9 January 1913, Berlin
Translated by Margaret W. Barnetson
AT the point of time in modern spiritual evolution when we see the dawn of the new world-conception breaking forth, at that time in which we must record the great achievements of Kepler and Galileo, in which Giordano Bruno, in a certain measure, outlines the great problem of a modern world-conception, — at this moment we meet the solitary thinker to whom the present reflections shall be dedicated, the simple shoemaker of Goerlitz, Jacob Boehme. He struggled with the highest problems of existence in a way which can occupy our thinking and feeling to this day in the deepest manner, and will probably occupy the thinking and feeling of human beings for a long time to come.
A peculiar figure this Jacob Boehme, a figure who strove and struggled in solitude, whereas elsewhere in the spiritual life the single currents united to form a great comprehensive tableau. And in a certain sense one might say that the solitary striving of Jacob Boehme appears almost as interesting, from a certain standpoint, as the flowing together of the different points of view which meet us elsewhere in that epoch. And then we see how, very strangely, what Jacob Boehme found in his own solitary mind, even in his century, received the greatest imaginable dissemination — the greatest imaginable dissemination we may say, considering the fact that we are dealing with a deeply significant spiritual matter. Precisely through the manifestations of his adversaries we see how far his influence extended after only a few decades had passed since his death. Again and again, Jacob Boehme was the object of appreciative and admiring, or rejecting and ridiculing, contemplation. And when we observe what came into being as his following, or as his opposition, we have the impression that both the adherents and the attackers knew they were dealing with a very strange phenomenon.
This phenomenon is strange, especially to those who wish to understand every personality that appears in the spiritual life of humanity on the basis of the immediate conditions, so to speak, of the age and the surroundings. We see, for instance, how people try to understand Goethe by collecting all sorts of details of his life, even the most unimportant, and believe that by assembling these details they can acquire this or that to explain his corresponding spiritual life. It is not possible in this manner really to acquire much for the understanding of Jacob Boehme. External influences are difficult to verify through external science, and it is still harder to understand how Jacob Boehme grew out of that which constituted the spiritual life of his time.
Many, therefore, have professed the opinion that in Jacob Boehme we have to do with a kind of spiritual meteor. All that arose there, all that this personality had to give, appears as if it had suddenly sprung up, revealing itself out of the depths of his strange soul. Others then have tried to explain that many a turn of expression, many a way of presenting his ideas, shows similarity in words and turns of expression to the formulae of the alchemists, or to some philosophical or other tendencies that were still alive in his time. But whoever enters more deeply into the whole mentality of Jacob Boehme will find that such a procedure has hardly more value than if one were to examine the “language” in connection with an eminent personality, who, after all, must always express himself in a language. For when Jacob Boehme makes use of alchemistic formulae, or such things, it is only verbal clothing. That which makes such an exceedingly powerful impression, however, on one who seeks to understand him presents itself with an originality such as is found only in the very greatest minds.
In contrast to this, there are a few clues which are not quite compatible with modern thinking — with the modern world-conception — but which, for the person who is capable of entering into such things, throw light on how Jacob Boehme was able to soar up to his high spiritual standpoint. In order to connect our reflections with his life, to the extent that it has a bearing here, we need mention only a few biographical facts.
Jacob Boehme was the son of very poor parents and came from Alt-Seidenberg in the vicinity of Goerlitz. He was born in 1575. In his youth he had to tend the cattle with other village boys. As is apparent from this, he grew up in complete poverty, and since a person growing up in this way does not have any particular means of education, we shall find it understandable that even as a boy of twelve or thirteen years Jacob Boehme could hardly read and only barely write. But another experience confronts us even during his boyhood, of which a faithful biographer heard from him out of his own mouth. We shall first tell this experience. As we have said, it is not one of those things which are quite intelligible to modern consciousness.
When Jacob Boehme was once tending the cattle with other shepherd boys, he withdrew from the company of the boys and climbed a moderately high mountain in the vicinity of his native locality, the “Landskrone.” He declared that he had seen there in the bright noontime something like an entrance-gate into the mountain. He went inside and there found a vessel, a kind of vat, filled with pure gold. That made such an impression of fearful awe on his soul that he ran away and retained only the memory of this peculiar experience.
One can, to be sure, speak of a “dream dreamed in the waking state.” One may, for all that, grant the right to those who are satisfied with such an explanation. But the essential point is not whether one calls such an occurrence a “dream,” or gives it another name, but what it releases in the mind of the person who “dreams” it, what effect it produces in the soul. And from the way in which Jacob Boehme later told this occurrence to his friend we see that it had engraved itself deeply on his mind, that it had released significant forces in his soul so that it had the highest psychological significance for him.
Let us, therefore, grant to the rationalists the right to explain such an experience, which was in any case a significant happening in Jacob Boehme's soul, in the way in which they likewise wish to explain the event of the appearance of Christ before Paul at Damascus. Only, an explanation which resorts to these things must also admit that such significant work as that of Paul, which is so intimately connected with Christianity, proceeded from a “dream.”
Even the boy Jacob Boehme, when he had this experience, felt something like the deepest stirring up of soul forces which are otherwise not active in the soul. The important thing is this inner releasing of deeper-lying forces of the soul. The important thing is the testimony of such a fact which proves that we have to do here with a human being who could descend to a far greater profundity in his soul life than thousands and thousands of others.
Another event of a similar nature must also be borne in mind, of which we must again say that it remained so fixed in Jacob Boehme's memory that the brightness and the significance of this event shone over his whole life, in so far as this life was an inner one.
In his fourteenth year Jacob Boehme was sent to a shoemaker as an apprentice and often had to stand guard, so to speak, in his master's shop. He was not permitted to sell anything. On one occasion — and this story, again, came from the mouth of his loyal biographer, Abraham von Frankenberg — an individuality who immediately made a singular impression on Jacob Boehme came into the shop and wanted to buy shoes. But, because the boy was forbidden to sell shoes, he said this to the stranger. The latter offered him a high price and it came about that the shoes were sold.
Then, however, the following took place, which remained in Jacob Boehme's memory throughout his life. When the stranger had departed and a short time had passed, Jacob Boehme heard his name called: “Jacob, Jacob!” and when he went out the stranger seemed to him even more singular than at first. There was something sun-like, shining in his eyes and he said words to him which sounded very strange: “Jacob, you are now still small, but you will once become an entirely different human being, about whom the world will break out in amazement. But remain humble before your God and read the Bible diligently. You will have to endure much persecution, but be strong, for your God loves you and will be merciful to you.” — Jacob Boehme regarded such an occurrence as much more essential than any other, external biographic experiences.
And his biographer relates further how Jacob Boehme himself told him the following: It was in the year 1600 when, during seven days, Jacob Boehme felt as if withdrawn from his physical body, felt as if he were in an entirely different world, felt as if, with regard to his soul, he was re-born.
We have to do here — if one wants to call it that — with a permanently abnormal condition of the soul. But Jacob Boehme experienced this, his “re-birth,” also simply more or less as something which could, according to his conception, take place with a human soul. He did not become, let us say, a visionary or a false idealist through this, nor did he become an arrogant person, but continued to practice his shoemaker's trade in all humility — or, we might say, in all sobriety. And even the experience of the year 1600, the withdrawal into another world, remained to him a phenomenon of which he said to himself: “You have looked into a kingdom of joy, into a kingdom of spiritual reality, but that is a thing of the past.” And he continued to live from day to clay pursuing his trade in his sober manner.
In the year 1610 this experience of re-birth was repeated. He then began to record what he had experienced in his states of exaltation, since he felt called upon to do this. Thus, in 1612 his first work, The Dawn in Its Ascent, came into being, later entitled Aurora. Regarding it, he said that he did not write it down through his ordinary ego, but that it was given to him word for word; that, in comparison with his ordinary ego, he lived in a being which was encompassing, which reached into all parts of the world and immersed itself in this world.
To be sure, the revelations did not do him much good. When several people noticed what he had to say, what he had written down, a few copies of the manuscript of Aurora were made and circulated. The result was that Gregorius Richter, the deacon of Goerlitz — where Jacob Boehme had meanwhile, in 1594, established himself as shoemaker — railed at Jacob Boehme from the pulpit and not only condemned his work, but also succeeded in having him called before the council of the city of Goerlitz. About this I will now simply repeat the words that we know from his biographer. He relates that the verdict of the council was that Jacob Boehme must be forbidden to write further, for only those who were academicians were permitted to write and Jacob Boehme was not an academician, but an idiot, and must, therefore, refrain from writing!
Thus Jacob Boehme was branded as an idiot. And, since he was a good-natured man on the whole, who could not quite believe — because of the simplicity in his nature — that he would be considered one of the damned entirely without reason, he did indeed resolve to write nothing further in the near future.
But then came the time when he could no longer do otherwise. And in the years 1620 to 1624, up to his death, he wrote rapidly, one after another, a great number of his works, as for instance: The Book of the Contemplative Life, De Signatura Rerum, or Concerning the Birth and Designation of All Beings, or the elucidation of the first book of Moses. But the number of his works is rather large and in this connection, many a reader may fare strangely. Some have said that Jacob Boehme repeats himself again and again. It is true; one cannot deny that certain things appear over and over again in his writings. If, however, a person draws the conclusion from this that you know the whole Jacob Boehme if you know a few of his works, because he always repeats himself — though we cannot simply contradict persons who say this — it must be said that whoever contents himself with having read one work of Jacob Boehme's and has no appetite to read the other works also, does not understand much of Jacob Boehme. But whoever takes the trouble to go through his other works will not rest, in spite of all the repetitions, until he has read even the very last ones.
If, from this characterization of his nature, we try to penetrate more into his train of thought, into the spiritual nature of Jacob Boehme, it must be said that for modern man, who lives only in the cultural life of our time, much indeed must be unintelligible, not only in the content of Jacob Boehme's works, but also in his whole manner of presentation. At first the presentation appears completely chaotic. To be sure, one becomes slowly accustomed to it. But then there still remains for many persons something that is a hard nut to crack. We find that he has very peculiar definitions of words — quite unintelligible for the modern mind. Thus we find that in his explanation of the world he again and again uses words such as “salt,” “mercury” and “sulphur.” And if he wishes to analyse what “sul” signifies, what “phur” signifies, and finds all sorts of deep thoughts therein, then these modern minds must say to themselves that one cannot do anything with this, for what can be the significance of offering explanations about a universal principle by explaining the syllables of a word individually, such as “sul” and “phur”? That is quite alien to the modern mind.
To be sure, if a person enters further into the mind of Jacob Boehme, he will find that Jacob Boehme clothes what he wishes tó say in all kinds of alchemistic formulae. But only when one penetrates through to what expresses itself livingly as the spirit of Jacob Boehme in what he found available, only then does one find that something entirely different lives in these formulae from what we know today as scientific thinking, as thinking with regard to world-conceptions, or any other thinking.
What lives in Jacob Boehme's soul resembles most closely that which has been characterized here in these lectures as the first stage of a higher spiritual life, as the stage of imaginative cognition. We have emphasized the fact that he who ascends from ordinary life in the sense world comes, through a special development of his soul, to the point where he perceives a new world of pictures, of imaginations. And we have stressed the fact — I beg you to call to mind precisely the character of this discussion 1See lecture by Rudolf Steiner entitled: Die Wege der übersinnlichen Erkenntnis. that, when the human being has brought it about that he does not only form imaginations, but that pictures, imaginative conceptions, shoot up out of the unknown depths of the soul-life and he experiences a new world, then he who desires to ascend to new cognition must make the firm resolution to suppress completely this first flashing up of an imaginative world in the soul and to wait until it rises up a second time from a much deeper-lying world.
The whole state of soul, the whole inner mood to which Jacob Boehme comes is, therefore, most nearly comparable to that which meets a person in his soul-life who ascends to supersensible knowledge. Nowhere, to be sure, does it appear that something like that which modern spiritual-science proclaims as its conscious methods is already to be found in Jacob Boehme. But whoever were to believe that all this appeared in Jacob Boehme as if of its own accord would, nevertheless, be wrong. He himself once said that he had striven unceasingly for the spirit's — for God's — assistance, and that a luminous, imaginative world resulted from this unceasing striving.
Thus, we cannot say that he was simply a naive, imaginatively cognizant person, but we must say that he grasped naively at the means which lead the human being to the height of imaginative cognition. It is to be assumed, naturally, that such an imaginative force was in his soul. In other words, he arrived at imaginative cognition by just the same paths, only more quickly, more as a matter of course, than one can arrive at it through such methods as are described in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. Thus Jacob Boehme stands before us as an imaginatively cognizant human being. But this imaginative knowledge struggles to the surface with primal power, as if it were a matter of course, as if borne by a strong inner will.
Thus, we see this strong inner will, which cannot express itself in external deeds — his humble occupation prevents this — surrounding his soul like a flood, so that the soul immerses itself in this flood. We see powerful pictures being born out of this will, through which he tries to solve the riddles of the universe. In Jacob Boehme, it is not so much the individual results that matter, as this mood and condition of his soul. And he feels that, in his striving, he is driven to something which is not the ordinary cognizing human ego, but which is connected with the forces that bind the human being — out of the subconscious in his soul, out of the depths of his soul — to the whole cosmos; that is, to what lives and weaves outside in nature.
The human being who really has an earnest desire for knowledge feels that there is not only something rational in the act of cognition, but something that he achieves for himself through suffering and pain, and through the overcoming of suffering and pain. And he notices, when he tries to penetrate into nature and existence with present-day, ordinary means, how he really separates himself from nature and existence through all such means. But when we expose forces in our soul which rest otherwise in the subconscious, then we feel that these are connected with nature and existence in quite another, more intimate sense. In order to explain this, I should like to draw upon the following.
It is a well-known fact, and one hears it often related, that in regions where an earthquake or some other elemental event is imminent, certain animals flee from the locality of the earthquake or some similar occurrence, or at least become restless, so that they are like prophetic announcers of what is to happen. We may say that the instinctive life of the animal is more closely connected with what takes place outside in nature than the whole state of soul of the human being. But in the depths of the human soul, there lives something which is not the same as the instinct of animals, but which is deeper than this animal instinct, and which is also closely connected with the forces of nature. And in descending into the depths of his soul, Jacob Boehme felt himself more closely interwoven with the forces of nature.
But one thing stands out particularly. It has been emphasized that only when that which appears as imaginations and an imaginative world has been suppressed, extinguished, and then lights up again as if of its own accord, — only then does this second imaginative world have value. (As I said, I beg you to call to mind the earlier discussions.) Now, it is most singular if we compare the path of Jacob Boehme with this.
In the year 1600 he experiences a re-birth, feels himself transported into a spiritual world, into a “kingdom of joy.” Then he continues to live in sober simplicity. For ten years it is as if what he had experienced were submerged. Then it emerges a second time in the year 1610. Did not then the path which we represented as the right one appear as a natural phenomenon in Jacob Boehme's soul? For us, it is this that makes Jacob Boehme approach so closely that upon which we ourselves have focused our attention as being the natural way into the supersensible worlds. If we take this into account his experience will not seem as strange to us as it may have seemed at first sight.2See also: Rudolf Steiner, Kosmischc und menschliche Geschichte,, Vol. V, Lecture 3.
It will have no value for the objective cognition of the sceptic, to be sure, if one reflects profoundly on the combination out of the syllables “sul” and “phur,” or about other such things. But I beg you to call to mind what we explained concerning human speech once on an earlier occasion 3See: Rudolf Steiner - Geisteswissenschaft und de Sprache. how we showed that in the course of human evolution “speech” really preceded abstract, conceptual thinking, and how Jean Paul is entirely right when he emphasizes that the child learns to think through speech, instead of forming speech through thinking. Speech, therefore, is something more elementary, primal than thinking. When we see how the whole of nature arises again in our thoughts, then we feel how thought is separated from the realities of nature by a world chasm. But, when the sound as something more like the sounds in nature — and, after all, speech was originally composed of such sounds, — when the sound of speech is wrested from the human soul, then something of the whole system of law in the universe works into the depths of the soul. And then a kind of echo in relation to nature tears itself loose in an entirely different way from that occurring when something is released out of thoughts as an echo.
A soul of the present time no longer has any feeling for the affinity of speech and sounds in nature. As a contemporary soul one can only slowly struggle through to the feeling that in all speech there is something which directly resembles an echo of the impressions of the external world. In such a personality as Jacob Boehme, who draws deeper forces from his soul with elemental power, it is only natural that in this respect also, in feeling also, as it were, he is carried back to that impression of speech which was once characteristic of humanity and which the child, more or less unconsciously, still develops.
And now if we extend what has just been set forth to include the strange analyses concerning the joining together of syllables into words, then we can understand that what nature brings about in the human soul is only a feeling by means of the sounds; that nature wishes to create her own language through sound itself. Precisely because Jacob Boehme stood closer to nature in his soul, he also lived more in speech than in thought, and his whole philosophy is more a feeling with, a sympathizing with, that which lives and weaves outside in nature than any abstract grasping of things. What I mean to say is that, when a person lets a thought of Jacob Boehme's really have its effect on him, he feels as if the thought were as akin to what Jacob Boehme observed as he himself is akin only to that which he senses as some kind of taste, when he also feels contact with nature.
Thus, does Jacob Boehme feel the contact with nature. He feels in the inner being what weaves and works and lives outside in nature. He lives nature's life with it, and in his representations he gives, really, that wherein he participates, so that one feels what he perceived vibrating in his words. To him, therefore, words are something which he feels especially to be like that which is the “How” in nature itself. One does not have to ponder, therefore, over the question whether such discussions as the above-mentioned about “sul” and “phur” mean anything particular in Jacob Boehme, but one should try to re-experience in connection with this soul how it makes the experience of the universe into the experience of the soul and gives as its revelations that which the soul can experience.
No one understands Jacob Boehme who simply supposes that he perceived thunder and lightning, clouds, or cloud transformations, or the growth of grass like a modern human being. A person understands him only if he knows that with the flashing lightning, with the rolling thunder, with the changing clouds something is transformed for his soul-life, so that something takes place in his soul which stands there as the solution of the corresponding riddle. Thus, what takes place in the world becomes for Jacob Boehme a riddle of his own experience.
And now, if we look at him thus, we understand how he could wrestle with a task which meets us elsewhere during his time also, and which long occupied other spirits, even the greatest spirit of recent times. This same sixteenth century, in which occurred the birth of Jacob Boehme, gave birth to the Faust riddle, which places next to the striving and struggling man the enemy of man, who drags down man's striving nature into the base, sensual — into that which Jacob Boehme's age called “the
Devilish.” Poetically, Goethe still struggled with the problem which places “evil” in the world structure. Must not the human being ask again and again: How does it come about that the irregular, the unsuitable, places itself antagonistically in the harmonious universe, in the wise guidance of the world? And the question of the origin of evil lies in the riddle of Faust. It is really already in the book of Job, but it appeared especially powerfully in the sixteenth century.
In what manner could this question appear before the mind of Jacob Boehme?
We need only to take a few words from the Dawn in Its Ascent and we shall see at once how that which is elsewhere a world problem becomes for Jacob Boehme at first an inner soul problem. There he says approximately the following words: If an understanding and thoughtful man shows himself anywhere in the world, the Devil at once meddles with his soul and seeks to drag his nature down into the vulgar, common, sensual, — seeks to ensnare the man in pride and conceit.
Here we see at once how the problem is grasped by Jacob Boehme as a soul problem. We see how he searches in the soul itself for the power of evil, which interferes with the good soul forces. And the question arises for him: What does the soul have to do with the soul forces that strive towards evil? Thus the problem of evil becomes for Jacob Boehme finally an inner soul question.4See also: Rudolf Steiner, Geisteswissenschaft als Forderung unserer Zeit; Vol. VII, Das Böse im Lichte der Erkenntnis vom Geiste. But because for him soul and universe correspond to each other, the soul at once expands into a universe. And now the peculiar thing for him is that the question of evil is transformed into an entirely different question, into the question of human consciousness — in fact, of all spiritual consciousness, of the whole character of the life of consciousness.
It is difficult today with our current conceptions to illuminate Jacob Boehme's soul life and what the cosmic questions and their solutions became for him, and a person cannot make himself very clear if he uses the words of Jacob Boehme, because they are no longer current coin in our time. I will try, therefore — entirely in the spirit of Jacob Boehme, but with somewhat different words — to approach what he wished to say about the question of evil, which becomes with him a question concerning the whole nature of spiritual consciousness in general.
Let us once try to think how our consciousness works, what our whole consciousness would be if we were not in a position to hold fast in memory, as thought, what we once experienced in our soul, in our consciousness. Let us try to think how our consciousness would have to be something entirely different if we were not capable of drawing up out of our memory what we experienced yesterday, the day before yesterday, years ago. The whole content of consciousness rests on the fact that we can remember past experience, and our consciousness does not extend back beyond that point of time to which we can remember. We began then to grasp ourselves as an “ego,” to have the coherent thread of our consciousness, to be at home in our soul life.
Upon what, therefore, does the whole nature of consciousness depend? Upon the fact that we know: Now we are at this moment experiencing something in our consciousness. When we experience something, we are directly connected with this experience. In the moment when we experience something we are nothing else than our experience itself. A person who visualizes a red colour is united with the experience of it at the moment when he visualizes this red colour. Whoever conceives an ideal is, at that moment, one with the ideal. I le distinguishes himself only afterwards from his experience, while before he was one with it. Thus our whole consciousness is something that we first experienced and then stored up as an objective thing in our inner soul life. Such storing away in the objective makes our consciousness possible. We could not develop any consciousness if everything that we experienced were always forgotten — completely removed. By placing our experience before ourselves as counterpart (Gegenwurf), 5The term Wurf is almost untranslatable. It is apparently intended to suggest the primordial source from which all that is takes its rise. Gegenwurf is that which is created by the Wurf, its counterpart. as Jacob Boehme says, — by confronting ourselves with it as with an opposite — only thereby does our real consciousness ignite. We must observe this in connection with the simplest fact of our consciousness.
In his clairvoyant contemplation Jacob Boehme extends this experience, which any and every consciousness can have, over all the world. He says: And if a Divine Being in the world had once had the capacity only to live in Himself, but not to confront Himself with His experience — as counterpart — consciousness would never have come to be, even in a Divine Being. But for the Divine Being the counterpart is the world. Just as we confront ourselves with our conceptions, just as we become conscious of ourselves through the object, so the counterpart for Divine Consciousness is the world. And everything that surrounds us Divine Consciousness set out of Itself, in order to become aware of Itself thereby, — just as we develop our consciousness only when we set up our own experiences as counterpart.
For Jacob Boehme the grasping of this thought was not a theory, but something that brought him satisfaction with regard to a question which signified a matter of destiny for him — the great Faust question. He could now say to himself: “If I am carried back in thought into Divine Consciousness prior to the world, as it were, this Divine Consciousness could come to Itself, become real consciousness, only by confronting Itself with the world, in order to become aware of Itself through Its counterpart.” Thus, everything that lives and weaves and is took its rise from the Divine-Psychic, from a Will of this Divine-Psychic, which developed the craving, as Will, to become aware of Itself. And in that moment (this now became clear to Jacob Boehme) when the Unitary Consciousness set up Its counterpart and wanted to become aware of Itself — that is, duplicated Itself, created, as it were, the reflected image of Itself — It created this reflected image in a variety, in the multiplicity of single members, just as the single human soul does not have its life only in single limbs, but in limbs that have a certain independence, such as hand, and foot, and head. A person does not get close to the reality of Jacob Boehme if he describes him as a pantheist. He must go through the train of thought in a similar way, must understand how Jacob Boehme conceived everything that appears before us as a “counterpart of the Godhead.”
To the counterpart of the Godhead, which the Godhead set out of Itself in order to become aware of Itself thereby, belongs also the human being as he is. From this point of view of his. Jacob Boehme says: Men direct their gaze upwards; see the stars, the masses of clouds, the mountains and the plants, and would often assume the existence of still another special region of the Godhead. But I say to you, you unreasoning human being, that you yourself belong to the counterpart of the Godhead; for how could you sense anything and become aware of anything of Divine Being in yourself if you had not flowed forth from this Divine Being? You have sprung from this Divine Being. He placed you opposite Himself, as He also gave birth to you out of Himself, and you shall be buried in Him. And how could you be raised from the dead if an alien Godhead stood confronting you? How could you call yourself a child of God if you were not one with the substance and being of God!
That he does not refer to any ordinary pantheism is expressed by him through the fact that he says: “The external world is not God; it will never in eternity be called God, but a being in which God reveals Himself. … If one says that God is all. that God is heaven and earth and also the external world, it is true, for everything has its origin and genesis in Him. But what can I do with such a speech, which is no religion?”
One cannot call him a pantheist. Just as the question concerning the essential nature of the world is not, for him, something artificially sought after, neither is that which he gives himself as an answer to it. Rather is it an experience for him. He felt the prerequisite conditions determining his own consciousness and extended these over Divine Consciousness, because he knew clearly that the nature of his own capacity for consciousness was an echo of the actualities of the world.
And in the answer to the question of the soul and the Divine in the soul he finds also the answer to the question concerning the origin of evil. This is something exceedingly characteristic of Jacob Boehme, which has again and again aroused the admiration of profound thinkers. Thus, for instance, Schelling was very significantly affected when he became aware of the manner in which Jacob Boehme approached the question concerning the significance of evil in the world, and other thinkers of the nineteenth century also admired the profundity of thought with which Jacob Boehme took hold of this question.
One may say, with regard to many persons who have sought an answer to the question concerning the origin of evil, that they searched for the primal cause of evil. It is characteristic of Jacob Boehme that he went further than that point which, according to the opinion of many people, is the sole and only limit to which one can go. For where else should a person go if he does not wish to stop at this primal cause? Jacob Boehme goes beyond the primal cause when he wishes to solve the question concerning the significance of evil. He goes to that which he calls, significantly, not the primal cause, or primal ground (Urgrund), but the groundlessness, (Ungrund), and here we actually stand before an experience of the human soul in Jacob Boehme which can be admired in the highest degree if one has the requisite organ.
Certainly, the ordinary soul which has its roots in the modern world conception does not, perhaps, possess this organ; but one can have this organ which feels admiration when, in Jacob Boehme, the transition is made from the primal ground to the groundlessness. And, after all, it is really something like the egg of Columbus, something exceedingly simple. For, at the moment when Jacob Boehme had solved the world riddle for himself in the way we have just described — when it was clear to him that there is a relationship between God and the world like that between the soul and the limbs of the body — then he could also say to himself: When the world came into existence as counterpart of the Godhead, there appeared in this counterpart the dividedness, the differences among the limbs, as we should say.6He did not use these words, but we wish to characterize according to the essence rather than the words, for we shall, thereby, come closer to understanding him. The dividedness of the single limbs of the body confronting the single soul made its appearance. Is not every single limb of the body good with regard to functions of the soul? Can we not say that the right hand is good, the left hand is good, everything is good in as much as it serves the functions of the soul? But cannot the right hand, because of its relative independence, indeed just because of its excellence, injure the left hand?
Here we have the independence of the corporeal, that which needs to have “no ground” (cause), set up against that which constitutes harmony. We see this placed in the primal ground (cause), which simply results from the fact that from the “primal ground” we pass on to the “groundlessness.” Just as we do not need to seek in light the cause of darkness, so we do not need to seek in good the cause of evil. But as the world proves itself, for Jacob Boehme, to be the counterpart of the Godhead, the possibility arises in this world of dividedness for the individual limbs to work against each other, in that, because they must have their independence for the sake of the purpose of the world — according to the goal-seeking character of the world — they must also develop this independence.
Thus, for Jacob Boehme, evil does not have its roots in that which one explains, but in that which we find as “groundlessness” without the need for explaining it. But the latter appears thereby, as if of its own accord, as a counterpart of good. And now evil, the unsuitable, the harmful in the world becomes for Jacob Boehme itself a counterpart, in contrast to good, — just as we become aware of ourselves through contact with an object. We move along in space; we do not think of ourselves. But we begin at once to think of ourselves if, for instance, we knock our head against a window. Then we become aware of ourselves through the counterpart, through the object. Just as Jacob Boehme confronts consciousness with the counterpart, just as he experiences himself through the counterpart, so the good, the suitable, the advantageous and useful becomes aware of itself, for Jacob Boehme, through the fact that it has to preserve itself in the presence of the harmful and unsuitable. It becomes aware of itself in that “evil” became the counterpart of good, like the objects that are experienced through collision with the external world.
Thus Jacob Boehme sees in good the force which assimilates its counterpart, just as man, in his memory, assimilates more and more what he himself first set out of his consciousness. We find thus a constant absorption of evil and, thereby, an enriching of the good with the evil. And as darkness relates itself to light, in that light shines into darkness and thereby first becomes visible, so does good first become effective by working into evil and relating itself to evil as light to darkness. Just as light graduates to the different colours through darkness and could not appear as light if darkness were not opposed to it, so can good perform its world-function only by experiencing itself through its counterpart, through evil.
Thus Jacob Boehme looks into the world. He sees the good effective in such a way that it finds itself confronted by evil, but that it takes evil into its own domain, absorbs it, so to speak. Thus a pre-earthly occurrence appears for Jacob Boehme in such a way that he says to himself: The Deity once placed other spiritual beings opposite Himself. These were, like our present nature at a later stage, a counterpart of the Deity. Thus these beings were already a counterpart of the Deity, whereby the Deity achieved consciousness of Himself. But they behaved towards the Deity like the limbs that turn against their own body.
Thereby the Being Lucifer came into existence for Jacob Boehme. What is Lucifer for him? He is the Being who, after the counterpart was created, used the separateness, the multiplicity, to rebel against his Creator as independent counterpart. Thus, in the forces of the world which differ from and struggle against one another Jacob Boehme finds that which must be, but which contributes to the general evolution, nevertheless, by being absorbed in the course of development. In the same way he also conceives that all deeds of the opponent of the Gods — in order that the deeds of the Deity Himself may come to realization so much the more powerfully through the counterpart — are absorbed by the Deity, and that the self-realization of the Deity becomes only so much the more glorious through the forces which the opponent develops.
Into the depths of the world Jacob Boehme pursues the thought which extends the experiencing of consciousness to the cosmic experience of the origin and primal state of evil. And he puts into a simple formula — not what he gave theoretically, we must say, as the solution of the cosmic riddles, but what he experienced, — into the formula: No “Yes” without a “No,” for the “Yes” must first experience itself through its counterpart, through the “No.” “No Yes without a No” is the simple formula into which Jacob Boehme brought the whole problem of evil. And it is not a theoretical formula, but in this philosophy, there lies something like a most primal, most elemental experience.
For to know that there is no Yes without a No, that evil is absorbed by good and contributes to the evolution of the world, — that may yet be nothing. But it is something else to be a struggling soul, a soul that experiences pain and suffering, temptations and seductions, and to say to oneself: “All of this must be present, and although it is present I can procure for myself out of my living philosophical word — not by theorizing — the certainty and the consolation and the hope that the best in me will find the possibility of overcoming what is only the counterpart, the “No,” through the primal, through the Primordial Impulse (Wurf),7The term Wurf is almost untranslatable. It is apparently intended to suggest the primordial source from which all that is takes its rise. Gegenwurf is that which is created by the Wurf, its counterpart. through the “Yes.” And no matter how much I become entangled in evil, and no matter how small the ray of light is that extends over it, — I can and may hope for liberation, so that the good in me and not the evil will win the victory!
If such a philosophy passes over into certainty of redemption, then it is something which is, in this manner, connected with the personality, to be sure, but which has with this character of personality at the same time general human significance. If a person allows this to work upon his soul, he will gladly go on from this struggling soul which rises into the cold abstractions of the “Yes” and “No” in order to acquire therefrom the warmest soul content and the warmest soul experiences — then he will gladly go on from this soul, which gains through struggle confidence in its world conception, to the lonely man in Goerlitz who had no opportunity to found a school, for the time which men, under other circumstances, spend in spiritual things he had to spend in making shoes ... he had to gain the time by strenuous effort for his numerous works. Such a person will gladly go to the man whose books reveal how he struggled with language because his external education was so limited, but whose teachings, nevertheless, were disseminated and spread abroad after his death; who sat on his shoemaker's bench and had only few friends to whom he could open his heart. He had friends, it is true, to whom he wrote letters, but their number was small.
One sees him thus in his loneliness and feels as if a necessary connection existed herein. Just as one can think of Giordano Bruno only as journeying through the world, moving from land to land in order to proclaim something about the world as if with trumpet tone — just as one feels in him, who enters into the multiplicity of phenomena, that this journeying belongs to this world conception — so does one feel in the other case that this lonely shoemaker experienced something which could be experienced only in such a way that it took place as if in a solitary dialogue with the spirits of existence — in this solitary seership which we characterized at the beginning.
If we feel thus, then the sentiment grows in us, with regard to what the human being needs in order to solve the riddles of the world in a thoughtful, feeling way, that the greatest which the human being can experience in the world is independent of place and time, is subject only to the human soul's capacity for profound meditation, and that the soul can undertake the greatest world-migrations, the migrations into the spirit-regions, everywhere and always. Then there rings out to us from Jacob Boehme's soul, and touches our understanding, that which characterizes his world conception in such a significant expression when he says:
Wem Zeit wie Ewigkeit
Und Ewigkeit als wie die Zeit,
Der ist befreit von allem Streit.
To whom time is like eternity
And eternity like time,
He is freed from all strife.
This does not characterize his world conception in a theoretical respect, but it characterizes what his world conception really came to be through the fact that he was such a very special human being. For we have been able to emphasize that through his whole being he was more intimately connected with nature than the normal human being, — that he experienced the weaving and activity of nature in his own soul experiences. This leads us to sense a certain necessity in a designation which Jacob Boehme's friends gave him. They gave him a happy designation. For let us just consider the following:
When there was already a widely diffused, wonderfully detailed science over in the East, in the Orient, whose wisdom we admire if we learn to know it, we still find the very simplest spiritual culture on Central European soil. We find that something lives in all the souls of Central Europe which is like an intimate connection of the forces in the depths of the soul with the forces of nature and the nature-beings, and that the people threw twigs on the ground and saw in the “Runes” which took form all kinds of riddles which they sought to solve. These human beings were decipherers of “Rune riddles.” And of all that speaks out of the souls of the human beings in the forests of ancient Germania about what lives in nature, about what rustles through the trees, or lives mysteriously in human souls themselves, — we feel as if something of all this were active in Jacob Boehme's soul.
Then something in Jacob Boehme may well become comprehensible to us which would otherwise be the most difficult thing for us to comprehend today. We are not forcing things if we compare with the picture of the decipherer of runic riddles, who solves all sorts of riddles through the twigs which have been thrown on the ground and claims to perceive the revelations of the Divinity Himself — if we compare with this the way, for instance, in which Jacob Boehme sets up the syllables “sul” and “phur” runically out of his relationship with the feeling for speech, and wants to solve world riddles thereby. Here he appears to us like a last offspring of the forests of ancient Germania, and we understand why his friends gave him the name “Philosophus Teutonicus.” This includes, however, his significance for the coming times.
We look towards him and see how he struggled with the most exciting problems that can play into the human soul, how he arrived at peace in this struggle, and how his last words: “I enter into Paradise” were the seal to consistency of soul, to soul-practice. It is this that led him to peace of the soul. A breath of faith lives in all his books, and from this point of view Jacob Boehme can have significance for us and for all times. When it comes to the practical life consequence of a philosophy, this “Philosophus Teutonicus” will always be a dominant influence as regards that which he can really be for the soul if it becomes familiar with him. 8Compare: Rudolf Steiner — Die Rätsel der Philosophie, Vol. I.
His adversaries sometimes make a strange impression — beginning in the year 1684, when the first rather strong refutation of Jacob Boehme by Kallo appeared, up until our time, when we also have a writing against Jacob Boehme, by a Leipzig scholar of the past century, Dr. Harles. It seems rather peculiar how Harles wishes to show that Jacob Boehme did nothing but warm up old alchemistic things, and then says that, after he had often tormented himself for days in order to present Jacob Boehme in this way, he was often glad when he could approach Matthias Claudius in the evening in order to find recuperation and edification in his words, after he had had to concern himself thus with Jacob Boehme throughout the day. And he desires also for his readers that they not allow themselves to be beguiled by the glistening and glimmering formulae of Jacob Boehme, but that they also take refuge in the simple and naive Matthias Claudius, whose gift to the soul is such that the soul does not have to seek its salvation in being elevated to the highest heights of spiritual life.
It may be that this Dr. Harles, the antagonist of Jacob Boehme, had to take refuge in Matthias Claudius in order to escape from the glistening, high-flown formulae of Jacob Boehme, and that he could find peace in Claudius, in contrast to his experience with Jacob Boehme. Only, it makes a strange impression on one who knows that Matthias Claudius himself took refuge, after he had achieved what Dr. Harles found in his works, in some one who not only knew Jacob Boehme, but even translated him — in Saint Martin, who was a faithful pupil of Jacob Boehme! Thus it is very good not only to know wherein Dr. Harles, the antagonist of Jacob Boehme, sought edification, but also to know wherein Matthias Claudius sought his edification!
But the world conception of Jacob Boehme is one that is suited to lead beyond contradictions, if only one does not stop at it. The whole nature of the lectures that have been given here has shown that within the world conception which is represented here we should not remain standing at any one phenomenon, but that whatever of the spiritual world can be grasped directly through the forces of our age should be grasped. Certainly Jacob Boehme remains a significant personality, a star of the first magnitude in the spirit-heavens of humanity — yet no one will stop at him. The representations of spiritual-science which are given today are, therefore, by no means given from the standpoint of Jacob Boehme, but from that of our age, and the next time we shall show, in contrast, what an entirely modern spirit has to say.9Rudolf Steiner, Die Weltanschauung eines Kulturforschers der Gegenwart (Herman Grimm) und die Geistesforschuug.
But Jacob Boehme becomes still more interesting if we transport ourselves into his spirit-nature — which stands upright in simplicity and solitude, and takes flight with his soul into the highest region of clairvoyance, — and if we find how this spirit-nature could spread peace over Jacob Boehme's soul, which can subsequently be felt by all who approach him with understanding or, at least, seeking for understanding. For this reason, intellectual characterizations will not come close to the reality of Jacob Boehme, but only such characterizations as endeavour to feel what a human being like Jacob Boehme felt, what streamed forth from him — as, for instance, in the three lines which I have cited.
And only then can the words with which I essayed to characterize Jacob Boehme gain their significance if those present feel that they were not said in order to culminate in a theory or theoretical characterization of Jacob Boehme, but to culminate in this: that, when we are directly confronted by the personality of Jacob Boehme, something streams out from it — and streams out so much the more warmly and intensively the more we learn to know it — which can sum up what has been said in words designating his peace, his serenity:
To whom time is like eternity
And eternity like time,
He is freed from all strife.