• Michael Martin

Last week I had the extreme pleasure of giving a lecture to the Ann Arbor Branch of the Anthroposophical Society in America. The original idea was to do it in person, but with COVID concerns and an ongoing construction project at the Society’s building, it was decided to go online in a Zoom format. Now, clearly, we all would have preferred in-person—the presence of soul available in person cannot be duplicated in an online environment, no matter how congenial; but we did what we had to do. Of course, no doubt in revenge for my many warnings about AI and the encroaching reach of Ahriman, the internet connection here at my rural farm dropped out, so I continued on my phone! Then the internet returned and I reconnected, only, having forgotten to disconnect the Zoom app on my phone, we were all entertained by a few seconds of creepy feedback. Good times! None of these technical challenges compromised our interaction, however, (there were probably about fifty participants) and our Q & A session went on for over an hour. Following my talk, participants inquired whether I could share my notes. Notes?! I never use notes, even when lecturing in colleges. All I need is two cups of coffee and I can talk about anything. So, kidding aside, what follows is a kind of outline of my talk.


Background

Sophiology is, as the title of one of my books asserts, a “submerged reality” in Western history, particularly in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nevertheless, Sophia has not always been submerged in the long trajectory from antiquity to postmodernity. Indeed, she makes a number of appearances in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps nowhere more beautifully than in Proverbs 8:


The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning.

I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made.

The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out.

The mountains, with their huge bulk, had not as yet been established: before the hills, I was brought forth:

He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.

When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law, and compass, he enclosed the depths:

When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:

When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when he balanced the foundations of the earth;

I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times;

Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. (22-31)

Biblical scholar and theological maverick Margaret Barker in a number of books has been arguing that Sophia (Wisdom, Hokmah in Hebrew) was a central feature of First Temple Judaism and whose veneration was widespread prior to the reforms (some might say persecutions) of King Josiah. Nevertheless, communities of the Jewish diaspora living in Alexandria kept her memory (and veneration) alive, evidence of which can be found in the biblical books of Wisdom and Sirach among other places.


Sophia also appears in the elaborate mythologies of Gnosticism, which seem at least in part to draw on the Jewish traditions and may in some ways allude to Josiah’s exile of Sophia in Judaism by way of the exile of Sophia in the Gnostic mythos.


The Church Fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Hippolytus, discuss Gnostic theologies at length (condemning it, of course) and for centuries their criticisms were just about all anyone knew of Gnostic beliefs. The primary problem with Gnosticism—then and now—is its condemnation of the created world as a structure of evil made by an evil god as a kind of prison. Sophiology does not support this message. Nevertheless, the notion of Sophia in exile—and nowhere as significantly as in the human heart—is a tremendously useful imagination. In one Gnostic myth, Jesus rescues Sophia from exile and brings her to Reality, the Reality of the Kingdom of God. This is a reality we all wish to attain.


From there, my talk moved ahead fourteen centuries to Jacob Boehme. Curiously, Anthroposophist Paul Marshall Allen in his book Vladimir Solovyov: Russian Mystic, calls Solovyov “the Father of Sophiology in the East” (which is certainly true) and calls Rudolf Steiner “the Father of Sophiology in the West” (which is not). Even though Steiner is an enormously important figure in Sophiology, the title of “Father” can go to no one but Boehme. Modern Sophiology begins with Boehme, and from him it flows to Russia to England and to everywhere else. He’s the fountainhead.


Importantly, Boehme identifies the Virgin Mary as the Incarnation of Sophia. As Sophia makes the Glory of God palpable to sensory perception in Nature, in art, in liturgy, so the Virgin Mary quite literally makes God present to sensory perception as the Mother of Christ. It doesn’t get any more sophiological than that, and Boehme—at great risk to himself—was bold enough to say so, the consequences be damned.


Then my talk touched on Boehme’s influence in early Rosicrucianism (17th century) and on thinkers like Robert Fludd, Thomas and Henry Vaughan, and on German Pietism. He was also influential in English religious movements, like that of The Philadelphian Society (John Pordage, Lane Lead, and Thomas Bromley, among others), on the nonjuror William Law, and on poet and visionary William Blake. Boehme likewise had a deep impact on German Romanticism and Idealism, particularly with Novalis, Goethe, Franz von Baader, and Hegel. From Romanticism, Boehme reached Russia in the late nineteenth century, influencing Solovyov who then inspired the Russian theologians Sergei Bulgakov and Pavel Florensky, not to mention Boehme’s primary Russian devotee, the radical philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Of course I’ve written about all of these things, not only in this blog, but also in my books, especially The Submerged Reality.

Enter Rudolf Steiner

Steiner arose at the ideal moment to take in all of this. A deep student of Goethe, he absorbed an integral Sophiology from his immersion in Goethe’s phenomenology (Steiner as a young scholar edited Goethe’s scientific writings for the Weimar edition of Goethe’s collected works). He likewise drank in Rosicrucian ideas from the various esoteric currents then percolating in Europe (Goethe was also interested in Rosicrucianism, which, at least in its earliest forms, was interested in preserving a spiritually scientific understanding of Creation in resistance the scientific materialism then appearing in the wake of Descartes and Francis Bacon. Steiner, who called his method “Spiritual Science,” was, as they say “all about this”). And, as a philosopher, Steiner was trained in German Idealism, which still shimmered with spiritual power and the influence of Boehme. In addition, when Steiner began lecturing to audiences involved in The Theosophical Society in the first years of the twentieth century, he found an audience open to his insights. But The Theosophical Society was too narrow an environment for such a man as Rudolf Steiner. In 1912, Steiner broke with the Theosophists after they tried to sell the young Jiddu Krishnamurti as the reincarnation of Christ (Krishnamurti would later follow suit) and called his new initiative Anthroposophy.

Steiner’s initiative grew enormously. He gave lectures, mostly on esoteric subjects in a Christian theosophical idiom. But then World War I happened. Had Steiner died before the Great War, he would probably only be remembered as an Austrian philosopher and Goethe scholar who then went esoteric. But with the cataclysm of war, Steiner rose to the occasion.


The occasion he rose to was by way of his introduction of some incredibly significant cultural contributions. They can only be called gifts. Each of them is inherently sophiological in the ways by which Steiner discloses the Glory of the Lord in practical application. Among these gifts are Waldorf education Biodynamic agriculture and beekeeping, Anthroposophically-extended medicine, and what he called the Three-Fold Social Order. By their fruits you will know them, and the fruits of Steiner’s contributions are increasingly hard to ignore.

In addition to this implicit Sophiology in Steiner’s career, he did, upon occasion, make explicit his ideas concerning Sophia. Following are a number of his sophiological statements over time. Notice how his definitions are never ossified into dead concepts, but that he imbues the conceptual realm with fluidity. (All the quotes can be found in Christoher Bamford’s exceptional collection of Steiner’s writings on Sophia, Isis-Mary-Sophia: Her Mission and Ours.


Since the consciousness soul is the principle in which the Spirit the Spirit Self has evolved, we call it the ‘mother of Christ’ or, in the esoteric schools, the ‘Virgin Sophia.’ Through the fecundation of the Virgin Sophia, the Christ could be born in Jesus of Nazareth.” ~ 5 November 1906


The spiritualized mother of Jesus is the Gospel [of John] itself. She is wisdom, leading humanity to the highest insights. The disciple gave us Mother Sophia, meaning he wrote a Gospel for us that allows anyone who looks into it to learn to know Christ, who is the source and goal of this great movement (spiritual science).” 25 November 1907

The spiritualized mother of Jesus is the Gospel [of John] itself. She is wisdom, leading humanity to the highest insights. The disciple gave us Mother Sophia, meaning he wrote a Gospel for us that allows anyone who looks into it to learn to know Christ, who is the source and goal of this great movement (spiritual science).” ~ 25 November 1907

Sophia becomes the being who directly enlightens human beings. After Sophia has entered human beings, she must take their being with her and present it to them outwardly, objectively. Thus, Sophia will be drawn into the human soul and arrive at the point of being so inwardly connected with it that a love poem as beautiful as the one Dante wrote may be written about her.

Sophia will become objective again, but she will take with her what humanity is, and objectively present herself in this form. Thus she will present herself not only as Sophia, but as Anthroposophia—as the very being of the human being, henceforth bears that being within her. And in this form she will confront enlightened human beings as the objective being Sophia who once stood before the Greeks.” ~ 3 February 1913

At the time of the Mystery of Golgatha, the being that enables humans to behold the world cognitively worked in a twofold way as the Divine Sophia, the wisdom that sees through the world. Divine Sophia, Heavenly Wisdom, was present in the double revelation: to the poor shepherds in the fields and to the wise men from the East.” ~ 24 December 1920

We must realize that through the forces of the Christ we must find an inner astronomy that will show us again the cosmos moving and working by the power of the spirit. When we have this insight into the cosmos that is awakened through the newfound Isis power of the Christ—which is now the power of the Divine Sophia—then Christ, united with the Earth since the Mystery of Golgotha, will become active within us, because then we shall know him. It is not the Christ that we lack, but the knowledge and wisdom of Isis, the Sophia of the Christ.” ~ 24 December 1920

Christ will appear in spiritual form during the twentieth century not simply because something happens outwardly, but to the extent that we find the power represented by holy Sophia. Our time tends to lose this Isis-power, this power of Mary. It was killed by all that arose with the modern consciousness of humankind. New forms of religion have, in part, killed just this view of Mary.

This is the mystery of modern humanity. Mary-Isis has been killed, and she must be sought, just as Isis sought Osiris. But she must be sought in the wide space of heaven, with the power that Christ can awaken in us, if we give ourselves to him aright.” ~ 24 December 1920

Finally, I will leave you with a verse Steiner gave, that draws on the Gnostic mythos while Christening it with Christian theosophy:

Isis-Sophia

Wisdom of God:

Lucifer has slain her,

And on the wings of cosmic forces

Carried her hence into the depths of space.

Christ-Will

Working in man:

Shall wrest her from Lucifer

And on the grounds of Spirit-knowledge

Call to new life in souls of man

Isis-Sophia

Wisdom of God. ~ 25 December 1920


Christopher Bamford, interviewed for the documentary The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.






  • Michael Martin

a young Nikolai Berdyaev

Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948), the Russian expatriate religious philosopher and radical thinker, was the first philosopher I ever read intently and exhaustively. As a college undergraduate, I had the great fortune of finding a teacher, a tremendously generous and open man named George Alcser, who could guide me through my halting steps on the way to being a philosopher (though I had no idea that’s what I was doing at the time). George gave me tutorials on a number of subjects—Classical and medieval philosophy, Christian existentialism, metaphysics—for which I am forever in his debt. While his student, I picked up Freedom and the Spirit by Berdyaev at a used bookstore and asked George if he knew anything about him. He did. We added it to the syllabus. But that was merely the beginning.

Berdyaev, initially aligned with the Marxist philosophy of his cultural milieu, abandoned Marx in favor of Christ. For a while he was able to stay under the Bolshevik radar, but, after being arrested and interrogated twice, accused of conspiring against the government, he was eventually expelled from Russia in 1922. Because that’s how Marxists roll. From then on his lived on the fringes of the Russian emigre community in Paris, where his friend (and likewise former Marxist) the Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Sergei Bulgakov had also settled.

Considering such a biography, it should not come as a surprise that freedom plays such a central role in this thought—but there is more to it than that. Berdyaev, much like Rudolf Steiner, sees the freedom of the human individual as not a mere political construct, but as a spiritual principle tincturing all of Creation, and the human person in particular. In what follows, I offer just a taste of Berdyaev’s thoughts on freedom from a variety of his written work. He is certainly a philosopher for our time; indeed, for all time.

The freedom implicit in the exercise of knowledge receives its illumination from the Logos. But it is also related to Eros. To pursue knowledge without any consciousness of love, merely to seek power, is a form of demonism. It may therefore be affirmed that knowledge is essentially cosmogonic. It should consider reality carefully and examine it conscientiously; for moral pathos is the true inspiration and urge for our quest for truth. The subjective freedom thus generated by the Logos transfigures reality. The nature of knowledge is conjugal; it is both male and female, it is the conjunction of these two principles, the impregnation of the feminine element by virile meaning.” ~ Solitude and Society

The theological doctrine that God created man for His own glory and praise is degrading to man, and degrading to God also…. God as personality does not desire a man over whom He can rule, and who ought to praise Him, but man as personality who answers His call and with whom communion of love is possible.” ~ Slavery and Freedom

Consciousness which exteriorizes and alienates is always slavish consciousness. God the Master, man the slave; the church the master, man the slave; the family the master, man the slave; Nature the master, man the slave; object the master, man-subject the slave. The source of slavery is always objectification, that is to say exteriorization, alienation.” ~ Slavery and Freedom

Man can be a slave to public opinion, a slave to custom, to morals, to judgments and opinions which are imposed by society. It is difficult to overestimate the violence which is perpetrated by the press in our time. The average man of our day holds the opinions and forms the judgments of the newspaper which he reads every morning: it exercises psychological compulsion upon him. And in view of the falsehood and venality of the press, the effects are very terrible as seen in the enslavement of man and his deprivation of freedom of conscience and judgment.” ~ Slavery and Freedom


Men not only need the state and cannot do without the services it renders, but they are seduced by it, they are taken captive by the state, they connect their dreams of sovereignty with it. And there lies the chief evil and a source of human slavery.” ~ Slavery and Freedom

The spell and slavery of collectivism is nothing else than the transference of spiritual communality, fellowship, universality, from subject to object, and the objectivization either of separate functions of human life or of human life as a whole.” ~ Slavery and Freedom

I have come to Christ through liberty and through an intimate experience of the paths of freedom. My Christian faith is not a faith based on habit or tradition. It was won through an experience of the inner life of a most painful character. I knew no compulsion in my religious life, and I had no experience of authoritarianism either in faith or in the sphere of religious devotion. Can one oppose to this fact dogmatic formulas or abstract theologies? I answer No, for in my case they will never be really convincing.” ~ Freedom and the Spirit

Freedom is dynamic by nature. It las its own destiny and cannot be understood except by those who have entered into its tragic dialectic. The existence of two kinds of freedom has been revealed to us and each possesses its fatal dialectic through which it degenerates into its opposite, that is, into slavery and necessity. Indeed the destiny of freedom is tragic and so is that of human life. The first kind of freedom, which is itself irrational and unfathomable, by no means alone guarantees that man will follow the right path, that he will come to God, that truth will dominate his life and that freedom will in the long run be supreme in the world.” ~ Freedom and the Spirit

Liberty was discovered to be protection of the rights of the strong, leaving the weak defenseless. This is one of the paradoxes of liberty in social life. Freedom turned out to be freedom for oneself and slavery for others. He is the true lover of liberty who desires it for others as well as for himself. Liberty has become the protection of the rights of a privileged minority, the defense of capitalistic property and the power of money.” ~ The Fate of Man in the Modern World

In reality, freedom is aristocratic, not democratic. With sorrow we must recognize the fact that freedom is dear only to those men who think creatively. It is not very necessary to those who do not value thinking. In the so-called democracies, based on the principle of popular sovereignty, a considerable proportion of the people are those who have not yet become conscious of themselves as free beings, bearing within themselves the dignity of freedom. Education to freedom is something still ahead of us, and this will not be achieved in a hurry.” ~ The Beginning and the End




Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.


A reader named Eirik recently asked me what I would include in “the perfect reading list, the perfect Canon… to momentarily escape from the difficulties of the new dark age” (how well put!). Actually, I’ve been contemplating this for quite some time, and have been encouraged by John Milbank to do precisely that. In fact, just last week my wife and I were looking at a yurt that we might build on our farm which could function as both a kind of retreat house and place for teaching classes in Sophiology, gardening, beekeeping, and related subjects. So, inspired by this constellation of cosmic hints, below is a preliminary (and I mean preliminary) syllabus for such an undertaking. Please don’t take it as exhaustive.

Literature

Poetry is certainly the most sophiological of literary forms, so I think that’s the place to start. In my anthology The Heavenly Country I include about one-hundred pages of poetry—including selections from St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hildegard of Bingen, Dante, William Everson, David Jones, and Franz Wright among many others. That’s a good place to start, but for an in-depth study of sophiological poetry focused on single authors, perhaps the Metaphysical poets Henry Vaughan (1621-95) and Thomas Traherne (1637?-1674) and the too often neglected Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) are great authors to investigate. The German Romantic poet Novalis, especially his sublime Hymns to the Night, is also eminently rewarding as spiritual nourishment. And one can never go wrong with Wordsworth, whose sophiological intuitions are often clouded by anxieties of the encroaching darkness.

Mysticism

Modern Sophiology begins with the appearance the astounding Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) whose contribution to religious thinking has yet to be fully appreciated. Boehme can be a tremendously difficult read—he had to basically invent a language to convey his mystical insights—but his most accessible work is The Way to Christ. The writings of The Philadelphian Society, particularly those of Jane Lead, John Pordage, and Thomas Bromley, are also worthy, though, with the exception of Bromley’s The Way to the Sabbath of Rest, are notoriously hard to come by in printed form (though I think they can be found in electronic form for free, often in downloadable PDF format). St. Hildegard and St. Francis likewise offer much (notice how Sophiology is preeminently interdisciplinary: I’m afraid it can’t be helped).


illustration from Bromley's 'Way to the Sabbath of Rest'

Theology/Philosophy

Sophiology occupies a space between (metaxu) theology and philosophy (as well as between art and science) so it should come as no surprise that a rich source of Sophiology comes from philosophizing theologians and theologizing philosophers (like your humble servant). The great Russian sophiologists are a great place to start. Just off the top of my head, Vladimir Solovyov’s Russia and the Universal Church, Sergei Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb, Pavel Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, and just about anything by Nikolai Berdyaev are full of inspiring sophiological insights. Likewise, the writings of contemporary thinkers John Milbank and William Desmond (and, to some degree, David Bentley Hart) also offer much in way of nourishment.

History

Without a doubt, the most sophiological historian currently working (though I doubt very much she would describe herself as such) is the biblical scholar Margaret Barker, who has single-handedly disclosed the sophiological content of the Bible. All of her work is worthy of consideration, but perhaps her most concentrated exposition of the Sophiology of the Old Testament is her study The Mother of the Lord, Volume I: The Lady in the Temple, published in 2012, although she has been a bit slow to come out with Volume II! Berdyaev’s The Meaning of History is also an important contribution to the way we think about history.

Science

Probably the fountainhead of a sophiological approach to science is J.W. von Goethe and his phenomenologically-informed “delicate empiricism”; and there is probably no better place to start than his Theory of Colours. But it’s important, I think, not only to read about what he has to say, but to actually undertake his demonstrations, at least some of them. Pierre Hadot’s The Veil of Isis and Mary Midgley’s Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning are extremely provocative in their critiques of scientism, the religion of our age. Celia Deane Drumond’s work is also of great theoretical value, as are the contributions of Rupert Sheldrake, Brian Josephson, and David Bohm among many others. In addition, Rudolf Steiner’s profound and often prophetic lectures on agriculture, medicine, and beekeeping are essential reading in a program of sophiological science.

Sacred Mathematics and Geometry

A sophiological curriculum would be impoverished without a study of sacred mathematics and geometry including explorations of the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci series, and the Platonic solids. Math and geometry disclose the beauty of Creation. A quote attributed to Werner Heisenberg concerning natural science is equally true of math and geometry: “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

Music

In a sophiological approach to music, I could do no better than to point readers to the work of my dear friend, Therese Schroeder-Sheker in both of her careers as composer and recording artist and as the founder of music thanatology, a therapeutic care of the dying. Likewise, among many other possibilities in the vast history and vocabulary of music, I would point to the Anglican hymn tradition, many examples of which attend to the glory of God shining through Creation: “Morning Is Broken” and “Love Lives Again” with lyrics by the aforementioned Eleanor Farjeon and William Henry Draper’s “All Creatures of Our God and King,” the lyrics of which were adapted from St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun” provide only a few examples. There are many more!

Fine Arts

Any program of sophiological education would need to include experience in the fine arts—drawing, painting, movement, sculpture, instrumental and vocal music. The idea isn’t to become a professional; the idea is to become human.

Practical Arts

As with the fine arts, experience in the practical arts is a sine qua non in a sophiological education. Beekeeping, gardening, woodworking, handcrafts such as knitting and crochet, animal husbandry, and so forth—all examples of working with nature or the products of the natural world—allow one to participate in the world of Creation as almost nothing else does. Even more, this work allows one an experiential immersion in the worlds of life and death in ways we might not be aware of without a phenomenological presence to their realities.

I’ve written about much of this in my book, Transfiguration. But there is so much more to be said, so much more to be disclosed and experienced. This is the essence of Sophiology.


Steve Winwoods version of Eleanor Farjeons Love Lives Again

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

The Center for Sophiological Studies

8780 Moeckel Road  Grass Lake, MI 49240 USA

734-445-7327

email: Director