Gnostic Apocalypse

O’Regan, Cyril.  gnostic apocalypse:  jacob boehme’s haunted narrative

Boehme is the site of the gnostic return to the modern world (ix).  CR hints that Milbank is also credited with the gnostic return (2).

The discourse is “haunted” in the sense when it is shadowed by its “other” (Gnosticism shadows Christianity).  

  • Haunting signifies an absence that becomes a presence (18).

Difficulties in interpreting Boehme

1) Boehme himself often unclear.

2) eclectic symbolism (these symbols often subvert Reformational Christianity [8]).  

O’Regan suggests that “narrative” unites ancient Gnosis and modern pneumatic forms of religious thought (12-13).  There could be something to this. If this works, then one can see a connection between ancient Gnosticism, neo-Platonism, medieval mysticism, and post-Renaissance magic.  

Modern narrative “ontotheologies represent the Gnostic return” (13).

O’Regan’s conceptual apparatus:  “Valentinian narrative grammar and rule-governed deformation of classical Valentinian genres.  Valentinian narrative grammar refers to the rules of formation of Valentinian narratives by contrast with the rules of formation of narrative for canonically oriented Christianity” (15).

  • movement from and back to realm of divine perfection through the detour of the catastrophe and fall.   We see these six stages in all forms of Gnosticism (16)
    • realm of undisturbed divine perfection and pleroma.
    • introduction of fault into the realm of divine perfection and a fall of the divine that generates the Other of the divine.  Responsible for demiurge who is proximate cause of the universe.
    • creation of the physical world.
    • fall of human being from spiritual to material existence.
    • appearance of a Savior figure who brings Enlightenment and in no sense atones for judicial sanctions (my language, not O’Regan’s).
    • Eschatology that privileges the gnostics over the others.

metalepsis:  complex disfiguration-refiguration of biblical narrative or any first-order interpretation of it (17).  


pansophism:  mystico-philosophical claim to see “the deep things of God.”  

Narrative Trajectory of the self-manifesting divine

1.1 Boehme’s Six-Stage narrative

  1. (an)archeology: Unground: Wisdom: Immanent Trinity
    1. the language of “nothing” is the nonrelationality of the divine.  “Nothing” is not absolute nothing. More akin to Plato’s me on.
    2. Movement from a divine infinite which is formless to a divine form which has limits.
  2. Engendering a divine nature: the Configuration of Divine Attributes
    1. eternal nature is the nondivine other to the unground.  Close to Aristotle’s “potentiality,” maybe (37).
    2. It is the beginning of multiplicity, taking its cue from “desire.”  
  3. Emergence of the Temporal World and the Human being
    1. “result of a dramatic event of derangement” (42).  “the creative property of imagination guarantees that Lucifer becomes what he images” (43).  This is very similar to Crowley.
    2. sees the Adamic state as one of androgyny, angelic reproduction, and non-physical eating (45).  This is identical to Maximus the Confessor.
  4. Fall of Adam
    1. Sophianic Wisdom is the result of chaotic forces (turba) opening up (45).  
  5. Christ: Savior as Exemplar
    1. This section isn’t entirely bad.  He says a number of correct things like Christ being the foundation of language..  However, Boehme clearly sees Christ overcoming sexual differentiation, which resulted from the Fall
    2. No judicial Christology. Boehme sees forensic justification as negating human responsibility (consistent).
    3. Christ is simply the good example.  “Healing the wound involves a metamorphosis of matter” (47).  
  6. Eschatology and Narrative Circularity
    1. History is agonistic (48–possibly because of “becoming”).

1.2 Narrative teleology; narrative codes

  • gender; the feminine.  

1.3 Trinitarian Configuration of Ontotheological Narrative

  • not so much three persons of the trinity, but three divine principles who undergo self-development.

Discursive Contexts of Boehme’s Visionary Narrative

Boehme’s narrative ontotheology relies on Paracelsian alchemy (57).  

2.1  Alchemy as discursive context and its sublation

Paracelsus seeks a kind of knowledge that embraces both Scripture and nature (59).  The visible world is a sign of the invisible dynamic reality. Invisible “forces beyond the astral level.”  

  • For Paracelsus the thing is the sign.  Sign and image have to do with the process of life.
    • image as substance (66).
  • Question:  does thinking of the universe as a “signature” in the above sense fit with “chain of being”?
    • I think so.  CR notes, “the descent into origins is an ascent along a chain or ladder of more and more refined invisible dimensions of existence” (60).

2.2 Narrative Deconstitution of Negative Theology

allegory assumed a Platonic split between visible/invisible (87).

  • Allegory is supposed to open up to vision, and the latter needs the former.  Boehme (quite correctly) was aware of this (88).
  • Allegory was later picked up by the Illuminist tradition (89).

God and Creation

  • In Eriugena the created natures abide in the uncreated theophanous expression.
  • In salvation the human being transcends creaturehood (98).  
  • Reality is a form of manifestation (107).  
  • Theogony involves cosmogony.  

First there is a non-principle (Unground)

  • God exists first as undifferentiated substratum, then becomes the principles.  
  • cipher for the divine that is beyond being (69). Transcends knowing and is encountered only in “unknowing” (70; cf. Palamas).
  • separates the mysterious transcendent Godhead from the Trinity (91).  Is this inevitable with hyperousia?


I think O’Regan overplays the issue of how much Valentinianism specifically influenced Boehme and whether Boehme is the decisive influence on Hegel.  At the end of the day this is a difference of degree, not kind. The question is whether modern Gnosticism is a direct descendant of ancient Gnosticism.  It’s an interesting genealogy but ultimately irrelevant. I think a strong correlation actually exists and would even be prepared to argue as much. Still, the worse elements of both systems are equally present.


“Magic is the mother of eternity, of the being of all beings; for it creates itself, and is understood in desire” (Boehme, Sex Puncta Mystica, quoted in O’Regan 3-4).

Prime Matter Substratum

Boehme holds to the Hermetic maxim that God’s center is everywhere and his circumference is nowhere (106).

Holds to the view that behind all language is a primordial language that one can “tap into” and it discloses reality (107).  This is the textbook definition of magic: manipulating reality.


The attributes are real powers expressive of divine life (113).



About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Cults, Occult, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Gnostic Apocalypse

  1. cal says:

    And yet William Law was influenced by Boehme and doesn’t take any of the pantheist notions. Instead, he ends up with a christocentricity that sounds like Luther’s use of the Theologica Germanica and Tauler. Tracing a grand narrative of genealogy is easy, but not usually reflective of how ideas move along, get repackaged, and can be set to the different purposes.

    PS. If you’re ever bored, you should definitely read Milbank’s tweets. I followed Ben’s suggestion on Fake John Milbank, but found the real one is more of a parody of himself than anyone could ever hope to accomplish.


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