Jacob Boehme's "Way of Salvation"
"I will write a Process or Way which I myself have gone."[1] Most writers who have treated of Boehme have mainly dealt with his Weltanschauung -- his theosophical view of the Abyss and the worlds of time and eternity, -- or they have devoted themselves to descriptions of his type of mysticism.[2] His important permanent contribution to Christianity is, however, to be found in his interpretation of the way, or, as he calls it, the process of salvation. Very much that he wrote about the procession of the universe is capricious and subjective. His interpretations of Genesis, and of Old Testament Scripture in general, are thoroughly uncritical and of value only as they reveal his own mind and his occasional flashes of insight. But his accounts of his own experience and his message of the way to God possess an elemental and universal value, and belong among the precious words of the prophets of the race. His Way of Salvation is in direct line with the central ideas of Denck, Buenderlin, Entfelder, Franck, Schwenckfeld, and Weigel; that is, his emphasis is always, as was theirs, upon the native divine possibilities of the soul, upon the fact of a spiritual environment in immediate correspondence and co-operation with the soul, and upon the necessity of personal and inward experience as the key to every gate of life; but he puts more stress even than Schwenckfeld did {191} upon the epoch-making new birth, and he sees more in the Person of Christ as the way of salvation than any of the spiritual Reformers of the sixteenth century had seen, while his own personal experience was so unique and illuminating, so profound and transforming, that he was able to speak on divine things with a grasp and insight and with a spiritual authority beyond that attained by any of the reformers in this group. He has given, I think, as profound and as simple, and at the same time as vital an interpretation of salvation through Christ as the Reformation movement produced before the nineteenth century, and much that he said touches the very core of what seems to us to-day to be the heart of the Gospel, the central fact of mature religion.[3]

As we have seen, Boehme does not in the least blink the tragic depth of sin, while he goes as far as anybody in holding that "the centre of man's soul came out of eternity,"[4] that "as a mother bringeth forth a child out of her own substance and nourisheth it therewith, so doth God with man his child,"[5] and that the inward ground and centre of the soul, with its divine capacity of response to Grace and Light, is an inalienable possession of every man.[6] Yet, at the same time, he insists that there is in every soul "both a yes and a no," a vision of the good and a contrarium, a hunger for the universal will of God and a hunger for the particular will of self.[7] The form of hunger, the inclination of desire, the attitude of will shapes the destiny, forms the fundamental disposition, and builds the life of every man into heaven or into hell -- "a man puts on a garment of light or a garment of wrath as he puts on clothes."[8] To consent to false desire, to turn toward objects that feed only the particular selfish will, to live in the lower "qualities" of dark-fire is to {192} form a soul tinctured with darkness and sundered from the eternal root of Life. Lucifer went the whole way in his consent to false and evil desire. He said, "Evil be thou my good!" and formed his entire nature out of the dark-principle, and "his Light went out." Adam and his offspring after him, however, only dimmed the native Light and deadened the original power that belongs to one who comes from God, to live in heavenly harmony and joy. Man has fallen indeed, but he is not hopelessly lost, he is "forever seeking his native country," and he forever bears within himself an immortal seed which may burst into Life -- into a "Lily-blossom."[9] The way of salvation for Boehme is the process by which this original Light and power, dimmed and deadened by sin, are restored to the soul.

He never tires of insisting that the restoration can come only by a process of Life, not by a "scheme" of theology. Like the early prophets of Israel, in their sweeping attacks on the ritual and sacrificial systems that were being substituted for moral and spiritual life, Boehme flings himself with holy passion against the substitution of doctrines of salvation for a real life-process of salvation, personally experienced in the soul. "Cain" and "Babel" are his two favourite types of the prevailing substitute-religion which he calls "verbal," or "historical," or "titular" Christianity.[10] "Whatever Babel teaches," he says, "of external imputed righteousness, or of external assumed adoption is without foundation or footing."[11] He is still only a follower of "Cain" who tries to cover his old, evil, unchanged self "with the purple mantle of Christ's death."[12] The "opinion" that the old man of evil-will can be "covered" with Christ's merit, the "faith" that His death pays off for us the debt of our sin is only "a supposed religion."[13] "Christianity," he says again, "does not consist in the mere knowing of history and applying the history-knowledge to ourselves, {193} saying: 'Christ died for us; He hath paid the ransom for us, so that we need do nothing but comfort ourselves therewith and steadfastly believe that it is so.'"[14] The "doctors" and "the wise world" and "the makers of opinion" will have it that Christ has suffered on the Cross for all our sins, and that we can be justified and acquitted of all our transgressions by what He did for us, but it is no true, safe way for the soul. To stake faith upon a history that once was, to look for "satisfaction" through the sufferings which Christ endured before we were born is to be "the child of an assumed grace," is to possess a mere external and historical faith that leaves the dim, weak soul where it was before. All such "invented works" and "supposed schemes" are of Anti-Christ, they "avail nothing" whatever toward the real process of salvation.[15]

The gravamen of his charge is not that the "opinions" are false, or that the "history" is unimportant, but that "opinions" and "history" are taken as substitutes for religion itself, which is and must always be an actual inward process constructing a new and victorious life in the person himself. "All fictions, I say, and devices which men contrive to come to God by are lost labour and vain endeavour without a new mind. Verbal forgiveness and outward imputation of righteousness are false and vain comforts -- soft cushions for the evil soul -- without the creation of a will wholly new, which loveth and willeth evil no more."[16] The whole problem, then, is the problem of the formation of a new vision, a new desire, a new will, and Boehme finds the solution of this deepest human problem in Christ. Christ is the Light-revelation of God -- the shining forth of the Light and Love nature of the Eternal God. It must not be supposed for a moment that once -- before satisfaction was made to Him -- God was an angry God who had to be "reconciled" by a transaction, or that there was a time in history when God began to reveal His Heart in a Christ-revelation, or {194} that when Christ became man, Deity divided itself into sundered Persons.[17] "No. You ought not to have such thoughts," Boehme says. The Heart and Light and Love of God are from eternity. Christ has never sundered or broken Himself away from God; they are not two but forever One. All the Light and Love and Joy of God have blossomed into the Christ-manifestation and become revealed in Him. Like everything else in the universe, Christ is both outward and inward. He belongs in the eternal inward world and He also has had His temporal manifestation in the visible world. The Heart of God became a human soul, brought the fulness of the Deity into humanity, and slew the spirit of the world.[18] The inward penetrated the outward and illuminated it with Light.[19] Christ entered into humanity and tinctured it with Deity.[20] In Him the Heart of God became man, and in the power of the heavenly Light He wrestled with our wild human nature and conquered it.[21] Eternity and time are united in Him.[22] He is the wedding chamber of God and man.[23] He is God and man in one undivided Person.[24] He is actual God; He is essential man -- the God-man, the man-God, in whom the arms of everlasting Love are outstretched and through whom humanity is brought into the power of the Eternal God.[25] It was in this "dear Emmanuel," as he often calls Christ, that "Love became man and put on our human flesh and our human soul,"[26] and the full power of Eternal Love stood revealed in time, for "One who is Love itself was born of our own very birth."[27] The Cross was not a transaction. It was the culmination of this mighty Love, for "here on the cross hung God and man" -- God's Love springing forth in a soul strong enough to show it in its full scope.[28]

But let no person think that he can "cover himself with the purple mantle of Christ's sufferings and death," {195} and so win his salvation: "Thou thyself," he says, "must go through Christ's whole journey, and enter wholly into His process."[29] "We become children of God in Christ," he wrote in one of his Epistles, "not by an outward, adventitious show of appropriating Grace, not through some merit of Grace appropriated from without, or received in an historical apprehension of being justified by another, but through an inward, resident Grace, which regenerates us into childlikeness, so that Christ the conqueror of death arises in us and becomes a dominating operation in us."[30] This is the heart of his entire message. Every step must be experimental. Salvation is an inward process, and Christ is efficacious and effective because He lives and operates in us. "The suffering and death of Christ," he says, "avail only for those who die to their own will in and with Christ, and are buried with Him to a new will and obedience, and hate sin; who put on Christ in His suffering, reproach, and persecution, take His cross upon them and follow Him under His red banner; to those who put on Christ in His process and now become in the inward spiritual man Christ's members and the Temple of God who dwells in us. No one has a right to comfort himself with Christ's merits unless he desires wholly to put on Christ in himself. He is not a Christian until he has put Him on by true repentance and conversion to Him with absolute resignation and self-denial, so that Christ espouseth and betrotheth Himself with him. . . . For a Christian must be born of Christ and must die to the will of Adam. He must have Christ in him and be a member of His Life according to the spiritual man."[31]

Faith, which is always the key-word in any person's interpretation of Christianity, is for Boehme a dynamic process of appropriating Christ, and of re-living Him. "Faith," he writes in his treatise on The Incarnation, {196} "is not historical knowledge for a man to make articles of it and to depend on them, but faith is one spirit with God, it is the activity of God; it is free, but only for the right and for pure Love, in which it draws the breath of its power and strength. It is, finally, itself the substance."[32] Faith is, thus, not knowledge, it is not believing facts of history, it is not accepting metaphysical dogma. It is, as he is never weary of saying, "strong earnestness of spirit," the earnest will to live in the inward and eternal, passionate hunger and thirst for God, and finally the act of receiving Christ into the soul as a present power and spirit to live by. "I must die," he wrote, "with my outward man [the man of self-centred will] in Christ's death and arise and live anew in Him. Therefore I live now by the will of faith in the spirit of Christ and receive Christ with His humanity into my will. He makes through me a manifestation of the spiritual world and introduces the true Love-sound into the harp-strings of my life. He became that which I am, and now He has made me that which He is!"[33]

Another word for this efficacious and dynamic Faith is "Birth" or "innermost Birth," by which Boehme means the act of discovering the Gate to the Heart and Love and Light of God, and of entering it. "The Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, the Glance and Brightness and Power of Eternal Light must become man and be born in you; otherwise you are in the dark stable and go about groping."[34] "If thou art born of God, then within the circle of thy own life is the whole undivided Heart of God."[35] It is a transforming event by which one swings over from life in the outer to life in the inner world, from life in the dark world to life in the light world, and is born into the kingdom, or principle, which Christ revealed in His triumphant spiritual Life. The human spirit, by this innermost Birth, reaches the principle of Life by which Christ lived, and the gate into heaven is opened and paradise is in the soul. In a {197} beautiful passage he says: "This birth must be wrought within you. The Heart, or the Son of God must arise in the birth of your life, and then you are in Christ and He is in you, and all that He and the Father have is yours; and as the Son is one with the Father, so also the new man is one with the Father and with the Son, one virtue, one power, one light, one life, one eternal paradise, one enduring substance, one Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and thou His child!"[36] God is no longer conceived as far away. He is now with His Love and Light as near as the soul is to itself, and the joy of being born in Christ is like the joy of parents when a little child is born to them.[37] God's will now becomes the man's will, he turns back into the unity from which he broke away, he sees now in one moment what all the doctors in the schools, on the mere level of reason, have never seen, and his inward eye is so opened that he knows God as soon as his eye turns toward Him.[38]

This Faith-process, or innermost life-birth, is not the act of a moment that is over and done with. It means the progressive formation of a new man within the man, so that the real Christian becomes a living branch in a mighty Christ-Tree. Just as Adam was the trunk of a great race-tree of fallen humanity, Christ is to be the Eternal Life-Tree of the universe in whom all the new-born souls of men shall live as springing, flowering branches or twigs: God created only one Man; all other men are twigs of the One Stem.[39] "In Christ," he says, "we are all only one, as a tree in many boughs and branches," and, with a return to autobiography, Boehme adds, "His Life has been brought into mine, so that I am atoned with Him in His Love. The will of Christ has entered into humanity again in me, and now my will in me enters into His humanity."[40] He writes to one of his Silesian friends: "You are a growing branch in the Life-Tree of God in Christ, in whom all the children of God are also branches," and he adds that there is "no other faith {198} which saves except Christ in us," the Life of our lives.[41] Sometimes he calls this triumphant experience the birth of a new branch in Christ's Life-Tree, sometimes the birth of the Lily in Christ's garden of flowers, sometimes it is the birth of the immortal seed. Sometimes it is uniting in life and spirit with Him who is "the Treader on the Serpent," sometimes it is finding the noble Virgin, sometimes it is discovering the Philosopher's Stone, sometimes it is winning the precious Diadem, sometimes it is possessing the key which unlocks the Door, sometimes it is arriving at the Sabbath Quiet of the soul. These are only a variety of ways, many of them forgotten inheritances from alchemy and astrology, of saying that the soul finds its goal in an experience which binds it into one common corporate life with Christ and so into an elemental Love-Unity with God: whoever is born of Christ liveth and walketh in Him, puts Him on in His suffering, death, and resurrection, becomes a member of Christ's body, is "tinctured" with His spirit, and has his own human life rooted in the Love of God.[42] Here, then, in the creation and formation of this organic Life-Tree the universe attains its ultimate goal. It is wholly an achievement of free will, of holy choice. The dark Principle is not annihilated, is not suppressed, but the Heart of God moves ever on in a steadily growing triumph, binding soul after soul into the divine Igdrasil Tree of the Light Universe, in a unity that is not now the unity of negation and undifferentiation -- an Abyss that swallows up all that is in it, -- but a unity of many wills united in a spirit of concord and love, many persons formed by holy desire into one unbroken symphony as harps of God.

With the change of centre in the inner man corresponds also the outer life of word and deed, for the outer, here as everywhere, is only the "signature" of an inner which fits it: "A man must show the root of the tree out of which spirit and flesh have their origin."[43] When the will becomes new-born and the soul unites itself as a twig {199} in Christ's Life-Tree, then it ceases to love sin and will it. When God brings His will into birth in us, He gives us virtue and power to will what He wills, and to leave our sins behind.[44] The attitude of hate, the spirit of war are marks of the old unchanged nature, and are heathenish and not Christian. When Christ is formed in the inner ground of the soul, a man leaves the sword in the sheath and lives in the virtue and power of peace and love. "What will Christ say," he asks the ministers of the Church of his day, "when He sees your apostolic hearts covered with armor? When He gave you the sword of the Spirit, did He command you to fight and make war, or to instigate kings and princes to put on the sword and kill?"[45]

Like the prophets of Israel, he feels intensely the sufferings of the poor and the oppressed, and he breaks out frequently into a biting satire on a kind of Christianity which not only neglects the true cure of soul and body, but "consumes the sweat and blood of the needy," and feeds upon "the sighs and groans and tears of the poor."[46] The true idea of a real Christianity is "fraternity in the Life of Christ" -- "thy brother's soul," he says, "is a fellow-member with thy soul,"[47] and he insists, as though it were the mighty burden of his spirit, that all possessions, goods, and talents shall contribute to the common life of humanity and to the benefit of the social group.[48] It is much better for parents to labour to form good souls in their children than to strive to gather and to leave behind for them great riches and abundance of goods![49] Self-desire is a ground not only of personal disquiet but also of social disturbance, and Boehme feels that the way to spread peace and joy through the world is to cultivate the Love-spirit of Christ and to practice it in fellowship with men.

Like his German predecessor, Sebastian Franck, he is {200} primarily concerned with the invisible Church, and he holds lightly to the empirical Church as he knows it. The Church to which his spirit is dedicated is the organic Life-Tree of which Christ is the living Stem. The holy Zion is not from without, he says, it is built up of those who are joined to Christ and who all live together in one city which is Christ in us.[50] A Christian in the life belongs to no sect, he ceases to wrangle over opinions and words, he dwells in the midst of sects and Babel-churches, but he keeps above the controversies and contentions, and "puts his knowing and willing into the Life of Christ," and works quietly on toward the formation and triumph of the one true Christian Church,[51] which will be, when its glory is complete, the visible expression of the Divine Life-Tree.

He dislikes, as much as did the English Quaker, George Fox, the custom of calling "stone houses" churches, and he will not admit that a building is anything but a building: "Stone houses, called churches, have no greater holiness than other houses, for they are built of stone and other such material, as other houses are, and God is no more powerful in them than He is in other houses, but the Church [i.e. the Congregation] which meets there, if the members of it bind themselves by prayer into one body in Christ, is a holy Temple of Jesus Christ."[52]

His attitude toward outward sacraments consistently fits in with all his central teachings. The outward, for Boehme, is never unimportant. It is always significant and can always be used as a parable or symbol of something inner and eternal. But the outward is at best only temporal, only symbolic, and it becomes a hindrance if it is taken for the real substance of which it is only the outward "signature": "The form shall be destroyed and shall cease with time, but the spirit remains forever."[53] The sacraments, he declares, do not take away sin, for men go to church all their lives and receive the sacraments {201} and remain as wicked and beastly as ever -- while a holy man always has a Church within himself and an inward ministry.[54] Blessedness, therefore, lies not in the outward, but in the life and power of the inward spirit, and it is only a Babel-Church that claims the right to cast out those who have the real substance and neglect only the outward form.[55] In his Treatise on the Holy Supper, he wrote: "It is not enough for a man to hear sermons preached, and to be baptised in the name of Christ, and to go to the Supper. This maketh no Christian. For that, there must be earnestness. No person is a Christian unless Christ live and work in him."[56]

The pith and heart of Christianity, the consummate goal of the way of Salvation, for Boehme is, as we have seen, not "history" and not any kind of outward "form" or "letter" -- buchstaebliches Wort, -- it is an experience in which the soul finds itself "at the top of Jacob's ladder," and feels its life in God and God's Life in it in an ineffable Love-union. He has himself given a very simple and penetrating account of this type of experience drawn from what he calls his own book of life: "Finding within myself a powerful contrarium, namely, the desires that belong to flesh and blood, I began to fight a hard battle against my corrupted nature, and with the aid of God I made up my mind to overcome the inherited evil will, to break it, and to enter wholly into the Love of God. . . . This, however, was not possible for me to accomplish, but I stood firmly by my earnest resolution, and fought a hard battle with myself. Now while I was wrestling and battling, being aided by God, a wonderful light arose within my soul. It was a light entirely foreign to my unruly nature, but in it I recognized the true nature of God and man, and the relation existing between them, a thing which heretofore I had never understood."[57] In one of his other autobiographical passages, he says that after much earnest seeking and desire and many a hard repulse, "the Gate was opened!" These are {202} characteristic accounts of a profound mystical experience. There had been long stress and inward battle, the tension of a divided self, and then a great ground swell of earnest will -- a resolve, he says, to put my life in hazard rather than give over, when "a wonderful light arose within the soul" and "the Gate was opened." And "when this mighty light fell upon me, I saw," he says, in still another description, "in an effectual peculiar manner, and I knew in the spirit."[58]

The central aspect of his experience was plainly an overmastering conviction of contact with, an immersion into, a deeper world of spirit and of inner unity of life and spirit with this deeper world. His own personal spirit united, as he once put it, "with the innermost Birth in God and stood in the Light."[59] He discovered that "God goes clean another way to work" than by the way of reasoning or of sense experience[60] -- instead of waiting for man to climb up to Him, He climbs up into man's soul.[61] By a new and inner way, to change the figure, the tides of the shoreless Divine Sea break in upon the life of a man and bathe his entire being. It seems to Boehme, at one time, like the rising of a mid-noon Sun, with illuminating rays, and he describes the experience in terms of Light and enlarged Vision, or, again, it appears like the bursting open of a secret door into a world of new dimensions, and he calls it the opening of the Gate, or now again he feels as though the elemental creative power of God had burst into operation within him and that a mighty birth-process had lifted him to a new kingdom, or to a new order of nature, or, finally, hushed and soothed and healed as though he had suddenly found the breast of an infinite Mother, he describes his state as "the innermost Quiet" -- the return to "the soul's eternal native country and abiding Home." Descriptions here all fail and are only "stammering words of a child," as Boehme himself says. But, as a matter of fact, descriptions fail and fall short in the case of all genuine life-experiences, {203} even those that are most universal and common to the race. How one feels when after nights of agony from watching over a child that is hovering between life and death, and seemingly certain to slip away from human reach, the doctor says, "He has passed the crisis and the danger is over!" one cannot describe. Whenever it is a matter that concerns the inner quick of the soul, all words are the stammerings of a child.

The true mystical experience is not primarily a knowledge-experience, it is not the apprehension of one more describable fact to be added to our total stock of information -- what Boehme so often calls "opinions" and "history," -- it is a sudden plunge or immersion into the stream of Life itself, it is an interior appreciation of the higher meaning of life by the discovery of a way of entering the Life-process, or, better, of letting the Life-process enter you, on a higher level than is usual. Life always advances by a kind of leap, an elan, which would not have been predicted or anticipated, but which, now it is here revealed in a being with a novel function and a higher capacity of survival, will lift the whole scale of life henceforth to a new level. So, in some way which must for the present at least remain mysterious, the eternal Source of Life, when it finds a human door ready for its entrance, breaks in -- or shall we say that the earnest will climbs up and pushes open the door into new regions in this eternal Life Source? -- and it seems then, as Boehme says, as though "the true nature of God and man and the true relation between God and man" had been found. The mystical experience is, thus, one way, perhaps the highest we have yet discovered, of entering the Life-process itself and of gaining an interior appreciation of Reality by living in the central stream and flow of it, so that the Spirit can "break through" and can "see into the Depth of Deity."

Boehme appears to hold two inconsistent and seemingly contradictory views about the human attitude which is the psychological pre-condition for this epoch-making experience. In his own autobiographical {204} accounts, he always refers to the part that earnest resolution has played in bringing success to his momentous quest. No great mystic since St. Augustine has made more of the will in spiritual matters than he does. We have seen how the doors to both world-kingdoms stand before the soul, and how "free-will," "earnest purpose," "decisive endeavour" settle for each soul which door shall open and which shall shut, and so determine its eternal destiny. "Election" is, for Boehme, a fiction of the false imagination, a "Babel-opinion," a perverse invention of "the Church of Cain." Christ never says "thou couldst not," but rather "thou wouldst not."[62]

Not only does he, in a general way, thus make the will the decisive element in human destiny, he also implies that the creative "flash" of spiritual insight, "the innermost birth" which brings the soul into living union with its source is due, on the human side, to "resolution," to "earnestness," to "valiant wrestling," to a brave venture of faith that risks everything. It requires "mighty endurance," "hard labour," "stoutness of spirit," and "a great storm, assault, and onset" to open the Gate. In a word, the key to any important spiritual experience is intention, inward pre-perception, that holds the mind intently focussed in expectation, without which the "flash" of spiritual vision is not likely to come.

But on the other hand Boehme is a powerful exponent of the idea that desire and will must utterly, absolutely die before God can come to birth in the soul -- "Christ is born and lives in our Nothingness."[63] A man, he says, must die wholly to self-hood, forsake it and enter again into the original Nothing, -- the eternal Unity in which nothing is willed in particular, -- before God can have His way with him; all sin arises from self-hood, from desire.[64] "How," asks a disciple in one of Boehme's imaginary dialogues, "shall I come to the hidden centre where God dwelleth and not man? Tell me plainly, loving sir, how it is to be found and entered into?"


The Master: "There where the soul hath slain its own will and willeth no more anything of itself." . . .

The Disciple: "But how shall I comprehend it?"

The Master: "If thou goest about to comprehend in thy own will, it flieth from thee, but if thou dost surrender thyself wholly, then thou art dead to thy own will, and Love will be the Life of thy nature."[65] He seems to go as far in this direction toward the annihilation of desire, negation of the finite, and loss of self-hood as any of the pantheistic mystics. This sample passage will indicate his teaching: "When thou art wholly gone forth from the creature and become nothing to all that is nature and creature, then thou art in that Eternal One which is God Himself, and then thou shalt experience the supreme virtue of Love."[66]

These two diverse statements are, however, not as inconsistent as they at first seem. The will, the intention that is a psychological preparation for this mystical experience is a will washed and purged of selfish impulse and self-seeking aims. It is an intention that cannot be described in terms of any finite "content." It is the intense heave of the whole undivided being toward God with no reservation, no calculation of return profits, no thought even of isolated and independent personality. A true account of consciousness, preceding the moment of bursting through the Gate, might emphasize with equal accuracy either the "earnest resolution," "the storm and onset of will," or "the annihilation of particular desire," "the surrender of individualistic self-hood," "death to own will in the Life and Virtue of Love."

The effects of such an experience as that which came to Boehme, if we may take his case as typical, are (1) The birth of an inner conviction of God's immediate and environing Presence amounting to axiomatic certainty -- faith through experience has become "the substance," and "is now one spirit with God"; (2) The radiation of the whole being with "a joy like that which parents have at the birth of their first-born child" -- the joy now of the {206} soul crying, "Abba"; (3) A vastly heightened perception of what is involved in the eternal nature of the religious life and in the spiritual relation between the soul and God, i.e. increased ability to see what promotes and furthers the soul's health and development; (4) A unification, co-ordination, and centralizing of the inner faculties, so that there is an increment of power revealed in the entire personality; and (5) An increase of clarity and a sharpening of focus in the perception of moral distinctions together with a distinctly heightened moral and social passion.

Boehme himself always believed, further, that his entire system of ideas, his philosophy of the universe, and his way of salvation were a "revelation" of the Spirit to him, -- in a word, that his wisdom was "theosophy," a God-communicated knowledge. I have no desire to mark off dogmatically the scope and possible limits of "revelation," nor is it necessary here to discuss the abstract question whether "ideas" are ever "communicated" to a mind ab extra, and without the mediation of subjective processes, or not. In the concrete case of Jacob Boehme, I do not find any compelling evidence of the unmediated communication of ideas. He was a man of unusual native capacity, and, though untrained, his mind possessed a high order of range and quality, and swept, as he was, by a mighty transforming experience, he found himself in novel fashion, and was the recipient of inspirations, which fired and fused his soul, gave him heightened insight into the significance of things old and new, and often enabled him to build better than he knew. He is, however, obviously using the stock of ideas which his generation and those early and late before it, had made "part of the necessary air men breathed." His terminology and symbolism were as old as mythology, and were the warp and woof of the nature philosophies and the alchemy of his day. His impressive and spiritual interpretation of Christianity is always deep and vital, and freighted with the weight of his own inward direct appreciation of God's revelation of Himself in Christ, {207} but even here he is walking on a road which many brave souls before him had helped to build, and we cannot with truth say that he supplies us with a new gospel which had been privately "communicated" to him. In fact, the portions of his voluminous writings which bear the mark of having been written as automatic script -- by "this hand," as he often says -- are the chaotic and confused portions, full of monotonous repetitions, of undigested and indigestible phrases and the dreary re-shufflings of sub-conscious wreckage. Boehme used to say that "in the time of the lily" his writings would be "much sought after." But I doubt if, even "in the time of the lily," most persons will have the patience to read this shoemaker-prophet's books in their present form, that is, if "in the time of the lily" men still enjoy and prize intelligence and lucidity; but there already is enough of "the lily-spirit" in the world to appreciate and to give thanks for the experience, the flashes of insight, the simple wisdom, the brave sincerity, the inner certainty of the true World within the world we see, and the spiritual message of "the way to the soul's native Country," which he has given us.

[1] True Repentance, i.

[2] I have given his Weltanschauung in the previous chapter, and I shall discuss his mysticism at the end of this chapter.

[3] Hegel says that Boehme's piety is "in the highest degree deep and inward." -- History of Philos. iii. p.216.

[4] True Resignation, iii.20.

[5] The Three Princ., Preface, 4.

[6] "There is in every man an incorporate ground of Grace, an inner Temple of Christ, the soul's immortal Dowry. No man can sell or pawn this ground of Grace, this habitation and dwelling-place of Christ. It remains unlost as the possession of God -- an inward Ground and spiritual substance." -- Myst. mag. lxxiv.20-33, freely rendered.

[7] Sig. re. xv.45.

[8] Aurora, xviii.43.

[9] The Three Princ., xiv.3 and 12; also ibid. 85 and 88.

[10] Myst. mag. xxvii.41.

[11] Ninth Epistle, 16.

[12] Myst. mag. xxvii. passim; also Seventh Epistle, 11-14.

[13] Tenth Epistle, 13-14.

[14] Regeneration, 6.

[15] For a sample passage see Sig. re. xv.22-47.

[16] True Resignation, 30-41. Freely rendered.

[17] The Three Princ. xxxiii.8-17.

[18] Ibid. xix.6.

[19] Sig. re. ix.67.

[20] Ibid. xi.88.

[21] Aurora, Preface, 27.

[22] Sig. re. xi.80.

[23] Prayer in True Repentance.

[24] Three Princ. xxii.81.

[25] Myst. mag. lxx.7-10; Three Princ. xviii.80; and Supersensual Life, 27.

[26] Three. Princ. xxv.43.

[27] Ibid. xxv.6.

[28] Read Ibid. xxv.7-41.

[29] True Repentance.

[30] First Epistle, 6. Hegel well says of Boehme: "What marks him out and makes him noteworthy is the Protestant principle of placing the intellectual world within one's own mind and heart, and of experiencing and knowing and feeling in one's own self-consciousness all that was formerly conceived as a Beyond." -- History of Philos. iii. p.191.

[31] Tenth Epistle, 16-19.

[32] Incarnation, part iii. chap. i.5-15.

[33] Sig. re. xii.10-13.

[34] The Threefold Life, iii.31.

[35] Ibid. vi.71.

[36] The Three Princ. iv.9.

[37] Aurora, xix.52-66.

[38] Myst. mag. lxxii.7-10.

[39] Ibid. xxiv.17.

[40] Sig. re. ix.63.

[41] Seventh Epistle, 1.

[42] Ibid., 6 and 12.

[43] Apology to Stiefel, 23.

[44] True Resignation, iii.21.

[45] Myst. mag. lxii.25.

[46] The Three Principles, xix.47; xxi.32.; Sig. re. viii.27.

[47] Forty Questions, xii.39.

[48] For an example of it, see Myst. mag. lxxiv.46.

[49] Forty Questions, x.9.

[50] Fourth Epistle, 32, and True Repentance.

[51] Regeneration, 161-162.

[52] Myst. mag. lxiii.47. This theme constantly reappears.

[53] Sig. re. xv.37.

[54] Resignation, vi.134-151.

[55] Forty Questions, xiv.17-19.

[56] Op. cit. iv.16.

[57] Von Hartmann's Life and Doctrines of Jacob Boehme, p.50.

[58] Twenty-fifth Epistle, 2.

[59] Aurora, xix.95.

[60] Twenty-sixth Epistle, 7.

[61] Aurora, xviii.9.

[62] Sig. re. xvi.38.

[63] Ibid. ix.65.

[64] Ibid. xiii.27 and xv.9.

[65] The Supersensual Life, 29 and 30.

[66] Ibid. 27.

chapter x boehmes universe
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