ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

446. Protestant Mysticism. Böhme. -- Protestantism contained the germ of mysticism. The direct, personal interpretation of the Bible, and the denial of the ecclesiastical and celestial hierarchies, removed the Catholic intermediaries between the soul and God. As expounded by its chief representatives, Protestant mysticism is pantheistic.

This element of pantheism, already insinuated by Zwingli, pervades the mystic anthropology of SEBASTIAN FRANCK (1499-1542, author of Paradoxa; De Arbore Scientiae Boni et Mali) and, still more tangibly, the philosophy of Jacob Böhme. Brought up away from the influence of humanism, JACOB BÖHME (1575-1624) led a simple life, devoted exclusively to meditation. Apart from the writings of Paracelsus and his school, Jacob's system is drawn altogether from his own solitary reflexions. Besides his great work, the Aurora (1610), he wrote Viersig Fragen von der Seele; Mysterium Magnum; Von der Gnadenwahl.

Böhme's originality displays itself mainly in his philosophical explanation of the simultaneous presence of good and evil in the universe.{1} The opposition between good and evil is a primordial and connatural fact in God, and is, therefore, necessary. One day, seeing a tin vessel reflect the rays of the sunlight, Böhme thought to himself that without the tin, though dark in itself, the solar light would not be visible to us. The positive would be unknowable without the negative, light without darkness, good without evil. Now, the presence of good and evil in the bosom of the Infinite produces there a tension of opposing forces. But they exist there only in a potential state. What is it that actualizes them? Or, to use the metaphor of fire by which Böhme symbolizes life, what is it that sets good and evil aflame? The human soul, by an act of free will. To understand this reply we must note that the human soul is not a creature of God (theism), nor a mode of the Divine substance (ordinary pantheism); it is God Himself: the human soul, unique in all its human embodiments, is the primordial Divine condition, the bottomless "abyss," "containing heaven and hell in its immensity".

Clothing his metaphysics in poetic imagery, Böhme describes the "eternal nature of God" under the aspects of seven primary qualities: the first three representing evil, or the Divine anger; the last three representing good, or the Divine love ; midway between good and evil, and sharing the nature of both, is the quality of fire, or the principle of life and of all that by living wears out and is consumed. This is the seat of the liberty of the human soul (or of God). By a free act the soul can turn towards good or evil. "The will of the soul is free, either to shrink back into itself, count itself for nothing, be but a branch of foliage shooting forth from the Divine Tree, and nourish itself with the Divine Love (the Good) -- or to burst forth into flame itself (im Feuer aufzusteigen) with a view to becoming a distinct and independent tree{2} (Evil)." This mysticism is accompanied by a complete dogmatic system. Original sin is the human soul choosing evil; Redemption is the human soul returning to good. Christ is not a personal God become man; he is only a part of deified humanity.{3}

{1} DEUSSEN, J. Böhme, über sein Leben und seine philosophie (Kiel, 1897); and BOUTROUX, in the Études d'histoire de philosophie.

{2} Vierzig Fragen, ii.2.

{3} The Renaissance brought into fashion another form of mysticism, based on the Cabala. Although the latter is before all else a religious book, belonging to the cycle of Jewish writings on the Messiah, it also contains a world-philosophy, the central idea of which is Emanation. This Cabala mysticism dominates the writings of Reuchlin (1455-1522), the most distinguished of the Renaissance Hebraists (De Arte Cabalistica and De Verbo Mirifico). He places the union of God with the mens or organ of the soul, in a direct illumination by the Divine light. When the soul is purified, it transcends the first and second worlds, of sense and intellect, and reaches the third or Divine world. God is the bottomless abyss (Ainsoph), manifesting Himself through ten attributes (Sephiroth). The direct Intuition of the Divinity, face to face, is the supreme end of man.

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