« Boehm, Hans Boehme, Jakob Boehmer, Eduard »

Boehme, Jakob


Early Tendency Toward Mysticism (§ 1).

Mystic Visions (§ 2).

Opposition to his First Book (§ 3).

Finds Sympathy in Dresden (§ 4).

Death of Böhme (§ 5).

His Writings (§ 6).

His Transcendentalism (§ 7).

His Essential Orthodoxy (§ 8).

1. Early Tendency Toward Mysticism.

The famous German mystic Jakob Böhme (often written Behmen or Boehme in English), born at Alt-Seidenberg, near Görlitz, Nov., 1575; d. at Görlitz Nov. 17, 1624. His parents were peasants, from whom he inherited, it seems, a strain of visionary mysticism. Unable to bear the rough outdoor life of the farm, he was put to shoemaking in the little town of Seidenberg, where he had a hard apprenticeship with a family that had no Christian principles, and got an early insight into the controversies of the age. With diligent reading of the Bible and prayer for 210the illumination of the Holy Spirit he combined eager study of the works of fanatical visionaries, such as Paracelsus, Weigel, and Schwenckfeld, by means of which he felt himself elevated above the strife of tongues around him into the light and joy of the contemplation of God. He settled, as master of his trade, at Görlitz in 1599. He had his shop there until 1613, and must have prospered to a certain extent, since he bought a house in 1610 and had fully paid for it in 1618. He married a master butcher's daughter in 1599, and had four sons and two daughters, passing as a model husband and father among his neighbors. All these things go to show that he had a practical hold on life, and was far from being a mere crazy visionary.

2. Mystic Visions.

A visionary, however, he remained. He tells the story of a stranger coming into his shop and calling him by name, taking him aside to tell him he should be so great that the world should wonder at him, and warning him to remain true to the Word of God and to a life of virtue. Other visions followed. One day the reflection of the sun from a bright metal vessel in his shop seemed to infuse such spiritual light into his soul that the inner mysteries of things were laid open to his sight. He went out into the fields to seek the revelation of God's will in earnest prayer, and found his peace and joy only grow the deeper. None the less, ten years passed before he ventured to put down in writing what he had seen, and then he did so only on the encouragement of a new vision and as a memorandum for himself.

3. Opposition to his First Book.

The incomplete manuscript, written in great haste, which he called Aurora oder die Morgenröte im Aufgang, began to circulate among his acquaintances at the instance of Karl von Ender, a friendly noble man who was an adherent of Schwenckfeld's. In this way it came under the notice of Gregorius Richter, the pastor of Görlitz, who at once began a fanatical war upon the presumptuous shoemaker, and urged the local magistrate to suppress him, lest the wrath of God should fall upon the town. Böhme was minutely examined before the council, and only dismissed on promising to write no more books. The observance of this promise, however, was not only made difficult by the insistence of his friends, but by his own inner feeling that the fear of men had driven him to deny the grace of God that was in him. The bitter abuse of Richter, too, still continued, and after five years of silence, during which he had learned a good deal and developed more, Böhme could bear it no longer, and, encouraged by a fresh vision, again took up his pen. His new writings were at first circulated only in manuscript copies. Richter, who thought himself the appointed guardian of orthodoxy, thundered against him from the pulpit and attacked him in a vulgar lampoon, which Böhme answered in a tone naturally excited, but still showing a nobler spirit than the absurdly haughty and unchristian contempt of the attack. Far from having broken with the word of God and the sacraments, he was trying to live as an upright Christian, in strict self-discipline; and although among his twenty-eight works there are some which directly attack the visible Church as Babel, the city of confusion, and set forth Christ in us as the mystical ideal, his general attitude by no means justifies the scornful "Shoemaker, stick to thy last" of his opponent.

4. Finds Sympathy In Dresden.

In 1624 he was obliged to leave Görlitz, and went to Dresden, where he found shelter in the house of the director of the Elector's chemical laboratory and enjoyed the society of many of the most intellectual people of the court and the capital. In May he had a hearing before several distinguished clerics and professors, who fully recognized his mental endowments, and encouraged him to go home, especially as his family, deprived of its head, had been exposed to no little suffering in the confusion of the Thirty Years' War.

5. Death of Böhme.

He returned to Görlitz, but his end was near. When he asked for communion upon his death-bed, the successor of Richter, a man like-minded, would only give it to him after a searching examination, of which the report is still extant. Full of confidence, however, and with heavenly voices ringing in his ears, Böhme took leave of his wife and children and died with the joyful cry "I go to Paradise!" In spite of clerical opposition, a befitting funeral was provided by the town authorities; a cross was put up over the grave by his friends, to be defiled and thrown down by the populace.

6. His Writings.

Thus despised and rejected in his own day, Böhme has been honored by some of the greatest minds of Germany in a later age; such men as Friedrich von Hardenberg, Jung-Stilling, Friedrich Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, Hegel and Schelling received valuable intellectual impulses from his works, which also attracted much attention in England, where a complete translation appeared between 1644 and 1682. Besides those already named, the most important are Von den drei Principien göttlichen Wesens; Vom dreifachen Leben des Menschen; Vierzig Fragen von der Seele; Von wahrer Busse; Das Gespräch einer unerleuchteten Seele; and Der Weg zu Christo; including two against predestinarianism and two against pantheism. Böhme's influence has never been a popular one, because his train of thought is frequently difficult and sometimes almost impossible to follow. This is due partly to his lack of education, which prevented him from expressing himself clearly, but partly also to the depth and intensity of his thought, which has to struggle for adequate representation in words. With sincere longing, with real hunger of the soul he plunges into the depths of God's being.

7. His Transcendentalism.

The traditional theology of the schools, with its strife about the letter, could not content him. "As the many kinds of flowers grow in the earth near each other, and none contends with the other about color, smell, or taste, but they let the earth and the sun, rain and wind, heat and cold, do what they will with them, while they grow each according to its own nature, so is it with the children of God." And he was simply a child of God, that longed to 211grow and approach more closely to God. In this effort he studied the Bible and clung to it, but nature and life, to say nothing of the writings of earlier enthusiasts, contributed their part.

8. His Essential Orthodoxy.

He held fast to the fundamental doctrines of his Church, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement. "That which is said of God, that he is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is truly said; but it must be explained, or the unenlightened can not comprehend it." "Thou must not think the Son is another God from the Father, or that he is outside the Father, as when two men stand side by side. The Father is the source of all forces, and all forces are in each other as one force; and thus he is called one God. The Son is the Father's heart, the heart or center of all the powers of the Father. From the Son rises the eternal heavenly joy, having its source in all the powers of the Father, a joy that no eye has seen, and no ear heard." Christ, the Father's heart, descended into the midst of the conflagration which had broken out in the world, extinguished it by his death, and by his resurrection, the resurrection of the God-Man, raised man to participation in the Godhead. The Scripture is the receptacle of the truth; he holds to it, and its sense alone (cf. Col. i, 15–20) teaches a cosmic, universal conception of Christianity; baptism and the Lord's supper are means of grace to him. He remains, in spite of all obscurities, a man of inspiration who raised Protestant mysticism to a great height, and not only endowed it with the riches of his own meditations but, through his "theosophic Pentecostal school, in which the soul is taught by God," has shown many others the way to a deep and abiding happiness.

(F. W. Dibelius.)

Bibliography: The works of Böhme were collected in Germany by J. G. Gichtel, 1682, and an edition in 7 vols. was edited by Schiebler, Leipsic, 1831–47. The Eng. ed. is mentioned in the text. Early accounts in Eng. of his life were by D. Hotham, London, 1654, and by F. Okeley, Northampton, 1780; in Germ. by J. A. Calo, Wittenberg, 1707. For later accounts consult: J. Claassen, J. Böhme. Sein Leben und seine theosophischen Werke, 3 vols., Stuttgart, 1885; H. L. Martensen, J. Böhme, Copenhagen, 1882, Eng. transl., London, 1885; R. A. Vaughan, Hours with the Mystics, vol. ii, ib. 1888; Schönwälder, Lebensbeschreibung J. Böhmes, Görlitz, 1895. More nearly concerned with his philosophy are: J. Hamberger, Die Lehre des deutschen Philosophen J. Böhme, Munich, 1844: C. F. Baur, Zur Geschichte der protestantischen Mystik, in Theologische Jahrbücher, vii–viii, 1848–49; A. Peip, J. Böhme . . . der Vorläufer christlicher Wissenschaft, Leipsic, 1860; idem, J. Böhme . . . in seiner Stellung zur Kirche, Hamburg, 1862; J. Tulloch, Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, Edinburgh, 1874; F. von Baader, Vorlesungen über J. Böhme, in Sämmtliche Werke, vol. xiii, Leipsic, 1855; F. Hartmann, Life and Doctrines of Böhme, the God-taught Philosopher, London, 1893; J. F. Hurst, History of Rationalism, chap. i, New York, 1902. McClintock and Strong, Cyclopædia, ii, 842, gives in Eng. complete list of his works.

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