Monday, December 26, 2011

Böhme, the Mother of all Things, and the Gnostics

When first reading Böhme's The Signature of All Things, it was apparent that it bore a similarity to certain gnostic writings of the early Christian era.  The Apochryphon of John comes to mind where the concern is the origin of the world and how understanding the origin is essential to our discerning who we are and what we should do.  However, that text reflects the pessimistic, classic version of gnosticism for whom the world is a mistake and the physical realm deeply flawed.  Signature would not go as far as that and has a happier feel to it.  Interestingly, they both have a role for the female or mother.

 From the Apochryphon of John:
The Father is surrounded by light.
He apprehends himself in that light
His self-aware thought (ennoia) came into being.
Appearing to him in the effulgence of his light.
She stood before him.
Arising out of the mind of the Father
The Providence (pronoia) of everything.
Her light reflects His light.
She is from His image in His light
She praised Him
            For she arose from Him.
 [This, the first Thought, is the Spirit’s image]
She is the universal womb
She is before everything
She is:
            First Man
            Holy Spirit

From the Signature of All Things:


Section 32. After the creation of the highest spirits, God created this visible world with the stars and elements as an external birth out of the mother of all essences; all which proceeded out of the eternal beginning, and took a temporal beginning: For here we are to consider, that the eternal pregnatrix moved itself, and enkindled its own form [or similitude], where then the one became corporeal in the other; but afterwards God created the earth, which we are thus to consider of.


Section 1. As it is before mentioned, all things proceed out of one only mother, and separate themselves into two essences, according to the right of eternity, viz. into a mortal and an immortal, into life and death, into spirit and body; the spirit is the life, and the body is the death, viz. a house of the spirit: As the holy Trinity stands in the birth, so also is the external birth: There is likewise essence and spirit in heaven; a figure of which we see in this outward world, where there are four elements, and yet there is but one only element, which separates itself into four properties, viz. into fire, air, water, and earth, as is above mentioned.

It is not commonly known that in the Aramaic language the gender of the word spirit is feminine.  For some early Christians, then, the Holy Spirit was seen as a kind of Mother so that the Trinity was formed by a Father, a Mother and a Son. 

I am not a Gnostic.  But I find them fascinating in part because I do not understand them and how they came to their place.  Some mysteries are worth pursuing and some are not.   Maybe this one is.  Böhme lived over a thousand years after the gnostics faded away from Christendom.  But somehow his feelings overlap in some degree with them.  Do they have a shared delusion or some useful insights?  The next post will find correspondence with the Gospel of Thomas.


Jason said...

I confess that even in an English translation, Bohme seems to be speaking a foreign language here. But in your previous post, you mentioned that Bohme was known to have influenced Tillich among other notable figures. The line "So likewise God dwells in all things, and the thing knows nothing of God; he likewise is not manifest to the thing, and yet it receives power from him" seems to have some parallels to Tillich's idea of God as the Ground of Being.

Steve said...

Jason, indeed, I found a book with comparisons of Tillich and Boehme as presented in the next post.

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