Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)


Biographical summary

Jacob Boehme, beyond a doubt, is one of the greatest of Christian Gnostics. I am using the word not in the sense of the so-called heretics of the opening centuries of the Christian era, but to indicate a wisdom grounded in revelation and employing myths and symbols  rather than concepts – a wisdom much more contemplative than discursive. Such is religious philosophy, or theosophy.

Nothing is more characteristic of Boehme than his great simplicity of heart and childlike purity of soul. He was not a scholar nor a lettered man nor a schoolman. He was of the class of wise men that come from the people. A child of weak constitution, Boehme was apprenticed to a shoemaker following an elementary education in the village school of Alt Seidenberg. At the age of 24, he became a citizen of the town of Gorlitz and entered into business as a shoemaker. In May of that year he married the local butcher’s daughter, Catharina Kuntzchmann, and shortly thereafter purchased a home.Between 1600 and 1611 his wife bore four sons.Throughout his life he was an active business and family man involved in problems relating to the transfer of goods, controversy among the guilds, the sale of property and private and public litigation. With the other citizens in Gorlitz, Boehme would face the personal and economic difficulties brought on by the Thirty Years’ War.

For a man of Boehme’s religious interests, Gorlitz was an exciting location. In the city were followers of the spiritualist Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig (1489-1551) and other groups who took interest in the work of the alchemist Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim-known as Paracelsus- (1493-1541), and the nature mystic Valentine Weigel (1533-1588). Although we are led to believe that Boehme was a reader and was informed of the various teachings in his city, it is nonetheless certain that his doctrine cannot be explained by influences or by borrowings. To state precisely the sources of his wisdom is a highly complex problem, the problem of the possibility of a personal revelation and illumination, of a supernatural charismatic gift.

The spark that ignited Boehme’s environment was provided with the arrival of Martin Moller, who came to the city as a Lutheran pastor in 1600. He immediately organized a “Conventicle of God’s Real Servant” as a attempt to reintroduce in the rather dry presentation of Lutheranism at the time; personal renewal, individual spiritual growth and religious experience. Boehme, awakened by the revival, joined. Later in 1600, Boehme experienced his first great vision. He began to write, and in 1612 finished his Aurora. One of Boehme’s associates made copies of this book and circulated them. In 1613 one of the copies fell into the hands of Martin Moller’s successor: the chief Pastor Gregory Richter, who in addition to his concern forthe defense of the Lutheran orthodoxy had personal reasons for attacking Boehme. He had Boehme’s books confiscated and on July 30, 1613, its author was banned from further writing.Boehme ceased writing for a “sabbath of years” as he described it. In January 1619, after another illuminationthat once more incited his prophetic spirit, he broke his silence and wrote practically without interruption from 1619 to 1623. The enthusiasm of his disciples had its effect and, as rumors of the circlegrew, Richter became enraged again. The authorities did not know of the works written since 1619 and supposed that to that date Boehme had maintained silence.

The publication of The Way to Christ on New Year’s Day 1624 immediately brought forth angry sermons by Richter. In March Boehme was told by the municipality council to seek his fortune elsewhere and went for a

short time to Dresden. Later in 1624, ill and working on his last book, he returned to his home in Gorlitz. Richter was dead by this time and his replacement was called to Boehme’s home to minister to the dying prophet. According to him, Boehme died as an orthodox Lutheran on November 17. 1624.

Recent findings show that Boehme was much more than a simple shoemaker. He apparently organized the commerce of leather in his area. His practices were very close to what is called “dumping” today. Pastor Richter, whose relatives lost substantial amounts of money because of Boehme’s business, had indeed strong personal motives to have Boehme banished from Gorlitz.


Boehme’s Theosophy

•   Cosmogony

The universe is created according to the words of the Prologue of John the Divine. God createdthrough his word. He, however, was triple, from the beginning, understood in his wisdom as individual beings. Seven characteristics progressively reveal the creative word. The first is harshness: God’s conception of Himself. Itis followed by attraction, followed by dread, the result of the first two. The fourth is the ignition of fire, the basis of sensitive and intellectual life. From the fire, love-light is emitted, which dissipates the individualism of the first four characteristics. The sixth is the divine power of speech; the seventh is the speech itself. Each of the seven characteristics is present in all beings and reflects the motion from all eternity.

Like God, man was both fire and light. Man’s soul began in the fiery inception of eternal nature and is to stream back to its source as light, as love. Using Boehme’s two favorite images describe it, the prodigal son returnsbut work still remains to be done in the vineyard. With a resigned will the journey back is undertaken and with a resigned will the work in the vineyard is completed. The arrival home is an experience of divine contemplation and the conclusion of the work ushers in contemplation of the divine. All creatures return in the unity of God.


•   The Universal Brotherhood and the return to Unity

Boehme’s concept of the Creator is the perfect, unmoving, complete, satisfied, all-powerful, all-knowing and infinitely good God. He has created the world and man for His own glory and for the good of Creation. The act of creation was not prompted by anything, did not answer any need of God, but was the result of a purely and simply arbitrary decision. It added nothing to the Divine Being, nor enriched it in any way. In this context, all creatures participate to the same life and therefore are included into the unity of God, even the lower regions of nature. Boehme’s concept of paradise was the original unity of the creation and simultaneously, the place of return to this primordial unity of the soul after the mystical marriage of all souls with the Divine Wisdom (Theosophia) and theReturn to Christ.


•  Latent Powers in Man

In this field, as in most of his teachings,he has pushed language beyond its limits. He is one who has gone beyond the axiom of contradiction. All things are created in and by the Word of God and are reflected in man’s word. All things have Kraft, translated into English as Power or Energy , which is paralleled by the Kraft above all, the Word of God.  Because of the close relationship of the macrocosm  and the microcosm, man’s words are to be carefully spoken. A man speaks and has creative power in his word. Imagination is that aspect of man by which he orients his consciousness. In itself, it is neutral. It develops the impression in man. Where Imagination leaves off, Magia begins. Magia is that which pierces through the Imagination towards the Mysterium Magnum. This search and discovery of Magia is “the best theology. In it, Faith is founded and discovered.” (Six Mystical Points 5:23). It is the eternal foundation of Magia, which makes things in itself, where no thing is. It makes Something out of Nothing, and it does this aside from the activity of the will in Man. “The will has nothing, nor is there anything that gives something to it. The will has no place where it can discover itself or rest.”(Mysterium Pansophicum).  On man’s part, therefore, only when the will of man, hisdesire and capacity to create outside the great Plan of the creator, has been totally resigned can the creation of the Word take place, and the marriage with the Divine Wisdom – or Theosophia – be fully consummated.





Aurora, Ms. 1612 Theosophical Letters, Ms. 1618 De tribus principii, Ms. 1619

On the Threefold Life of Man, Ms. 1620 Fourty Questions on the Soul, Ms. 1620

On the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Ms. 1620 Six Theosophical Points, Ms. 1620

Six Mystical Points, Ms. 1620

On the Precious Gate on Divine Contemblation, Ms. 1620 De Signatura Rernm, Ms. 1621

Concerning the Birth and Designation of all Beings, Ms. 1622 The First Treatise on True Repentance, Ms. 1622

Resignation, Ms. 1622

On the Supersensual Life, Ms. 1622

The Second Treatise on True Repentance, Ms. 1623 On the New Life, Ms. 1623

On Holy Prayer with an Order for each Day of the week, Ms. 1623 De Testamentis Christi, Ms. 1623

Conversation between an Enlightenedand Unenlightened Soul, Ms. 1624 Consolation Treatise on the Four Humors, Ms. 1624

Theosophical Questions, Ms. 1624