“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Böhme and Schelling’s Cosmogenetic Theology

I’m getting to the end of Iain Hamilton Grant‘s book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. Though Grant doesn’t mention the influence, Schelling‘s search for the “unthinged” in nature was significantly aided by the cosmogony of German mystic Jakob Böhme (1575-1624). The following is an excerpt from a presentation I gave last year on Böhme. I hope to develop the similarities between he and Schelling’s thought in subsequent posts…

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“An original antithesis of forces in the ideal subject of nature appears necessary to every construction.” -Schelling (Grant, p. 160).

“The transcendental philosopher says: give me a nature composed of antithetical activities, of which one reaches out to the infinite while the other tries to intuit itself in this infinitude, and from this I will bring forth intelligence for you” -Schelling (Grant, p. 171).

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The physicist Basarab Nicolescu, in his book Science, Meaning, and Evolution, distills the essence of Jakob Böhme’s cosmology of divine self-manifestation as “a threefold structure leading to a sevenfold self-organization of reality” (p. 90).

Böhme’s God is not Aristotle’s perfect unmoved mover, but dynamic and self-revelatory by nature. Böhme wrote many books attempting to describe his epiphanic vision of a God who cannot but overflow into creation. God in-itself, traditionally “God the Father,” is the mysterious abyss or ungrounded ground of pre-creation, and consists of the restless agitation of three principles—darkness, light, and fire (or sourness, sweetness, and bitterness, respectively). The light wants to expand and radiate, to become manifest, but the dark wants to remain hidden and self-contained. As a result of the internal friction produced by this self-contradiction, God ignites into flames, burning in what Böhme calls a “wheel of anguish.” The fire of the three restless principles generates heat, which is the first of God’s manifest qualities but the 4th in the sevenfold self-organization of reality. This heat sparks a flash of light, which becomes the force of love in search of itself, the 5th principle. Love finds itself through the reverberation of sound or tone, language or the Word, which is the 6th principle. The Word then becomes flesh, reaching fulfillment as body—God incarnate—completing the sevenfold series.

For Böhme, the cosmos is the body of God. He refers to stars as the “fountain veins of God.” It is as if he is saying that stars are a visible example of this sevenfold creator-creativity in action. This sevenfold series can be understood in a Hegelian sense as moments in the self-development of the whole, a whole that begins where it ends and that is already holographically present in each of its moments.

Cosmogenesis is, for Böhme, the divine’s attempt to find wholeness, and the human being participates in this attempt, our faith (or our opening to the creative and imaginal dimension of reality) acting as the food that nourishes God. Böhme’s cosmology places a heavy responsibility upon humanity, as the completion of the sevenfold cycle depends upon our active cooperation. Without our conscious participation, “the entire universe of the creation would disappear into chaos” (p. 89).

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Schelling, like Böhme, locates the origin of the universe in the unmanifest darkness of antithetical powers at work in the Godhead, as yet unconscious. This dynamic darkness overflows itself, creating the phenomenal world, which develops through a sequence of stages (Stufenfolge) that provide for God’s increasing self-awareness through corporealization. God was not content to be in itself, since in itself divinity remains unmanifest and merely ideal; God took on the finitude of the sensory world in order to become for itself. Though nature does not begin, for Schelling, as body or bodies (universal substance or particular substances), it would appear that corporealization is nonetheless nature’s (or God’s) end.


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16 responses to “Böhme and Schelling’s Cosmogenetic Theology”

  1. David Degreef-Mounier Avatar

    Matthew, have you read Jean Luc Nancy: Being singular Plural?
    Also want to say, If you decide to come to London (UK), you have a home to stay. Just contact me.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I have not read Nancy’s work, though he has come up in discussions with my peers at CIIS. Does his work seem relevant to the themes of this post in some way?

      Thanks for the offer!

  2. David Degreef-Mounier Avatar

    Matthew, Nancy’s book is not relevant to the themes of your post. I have watched few of your videos on youtube, specially the one “Your ego is already virtual”, you made me thinking. And when you said “the I, the body which has to become with other becoming bodies”. That reminds me of Nancy’s book, “There is no meaning if meaning is not shared, and not because there would be an ultimate or first signification that all beings have in common, but because meaning is itself the sharing of being.”
    I am just a 43 years old amateur in Philosophy who wanted to tell you that I appreciate what you are sharing.
    David

  3. The Ideal Realism of Schelling and Emerson « Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] of the same theological themes that I unpacked in this essay on Böhme and Schelling are echoed here by Emerson and the oracles. They share a common sense that reality can be given […]

  4. […] is tempting to take up Schelling’s theological bent as has been done here as well as here and here. The transcendental for Schelling is a kind of shift between grounds, or ontological registers, […]

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  8. Reflections on Thomas Nagel’s mentions of Schelling and Whitehead in “Mind and Cosmos” | Footnotes 2 Plato Avatar

    […] I think it is interesting that he aligns himself with Schelling the Absolute Idealist rather than Schelling the Naturphilosoph. As I am coming to understand Schelling’s philosophy, its major contribution was not to Absolute Idealism (a school which belongs to Hegel), but to the process-philosophical tradition running through Bergson and Whitehead. For Schelling, Reason is not self-grounding (since it emerges from the “unprethinkable” depths of the soul), and so neither can it provide any necessary and sufficient ground for Nature. But for Schelling, Nature is no longer simply the sum total of finite products as categorized by the mechanical understanding, nor is it simply a finished whole or unified system as understood by an Idea of Reason. Schelling came to imagine Nature as productivity as well as product, infinite creative abyss as well as self-limiting order. Rather than representing Nature as a projection of our human intelligence, Schelling came to see the human mind as an evolutionary expression of Nature’s own creative potency. So it is not “rational intelligibility” that is at the root of reality for Schelling, but the infinitely polarized unity of Nature’s original cision of forces, which is nothing other than the triune God’s eternal self-begetting as Nature (see this post on the influence of the theosophist Jakob Böhme on Schelling). […]

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  10. milliern Avatar

    Thanks. I was not previously familiar with Jakob Bohme.

  11. Kim Jordanm Avatar

    I was searching for resources to cite for a paper that I’m writing for Stephen Julich’s class this semester (Academic Writing as Soul Work, EWP) and was pleasantly surprised to find your blog. (And disappointed to learn that I missed your presentation on Bohme.) I almost jumped out of my chair when Jake spoke briefly of Bohme during his class on the Creative Imagination two years ago, and have only now found the time to satisfy my curiosity. Thank you for your post.

  12. Kim Jordan Avatar

    I was searching for resources to cite in a paper I’m writing for Stephen Julich’s class this semester, (Academic Writing as Soul Work, EWP) & was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading your blog. (And disappointed that I missed your presentation on Bohme.) I almost jumped out of my chair when Jake briefly spoke of Bohme during his class on the Creative Imagination, and have only now found the time to satisfy my curiosity. Thank you for your post.

  13. Pedro Allan Avatar
    Pedro Allan

    Olá. Gostei muito do seu texto. Parabéns! Gostaria que você me desse uma ideia de como eu poderia articular a influência de Böhme em Schelling no âmbito de uma pesquisa de doutorado em filosofia. Pretendo pesquisar essa relação. Mas me falta o ”fio condutor” conceitual: seria o problema do mal? Será que essa leitura que Schelling faz de Böhme desvela alguma ideia central do seu próprio percurso filosófico? Que outras questões poderíamos levantar? Desde já agradeço.

  14. Pedro Allan Avatar
    Pedro Allan

    Hi. I really liked your text. Congratulations! I would like you to give me an idea of how I could articulate Böhme’s influence on Schelling as part of a Ph.D. research in philosophy. I intend to research this relationship. But I lack the conceptual ”conductor”: would it be the problem of evil? Does this reading that Schelling makes of Böhme unveil some central idea of his own philosophical path? What other questions could we raise? Thank you very much in advance.

  15. Ronald Schleyer Avatar

    Readers need not bother with Schelling (and even Nicolescu) in the quest for JB, whose works have long been available in translation. Materialism cannot comprehend JB but neither does it comprehend modern physics, which actually supports idealism and JB through the discovery of the microworld (the nucleon and its infinite contents). As for the triune life of the hebdomad, which is very important for comprehension of JB, the two most important authors wrote in English long ago–J. Pordage and D. Freher. Pordage can be found through GoogleBooks; Freher, whose writings remain mostly unpublished in the British Museum, have been well-summarized by C. Muses (d. 2000), whose 1949 Ph.D. thesis on Freher was published in 1951 (‘Illumination on Jacob Boehme’) but the book is scarce and found in few libraries (the thesis itself, substantially the same as the book, is available at the Columbia U web site for free (if you are a student) as an 8MB PDF file).

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