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The word theosophy (from the Greek θεοσοφία theosophía “divine wisdom”) is a collective term for mystical - religious and speculative - natural philosophical approaches that understand the world pantheistically as the development of God , relate all knowledge directly to God and in this connection to God or the divine seek to experience a way of intuitive vision directly. Theosophical traits can be found in the mystical teachings of Jakob Böhme , Friedrich Christoph Oetinger , Paracelsus , Emanuel Swedenborg and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin , the Jewish Kabbalah and the Russian religious philosophy .

This is to be distinguished from the secret doctrine of the occultist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) , founded under the name of Theosophy , which refers to the content of Indian religiosity and spirituality and claims to be able to show a common true core in all religions.

Concept history

The word theosophy was probably created by mixing the terms theology and philosophy . The church father Clemens of Alexandria , who taught in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, used the adjective theósophos . The Neoplatonist Porphyrios († 301/305) was the first to use the noun theosophía . Porphyrios referred to a divine wisdom. He counted among other things the Indian gymnosophists among the "theosophists". Later Neoplatonic philosophers like Iamblichus and Proklos as well as church writers like Eusebius of Caesarea took up the term - partly in the adjectival form. Eusebius called Christianity the "new and true theosophy", and "theosophist" became an honorary title of church fathers.

The so-called "Tübingen Theosophy" (Theosophia Tubingensis), which is named after the place where the most important manuscript of this text is stored, is a special case . It is an anthology of oracles or Greek sayings of wisdom that was created in the late 5th century and is often introduced by a short commentary. Only an excerpt from 692 with the title Oracle of the Greek Gods has survived; the title of the lost original text was Theosophia .

In the Renaissance the term theosophy was widely used to mean revelation . Agostino Steuco quoted oracles from Tübingen theosophy.

Friedrich Schiller published the Theosophy of Julius in his Philosophical Letters in 1786 , in which he dealt with the materialism of the time . In the 19th century, the Catholic philosopher Antonio Rosmini called the sum of his speculations theosophy .

In the religious studies discourse the term theosophy has two different meanings. In its original meaning, theosophy denotes a movement within western esotericism that can be traced back to the late 15th century. More specifically, this is mostly referred to as Western-Christian theosophy and is characterized by the fact that religious knowledge is sought through individual mystical experience . In a broader sense, the term was applied by Gershom Scholem to corresponding traditions in Judaism and by Henry Corbin to Islamic theosophies.

This is to be distinguished from the use of the term in the context of the theosophical societies . According to Helmut Zander , Blavatsky's theosophy, which draws from Eastern sources , is the first non-Christian founding of a religion in Europe after antiquity. According to the philosopher Ernst Bloch , this "theosophical colportage [...] has not a single point in common with the Christian mystics of old." René Guénon identified our present civilization in the sense of the Hindu theosophy of cosmic cycles with the epoch of Kali-Yuga .

Jewish theosophy

The concept of theosophy "plays an important role above all in Jewish studies of the 20th century" and is one of the central concepts in research into Kabbalah. This was identified with Jewish theosophy by both Christian and Jewish researchers of the 19th century and is the focus of the work of Franz Joseph Molitor . Gershom Scholem , "who was influenced by Molitor's view of Kabbalah, chose the term theosophy to denote central teachings of Jewish Kabbalah." Scholem described theosophy as an often misused term that has become an etiquette for a modern pseudo-religion. Theosophy actually means “a mystical doctrine or line of thought which believes it can sense, grasp or describe a hidden life-working deity. Theosophy states that God emerges from the closeness of his deity to such a secret life, and it finds that the secrets of creation are based on this pulse of the living God ”. Theosophists in this sense were also the Christian mystics Jakob Böhme and William Blake .

The religions emerged when man was torn out of his dreamy unity of man, world and God. This seemingly eternally impassable abyss, over which only God's guiding, legislative revelation penetrates as a voice, forms the cause and basic experience of all Jewish mystics. Out of this experience arises the mystical endeavor within the moral and religious action of the individual as well as of the community to guide the soul over the abyss to the living experience of God's reality. In particular, the Jewish theosophy of the Hasidim and the Kabbalists gets into a permanent conflict with the strictly monotheistic religion of a personal creator god on the one hand and the philosophy of Judaism on the other.

Scholem already speaks of theosophy in connection with the Tannaim , whose teachings form the content of the Mishnah . Her mysticism and theosophy live on in the Merkaba mysticism. Scholem names this in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism as the first phase in the development of Jewish mysticism before it crystallized in medieval Kabbalah. You put an almost excessive emphasis on a combination of the apocalyptic with theosophy and cosmogony . However, according to Scholem, the theosophical ideas were unknown to her related Hechalot literature, whereas Moshe Idel , among others, speaks of theosophical ideas in biblical and Talmudic Judaism.

Medieval Hasidism, with its broader field of speculation, brought a new theosophy, the “ mystery of God's unity”. This new theosophy was consistently shaped by the ideal of the Hasid, the pious. Scholem names their conception of Kavod (divine glory), their idea of ​​a holy cherub on the throne and their conception of God's holiness and greatness as the three basic ideas of the idiosyncratic theosophy of the Hasidim . With the spread of the Spanish Kabbalah, Hasidic theosophy lost ground. Both Hasidic and Kabbalistic Jewish theosophy was viewed by Scholem as an innovation in medieval Judaism; their emergence "was in his view connected with the penetration of foreign Gnostic ideas into medieval Judaism". For the Kabbalah, according to Scholem, theosophy was one of its two main elements alongside mysticism. He divided the Spanish Kabbalists into a theosophical and an ecstatic school, identified in particular with Abraham Abulafia , which sought ecstasy and prophetic inspiration. Moshe Idel took up this distinction, who, however, describes the first-mentioned current as a theosophical- theurgical one. In Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism , Scholem devoted two chapters to the Zohar , one of the main works of Kabbalah, the second of which was devoted to his theosophical doctrine. He describes the life process in God himself with the monotheistic doctrine of both the Kabbalists and the rest of the Jews as the task of the theorists of Kabbalistic theosophy. According to Scholem, the Zohar developed Jewish theosophy and mythological symbolism to a new level of wealth, sophistication, and historical significance. After the Alhambra Edict was passed and the Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, the Lurian Kabbalah developed in exile, which Moshe Idel describes as the most complex of Jewish theosophy.

In Judah the Hasid , older mystical-theosophical currents of Judaism can be seen in a summarized manner, in particular the old Merkaba mysticism and related currents, which have been shown to have gained access to the German communities via Italy since the 9th century. In the theosophical thinking of the Hasiduth, ideas are important that have not yet appeared in Merkaba mysticism: the omnipresence and immanence of God in creation (God as world power and world basis) - God is in everything and everything is in God. The idea of ​​“ Kabod ” (Glory of God), about which Judah the Hasid had written a book, whose teaching was mainly continued by Eleazar ben Judah, is also of central importance in Jewish theosophical thinking . This differentiates between the first “inner” glory of the deity (Kabod pereni) and the “visible” glory. The inner glory is identical with the Shechina and the Holy Spirit, without form, but with voice. Man cannot connect with God himself, but with his Kabod or Schechina. The visible Kabod, on the other hand, appears in changing shapes and forms (e.g. as glory on the throne of the Merkaba). At the Zohar , a Jewish-theosophical doctrine of the sacred connection between the king and the queen, the heavenly bridegroom with the heavenly bride, the divine “I” with the divine “you” develops. In later Hasidism, theosophical ideas took a back seat to its moral ideal, prayer mysticism, prayer magic and penitential discipline .

History of Christian Theosophy

The denominational disputes of the sixteenth century led to a development of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian mysticism, which had had different effects since late antiquity , as the basis of Christian theosophy, which was very popular. The newly developed occidental-Christian theosophy formed an alternative to the “dry” theology and has its roots in the first two chapters of 1st Corinthians (“because the spirit explores all things, including the depths of God”). The religious scholar Antoine Faivre names three characteristic features of modern occidental theosophy:

"1. A tendency to engage in speculative discourses about the relationships between God (or the divine world), nature and man.
2. A preference for the mystical element in the revealed texts (e.g. in the Bible).
3. The conviction that a person's inherent ability (namely the creative imagination) enables him to come into contact with higher levels of reality. "

From the Alexandrian Church Fathers there is a broad stream of Christian theosophists such as Hildegard von Bingen , Böhme , Gichtel , Pordage , Oetinger , JM Hahn , F. von Baader , Schelling to the Russian sophiologists Vladimir Sergejewitsch Solowjow , Nikolai Alexandrowitsch Berdjajew and Sergei Nikolajewitsch Bulgakowitsch .

Four phases of Protestant theosophy

Four phases can be identified in Protestant theosophy:

  1. Under the influence of Martin Luther, “classical” theosophy developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jakob Böhme, Valentin Weigel , Khunrath, Arndt, A. Gutmann, C. von Schwenkfeld, G. Dorn, Johann Georg Gichtel, Gottfried Arnold, John Pordage, Jane Leade, P. Poiret and A. Bourgignon belong to this movement. Jakob Böhme (1575–1624) is considered the most important representative and authoritative founder of Christian theosophy. His writings are based on a visionary enlightenment and related mystical experiences. Valentin Weigel (1533–1588) can be regarded as a predecessor, who combined mystical traditions with thoughts of Paracelsism . To what extent Böhme was influenced by Weigel or other authors is unclear, however. However, he himself made a significant contribution to the development of a spiritual awareness in Germany and then also had a significant impact in other countries. In addition to the Böhme-oriented, mystically oriented theosophy, a tendency also linked to Böhme and Paracelsus, but more towards the occult sciences and especially magic , emerged in the early 18th century , as represented by Samuel Richter .
  2. In the first half of the eighteenth century, a more intellectually oriented theosophy emerged that was less visionary.
  3. In the pre-Romanticism and Romanticism, the strongly speculative theosophy of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1803) and Franz von Baader (1765-1841) developed, which was less prophetic. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), who like Böhme became a mystic because of visions , occupies a special position . Within the theosophical current he remained an outsider, whose works were viewed critically by other theosophists. On the other hand, however, it gained much greater popularity than its critics and gained a large following. One of Swedenborg's critics was Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702–1782). In addition to Böhme, he was also strongly influenced by Kabbalah and represented a more intellectual direction. However, his contemporary Karl von Eckartshausen (1752–1803), who had little in common with the mystical tradition linked to Böhme, became more popular.
  4. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, S. Soloview, M. Boulgakov, NA Berdjaev and, to a lesser extent, Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), Nikolai Alexandrowitsch Berdjajew (1874–1948), Leopold Ziegler (1881–1958) and Valentin Tomberg (1900–1973 ) counted among the theosophists.

The theosophy of Jakob Boehme

Jakob Boehme's teaching developed out of his intense struggle for knowledge of God and nature, which he fulfilled in his mystical experience. In his first work Aurora or Dawn in the Rise , he describes the results of his divine being for the first time. The divine and the natural, the spiritual and the corporeal merge into a observed unity, which he describes in the image of the breaking dawn, which at the same time expresses the dawn of a “new Reformation”. In later works such as his theosophical letters and his main work Mysterium magnum he elaborates on his views.

Böhme understood his teaching as eternal knowledge, which was revealed to him by the all-pervading "reason and ungrund" (God, whose existence is without any reason). He calls the experience of this revelation a “coming into the whole”, which becomes possible for man when he leaves everything that is his own and gets the “divine eye to see” again.

The reason of the human being is for him the casing, "in which the true understanding is divine knowledge". He expresses this as follows: "God gave me wisdom, not I, who I am who I am, knows, but God in me." As divine knowledge works within reason in man, so does heavenly wisdom within nature as the all-embracing revealer of the hidden God. In the mystical doctrine of the hidden God , a parallel can be drawn to Martin Luther's theological teaching. In contrast to Luther, however, Jakob Böhme sees all things in direct God-penetration that can be seen through Sophia.

The divine Sophia is also described in Boehme's theosophical system in terms such as “eye” and “mirror”, in which the unground recognizes itself. This mirror is presented as unrevealed, and Böhme calls it "mirror glass". By "glass" he means the shadow figures in a mirror. This mirror becomes apparent when the divine Trinity gives birth to itself. So in wisdom all things of nature are mirrored or wisdom gives birth to the science of all things. This can become accessible to man through God's self-revelation in the mind. Jakob Böhme understands his teaching as "divine science".

In terms of religious history, a root for Boehme's theosophical teaching can be found in the sophianic mysticism of the " apocryphal ", Old Testament " book of wisdom ", a mysticism that is creatively expanded by Böhme. In the parable representation, Sophia (wisdom) is symbolized as a virgin who was with Adam in paradise. When the lust spirit of this world seized Adam, the virgin Sophia fled and Adam got Eve to be his wife. The heavenly virgin is now waiting for the children of Adam to return to her to be married to them in the “heavenly wedding”. She is "the mother in whom the father works". It can be called Theosophia or Christosophia. In this profound, imaginative picture, the self-understanding of theosophy Boehme can be revealed. Through the mystical marriage man comes back to paradise, which Böhme says is in nature, only man is not in it.

For Böhme the “heavenly virgin” was not just an abstract principle, but a living figure, which he said he could see and experience, which corresponds to one of his basic ideas: “There is nothing spiritual without corporeal!” She is not a person herself, but the person (the self) of the respective person appears in it, as in a divine mirror. From the union with the heavenly wisdom (what is meant is a union of a supra-sexual nature, ie spiritual becoming one) his insights, which he explains in his comprehensive writings, are said to have arisen. In his work Description of the Three Principles of Divine Essence , Böhme depicts such a mystical experience of (Theo) Sophia in powerful drama. Jakob Böhme gives a detailed Christian meditation path in his writings, which should lead people to the heavenly Sophia.

The theosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) devoted his life from 1710 to around 1744 to the advancement of science and the industrial revolution of the Swedish state mining industry with its strongly stimulating effects on the Swedish economy . Both of Swedenborg's activities were religiously motivated. Like many of his contemporaries, he understood scientific work as research into God's creation using the means of human reason and lived a piety based on knowledge of nature. Swedenborg's research always culminated in "God, the primordial ground and creator of all being, all life and all movement".

In his numerous and extensive books on all areas of human knowledge, he describes insights and theories that he arrived at through a lively penetration of the knowledge of his time, combined with precise observations of the forces in nature. In this way, Swedenborg tried to overcome the isolation of individual scientific knowledge on the one hand, and the university knowledge of life and nature on the other. In his work Principia (1733/34), for example, he founded the nebular theory of the origin of the earth before Immanuel Kant and Pierre-Simon Laplace , and before Wilhelm Herschel the discovery that the sun is part of the system of the Milky Way . He saw the universe as an ordered whole, the highest divine purpose of which was to create man and to guide him in freedom to reciprocate divine love and wisdom.

In order to find out the secrets of humans, especially those of the human soul, he undertook extensive studies (an approx. 1000-page study on the functioning of the individual brain centers ). Since he could not scientifically explain the essence of the human soul , this led him into a religious and scientific crisis. In this crisis he experienced a calling vision in which he saw himself called by Christ to the supersensible exploration of the spiritual universe (heaven and hell). From this point on, Swedenborg claimed to have free, arbitrary access to the world of angels and spirits for the purpose of bringing the theology of the “true Christian religion”, “the doctrine of faith recognized in all of heaven”, to people.

Divine wisdom and divine love are the two characteristics of God in Swedenborg's writings. In addition to these main properties of the primordial ground, the attributes of God are called unity, omnipresence , omnipotence , omniscience, infinity and eternity . Wisdom and love are described as inseparably one: "Divine love belongs to divine wisdom, and divine wisdom to divine love". In Swedenborg's doctrine of correspondence, God (Christ seen as the spiritual sun) is set in correspondence with the natural sun. Just as the rays of the natural sun are perceived by humans as light and warmth, so the spiritual sun is experienced as spiritual light (= divine wisdom) and as spiritual warmth (= divine love) in the "world of spirits". The divine wisdom and love are substance and form, which pours into the created universe. Angels, spirits (people without physical bodies) and people are, according to Swedenborg, receptacles for this divine stream. Therefore, the life of every person and especially his development after death is determined by how much of this wisdom and love he accepts in himself. Since the beings are free in their will , they could also decide against divine wisdom and love by choosing the "hellish" forms of love instead of the "heavenly" forms of love, love of God and neighborly love (= altruism) to turn to “love of the world” and “self-love” (= selfishness).

Swedenborg distinguishes between an inner (spiritual) and an outer (natural) person. The spiritual man is "in the splendor of heaven", he is called living in the teaching of Christ. The natural man who is only in the light of the world is called "dead". The inner man is an “angel of heaven” and man is destined to become this angel within himself by living divine wisdom and love. Swedenborg postulated an eternal progress of all beings in the growth and development of divine wisdom and love. All angels were once human beings and developed up through love activity. Particular attention and reluctance from the Swedish imperial church aroused the doctrine based on spiritual vision that not only Christians, but also non-Christians and pagans can be found in heaven , since God does not look at the beliefs, but at whether the respective person is in the good of the heavenly Love be. The Swedenborg supporter Charles Bonney, a member of the Chicago Swedenborg Church, founded the first world parliament of religions in 1893 on the occasion of the world exhibition in Chicago . He wanted to complement the materialistic, triumphant world industrial fair with a spiritual world meeting of religions.

Anglo-Indian theosophy

The Theosophical Society (TG), which emerged in 1875 completely detached from Western theosophy on the basis of modern occultism and spiritism , redefined the term theosophy and in principle only used it for the teachings of the TG, which were derived from old Eastern sources. The term theosophy , which describes the work and activity area of ​​the TG , is sometimes referred to as “newer” or “modern” theosophy to distinguish it from the usual use. The Theosophy Blavatsky was the essence of all great religions and philosophies, as they'll ever since man could think taught by a select few and practiced, and meant purely divine ethics. She claims that one can not only believe, but penetrate through thinking and knowledge to esoteric knowledge. In contrast, all dictionary definitions are rejected as nonsense based on religious prejudice and ignorance of the true spirit of the Rosicrucians and of the medieval philosophers who call themselves theosophists. Every human being has a latent predisposition to clairvoyance, which can be awakened through occult soul training.

Blavatsky's theories are based on their Western reception of the Hindu tradition. In her omissions she refers to wise teachers and especially to the book of Dzyan , which she invented and which is based on the basic dogma that a personal God is unthinkable. In their view of the world, the human being goes through successive reincarnations , which are something to be feared as associated with suffering, misery and pain. The ultimate goal of human beings must be "self-deification", merging with "absolute consciousness". To this end, developing humanity goes through seven root races . The people of the seventh root race would become gods who rule over planets. Our universe is only one of an infinite number of which appeared cyclically only to disappear again after billions of years.


  • Antoine Faivre : Christian Theosophy. In: Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Ed .: Wouter J. Hanegraaff . Brill, Leiden / Boston 2006. pp. 258-267.
  • Joscelyn Godwin : The Theosophical Enlightenment . SUNY Press, Albany 1994.
  • Björn Seidel-Dreffke: The Russian literature at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century and the theosophy of EP Blavatskajas. Exemplary studies (A. Belyj, MA Vološin, VI Kryžanovskaja, Vs. S. Solov'ev). ISBN 3-89846-308-7 .
  • Arthur Versluis: Theosophia. Hidden Dimensions of Christianity. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson 1994.
  • Arthur Versluis: Christian Theosophy. Esoterica VIII (2006), pp. 136–181 ( PDF )

Web links

Commons : Theosophy  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Chiara Tommasi Ombretta: theosophies. In: Christoph Riedweg et al. (Ed.): Philosophy of the Imperial Era and Late Antiquity (= Outline of the history of philosophy . The philosophy of antiquity. Volume 5/2), Basel 2018, pp. 1217–1223, here: 1217 f.
  2. Chiara Tommasi Ombretta: theosophies. In: Christoph Riedweg et al. (Ed.): Philosophy of the Imperial Era and Late Antiquity (= Outline of the History of Philosophy. The Philosophy of Antiquity. Volume 5/2), Basel 2018, pp. 1217–1223, here: 1218–1222.
  3. Chiara Tommasi Ombretta: theosophies. In: Christoph Riedweg et al. (Ed.): Philosophy of the Imperial Era and Late Antiquity (= Outline of the History of Philosophy. The Philosophy of Antiquity. Volume 5/2), Basel 2018, pp. 1217–1223, here: 1223.
  4. ^ Antoine Faivre : Christian Theosophy . In: Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism . Ed .: Wouter J. Hanegraaff . Brill, Leiden 2006, p. 259; Arthur Versluis: Christian Theosophy. Esoterica VIII (2006), p. 137. ( PDF )
  5. Antoine Faivre: Esoteric Overview . Herder, 2001, pp. 130-131.
  6. Sabine Doering-Manteuffel : The occult . A success story in the shadow of the Enlightenment - From Gutenberg to the World Wide Web . Siedler, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-88680-888-5 , p. 194 and P. 200.
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  8. Antoine Faivre: Esoteric Overview . Herder, 2001, p. 135.
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