Jacob Boehme: mysticism, theosophy and the Hermetic tradition

Jacob Boehme: mysticism, theosophy and the Hermetic tradition

Research project by Fabrizio Di Bella

The Hermetic background provides the historiographical and transcendental framework for the speculative work of Jacob Böhme. The purpose of my research is to explore the wide and many-sided phenomenon of the circulation of works that can be classified as Hermetic in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. The dissemination of these texts influenced, on the hand, the birth of a particular German approach as part of the nascent modern science and, on the other hand, it influenced the development of speculative themes which later on made a strong contribution to the description of the outlines of concepts and categories so typical of German philosophical speculation.

The development of such a phenomenon could provide both an interpretative key to the contemporary geographical circulation of cultural movements, such as the Rosicrucian movement, and a flexible model of reference in the complex development of Behmenist speculation and of the so-called “History of effect”, which is linked, in the strict sense of the word, to the Renaissance circulation of Hermetism.

Historically speaking, I am specifically interested in the reconstruction of several speculative links which Jacob Boehme succeeded to introduce in his works in the region of Silesia. He wrote them at a time of political upheaval, caused by the spread of the Lutheran Reformation and the closely-related movements connected with Frederick V, Elector Palatine. But there was also the hope of bringing about of a new Christianity.

Engraving from the 1682 collected works of Jacob Boehme

The purpose of this study is furthermore to try and demonstrate how in Jacob Boehme’s work many images and concepts depend not only on the kabbalistic tradition but also on doctrines derived from the Corpus Hermeticum. The cultural environment in which Boehme’s thought developed is geographically and historically related to “Hermetic court” of Rudolf II. Historiographic research has already highlighted how the intellectual circle which gathered around the shoemaker from Goerlitz had a close affinity with the main topics of Hermetic philosophy (as, for instance, Abraham von Franckenberg and his interest in the Tabula Smaragdina and in Giordano Bruno). On the other hand, it has also been demonstrated how the translations of the Corpus Hermeticum in Dutch (Beyerland) and German (Aletophilus) were influenced in terms of terminology by Behmenist theosophy. The result is a real hermeneutic circle inspired by both Behmenist theosophy and the Corpus Hermeticum. Bearing in mind the differences between Hermetism and Hermeticism, the objective is to study Behmenist theosophy on the basis of a possible hermeneutic relationship between the Alexandrine treatises and some points of Boehme’s speculation; on the other hand this research focuses on how Boehme, beyond the possible direct influences of the Corpus Hermeticum (the philosophical mode) is part of the Hermetic tradition, in particular that of the history of early modern Christian and esoteric Hermeticism.

Strictly speaking, from a more philosophical point of view, that of a philosophia perennis, I intend to focus on the Behmenist theory of the contractio of the Ungrund in the revealing of the self into the many (e.g. the cosmogony of Poimandres). In this context we need to pay attention to the double level which characterizes Behmenist thought. On the one hand, there is the level that leans towards safeguarding the absolute ineffability and at the same time the utterability of the Ungrund. On the other hand, we also need to take into account the second level, which is the expression of the Ungrund and which refers to the Hermetic module of ‘solve et coagula’. Actually, when Boehme refers to the manifesting dialectics, he doesn’t speak about Ungrund anymore, but about Urkund. Ungrund is an eternal-nothing which explains the divine essentiality, beyond any opposition and difference. On the Urkund horizon, I propose to underline how the manifestation of Ungrund, seen as the Will to abolish the self, reveals itself as the expression of a teleological modulation which shows the whole eidetic configuration of Nature and the human being, as well as the so-called Natursprache. The rhythm of life of Ungrund is like the rhythm of life of the human microcosm. This means that every level of finiteness has its own signature which recalls a different position from the finite One. Starting from the concept of signature, we arrive at the same symbolic activity of the self which through an activity of epoché, of Weltvernichtung and Gelassenheit and Wiedergeburt, can trace the manifest grades of the divine beings, in the perspective of the same message sent out by Renaissance Hermeticism.

Engraving from the 1682 collected works of Jacob Boehme

About the Author:

Fabrizio Di Bella has spent the last few months at the University of Amsterdam (Chair of the History of Hermetic Philosophy) working on his PhD thesis and was also a welcome guest of The Ritman Library. Fabrizio took his master degree from the University of Palermo in 2010 with a study about the influence of Jacob Boehme on Maria Zambrano’s philosophy of history and her theological thought. Since 2011 he is a regular contributor to the international periodical “Laurentianum”. He began working on his PhD thesis at the University of Verona (Chair of the History of Renaissance Philosophy) in 2012, teaching also a course in Aristotelian metaphysics. In 2013 he was a guest researcher at the University of Erfurt and at the Gotha Forschungszentrum. He plans to present his dissertation about Jacob Boehme and the Hermetic tradition in 2015. Fabrizio’s articles to date include:
-“Gelassenheit” e “Weltanschauung” nella mistica tedesca del XVI e XVII secolo
-Cristo Logos-Amore. Da San Bonaventura alla filosofia odierna
-La Forma musicale dell’Analogia come Ritmo cosmico nell’opera di Erich Przywara
-La Confessione come Paradigma di vita e l’esperienza Trascendentale come speranza in Maria Zambrano
A recent conference presentation was:
-Le Radici ermetiche del pensiero di Jakob Boehme, Modena congresso dei Dottorandi italiani di Filosofia XXII edizione, 2013.

Fabrizio di Bella

You can contact Fabrizio at fabrizio.dibella@univr.it; see also his Academia page:

The contents of this article expresses the author’s own ideas and opinions. If you would also like to post an article or blog with content relevant to the BPH please contact us at bph@ritmanlibrary.nl. The Ritman Library reserves the right not to post articles or blogs that have no bearing on any of the library’s collecting areas.

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