How do mysticism and poetry differ?

Christian mysticismAngelus Silesius and the Cherubin Wanderer

"I know that God cannot live for a moment without me: If I become void, he has to give up the spirit. That God is so blessed and lives without desire, he got from me as well as I received from him. God is what he is, I am what I am. But if you know someone, you know me and him. "

Anyone who hears these lines from Angelus Silesius' "Cherubine Wanderer" may be shocked or fascinated. Only a few will leave these provocative lines by the belligerent mystic cold. The theologian Karl Barth called the paradoxical pictures of Angelus Silesius "pious insolence." Beyond all controversies, up to the present day they are considered the high points of baroque poetry.

"Stop, where are you going - heaven is in you! If you search for God elsewhere. You are missing him for and for. Christ will be born a thousand times in Bethlehem."

and not in you, you will remain forever lost. "

Angelus Silesius, the Silesian angel, as he later called himself after his conversion to Catholicism, was born in December 1624 as Johann Scheffler in Breslau. In the midst of the turmoil of the 30 Years War. His father, a wealthy Polish country gentleman, values ​​a strict Lutheran upbringing. Catholics and Protestants are hostile to each other after the Reformation.

When the boy was 13 years old, the father died. A little later, he and his two siblings also lose their mother. A guardian sends the boy to the Elisabeth-Gymnasium in Breslau, where the teachers notice his talent for poetry. At the age of 18, the young man went to Strasbourg to study medicine, just like his father and grandfather did. A year later he continued his studies in Leiden, the Netherlands, where the student got to know religious circles that collect and disseminate mystical ideas. Among other things, the as yet unprinted copies of the Görlitz shoemaker Jakob Böhme, who died just a few days before Scheffler was born. The student sees Böhme as a kind of kindred spirit.

"The fact that I have read several of Jakob Böhme's writings because all kinds of things get under your hands in Holland is true and I thank God. Because they were a great cause that I came to the knowledge of the truth."

The student completed his studies in Padua, where he received a doctorate in medicine and philosophy in 1648. Shaped by the experience of Italian Catholicism and the mysticism of Jakob Böhme, Scheffler returned to Silesia. And at the age of less than 25 he was appointed princely body and court medicus. His employer is Duke Sylvius Nimrod von Württemberg, who lives in Oels near Breslau and is a strict Lutheran. The Duke's court preacher, Christoph Freitag, rigorously monitors adherence to church teaching and will soon become Johann Scheffler's bitter adversary.

Shortly after his return from Padua, Scheffler made a momentous acquaintance. He befriends the humanist, mystic and Böhme student Abraham von Franckenberg. This becomes his patron and leads him deeper into the thinking of Boehme and other mystics. In a poetic "memory of honor" Johann Scheffler pays tribute to his teacher and already uses those bold poetic images that deliberately go to the limit of the comprehensible

"You noble Franckenberg, so you are now sunk. And in eternity you drowned very blissfully, as you often wished! You now live from time,

Freed from before, from after, from place, from suffering and strife.

Whoever takes time without time and worries without worries, who yesterday was like today, and today is like tomorrow, whoever appreciates everything the same, already enters the desired state of dear eternity in time. "

Mystical spirituality, as it sounds through these lines, was considered a suspicious enthusiasm in Lutheran church teaching a hundred years after the Reformation. It was believed that the pure teaching could be secured through censorship. Johann Scheffler should soon feel it.

After the death of Abraham von Frankenberg, Johann Scheffler created the "witty rhymes and closing rhymes", as he first called them, as the sum of his spiritual experiences and which today count as "Cherubin wanderer" in world literature. Similar to how Jakob Böhme described the creation of his works, Scheffler also experiences creative work as a sudden influx of poetic inspiration.

"Most of the verses have been given to me in a short time from the source of all good things without any forethought or painstaking reflection."

In the stream of divine inspiration, his everyday identity dissolves temporarily.

"I don't know who I am; I am not what I know; a thing and not a thing, a bit and a circle."

In just four days, Johann Scheffler put the first book of the "Cherubinian Wanderer" on paper. Five more were to follow. What pious Lutherans appear to be heretical blasphemy, other people experience as a visionary penetration of the cosmic connection between God, man and the world. In addition to Jakob Böhme, Scheffler mentions Meister Eckhart, Mechthild von Magdeburg and Johannes vom Kreuz as role models. A thematic focus of the two- and four-line lines is his paradoxical image of God.

"God is so above everything that nothing can be said.

Therefore you better worship him in silence.

God is a spirit, a fire, a being and a light,

and yet none of this is again either.

God is nothing but nothing, he does not move now and here:

The more you reach for him, the more he gets away from you.

Away, away, you seraphs, you can't refresh me

look away, away, you saints and what is doing to you.

I don't want you now, I'm throwing myself alone

into the uncreated sea of ​​the mere deity.

Lord, it is not enough for me to serve you like angels do

and green in the perfection of the gods before you.

It is way too bad for me and my mind is too small:

Whoever wants to serve you properly has to be more than divine.

Should I find my end and my first beginning

so I have to fathom myself in God and God in me.

And become what he: I need a glow in the glow

I have to be a word in a word, a god in god.

Where is my stay? Where do you and me not stand?

Where is my last end, which one should I go to?

Where you can't find one. Where should I go now?

I still have to move into a desert via God.

I know that without me God cannot live for a moment:

I will be destroyed, he has to give up the ghost of necessity.

That God is so blessed and lives without desire,

Has he received from me as well as from him.

I am as big as God, he is as small as me

he cannot be above me, I cannot be below him.

God is fire in me and I am appearance in him;

are we not meant to one another very deeply? "

Johann Scheffler - or Angelus Silesius, as he will later be called, seemed to have suspected that his provocative work would lead to misunderstandings. The concern of the mystics to make the unspeakable speakable through paradoxes and pointed images is certainly not for everyone. Which is why the cherubian wanderer is preceded by an explanatory preface. The poet rejects the accusation that he wanted to blasphemously "deify" people.

"Because of the short constitution, one could easily give the verses a damnable sense or an evil opinion, since the following rhymes contain a lot of strange paradoxes or absurd speeches as well as very high conclusions that are not known to everyone Nowhere is the opinion that the human soul can lose its nature and be transformed through deification into God or his uncreated being, which cannot be in all eternity. "

Mysticism follows a different path of knowledge than scholastic philosophy. It assumes that the human spirit has the ability to recognize the reality of God directly, without long chains or investigations. This reality is best expressed for the mystic in the language of poetry and disturbing paradoxes. Such a language opens the mind and undermines the either- or logic of the Western culture.

In addition to the relationship between God and man, reflecting on time and eternity is another focus of the "Cherubine Wanderer".

"Man, where you swing your spirit over time and place,

so you can be every look in eternity.

Who takes time without time and worries without worries,

to whom yesterday was like today, and today is like tomorrow,

if you value everything the same, you already step in time

in the desired state of dear eternity.

I myself am eternity when I leave time

and summarize myself in God and God in me.

Since God created the world, what did you write for a year?

No other than that which was his first.

Because God the Eternal created the world out of time,

so it's as clear as day that she's from eternity.

The rose that your outer eye sees here,

it has thus blossomed in God from eternity.

Before I was anything else, I was God's life.

That's why he gave himself up completely for me too.

Eternity knows nothing of years, days, hours.

Oh, that I haven't found the focus yet!

A thousand years are like a bygone day before God.

That is why there is not a year with him who can grasp it.

You make the time yourself. The clockwork is the senses.

If you only inhibit the balance, the time is gone.

There in eternity it all happens at the same time,

There is no before and after like here in the realm of times.

They say time is quick. Who saw them fly?

It remains immovable in the world concept.

There is no before and after. What should happen tomorrow

Has seen God from eternity

I carry God's image. If he wants to see

It can only happen in me and whoever resembles me.

What God can desire and desire in eternity,

He sees that in me as his parable.

From the beginning God is the maker of all things

And also their pattern itself. That’s why it’s not a small one. "

When Angelus Silesius praises death in the following verses of the Cherubian Wanderer, he is not concerned with playing down the finiteness of life. In times of plague and the 30-year war, people knew about the horror of death. The poet speaks here of mystical death, of the transformation of the human personality into a new way of being. "Man, become essential," writes Angelus Silesius. Centuries later, Rainer Maria Rilke will write: "Want change!"

Before I was not yet I, I was God in God;

That's why I can be it again, if only I'm dead to myself.

Death is a blessed thing; the stronger he is,

the more glorious life becomes.

Death from which no new life blooms,

it is he that my soul flees from all deaths.

I don't believe death, I die every hour

I've found a better life every time

As the wise man dies a thousand times,

He campaigns for a thousand lives through the truth itself.

I die and live in God: if I want to live in him forever,

so I have to give up the ghost forever for him too.

I say nothing dies; just that another life

even the painful is given by death.

I say because death alone sets me free

that he's the best thing of all things like that.

There is nothing that moves you, you yourself are the wheel,

That runs out of itself and has no rest. "

Inspired by the writing of the "Cherubine Wanderer", Johann Scheffler compiles a selection of mystical texts and "ardent poems that elevate the mind to God" for publication, which the court preacher Christoph Freitag, as guardian of Lutheran orthodoxy, uses as an opportunity to censor the selection. First individual passages are to be deleted, then printing is prohibited altogether. This is how Johann Scheffler experiences what happened to Jakob Böhme on the part of the Görlitz pastor a generation before him.

The poet is beside himself with indignation. He transfers his anger to the Protestant denomination as a whole and converts to Catholicism, into which he projects his longing for mystical intimacy. In order to make the inner change visible from the outside, from then on he calls himself Angelus Silesius, the Silesian angel or perhaps more aptly translated: Messenger from Silesia. He studied Catholic theology and was ordained a priest in 1661 at the age of 36.

In the year of his conversion, Angelus Silesius began to publish a series of theological pamphlets in which he justified his step and criticized Lutheranism in the most violent way. In it, he mentions as a motive for his conversion the "blatant rejection of mysticism", "Theologiae mysticae", which for him represents the "highest wisdom of Christianity". Dogmatic Protestantism is the "idolatry of reason", the Catholic Church is the "body of the Holy Spirit".

Almost all commentators agree that these pamphlets do not do the author credit. His actual timeless works remain the "Cherubinische Wanderermann" and the "Heilige Seelenlust" - or spiritual shepherd songs, also published in Vienna in 1657: "All loving souls to the delight and increase of their holy love, to praise and honor God given. " In the preface to the "Holy Soul's Pleasure" it says:

"I give you here the spiritual shepherd's songs and loving desires of the bride of Christ to her bridegroom, with whom you can enjoy yourself as you please and in the deserts of this world as a chaste lovebird after Jesus, your beloved, sigh deeply and lovingly. It would be it is a mockery of us when those in love with the world, who want to sing so much about their disdainful and blind love, want to let us do something, and we don't also sing something about the love of our sweet God.

In the "Holy Soul's Pleasure" the poet takes up the "Song of Songs" of the Old Testament, in which the love between the soul - the bride - and Christ - the bridegroom - is pictorially described up to a mystical union.

"Oh, that I recognized you so late,

You praised beauty, you.

And don't call you mine

You greatest good and true peace.

I'm sorry and sad

that i loved so late.

I want to love you my strength

I want to love you, my ornament

I want to love you with the work

and everlasting desire:

I want to love you, most beautiful light,

Until my heart breaks. "

One of the most famous songs of the cycle: "I want to love you, my strength." Quite a few of the songs have found their way into almost all Catholic and even Protestant prayer and hymn books. The musical version of the lyrics was written by the Wroclaw prince-bishop musician Georg Josephi.

"Morning star of the dark night,

Who makes the world full of joy

Infant Jesus come in

shine in the shrine of my heart!

Now the enemy's power has been destroyed,

death is dead

And life brought us back

Oh, don't tell me about gold and treasures

Of the splendor and beauty of this world

There can be no substitute for me

what the world presents to me:

Everyone loves what he wants

I love Jesus who is my goal. "

Angelus Silesius withdrew from public life at the age of 47. He gives away his inherited wealth to the needy. In 1677 he suffered a serious illness. Contemporary witnesses report that in the last weeks of his life he prepared himself for the transition by praying and meditating. Angelus Silesius, barely 53 years old, died on July 9, 1677 in the Kreuzherrenstift St. Martin. In the Wroclaw collegiate church an inscription commemorates the mystic and poet:

"Germany's great Christian poet, admonisher of godly piety."

"Who desires nothing, has nothing, knows nothing, loves nothing, does not want,

he who knows, desires and still loves a lot.

Friend, it is enough too. In case you want to read more

so go and become the writing yourself and the essence yourself. "