Boehme's Universe
"If thou wilt be a philosopher or naturalist and search into God's being in Nature and discern how it all came to pass, then pray to God for the Holy Spirit to enlighten thee. In thy flesh and blood thou art not able to apprehend it, but dost read it as if a mist were before thy eyes. In the Holy Spirit alone, and in the whole Nature out of which all things were made, canst thou search into Nature." -- Aurora, ii.15-17.

One idea underlies everything which Boehme has written, namely, that nobody can successfully "search into visible Nature," or can say anything true about Man or about the problem of good and evil, until he has "apprehended the whole Nature out of which all things were made." It will not do, he thinks, to make the easy assumption that in the beginning the world was made out of nothing. "If God made all things out of nothing," he says, "then the visible world would be no revelation of Him, for it would have nothing of Him in it. He would still be off beyond and outside, and would not be known in this world. Persons however learned they may be, who hold such 'opinions' have never opened the Gates of God."[1]

Behind the visible universe and in it there is an invisible universe; behind the material universe and in it there is an immaterial universe; behind the temporal universe and in it there is an eternal universe, and the first business of the philosopher or naturalist, as Boehme conceives it, is to discover the essential Nature of this invisible, immaterial, eternal universe out of which this fragment of a visible world has come forth.


Need have we,
Sore need, of stars that set not in mid storm,
Lights that outlast the lightnings.[2]

The visible fragment is never self-explanatory; all attempts to account for what occurs in it drive the serious observer deeper for his answer, and with a breathless boldness this meditative shoemaker of Goerlitz undertakes to tell of the nature of this deeper World within the world. As a boy he saw a vast treasury of wealth hidden in the inside of a mountain, though he could never make anybody else see it. As a man he believed that he saw an immeasurable wealth of reality hidden within the world of sense, and he tried, often with poor enough success, to make others see the inside world which he found. We must now endeavour to grasp what it was that he saw. There is no doubt at all that this inside world which he discovered within and behind visible Nature, within and behind man, is really there, nor is there any doubt in my mind that he, Jacob Boehme, got an insight into its nature and significance which is of real worth to the modern world, but he is seriously hampered by the poverty of his categories, by the difficulties of his symbolism and by his literary limitations, when he comes to the almost insuperable task of expressing what he has seen. He is himself perfectly conscious of his limitations. He is constantly amazed that God uses such "a mean instrument," he regrets again and again that he is "so difficult to be understood," and he often wishes that he could "impart his own soul" to his readers that they "might grasp his meaning,"[3] for he never for a moment doubts that "by God's grace he has eyes of his own."[4] He lived in an unscientific age, before our present exact terminology was coined. He was the inheritor of the vocabulary and symbolism of alchemy and astrology, and he was obliged to force his spiritual insight into a language which for us has become largely an antique rubbish heap.[5] If he {174} had possessed the marvellous power that Dante had to compel words to express what his soul saw, he might have fused these artificial symbolisms with the fire of his spirit, and given them an eternal value as the Florentine did with the equally dry and stubborn terminology of scholasticism, but that gift he did not have.[6] We must not blame him too much for his obscurities and for his large regions of rubbish and confusion, but be thankful for the luminous patches, and try to seize the meaning and the message where it breaks through and gets revealed.

The outward, visible, temporal world, he declares, is "a spiration, or outbreathing, or egress" of an eternal spiritual World and this inner, spiritual World "couches within" our visible world and is its ground and mother, and the outward world is from husk to core a parable or figure of the inward and eternal World. "The whole outward visible world, with all its being, is a 'signature' or figure of the inward, spiritual World, and everything has a character that fits an internal reality and process, and the internal is in the external."[7] As he expresses the same idea in another book: "The visible world is a manifestation of the inward spiritual World, and it is an image or figure of eternity, whereby eternity has made itself visible."[8]

But there is a still deeper Source of things than this inward spiritual World, which is after all a manifested and organized World, and Boehme begins his account with That which is before beginnings -- the unoriginated Mother of all Worlds and of All that is, visible and invisible. This infinite Mother of all births, this eternal Matrix, he calls the Ungrund, "Abyss," or the "Great {175} Mystery,"[9] or the "Eternal Stillness." Here we are beyond beginnings, beyond time, beyond "nature," and we can say nothing in the language of reason that is true or adequate. The eternal divine Abyss is its own origin and explanation; it presupposes nothing but itself; there is nothing beyond it, nothing outside it -- there is, in fact, no "beyond" and "outside" -- it is "neither near nor far off."[10] It is an absolute Peace, an indivisible Unity, an undifferentiated One -- an Abysmal Deep, which no Name can adequately name and which can be described in no words of time and space, of here and now.

But we must not make the common blunder of supposing that Boehme means that before God expressed Himself and unfolded Himself in the infinite processes of revelation and creation, He existed apart, as this undifferentiated One, this unknowable Abyss, this incomprehensible Matrix. There is no "before." Creation, revelation, manifestation is a dateless and eternal fact. God to be a personal God must go out of Himself and find Himself in something that mirrors Him. He must have a Son. He must pour His Life and Love through a universe. What Boehme means, then, is that no manifestation, no created universe, no expression, is the ultimate Reality itself. The manifested universe has come out of More than itself. The Abyss is more than anything, or all, that comes out of it, or can come out of it, and it lies with its infinite depth beneath everything which appears, as a man's entire life, conscious and unconscious, is in and yet lies behind every act of will, though we can "talk about" only what is voiced or expressed.

Even within this Abysmal Depth, that underlies all that comes to being, there is eternal process -- eternal movement toward Personality and Character: "God is the eternal Seeker and Finder of Himself."[11] "In the {176} Stillness an eternal Will arises, a longing desire for manifestation, the eye of eternity turns upon itself and discovers itself"[12] -- in a word there is within the infinite Divine Deep an eternal process of self-consciousness and personality, which Boehme expresses in the words, "The Father eternally generates the Son." "God hath no beginning and there is nothing sooner than He, but His Word hath a bottomless, unfathomable origin in Him and an eternal end: which is not rightly called end, but Person, i.e. the Heart of the Father, for it is generated in the eternal Centre."[13] This inner process toward Personality is often called by Boehme "the eternal Virgin" who brings to birth God as Person, or sometimes "the Mirror," in which God sees Himself revealed as will and wisdom and goodness.

In the greatest artistic creation of the modern world -- "The Sistine Madonna" -- Raphael has with almost infinite pictorial power of genius tried to express in visible form this Birth of God. Behind curtains which hang suspended from nowhere and stretch across the universe, dividing the visible from the invisible, the world of Nature from the world of holy mystery, the infinite, immeasurable and abysmal God is pictured as defined and personal in the face and figure of a little Child, in which the artist suggests in symbolism the infinite depth and joy and potency of Divinity breaking forth out of mystery into form. It is precisely this birth of God into visibility that Boehme is endeavouring to tell. "The Son," however, Boehme says, "is not divided or sundered from the Father, as two persons side by side -- there are not two Gods. The Son is the heart of the Father -- God as Person -- the outspringing Joy of the total triumphing Reality,[14] and through this eternal movement toward self-consciousness and Personality, God becomes Spirit, an out-going energy of purpose, a dynamic activity, bursting forth into infinite manifestation and differentiation -- a forth-breathed or expressed Word.[15] Through {177} this eternal process of self-differentiation and outgoing activity, the inner spiritual universe comes into being -- as an intermediate Nature or world, between the ineffable Abyss of God on the one hand, and our world of material, visible things on the other hand." "The process of the whole creation," he says, "is nothing else but a manifestation of the deep and unsearchable God, and yet creation is not God but rather like an apple which springs from the power of the tree and grows upon the tree, and yet is not the tree -- even so all things have sprung forth out of the central divine Desire."[16]

This entire manifested or out-breathed universe is, he says, the expression of the divine desire for holy sport and play. The Heart of God enjoys this myriad play of created beings, all tuned as the infinite strings of a harp for contributing to one mighty harmony, and all together uttering and voicing the infinite variety of the divine purpose. Each differentiated spirit or light or property or atom of creation has a part to play in the infinite sport or game or harmony, "so that in God there might be a holy play through the universe as a child plays with his mother, and that so the joy in the Heart of God might be increased,"[17] or again, "so that each being may be a true sounding string in God's harmonious concert."[18]

This eternal, interior World -- the Mirror in which the Spirit manifests Himself -- is a double world of darkness and light, for there can be no manifestation except through opposites.[19] There must be yes and no. In order to have a play there must be opposing players. In order to have life and reality there must be conflict and conquest. As soon as the forth-going Word of God is differentiated into many concrete expressions and the fundamental Unity of the Abyss is broken up into particular desires and wills, there is bound to be a clash of opposites -- will and contra-will, strain and tension, light and joy and beauty, and over against them pain and sorrow and evil. Evil must appear as soon as there is {178} process of separation, differentiation, variety, specialization and particularity.[20] Darkness appears as soon as there is a contraction or narrowing into concrete desire and will.

Both worlds -- the light world and the dark world -- are made by desire and will. Narrowing desires for individual and particular aims, which sever a being from the total whole of divine goodness, make the kingdom of darkness, while death to self-will and a yearning desire and will for all that is expressed in the Heart and Light of God, in the Person of His Son, make the kingdom of Light. Lucifer -- the awful example of the dark World -- fell because he stood in pride and despised the Birth of the Heart of God and its gentle, universalizing love-spirit; and so his light went out into darkness. His climbing up into a severed will was his fall. The more he climbed toward the sundered aim of his own will and turned away from the Heart of God, the greater was his fall, for to turn away from the Heart of God is always to fall.[21] There is no darkness, no evil, in angel or devil or man, except the nature of that particular being's own will and desire -- both darkness and light are born of desire. The origin of the fall of any creature, therefore, is not outside that creature, but within it.[22]

The evil in the world is only a possible good spoiled. Beings created for a holy sport and play, for an ordered harmony, as infinite harp-strings for a celestial music, set their wilful desires upon sundered ends, broke the intended harmony, or "temperature," as Boehme calls it, introduced strife -- the turba magna -- and darkness, and so spoiled the actual material out of which the kingdoms of nature are made, for the attitude of will moulds the permanent structure of the being. Through the whole universe, visible and invisible, as a result, the dark lines run, and the drama of the whole process of the universe is the mighty issue between light and darkness, good and evil: Two universal qualities persist from {179} beginning to end and produce two kingdoms arrayed against each other -- each within the other -- one love, the other wrath; one light, the other darkness; one heavenly, the other hellish.[23]

Now out of this inner spiritual universe -- a double universe of light and darkness -- this temporal, visible, more or less material, world has come forth, as an outer sheath of an inner world, and, like its Mother, it, too, is a double world of good and evil. "There is not," as William Law, interpreting Boehme, once said, "the smallest thing or the smallest quality of a thing in this world, but is a quality of heaven or hell discovered [i.e. revealed] under a temporal form. Every thing that is disagreeable to taste, to the sight, to our hearing, smelling or feeling has its root and ground and cause in and from hell [the dark kingdom], and is as surely in its degree the working and manifestation of hell in this world, as the most diabolical malice and wickedness is; the stink of weeds, of mire, of all poisonous, corrupted things; shrieks, horrible sounds; wrathful fire, rage of tempests and thick darkness, are all of them things that had no possibility of existence, till the fallen angels disordered their kingdom [i.e. until the inner universe was spoiled by narrow, sundered desires]. Therefore everything that is disagreeable and horrible in this life, everything that can afflict and terrify our senses, all the kinds of natural and moral evil, are only so much of the nature, effects and manifestation of hell, for hell and evil are only two words for one and the same thing. . . . On the other hand, all that is sweet, delightful and amiable in the world, in the serenity of air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colours, the fragrance of smells, the splendour of precious stones, is nothing else but heaven breaking through the veil of this world, manifesting itself in such a degree and darting forth in such variety so much of its own nature."[24]

I have spoken so far as though Boehme traced the {180} source of every thing to will and desire, as though, in fact, the visible universe were the manifold outer expression of some deep-lying personal will, and in the last analysis that is true, but his more usual form of interpretation is that of the working of great structural tendencies, or energies, or "qualities," as he calls them, which are common both to the inner and the outer universe. There are, he declares again and again with painful reiteration, but with little advance of lucidity, seven of these fundamental laws or energies or qualities, like the sevenfold colour-band of the rainbow, though they can never be untangled or sundered or thought of as standing side by side, for together in their unity and interprocesses they form the universe, with its warp and woof of light and darkness.[25]

The first "quality" is a contracting, compacting tendency which runs through the entire universe, outer and inner. It is in its inmost essence desire, the egoistic tendency, the focusing of will upon a definite aim so that consciousness contracts from its universal and absolute possibilities to a definite, limited, concrete something in particular, and thus negates everything else. Desire always disturbs the "Quiet" and brings contraction, negation and darkness. In the outer world it appears as the property of cohesion which makes the particles of a particular thing hold and cling together and form one self-contained and separate thing. It is the individualizing tendency which permeates the universe and which may be expressed either as a material law in the outer world, or as personal will-tendency in the inner world.

The second "quality" is the attractive, gravitating tendency which binds whole with whole as an organizing, universalizing energy. This, again, is both spiritual and physical -- it has an outer and an inner aspect. It is a fundamental love-principle in the inner world -- the {181} foundation, as Boehme says, of sweetness and warmth and mercy[26] -- and at the same time is a structural, organizing law of nature, which tends out of many parts to make one universe.[27]

These two diverse tendencies at work eternally in the same world produce strain and tension and anguish. The tension occasioned by these opposite forces gives rise to the third "quality," which is a tendency toward movement, oscillation, rotation -- what Boehme often calls the wheel of nature, or the wheel of motion, or the wheel of life.[28] This, too, is both outer and inner; a law of the physical world and a tendency of spirit. There is nothing in nature that is not ceaselessly moved, and there is no life without its restlessness and anguish, its inward strain and stress, its tension and its problem, its dizzy wheel of life -- the perpetual pursuit of a goal which ends at the starting-point as an endless circular process.

The fourth "quality" is the flash, or ignition, due to collision between nature and spirit, in which a new principle of activity breaks through what before was mere play of forces, and reveals something that has activity in itself, the kindling, burning power of fire, though not yet fire which gives light. In the outer world it is the bursting forth of the elemental, fusing, consuming powers of Nature which may either construct or destroy. In the inner world it is the birth of self-consciousness on its lower levels, the awaking of the soul, the kindling of passion, and desire, and purpose. Any one of these four lower "qualities" may stay at its own level, remain in itself, out of "temperature" or balance with the rest, and so be only a "dark principle"; or it may go on and fulfil itself in one of the higher "qualities" next to be described, and so become a part of the triumphing "light principle." Fire may be only a "fire of anguish" or it may go up into a "fire of love"; it may be a harsh, {182} self-tormenting fire, or it may be a soft, light-bringing, purifying fire. Suffering may harden the spirit, or it may be the condition of joy. Crucifixion may be mere torture, or it may be the way of salvation. It is then here at the great divide between the "qualities" that the universe reveals its differentiation into two kingdoms -- "the dark" and "the light."

The fifth "quality" is Light, springing out of the "flash" of fire and rising to the level of illumination and the revelation of beauty. It is at this stage of Light that the lower force-forms and fire-forms first stand revealed in their full meaning and come to their real fulfilment. On its inner or spiritual side this Light-quality is an "amiable and blessed Love." It is the dawn and beginning of the triumphing spirit of freedom which wills to draw all things back to one centre, one harmony, one unity, in which wild will and selfish passion and isolating pride, and all that springs from the dark fire-root are quenched, and instead the central principle of the spiritual world -- Love -- comes into play.

Boehme calls his sixth "quality" voice or sound, but he means by it the entire range of intelligent expression through tone and melody, music and speech, everything in the world, in fact, that gives joy and beauty through purposeful utterance. He even widens his category of "sound" to include colours and smells and tastes, in short, all the sense-qualities by which the world gets revealed in its richness of beauty and harmony to our perception. He widens it, too, to include deeper and subtler tones than those of our earth-born sense -- the heavenly sports and melodies and harmonies which the rightly attuned spirit may hear with a finer organ than the ear.

The seventh, and final, "quality" is body or figure, by which he means the fundamental tendency or energy toward expression in actuality and concrete form. The final goal of intelligent purpose is the realization of wisdom, of idea, in actual Nature-forms and life-forms -- the incarnation of the spirit. There is nothing real in the {183} universe but has its form, its "signature," its figure, its body-aspect: "There is not anything but has its soul and its body, and each soul is as it were an inner kernel, or seed, to a visible and comprehensible body,"[29] and, as we shall see, the supreme achievement of the universe is the visible appearance of the Word of God, the eternal Son, in flesh like ours -- a visible realization in time of the eternal Heart of God. The glory of God appears in a kingdom of God, a visible vesture of the Spirit.

All these seven qualities, or "fountain-spirits," or fundamental tendencies, are in every part and parcel of the universe, and each particular thing or being finds his true place in the vast drama or play of the universe, according to which "quality" is prepotent, and marks the thing or being with its "signature." They constitute in their eternal nature what Boehme calls The Three Principles that underlie all reality of every order. The first principle is the substratum or essence of these first three "qualities," the nature-tendencies at the level of forces, which he generally calls the fire-principle, i.e. the dark fire, before the "flash" has come. The second principle is the substratum or essence of the last three "qualities" -- the tendencies toward unity, harmony, order, love, which he calls the light-principle. The third principle produces the union or synthesis of the other two -- the principle of realization in body and form, the triumph over opposition of these two opposing principles in the exhibition of the real, the actual, the living, the conscious, where dark and light are both joined, but are dominated by another irreducible principle. To these three fundamental principles correspond the three supreme divine aspects: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.[30]

We are here, of course, far from a scientific account of the processes and evolution of the universe. Boehme {184} is no scientific genius and he did not dream that every item and event of the world of phenomena could be causally explained, without reference to any deeper abysmal world of Spirit. His mission is rather that of the prophet who "has eyes of his own." He is endeavouring to tell us, often no doubt in very laborious fashion, sometimes as "one who is tunnelling through long tracts of darkness," that this outside world which we see and describe is a parable, a pictorial drama, suggesting, hinting, revealing an inside world of Spirit and Will; that every slightest fragment of the seen is big with significance as a revelation of an unseen realm, which again is an egress from the unimaginable Splendour of God. He believes, like Paracelsus, that everything in Nature -- plants, metals, and stars -- "can be fundamentally searched out and comprehended" by the inward way of approach, can be read like an open book by the children of the Spirit who have caught the secret clue that leads in, and who have the key that unlocks the inner realm.[31]

Obviously his "inner way of approach" works more successfully when applied to man than when applied to plants and metals and stars -- and when he writes of man, whether in the first or in the third person, he does often seem to have "eyes of his own," and to "hold the key that unlocks."

It is an elemental idea with him that man is "a little world" -- a microcosm -- and expresses in himself all the properties of the great world -- the macrocosm.[32] "As you find man to be," he writes, "just so is eternity. Consider man in body and soul, in good and evil, in light and darkness, in joy and sorrow, in power and weakness, in life and death -- all is in man, both heaven and earth, stars and elements. Nothing can be named that is not man."[33] Every man's life is inwardly bottomless and opens from within into all the immeasurable depth of God. Eternity springs through time and reveals itself in every person, for the foundation property of the soul {185} of every man is essentially eternal, spiritual, and abysmal -- it is a little drop out of the Fountain of the Life of God, it is a little sparkle of the Divine Splendour.[34] God is spoken of again and again as "man's native country," his true "origin and home" -- "The soul of man is always seeking after its native country, out of which it has wandered, seeking to return home again to its rest in God."[25] "The soul of man," he says again, "has come out from the eternal Father, out from the Divine Centre, but this soul -- with this high origin and this noble mark -- stands always at the opening of two gates."[36] Two worlds, two mighty cosmic principles, make their appeal to his will. Two kingdoms wrestle in him, two natures strive for the mastery in his life, and he makes his world, his nature, his life, his eternal destiny by his choices: "Whatsoever thou buildest and sowest here in thy spirit, be it words, works, or thought, that will be thy eternal house."[37] "The good or evil that men do, by acts of will, enters into and forms the soul and so moulds its permanent habitation."[38] Adam once, and every man after him also once, has belonged, in the centre of the soul, to God, and whether it be Adam or some far-off descendant of him, each is the creator of his own real world, and settles for himself the atmosphere in which he shall live and the inner "tincture" of his abiding nature. "Adam fell" -- and any man's name can here be substituted for "Adam" -- "because, though he was a spark of God's eternal essence, he broke himself off and sundered himself from the universal Will -- by contraction -- and withdrew into self-seeking, and centred himself in selfishness. He broke the perfect temperature -- or harmonious balance of qualities -- and turned his will toward the dark world and the light in him grew dim."[39] To follow the dark world is to be Lucifer or fallen Adam, to follow the light world completely is to be Christ[40] -- and before every soul the two {186} gates stand open.[41] In a powerful and penetrating passage he says: "We should take heed and beget that which is good out of ourselves. If we make an angel of ourselves we are that; if we make a devil of ourselves, we are that."[42]

This last sentence is a good introduction to Boehme's conception of "the next world" -- "the great beyond." He was as completely free of the crude idea that heaven is a shining locality in the sky, and hell a yawning pit of fire below the earth, as the most exact scientific scholar of the modern world is likely to be. He had grasped the essential and enduring character of man's spiritual nature so firmly that he ceased to have any further interest in the mythological aspects in which vivid and pictorial imagination has invested the unseen world. "God's presence itself," he says, "is heaven, and if God did but put away the veiling shadows, which now curtain thy sight, thou wouldst see, even where thou now art, the Face of God and the heavenly gate. God is so near that at any moment a holy Birth [a Birth into the Life of God] may be accomplished in thy heart,"[43] and, again, in the same book he writes: "If man's eyes were opened he would see God everywhere, for heaven is everywhere for those who are in the innermost Birth. When Stephen saw heaven opened and Jesus at the right hand of God, his spirit did not swing itself aloft into some heaven in the sky, but it rather penetrated into the innermost Birth where heaven always is. Thou must not think that God is a Being who is off in an upper heaven, or that when the soul departs it goes many hundred thousands of miles aloft. It does not need to do that, for as soon as it has entered the innermost Birth it is in heaven already with God -- near and far in God is one thing."[44]

The "next world" -- "the beyond" -- therefore, must not be thought of in terms of space and time, of here and there, of now and then, as a place to which we shall journey at the momentous moment of death: "the soul {187} needeth no going forth."[45] As soon as the external veil of flesh dissolves, each person is in his own country and has all the time been in it. There is nothing nearer to you than heaven and hell. To whichever of them you incline and toward whichever of them you tend -- that is most near you, and every man has in himself the key.[46] Heaven and hell are everywhere throughout the whole world. You need not seek them far off.

It is always the nature of "Anti-Christ" and "Babel" and "opinion-peddlers" to seek God and heaven and hell above the stars or under the deep. There is only one "place" to look for God and that is in one's own soul, there is only one "region" in which to find heaven or hell, and that is in the nature and character of the person's own desire and will: "Even though the devil should go many millions of miles, desiring to see heaven and enter into it, yet he would still be in hell and could not see heaven at all."[47] The soul, Boehme says in substance, hath heaven or hell in itself. Heaven is the turning of the will into God's love; hell is the turning of the will into hate. Now when the body falls away the heavenly soul is thoroughly penetrated with the Love and Light of God, even as fire penetrates and enlightens white-hot iron, whereby it loses its darkness -- this is heaven and this is the right hand of God. The soul that dwells in falsehood, lust, pride, envy, and anger carries hell in itself and cannot reach the Light and Love of God. Though it should go a thousand miles or a thousand times ten thousand miles -- even climb beyond the spaces of the stars and the bounds of the universe -- it would still remain in the same property and source of darkness as before.[48] The "next world" -- "the world beyond" -- is {188} just this world, as it is in each one of us, with its essential spirit and nature and character clearly revealed and fulfilled. God creates and maintains no hell of ever-lasting torture; He builds and supports no heaven of endless glory. They are both formed out of the soul's own substance as it turns toward light or darkness, toward love or hate -- in short, as "it keeps house," to use one of his vivid words, with the eternal nature of things.

Something like this, then, was the universe which Boehme -- with those "azure-grey eyes that lighted up like the windows of Solomon's Temple" -- saw there in Goerlitz, as he pegged his shoes. "Open your eyes," he once said, "and the whole world is full of God."[49] But he is not a pantheist, in the usual sense of that word, blurring away the lines between good and evil, or the boundaries which mark off self from self, and self from God. There is forever, to be sure, a hidden essence or substance in the soul which is from God, and which remains to the end unlost and unspoiled -- something to which God can speak and to which His Light and Grace can make appeal; but I am indestructibly a real I, and God is in His true nature no vague Abyss -- He eternally utters Himself as Person: "The first Abysmal God without beginning begets a comprehensible will which is Son. Thus the Abyss which in itself is an indescribable Nothing [nothing in particular] forms itself into Something [definite] through the Birth of a Son, and so is Spirit."[50] In God Himself there is only Good, only triumphing eternal Joy,[51] but as soon as finite processes appear, as soon as anything is differentiated into actuality, the potentialities of darkness and light appear, the possibilities of good and evil are there: "All things consist in Yes or No. In order to have anything definite made manifest there must be a contrary therein -- a Yes and a No."[52] The universe, therefore, though it came forth out of the eternal Mother and remains still, in its deepest origin and being, rooted in the substance of God, is a {189} battleground of strife, an endless Armageddon. Both within and without the world is woven of mixed strands, a warp of darkness and a woof of light, and all beings possessed of will are thus actors in a mighty drama of eternal significance, with exits, not only at the end of the Fifth Act but throughout the play, through two gates into two worlds which are both all the time present here and now.

[1] Aurora, xxi.60-62.

[2] Swinburne, Erechtheus.

[3] See Fifteenth Epistle, 25.

[4] Fifth Epistle, 50.

[5] Like Paracelsus, he uses "sulphur" in a symbolic way to represent an active energy of the universe and a form of will in man. In a similar way, "mercury" stands for intelligence and spirit, and "salt" is the symbol for substance. No one could find in a chemist's shop the salt or sulphur that Boehme talks about!

[6] There is a fine saying about Dante in the Ottimo Commento: "I, the writer, heard Dante say that never a rhyme had led him to say other than he would, but that many a time and oft he had made words say for him what they were not wont to say for other poets."

[7] Sig. re. ix.1-3. Paracelsus said, "Everything is the product of one creative effort," and, "There is nothing corporeal that does not possess a soul."

[8] The Supersensual Life, p.44.

[9] Paracelsus and others used the term Mysterium magnum to denote the original, but unoriginated, matter out of which all things were made. "Mysterium" is anything out of which something germinally contained in it can be developed.

[10] Mysterium magnum, xxix.1-2.

[11] Forty Questions, i.57.

[12] Sig. re. ii.4-15, and iii.1-10.

[13] The Threefold Life of Man, iii.2.

[14] Aurora, iii.35-39.

[15] Ibid. vi.6-8; Clavis, 18-29.

[16] Sig. re. xvi. i.

[17] Aurora, xiii.48-57; Myst. mag. viii.31; The Three Principles, iv.66.

[18] Sig. re. xv.38.

[19] Myst. mag. viii.27.

[20] Myst. mag. xxix.1-10.

[21] The Three Principles, iv.68-74; The Threefold Life, iv.33.

[22] Myst. mag. ix.3-8.

[23] Aurora, Preface 84.

[24] Christopher Walton, Notes and Materials for a Biography of Wm. Law (London, 1854), 55.

[25] The great passages in which Boehme expounds the seven qualities are found in the Aurora, chaps. viii.-xi.; Sig. re. chap. xiv.; The Clavis, 54-132; though they are more or less definitely stated or implied in nearly everything he wrote. Seven "qualities" or "principles" or "sources" appear and reappear in ever shifting forms throughout the entire literature of Gnosticism, alchemy, and nature-mysticism.

[26] Aurora, viii.32-35.

[27] Some of Boehme's enthusiastic friends insist that Sir Isaac Newton, who was an admirer of Boehme, "ploughed with Boehme's heifer," i.e. got his suggestion of the law of universal gravitation from the philosopher of Goerlitz. See Walton, Notes, p.46 and passim.

[28] Sig. re. iv. passim.

[29] Sig. re. xiii.

[30] For fuller treatment of this point see Boutroux, Historical Studies in Philosophy, chapter on "Jacob Boehme, the German Philosopher," pp.199-201.

[31] Third Epistle, 33.

[32] Twenty-fourth Epistle, 7; Sig. re. i.

[33] The Threefold Life, vi.47.

[34] The Three Princ. xiv.89; First Epistle, 42.

[35] The Three Princ. x.26; xvi.50.

[36] Ibid. x.13.

[37] Aurora, xviii.49.

[38] Myst. mag. xxii.41.

[39] Ibid. xviii.31-43, given in substance.

[40] Ibid. xxvi.19. The place of Christ in Boehme's system will be given in the next chapter.

[41] Myst. mag. xxvi. 5.

[42] Incarnation, part ii. ix.12-14.

[43] Aurora, x.100-103.

[44] Ibid. xix.56-59.

[45] The Supersensual Life, 36.

[46] The Three Princ. ix.25-27 and xix.33.

[47] Myst. mag. viii.28.

[48] The Supersensual Life, 38. Every reader will naturally be reminded of Milton's great lines:

"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

There were no doubt many sources in Milton's time for such a conception, but the poet surely would read the translations of Boehme which were coming from the press all through the period of his literary activity.

[49] The Threefold Life, xi.106.

[50] Election, i.10-17.

[51] Aurora, ii.63.

[52] Theosoph. Quest. iii.2-4.

chapter ix jacob boehme his
Top of Page
Top of Page