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Gnostic Apocalypse

Jacob Boehme's Haunted Narrative

Cyril O'Regan

Publication Year: 2002

Jacob Boehme, the seventeenth-century German speculative mystic, influenced the philosophers Hegel and Schelling and both English and German Romantics alike with his visionary thought. Gnostic Apocalypse focuses on the way Boehme’s thought repeats and surpasses post-reformation Lutheran thinking, deploys and subverts the commitments of medieval mysticism, realizes the speculative thrust of Renaissance alchemy, is open to esoteric discourses such as the Kabbalah, and articulates a dynamic metaphysics. This book critically assesses the striking claim made in the nineteenth century that Boehme’s visionary discourse represents within the confines of specifically Protestant thought nothing less than the return of ancient Gnosis. Although the grounds adduced on behalf of the “Gnostic return” claim in the nineteenth century are dismissed as questionable, O’Regan shows that the fundamental intuition is correct. Boehme’s visionary discourse does represent a return of Gnosticism in the modern period, and in this lies its fundamental claim to our contemporary philosophical, theological, and literary attention.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

While my interest in the seventeenth-century German speculative mystic Jacob Boehme dates back to my undergraduate days in Dublin, and while I spent considerable time charting the relation between Boehme and Hegel in The Heterodox Hegel, at no time did I think that I would write a book on this figure. There was neither the time nor the need. Or so I thought. Need...

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pp. 1-25

This is a book on the post-Reformation, German speculative mystic Jacob Boehme (1575--1624).1 In one sense at least, it shares the universe of commentary and criticism with works by Ernst Benz, Hans Grunsky, Alexandre Koyré, John Joseph Stoudt, and Andrew Weeks.2 In it, I am no less convinced of the historical importance of Boehme and of his religious and metaphysical depth,...

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PART I. Visionary Pansophism and the Narrativity of the Divine

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pp. 27-30

Although, ultimately, there may be no difference between William Blake's and W. B. Yeats's common assessment of Boehme as a visionary and Hegel's assessment of Boehme as protophilosopher,1 especially given Boehme's tying of vision to interpretive capability and intellectual capacity, still it is probably best to commence...

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CHAPTER 1. Narrative Trajectory of the Self-Manifesting Divine

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pp. 31-55

In Boehme's mature work, which belongs to the incredibly fertile final five years of his life (1619--1624), what is articulated by pneumatically informed reason (Verstand), is nothing more nor less than the dynamics of the self-manifesting or self-revealing divine. As will be the case with Hegel and Schelling later, not only is divine revelation the condition for the possibility...

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CHAPTER 2. Discursive Contexts of Boehme's Visionary Narrative

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pp. 57-82

In chapter 2 I attempt a partial contextualization of Boehme's discourse by presenting the alchemical and negative theology discourses that Boehme avails himself of to articulate his speculative vision. If this presentation makes a historical claim about influence, the real interest is the systematic one of assessing the degree to which these discourses assist Boehme's essentially...

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PART II. Metalepsis Unbounding

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pp. 83-86

Even though up until now I have operated by and large in the descriptive mode, it should be fairly obvious from Part I that by whatever measure, whether pre- Reformation or Reformation, Boehme's systematic unfolding of an absolutely encompassing narrative of the divine is anything but standard. Swerves from the mainline construals are evident over a whole host of theologoumena, and with...

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CHAPTER 3. Nondistinctive Swerves: Boehme's Recapitulation of Minority Pre-Reformationand Post-Reformation Traditions

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pp. 87-101

Texts like Boehme's hexameron, Mysterium Magnum, presuppose a long tradition of allegorical interpretation in the Christian tradition. If Augustine himself hardly eschewed allegorical interpretation, as the anti-Manichaean tracts and the Confessions clearly show--and in this he was followed by much of the Western...

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CHAPTER 4. Distinctive Swerves: Toward Metalepsis

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pp. 103-127

In this chapter, I turn to an examination of those departures--or what I am calling "swerves"--from the theological tradition in excess of what is realized in general in the pre-Reformation tradition and more specifically in excess of what is realized in the post-Reformation tradition in the shape of the Spiritual...

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CHAPTER 5. Boehme's Visionary Discourseand the Limits of Metalepsis

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pp. 129-140

The adjective "unbounding" that qualifies metalepsis in the heading to Part II is not decorative. It intends to suggest, albeit in a metaphoric way, at once the tendency in Boehme's texts toward an unrestricted metamorphosis of biblical narrative, and the de facto restriction of this tendency. Up until now in Part II...

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PART III. Valentinianism and Valentinian Enlisting of Non-Valentinian Narrative Discourses

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pp. 141-146

In Part I I presented Boehme's metanarrative, and traced it against the backdrop of alchemy and negative theology. In Part II I showed how its extensive and intensive swerve from the pre-Reformation and Reformation theological tradition is ultimately focused in a metalepsis of the biblical narrative or firstorder interpretation of the kind found, for example, in Irenaeus, Augustine,...

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CHAPTER 6. Boehme's Discourse and Valentinian Narrative Grammar

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pp. 147-159

Although the inspiration behind the present project is genealogical, and genealogists such as Baur have shown the way with respect to the possibility of a Gnostic reading of Boehme's narrative discourse, in the order of demonstration, a Gnostic genealogical account of narrative ontotheological discourses, which has Boehme as the proximate point of origin, depends on establishing the prima...

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CHAPTER 7. Apocalyptic in Boehme's Discourse and its Valentinian Enlisting

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pp. 161-175

In a noncontesting taxonomic and genealogical environment, the argument in chapter 6 to the effect that Boehme's discourse represents an instance of Valentinian narrative grammar, while also representing a rule-governed deformation of classical Valentinian genres, might well explanatorily suffice. But the taxonomic status of Boehme's discourse is contested, and this obviously...

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CHAPTER 8. Neoplatonism in Boehme's Discourse and its Valentinian Enlisting

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pp. 177-191

Despite the lack of strong Neoplatonic readings of Boehme, and the absence of anything like Neoplatonic self-ascription in his texts, Neoplatonism ought to be taken seriously as a plausible taxon of Boehme's ontotheological narrative discourse. It is implied in the genealogical suggestions of Baur and Staudenmaier...

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CHAPTER 9. Kabbalah in Boehme's Discourse and its Valentinian Enlisting

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pp. 193-209

From the very beginning I have insisted that Boehme's discourse is complex. It is complex symbolically in that symbols from a multitude of pre-Reformation, Reformation, and post-Reformation sources animate it. More, it is complex in terms of a narrative structure that aligns symbols and gives them their meaning. Thus far, I have identified three major narrative strains. First among equals...

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Conclusion: Genealogical Preface

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pp. 211-223

I have undertaken the analysis of Boehme's visionary discourse armed with the conviction that this post-Reformation discourse is still worthy of our attention in its struggles as well as its accomplishments. In this sense, I could not agree more with such great commentators on Boehme as Benz, Grunsky, Koyré, Stoudt, and Weeks. There is much to admire, since there is much that...


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pp. 225-276


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pp. 277-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780791489505
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791452011
Print-ISBN-10: 0791452018

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2002