CHAPTER 3. Nondistinctive Swerves: Boehme's Recapitulation of Minority Pre-Reformationand Post-Reformation Traditions
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CHAPTER 3  Nondistinctive Swerves: Boehme’s Recapitulation of Minority Pre-Reformation and Post-Reformation Traditions 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 tradition up until the Reformation1 —at least officially, allegoresis was not given free reign. As De Doctrina Christiana made perfectly clear,2 allegorical interpretation was justified only on an ad hoc basis to resolve conundra that could not be resolved by appeal to the literal sense of a scriptural passage or by appeal to similar passages in Scripture whose meaning was clear. Allegorical interpretation could not be justified systematically for Augustine, since such a justification implied that Scripture was obscure, a supposition that directly contradicted the view that Scripture is the privileged means for unveiling God’s purposes for humanity . Where, however, a systematic justification was proposed in patristic thought, as it was in Alexandrian Christianity, in which a Platonic split between the visible and invisible dimensions of reality supported a sometimes dualizing split between letter and spirit, in its major figures, Clement and Origen,3 allegorical interpretation was intended as an aid to deepening faith and not, as was selfconsciously the case in Valentinian Gnosticism, as a replacement of the Word, its persuasive power and authority.4 Boehme clearly taps into this more systematically allegorical line, which supposes that Scripture is a secret to be revealed, a hieroglyph to be decoded, just as lying behind the visible surface of reality is an invisible depth. At the same time, Boehme recapitulates the anagogic supplement to allegory typical of Alexandrian exegesis.5 Only privatively in Alexandrian exegesis is allegory a theoretical activity in which a hidden meaning is disclosed to be surveyed. Though the accent is contemplative, and contemplation is in a broad sense ‘aesthetic,’ it is also self-involving and ecstatic.6 The supplement, therefore, is not something merely added on, for anagogy is the ultimate intention of 87 allegory: interpreting Scripture implies participation in the divine truth, which at once is the goal of interpretation and that which is disclosed in the process of interpretation .To inhere in truth as a process means that interpretation is at once a transformative activity and an activity that supposes the transformation of the self in and by the Spirit. As Aurora (1613) and his later texts (1619–1624) demonstrate, Boehme taps into a mode of exegesis related to and different from Alexandrian-style allegory . Allegory within the Alexandrian parameter is not visionary, nor does it demonstrate a principled preference for the visionary texts of the Bible, whether Ezekiel’s chariot (merkabah), or apocalyptic texts of the canonic or noncanonic Scriptures.7 While the visionary texts elicit interpretation, in moments when their role becomes central their symbols are called on as much to explain reality as to be explained. Indeed, the imperative behind their interpretation is that they themselves are interpretive. If the chariot had a life in the Jewish tradition it did not have one in the Christian,8 at least before Boehme, apocalyptic texts in general and Revelation in particular had a checkered history . Perhaps more than anyone else in the tradition, it was Joachim of Fiore who prioritized Revelation as the text that both interprets the rest of Scripture and historical reality.9 Thus, Revelation’s symbolic irreducibility, the sense that it necessarily resists translation and remains superior to interpretation. Nevertheless , the obscurity of its symbols encourages interpretation, even demands it, and this opens up a space for allegory and anagogy as well as typology and tropology. Vision and symbol open up to allegorical interpretation, as allegory opens up to visionary completion. Perhaps more than any Christian exegete before him, Boehme grasped that allegory without vision is without content, and vision without allegory is blind. His discourse represents the union and transformation of two related but different modes of exegesis, one whose purview is more nearly the eternal, the other whose purview is more nearly the dynamic of history, marked by agon, defined by a crisis that holds the promise of a complete transformation of time and history. Operating in terms of both these interpretive paradigms opens up a significant gap between Boehme and the historical Luther, and puts him at odds with a Lutheran orthodoxy vehement in its criticism of his failure to remain faithful to the literal...