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Whether Böhme knew previous or contemporary mystics is uncertain; it appears that he did not even know Tauler, but was well acquainted with his predecessor Paracelsus, whose spirit found in him a worthy echo. Böhme, however, did not confine himself to the natural philosophy of Paracelsus, but rather wove it into his sublime theosophic contemplations.
The important truths which Böhme declares, concerning God, man, and nature, he can only have drawn from his internal magical contemplations, in which he was inspired and enlightened by God. The Christian philosophising Böhme himself says: "That man is capable of a higher truly satisfactory knowledge, because he is created in the image of God, and the all-present God is constantly near him." But at the same time he emphatically remarks that man nevertheless is wanting in the divine knowledge, on account of his obstinacy and sinfulness, as also by the hindrances of the world and the devil. It is therefore necessary that man should leave in his pilgrimage his own individuality, and even all self-willed research, and should only seek the grace of God through Christ. The only true way of seeing God in his word, his essence and his will, and of recognising the signatures of the natural world, is this,-that man be at unity with himself, and abandon everything in his own will, which he has or is, and become as nothing to himself; he must become poorer than a bird in the air, which has at least its nest. Man shall have none, for he shall emigrate from the world; that is, he must give up his self-will and power" (Myster. Mag.) "Follow my counsel, abandon your own will to the spirit of God, and as you find your will in his, so will he manifest himself in your will. What you then seek, he is in it-nothing is hidden from him, and you see by his light" (Forty questions). "As soon as man through Christ attains amity with God (for without Christ he will not attain it) he gains in Christ a true, essential → knowledge of God and of the world, as far as God considers such suited to each. For as soon as the growth of the new man begins, there is also a new perception. As clearly as the outward man sees the outer world, so clearly does the new man perceive the divine world in which he lives,
and is no longer led blindfold, nor is truth confined to ideas."
That Jacob Böhme himself really participated in such knowledge after having the profound feeling of the impotence of his own reason, and when in sadness at the great depth and darkness of this world, and at the strife of the elements and creatures, his whole soul appealed in great alarm to God, in order to struggle without relaxation with the love and mercy of God, is shown emphatically in the Aurora: "Then God enlightened me with his spirit, that I might understand his will, and get rid of my sorrow; then the spirit penetrated me, and now, since my spirit, after hard struggles, has broken through the gates of hell to the innermost origin of godhead, and been there received with love, it has seen everything, and recognised God in all creatures, even in plant and grass; and thus immediately with strong impulse my will was formed to describe the nature of God."
There are many editions of Böhme's writings-even extracts and so-called anthologies; but they have remained partly according to the original text in the mystic dress of the author, and are therefore too diffuse and unintelligible to most persons who have not made a deep study of them; and besides that, the extracts are partial and incomplete. We are still wanting in a systematic selection from the collected works of Jacob Böhme, of which the contents, on all matters taken from the dispersed and unequal works, should be as much as possible literally true to the original, and yet intelligible; and this is a principal reason why Böhme is so little understood, and why the world is not yet astonished at him. Dr. Julius Hamberger has undertaken to supply this want, being about to publish "The Doctrines of the German philosopher Jacob Böhme represented according to systematic extracts from his collected works, and accompanied by explanatory notices." Dr. Hamberger has been so kind as to allow me to see and make use of the already complete manuscript; and as I thus use it, literally extracting some parts which concern our subject, the reader will have a sample of this new and very carefully arranged, and highly meritorious work, to which I wish to draw especial attention. Hamberger places at every section the principal
sentence, which he then explains with Böhme's own words from his writings, and then follow his own remarks, indicated by an asterisk, thus-*.
Of the writings of Jacob Böhme, and the manner of succeeding in understanding them, Dr. Hamberger says introductorily: "The author wrote with divine inspiration from living contemplation; but it cost him hard battles, and it was not always possible to reduce what he saw into words and ideas. He afterwards acquired a more tranquil, collected style.
"I say it before God, and testify it before his judgment," are Böhme's words, "that I do not know myself what I shall write; but as I write the spirit dictates it to me in such wonderful discernment, that I frequently do not know whether I am in this world according to the spirit. And the more I seek the more I find-deeper and deeper; so that I often think my sinful person too mean for such exalted mysteries. Whereupon the spirit erects my standard, and says to me: See, therein shalt thou live for ever, why dost thou alarm thyself? (Sendbriefe, 2, 10). I might certainly write more gracefully and intelligibly, but the burning fire often urges me too hastily, so that hand and pen must follow, and it goes then like a shower of rain,—what it strikes it strikes. Were it possible to understand and describe everything, it would be much more deeply grounded; as, however, this cannot be, more than one book will be made, in order that what was not intelligible in one writing may be found in another" (Sendb. 10, 45).
"After the gates of knowledge were opened to me, I was compelled to commence working at this, like a child that goes to school. In the interior I certainly saw the truth, as it were at a great depth, but to disentangle it was impossible. From time to time it opened to me like a plant, but it was twelve years before I could bring it out."
* The author, by reason of his human sinfulness, had not always his high power of perception with equal clearness. When God's spirit left him, he did not understand his own writings.
"As the soul has its source in nature, and its good and evil in nature, and man has cast himself through sin into
the wildness of nature, so that the soul is daily and hourly soiled by sins, its perceptions can be only partial” (Aur. Vorr. 100). "As long as God holds his hand over me, I perfectly understand that which I have written, but as soon as he conceals himself I no longer know my own work, and am a stranger to the work of my own hands: whence I perceive how impossible it is to discover God's secrets without his spirit" (Sendb. 10, 29).
"Whoever will apply himself to these papers, will read and search them, must be warned not to undertake this by outward, sharp speculation and reflection. By this means he would remain on the outer, ideal ground, and would attain only an outward glimmer of it" (Clav. Vorr. 1).
*However difficult parts of these writings may be, yet by the enlightening of the divine spirit, for which one must pray earnestly to God, everything, the most inward and the most superficial of things, will become intelligible.
"True discernment no one can give to another; each must have it direct from God. Assistance may be given by one to another, but not understanding. author's writings furnish only here and there a glimmering of knowledge; but if one is acknowledged worthy by God to have the light kindled in one's soul, he will then understand the unspeakable words of God" (Sendb. 55, 8—12).
"Everyone speaks according as his life is influenced by God; and no one can bring us to knowledge but the spirit from God, who on the day of Pentecost turned all nations' languages into one in the apostles' mouth, so that the apostles' tongues understood the languages of all people, though they only spoke with one tongue, but the auditors' minds and hearts were opened by God, so that they all understood the same language, each one in his own. Thus alone through God is it possible that one spirit should understand another. Hence I fear that in many parts of my writings I am difficult to understand; but in God I am easily understood by the reader, if his soul is founded in God, from whose knowledge alone I write" (Sendb. 4, 20, 21).
OF MAGIC, OR OF THE SPIRIT AND ESSENCE OF THINGS IN THEIR FORMATION.
In the formation of creatures, their own spirit is assisting. "The spirit is originally a magic source of fire, and yearns ✓ for being; that is, for form. This then creates desire, which is the spirit's corporealness, by which the spirit is called a creature" (Sendb. 47, 5).
* Everything real is also active in its own way. Now the idea, in as far as it only exists in the divine understanding, has not yet in itself any reality; when, however, God brings it over from this state of complete unreality, by creation to actual, corporeal, or essential reality, there results, by means of the separation of the powers contained in it, a kind of me lium between the mere spiritual and unreal, and between the corporeal or completely real being, which our author calls the Life essence, and introduces above, not under this name indeed, but describes very clearly and definitely according to its nature. By means of this essence creatures are certainly active in their own corporeal formation, as we find is the case still with the development of every natural product, and as we perceive in the creation of every true work of art.
Between the mere idea of the true work of art, and its corporeal formation, lies the stirring, active spirit of it, which shall attract itself as its body. Many a one is capable of the idea of a work of art, but the true realisation-requiring image will not become fully alive in him, or remain alive in him, and thus it falls short of a successful production. Hence it appears that the essence is to be distinguished from the mere idea. But it could never attain to essence without magic, by which we must acknowledge, even in a material point of view, the transition from the mere possibility to reality. The relation of the idea to the essence is the same as mere nature, or what the author calls Mysterium magnum, to magic; but over both stands, and over both presides, the magician, that is, the free-acting will.