Journal Put’,  oct/nov, 1926, No. 5, p. 119-122.


(1926 – #316)

(Heinrich Bornkamm. Luther und Boehme. 1925.  Paul Hankamer. Jakob Boehme. Gestalt und Gestaltung. 1924.  Jacob Boehme. Gedankgabe der Stadt Goerlitz zu seinem 300 jaerigen Todesgabe. Herausgegeben von Richards Jecht. 1924.)

Jacob Boehme — is one of the greatest geniuses of mankind, but of geniuses little accessed, remaining in the shadows. Only but few read him and whole eras tend to forget him. The spiritual atmosphere now at present has begun an era favourable for a rebirth of interest in Boehme. Moreover, in the year 1924 was the tricentennial of his death. And in Germany several new books about Boehme appeared. A trait of Germans is the honouring of their great people. Yet there is little that is fine written concerning Boehme. Though the books of [Emile] Boutroux and [Werner] Elert have to be acknowledged as not bad. For long a while within modern thought J. Boehme has tended to remain obscure and forgotten. The arising of the spiritual interest in Boehme is connected with the names Saint-Martin and Fr. Baader. Schelling too in his final period, the period of the Philosophie des Mythologie and the Philosophie der Offenbarung [Philosophy of Revelation] to a remarkable degree was influenced by the spirit of J. Boehme. Hegel acknowledges J. Boehme as an originator of the lineage of modern philosophy and holds him in high esteem. Jacob Boehme has to be indisputably acknowledged as the greatest Christian theosophist (employing this term not in the modern vulgar, but in its old noble sense) and the greatest mystic of the gnostic type. But the subsurface influence of Boehme runs wider than the gnostico-theosophic and mystical currents. His name underlies all of German philosophy, which in its most remarkable aspects received an engrafting from his spirit. Boehme, just as with all that are genuinely great, belongs to eternity, but in the temporal aspect he was a man of the Reformation and the Renaissance, he belongs to the spiritual current of this epoch. Boehme’s nature-philosophy bears a Renaissance character. As regards faith-confession Boehme was a Lutheran and before death he accepted last rites from a Lutheran pastor. But the Lutheran clergy vexed and persecuted him during his life, and forbade him to publish his works. It is a phenomenon characteristic to all faith-confessions. Boehme bore within himself both the positive and the negative features of the Reformation era. But as regards his spirit he stands higher than the various faith-confessions, he is supra-confessional, just as are the greater part of mystics. Boehme represents quite exceptional a phenomenon: the great Christian theosophist and gnostic was a man from the common people, a simple craftsman, a shoemaker, a man having gone through no sort of school, not erudite, not an academic bookish man. He found nourishment first of all in the Bible and the bits of knowledge, which is received chiefly from the people, whom he happened to meet in life. He knew certain works of Paracelsus, another great theosophist and nature-philosopher of the Renaissance, and he adopted for himself his alchemist-astrological terminology. He received likewise an engrafting from the Kabbala, by what sort of paths is unclear to us. The influence of the Kabbala tends to free one from the abstract mysticism of the Neo-Platonist and Eckhardt type, and introduces the principle of a concrete cosmology and anthropology. But it is in vain to seek for influences, determining the world-concept of Boehme, — he is a phenomenon of the first order and original. The sources of Boehme’s knowledge — are from life, and not from books, he is foremost of all a visionary, a seer, given the gift of sight, the contemplation of the mysteries of life — Divine, natural and human. The problem, which the appearance of Boehme presents, is the problem of a gnostic talentedness, of a special gift of sight, which does not appear directly proportional to a degree of holiness, blessed by a church. Boehme, in the guise of a Protestant, did not belong to the body of the Church, but to the soul of the Church he certainly belonged. Here was a man, uniting within himself an extraordinary complexion of knowledge, the wisdom of the serpent with a dove-like simplicity of heart and righteousness of life. And moreover the appearance of Boehme presents the problem of a Christian esotericism, of the moreso concealed knowledge of the mysteries of Christianity, the revelation concerning revelation, as J. de Maistre tended to express it.

In the world-concept and world-perception of J. Boehme there were aspects absolutely new both in comparison with the philosophy of antiquity and in comparison with medieval Scholasticism. Being for him is not an external order and harmony, as it was for the thought of antiquity, and with which Scholasticism was smothered. Being, both Divine being and cosmic being, — is dynamic, and not static. Boehme sees everywhere the struggle of opposing principles, of light and darkness, of good and evil, of the sweet and the bitter. He discerns the antinomic aspect of being, he sees tragedy within the world process. And this tragedy is lodged within the Divinity itself. This simple craftsman, not erudite, not bookish, not smothered off by some academic sense of tragedy, set himself the audacious task to conceive of the coming about of the Divine Trinity from the Primal-Divinity. The Ungrund, the abyss, as the primal-fundament of being, is a basic idea of Boehme. This indeed is a fundamental and verymost original idea of German mysticism, influencing the whole of German philosophy. Eckhardt already makes a distinction between the Gottheit [Godhead] and Gott [God]. German mysticism is one of the greatest aspects in the world of spiritual life. The creative dynamics of being is caused by the Ungrund, by the dark influxes from the primordial abyss of being, which has to have light brought into it. Boehme thinks not by means of concepts, but by means of symbols and myths. This always indeed represents a peculiarity of religious gnosis as distinct from pure philosophy. And Boehme creates a theogonic myth. He admits of a process transpiring within God in distinction from the official theology, which tends to employ the categories of thought from antiquity, such as admit of an absolute immobility, stasis, and quietude within God. At the basis of being for Boehme lies an irrational principle and from this transpires a dynamic process, theogonic, cosmic and anthropogonic. The genius and originality of German thought, its principal distinction from the thought of antiquity and Scholasticism, is bound up with Boehme’s idea. German philosophy set itself the task of a rational understanding of the irrational basis of being. Ancient and medieval thought did not see set at the primal foundations of being a struggle of opposing principles, it affirmed instead an ab-original solar brightness of being. In the greatest of his works — in the “Mysterium magnum”, Boehme attempted to interpret the book of Genesis, as a cosmogonic and anthropogonic process. Official theology has tended to remain within an Old Testament framework in its understanding of Genesis. Boehme makes an attempt at a New Testament understanding of the Bible, i.e. its explanation set within the spirit of the New Adam. And particularly remarkable is not the nature-philosophy of Boehme, to which greater the attention has been turned, but rather his anthropology, his teaching about man. His anthropology is grounded upon Christology. And especially of genius and dazzling is his teaching about the Androgyne. Of genius also is Boehme’s teaching about Sophia, as the virginal aspect of the soul, as the Virgin, flown off to the heavens after the SinFall, and it is more in keeping with the spirit of Christianity than is the teaching of Vl. Solov’ev, who nonetheless also was influenced by Boehme. In general, the whole teaching of Boehme is pervaded by a Christian pathos, at its centre for him always stands Christ, the New Adam. The dynamism and antinomism of Boehme bears more Christian a character, than the staticism of the Scholastics, such as was derived wholly from the influence of Aristotle and Greek philosophy. Boehme is free and sets free from the grip of the static thought of antiquity. For him the world is not a congealed order, not at harmony, and he instead understands the world, as dynamism and struggle, as a tragic process, as a fiery current. In the thinkers of antiquity he was nigh close to Herakleitos. It would be quite erroneous to define the world-view of Boehme as some sort of pantheism. Boehme was not at all a pantheist and he never considered God as identical with the world. One might the sooner term him a panentheist. And it would likewise be erroneous to regard the world-view of Boehme as naturalistic, as certain theologians tend to do, themselves being very guilty of naturalism. With Boehme the Divinity is not abased down to nature, but rather nature is elevated to the Divinity, and is understood, as a symbol of spirit. The Divinity does not disappear into nature and does not become identical with it. All the natural processes, all the natural elements of fire, brimstone, all the natural qualities of sweet and bitter are mere symbols of the spiritual world. Boehme — is a great symbolist, and he does not permit of the chaining down of the infinite to the finite. In his theosophy he gets the farther on with theology, but with him it always remains inexhaustible mystery. And the dogmas, such as are expressed within theological formulae, are not yet still the final mystery, the ultimate depth. In the mystical gnosis of Boehme are concealed inexhaustible riches. Much to him was revealed like a flash of lightning. And it is possible to make use of him for opposing ends. A Christian follower and promulgator of Boehme was Fr. Baader, a Catholic with strong sympathies for the Orthodox East. With Vl. Solov’ev it is possible to find much from Boehme. But Boehme’s ideas can be developed also along non-Christian lines, as for example with E. Hartmann, or along a pseudo-Christian line, as for example in the anthropology of  R. Steiner. Within Boehme was already lodged the German pessimistic metaphysics, for which the world is the offspring of a mindless and dark will. But this is a distortion of Boehme’s teaching concerning the Ungrund, in that Boehme was acutely aware of evil yet amidst this he was conscious of the significance of freedom. Boehme, just like Nietzsche, for his purposes employs opposing trends. This witnesses to the inner richness and variety of motifs.

Over the last three years in Germany there have appeared three new books concerning J. Boehme — the books of Hankamer, Bornkamm, and the jubilee anthology of Boehme’s native city — Goerlitz, in which are printed articles by Richard Jecht and Felix Voight, chiefly of interest as biographical materials regarding Boehme. The book of Hankamer treats Boehme in a very modern and aesthetic fashion but provides little for understanding him at depth. Hankamer wants to treat of and understand Boehme in context of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Stefan Georg. He tends quite to stress, that the thinking of Boehme was of an artistic and sensory contemplation and therefore not transferable into concepts. Boehme, a great artist of knowledge and thought, as it were himself created a world. In the book of Hankamer there are isolated nuances of thought, where the general approach to Boehme is non-religious and foreign to the inner pathos of Boehme himself, who in any case was a Christian and who always wanted to live and think in terms of Christ. The book has significance chiefly as symptomatic of a contemporary modernised interest of soul towards a great mystic and gnostic of the old times. Boehme thus becomes accessible also for people of our time. But for the study of Boehme Hankamer provides little and in his book there is an untoward pretentiousness. The book of Bornkamm purports to be an examination of Protestant theology, setting itself the task to demonstrate the connection of Boehme with Luther. This theme represents, perchance, a certain area of interest in the study of Boehme, but its exclusive absorption with this makes of it one-sided an investigation. And there are indisputably strained stretches of interpretation of the thesis, that Boehme was in spirit a Lutheran. Bornkamm sees an affinity of Boehme with Luther first of all in this, that with Boehme there was a strange sense of evil, that he proceeds from the dualistic struggle of light and darkness. Boehme, just as with Luther, was a voluntarist, and both had their voluntaristic character determined by German metaphysics. In Boehme, just as in Luther, God reveals Himself in love and in wrath. Boehme, just as with Luther, transfers the centre of gravity of the religious life inwards and believes first of all in the spiritual Church. It is indisputable, that Boehme was bound up with certain spiritual motifs of the Reformation. But Boehme was not a confessional man, he was altogether untypical of Lutheranism, he was supra-confessional. There are profound differences between Boehme and Luther, upon which Bornkamm fails to turn sufficient attention. Boehme was not only a man of the Reformation, but also a man of the Renaissance, of the Renaissance orientation towards nature, towards cosmic life. Boehme was tormented most of all by the question about the transition from God to nature, from the one to the many, from the eternal to the temporal. Boehme — was a gnostic, whereas Luther however was no gnostic, Luther was anti-gnostic. Luther likewise was anti-cosmic in his world-view, for his theme — was the human soul and the action upon it by Divine grace. Boehme in contrast was first of all concerned with the cosmos, and foreign to him is the Protestant individualism. With Luther foremost was the personal relation with God. But for Boehme however, God is as Person only in Christ. With Luther, grace has significance foremost, as a justifying and saving power, whereas for Boehme it is a renewing and transfigurative power. With Luther it is the moral consideration that prevails, whereas for Boehme it is the metaphysical. With Boehme there was a totally different teaching concerning freedom, than obtained with Luther. Luther taught about the non-free will, and with him freedom is consumed by grace. With Boehme, however, freedom lies at the very basis of being. And finally, for Boehme the problem of man stands altogether otherwise, than it does for Luther. With Luther there was an indisputable monophysite tendency, which was not there in Boehme. Man possesses a central significance for Boehme and the anthropological problem is resolved by his Christology. Boehme is rich in inner motifs, foreign to Luther. And Bornkamm in vain wants to Lutheranise Boehme. But his book does hold interest indisputably, as an examination into certain sides of the world-view of Boehme. Still, the most valuable item may be the jubilee collection on Boehme. In it can be found much by way of an account about the life of Boehme and about his relationship to his predecessors and contemporaries. The article of Voight is of interest also for an understanding of the world-view of Boehme. The revival of interest in Boehme, just as in general in the history of mysticism, is very remarkable and witnesses to this, that we are entering into more spiritual an epoch.

Nikolai  Berdyaev.

©  2007 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

(1926 – 316 – en)

NOVIYA  KNIGI  O YAKOVE  BEME. Journal Put’, oct/nov. 1926, No. 5, p. 119-122.

1 At the beginning of the XIX Century in Russia J. Boehme was popular in mystically minded circles and they translated him into the Russian language. And in the XX Century also the “Aurora” was published in a fine Russian translation, very acclaimed, but not the best of the works of Boehme.