn greatly influenced many anti-authoritarian and mystical movements, such as the Religious Society of Friends, the Philadelphians, the Gichtelians, the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness, the Ephrata Cloister, the Harmony Society, the Zoarite Separatists, Rosicrucianism, Martinism, and Christian theosophy. Boehme's disciple and mentor, the Liegnitz physician Balthasar Walther, who had travelled to the Holy Land in search of magical, kabbalistic and alchemical wisdom, also introduced kabbalistic ideas into Boehme's thought.[19] Boehme was also an important source of German Romantic philosophy, influencing Schelling in particular.[20] In Richard Bucke's 1901 treatise Cosmic Consciousness, special attention was given to the profundity of Boehme's spiritual enlightenment, which seemed to reveal to Boehme an ultimate nondifference, or nonduality, between human beings and God. Boehme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist and mystic William Blake.

Quote

"When thou art gone forth wholly from the creature [human], and art become nothing to all that is nature and creature, then thou art in that eternal one, which is God himself, and then thou shalt perceive and feel the highest virtue of love. Also, that I said whosoever findeth it findeth nothing and all things; that is also true, for he findeth a supernatural, supersensual Abyss, having no ground, where there is no place to dwell in; and he findeth also nothing that is like it, and therefore it may be compared to nothing, for it is deeper than anything, and is as nothing to all things, for it is not comprehensible; and because it is nothing, it is free from all things, and it is that only Good, which a man cannot express or utter what it is. But that I lastly said, he that findeth it, findeth all things, is also true; it hath been the beginning of all things, and it ruleth all things. If thou findest it, thou comest into that ground from whence all things proceed, and wherein they subsist, and thou art in it a king over all the works of God." [The Way to Christ, 1623]

Reaction

In addition to the scientific revolution, the seventeenth century was a time of mystical revolution in Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. The Protestant revolution developed from Boehme and some medieval mystics. Boehme became important in intellectual circles in protestant Europe, following from the publication of his books in England, Holland and Germany in the 1640s and 1650s.[21] Boehme was especially important for the Millenarians and was taken seriously by the Cambridge Platonists and Dutch Collegiants. Henry More was critical of Boehme and claimed he was not a real prophet, and had no exceptional insight into metaphysical questions. More, for example, dismissed Opera Posthuma by Spinoza as a return to Behmenism.[22]

Boehme was famous in Holland, England, France, Russia and America during the seventeenth century. He became less prominent during the eighteenth century but a revival occurred late in the century with interest from German Romantics who considered Boehme a forerunner to the movement. Poets such as Milton, Tieck, Novalis and William Blake found inspiration in Boehme's writings. Boehme was highly thought of by the German philosophers Baader, Schelling, and Schopenhauer. Hegel went as far as to say that Boehme was "the first German philosopher."[23]

See also

Works

  • Aurora: Die Morgenröte im Aufgang (unfinished) (1612)
  • The Three Principles of the Divine Essence (1618-1919)
  • The Threefold Life of Man (1620)
  • Answers to Forty Questions Concerning the Soul (1620)
  • The Treatise of the Incarnations: (1620)
    • I. Of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ
    • II. Of the Suffering, Dying, Death and Resurrection of Christ
    • III. Of the Tree of Faith
  • The Great Six Points (1620)
  • Of the Earthly and of the Heavenly Mystery (1620)
  • Of the Last Times (1620)
  • De Signatura Rerum (1621)
  • The Four Complexions (1621)
  • Of True Repentance (1622)
  • Of True Resignation (1622)
  • Of Regeneration (1622)
  • Of Predestination (1623)
  • A Short Compendium of Repentance (1623)
  • The Mysterium Magnum (1623)
  • A Table of the Divine Manifestation, or an Exposition of the Threefold World (1623)
  • The Supersensual Life (1624)
  • Of Divine Contemplation or Vision (unfinished) (1624)
  • Of Christ's Testaments (1624)
    • I. Baptism
    • II. The Supper
  • Of Illumination (1624)
  • 177 Theosophic Questions, with Answers to Thirteen of Them (unfinished) (1624)
  • An Epitome of the Mysterium Magnum (1624)
  • The Holy Week or a Prayer Book (unfinished) (1624)
  • A Table of the Three Principles (1624)
  • Of the Last Judgement (lost) (1624)
  • The Clavis (1624)
  • Sixty-two Theosophic Epistles (1618-1624)

Books in Print

  • The Way to Christ (inc. True Repentance, True Resignation, Regeneration or the New Birth, The Supersensual Life, Of Heaven & Hell, The Way from Darkness to True Illumination) edited by William Law, Diggory Press ISBN 978-1846857911

Notes

  1. ^ [1]. Some sources e.g. this one say he was born "on or soon before" 24 April 1575.
  2. ^ a b c Deussen 1910, p. xxxviii
  3. ^ a b c d Debelius, F.W. (1908). "Boehme, Jakob". in Jackson. New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 2 (3rd ed.). pp. 209–211.  
  4. ^ a b Chisholm, ed (1911). "Boehme, Jakob". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). pp. 114.  
  5. ^ Martensen 1885, p. 13
  6. ^ Deussen 1910, pp. xli-xlii
  7. ^ Weeks 1991, p. 2
  8. ^ Deussen 1910, p. xlviii
  9. ^ Deussen 1910, pp. xlviii-xlix
  10. ^ Deussen 1910, pp. xlix-l
  11. ^ "The Way to Christ". Pass the Word Services. http://www.passtheword.org/DIALOGS-FROM-THE-PAST/waychrst.htm.  
  12. ^ F.von Ingen, Jacob Boehme in Marienlexikon, Eos, St.Ottilien 1988, 517
  13. ^ Ingen 517
  14. ^ a b Ingen 518
  15. ^ a b Musès, Charles A. Illumination on Jacob Boehme. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1951
  16. ^ Stoudt, John Joseph. Jacob Boehme: His Life and Thought. New York: The Seabury Press, 1968
  17. ^ Ingen 518.
  18. ^ a b Ingen 519
  19. ^ See Leigh T.I. Penman, ‘A Second Christian Rosencreuz? Jacob Boehme’s Disciple Balthasar Walther (1558-c.1630) and the Kabbalah. With a Bibliography of Walther’s Printed Works.’ Western Esotericism. Selected Papers Read at the Symposium on Western Esotericism held at Åbo, Finland, on 15-17 August 2007. (Scripta instituti donneriani Aboensis, XX). T. Ahlbäck, ed. Åbo, Finland: Donner Institute, 2008: 154-172.
  20. ^ See Schopenhauer's On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Ch II, 8
  21. ^ Popkin 1998, pp. 401-402
  22. ^ Popkin 1998, p. 402
  23. ^ Weeks 1991, pp. 2-3

References

External links



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