Jakob Böhme: The Tragedy of Free­dom and the Curse of the Law

The following text is the first study of a two-part monograph  written by Nikolai Berdyaev1, the former Marxist militant turned autodidact and Christian existentialist, and was published in the journal Put’ in Febraury 1930.  It seems to have been written as a tangential reaction to a reading of Koyré’s La Philosophie de Jacob Boehme, which Bedyaev reviewed in 1929.  While Berdyaev’s concerns appear to be primarily confessional – he places Boehme’s mix of Lutheranism and mysticism with his own Eastern Church-tinged existentialism on the same side against the authoritarianism of Rome – the width and openness of his reading manifests itself in his assenting embrace of the Ungrund, that nothing considered as a pure ungrounding which is arguably Boehme’s most critical contribution to philosophy.  With the Ungrund, might we not say that in Boehme we have a pre-Socratic cosmologist plucked from Miletus and dropped in the C16th Century on the banks of the Oder River?

It is this nothing which generates a tragedy in God Himself, and in so doing generates in the divine justice the tragedy of its own undoing in actuality.  Every thing, from the Godhead down, is comprehended as enclosing within it already the seed of its undoing – Boehme reads Adam as being first both man and woman, and sees the creation of Eve from Adam not only as a reduction of woman before Adam, but as a reduction of man before Adam, for the remaining Adam is deprived of his prior feminity.  Likewise God’s justice in granting the first couple the fruits of the natural state of grace must grants the freedom which negates grace, constituting that moment when divine justice divides itself into a staid, accursed law that banishes the sinners, and a loving freedom forever opposed to it. 

We have thus passed from the equivocity of the just participating in univocal justice, to the singular case of the Man-God as love, to the synthesis of the order of justice and the loving connection in God’s living justice, to the inherence of tragic self-annihilation in God’s living justice.

The following text is a translation from the German by Fr.S.Jonas, which is publicly and readily available via open access sources.


“Im Wasser lebt der Fisch, die Pflanzen in der Erden,
Der Vogel in der Luft, die Sonn im Firmament,
Der Salamander muss mit Feur erhalten werden:
Und Gottes Herz ist Jakob Boehmens Element”.

[“In water lives the fish, the plant in the ground,
The bird in the sky, the sun in the firmament,
The salamander must with fire be sustained,
And God’s Heart is Jacob Boehme’s element”.] Angelus Silesius

         Jacob Boehme has to be termed the greatest of Christian gnostics. The word gnosis I employ here not in the sense of the heresies of the first centuries of Christianity,2 but in the sense of knowledge basic to revelation and dealing not with concepts, but with symbols and myths; contemplative knowledge, and not discursive knowledge. This is also a religious philosophy or theosophy. Characteristic for J. Boehme is that he had a great simplicity of heart, a child-like purity of soul. Therefore before death he could exclaim: “Nun fahre ich in’s Paradeis” {“Now I journey on into Paradise”}. He was not learned, not bookish, not schooled a man, but rather a simple craftsman, a shoemaker. He belonged to the type of the wise-seers from amongst the people. He did not know Aristotle, he did not know Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite, he did not know the Medieval Scholasticism and mysticism. In him it is impossible, just as it is for the larger part of Christian mystics, to discern any direct influences of Neo-Platonism. He found his sustenance first of all in the Bible3  and beyond this he read Paracelsus, Sebast. Franck, Weigel, Schwenckfeld. He lived within the atmosphere of the German mystico-theosophic currents of his time. Boehme was not a philosopher in the academic school sense of this word, he was first of all a theosophist, a visionary and myth-creator, but his influence on German philosophy was enormous. His thinking was not by calculated and clear concepts, but by symbols and myths. He was convinced, that Christianity had become distorted by the learned and by the theologians, by the popes and the cardinals. Boehme by faith-confession was a Lutheran and he died with the final unction of a pastor. But the Lutheran clergy vexed and harassed him, and forbade him to publish his works. This is a phenomenon typical to all faith-confessions. And just like with the greater part of mystics and theosophists, he was supra-confessional. It is possible to discern in him strong Catholic elements, despite his extreme hostility to papism. The origin from which the knowledge of Boehme derived — is a very complex problem. This problem involves the possibility of a personal gnostic revelation and enlightening, by a special cognitive charism. At present they tend to think, that Boehme was more widely read, than earlier was thought, but certainly least of all can the teachings of Boehme be explained by borrowings and influences (an explanation unbecoming for such an original and remarkable thinker). Eckhardt was a man learned and bookish, he knew Aristotle, Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite, Thomas Aquinas, the Medieval Scholasticism and mysticism. Boehme however was self-made, and with him undoubtedly were primal intuitions. Boehme himself says about the sources of his cognition: “Ich brauche ihrer Art und Weise und ihrer Formeln nicht, weil ich es von ihnen nicht gelernt habe; ich habe einen andern Lehrmeister, und der ist die ganze Natur. Von dieser ganzen Natur mit ihrer instehenden Geburt habe ich meine Philosophie, Astrologie und Theologie studirt und gelernt, und nicht von oder durch Menschen” {“I use not their art and wisdom and their formulas, since from them I have learned nothing; I have an other Master-Teacher, and this is the whole of nature. From this whole of nature with innate birth I have studied and learned my philosophy, astrology and theology, and nothing from or through man”}.4 There is here a sense of the Renaissance reaction against the Scholastics and a reorientation towards nature itself. Moreover, Boehme was convinced, that his knowing was not by his own human powers, but with the help of the Holy Spirit. “In meinen eigenen Kraeften bin ich so ein blinder Mensch, als irgend einer ist, und vermag nichts, aber im Geiste Gottes siehet mein eingeborner Geist durch Alles, aber nicht immer beharrlich; sondern wenn der Geist der Liebe Gottes durch meinen Geist durchbricht, alsdann ist die animalische Geburt und die Gottheit ein Wesen, eine Begreiflichkeit und ein Licht” {“In mine own ability I am as blind a man, as is anyone, and am capable of nothing, but in the Spirit of God throughout all stands my inborn spirit, but not always unwaveringly; but when the Spirit of the love of God is focused through my spirit, then  is the creaturely birth and the Godhead one essence, one understanding and one light”}.5 Sophia assists him in the perception of the very mystery of God. He believes, that God “wird dich zum lieben Kinde annehmen und dir ein neu Kleid der edeln Jungfrauen Sophiae anziehen, und einen Siegelring (Mysterii Magni) an deine Hand des Gemueths stecken; und in demselben Kleide (der neuen Wiedergeburt) hast du allein Macht, von der ewigen Geburt Gottes zu reden” {“wilt adopt thee as a beloved child and clothe thee in the new garb of the nobly virginal Sophia, and a signet-ring (Mysterii Magni) upon thine hand of  mind wilt set; and in the selfsame garb (the new birth-anew) hast thou alone the power, to speak from God’s eternal birth”}.6

In contrast to the majority of mystics, Boehme writes not about his own soul nor about his own spiritual path, nor about what happened with him, but rather what has transpired with God, with the world and with man. This is a feature distinguishing mystical theosophy from pure mysticism per se. The mysticism of Boehme belongs to the gnostic type. But Boehme perceives God and the world through man, his knowledge issues forth from the subject, and not from the object, despite the predominance in him of nature-philosophy and cosmology. The visible world is a reflection of the invisible world. “Und die sichtbare Welt ist eine Offenbarung der innern geistlichen Welt, aus dem ewigen Lichte und aus der ewigen Finsterniss, aus dem geistlichen Gewirke; und ist ein Gegenwurf der Ewigkeit, mit dem sich die Ewigkeit hat sichtbar gemacht” {“And the visible world is a manifestation of the inner spiritual world, from the eternal light and the eternal darkness, from the spiritual working; and it is  an opposition of eternity, which eternity itself hath made visible”}.7  Heaven reveals itself within man. “Ich bin auch nicht in den Himmel gestiegen und habe alle Werke und Geschoepfe Gottes gesehen, sondern derselbe Himmel ist in meinem Geiste offenbaret,  dass ich im Geist erkenne die Werke und Geschoepfe Gottes” {“I however have not climbed up to Heaven so as to have seen all the works and creatures of God, but the selfsame Heaven is revealed in my spirit, so that I in spirit perview the works and creatures of God”}.8 For Boehme, the natural physical elements are essentially the same in common with the elements of soul. He sees in nature likewise that which is in spirit. Man — is a microtheos and a microcosmos. Heaven and hell are within the soul of man. And it from thence only that there is possible the cognition of God and the world. The unseen spiritual world is the foundational basis of the visible material world. And God can only be found in the depths of one’s own heart. Divine wisdom is not to be sought for in the academies and books. The world-view of Boehme is symbolic. All the visible world is but a symbol of the inner world. “Die ganze aeussere sichtbare Welt mit all ihrem Wesen ist eine Bezeichnung oder Figur der inneren geistlichen Welt; alles was im Inneren ist, und wie es in der Wirkung ist, also hats auch seinen Charakter aeusserlich” {“The whole external visible world with all its essence is a sign or figure of the inner spiritual world; all what is in the inner, and how it is in effect, also indeed has its character externally”}.9 Physical traits signify the spiritual ones. The preface to the greatest work of Boehme, the “Mysterium magnum”, begins with the assertion, that the visible world — is a symbol of the invisible spiritual world. “Denn die sichtbaren empfindlichen Dinge sind ein Wesen des Unsichtbaren; von dem Unsichtlichen, Unbegreiflichen ist kommen das Sichtbare, Begreifliche” {“The visible and sensible things are an essence of the invisible; from the unseeable and incomprehensible are come the seeable, the understandable”}.10 The world is a symbol of God: “diese Welt ist ein Gleichniss nach Gottes Wesen, und ist Gott in einem irdischen Gleichniss offenbar” {“This world is in likeness to God’s essence, and God is manifest in the earthly likeness”}.11 The cognition of God is a birth of God in the soul. And such a cognition is possible only through the illumination of the soul by the Spirit of God. Boehme quite distinctly comprehends the limitations of human cognition, and he speaks about the foolishness of mere human wisdom. But together with this, he possesses a very sublime conception concerning cognitive knowledge. The cognitive knowledge of God — is a duty of man, and for this he was created. Boehme — is a symbolist, but he is not an idealist in the sense of the German Idealism of the XIX Century. He — is a realist. He has not lost that living vital connection with real being, he has not trapped himself into an abstract world begotten of thought, a world of subjective experiences. The contemplation of Boehme — is realistico-symbolic. The cognitive knowing of the spiritual world was for him a dwelling within the spiritual world, it was of the very life within him. Being for him was not transformed into an object, set opposite the subject. Cognition transpires within being itself, it is an event within being.

The gnosis of Boehme was experiential and from life, it arose from the torment over the fate of man and the world. Boehme had a child-like pure, good and compassionate soul. But his feeling for worldly life was austhere, not sentimental. His fundamental intuition of being was of an intuition of fire. In this he was akin to Herakleitos. He had an extraordinarily acute and strong sense of evil in the life of the world. And therefore he sees a struggle of opposing principles, a struggle of light and darkness. As regards his sensing of the power of evil and of the struggle of God with the devil, of light and darkness, he was nigh close to Reformation sources, to the experience of Luther.12 He senses God not only as love, but also as anger, wrath. He senses within God a poignant and harsh quality. Herein the physical qualities signify also the spiritual qualities. He sees within the very Divinity a dark nature, an irrational abyss. As regards his feeling of life, Boehme stands already at the threshold of modern times. He begins, having his roots still within the Medieval, and a mystical realism is a Medieval trait in him. But in him already there storms the blood of the man of the Reformation and the Renaissance. With him there is a Renaissance orientation towards cosmic life, towards nature, and the self-consciousness of man becomes far higher, than that of the Medieval. As regards the dynamism of his world-concept, his interest in the genesis and establishing of order, his sense of the struggle of opposed principles, the idea of freedom fundamental to him, Boehme was a man of modern times. The world is no longer still conceived of by him, as an eternally forever static order, as a rigid hierarchical system. World life is a struggle, an establishing of order, a fiery dynamic process. This is nowise similar to the world-concept of Thomas Aquinas and Dante. Quite more profoundly than the people of the Middle Ages, Boehme pondered over the problem of the origin of evil, over the problem of theodicy. He was very much tormented by the question, how God could have created the world, yet foreseeing the evil and suffering. In the face of the evil and suffering of world life, the anger and wrath of the Father, he sought salvation in the heart of the Son, of Jesus. There was a moment, when it seemed to Boehme, that God had withdrawn from the evil world and he seeks God close at hand. Koyre says quite accurately, that Boehme started out with torment over the problem of evil and he sought salvation first of all, and thereupon knowledge.13 How is one to conceive of evil in the face of the Absoluteness of the Divinity? How is one to be saved from evil and from the anger, the wrath of the Divinity, such as is no longer discerned in the Son, as Love? Boehme has affinity with the gnostics of old in his torment over the problem of evil. But his resolution is distinct from the merely gnostic by its immeasurably more Christian character. In any case, Boehme belonged to that profound select group of people, who are pained by the evil and torment of world life. Boehme was the first in the history of modern thought to make a distinction, which will thereafter play an enormous role in German Idealism, — everything can be discerned only through the other, through opposition. Light cannot be discerned without darkness, good without evil, the spirit without the opposition of matter.

      Boehme wants to decide the question, which has disquieted many a philosopher: how is it possible to make the transition from God to the world, from the one to the many, from eternity to time? But he fashioned himself an even more audacious question: how did the Divine Trinity come about, how from the Divine Nothing, how from the Absolute did there become possible the creation of the world, how became manifest the Creator, how did the Person become manifest in God? The Absolute of apophatic theology and metaphysics cannot be as such the Creator of the world. God — the Creator, as regards kataphatic theology, is correlative to the creation, is correlative with man. And suchlike it was there already in Eckhardt.14 Er wird aber entweder fuer sich selbst, absolute, betrachtet, ohne alle Kreaturen, wie er in seiner verborgenen Einigkeit ist, oder respectu creaturarum, wie er sich haelt und erzeigt in der Offenbarung mit seiner Kreatur. Absolute, allein und fuer sich selbst, ohne alle Kreatur, ist und bleibt Gott personlos, zeitlos, staettelos, wirkunglos, willenlos, affektlos und also ist er weder Vater noch Sohn noch heiliger Geist, er ist die Ewigkeit selber ohne Zeit, er schwebt und wohnt in sich selber an jedem Ort, er wirkt nichts, will auch nichts, begehrt auch nichts. Denn was sollte er wirken, begehren oder wollen? Ist er doch mit seiner seligen Ruhe und Ewigkiet das vollkommene All, es ist ihm alles gegenwaertig und nichts zukuenftig noch vergangen, darum begehrt er nichts, darum hofft er nichts, er besitzt alle Dinge in sich selbst, und ist keines Dinges beduerftig. […] Aber respektive d.i. in, mit und durch die Kreatur wird er persoenlich, wirkend, wollend, begehrend, nimmt Affekte an sich, oder laesst sich unserthalben Personen und Affekte zuschreiben. Da wird er zum Vater und wird zum Sohne und ist der Sohn selber, er wird zum hl. Geiste und ist selber der hl. Geist, er will, wirkt und schafft alle Dinge und ist alle Dinge, er ist aller Wesen Wesen, aller Lebendigen Leben, aller Lichter Licht, aller Weisen Weisheit, aller Vermoegenden Vermoegen” {“God in Himself is one and has no name. […] He will however either have to be considered for Himself an absolute, apart from all creatures, as He is in His hidden oneness, or respectu creaturarum, as He is and manifests Himself in revealing Himself with His creature. Absolutely, alone and but for Himself, without any creature, is and remains God such as is personless, timeless, stateless, inactive, without will or affect, and is also neither Father nor Son nor Holy Spirit, He is Himself eternity without time, He is present and abides in Himself in every place, He works nothing, likewise wills nothing, likewise desires nothing. For then, what is He supposed to work, to desire or will? He is indeed in His blissful repose and eternity the perfect All, all is in the present for Him and there is nothing future nor of the transitory past, therefore He desires nothing, therefore He in hope expects nothing, He sustains all things in Himself, and is needful for His things. But respective, i.e. in, with and through the creature He is as Person, active, willing, desiring, He assumes upon Himself affect, or lets it be ascribed to Him in semblance to us of Person and affect. Therein He will become the Father, and the Son and is the Son Himself, and the Spirit and is Himself the Spirit, He wills, forms and creates all things and is all things, He is at the essence of all essence, the life of everything alive, the light of all alight, the wisdom of everything profound, the capacity of everything possible”}. “Deutsche Froemmigkeit, Stimmen deutscher Gottesfreunde”. Verlegt bei Diederichs 1917, p. 183. ] An investigation of Boehme’s teaching concerning the concept of the Trinity does not at present enter into my task, and the theme of my study here is rather more limited. The formulations of Boehme in this regard are not always distinct with exactitude nor dogmatically satisfactory. But his virtue is in this, that he sees everywhere in the world and in man the Trinitarian principle, a reflection of the Divine Trinity. The traditional-type theology has always been vexed with this, that Boehme taught about a theogonic process, about a birth within God, about a dynamic stirring within God. His understanding of God was to the highest degree dynamic. Christian theological systems, however, have worked out their teachings about God, employing categories of thought from Greek philosophy. Thus, the teaching about God, as pure act, comprising within Him no sort of potentiality, was constructed wholly upon Aristotle. The teaching about the unstirring, self-sufficient, static God of Christian theology was taken not from the Bible, not from the Christian Revelation, but from Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle. Within it was reflected the static aspect from Greek ontology. An unstirring God, God as pure act, is God — as a concept, and not God — as life. The predominant theological doctrine deprives God of inner life, denies any sort of process within God, makes Him equivalent to an unstirring stone. And this idea ultimately is idolatrous. Not such is the God of the Bible, the God of Revelation. He is full of inner life and drama, in Him there is dynamic stirring. There is a tragic aspect within God that is both Biblical and mythological, though too non-theological an understanding of God. God, undergoing the torment and sufferings of the Cross, God, offering the sacrifice of love — is a God dynamic, and not static. Bl. Augustine in a certain sense also admitted of dynamism in God. L. Bloy defined God, as a lonely and misunderstood sufferer, and in this he was more correct, than Thomas Aquinas. The tremendous significance of Boehme is in this, that after the dominance of Greek philosophy and Medieval Scholasticism with their static concept of God, he then introduces a dynamic principle into the understanding of God, i.e. he sees an inner life within God, the tragic aspect characteristic of all life. And with Boehme it was bound up with this, that on the one hand he immersed himself in the Bible and meditated upon it, free from the categories of Greek thought, yet on the other hand he carried over into his contemplation of God an experience about the evil in world life and about the contradictions rending the world, about the struggle of light and darkness, of the sweet and the bitter, of love and anger. Boehme was of the modern type of soul, which stood face to face afront the problem of evil, unable to still yet humbly bow and hold back through a consciousness of its own sinfulness. He boldly wanted to gain insight into the origin and meaning of evil. In this he was a gnostic. He saw a dark principle within the primal sources of being, deeper than being itself. He was compelled to admit of a dark principle within the Divinity itself, and that there is some positive meaning to the very existence of evil, which so tormented him. But he does not fall into a Manichaean-gnostic dualism, into a dualism of gods. Without evil, good cannot be known. Through evil, the good is discerned. As regards the character of his thought concerning Divine matters Boehme is no Neo-Platonist, as were the majority of Christian mystics. Boehme likewise was not at all a monist, and he does not at all teach about emanation. Everywhere for him it is a matter of will and contradiction. The moral sense of evil in Luther was transformed in Boehme into the metaphysical. The metaphysics of Boehme is voluntaristic, and not intellectualistic, as was the Greek and Medieval metaphysics. The voluntarism of Boehme is a new principle, introduced by him into philosophy, and German philosophy would tend to develope it along further. It is only Boehme’s voluntarism also that has rendered possible a philosophy of freedom. The whole of Boehme is saturated with the magic of will, which at its primal-basis is still dark and irrational. Boehme to the very end is seriously concerned with the problem of evil and he approaches it neither as the pedagogue nor as the moralist, nor from the point of view of tending to infants. Being for him is a fiery current. And this fire in the darkness — is both cold and scorching: “ein jedes Leben ein Feuer ist” {“every life is a fire”}.15 The will is fire. The primal-basis of being is a ravenous and hungry will. In response to it issues forth light and love. The potentiality of darkness lies in the very depths of being, in the Divinity itself.16 It is bound up with meonic freedom.

The mysterious teaching of Boehme about the Ungrund, about the abyss, without foundation, dark and irrational, prior to being, is an attempt to provide and answer to the basic question of all questions, the question concerning the origin of the world and of the arising of evil. The whole teaching of Boehme about the Ungrund is so interwoven with the teaching concerning freedom, that it is impossible to separate them, for this is all part and parcel of the same teaching. And I am inclined to interpret the Ungrund, as a primordial meonic freedom, indeterminate even by God.17 We tend to see that the teaching of Boehme concerning the Ungrund is not distinguished by any clarity of precision, such as is characteristic to a concept. But such a demand would be improper in approaching it, there cannot be such a precision in concept concerning the Ungrund  and being, this is an area situated at the very limits of rational concepts. In what regard do the teachings of Boehme come nigh to that of the traditional rational theology, which has the desire to know nothing corresponding to the Ungrund? I have always tended to think, that the theodicy, worked out by the prevailing systems of rational theology, only but transforms the relationship between God and the world into a comedy, into a mere play of God with Himself, and it reflects upon the ancient slavery of man, his being crushed down into cowering fear. This — is an ontology of sin. Boehme has no desire to conceive of the mystery of the world-creation, but as of a tragedy, a tragedy not only of man, but also of God. The only thing that saves the rational kataphatic theology is this, that at a certain moment it is transformed into an apophatic theology and then asserts, that we stand facing a mystery unfathomable and unapproachable, before which we have to bow. But the kataphatic theology too late recourses to the mystery, as to its sole salvation and only way out, after it has already rationalised everything so much so, that it has become impossible to breathe. This theology both goes too far in the rationalisation of Divine mysteries and too early on, it proclaims an interdict for knowledge, it asserts agnosticism. In this it is distinct from theosophy, which both more admits the irrationality of Divine matters and permits more the possibility of an endless movement in the cognition of these mysteries, but a cognition not through concepts. Theology however operates primarily through concepts, especially the Catholic school theology, so beautifully worked out. I term it a comedy, this following conception from the kataphatic rational theology. God is perfect and unstirring, having no need of anything, and as self-sufficing, all-powerful, omniscient and all-good He created the world and man for His own glorification and for the good of the creation. The act of the world-creation was neither evoked by nor answered any sort of need in God, it was the product purely of free chance, it nowise added up to anything more for the Divine being and nowise enriched it. God endowed His creature, man, with his fatal freedom, and sees in the freedom the worthiness of His creation and a likeness to Himself. Man however made bad use of his freedom, he rose up in revolt against his Creator, he fell away from God and in his fall he dragged down after him the whole of creation. Man, having transgressed the will of God, fell under a curse and the power of the law. The whole of creation groans and weeps. Such was the first act. In the second act begins the Redemption and there transpires the Incarnation of God for the salvation of the creature. The image of the Creator is replaced by that of the Saviour. But it is remarkable, that this whole cosmology and anthropology is constructed upon the principle of a pure monotheism, without any sort of relationship to Christ or to the revelation of the MostHoly Trinity. This is a dualistic theism, knowing nothing about the aspect of the Trinity within the Deity, knowing only the monarchic teaching about God, i.e. a teaching non-Christian. The comedy or play of God with Himself here involves also this, that God, having endowed man with freedom, in His Omniscience knew also all the consequences of this freedom — sin, evil, worldly torment and suffering, the eternal perishing and the eternal torments in hell of an indeterminable, and evidently, enormous number of beings, created by Him for bliss. Man is rendered an insignificant plaything, innately having received freedom, but together with this there is imposed upon him an immense responsibility. He is great of stature only in his falling. For God everything transpires within eternity and in the act of world-creation, so that in eternity are predestined both the temporal and the eternal torments. This inevitably leads to the teaching about the predestination of some to salvation, for others however to eternal perdition, a teaching, to which Bl. Augustine had already inclined and which Calvin took to its conclusion. God in thus having created man, predestined him to eternal perdition, since He knows the consequences of freedom, He knows, what a man will choose. A man has received his freedom from God, he does not possess it of himself and this freedom is wholly set within the grip of God, wholly determined by Him, i.e. ultimately, it is fictitious. God awaits a response from the creature to His call, so that the creature should love God and dwell in a godly life, but ultimately it is that God is awaiting an answer from Himself, He plays Himself a game, since He Himself endows the freedom and He knows Himself the consequences of this freedom, for Him it is clearly apparent. The problem of Ivan Karamazov is posited at greater depth and carries over into eternity. The matter involves not merely the tears of a child in the temporal earthly life, but about the torments both temporal and eternal of an enormous quantity of living beings, having received the fatal gift of freedom from God, knowing, what this gift signifies and to what it will lead. The soteriology of the traditional theological systems can readily be interpreted, as an unseemly correction by God of a mistake created by Him and assuming the form of a criminal penal process. The rational kataphatic theology, in its cosmology and anthropology having forgotten about God in Trinity, having forgotten about Christ, about the God of Love and Sacrifice and having relegated the mystery of the Christian Revelation to the part concerning Redemption, and not concerning the world-creation, cannot as such rise about this Divine Comedy and only therein but builds a fictitious theodicy. The theological teaching about the freedom of the will bears a pedagogical, moral-juridical character and does not penetrate down into the primal foundations of the mystery of freedom. All that is necessary is that there should be someone to punish. And in such a sort of outlook, the apophatic and the kataphatic get all hopelessly jumbled together. J. Boehme was one of the few bold enough to rise above this rational kataphatic theology and to perceive the mystery of the world-creation, as a tragedy, and not as a comedy. He teaches about a process not only cosmogonic and anthropogonic, but also concerning a theogonic process. But the theogony does not at all signify, that God has a beginning, that He arises within time, it does not mean, that He comes about to be within the world process, as with Fichte or Hegel, it signifies, that the inner eternal life of God reveals itself, as a dynamic process, as a tragedy within eternity, as a struggle with the darkness of non-being. The teaching about the Ungrund and freedom is also a bold attempt to apperceive the world-creation from the inner life of the Divinity. The world-creation bears a relationship to the inner life of the Divine Trinity, and cannot be for It something completely external. The principle of evil thus acquires an actual seriousness and tragic aspect. The cosmogony and anthropogony of Boehme is pervaded by the Christian Revelation, it does remain something Old Testament, but it is within the New Testament light, in the light of Christ. Boehme teaches about a serious “Quall [Qual] des Abgrundes”,18 about the torment in the dark abyss, which the light of Christ has to conquer.

       The teaching of Boehme about the Ungrund was not all immediately worked out, and was as yet not there in the “Aurora”. It was chiefly revealed in the “De signatura Rerum” and in the “Mysterium magnum”. It answers the need of Boehme to penetrate the mystery of freedom, the origin of evil, the struggle of darkness and light. In Chapter III of the “De signatura Rerum”, which is entitled “Vom grossen Mysterio aller Wesen” {“Of the Great Mystery of All Being”}, Boehme says: “Ausser der Natur ist Gott ein Mysterium, verstehet in dem Nichts; denn ausser der Natur ist das Nichts, das ist ein Auge der Ewigkeit, ein ungruendlich Auge, das in nichts stehet oder siehet, denn es ist der Ungrund; und dasselbe Auge ist ein Wille, verstehet ein Sehnen nach der Offenbarung, das Nichts zu finden” {“For out of nature is God a Mysterium,  i.e. the Nothing; for from out of nature is the Nothing, which is an eye of eternity, a groundless eye, which stands nowhere nor sees, for it is the Ungrund and the selfsame eye is a will,  i.e. a longing for manifestation, to discern the Nothing”}.19 The Ungrund thus is the Nothing, the groundless eye of eternity, yet together with this it is will, without foundation, unfathomable and indeterminate will. But this — is a Nothing, which is “ein Hunger zum Etwas” {“an hunger to be something”}.20 And together with this the Ungrund is freedom.21 Within the darkness of the Ungrund there is ablaze a fire and this is freedom, a freedom meonic with potential. According to Boehme, freedom is contrary to nature, but nature has issued forth from freedom. Freedom is a semblance of the Nothing, but from it issues something. The hunger of freedom, of the groundless will to something has to be satisfied: “das Nichts macht sich in seiner Lust aus der Freiheit in der Finsterniss des Todes offenbar, denn das Nichts will nicht ein Nichts sein, und kann nicht ein Nichts sein” {“The Nothing loves to make itself manifest from out of freedom in the deathly darkness, for then the Nothing wills not to be the Nothing, and cannot be the Nothing”}.22 The freedom of the Ungrund is neither light, nor darkness, neither good, nor evil. Freedom lies within the darkness and thirsts for the light. And freedom is the cause of light. “Die Freiheit ist und stehet in der Finsterniss, und gegen der finstern Begierde nach des Lichts Begierde, sie ergreifet mit dem ewigen Willen die Finsterniss; und die Finsterniss greifet nach dem Lichte der Freiheit und kann es nicht erreichen, denn sie schleusst sich mit Begierde selber in sich zu, und macht sich in sich selber zur Finsterniss” {“Freedom exists and is set within the darkness, and over against the dark desire is still yet the desire for light, it seizes the darkness with the eternal will; and the darkness aspires after the light of freedom and cannot attain it, for then it passes with desire over into itself, and attains in itself but to the darkness”}.23 Boehme apophatically and as an antinomy describes the mystery, transpiring in the depths of being, at that depth, which is contiguous with the primordial Nothing. In the darkness there is kindled a fire and a glimmer of light, the Nothing comes to be something, the groundless freedom gives rise to nature. And two processes occur: “Die Freiheit […] ist des Lichts Ursache, und die Impression der Begierde ist der Finsterniss und der peinlichen Quaal Ursache. So verstehet nun in diesen zwei ewige Anfaenge, als zwei Principia: eines in der Freiheit im Lichte, das andre in der Impression in der Pein und Quaal der Finsterniss; ein jedes in sich selber wohnend”{“Freedom […] is the cause of the light. And the impression made of the desire is the cause of darkness and painful torment. So there arises now in this two eternal points of departure, as two principles: one in freedom in the light, the other in the impression made in the pain and torment of the darkness; ; each living in itself”}.24 Freedom, as the Nothing, as meonic, possesses in itself no substantial essence.25 Boehme was perhaps the first in the history of human thought to have seen, that at the basis of being and prior to being lies a groundless freedom, the passionate desire of the Nothing to become something, the darkness, within which would blaze the fire and light, i.e. he was the originator of an unique metaphysical voluntarism, unknown to Medieval and ancient thought.26 Will, i.e. freedom, is at the origin of everything. But Boehme thinks it is so because the conjectured Ungrund, the groundless will lies within the depths of the Divinity, and prior to the Divinity. The Ungrund is also the Divinity of apophatic theology and is together with this an abyss, a free Nothing deeper than God and outside God. In God there is a nature, a principle distinct from It. The Primal-Divinity, the Divine Nothing — is on the other side of good and evil, of light and darkness. The Divine Ungrund — is somehow prior to the arising within eternity of the Divine Trinity. God arises, realises Himself from out of the Divine Nothing. This is a path of thought about God akin to that, whereupon Meister Eckhardt makes a distinction between the Godhead (Gottheit) and God (Gott). God, as the Creator of the world and of man, corresponds with the creation, He arises from the depths of the Godhead, the unfathomable Nothing. This is an idea that lies deep down within German mysticism. Such a path of thinking about God inevitably involves an apophatic theology. Everything, that Boehme says concerning the Divine Ungrund, relates to the apophatic, the negative theology, and not to the kataphatic positive theology. The Nothing is deeper and more primieval than anything that is, the darkness27 is deeper and more primordial than light, freedom is more primordial and deeper than any nature. The God of kataphatic theology is already something and He as such signifies a thinking about a second-level aspect: “und der Grund derselben Tinctur ist die goettliche Weisheit; und der Grund der Weisheit ist die Dreiheit der ungruendlichen Gottheit, und der Grund der Dreiheit ist der einige unerforschliche Wille, und des Willens Grund ist das Nichts” {“And the ground of the selfsame tincture is the Godly wisdom, and the ground of the Wisdom is the Trinity of the ungrounded Godhead, and the ground of the Trinity is  the one  unfathomable Will, and the ground of the Will is the Nothing“}.(Italics mine. N.B.)28 This also is a theogonic process, a process of the birthing of God within eternity, within eternal mystery, which is described in accord with the method of apophatic theology. And this therefore is all the less heretical, than it would seem to the exclusive adherents of the kataphatic, i.e. rationalising theology. The pondering of Boehme lies deeper than all the second-tier rationalising kataphatics. Boehme opens out a path from the eternal foundation for nature, from the free will of the Ungrund, i.e. the ungroundedness without foundation, which is the natural ground of the soul.29 Nature always is secondary and derivative in aspect. Nature is not the will, is not freedom. Freedom is uncreated. “Wenn ich betrachte, was Gott ist, so sage ich:  Er ist das Eine gegen der Kreatur, als ein ewig Nichts; er hat weder Grund, Anfang noch Staette; und besitzet nicht, als nur sich selber: er ist der Wille des Ungrundes, er ist in sich selber nur Eines: er bedarf keinen Raum noch Ort: er gebaeret von Ewigkeit in Ewigkeit sich selber in sich: er ist keinem Dinge gleich oder aehnlich, und hat keinen sonderlichen Ort, da er wohne: die ewige Weisheit oder Verstand ist seine Wohne: er ist der Wille der Weisheit, die Weisheit ist seine Offenbarung” {“When I ponder, what God is, I then say: He is the One in contrast to the creature, as an eternal Nothing; He has neither a ground, a beginning nor state; and is of naught, save only of Himself: He is the Will of the Ungrund, He is in Himself only One, He occupies no space nor place: from eternity in eternity in Himself He comes to be: He is like or similar to no thing, and hath no particular place, which He inhabits: the eternal Wisdom or Intelligibility is His habitation: He is the Will of the Wisdom, the Wisdom is of His manifestation”}.30 God comes about to be everywhere and always, He is both the foundational ground and the groundlessness.

The Ungrund mustneeds first of all be understood as freedom, a freedom in the darkness. “Darum so hat sich der ewige freie Wille in Finsterniss, Pein und Quaal, sowohl auch durch die Finsterniss in Feuer und Lichte, und in ein Freudenreich eingefuehret, auf dass das Nichts in Etwas erkannt werde, und dass es ein Spiel habe in seinem Gegenwillen, dass ihm der freie Wille des Ungrundes im Grunde offenbar sei, denn ohne Boeses und Gutes moechte kein Grund sein” {“So therefore in the darkness doth the eternal free will have itself the pain and torment, just also as with the fire and light through the darkness, and it passes over into a kingdom of joy, so that the Nothing can  be known as something, and that it should have a playing out in its opposition of wills, so that by it the free will of the Ungrund should have a ground upon which to manifest itself,  for without the evil and the good it would have no ground upon which to be”}.31 Freedom is rooted in the Nothing, in the meonic, it is also the Ungrund, “Der freie Wille ist aus keinem Anfange, auch aus keinem Grunde in nichts gefasset, oder durch etwas geformet… Sein rechter Urstand ist im Nichts” {“The free will is from no sort of origin, likewise upon no sort of ground is it constituted, nor through anything is it formed… Its proper primal setting is in the Nothing”}.32 The free will has within it both good and evil, both love and wrath. “Darum hat der freie Wille sein eigen Gericht zum Guten oder Boesen in sich, er hat Gottes Liebe und Zorn in sich” {“The free will therefore hath its own court for the good  and the evil within it, it has its proper path within it, it hath God’s love and wrath within it”}.33 The free will likewise possesses within it both light and darkness. The free will in God is of the Ungrund within God, of the Nothing within Him. Boehme provides a profound interpretation to the truth about the freedom of God, which likewise the traditional Christian theology admits of. He teaches about a freedom of God, deeper than that of Dun Scotus. “Der ewige goettliche Verstand ist eine freier Wille, nicht von Etwas oder durch Etwas entstanden, er ist selbst eigener Sitz und wohnet einig und allein in sich selber, unergriffen von etwas, denn ausser und vor ihm ist nichts, und dasselbe Nichts ist einig, und ist ihm doch auch selber als ein Nichts. Er ist ein einiger Wille des Ungrundes, und ist weder nahe noch ferne, weder hoch noch niedrig, sondern er ist Alles, und doch als ein Nichts” {“The eternal Divine mind is a free will, not having arisen from anything nor through anything, it is itself its own seat and abides at one and alone in itself, ungrasped by anything, for then beside it and before it is nothing, and the selfsame Nothing is at one, and is moreover itself as the Nothing. It is the one Will of the Ungrund, and is neither near nor far, neither high nor low, but is rather the All, and moreover as the Nothing”}.34 For Boehme chaos lies at the root of nature, chaos, i.e. freedom, the Ungrund, will, an irrational principle. In the Divinity itself there is a groundless will, i.e. an irrational principle. Darkness and freedom for Boehme are always correlative and conjoined. God Himself is also freedom and freedom is at the beginning of all things: “darum sagen wir recht, es sei Gottes, und die Freiheit (welche den Willen hat) sei Gott selber; denn es ist Ewigkeit, und nichts weiters. […] Erstlich ist die ewige Freiheit, die hat den Willen, und ist selber der Wille” {“We properly therefore say, such would be God, and the Freedom (which hath the Will) would be the selfsame God; therefore it is eternity, and nothing further. […] Firstly is the eternal Freedom, which hath the Will, and is the selfsame Will”}.35 Boehme was apparently the first in the history of human thought to have posited freedom at the primal foundation of being, deeper and more primary than all being, deeper and more primary than God Himself. And this would bear enormous consequences for the history of thought. Such an understanding of the primacy of freedom would have induced terror in both the Greek philosophers and the Medieval Scholastics. And this would open up the possibility of a completely different theodicy and anthropodicy. The primal mystery of being is a kindling up of light within the dark freedom, in the Nothing is also the solid firmness of the world from this dark freedom. Boehme speaks wondrously about this in the “Psychologia vera”: “denn in der Finsterniss ist der Blitz, und in der Freiheit das Licht mit der Majestaet. Und ist dieses nur das Scheiden, dass […] die Finsterniss materialisch macht, da doch auch kein Wesen einer Begreiflichkeit ist; sondern finster Geist und Kraft, eine Erfuellung der Freiheit in sich selber, verstehe in Begehren, und nicht ausser: denn ausser ist die Freiheit” {“Then in the darkness is the flash of lightning, and in the freedom is the light with majesty. And this is only the point of departure, so that […] the darkness be made material, while however therein is no manner of intelligibility; rather only a dark spirit and power, a fullness of freedom in itself,  i.e. in desire, and nothing else: for the else is but freedom”}.36 There are two wills — the one within the fire, the other within the light.37 Fire and light — are basic symbols for Boehme. “Denn die Finsterniss hat kalt Feuer, so lange bis es die Angst erreicht, dann entzuendet sich’s in Hitze” {“For the darkness possesses a cold fire, to the extent of attaining anguish, then it sparks itself forth into heat”}.38 The fire — is the origin of everything, without fire there would be nothing, only the Ungrund would be: “und waere Alles ein Nichts und Ungrund ohne Feuer” {“And without the fire all would be a Nothing and the Ungrund”}.39 The passage over from non-being to being is accomplished through the blazing up of fire from out of freedom. Within eternity there is the primeval will of the Ungrund, which is outside of nature and prior to nature. Fichte and Hegel, Schopenhauer and Hartmann proceeded from this point, although they de-Christianised Boehme. German idealist metaphysics passes in transition directly from the Ungrund, from the unconscious, from the primary act of freedom, passing over to the world process, and not to the Divine Trinity, as with Boehme. The primal mystery of being according to Boehme consists in this, that the Nothing seeks to become something. “Der Ungrund ist ein ewig Nichts, und machet aber einen ewigen Anfang, als eine Sucht; denn das Nichts ist eine Sucht nach Etwas: und da doch auch Nichts ist, das Etwas gebe; sondern die Sucht ist selber das Geben dessen, das doch auch nichts ist als bloss eine begehrende Sucht” {“The Ungrund is an eternal Nothing, and it opens upwards to an eternal beginning, as with a passion; for then the Nothing is a passion for something: and therein yet moreover it is the Nothing, giving forth into something; for the passion is itself the fruition of such, and the yet still Nothing is a bare desiring passion”}.40 The teaching of Boehme concerning freedom is not some psychological or ethical teaching about the freedom of the will, but is rather a metaphysical teaching about the primal basis of being. Freedom for him is not a grounding of moral responsibility upon man nor a regulation of the relationship of man to God and neighbour, but rather an explanation of the genesis of being and together with this the genesis of evil, as a problem ontological and cosmological.

The evil has happened from a bad inner-imaging, i.e. from the imagination. The magic effect of the imagination plays an enormous role in the world-view of Boehme. Through it the world was made and there occurred the downfall of the devil into the world. The fall of the creation for Boehme is a matter not of the human, but of the angelic world, wherein the human world arises later and has to set right the deed wrought by the fallen angel. The fall of Lucifer is defined by Boehme thus: “Denn Luzifer ging aus der Ruhe seiner Hierarchie aus, in die ewige Unruhe” {“Then Lucifer went from out of the tranquil repose of his hierarchy, out into an eternal unrest”}.41 There occurs a confusion of the hierarchical centre, a transgression of the hierarchical order. And here is how Boehme describes the Fall: “Dass sich der freie Wille im Feuerspiegel besah, was er waere, dieser Glanz machte ihn beweglich, dass er sich nach den Eigenschaften des Centri bewegte, welche zuhand anfingen zu qualificiren. Denn die herbe, strenge Begierde, als die erste Gestalt oder Eigenschaft, impressete sich, und erweckte den Stachel und die Angstbegierde: also ueberschattete dieser schoene Stern sein Licht, und machte sein Wesen ganz herb, rauh und streng; und war seine Sanfmuth und recht englische Eigenschaft in ein ganz streng, rauh und finster Wesen verwandelt: da war es geschehen um den schoenen Morgenstern, und wie er that, thaten auch seine Legionen: das ist sein Fall” {“Thus the free will caught sight of itself in the fire reflection, what it was, and the brilliant luminance of this caused it to agitatedly shake, so that it itself shook the unique ordering of the centre, which had initially started the process of qualification. Then the severe bitter desire, as a first form or quality, made its impression, and aroused hurt and anguished desire: therein this beautiful star overshadowed its light, and made its nature to become quite embittered, rough and severe; and its gentleness and rather angelic quality was transformed into total severity, a rough and dark nature: so the bright morning star was lost, and how he acted, so acted his legions: that is his Fall”}.42 The Fall through sin occurred from a dark desire, from a lust, from a bad inner imagination, from the dark magic playing out of the will.43 Boehme tends to describe the Fall mythologically, never in clear concepts. The devil experiences a fiery torment in the darkness because of his own false desire (Begierde). Without Boehme’s teaching about the Ungrund and about freedom, the origin of the Fall and evil would be incomprehensible. The Fall and evil for Boehme represents a cosmic catastrophe, a moment in the world creation, a cosmogonic and anthropogonic process, the result of the struggle of contrary qualities, of darkness and of light, of rage and of love. The catastrophes are prior to the arising of our world, prior to our aeon was many another aeon. Evil possesses also a positive significance in the arising of the cosmos and of man. Evil is a shadowing of light, and light presupposes the existence of darkness. Light, the good and love for their revealing have need of a contrary principle, in opposition. God Himself possesses two visages, a visage of love and a visage of wrath, a bright and a dark visage. “Denn der heiligen Welt Gott und der finstern Welt Gott sind nicht zween Goetter: es ist ein einiger Gott; er ist selber alles Wesen, er ist Boeses und Gutes, Himmel und Hoelle, Licht und Finsterniss, Ewigkeit und Zeit, Anfang, und Ende: wo seine Liebe in einem Wesen verborgen ist, allda ist sein Zorn offenbar” {“For the holy world God and the dark world God are not two Gods; there is only one God; He is Himself all being, He is the bad and the good, heaven and hell, light and darkness, eternity and time, the beginning, and the end: wherein lies concealed His love in a being is all therein His wrath revealed”}.44 And further on: “Die Kraft im Lichte ist Gottes Liebefeuer, und die Kraft in der Finsterniss ist Gottes Zornfeuer, und ist doch nur ein einig Feuer, theilet sich aber in zwei Principia, auf dass eines im andern offenbar werde: denn die Flamme des Zornes ist die Offenbarung der grossen — Liebe; in der Finsterniss wird das Licht erkannt, sonst waere es ihm nicht offenbar” {“The power in the light is God’s love-fire, and the power in the darkness is God’s wrath-fire, and is but yet only one selfsame fire, it divides itself over into two principles, in order that the one be revealed in the other: for the flame of wrath is the revelation of great — love: in the darkness will be known the light, elsewise would nothing be revealed to it”}.45  With Boehme there was a teaching of genius in this, that the love of God amidst the darkness is transformed into wrath, thus perceived. Boehme thinks always in oppositions, in antitheses, in antinomies. All life is fire, but the fire has a twofold aspect: “der ewigen Leben zwei in zweierlei Quaal sind, und ein jedes stehet in seinem Feuer. Eines brennet in der Liebe im Freudenreich; das andere im Zorne, im Grimme und Wehe, und seine Materia ist Hoffart, Geiz, Neid, Zorn, seine Quaal vergleichet sich einem Schwefel-Geist: denn Aufsteigen der Hoffart im Geiz, Neid und Zorn macht zusammen einen Schwefel, darinnen das Feuer brennet, und sich immer mit dieser Materia entzuendet” {“The two eternal lives are in a twofold tension, and each one is set within its own fire. The one burns within love in a state of joy; the other within wrath, in fury and woe, and its material is pride, greed, envy, anger. Its torment makes of it a sulphurous-spirit: then the arousal of pride, in greed, envy and wrath mix altogether that sulphur, wherein the fire doth burn, and is always fired up with this material”}.46 But Christ upon the Cross hath transformed the wrath into love. “Am Kreuze musste Christus diesen grimmigen Zorn, welcher in Adams Essenz war aufgewacht, in sein heiliges, himmlisches Ens trinken, und mit der grossen Liebe in goettliche Freude verwandeln” {“Upon the Cross Christ had to suffer that furious wrath, which had in Adam’s essence been aroused, imbibing it into His holy and heavenly Being, and with great love in godly joy transformed”}.47 Boehme’s understanding of the Redemption is cosmogonic and anthropogonic, a continuation of the world creation.

Schelling, in his book, “Philosophische Untersuchungen ueber das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit” {“Philosophic Investigations Concerning the Nature of Human Freedom”}, moves along the lines of Boehme’s ideas concerning the Ungrund and freedom, although he does not always correctly understand Boehme. Clearly echoing Boehme resound the words of Schelling: “Alle Geburt ist Geburt aus Dunkel ins Licht” {“All birth is a birth from darkness into light”}. The initial primal creation is nothing other, than a birth of light, as a surmounting of darkness. In order that there be the good from darkness, from a potential condition that should pass over into an actual condition, freedom is necessary. Being for Schelling is will. He is the first in German philosophy to develope Boehme’s voluntarism. Things possess their ground not in God Himself, but in the nature of God. Evil is possible only because, that in God there is that, which is not God, which is an ungroundedness in God, a dark will, i.e. the Ungrund. Nature both for Schelling, and for Boehme, is an history of spirit, and for Schelling everything, which is examined within nature, within the objective world, leads forth through the subject. The idea of process within God, of a theogony, is taken by Schelling from Boehme. In his “Philosophie der Offenbarung” {“Philosophy of Revelation”}, Schelling makes an heroic effort to surmount German idealism and break through into philosophic realism. And Boehme helps him in this.48 Dass nun freilich die positive Philosophie nicht Theosophismus seyn koenne, diess liegt schon darin, dass sie eben als Philosophie und als Wissenschaft bestimmt worden; indess jener sich selbst nicht Philosophie nennen und auf Wissenschaft verzichtend aus unmittelbarem Schauen reden will” {“Nothing is known to rationalism through action, i.e. to originate through action a free creation, it knows merely the bare essential conditions. All follow it blindly modo aeterno, in an eternal i.e. blindly logical manner, through an immanent movement… The false rationalism comes nigh close in points to theosophy, caught up no less than it in bare substantial knowledge; theosophy itself seeks by and by to surmount it, but if successful, it would be for naught, as clearly is seen with J. Boehme. Scarcely ever has another spirit in the glow of this bare substantial knowledge been so noticeable as J. Boehme; God is revealed for him as the unmediated substance of the world; he indeed wants a free creation, a free condition of God in relation to the world, but  he cannot produce it. Though it calls itself theosophy, making pretension to be the knowledge of God, it is rather a content, which theosophy introduces into it, only still a substantial movement, and it postulates God only in the substantial movement therein. Theosophy of its nature is nowise less historical than rationalism. But the God of a genuine historical and positive philosophy moves nothing, He acts. The substantial movement, in which rationalism is involved, proceeds from a negative Prius, a first principle, i.e. from an unfathomable such that it is the first in being to have movement; historical philosophy however proceeds from the positive, i.e. from the fathomable Prius, a first principle, such that it is not the first in being to have movement, yet also only with a perfect freedom, without somehow through itself being obliged to be, a setting of being, indeed not uniquely unmediated, without the having from its being a different being, in which this is on the contrary denied or suspended as legitimate, since in this case only the directly immediate is legitimate. God has to be effortlessly in His own being. He should not have to make the effort to be, should not Himself have to be allowed being, should not Himself be born into His being, as J. Boehme tends to express it, with all the whole content of the utmost knowing, i.e. theosophy, with even the birth of the Divine Being, speaking about a birth of God, as some sort of an actual theogony. Positive philosophy certainly cannot grant this now of theosophy, the reason for this is that it is philosophy and knowledge; for this cannot call itself philosophy, because it renounces of knowledge and speaks of an unmediated view”}. (Ibid, p. 124-126). Schelling himself might be quite the more guilty than Boehme in a tendency towards naturalism and rationalism. The intuitions of Schelling, bearing primarily a philosophic character, would be thus less primary, than the intuitions of Boehme. But Schelling is subtle in his remark, that theosophism is not historical and not felicitous for the understanding of history. ] Schelling attempted to surmount the pantheistic monism of German idealist philosophy. He was aware, that pantheism is incompatible with freedom. The pantheistic denial of evil leads to a denial of freedom. The fundamental basis of evil, according to Schelling — is predicated to the utmost. Evil is the ungroundedness of existence, i.e. bound up with the Ungrund, with potential freedom. All this involves Boehme’s motifs. But closer to Boehme and more in accord with him was Fr. Baader, who to the extreme felt poisoned by the idealist rift from being and like Schelling became immersed in Boehme. Fr. Baader was Catholic, but a Catholic very free and very in the spirit of Eastern Orthodoxy. Baader with a remarkable simplicity and clarity finds justified Boehme’s dynamic understanding of God, with the admitting of a genesis within the Divine life. If there were no genesis within the self-consciousness of God, then the Divine self-consciousness would be bereft both of life and of process.49 A dynamic understanding of God means also, that God for us is alive, has an inner life, that within the Divine life is the dramatism common to all life. This is perhaps inconsistent with Thomas Aquinas and with the Scholastic theology, but it is consistent with the Biblical Revelation. Baader indeed provides a remarkable definition of evil, as a sickness, a distortion of the hierarchical order, a displacement of the centre of being, after which being passes over into non-being.

       Characteristic to Boehme’s world-view is that he hated the idea of predestination. And in this he was not a man in the Protestant spirit.50 He wanted to defend the goodness of God and the freedom of man, both alike undermined by the teaching about predestination. He was prepared to sacrifice the almightiness and omniscience of God and admit, that God not foresee the consequences of freedom. He asserts, that God did not foresee the downfall of angels. This problem deeply tormented him and in this torment was the moral significance of his creative path. But Boehme herein does not always say one and the same thing, and his thoughts tend to be antinomic and even contradictory. Characteristic to him was an antinomic attitude towards evil. And similar to him in this is our Dostoevsky. The evil, so tormentive for Boehme, finds its explanation in this, that at the primal basis of being lies the Ungrund, the dark, irrational, meonic freedom, a potentiality determined by nothing. The dark freedom is unpenetrable for God, He does not foresee its results and is not answerable for evil as regards its origin, it is not created by God. The teaching about the Ungrund removes from God the responsibility for evil, which the almightiness and omniscience of God evokes a sense of. Yet amidst all this Boehme sees the Ungrund in God Himself, within God there is the dark principle, there is the struggle of light and darkness. It might be said, that the dark principle (dark here does not mean evil) is in the Gottheit, in the Godhead, but not in Gott, not in God. Boehme to the extreme sets in opposition the Person of the Son, as love, in contrast to the Person of the Father, as wrath. In the Son already there is no sort of dark principle, He is all entirely light, love, good. But thereupon the Father is transformed into the Divinity of apophatic theology. And herein are to be sensed gnostic motifs. But the evil, which so torments Boehme, has for him also a positive mission. The Divine light can reveal itself only through the opposition of the other, the darkness set opposite. This is a condition of every actualisation, of every genesis. The evil is not only a negative principle, but also positive. Yet amidst this, the evil remains evil and has to burn itself out, has to be conquered. Everywhere in nature there is the struggle of opposing principles, and not calm, not an eternal order. And this struggle of opposing principles possesses also a positive significance. Only through it there is revealed the supreme light, good, love. Being is a combination of contrasting opposites, of the yes and the no.51 The yes is impossible without the no. And the whole of being and the Divinity itself — is in a fiery movement. But this does not mean, as the German idealist metaphysics at the beginning XIX Century tended to assert it, that God is merely becoming, merely the end of the world process. Hell does exist for Boehme, but in the hell of Boehme, just as in the hell of Swedenborg, they do not suffer. With Boehme already there was that new manner of soul, which could not say like Thomas Aquinas, that the righteous one in paradise takes delight at contemplating the torment of the sinner in hell. The thoughts of Boehme concerning freedom and evil remain antinomic. His thoughts, begotten of a basic intuition of the Ungrund, were not logically harmonious and consistent. When the German idealist metaphysics attempted to harmonise them and take them to their logical conclusion, within an higher consciousness, it failed to surmount the tragic antinomy of evil and freedom, it sought to annul, it dulled down into a primordial monism the acute and burning awareness of evil and freedom. Boehme’s teaching about the Ungrund explains as deriving from freedom the origin of evil, the downfall of Lucifer, drawing after him in the Fall the whole of creation, yet together with this the Ungrund carries over into God Himself and explains a genesis, the dynamic process within the Divine life. Herein becomes possible a break with extreme monism and extreme dualism, alike mistaken from the perspective of the Christian revelation. The thinking of Boehme is all as it were on a slender edge and constantly subject to danger from the opposite sides, but his fundamental intuition is a matter of genius, organic and fruitful. The teaching concerning the Ungrund and freedom run counter to Greek rationalism, with which the Medieval Scholasticism was infected and from which even the Patristic thought was not free. Boehme has to be acknowledged as the founder of the philosophy of freedom, which is genuinely a Christian philosophy.52 The non-tragic and rationalistic optimism of Thomas Aquinas gives way to a tragic philosophy of freedom. Freedom — is the source of tragedy.

Hegel attempted to apply an optimistic character to the very principle of contradiction and the struggle of opposing principles. He transferred life over into the concept and made the concept itself to be the source of dramatism and passion. After Thomas Aquinas, Hegel represents a second genius-like flaring up of rationalism. But at the foundational basis of Hegel’s philosophy lies an irrational principle. The Divinity for Hegel is a primordially unconscious Deity, which comes to consciousness only through human philosophy, in the philosophy of Hegel himself. The irrational has to become rationalised, within the darkness there has to be awakened the light. The rational perception of the irrational, lying at the ground of being, is a fundamental and grandiose theme of German metaphysics. German philosophy is that of the metaphysical northlands. The world is not illumined naturally and from the start by the solar light, it is plunged in darkness, light is obtained through a plunging into the subject, from the depths of the spirit. In this lies a deep-rooted difference of German thought from the Latin. German thought understands the reason differently, than does the Latin. Within the German understanding, reason stands afront the irrational darkness and has to bring light into it. In the Latin understanding, antiquity’s understanding, reason from the start illumines the world, like the sun, and the reason within man but reflects reason in the nature of things. The German idea however comes from Boehme, from the teaching about the Ungrund, about freedom, about the irrational principle, lodged within the depths of being. With Boehme begins a new era in the history of Christian thought. His influence is enormous, but externally not so obvious, acting moreso like an inner engrafting. This influence is obvious only in Fr. Baader and Schelling. But it is there also in Fichte, in Hegel, in Schopenhauer.53 And very strong is Boehme’s influence in Romanticism and in occult currents.54 Without Boehme’s intuitions of genius, the rationalism of antiquity and Scholastic philosophy, as also the rationalism of modern philosophy, of Descartes and Spinoza, count not be surmounted. Only a mythologic consciousness could have seen an irrational principle within being, wherein the philosophic consciousness had always seen but a rational principle. Boehme returns metaphysics back to the sources of the mythological consciousness of mankind. But his mythological consciousness itself is nourished by the wellsprings of the Biblical Revelation. From Boehme comes the dynamism of German philosophy, and it might even be said, the dynamism of all the thought of the XIX Century. Boehme was the first to have conceived of the world, of life as a passionate struggle, as movement, process, an eternal genesis. Only amidst such an intuition of world life could there become possible the phenomenon of Faust, could there become possible Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, already so remotely sundered from the religious ponderings of Boehme. The teaching of Boehme about the Ungrund and about freedom makes it possible to explain not only the origin of evil, even though antinomically, but also to explain the creativity of the new in world life, creative dynamics. Creativity by its nature is a creativity from out of meonic freedom, from out of nothing, from the Ungrund, it presupposes this unfathomable wellspring within being, it presupposes the darkness, underlying the enlightening. There was an aberration of Boehme in this, that he thought the Ungrund, the dark principle was in God Himself, rather than seeing the principle of freedom in the Nothing, in the meonic, outside of God. It is necessary to distinguish between the Divine Nothing and the non-being outside God. But the thought of Boehme is inconducive to the understanding, it is somewhat coarse. Boehme would not have consented to this, that within God is the source of evil. This also is something that tormented him. His thought remains antinomic, not subject to logical explication. But his moral will was pure, not for an instant poisoned by an inner evil. Boehme — was a pious Christian, fervently believing, and with a pure heart. His viprous wisdom was combined with a simplicity of heart, with faith. This mustneeds always be kept in mind in making judgements on Boehme. Boehme was neither a pantheist nor a monist, nor was he a Manichaean. Carriere also correctly says, that Boehme was neither a pantheist, nor a dualist.

Boehme’s idea about the Ungrund tended not only to be further developed, but also distorted, within German philosophy, similar to what resulted from the wellsprings of the Christian revelation, from the Christian realism. German metaphysics thus became prone to imperialism, to monism, it taught about God, as coming about to be within the world process. But the voluntarism of Boehme was very fruitful for philosophy, just as also was the teaching about the struggle of opposing principles, of light and darkness, about the necessity of opposition for the developement of positive principles. The metaphysics of Boehme is a musical Christian metaphysics and in this it is in character for the German spirit. In this it is distinct from the architectural Christian metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, in character for the Latin spirit. The German metaphysics of the XIX Century attempted to convey a musical theme into a conceptual system. In this grandiose scope of their project was also the cause for the breakdown of their systems. At present a revival of Boehme has become feasible. He is written about in a series of new books. He can be of help in surmounting not only the routines of Greek thought and Medieval Scholasticism, but also that German Idealism, upon which he himself had an inner influence. Just also as with Fr. Baader, Boehme for us as Russians ought to be nearer and dearer than other thinkers of the West. By the unique traits of our spirit we are called to construct a philosophy of tragedy, and foreign to us is the optimistic rationalism of European thought. Boehme so loved freedom, that he saw therein the authentic Church, only where there is freedom. Boehme had an influence on Russian mystical currents of the late XVIII and early XIX Centuries, but they assimilated him naively and without any creative working out. He was translated into the Russian language and penetrated right down into the segments of the common people, into the theosophy of the people, where they esteemed him as almost a father of the Church. Curiously, Herzen, in his “Letters Concerning the Study of Nature”, spoke enthusiastically about Boehme. Boehme’s influence later on can be found in Vl. Solov’ev, but it was overshadowed by the rationalistic schematism. The philosophy of Vl. Solov’ev cannot be called a philosophy of freedom or a philosophy of tragedy. But in the Russian thought of the beginning XX Century those closest to Boehme were writing along suchlike lines. The guardians of Orthodoxy, having an especial taste for the detection of heresies, tend to fear the influence of Boehme, as being someone non-Orthodox, a Protestant, as well as a gnostic and theosophist. But actually the whole Western world is non-Orthodox, the whole of the thought of Western Europe is a non-Orthodox thought. From such a point of view, indeed, it would become necessary to flee any involvement with Western thought and moreover struggle against it, as a temptation and evil. This is a most unadulterated form of obscurantism and a return to our old empty-headedness. The Christian world in its most creative period nourished itself upon the pagan thought of antiquity. And in any case Boehme was more a Christian, than was Plato, who stands for high esteem with us as regards the Patristic tradition, and moreso also than Kant, who is held in high regard by many Orthodox theologians, e.g. Metropolitan Antonii. Boehme is very difficult a challenge for the understanding and from him can result very diverse and contrary conclusions. I see the significance of Boehme for Christian philosophy and Christian theosophy to be in this, that he attempted by his contemplation to surmount the grip of Greek and Latin thought over the Christian consciousness, he immersed himself in the primal mystery of life, which the thought of antiquity had avoided. Christian theology, and not only the Catholic theology, is so overgrown with Greek thought, with Platonism, Aristotelianism and Stoicism, that any infringements upon the routines of this thought are regarded as an infringement upon the Christian Revelation. And indeed the Greek teachers of the Church were learned in Greek philosophy, they were Platonists and upon their thinking lies the imprint of the limitedness of Greek rationalism. This thinking failed to resolve the problem of the person, the problem of freedom, the problem of creative dynamics. Boehme not only was not an Aristotelian, he also was not a Platonist, and his influence lies outside the struggle between Eastern Platonism and Western Aristotelianism. Boehme was nigh close only to Herakleitos. I think, that there has to be surmounted in Christian philosophy not only the Aristotelianism, but also the Platonism, as representing a philosophy static and of a repetitive world, incapable of pondering the mystery of freedom and creativity. The teaching of Boehme about Sophia, to which I shall shift in the following etude, is not a Christian Platonism, as Russian Sophiology tries to conceive of itself, its sense is altogether different. Boehme’s teaching concerning the Ungrund and freedom needs however to be further developed regarding the distinction between the Divine abyss and Divine freedom, in contrast to the meonic abyss and meonic freedom.55 In the final inexpressible depths of the mystery this distinction also will dissipate, but at the threshold in approach of this mystery, this distinction ought to be made.

IZ ETIUDOV O YA. BEME.  ETIUD I.  UCHENIE OB UNGRUND’E  I SVOBODE.  Journal Put’, feb. 1930, No. 20, p. 47-79.


Show 55 footnotes

  1. alternatively Berdaiev
  2. I consider it incorrect to term the old gnostics as Christian heretics. Having been begotten of the religious syncretism of the Hellenistic era — they were not so much distorters of Christianity with the pagan wisdom of the East and Greece, as rather enrichers of this wisdom by Christianity.
  3. Close to Boehme, the German Christian theosophist of the XVIII Century, Oetinger, said about Boehme: “Gott habe ihm durch Offenbarung gezeigt, welche diejenige Grundweisheit sei, welche zur hl. Schrift gehoert” {“God hath shown him through Revelation, what is that fundamental wisdom, which doth hearken to the Holy Scripture”}. “Die Theosophie Fr. Chr. Oetingers”, von Auberlen, p. 113.
  4. Vide “Jacob Boehme’s Saemmtliche Werke” — edited by K. W. Schiebler, Leipzig, 1831-1846 (used for this and the quotations to follow); Vol. II, “Aurora”, p. 255.
  5. Vide Vol. II, p. 260.
  6. Vide Vol. III, “Die Drei Principien Goettlichen Wesens” {“The Three Principles of the Godly Essence”}, p. 26-27.
  7. Vide Vol. I, p. 144.
  8. Vide Vol. II, “Aurora”, p. 19
  9. Vol. IV, “De signatura Rerum”, p. 346.
  10. Vol. V, p. 3.
  11. Vide Vol. VI, “De incarnatione Verbi”, p. 319.
  12. Bornkamm accurately points this out in his book, “Luther und Boehme”, though he exaggerates the affinity of Boehme with Luther.
  13. Vide A. Koyre, “La philosophie de Jacob Boehme”, p. 30 and p. 25.
  14. This was beautifully expressed by Valentin Weigel: “Gott ist in sich selber einig und hat keinen Namen. […
  15. Vide Vol. III, “Die drei Principien goettlichen Wesens”, p. 385.
  16. The English follower of Boehme, Pordage, speaks about “the eye of the Ungrund from eternity”. Vide his “Theologia mystica”.
  17. A nothingness in the sense of  me on, and not ouk on.
  18. Vide Vol. IV, “Vom dreifachen Leben des Menschen”, p. 25.
  19. Vide Vol. IV, p. 284-285.
  20. Vol. IV, p. 286.
  21. Vol. IV, p. 287, 288, 289.
  22. Vol. IV, p. 406.
  23. Vide Vol. IV, p. 428.
  24. Vol. IV, p. 429.
  25. Vol. IV, p. 429.
  26. The elements of voluntarism were there already in Dun Scotus, but altogether different, than with Boehme.
  27. The darkness here is not as yet evil.
  28. Vide Vol. IV, “Von der Gnadenwahl”, p. 504.
  29. Vide Vol. IV, p. 607.
  30. Vide Vol. V, “Mysterium magnum”, p. 7.
  31. Vide Vol. V, p. 162.
  32. Vide Vol. V, p. 164.
  33. Vide Vol. V, p. 165.
  34. Vol. V, p. 193.
  35. Vol. VI, “Psychologia vera”, p. 7.
  36. Vol. VI, p. 14.
  37. Vol. VI, p. 15.
  38. Vol. VI, p. 60.
  39. Vol. VI, p. 155.
  40. Vol. VI, “Mysterium pansophicum”, p. 413.
  41. Vol. V, “Mysterium magnum”, p. 61.
  42. Vol. V, “Mysterium magnum”, p. 41.
  43. Vol. IV, “De signature Rerum”, p. 317-318.
  44. Vide Vol. V, p. 38.
  45. Vol. V, p. 38.
  46. Vol. III, “Die drei Principien goettlichen Wesens”, p. 385.
  47. Vide Vol. V, p. 133.
  48. In his final period, the period of the “Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation”, Schelling was indebted to Boehme as regards his basic ideas, but he was very unjust to him and expressed judgements, lacking in truth. “Was dem Theosophismus zu Grunde lieget, wo er immer zu einer wenigstens materiell wissenschaftlichen oder speculativen Bedeutung gelangt — was namentlich dem Theosophismus Jakob Boehmes zu Grunde liegt, ist das an sich anerkennenswerthe Bestreben, das Hervorgehen der Dinge aus Gott als einen wirklichen Hergang zu begreifen. Diess weiss nun aber Jakob Boehme nicht anders zu bewerkstelligen, als indem er die Gottheit selbst in eine Art von Naturprocess verwickelt. Das Eigenthuemliche der positiven Philosophie besteht aber gerade darin, dass sie allen Process in diesem Sinne verwirft, in welchem naemlich Gott das nicht bloss logische, sondern wirkliche Resultat eines Processes waere. Positive Philosophie ist insofern vielmehr in direktem Gegensatz mit allem und jedem theosophischen Bestreben” {“What lies at the basis of theosophy, what it always has arrived at as least  material scientific or speculative meaning — what in particular lies at the groundwork of the theosophy of Jacob Boehme, is itself a praiseworthy effort to understand the emanation of the things from God as an actual  process. Yet this however is what Jacob Boehme but managed to accomplish, that he entangles the Godhead Itself within an aspect of the nature-process. The peculiarness of Positive Philosophy rests directly upon this, that the entire process would reject the sense, in which God namely be not merely logical, but rather the actual result of a process. Positive Philosophy is far contrary and in direct contrast to all and every theosophic endeavour”}. (“Schellings Saemmtliche Werke”, Zweite Abteilung, Dritter Band, — “Philosophie der Offenbarung”, B. I., 1858, p. 121).  “Sowie J. Boehme ueber die Anfaenge der Natur hinaus und ins Concrete geht, kann man ihm nicht mehr folgen; hier verliert sich alle Spur, und es wird stets ein vergebliches Bemuehen bleiben, ihn aus dem verworrenen Concept seiner Anschauungen ins Reine zu schreiben, was man auch nacheinander Kantsche, Fichtesche, naturphilosophische, zuletzt sogar Hegelsche Begriffe dazu anwendet” {“When J. Boehme goes far out beyond the beginnings of nature and into the concrete, one knows not how to follow him further; here all traces are lost and it instead will remain a vain effort, to inscribe from the confused concept its intuition in pure, which one after the other the Kantian, the Fichtean, the Nature-Philosophy, and finally the more pervasive Hegelian, employs therein”}. (Ibid. p. 124).  “Dem Rationalismus kann nichts durch eine That, z.b. durch freie Schoepfung, entstehen, er kennt bloss wesentliche Verhaeltnisse. Alles folgt ihm bloss modo aeterno, ewiger, d.h. bloss logischer Weise, durch immanente Bewegung… Der falsche Rationalismus naehert sich eben darum dem Theosophismus, der nicht weniger als jener im bloss substantiellen Wissen gefangen ist; der Theosophismus will es wohl ueberwinden, aber es gelingt ihm nicht, wie am deutlichsten an J. Boehme zu sehen. Wohl kaum hat je ein anderer Geist in der Glut dieses bloss substantiellen Wissens so ausgehalten wie J. Boehme; offenbar ist ihm Gott die unmittelbare Substanz der Welt; ein freies Verhaeltniss Gottes zu der Welt, eine freie Schoepfung will er zwar, aber er kann sie nicht  herausbringen. Obgleich er sich Theosophie nennt, also Anspruch macht, Wissenschaft des Goettlichen zu seyn, ist der Inhalt, zu dem der Theosophismus es bringt doch nur die substantielle Bewegung, und er stellt Gott nur in substantieller Bewegung dar. Der Theosophismus ist seiner Natur nach nicht minder ungeschichtlich als der Rationalismus. Aber der Gott einer wahrhaft geschichtlichen und positiven Philosophie bewegt sich nicht, er handelt. Die substantielle Bewegung, in welcher der Rationalismus befangen ist, geht von einem negativen Prius, d.h. von einem nichtseyenden aus, das sich erst ins Seyn zu bewegen hat; aber die geschichtliche Philosophie geht von einem positiven, d.h. von dem seyenden Prius aus, das sich nicht erst ins Seyn zu bewegen hat, also nur mit vollkommener Freiheit, ohne irgendwie durch sich selbst dazu genoethigt zu seyn, ein Seyn setzt, und zwar nicht sein eignes unmittelbar, sondern ein von seinem Seyn verschiedenes Seyn, in welchem jenes vielmehr negirt oder suspendirt als gesetzt, also jedenfalls nur mittelbar gesetzt ist. Es geziemt Gott, gleichgueltig gegen sein eignes Seyn zu seyn, nicht geziemt ihm aber, sich um sein eignes Seyn zu bemuehen, sich ein Seyn zu geben, sich in ein Seyn zu gebaeren, wie J. Boehme diess ausdrueckt, der als Inhalt der hoechsten Wissenschaft, d.h. der Theosophie, eben die Geburt des goettlichen Wesens, die goettliche Geburt ausspricht, also eine eigentliche Theogonie. […
  49. Vide “Franz von Baader’s Saemmtliche Werke”, Vol. 13, “Vorlesungen und Erlaeuterungen zu Jacob Boehme’s Lehre” {“Lectures and Explanations on Jacob Boehme’s Teachings”}, p. 65.
  50. This is stressed particularly by Koyre. Vide his “La philosophie de Jacob Boehme”, p. 158.
  51. This is well elucidated in the book of Koyre. Vide p. 395-396.
  52. Vide Charles Secretan, “La philosophie de la liberte”.
  53. Kroner, in his notable history of German Idealism, “Von Kant bis Hegel”, points to J. Boehme, alongside Eckhardt and Luther, as one of the sources for German philosophy.
  54. Vide the recently arisen and extraordinary interest as regards the material in the two tome collection of Viatte, “Les sources occultes du Romantisme”. Everywhere is apparent the enormous influence of Boehme.
  55. Modern psychology and psychopathology scientifically discern the Ungrund within the human soul and call it the unconsciousness. But they do not adequately make a distinction between the subconsciousness and the supra-consciousness, between the lower and the uppermost abyss. Vide the summation in the book of Dwelshauvers, “L’Inconcient”. With the Ungrund is connected likewise archaic man. In this regard especially important is Bachofen
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