The Life and Legacy of Jacob Boehme: Review
I see in sudden total vision
The substance of entranc’d Boehme’s awe:
The illimitable hour glass
Of the universe eternally
Turning, and the gold sands falling
From God, and the silver sands rising
From God, the double splendors of joy
That fuse and divide again
In the narrow passage of the Cross.
~ Kenneth Rexroth, “The Phoenix and the Tortoise”
Unarguably, the most important figure in the secret history of Sophiology is the early modern German mystic Jacob Boehme. The importance of Boehme to theosophical Christian thought cannot be underestimated, and his contribution to Christian thinking can rightly be compared to that of Martin Heidegger to philosophy. With Heidegger, Western philosophy hit the reset button. Likewise with Boehme in regard to Christian theology. It is for this reason at the very least that the appearance of The Life and Legacy of Jacob Boehme, a new documentary by director Łukasz Chwałko, is a most welcome event. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
The film begins by setting the cultural context of Boehme—a Europe nearly destroyed by religious conflict, a time of great anxiety and widespread persecution. In the midst of this, a simple shoemaker, Jacob Boehme came to insights into the nature of God that challenged the religious orthodoxies of his day (not to mention ours) in his sincere and courageous dedication to untangling the problem of evil. When, noticing the light glancing from a pewter dish, Boehme looked into the nature of good and evil (or what we often interpret to be good and evil) and saw them both as part of God. Needless to say, this was a radical insight and drew Boehme into controversy. The idea here, as one of the film’s interviewees, Józef Piórczyński describes it, is that, for Boehme, good and evil are metaphysical categories, not moral qualities.
The first half of the short film touches on Boehme’s life and theosophical insights and turns to a number of Polish, German, Russian, and American scholars for commentary (in addition to Piórczyński, Jan Tomkowski, Jerzy Prokopiuk, Andreas Hahn, Matthias Wentzel, Monika Rzeczycka, and Joel Burnell). They and Chwałko do an admirable job of digesting the often bewildering (to the uninitiated) thought-world of Boehme who was himself, as the film says, “at the margins of rationality” (which is why he is so essential to Sophiology, a poetic metaphysics). In addition to Boehme’s insights into good and evil and nature of God (for Boehme, God only becomes fully God in Jesus Christ) the commentary explores Boehme’s concept of the Ungrund, the primal ground of both Divinity and Reality and gives some attention to his theology of Sophia, whom Boehme believed incarnated as the Virgin Mary.
The second half of the film explores Boehme’s legacy in German Pietism, the English Behmenists (mostly focusing on John Sparrow and William Law, though overlooking the Philadelphians—whom I covered in my previous post), Romanticism (Novalis, Goethe, Schelling, Adam Mickiewicz), and in the Russian Silver Age (Vladimir Solovyov, in particular) and gives a helpful survey of Boehme’s importance to intellectual history as well as theosophy.
The film is widely available on Vimeo, Amazon, and other streaming sources and I highly recommend anyone interested in Boehme, Christian theosophy, or Sophiology give it a look. It is a very helpful invitation into the world and thought of this important figure. As Piórczyriski explains, Boehme’s religious ethos, centered in the goodness of Christ, is likewise centered in a volunaristic dynamism:
“Only through human beings can the world become a good world. Never without them.”
How true these words ring at this particular cultural crossroads.
Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger”—pretty much saturated with Boehme, whether she knows it or not.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.