Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jacob Böehme on Genesis

Alice C. Linsley

Jakob Böehme (1575-1624) was a Christian mystic and German theologian. He was an original thinker, an avid reader of the Bible, and his first book, Aurora, caused a great scandal, mainly because of the criticism it received from the chief pastor of Görlitz, Gregorius Richter, who died in August 1624. The new clergy, who were wary of Böehme's ideas, interrogated him when he wanted to receive the sacrament.

There are as many blasphemies in this shoemaker's book as there are lines; it smells of shoemaker's pitch and filthy blacking. May this insufferable stench be far from us. The Arian poison was not so deadly as this shoemaker's poison.
— Gregorius Richter following the publication of Aurora.

A mystic from his youth, Jacob Böehme developed his idea of the spiritual structure of the world as a great tree which from root to flower and fruit is permeated by a life-giving sap and formed from within according to its own nature. Boehme’s articulation of a vital monism: that all is animated by the divine unity of the living All represents a kind of Catholic Gnosticism which became popular during the Renaissance. To articulate this monism, Boehme often poses the cosmos in dualistic terms. Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, and Angels and Demons struggle in humanity and in the world.

Boehme regards God as unknowable. He wrote: "I did not climb up into the Godhead, neither can so mean a man as I am do it; but the Godhead climbed up in me, and revealed such to me out of his Love..." God reveals Himself from within creation when the individual submits his will to the will of God “on earth as in heaven.” Boehme called the mind or spirit of the individual the “Primus” (drawing on Paraclesus’ “Archeus”) and he saw the universal remedy for strengthening each spirit to be knowledge of the Self-revealed Creator in Nature.

In Boehme’s cosmology, the world’s evolution is God’s visible self-revelation, emerging out of a desire to reveal Divine Self to Divine Self. He writes: "Creation was an act of the free will of God; God unfolded his eternal nature, and through his active love, or desire, he caused that which heretofore had been in him merely as spirit (as an image contained in a piece of wood before the artist has cut it out), to become substantial, corporeal." He regards the Fall as a necessity in the evolution of Nature as the sphere in which the divine All expresses Self.

Boehme’s writings reveal his interest in alchemy and the Kabbala and these stir his metaphysical imagination, as can be seen in the selection below.

Excerpt from the Author’s Preface to Aurora: The Day-Spring by Jacob Boehme:

GOD commanded Man to do Good, and did forbid him to do Evil; and now daily calls and preaches, and exhorts Man unto Good; whereby we see well enough, that God willeth not Evil, but his Will is, That his Kingdom should come, and his Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. But now Man is poisoned through Sin, so that the fierce wrathful Quality, as well as the Good, reigns in him, and is now half dead, and in his gross Ignorance can no more know God his Creator, nor Nature and its Operation; Yet has Nature used its best Endeavours from the Beginning till now, to which God hath given his Holy Ghost, so that it hath at all Times generated wise, holy and understanding Men, which learned to know Nature and their Creator, who always in their Writings and Teachings have been a Light to the World, whereby God has raised his Church on Earth, to his eternal Praise. Against which the Devil has raged, and spoiled many a noble Twig, through the wrathful Fierceness in Nature, whose Prince and God he is.

For Nature has many Times prepared and fitted a learned judicious Man with good gifts, and then the Devil has done his utmost to seduce that Man, and bring him into carnal Pleasure, to Pride, to a Desire to be Rich, and to be in Authority and Power. Thereby the Devil hath ruled in him, and the fierce wrathful Quality has overcome the Good; his Understanding, his Knowledge and Wisdom have been turned into Heresy and Error, who hath made a Mock of the Truth, and been the Author of Great Errors on Earth, and a good Leader of the Devil’s Host.

For the bad Quality in Nature has wrestled, and does still wrestle with the Good, ever since the Beginning, and has elevated itself, and spoiled many a noble Fruit even in the Mothers Womb, as it plainly appears, first by Cain and Abel, which came from one Womb. Cain was from his Mothers Womb a Despiser of God, and proud; but Abel, on the contrary, was a humble Man, and one that feared God.

The same is seen also in the three Sons of Noah; as also by Abraham’s Sons Isaac and Ishmael, especially by Isaac’s in Esau and Jacob, which struggled and wrestled even in the Mother’s Womb: therefore said God, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated, Gen.25.23., which is nothing else, but that both Qualities in Nature have vehemently wrestled one with another.

For when God at that Time moved in Nature, and would reveal himself unto the World through righteous Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and would raise a Church to himself on Earth for his Glory, then in Nature Malice also moved, and its Prince Lucifer. Seeing there was good and bad in Man, therefore both Qualities could reign in him, and therefore there was born at once, in one Womb, an evil and a good Man.

Also it is clearly seen by the first World, as also by the second, even unto the End of our Time, how the Heavenly and Hellish Kingdom in Nature have always wrestled one with another, and stood in great Travail, even as a Woman in the Birth. This does most clearly appear by Adam and Eve. For there grew up a Tree in Paradise of both Qualities of Good and Bad, wherewith Adam and Eve were to be tempted, to try whether they would hold out in the good Quality in the Angelical Kind and Form. For the Creator did forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the Fruit: but the evil Quality in Nature wrestled with the Good, and brought Adam and Eve into a Lust and Longing to eat of both. Thereupon they presently became of a bestial Form and Nature, and did eat of Good and Bad, and must increase and live in a bestial Manner; and so many a noble Twig begotten or born of them perished.

Afterwards it is seen, how God did work in Nature, when the Holy Fathers in the first World were born: as Abel, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methusalah, Lamech, and holy Noah. These made the Name of the Lord known to the World, and preached Repentance: for the Holy Ghost wrought in them.

On the contrary, the Hellish God also wrought against it, in Nature, and begot Mockers and Despisers, first Cain and his Posterity: And it was with the first World as with a young Tree, which grows, is green, blossometh fairly, but brings little good Fruit, by Reason of its wild Kind. So Nature in the first World brought forth but little good Fruit, though it blossometh fair in worldly Knowledge, and Luxury or Wantonness, which could not apprehend the Holy Spirit, who wrought in Nature then, as well as now.

Therefore said God, It repents me, that I have made Man, Gen.6.6., and he stirred up Nature so, that all Flesh died, which lived on dry Land, except the Root and Stock, that remained in Virtue: and so he has hereby dunged the wild Tree, and manured it, that it should bear better Fruit. But when the same sprung up again, it brought forth good and bad Fruit again; Among the Sons of Noah, there were found again Mockers and Despisers of God, and there hardly grew any good Branch on the Tree, which brought forth any holy and good Fruit: The other Branches were bearing also, and brought forth wild Heathens.

But when God saw that Man was thus dead in his Knowledge, He moved Nature again, and shewed unto Man, how there was good and bad therein, that they should avoid Evil, and live unto the Good; and he caused Fire to fall down out of Nature, and fired Sodom and Gomorrah, for a terrible Example to the World. But when the Blindness of Men grew predominant, and refused to be taught by the Spirit of God, he Gave Laws and Precepts unto them, showing how they should behave themselves, and confirmed them with Wonders and Signs, lest the Knowledge of the true God should be quite extinct. But for all this, the Light did not manifest it self, for the Darkness and wrathful Fierceness in Nature struggled against it, and the Prince thereof ruled powerfully.

But when the Tree of Nature came to its middle Age, then it began to bear some mild and sweet Fruit, to show, that it would henceforth bear pleasant Fruit. Then were born, the Holy Prophets, out of the sweet Branch of the Tree, which taught and preached of the Light, which hereafter should overcome the wrathful Fierceness in Nature. And then there arose a Light in Nature among the Heathens, so that they knew Nature, and her Operation, although this was only a Light in the wild Nature, and was not yet the holy Light.

For the wild Nature was not yet overcome, and Light and Darkness wrestled so long one with another, till the Sun arose, and forced this Tree with its Heat, so that it did bear pleasant sweet Fruit: that is, till there came the Prince of Light out of the Heart of God and became Man in Nature, and wrestled in his human Body in the Power of the Divine Light, in the wild Nature. That same Prince and Royal Twig grew up in Nature, and became a Tree in Nature, and spread its Branches abroad from the East to the West, and encompassed the whole Nature, and wrestled and fought with the fierce Wrath which was in Nature, and with the Prince thereof, till he overcame and triumphed as a King in Nature, and took the Prince of Wrath or Fierceness, Captive in his own House, Psalm 68.

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