Jakob Böhme (/ˈbeɪmə, ˈboʊ-/; 1575 – 17 November 1624) was
a German philosopher, Christian mystic, and
theologian. He was considered an original thinker by many of his
contemporaries within the
Lutheran tradition, and his first book,
commonly known as Aurora, caused a great scandal. In contemporary
English, his name may be spelled Jacob Boehme; in seventeenth-century
England it was also spelled Behmen, approximating the contemporary
English pronunciation of the German Böhme.
2 Aurora and writings
3.2 Marian views
5 References by modern authors
6.1 Books in print
7 See also
10 External links
Böhme was born on 8 March 1575 at
Alt Seidenberg (now Stary Zawidów,
Poland), a village near
Görlitz in Upper Lusatia, a territory of the
Kingdom of Bohemia. His father, George Wissen, was Lutheran,
reasonably wealthy, but a peasant nonetheless. Böhme was the fourth
of five children. Böhme's first job was that of a herd boy. He was,
however, deemed to be not strong enough for husbandry. When he was 14
years old, he was sent to Seidenberg, as an apprentice to become a
shoemaker. His apprenticeship for shoemaking was hard; he lived
with a family who were not Christians, which exposed him to the
controversies of the time. He regularly prayed and read the Bible as
well as works by visionaries such as Paracelsus, Weigel and
Schwenckfeld, although he received no formal education. After three
years as an apprentice, Böhme left to travel. Although it is unknown
just how far he went, he at least made it to Görlitz. In 1592
Böhme returned from his journeyman years. By 1599, Böhme was master
of his craft with his own premises in Görlitz. That same year he
married Katharina, daughter of Hans Kuntzschmann, a butcher in
Görlitz, and together he and Katharina had four sons and two
Böhme's mentor was Abraham Behem who corresponded with Valentin
Weigel. Böhme joined the "Conventicle of God's Real Servants" - a
parochial study group organized by Martin Möller. Böhme had a number
of mystical experiences throughout his youth, culminating in a vision
in 1600 as one day he focused his attention onto the exquisite beauty
of a beam of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish. He believed this
vision revealed to him the spiritual structure of the world, as well
as the relationship between
God and man, and good and evil. At the
time he chose not to speak of this experience openly, preferring
instead to continue his work and raise a family.
In 1610 Böhme experienced another inner vision in which he further
understood the unity of the cosmos and that he had received a special
vocation from God.
The shop in Görlitz, which was sold in 1613, had allowed Böhme to
buy a house in 1610 and to finish paying for it in 1618. Having given
up shoemaking in 1613, Böhme sold woollen gloves for a while, which
caused him to regularly visit
Prague to sell his wares.
Aurora and writings
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.
Twelve years after the vision in 1600, Böhme began to write his first
book, Die Morgenroete im Aufgang (The rising of Dawn). The book was
given the name Aurora by a friend; however, Böhme originally wrote
the book for himself and it was never completed. A manuscript copy
of the unfinished work was loaned to Karl von Ender, a nobleman, who
had copies made and began to circulate them. A copy fell into the
hands of Gregorius Richter, the chief pastor of Görlitz, who
considered it heretical and threatened Böhme with exile if he
continued working on it. As a result, Böhme did not write anything
for several years; however, at the insistence of friends who had read
Aurora, he started writing again in 1618. In 1619 Böhme wrote "De
Tribus Principiis" or "On the Three Principles of Divine Being". It
took him two years to finish his second book, which was followed by
many other treatises, all of which were copied by hand and circulated
only among friends. In 1620 Böhme wrote "The Threefold Life of
Man", "Forty Questions on the Soul", "The Incarnation of Jesus
Christ", "The Six Theosophical Points", "The Six Mystical Points". In
1621 Böhme wrote "De Signatura Rerum". In 1623 Böhme wrote "On
Election to Grace", "On Christ's Testaments", "Mysterium Magnum",
"Clavis (Key)". The year 1622 saw Böhme write some short works all of
which were subsequently included in his first published book on New
Year's Day 1624, under the title Weg zu Christo (The Way to
The publication caused another scandal and following complaints by the
clergy, Böhme was summoned to the Town Council on 26 March 1624. The
report of the meeting was that:
"Jacob Boehme, the shoemaker and rabid enthusiast, declares that he
has written his book To Eternal Life, but did not cause the same to be
printed. A nobleman, Sigismund von Schweinitz, did that. The Council
gave him warning to leave the town; otherwise the Prince Elector would
be apprised of the facts. He thereupon promised that he would shortly
take himself off."
I must tell you, sir, that yesterday the pharisaical devil was let
loose, cursed me and my little book, and condemned the book to the
fire. He charged me with shocking vices; with being a scorner of both
Church and Sacraments, and with getting drunk daily on brandy, wine,
and beer; all of which is untrue; while he himself is a drunken man."
— Jacob Böhme writing about Gregorius Richter on 2 April 1624.
Böhme left for
Dresden on 8 or 9 May 1624, where he stayed with the
court physician for two months. In
Dresden he was accepted by the
nobility and high clergy. His intellect was also recognized by the
professors of Dresden, who in a hearing in May 1624, encouraged Böhme
to go home to his family in Görlitz. During Böhme's absence his
family had suffered during the Thirty Years' War.
Once home, Böhme accepted an invitation to stay with Herr von
Schweinitz, who had a country-seat. While there Böhme began to write
his last book, the 177 Theosophic Questions. However, he fell
terminally ill with a bowel complaint forcing him to travel home on 7
November. Gregorius Richter, Böhme's adversary from Görlitz, had
died in August 1624, while Böhme was away. The new clergy, still wary
of Böhme, forced him to answer a long list of questions when he
wanted to receive the sacrament. He died on 17 November 1624.
In this short period, Böhme produced an enormous amount of writing,
including his major works De Signatura Rerum (The Signature of All
Things) and Mysterium Magnum. He also developed a following throughout
Europe, where his followers were known as Behmenists.
The son of Böhme's chief antagonist, the pastor primarius of Görlitz
Gregorius Richter, edited a collection of extracts from his writings,
which were afterwards published complete at
Amsterdam with the help of
Coenraad van Beuningen
Coenraad van Beuningen in the year 1682. Böhme's full works were
first printed in 1730.
Böhme's cosmogony or the Philosophical Sphere or the Wonder Eye of
The chief concern of Böhme's writing was the nature of sin, evil and
redemption. Consistent with
Lutheran theology, Böhme preached that
humanity had fallen from a state of divine grace to a state of sin and
suffering, that the forces of evil included fallen angels who had
rebelled against God, and that God's goal was to restore the world to
a state of grace.
There are some serious departures from accepted
however, such as his rejection of sola fide, as in this passage from
The Way to Christ:
For he that will say, I have a Will, and would willingly do Good, but
the earthly Flesh which I carry about me, keepeth me back, so that I
cannot; yet I shall be saved by Grace, for the Merits of Christ. I
comfort myself with his Merit and Sufferings; who will receive me of
mere Grace, without any Merits of my own, and forgive me my Sins. Such
a one, I say, is like a Man that knoweth what Food is good for his
Health, yet will not eat of it, but eateth Poison instead thereof,
from whence Sickness and Death, will certainly follow.
Another place where Böhme may depart from accepted theology (though
this was open to question due to his somewhat obscure, oracular style)
was in his description of the Fall as a necessary stage in the
evolution of the Universe. A difficulty with his theology is the
fact that he had a mystical vision, which he reinterpreted and
reformulated. According to F. von Ingen, to Böhme, in order to
reach God, man has to go through hell first.
God exists without time
or space, he regenerates himself through eternity. Böhme restates the
trinity as truly existing but with a novel interpretation. God, the
Father is fire, who gives birth to his son, whom Böhme calls light.
Holy Spirit is the living principle, or the divine life.
However, it is clear that Böhme never claimed that
God sees evil as
desirable, necessary or as part of divine will to bring forth good. In
his Threefold Life, Böhme states: "[I]n the order of nature, an evil
thing cannot produce a good thing out of itself, but one evil thing
generates another." Böhme did not believe that there is any "divine
mandate or metaphysically inherent necessity for evil and its effects
in the scheme of thing." Dr. John Pordage, a commentator on
Böhme, wrote that Böhme "whensoever he attributes evil to eternal
nature considers it in its fallen state, as it became infected by the
fall of Lucifer... ."
Evil is seen as "the disorder, rebellion,
perversion of making spirit nature's servant", which is to say a
perversion of initial Divine order.
Jakob Böhme's House in what was
Görlitz but is now in a Polish town
of Zgorzelec, where he lived from 1590 to 1610
Böhme's correspondences in "Aurora" of the seven qualities, planets
and humoral-elemental associations:
1. Dry - Saturn - melancholy, power of death;
2. Sweet - Jupiter - sanguine, gentle source of life;
3. Bitter - Mars - choleric, destructive source of life;
Fire - Sun/Moon - night/day; evil/good; sin/virtue; Moon, later =
5. Love - Venus - love of life, spiritual rebirth;
6. Sound - Mercury - keen spirit, illumination, expression;
7. Corpus - Earth - totality of forces awaiting rebirth.
In "De Tribus Principiis" or "On the Three Principles of Divine Being"
Böhme subsumed the seven principles into the Trinity:
1. The "dark world" of the Father (Qualities 1-2-3);
2. The "light world" of the
Holy Spirit (Qualities 5-6-7);
3. "This world" of
Christ (Quality 4).
In one interpretation of Böhme's cosmology, it was necessary for
humanity to return to God, and for all original unities to undergo
differentiation, desire and conflict—as in the rebellion of Satan,
the separation of
Adam and their acquisition of the knowledge
of good and evil—in order for creation to evolve to a new state of
redeemed harmony that would be more perfect than the original state of
God to achieve a new self-awareness by interacting
with a creation that was both part of, and distinct from, Himself.
Free will becomes the most important gift
God gives to humanity,
allowing us to seek divine grace as a deliberate choice while still
allowing us to remain individuals.
Böhme saw the incarnation of
Christ not as a sacrificial offering to
cancel out human sins, but as an offering of love for humanity,
showing God's willingness to bear the suffering that had been a
necessary aspect of creation. He also believed the incarnation of
Christ conveyed the message that a new state of harmony is possible.
This was somewhat at odds with
Lutheran teachings, and his suggestion
God would have been somehow incomplete without the Creation was
even more controversial, as was his emphasis on faith and
self-awareness rather than strict adherence to dogma or
Böhme believed that the Son of
God became human through the Virgin
Mary. Before the birth of Christ,
God recognized himself as a virgin.
This virgin is therefore a mirror of God's wisdom and knowledge.
Böhme follows Luther in that he views Mary within the context of
Christ. Unlike Luther, he does not address himself to dogmatic issues
very much, but to the human side of Mary. Like all other women, she
was human and therefore subject to sin. Only after
God elected her
with his grace to become the mother of his son, did she inherit the
status of sinlessness. Mary did not move the Word, the Word moved
Mary, so Böhme, explaining that all her grace came from Christ. Mary
is "blessed among women" but not because of her qualifications, but
because of her humility. Mary is an instrument of God; an example of
God can do: It shall not be forgotten in all eternity, that God
became human in her.
Böhme, unlike Luther, did not believe that Mary was the Ever Virgin.
Her virginity after the birth of Jesus is unrealistic to Böhme. The
true salvation is Christ, not Mary. The importance of Mary, a human
like every one of us, is that she gave birth to Jesus
Christ as a
human being. If Mary had not been human, according to Böhme, Christ
would be a stranger and not our brother.
Christ must grow in us as he
did in Mary. She became blessed by accepting Christ. In a reborn
Christian, as in Mary, all that is temporal disappears and only the
heavenly part remains for all eternity. Böhme's peculiar theological
language, involving fire, light and spirit, which permeates his
theology and Marian views, does not distract much from the fact that
his basic positions are Lutheran.
Jakob Böhme (anonymous portrait)
Böhme's writing shows the influence of
alchemical writers such as Paracelsus, while remaining firmly
within a Christian tradition. He has in turn greatly influenced many
anti-authoritarian and mystical movements, such as Radical
Pietism (including the Ephrata Cloister
and Society of the Woman in the Wilderness), the Religious Society of
Friends, the Philadelphians, the Gichtelians, the Harmony Society, the
Zoarite Separatists, Rosicrucianism,
Martinism and Christian
theosophy. Böhme's disciple and mentor, the
Balthasar Walther, who had travelled to the
Holy Land in search of
magical, kabbalistic and alchemical wisdom, also introduced
kabbalistic ideas into Böhme's thought. Böhme was also an
important source of German Romantic philosophy, influencing Schelling
in particular. In Richard Bucke's 1901 treatise Cosmic
Consciousness, special attention was given to the profundity of
Böhme's spiritual enlightenment, which seemed to reveal to Böhme an
ultimate nondifference, or nonduality, between human beings and God.
Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English
Romantic poet, artist and mystic William Blake.
In addition to the scientific revolution, the 17th century was a time
of mystical revolution in Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. The
Protestant revolution developed from Böhme and some medieval mystics.
Böhme became important in intellectual circles in
following from the publication of his books in England, Holland and
Germany in the 1640s and 1650s. Böhme was especially important
Millenarians and was taken seriously by the Cambridge
Platonists and Dutch Collegiants.
Henry More was critical of Böhme
and claimed he was not a real prophet, and had no exceptional insight
into metaphysical questions. Overall, although his writings did not
influence political or religious debates in England, his influence can
be seen in more esoteric forms such as on alchemical experimentation,
metaphysical speculation and spiritual contemplation, as well as
utopian literature and the development of neologisms. More, for
Opera Posthuma by
Spinoza as a return to
While Böhme was famous in Holland, England, France, Denmark and
America during the 17th century, he became less influential during the
18th century. A revival, however, occurred late in that century with
interest from German Romantics, who considered Böhme a forerunner to
the movement. Poets such as John Milton, Ludwig Tieck,
William Blake found inspiration in Böhme's writings. Coleridge, in
his Biographia Literaria, speaks of Böhme with admiration. Böhme was
highly thought of by the German philosophers Baader, Schelling and
Schopenhauer. Hegel went as far as to say that Böhme was "the first
German philosopher." Danish Bishop
Hans Lassen Martensen published
a book about Böhme.
References by modern authors
Several authors have found Boehme's description of the three original
Principles and the seven Spirits to be similar to the Law of Three and
Law of Seven
Law of Seven described in the works of Boris Mouravieff (fr)
and George Gurdjieff.
On the "Mappa Mundi" that
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis included at the beginning of his
novel The Pilgrim's Regress, a region in the far South (the area that,
in the novel, symbolizes excessive emotionalism and moral and
intellectual dissolution) is identified as "Behmenheim". In his
preface to the third edition of the book, Lewis said that this region
"is named, unfairly, after Jakob Boehme or Behmen". Like many of the
other regions on the map, however, Behmenheim does not figure in the
plot of the novel itself.
The epigraph of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: An Evening Redness
in the West contains a selection from Böhme, giving readers an
insight to major themes of the novel.
Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Secret Miracle" mentions Jakob
Boehme very briefly: "...and of an inquiry into the indirect Jewish
sources of Jakob Boehme..."
Boehme is mentioned multiple times throughout Philip K. Dick's Valis
In Elizabeth Gilbert's novel
The Signature of All Things (same title
as Böhme's book), one of the characters, a botanical illustrator, is
very influenced by the writings of Böhme.
Aurora: Die Morgenröte im Aufgang (unfinished) (1612)
De Tribus Principiis (The Three Principles of the Divine Essence,
The Threefold Life of Man (1620)
Answers to Forty Questions Concerning the Soul (1620)
The Treatise of the Incarnations: (1620)
I. Of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ
II. Of the Suffering, Dying, Death and Resurrection of Christ
III. Of the Tree of Faith
The Great Six Points (1620)
Of the Earthly and of the Heavenly Mystery (1620)
Of the Last Times (1620)
De Signatura Rerum (The Signature of All Things, 1621)
The Four Complexions (1621)
Of True Repentance (1622)
Of True Resignation (1622)
Of Regeneration (1622)
Of Predestination (1623)
A Short Compendium of Repentance (1623)
The Mysterium Magnum (1623)
A Table of the Divine Manifestation, or an Exposition of the Threefold
The Supersensual Life (1624)
Of Divine Contemplation or Vision (unfinished) (1624)
Of Christ's Testaments (1624)
II. The Supper
Of Illumination (1624)
177 Theosophic Questions, with Answers to Thirteen of Them
An Epitome of the Mysterium Magnum (1624)
The Holy Week or a Prayer Book (unfinished) (1624)
A Table of the Three Principles (1624)
Of the Last Judgement (lost) (1624)
The Clavis (1624)
Sixty-two Theosophic Epistles (1618–1624)
Books in print
The Way to
Christ (inc. True Repentance, True Resignation,
Regeneration or the New Birth, The Supersensual Life, Of Heaven &
Hell, The Way from Darkness to True Illumination) edited by William
Law, Diggory Press ISBN 978-1-84685-791-1
Of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, translated from the German by John
Rolleston Earle, London, Constable and Company LTD, 1934.
^ Mills 2002, p. 16
^ "Böhme". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ Sar Perserverando, Grand Master (2015). An anthology for Martinists.
The Hermetic Order of Martinists. p. 3.
^ a b c Deussen 1910, p. xxxviii
^ a b c d Debelius, F.W. (1908). "Boehme, Jakob". In Jackson,
Samuel Macauley. New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious
Knowledge. 2 (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls.
^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Boehme, Jakob". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Martensen 1885, p. 13
^ Deussen 1910, pp. xli-xlii
^ Weeks 1991, p. 2
^ Deussen 1910, p. xlviii
^ Deussen 1910, pp. xlviii-xlix
^ Deussen 1910, pp. xlix-l
^ "The Way to Christ". Pass the Word Services.
^ a b von Ingen 1988, p. 517.
^ a b c von Ingen 1988, p. 518.
^ a b Musès, Charles A. Illumination on Jakob Böhme. New York:
King's Crown Press, 1951
^ Stoudt, John Joseph. Jakob Böhme: His Life and Thought. New York:
The Seabury Press, 1968
^ a b von Ingen 1988, p. 519.
^ In several works he used alchemical principles and symbols without
hesitation to demonstrate theological realities. Borrowing alchemical
terminology in order to explain religious and mystical frameworks,
Böhme assumed that alchemical language is not only a metaphor for
Alchemy is a metaphysical science because he
understood that matter is contaminated with spirit. Calian 2010,
^ Brown 1996.
^ Durnbaugh 2001.
^ Ensign 1955.
^ Hirsch 1951.
^ Stoeffler 1965.
^ Stoeffler 1973.
^ Brumbaugh 1899, p. 443.
^ See Leigh T.I. Penman, ‘A Second Christian Rosencreuz? Jacob
Balthasar Walther (1558-c.1630) and the Kabbalah.
With a Bibliography of Walther's Printed Works.’ Western
Esotericism. Selected Papers Read at the Symposium on Western
Esotericism held at Åbo, Finland, on 15–17 August 2007. (Scripta
instituti donneriani Aboensis, XX). T. Ahlbäck, ed. Åbo, Finland:
Donner Institute, 2008: 154-172.
^ See Schopenhauer's On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of
Sufficient Reason, Ch II, 8
^ Popkin 1998, pp. 401-402
^ All of Böhme’s treatises and most of his letters were translated
into English (as well as two pamphlets that were translated into Welsh
by the Parliamentarian evangelist Morgan Llwyd) between 1645 and 1662.
Hessayon, Ariel (2013). Jacob Boehme’s writings during the English
Revolution and afterwards: their publication, dissemination and
influence in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of
Thought and Reception, Routledge, Eds Hessayon, Ariel and Apetrei,
^ Popkin 1998, p. 402
^ Weeks 1991, pp. 2–3
^ Jacob Boehme: his life and teaching. Or Studies in theosophy]
^ Nicolescu 1998, p. 47.
^ Bourgeault 2013.
Bailey, Margaret Lewis (1914). Milton and Jakob Boehme; a study of
German mysticism in seventeenth-century England. New York: Oxford
Bourgeault, Cynthia (2013). The Holy
Trinity and the Law of Three:
Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Shambhala.
ISBN 978-0-8348-2894-0. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
Brown, Dale W. (1996). Understanding Pietism.
Brumbaugh, Martin Grove (1899). A History of the German Baptist
Brethren in Europe and America. Brethren publishing house. Retrieved
23 July 2017.
Calian, George-Florin (2010). Alkimia Operativa and Alkimia
Speculativa. Some Modern Controversies on the Historiography of
Alchemy. Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU.
Deussen, Paul (1910). "Introduction". In Boehme, Jacob. Concerning the
three principles of the divine essence. London: John M. Watkins.
Durnbaugh, Donald F. (2001). "Pennsylvania's Crazy Quilt of German
Religious Groups". Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic
Studies. 68 (1): 8-30.
Ensign, Chauncey David (1955). Radical German Pietism (c. 1675-c.
1760) (Thesis). Boston University.
Hirsch, Emanuel (1951). Geschichte der Neueren Evangelischen Theologie
in Zusammenhang mit den allgemeinen Bewegungen des europaischen
Denkens. Volume II. Gutersloh: c. Bertelsmann Verlag. p. 209,
Mills, Jon (2002). The Unconscious Abyss: Hegel's Anticipation of
Psychoanalysis. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Martensen, Hans Lassen (1885). Jacob Boehme: his life and teaching, or
Studies in theosophy. trans. T. Rhys Evans. London: Hodder and
Nicolescu, Basarab (1998). "Gurdjieff's philosophy of nature". In
Needleman, J.; Baker, G. Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man
and His Teachings. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 37-69.
ISBN 978-1-4411-1084-8. Retrieved 23 July 2017. A revised
version is available: "Gurdjieff's philosophy of nature" (PDF). 2003.
p. 12. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
Popkin, Richard (1998). "The religious background of
seventeenth-century philosophy". In Garber, Daniel; Ayers, Michael.
The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. 1. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53720-9.
Stoeffler, F. Ernest (1965). The Rise of Evangelical Pietism. Leiden:
E. J. Brill.
Stoeffler, F. Ernest (1973). German Pietism During the Eighteenth
Century. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Swainson, William Perkes (1921). Jacob Boehme; the Teutonic
philosopher. London: William Rider & Son, Ltd.
von Ingen, F. (1988). Jacob Böhme in Marienlexikon. Eos: St.
Weeks, Andrew (1991). Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the
Seventeenth-Century Philosopher and Mystic. State University of New
York Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-0596-3.
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Jacob Boehme Online
The Life and the Doctrines of Jacob Boehme, by Franz Hartmann
The Correspondence of
Jakob Böhme in EMLO
Jacob Boehme Resources
Large electronic text archive of Jacob Boehme in English
The Way to
Christ in English translation
A Modern Gnostic from Paul Carus' History of the Devil (1900).
Boehme: The Ungrund and Freedom, by Nikolai Berdyaev
Boehme: The Teaching about Sophia, by Nikolai Berdyaev
The Writings of Jane Lead, Christian Mystic, Prolific visionary writer
and follower of Jacob Boehme.
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