BIOGRAPHY AND PHOTO OF JACOB BOEHME
JACOB BOHEME [1576 – 1624]
THE TEUTONIC THEOSOPHER
An Introduction To Jacob Boehme
Jacob Boehme, “chosen servant of God,” was born in Alt Seidenburg, Germany, in 1575.
John Wesley, in his day, required all of his preachers to study the writings of Jacob Boehme; and the learned theologian, William Law, said of him: “Jacob Boehme was not a messenger of anything new in religion, but the mystery of all that was old and true in religion and nature, was opened up to him,” “the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.”
Born of poor, but pious, Lutheran parents, from childhood, Jacob Boehme was concerned about “the salvation of his soul.” Although daily occupied, first as a shepherd, and afterward as a shoemaker, he was always an earnest student of the Holy Scriptures; but he could not understand “the ways of God,” and he became “perplexed, even to melancholy, pressed out of measure.” He said: “I knew the Bible from beginning to end, but could find no consolation in Holy Writ; and my spirit, as if moving in a great storm, arose in God, carrying with it my whole heart, mind and will and wrestled with the love and mercy of God, that his blessing might descend upon me, that my mind might be illumined with his Holy Spirit, that I might understand his will and get rid of my sorrow . . .
“I had always thought much of how I might inherit the kingdom of heaven; but finding in myself a powerful opposition, in the desires that belong to the flesh and blood, I began a battle against my corrupted nature; and with the aid of God, I made up my mind to overcome the inherited evil will . . . break it, and enter wholly into the love of God in Christ Jesus . . . I sought the heart of Jesus Christ, the center of all truth; and I resolved to regard myself as dead in my inherited form, until the Spirit of God would take form in me, so that in and through him, I might conduct my life.
“I stood in this resolution, fighting a battle with myself, until the light of the Spirit, a light entirely foreign to my unruly nature, began to break through the clouds. Then, after some farther hard fights with the powers of darkness, my spirit broke through the doors of hell, and penetrated even unto the innermost essence of its newly born divinity where it was received with great love, as a bridegroom welcomes his beloved bride.
“No word can express the great joy and triumph I experienced, as of a life out of death, as of a resurrection from the dead! . . . While in this state, as I was walking through a field of flowers, in fifteen minutes, I saw through the mystery of creation, the original of this world and of all creatures. . . . Then for seven days I was in a continual state of ecstasy, surrounded by the light of the Spirit, which immersed me in contemplation and happiness. I learned what God is, and what is his will . . . I knew not how this happened to me, but my heart admired and praised the Lord for it!”
At the age of twenty-five, Boehme was given another great illumination, in which the Lord let him see farther into “the heart of things . . . the true nature of God and man, and the relationship existing between them.” Ten years later “the divine order of nature” was opened up to him, and he was inspired to write what the Lord had revealed to him.
From 1612 to 1624, he wrote thirty books, “My books are written” Boehme said “only for those who desire to be sanctified and united to God, from whom they came . . . Not through my understanding, but in my resignation in Christ . . from him have I received knowledge of his mysteries. God dwells in that which will resign itself up, with all its reason and skill, unto him . . . I have prayed strongly that I might not write except for the glory of God and the instruction and benefit fo my brethren.”
Jacob Boehme’s persecutions and suffering began with the publication of his first book, “Aurora,” at the age of thirty-five. then not withstanding five years of enforced silence, banishment from his home town, and an ecclesiastical trial for heresy, his “interior wisdom” began to be recognized by the nobility of Germany; but at this time, at the age of forty-nine, Boehme died, “happy,” as he said, “in the midst of the heavenly music of the paradise of God,” in Silesia in 1624.
Jacob Boehme, beyond a doubt, is one of the greatest of Christian Gnostics. I am using the word not in the sense of the so-called heretics of the opening centuries of the Christian era, but to indicate a wisdom grounded in revelation and employing myths and symbols rather than concepts – a wisdom much more contemplative than discursive. Such is religious philosophy, or theosophy.
Nothing is more characteristic of Boehme than his great simplicity of heart and childlike purity of soul. He was not a scholar nor a lettered man nor a schoolman. He was of the class of wise men that come from the people. A child of weak constitution, Boehme was apprenticed to a shoemaker following an elementary education in the village school of Alt Seidenberg. At the age of 24, he became a citizen of the town of Görlitz and entered into business as a shoemaker. In May of that year he married the local butcher’s daughter, Catharina Kuntzchmann, and shortly thereafter purchased a home.
Between 1600 and 1611 his wife bore four sons. Throughout his life he was an active business and family man involved in problems relating to the transfer of goods, controversy among the guilds, the sale of property and private and public litigation. With the other citizens in Görlitz, Boehme would face the personal and economic difficulties brought on by the Thirty Years’ War.
For a man of Boehme’s religious interests, Görlitz was an exciting location. In the city were followers of the spiritualist Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig (1489-1551) and other groups who took interest in the work of the alchemist Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim -known as Paracelsus- (1493-1541), and the nature mystic Valentine Weigel (1533-1588). Although we are led to beleive that Boehme was a reader and was informed of the various teachings in his city, it is nonetheless certain that his doctrine cannot be explained by influences ow by borrowings. To state precisely the sources of his wisdom is a highly complex problem, the problem of the possibility of a personal revelation and illumination, of a supernatural charismatic gift.
The spark that ignited Boehme environment was provided with the arrival of Martin Moller, who came to the city as a Lutherian pastor in 1600. He immediately organized a “Conventicle of God’s Real Servant” as a tentative to reintroduce in the rather dry presentation of lutherianism at the time; personal renewal, individual spiritual growth and religious experience. Boehme, awakened in the revival, joined. Later in 1600, Boehme experienced his first great vision. He began to write, and in 1912 finished his Aurora. One of Boehme’s associates made copies of this book and circulated them. In 1613 one of the copies fell into the hands of Martin Moller’s successor: the chief Pastor Gregory Richter, who in addition to his concern for the defense of the Lutherian orthodoxy had personal reasons for attacking Boehme. He had Boehme’s books confiscated and on July 30, 1613, its author was banned from further writings.
Boehme ceased writing for a “Sabbath of years” as he described it. In January 1619, after another illumination that once more incited his prophetic spirit, he broke his silence and wrote practically without interruption from 1619 to 1623. The enthusiasm of his disciples had its effect and, as rumours of the circle grew, Richter became enraged again. The authorities did not know of the works written since 1619 and supposed that to that date Boehme had maintained silence.
The publication of The Way to Christ on New Years Day 1624 immediately brought forth angry sermons of Richter. In March Boehme was told by the municipality council to seek his fortune elsewhere and went for a short time to Dresden. Later in 1624, ill and working on his last book, he returned to his home in Görlitz. Richter was dead by this time, and his replacement was called to Boehme’s home to minister the dying prophet. According to him, Boehme died as an orthodox Lutherian on November 17.
Recent findings show that Boehme was much more than a simple shoemaker. He apparently organized the commerce of leather in his area. His practices were very close to what is called “dumping” today. Pastor Richter, whose relatives lost substantial amounts of money because of Boehme’s business, had indeed strong personal motives to have Boehme banished from Görlitz.
The universe is created according to the words of the Prolog of John the Divine. God created through his word. He how was triple, from the beginning, understood in his wisdom individual beings. Seven characteristics progressively reveal the creative word. The first is harshness : God’s conception of Himself. It is followed by attraction, followed by dread, the result of the first two. The fourth is the ignation of fire, the basis of sensitive and intellectual life. From the fire, love-light is emitted, which dissipates the individualism of the first four characteristics. The sixth is the divine power of speech; the seventh is the speech itself. Each of the seven characteristics is present in all beings and reflects the motion from all eternity.
Like God, man was both fire and light. Man’s soul began in the fiery inception of eternal nature and is to stream back to its source as light, as love. As Boehme’s two favorite images describe it, the prodigal son returns, but work still remains to be done in the vineyard. With a resigned will the journey back is undertaken and with a resigned will the work in the vineyard is completed. The arrival home is an experience of divine contemplation and the conclusion of the work ushers in contemplation of the divine. All creatures return in the unity of God.
THE UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD AND THE RETURN TO UNITY
Boehme’s concept of the Creator is the perfect, unmoving, complete, satisfied, all-powerfull, all-knowing and infinitely good God. He has created the world and man for His own glory and for the good of Creation. The act of creation was not prompted by anything, did not answer any need of God, but was the result of a purely and simply arbitrary decision. it added nothing to the Divine Being, nor enriched it in any way. In this context, all creatures participate to the same life and therefore are included into the unity of God, even the lower reigns of nature. Boehme’s concept of paradise was the original unity of the creation and simultaneously, the place of return to this primordial unity of the soul after the mystical marriage of all souls with the Divine Wisdom (Theosophia) – see the Return to Christ.
LATENT POWERS IN MAN.
In this field, as in most of his teachings, the very topic Boehme chooses to discuss, he has pushed language behond its limits. He is one who has gone beyond the axiom of contradiction. All things are created in and by the Word of god and are reflected in man’s word. All things have Kraft, translated into English as Power or Energy, which is paralleled by the Kraft above all, the Word of God.
Because of the close relationship of the macrocosm and the microcosm, man’s words are to be carefully spoken. A man speaks and has creative power in his word. Imagination is that aspect of man by which he orients his consciousness. In itself, it is neutral. It develops the impression in man. Where Imagination leaves off, Magia begins. Magia is that which pierces through the Imagination towards the Mysterium Magnum. This search and discovery of Magia is “the best theology. In it, Faith is founded and discovered.” (Six Mystical Points 5:23). It is the eternal foundation of Magia, which makes things in itself, where no thing is. It makes Something out of Nothing, and it does this aside from the activity of the will in Man. “The will has nothing, nor is there anything that gives something to it. The will has no place where it can discover itself or rest.”(Mysterium Pansophicum). On man’s part, therefore, only when the will of man, his desire and capacity to create outside the great Plan of the creator, has been totally resigned can the creation of the Word take place, and the marriage with the Divine Wisdom – or Theosophia – be fully consummated.
BIOGRAPHY AND PHOTO OF JACOB BOHEME [1576 – 1624] 1