(This is a fragment of Jacek Woźniakowski Góry niewzruszone. The translation is mine).
In 1613, the mayor of the Silesian town of Gorlitz wrote as follows: On 26 July Jacob Boehme, the shoemaker living between the gates behind the hospital smithy, was summoned to the City Hall to be punished and investigated for his enthusiastic faith (um seinen enthusiastischen glauben gefragt), then he was shackled in the stocks, and ushers took from his home a book written by him in quarto after which he was released from prison and admonished to give up such things”.
He, however, did not abandon anything despite pressure from many sides; in the years 1612-1623, he wrote three and a half thousand pages of strange thoughts that were to made powerful impression on the European culture in the following centuries.
Boehme was two years older than Rubens and four years younger than Kepler. He wrote his meditations at the same time when the works of Bacon and Shakespeare were being printed, when Rembrandt, Corneille and Milton were entering adulthood. He lived to see only one of his books published, and only anonymously (Der Weg zu Christo), but his manuscripts spread like fire in countless copies: already in 1621 he was read in the whole of Silesia and Saxony, and the March of Meissen. Silesian nobles were particularly attached to his thought and spread it long after the death of the master. Saint-Martin (1743-1803) translated Boehme into French, learning German for this purpose. Mickiewicz translate Boehme into Polish, and also wrote an essay about him. There are several books about the impact of Boehme on English literature and about his English followers, of whom the most important, and perhaps the least orthodox, was William Blake; one of the most fascinating romantic landscape painters, Samuel Palmer, probably learned about Boehme from Blake. Later, Shaftesbury’s thought was also developed within the circle of Behmenists.
Samuel Palmer Coming from Evening Church 1830
The literature on the role of Boehme in German culture is, of course, especially abundant. When he was still alive, he was called Philosophus Teutonicus: and he was very proud of that. Friedrich Schlegel put him on a par with Shakespeare and Durer. Schelling considered him to be a miraculous phenomenon in the history of mankind. Today, the thought of Boehme is believed to be the root of all the major theosophical systems of the eighteenth century and also of all contemporary sects of this kind. The impact of Boehme, sometimes decisive, on Tieck, Runge (who initiated the romantic philosophy of landscape painting), Novalis, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer are widely discussed, but even completely different type of thinker, Feuerbach, owes Boehme a lot. Russian philosopher Berdyaev wrote about Boehme as “without a doubt one of the biggest Christian gnostic”, and stressed the importance of Boehme as almost the “Father of the Church” in old Russia. Herzen was also enthusiastic about Boehme. According to Berdyaev, Boehme enabled the victory over the rationalism of Leibniz and Spinoza) and as the first reached to the Bible to see the life of cosmos as a passionate struggle, as a movement, as a process, as incessant Genesis. Lucien Febvre says that in the brain of Boehme “ferment probably one of the most powerful metaphysical geniuses of humanity” and another eminent historian of ideas, Koyre, devoted a large monograph to Boehme. It is worth to add that in the United States it exists today (or at least existed in 1960 ) the Jacob Boehme Society.
Boehme experienced a spiritual shock when reading Copernicus: it was an intense feeling of infinity of space. Copernicus expanded space by moving the sphere of the fixed stars into a celestial abyss. Where is God in this case, where is the real heaven? – asks Boehme. It is necessary to either reject the theory of Copernicus, or push back the sky and God into infinite depths, or negate the existence of God. Boehme confesses that he experienced “pagan hours” when he understood that, after Copernicus, it was impossible to keep the old idea of “heaven above the stars.” And then – probably under the influence of Sebastian Franck and Paracelsus – he was dazzled by a thought that infinite space – Abgrund, Tiefe, Chaos, Unendlichkeit, Mysterium Magnum – this was God (Gott ist das Ganze alleine and die grosse Tiefe überall). Such was the foundation of his thought, expressed in nebulous and vague language, extremely complicated, and with ambition to explain the world and the after-world, even if explaining the unknowns by other unknowns which is typical for theosophists; in fact there are no unknowns: those who are initiated simply know it all. Nevertheless, a powerful poetic vision of the cosmos shines behind Boehme’s strange meanderings of language and thought. A stormy exposure of arguments by the shoemaker from Gorlitz moves forward with enormous force. Let’s try – at the expense of inevitable simplification – to elucidate some of the elements of this vision.
The Abyss is an “eternal peace without beginning and end.” It is the matrix of everything that exists, but undisclosed, unfathomable, unknowable and perhaps in-knowing (reminding us of complicatio of Nicholas of Cusa). Thought can only grasp something while the divine abyss is above and beyond anything that is particular and definable. But the abyss does not want to be in the state of nothingness. God, to be revealed, needs Nature. He is in fact for Nature what the central point is for the circle: to be the centre, the point needs a circuit. Revelation is therefore primarily an act of the abyss seeing itself in a mirror, that is, splitting itself in the act of creative love; the Son is love while the Spirit is behind the power of the act of creation; this Trinity is the basic form of the divine dynamics and consciousness. The Trinity manifests itself initially in the first stage of creation, which Boehme calls die ewige Natur. Eternal Nature is purely spiritual and coeternal with God, but we can not comprehend this, because we always think in terms that are temporal.
God, having revealed Himself in Eternal Nature, wants the full realisation of everything that already exists potentially in the divine unity. Here we encounter an important, quasi-Augustinian place in the doctrine of the Silesian theologian. The pure revelation of the Abyss is impossible without further fissions (“separations”), without the play of the opposites. God is for Boehme love itself, eternal Nature is also good, the opposites somehow contain one another, the light is hidden in the darkness: Die Lichtwelt ist in den finstern verborgen, auch die finstere Welt in der Lichtwelt. “if there were no death, there would be no life, if there were no darkness, there would be no light.” Darkness is not bad in itself, but in the extent to which it separates itself from light (here there is an echo of Manichaeism of Gnostics): all that is good, comes from light, everything that is evil comes from darkness that separated itself from light.
This way, God separated Himself from Lucifer. Eternal Nature became black and empty. “If all the trees were writers, and all the twigs were feathers, and all the mountains were books and all the water was ink, even then they would not be able to describe all the pain and despair, which caused Lucifer and his angels … “
But God created the world in order to fix what was broken, and restore the meaning and harmony where there was the disharmony of the opposites, to reveal His own presence in the world, like the soul of the body, like the juice in the tree. God also sent his Son, the Prince of Light, so light cold win where it fought against darkness in the “wild nature”. It is so because “God is everything – darkness and light, love and anger … He is called the one God because of the light of His love.” Christians should ponder upon the life of Christ and thus guide their souls from darkness into light.
Nature, the whole nature is therefore the last degree of Revelation, as the only true teacher of philosophy, astrology, theology, as the figure and signature of God: “When you see the space and the stars, and the earth, you see your God, and in this God you live and exist … otherwise you’d be nothing … “
In De Signatura Rerum, Boehme expresses his vision of Nature as Revelation with particular force. In this speculative treatise on astronomy, intricate and full of repetitions, the Silesian Theosophist seeks relations of everything with everything, like Paracelsus did before him. In this oeuvre, there are moments of admiration for created things so intense that perhaps only in Shaftesbury – despite the differences in style – we hear a similar tone.
Creation is for Creator a statement and a sign. Das Ausgesprochene ist ein Modell des Sprechenden und hat wieder das Sprechen in sich, dasselbe Sprechen ist ein Saame zu einer andern Bildnis nach der ersten: denn beide wirken, als das Sprechende und das Ausgesprochene. Each object reveals his internal and spiritual properties. Boehme puts it in an aphorism of great poetical power, Das Innerliche arbeitet stets zur Offenbarung. Thus also Creator revealed Himself in multiple forms. We can rocognise the divine in the stars and natural phenomena, in trees and herbs. Everything tells us about the spiritual hierarchy of existence, from herbs and trees to God. Everything tells us of its own voice: Ein jedes Ding hat seinen Mund zur Offenbarung. This terse sentence containes in nuce the whole philosophy of nature of Romanticism.