Jacob Böhme and Christian Theosophy

Authored by: Wouter J. Hanegraaff

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769


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The relation between Protestantism and esotericism is quite peculiar. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that due to their insistence on strict biblicism and the absolute exclusivity of the Christian revelation, Protestants have often been far more extreme in their rejection of ‘pagan heresies’ and the alleged dangers of ‘the occult’ than their Roman Catholic counterparts. But on the other hand, it is precisely in Protestant – more precisely, Lutheran – contexts that the most creative innovations in Western esotericism during the early modern period have taken place. There are reasons for this. Roman Catholics tended to think in terms of ‘Tradition’: the venerable truths of Christianity had already been anticipated in the inspired writings of ‘pagan’ sages far before the birth of Christ, and even during the earliest periods of history, before the Flood, profound mysteries of nature had been discovered and passed on to later generations. To get access to these truths, one therefore needed to travel back far in time and study the texts of ancient authorities with an attitude of humble piety and respect. As a result, much of early modern esotericism in Catholic context takes the form of learned commentaries on ancient texts, rather than of original speculations. For Protestants, however, such an essentially conservative approach had become highly problematic, because the very authority of ‘Tradition’ as a source of true knowledge had been called into question by the events of the Reformation. The true Christian message had been corrupted at least since the institution of the Papacy, and many Protestants believed that the Roman Catholic Church and its entire hierarchical system had in fact become the vehicle of anti-Christ and his demonic helpers. How could the true religion have been ‘handed down’ (viz. the literal meaning of ‘tradition’) by the members of such an utterly corrupt institution? How could one possibly maintain belief in what its representatives presented as ancient, absolute, universal truth and wisdom? But if so, what to do? If the very Tradition of Christianity had lost its authority for Christians, and its selfappointed custodians had been unmasked as deceivers leading the deceived, then where should one look for the truth instead? There could be only one answer: one needed to turn to God himself.

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