Sophia and Sophiology: From Boehme to Schelling

December 14, 2021
Sophia and Sophiology
A discussion with Sean J. McGrath took place on Nov. 15.

Jacob Boehme may have been the first to have developed the Old Testament figure of Sophia, Yahweh’s eternal partner of Proverbs 8, into a metaphysical doctrine of divine androgyny. Beginning in his 1809 Freedom Essay, and continuing through to his 1841 Philosophy of Revelation, Schelling repeatedly returned to the Boehmian figure of Sophia, insisting that she was more than mere metaphor. Boehme's sophiology, according to Schelling, advanced a crucial metaphysical point, one that is as relevant to the philosophy of religion of today as it was 150 years ago."Sophia and Sophiology: From Boehme to Schelling" is part of the CSWR's new initiative, "Transcendence and Transformation."

Sean J. McGrath is a Canadian philosopher of religion who has published widely in the areas of hermeneutical phenomenology, psychoanalysis, German idealism, and ecology. He is Professor of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at McGill University. His most recent book is The Philosophical Foundations of the Late Schelling: The Turn to the Positive (Edinburg University Press, 2021).



SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Sophia and Sophiology-- from Boehme to Schelling. November 15, 2021.

HADI FAKHOURY: Good evening and welcome. My name is Hadi Fakhoury, and I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to this evening's event, the second in a new series on the divine feminine and its discontents.

This series is part of a wider initiative the center has launched on transcendence and transformation, or T&T for short. If you're interested in learning more about the initiative, please visit our website and sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Our last event featured Professor Joy Dixon from the University of British Columbia, who gave a talk exploring the genealogy of the concept of the divine feminine in modern esotericism and its intersection with questions of politics, gender, sex, and sexuality. The video of that event is now available on our website.

Tonight's lecture looks at a different, if no less fascinating, tradition of discourse on the divine feminine in modern Europe, namely sophiology. This theosophical and theological tradition foregrounds Sophia as the personified biblical figure of divine wisdom.

The modern roots of this current can be traced to the 16th century German mystic, Jakob Boehme, famously described by Hegel as the first German philosopher. And he was an important influence on German romanticism and idealism.

On the basis of this German tradition, theological speculation on the figure of Sophia became prominent in 19th and 20th century Russian religious thought, notably in the works of Vladimir Solovyov, Pavel Florensky, and Sergei Bulgakov, among others. These thinkers have had a broad and little-cited influence, not restricted to Christian thought. Notably the French theologian and scholar of Islamic mysticism, Henry Corbin, interpreted Islamic notions using sophiological categories inherited from these German and Russian antecedents.

The Center in the spring will be hosting a conference on Corbin. Tonight's event which deals, with the German sources of this tradition, partly aims to prepare us for this conference. Another event to be held in the spring semester will cover the Russian chapter of sophiology, as it were. Again, please sign up to our newsletters and stay tuned.

Our guest for this evening is Professor Sean McGrath. Sean is a Canadian philosopher of religion who has published widely in the areas of hermeneutical phenomenology, psychoanalysis, German idealism, and ecology. He is Professor of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at McGill University.

Sean is an international authority on the thought of the 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, about whom we'll hear more in this event. Sean is the, author notably, of The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious, published in 2012, one of the most original studies of Schelling to appear in recent times, and which is widely considered to be the best single volume introduction to an exposition of Schelling's mature thought. That book argued that the psychoanalytical concept of the unconscious is rooted in the philosophical tradition of Jakob Boehme as interpreted by Schelling.

When this book came out, I had just started my doctoral studies, and reading it cemented my decision to devote my dissertation to Schelling. Sean's most recent book, The Philosophical Foundations of the Late Schelling: The Turn to the Positive, published by Edinburgh University Press, is the first in a two-volume work aimed at evaluating Schelling's arguments for a Philosophy of Revelation and a demonstrating their importance for contemporary and religious thought.

We are extremely honored and happy that Sean accepted our invitation to address the difficult topic of Sophia, sophiology, and the works of Jakob Boehme and Schelling. We have an hour and a half together this evening. I will soon disappear from the screen, and Sean will appear. He will speak for about 50 minutes, and then I will reappear to pose Sean some questions. Hopefully this will lead to a lively discussion.

Hello, Sean.

SEAN MCGRATH: Hello, I jumped the gun. I've been appearing on screen for some time, but nevertheless, thank you for the nice [INAUDIBLE] and the introduction.

HADI FAKHOURY: Great. Sean, you know how excited I am about this. And thank you for being here. And the floor is yours.

SEAN MCGRATH: Thank you so much.

HADI FAKHOURY: [INAUDIBLE] screen I'll reappear at the end of your talk.

SEAN MCGRATH: Good. And somebody let me know if something goes wrong with the tech, OK? But I assume everything's going to go just fine.

So thank you for the invitation, and thank you for those of you who have tuned in. I'm very excited about this topic. It's not exactly an under-researched topic, but it's a topic that has great variety of research, from the very good to the very bad. So I hope I can put a little bit of the good into the tradition.

I'll invite my colleague to start up the slides and share the screen. Proverbs 8 22:31-- "The Lord brought me, Sophia, forth as the first of his works before his deeds of old. I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning when the world came to be. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep.

Then, I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight, day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world, and delighting in mankind."

The whole of the sophianic tradition, from the Alexandrian fathers through German romanticism and idealism, to Eastern Orthodoxy, rests on two passages from the Hebrew Bible-- this passage from Proverbs 8, from which we get the image of Sophia as the first of God's works, the creator's female partner, who rejoices in God's presence and delights in the world and in mankind. And the next slide, please. Wisdom 7, particularly verse 26, where we hear that she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness.

The first to develop this biblical figure into a metaphysics was Philo of Alexandria, contemporary of St Paul's, who correlated Sophia with the shekinah, the presence of God, specifically in the Tabernacle, more generally amidst his people, and for Phyllo, in God's creation as such. Philo's work influenced the sociology of the Alexandrian church fathers, who noted that, in at least two places, Paul described the Christ in sophianic terms as, quote, "the wisdom of God," 1 Corinthians, 24, and, quote, "the image of the invisible God, the first born overall creation," Colossians 1;15.

Alexandrian Christology inaugurated a long tradition of thinking of Sophia as a prefiguration of the Christ, with the opposed genders of the two figures remaining curiously unproblematized. This changes with the work of the 17th century Salesian theosophist, Jakob Boehme, the shoemaker of Gorlitz, who wrote voluminously and cryptic treatises in speculative theology, especially on the question of who God was before God created the world.

Boehme was silenced by the Lutheran authorities, but his handwritten manuscripts went viral nonetheless, through their transmission via Boehme enthusiasts in the tolerant Dutch Republic, and then via English Protestant mystics-- above all Jane Lead and John Portage and the Philadelphians. Boehme's thought returned to Germany, where Boehme's crude but powerful symbols were transformed into speculative metaphysics by 18th century pietists and their followers, the early romantics and the German idealists.

In Boehme's sophiology, Sophia is a Hebrew foreshadowing of the doctrine of-- I'm sorry. In Boehme's sophiology. Sophia is more than a Hebrew foreshadowing of the doctrine of the pre-existent logos. That was the Alexandrian position. For Boehme, Sophia is a distinct personification of the divine feminine, one who is structurally different from the Christ and necessary to the birth of the trinity from the undifferentiated infinite, or what Burma calls, the unground, [GERMAN].

God, like man, is originally androgynous in Boehme view, for the feminine is not a privation of the masculine, as in traditional Aristotelian anthropology, but an irreducible quality in its own right, the equiprimordial receptive other to masculine agency, and necessary as such for there to be anything at all. For Boehme, Sophia is, first of all, related only to God, who glories in the order of things before they are yet made, reflected in the mirror of wisdom like an artist in reverie, following a vision of that which could be, but which is not yet, and which only depends on God's will to come into being.

God's delight in Sophia, playing like a child before the throne in Proverbs 8, is read by Boehme as a figurative expression for God's creation of the possibility of things. This is something decidedly other than Aristotle's noesis, [ANCIENT GREEK], the infinite idea that God thinks in thinking God's self, in which, according to Christian neoplatonic exemplarism, all the forms of things are united and implicit, like fractals in a crystal.

What Boehme has in mind is the showing, not only of identity, but above all, of difference, the ideas is concretized and differentiated in a wondrous show of infinite multiplicity, the many things harmonizing and existing together in a mutually complementary diversity. It is Sophia who first shows this vision of possible diversity of beings to God. Sophia, then, is the image or mirror of God in a specific sense. She is the image of the mind of God, the image of the order of a possible multiplicity which God conceives when God considers the possibility of there being something other than God.

But Boehme's Sophia is not limited to the role she plays in the life of God before creation. Once the world is created, Sophia serves as the bond between creation and creator. As the shine of the glory of the divine plurality, she is particularly directed to the one creature who is specially disposed to appreciate the whole show, the human being. Sophia visits those who love God and reveals to them the glory of God shining in the things God has made.

Wisdom, in the hebraic tradition, which inspires Boehme's theosophy, is not a human predicate or a virtue as in Greek philosophy, but a gift from God, that is, something which we lack the means to produce on our own, but which can descend unexpectedly on the pious soul-- hence, the theosophical insight or gnosis, which is nothing less than a recovery of our lost sophianic connection, lost in the fall from our original androgyny. It is neither discursive nor deductive, and it depends more on holiness of life than it does on learning.

Sophia reveals to the lovers of God how the many things that come to be and are of God and revelatory of the beauty of the divine. In esoteric Christianity, hermetic Christianity, Sophia is neither the Christ nor the spirit but the fourth, which Maria the prophetess repeating Pythagorean triad of mysticism describes as, the one that out of the third comes. That's the axiom of Maria.

Boehme protested against his theological judges, who accused him of adding to the trinity, that Sophia is not a fourth person with agency, which would masculinize her. In Boehme's radically non-modalist vision, the three divine principles ground three persons, which he understands to be three divine centers of intellection and agency. Sophia does not possess a mind and will of her own. She is the passive receiver of the light emitted by the three, the divine light which is too bright for earthly eyes. "No man shall see my face and live," Exodus 33:20 is rendered visible by Sophia.

We might see Sophia as not quite making the cut in this distinction between persons and principles, an example of Boehme's residual androcentrism. And there is certainly something conventional about the feminine being relegated to a passive role with respect to the masculine. But we need to look more carefully beneath these cultural prejudices to grasp how Boehme has radically altered the traditional Christian conception of divinity so as to render that which was, in the Aristotelian scholastic tradition, always denigrated as subdivine, if not in fact a species of nothingness-- potency, materia, dunamis-- as an essential and irreducible principle of divinity, creation, and inspiration.

According to Antoine Faivre, Boehme is the first in the history of Christian theology to develop the figure of Sophia into a structural feature of divinity. But what inspired Boehme? Boehme was an autodidact, whose originality was a function of his isolation from mainstream currents of early modern philosophy and theology. He knew next to nothing of Aristotelian scholasticism and its concerns and nothing at all of the Cartesian turn to the subject, which was happening in his very lifetime.

But he was not without his own self-guided program of research. The reconstruction of Boehme's sources is a Herculean task, since Burma left little references to anything other than the Luther Bible. We do know, however, that Boehme was deeply conversant with and influenced by Paracelsian alchemy, key terms of which, like [INAUDIBLE], mysterium magnum, and turba, and above all the material triad of sulfur, salt, and mercury abound in his work.

Next slide, please.

We can assume, as well, that Boehme knew something, at least at second hand, about the Kabbalah. And the traces of this knowledge are scattered throughout his work, from the notion of creation beginning in a negation of infinity, to the idea of a finite number of divine qualities that are differentiated to become the basal notes of all that comes to be in nature, nine sefirot and the Kabbalah, seven spirits of eternal nature in Boehme.

There's no time to pursue these influences in any detail here, but there is sufficient evidence, in my view, to see in Paracelsian alchemy and the Kabbalah, filtered through the wild genius of Boehme, the principal sources of modern sophiology-- or two of the principal sources, along, of course, with Proverbs and Wisdom.

Suffice it then to flag to non-scriptural sophianic figures at this moment, which may have played a catalytic role in Boehme's innovations. The first which has already been briefly mentioned is the shekinah of Talmudic Judaism. And there's an image of the shekinah, the presence of God in the Tabernacle, the presence of God among his people in the temple. Understood Kabbalistically, the shekinah becomes the 10th sefirot.

The second non-scriptural figure is from Paracelsus. It is the notion of prima materia. In both concepts, we see a rethinking, if not quite a reversal, of the metaphysical exclusion of potency from divinity, which had dominated theology since the Aristotelian revival. Both traditions also problematize as the Aristotelian scholastic notion of creatio ex nihilo and prefer instead a model of creatio ex Deo.

Just a brief word then on shekinah. In the Talmud, the shekinah is the presence of God in the Tabernacle, as depicted here. Yahweh, it seems, needs a receptacle in the world, a hollowed out space and time, a sacralized materiality, in order to be manifest. The shekinah is the clearing necessary for the material showing of God.

In the Kabbalah, this presence is greatly developed. The shekinah becomes the 10th and the female sefirot, offering a body a physical space, a determinate time for the persisting presence of God in the world, even perhaps, especially, in times of exile and alienation. She is the bride of the Sabbath and the Mystics' companion.

Next slide, please.

So here's an image from, actually, Robert Flood's 1617 History of the Two Worlds, depicting Flood's appropriation of Paracelsus, his notion of prima materia, the original chaos, which is originally found in the Timaeus. The prima materia with which the demiurge works has, implicit within it, the four elements. You can see them depicted there.

But something happens to this notion in Paracelsian alchemy. It becomes the philosopher's stone, the most common and lowest substance, which is at the root of everything, and is the most prescient, but at the same time is the most precious substance in which the forms of all things are implicit and which, therefore, possesses the much sought after power of transmutation.

In Paracelsus, something traditionally associated with femininity, matter, is elevated above all other substances, above even form, as the highest and most powerful of things. Paracelsus will go so far as to identify the prima materia with divinity.

But who is Boehme's Sophia, more specifically, for God? And who is God that God should be accompanied eternally by her? In too many places in the 11 volumes of his collected works to list, Boehme describes God, before creating the world, in terms of a theogony that involves five terms-- the underground, which is Boehme's [GERMAN] or [GERMAN], non-relational infinity, which, in itself, is nothing because it is free of all determinism, is grounded by nothing, wills and desires nothing since it has nothing to will and desire.

Second, a dark, contrastive, wrathful principle or drive-- [GERMAN], [GERMAN], [GERMAN], [GERMAN]. These are Boehme's terms for this first dark principle, which emerges out of an original split in the unground. Third, a light expansive principle of love, which emerges as the other side of the split and nullifies the dark principle.

Fourth, a third principle, which mediates between the two original opposites, orders the relations of the two, and achieves a life-giving and productive balance, what Boehme calls the [GERMAN] between otherwise conflicting drives. And fifth, Sophia the mirror of wisdom, [GERMAN], the eye of God's seeing.

Next slide, please.

Sophia eternally reflects the ordered relation of the three principals back to God and makes manifest their implicit qualities, the seven forms of eternal nature, and thus unifies, in a single image, as in Lacan's mirror stage, the divine, productively dissociative self.

So this image is the frontispiece of Boehme's 1621 one text from Sechs Punkten, which appeared along with many other such engravings in the 1730 edition of Boehme's works. The engraver is Michael Andreae. And in this image, one can see these five terms organized.

So on the outer circle, we see [SPEAKING GERMAN]


So this is the unground, the non-relational infinite which has pushed through the circumference of the circle. In fact, it has disappeared. So there's no image for it at all. It has absented itself.

In its place, three principles have emerged. So we have the dark principle on the bottom and the light principle in the top. And the tension between the two, causing the crack, the flash of light in the center. Over each of the principles is the name of the divine person whose principle this is. So the dark principle is the principle proper to the father, V for father. The light principle is the principle proper to the sun, [GERMAN] with the S.

The mediating principle is the principle proper to the Holy Spirit, [GERMAN], the crack there. And then you see the sun and the moon on either side, to show this original polarity of masculine, feminine-- archetypal masculine, feminine. These two triangles, by the way, when they come together, they form the pentagram.

But most importantly, for our purposes encircling the three are two sets of eyes looking at each other. And inside is written, [GERMAN]. This is the artist's depiction of Sophia. So even in the imagery, you can see that she is not one of the persons, but she is one of the principles, in a certain way.

The relation of these five turns to one another can only be recounted in a narrative, an event, which Boehme insists repeatedly does not happen in time. Out of the unconscious and indifferent unground, a drive toward self manifestation arises, a drive which precipitates a splitting of the infinite into two opposing drives of darkness and light, for a thing can only be manifest where there is darkness against which it is profiled.

This [GERMAN] event may or may not be directly patterned off the [GERMAN] or contraction that initiates creation in the Lurianic Kabbalah, but its effect is the same. The unground withdraws and negates itself so that so that something else might be. It negates itself by giving rise to polar drives, conflicting desires and self-division. These polar drives produce movement and ultimately manifestation, or in Boehme's preferred term, [GERMAN], and out of this manifestation, life.

Boehme's idea is, if infinity did not absent itself, nothing could come to be. The two principles become the driving forces that, when tinctured by each other, cease to be antagonistic, but rather concentrate the father and the son of the Christian trinity. The mollifying influence of the son on the father and the self-giving of the father to the son allows for the emergence of the third person out of the third mediating drive, the function of which is not only to mediate between the two divine persons, but to share and communicate the event of love achieved between the father and the son.

The triune event constitutes the eternal birth of God, complete before God's creation of the world and culminating in God's eternal enjoyment of the wholeness of God's triune self. Sophia is the mirror in which this self-contemplation of the triune God occurs. And thus, her appearance is the final consummating moment in the theogony.

With the reflection of the trinity in Sofia, the seven forms of nature, which are implicit in each of the three principles, become explicit and differentiated from one another. And so a kind of palette of qualities is made available to God should God decide to create a world. This theogony is the first creation, the self-birthing of God from undifferentiated, non-relational infinity. It is then repeated through God's fiat in a second, finite creation in a cosmogony, the creation of the material world, which is affected through the exterior of the seven properties of eternal nature, which serve then as the basal notes, or irreducible elements, out of which all spiritual and material beings are made.

One of the most striking repercussions of Boehme's theogony, which had an enormous effect on German philosophy, from the first romantic responses to Kant, to the mature, idealist systems of Schelling and Hegel, to the post-idealist philosophies of will, of Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, and Nietzsche, is Boehme's rehabilitation of desire-- Eros of course, at the very origin of the Christian neoplatonic tradition.

But the Christian libido had cooled down considerably by the late Middle Ages. The effective and libidinous side of Christianity had been segregated, safely cloistered. It was the domain of mystics and negative theologians, who no longer presumed to be involved in any project of knowledge.

Speculative thought in the universities, meanwhile, became detached and disinterested and in some cases quite hostile to Eros. The successor to late medieval thought, puritanical Protestantism, in fact, demonized Eros. Boehme, untroubled by the concerns of the late scholastic debates and objecting to 17th century Protestant prudishness with the healthy earthiness of a peasant, directly locates the origin of desire in God, and thus goes even further than Augustine.

Desire is not only an effect of created being, the restlessness of the creature seeking the reditus back to its divine origin. Desire is, for Boehme, to risk sounding Deleuzian, not only reactive; it is productive. Eros begins in God-- more exactly, in the unground, the self-sufficient non-relational infinite not as in Augustine, in creation. Desire is not a symptom of finitude, a limitation from which divinity is free. Desire is a divine predicate.

Eros, then, begins in excess, not lack. The unground does not react to a desired object in its erotic encounter with Sophia, but produces one. Sophia does not initially have persuasive power over the unground. A letting be happens, by which Sophia becomes luminous with vision, which anticipates the divine fiat for creation. Sophia can offer the unground the opportunity for something better than [GERMAN].

And here I draw on Meister Eckhart's term for God's seclusion and self-sufficiency, untranslatable term-- [GERMAN]. Sophia offers the underground something better than [GERMAN], something better than the immovable serenity of infinity, only because the unground allows the drive for manifestation to awaken it from the slumber of eternity.

Most importantly, the arousal of drive in the otherwise impassable unground, which ensues from the sophianic encounter is, according to Boehme, not a diminishment of divinity, but the very origin of the living God. The unground that wills nothing is less than God. Life, Boehme is saying in so many words, with all of its contradictions and risks, is better than an eternal stillness in which nothing can occur. Nothing can suffer in the undifferentiated infinite, but nothing can grow there either. Sophia, then, gives God something to desire and thus introduces desire, as such, into being with all of its consequences, movement, suffering, struggle, and growth.

And in the interest of building on this notion of, all life is suffering, I shall not subject you to a special kind of suffering. We shall read a passage of Jakob Boehme, whom Cyril O'Regan called, quite simply, the most difficult read in the history of Western thought. This passage is from Boehme's-- it's one of Boehme's many descriptions of Sophia it's taken from a 1619 book The Three Principles of the Divine Essence.

"Now see the lily, Sophia, thou noble mind, full of anguish and afflictions of this world. Now, the virgin is present before God and inclines herself to the spirit from which the virtue proceeds, out of which she, the chaste virgin, is. This is now God's companion to the honor and joy of God. The same appears or discovers herself in the eternal wonders of God.

In the discovery, she becomes longing after the wonders in the eternal wisdom, which yet is herself. And thus she longs in herself, and her longing is the eternal essences, which attract the holy virtue to her, and the fiat creates them so that they stand in a substance. And she is a virgin and never generates anything, neither takes anything into her. Her inclination stands in the Holy Ghost, who goes forth from God and attracts nothing to him, but moves before God and is the blossom of the growth.

And in this discovery, there go forth, out of the eternal element, colors, arts, and virtues, and the sprouts of the lily of God at which the deity continually rejoices itself in the virgin of the wisdom. And that joy goes forth out of the eternal essences that is called paradise, in regard of the sharpness of the generating of the pleasant fruit of the lily infinitely, where, then, the essences of the lily spring up in wonders in many thousands, thousands without number, of which you have a similitude in the Earth."

It should be evident that, for Boehme, feminine passivity and receptivity is as divine as masculine activity and agency. And second, the qualities of the sensible order-- in this passage, the eternal elements-- colors, arts, and virtues-- these qualities traditionally associated with matter, finitude, becoming, limitation, and imperfection-- are sourced to God.

From this passage, we see that Sophia appears to be needed from the beginning, as a kind of spouse of the unground. Herein lies a metaphysical problem, which Schelling will tackle head on. An infinity that needs another to mediate its experience of itself, even a divine other, is not infinite according to the tradition. If God does not begin perfect and infinite, as Jacobi argued in the 1811 polemic, [GERMAN], God will not finish perfect and infinite but be reduced to a finite thing that comes to be in time, in reaction to forces outside of it.

Before we look at Schelling's solution to this problem, it is crucial to see the force of the Jacobian argument. It is the argument of the whole ontotheological tradition, which rises up in protest against all monotheistic theogonies or evolutionary monotheisms from the Corpus Hermeticum to Berdyaev, and declares that God is perfect, impassable, in need of nothing, desiring nothing, or else God does not exist.

We can go to the next slide.

This is a painting by Nicholas Roerich called the Mother of the World, a 1937 painting. I'm going to keep it up there for the moment. I don't have time to speak of Sophia and the soul of the world or the world's soul, or the spirit of the world, but suffice it to say that that connection exists.

Boehme's theogony is impelled by an implicit speculative logic, which the German idealists will make explicit-- Baader and Hegel, to be sure, but above all, Schelling. It is a Teutonic logic, not beholden to Greek ontotheology or Latin Aristotelian scholasticism, and with largely unexamined roots in hebraic voluntarism.

Boehme insists, as no scholastic thinker would, that materia, dunamis, potentia must be sourced to God, since nothing that has any other source. He instinctively rejects any account of nature, such as the traditional neoplatonic emanationism, which would render nature a mere shadow of eternity.

This is where the custom of calling Burma a Gnostic, which is as old as the accusations against him by his Lutheran pastor Gregorius Richter and as recently as Cyril O'Regan's book Gnostic Apocalypse is so misplaced. No thinker in the tradition is more affirmative of materiality than Boehme.

He believes what he reads in Genesis, that God created the heavens and the Earth and saw that it was good. He believes that the logos became flesh on this Earth in a real body and dwelt among us. A world created by God and declared good and become the site of incarnation is not a shadow world.

Boehme insists that the unground is first. There is no idea or potency behind it which could inspire it. But if the infinite has nothing that preceded it, no a priori, then possibility can only lie in front of it. And so we get this image of the unground being faced by Sophia, the personification of potency.

The idea here, which Schelling elaborates in metaphysical terms, is that finite willing-- not God's willing, but our willing-- like any finite change of state is always preceded by potency. What one wills in an act of finite willing, of finite creation or production of the new, is first of all a possibility. Possibility therefore precedes actuality in the order of nature.

The finite will reaches back into the infinite store of unactualized possibilities in any common act of willing. These possibilities are typically understood to be ideas in the mind of God, since nothing can be willed that God could not, in some way, anticipate or, better, which God does not in some way make possible.

But we are speaking of the first act of will, the act of the infinite willing the finite, which Boehme understands as the infinite willing to be God, creator, providential ruler of our universe that is other than him. In such a case, a reference back to a pre-existent possibility is not an option-- the possible that the infinite wills cannot be antecedent in Schelling's language. It must be consequent. But if the consequently possible comes to the infinite wholly from without, like a suggestion made to a person stuck in a bind by a well-meaning friend, something he did not think up for himself and which he could not have come up with himself, then the infinite is not infinite but deals with another.

The only solution is that possibility is with the infinite from the beginning, as a consequent of pure act. The neoplatonic notion of God as actus purus-- actus purus, act without potency, and the corollary, potency as a privation of actuality, determined mainstream Christian, Jewish, and Muslim theology until the Reformation. And it still plays a normative role in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thought.

It has the advantage of preventing any dilution of the difference between creator and creature and the imminentist, or pantheist of the univocatio entis, and so protecting the being of God from any association with time. It has the disadvantage, however, that as a result of God's unalloyed actuality, God's untouchable eternity, creation is nothing for God, adds nothing to God's life.

Indeed, on the basis of the neoplatonic metaphysics of act, Eckhart will argue that creatures are a pure nothing. God alone is. Creation is so devoid of reality on this line that God is not even related to it. God does not need it, certainly, and can only be said to love it and to suffer for it metaphorically, as the fathers concluded in the third century [LATIN] controversy. If, on the other hand, creation is something for God and God genuinely loves it and genuinely suffers for it, then God must be conceived as more than pure act.

To the further question, what does the world do for God, Boehme answers, it renders God visible, [GERMAN], in a bodily way, makes God corporeally manifest, and thus further satisfies the Infinite's drive towards self-communication. Bettinger, the 18th century speculative pietist, refines Boehme's answer and says nature makes God [GERMAN]. [SPEAKING GERMAN]


[GERMAN]. which we could perhaps translate as, embodiment, is the goal of the work of God. But we must be clear on one point, Hegel and the middle Schelling were not so clear on it. God, in the Bohmeian tradition, does not need creation to be God. To say so is to elevate the human into a place that is reserved for the divine, but it is also to sideline Sophia entirely, to kick her out of heaven, so to speak.

God already has his self-manifestation in eternity. God is non-dialectically individuated or personalized. Sophia has always already accomplished it for him. She has always already mediated God to God's self. Creation is not needed for this purpose.

What is willed by God in creating the material world is a more humanly, familiar kind of mediation and visibility, sensuous visibility, tangibility-- in short, embodiment, [GERMAN]. God wishes to go further. God wishes to invite others to the show. The others do not need to be there. The show will go on without them, for it began before them, and in some ways it has nothing to do with them. It is God's eternal act of individuation, not humanity's ascent into spirit, that is at issue.

The inclusion of the creation in the theodrama of Boehme is a contingency. It is the only reason why there is something rather than nothing. It is the whole telos of nature to participate in the self-manifestation of God and, in this role, creation finds its own debt. But precisely because of the eternal mediation of Sophia, creation is not necessary.

And now I'll turn to Schelling. We'll keep the image up for a bit. We need not speculate that the biblical figure of Sophia was important to the later Schelling. She's implicitly invoked at a key passage in the 1809 Freedom Essay, explicitly referenced in the 1815 draft of The Ages of the World, and discussed at length in the 1841 Philosophy of Revelation.

In all of these references, the influence of Boehme is evident, for in all of these passages, Schelling insists that the Hebrew symbol of the divine feminine, Sophia, bespeaks a crucial metaphysical principle, one that is necessary if we are to move beyond the static transcendence of the actus purus of the ontotheological tradition to a philosophy of the living God, more precisely to a philosophy of a God whose proper name is, life, with all of the connotations this term brings, a God who is spontaneous, free, driven, willing, desiring, suffering, and above all, capable of self-developing.

Through a careful exegesis of several pages of the recently translated Paulus edition of Schelling's 1841 Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation, I intend to show that in his speculative transformation of the biblical symbol of Sophia into a metaphysical principle, Schelling follows Boehme every step of the way.

But already, in 1809, in Schelling's relatively early Freedom Essay, we read of how the dark ground of spirit churns with the possibility of existence, feels the possibility of God, and with God, the possibility of love. The dark ground yearns blindly for that which it does not and cannot know.

A reflection arises in the ground of all that could be should the ground move out from itself and decide for existence. An image of God, which by reflecting God back to the ground, actualizes his God.

Next slide, please.

This is a passage from Schelling's "Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom," 1809. "Thus, we must imagine the original yearning-- not God, but the ground of God, as it directs itself to the understanding, though still not recognizing it, just as we in our yearning, seek unknown and nameless good.

And as it moves, divining itself, like a wave-wound whirling sea, akin to Plato's matter, following dark uncertain law, incapable of constructing for itself anything enduring but corresponding to the yearning which, as the still, dark ground, is the first stirring of divine existence, an inner reflexive representation is generated. And God himself, through which-- since he can have no other object but God-- God sees himself in an exact image of himself.

This representation is the first in which God considered as absolute is realized, although only in himself. This representation is with God in the beginning, and is the God who was begotten in God himself."

Boehme's Sophia is plainly behind this passage. The wave-wound sea, platonic matter, the mirror of God, even if it is not all that clear what she is doing there or more terms she's introduced.

What the late Schelling adds to this retrieval of Burma's sociology-- that is, the Schelling of The Philosophy of Revelation, which is first unveiled in 1831 in Munich-- what this later Schelling adds is a more speculative argument for divine femininity, one that recognizes, with the Aristotelian tradition, the need to maintain the unmixed quality of the pure, infinite act of God, while arguing for the conceptual necessity of positing an equiprimordial principle of divine potency or divine femininity alongside pure act.

The masculine, or active principal, in God might be first. But according to Schelling's law of the ground, the first is not necessarily the highest. In fact, the feminine, passive, divine principle, which is second in the sense of reflecting the first back to itself, is the means for the development of divine being into life. Mediating, as it does, divine understanding and the possibility of freedom, relation, and love, she can therefore be regarded as in a sense higher than pure act.

And just to go back to this quote for a moment-- I've read the Freedom Essay more times than I can count. I think I've taught it every year of my career. And I keep finding things in it. And I just found something here.

So what one notices here is that, yes, the unground-- the yearning begins in the unground. It has the initiative, so to speak. But it cannot hold it together. The thing is the unground is incapable of constructing for itself anything enduring. It's blind. Until this yearning finds its home in Sophia, in the substance of Sophia, as Boehme calls it-- it is fleeting and evanescent and something that could produce no knowledge. So there is that theme of platonic matter playing a codeterminative role in the production of the form, matter synthesis.

The thing to be done with Boehme, according to the late Schelling-- not the shelling of 1809, but the Schelling of 1841, the Schelling who's no longer interested in writing theosophy, which he was quite interested in doing in 1809. The thing to be done with Boehme and theosophy is to give reasons, exoteric, speculative philosophical reasons for things that Boehme somewhat wildly asserts.

Versatile in Aristotelian scholastic ontology, Schelling makes clear, as Boehme cannot, that the principle of the primacy of act over potency is not violated by Boehme's sophiology and should not be violated by any philosophy of God. Pure act remains and must remain first, or in Schelling's preferred terms, unprethinkable. Otherwise nothing would ever come to be.

But to be first for Schelling does not mean to be complete or finished. Moreover, what is first is spontaneous precisely because it's first, and that means, free, in the Kantian sense of self-authoring and autonomous. Potency cannot precede freedom, else it would not be first. But nothing prevents the first from being succeeded by potency, from generating potency.

And this succession, if it is conceived as internal to God, changes the first, according to the law of the ground, whereby the consequent determines the antecedent retroactively, precisely by being its antecedent. The first will no longer be simply the pure, [GERMAN] act. It will be the ungrounded ground of something other than itself.

The later Schelling, in effect, insists that the sophianic theogony has an explanatory value, the importance of which must not be underplayed. By rendering divine potency the consequent of divine actuality but no less divine for that, God enters into a living relationship with that which God creates. Creation is no longer without a reason. It concretizes and materializes what has occurred on a spiritual level in eternity.

More importantly, a God who is already internally vulnerable to a sophianic other can allow the creature to have an effect on God. An infinite and all-powerful God can make God's self vulnerable to the creature. That is, God can, if God so decides, surrender to contingency, which is precisely what the Jewish-Christian revelation has always said about God.

Next slide, please.

In this following passage, taken from Schelling's 1841 Lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation, neither scripture nor Boehme are directly referenced. They are later in the text. But what's happening in this dense and decisive passage in particular is nothing less than a metaphysical reconstruction and rehabilitation of Boehme's sociology.

"The more decisively the essence of God is posited here as being actus puris, the less it seems probable"-- I'm sorry, "the less it seems possible to proceed from there. The actus puris cannot begin anything. It is rigid and unmovable, without potency. There is no moving forward.

And yet we must try to get past it. Unprethinkable being is the real first. Once there was nothing except pure existence, [GERMAN]. But since other things exist beside it, there must be a way to go beyond it.

We've only rejected the antecedent, potency. Pure existence cannot be in potency antecedently, i.e. before it is. But from the fact that it is not antecedently in potency, it does not follow that being cannot possess the ability to be after the fact, [LATIN], in the proper sense after it is, hence a posteriori. However being, the actus must precede it.

Yet nothing prevents pure existence-- and it would not contradict its nature-- to be consequently presented with a possibility to be other than it unpredictably is," end quote.

Thus does Schelling maintain the purity of the divine, infinite, and unconditioned act that is the ground of God. He maintains, with Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, and Aquinas, the Hellenistic, non-negotiable metaphysical principle of God's freedom from potency. But, Schelling argues, that such an act, should it remain without potency, must be considered in itself blind and therefore less than the divinely existing, living God.

Pure act is free from potency. It is preceded by nothing. Just as Augustine and Aquinas would have it, it is immovable and eternal and cannot be affected by anything because it stands in no position of a priori vulnerability or passivity to anything. And by the same token, it sees nothing because there is nothing for it to see. It does not even see itself, for it itself gives nothing to be seen. It is less real than Aristotle's thought thinking itself, for Aristotle's God thinks itself thinking, but pure act, having nothing to think, cannot think itself thinking because it is not thinking.

Freedom from potency, the Hellenistic divine predicate, is not the highest perfection. Rather, freedom for relation, for love, the hebraic thought-- this is what is highest, both for us and for God. We know from the fact that the world exists as it does, that pure act has decided for more than [GERMAN]. It has decided for otherness, for relations, and therefore for beings other than it to whom it could be related.

Given the fact of the world, God must have some internal relation to possibility, Schelling is arguing. But the only possibility to which the pure act could be free related is the possibility that lies in front of it-- that is, the possibility that it sets into actuality, as possibility. The possibility of possibilities, which is co-eternal with God, Schelling finds in Boehme's figure of Sophia.

And my last image, which is another painting from Nicholas Roerich. This is an interesting image, the Madonna Oriflamma. Roerich certainly knew his sophiology. The symbol that she holds is-- the symbol of the trinity-- is the banner of peace, which Roerich designed. And it's a sign of the Roerich Pact, an international treaty to protect cultural artifacts, which was signed by many world leaders in the '40s. I chose the image because it's precisely Boehme's Sophia.

Thank you for your attention.

HADI FAKHOURY: Sean thank you very much for your fascinating lecture. Extremely rich. It's very hard to know which thread to begin picking up and addressing and expanding on. I have a few questions myself. And there are questions from the audience as well.

Maybe I'll begin with some questions which I have for you, and I've taken questions from the audience as they come in.

So here's one tension I noted in Boehme. In explaining the role of Sophia in Boehme, you made the claim-- you made the point that, for Boehme, life is better than stillness, that Boehme's worldview is pro-life, life-affirming. And you did note also the way in which it foreshadows-- although perhaps not directly-- philosophies of will and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

But then you read this passage from Boehme, where Sophia is presented as a virgin that never generates anything. And the virginity of Sophia is affirmed and maintained, and Boehme's followers-- Givens talks about that in his book-- were also to live by this idea of chastity and to model their own behavior according to the sophianic ideal.

How do you address that? Or do you see a contradiction there? Or do you see a tension there between those two things in Boehme, who, on the one hand, wants to affirm life and who claims that life is better than stillness, and yet claims that Sophia is a barren virgin, and in this sense, a virgin that never generates anything, as he puts it.

SEAN MCGRATH: Great question. Yeah, great question. So yeah, you can hear-- well, isn't this so conventional? Femininity's allowed in so long as it's a virgin.

And actually, much contemporary sophiology on the internet is not particularly interested in this virginal Sophia, so you get the slutty Sophia images. Sorry to say, but I mean, I don't know how else to describe them. But a lusty, sexual Sophia, who's God's spouse, almost in the Hindu fashion right.

So that is definitely not Boehme's Sophia. So is there a tension there? There's certainly a tension between, let's say, a purely materialist vitalism and the vitalism that Boehme is promoting. Because of course, life doesn't stop with the material order, but it continues into the spiritual because the spiritual was, in fact, the archetype of life, right?

So it's not that God is material in heaven for Boehme at all. He creates a material in order to duplicate the dynamics of this being. So the life of God is the archetype of life, and it is a purely material life. So that's the first point, I guess, is that there's a sense to material life in Boehme, such that we could speak of certain kinds of fertility, which are not actually sexual.

And actually, this thought is deeply, deeply germane to Boehme's thought. I didn't have a chance to go into his notion of the fall before the fall. But his idea, as you know, is that Adam [INAUDIBLE] was created complete, with an internal feminine, with Sophia. She was his first, wife, as he says so quaintly.

But then God presented the animals, and Adam looked upon the animals. And he, in fact, envied them because they were physically sexuated, and only at that point did God create Eve for Adam. So this was the fall before the fall because, with this descent into sexual generation-- it's not that sex is evil. It's rather that Adam has forsaken his original calling, which is to be spiritually generative as God himself is.

I think the virginity of Sophia is to be seen along these lines, that somehow this physical purity is not dead, but it's actually the condition for spiritual vitality, something like that.

HADI FAKHOURY: Yes. It's a different form of peasant earthiness, as you put it. [INAUDIBLE]

SEAN MCGRATH: Yes. Yeah, a different form of peasant earthiness. That's right. Yeah.

HADI FAKHOURY: Sean, I wanted, also, to ask you a question about the different methods between Schelling and Boehme. Boehme-- you did say at the beginning, philosophy-- it's not discursive. It's not rational. It's not acquired. But it's inspired. It is akin, perhaps, in this sense to revelation, intuition. It's a direct insight and agnosis that allows us to see into the mind of God and understand how everything in creation is expressive of God's divinity.

And in Schelling, you said that Schelling was trying to find reasons or behind Jakob Boehme's claims or mystical stumblings, if you want to put them this way. How did Schelling address and respond to the Boehme's-- if you want-- method? Or what was his response to Boehme? And how does Schelling's own method distinguish itself, more specifically? Could you say a little bit more about that, what differentiates the two in this respect?

SEAN MCGRATH: It's a great question. So yes, you're quite right that theosophy is infused knowledge. That's why it's different than ineffable mysticism, which is why technically we shouldn't call Boehme a mystic, at least not in the sense-- in the Catholic sense, negative theological sense, where mysticism an infused experience-- not an infused knowledge, but an experience of intimacy or union with divinity that is actually speechless and certainly doesn't add to the tradition.

But here in theosophy, you have an infusion of knowledge. So there's something to be said-- so it begins esoterically in as much as we are not all intimate with Sophia, as we once might have been in paradise, but some are. And so the gift comes. But then the gift then is rendered exoteric in as much as Boehme is driven to explain his doctrine, and it's not incomprehensible. Or at least he doesn't think it is. Maybe it is.

So now, what does Schelling think about theosophy? Well, interestingly, when Schelling was most deeply involved in theosophy between 1809 and 1815, he said nothing about the method as far as I can recall. You tell me if I made a mistake. There might be a remark one of the drafts of The Ages.

In any case, the critical remarks about theosophy come later with The Philosophy of Revelation. So what I see happening is gradually distancing himself from an extremely enthusiastic appropriation of theosophy-- even, I think, in The Ages, giving a stab at himself, writing theosophically himself-- to becoming critical of it.

So the critique later on is that theosophy-- well, it's the critique of any kind of mystical experiences. Good for you, but what about me? Nice that you saw the virgin Mary walking in the field. But I don't see her.

So the esoteric quality of theosophy and its lack of reasons is a problem. It's not that Schelling believes it's impossible that Boehme received infused knowledge. It's just that he thinks that such knowledge, if it remains on the level of the theosophical, is of no philosophical value. And because it's knowledge, it ought to be communicable and rendered exoteric.

It's actually quite like Hegel in that regard, that it's an insistence on philosophy being exoteric and giving reasons. And so in the late Schelling, there's a great deal of reflection on method and speculative method and giving arguments that are falsifiable, but yet, nonetheless, compelling for reasons that Schelling will give.

Theosophy becomes a fact to be explained you could say in a later work, but the explanation is not a work of theosophy at all. It's a work of exoteric philosophy.

HADI FAKHOURY: Yes, even though-- and without getting too deep into discussion about Schelling's methodology-- but you still find, in Schelling, an openness and admission of ecstasy, an ecstasy of reason at various points in his later thought, even though, in there, there is a diligence to the speculative method, as you put it.

SEAN MCGRATH: But in fact, just on that point, I think the [GERMAN]. It sounds like mysticism, but it really isn't. What it is is realism. So I would put the theosophical infused knowledge closer to intellectual intuition in the identity philosophy period. And this [GERMAN] is precisely the moving into a recognition of the inexplicable fact that drives you into a speculative explanatory project. Yeah.

HADI FAKHOURY: Sean, thank you very much. I have a few more questions, but I see questions from the audience. There's many of them. And I'm going to try to pick a few, to field a few.

SEAN MCGRATH: Well, Torrance Kirby's correcting my iconography. That's good.

HADI FAKHOURY: There's a question about-- Professor Torrance Kirby is-- you showed the Sechs Punkten, the title page depicting two triangles and he was wondering if it's not the case of the superimposed images they depict are rather the six-pointed star, the star of David. You can address that in passing.

SEAN MCGRATH: I don't need to address it. I need to simply say, he's absolutely correct. So everyone follow Torrance Kirby, please, on this point, and not myself. That was a mistake. Yes.

HADI FAKHOURY: So here's a question from [INAUDIBLE]. Boehme's sophiology appears to have also changes accounting of the story of Adam and Eve. His actions during the fall appear in a different light, though the complexity of his thought makes it difficult to understand exactly what changes. Can you speak to this?

So this suggests that there is a different accounts of the story of Adam and Eve and in Jakob Boehme that change?

SEAN MCGRATH: Yeah, the role of Eve in the second fall.

HADI FAKHOURY: While you do that, I will be fielding the questions as they come in.

Should I put this question to you, Sean, or do you want to answer the one you were reading?

SEAN MCGRATH: Actually, I'm really stumped on that one.


SEAN MCGRATH: So I could fumble my way through, or I could just say, you've got to go read Mysterium Magnum, and I'll see you in five years.

HADI FAKHOURY: I think this is a good answer for now. It'll have to serve. John Betts is asking-- does sophiology figure in Schelling's translation of Exodus 3:14-- [SPEAKING GERMAN]


Or does sociology in some way instrumentalize the trinity if the trinity mediates between [GERMAN]? And Sophia

SEAN MCGRATH: Wow, that's complex. I like that one. I think I can find my way into that. Yes,

Does theosophy played a role in Schelling's reading of Exodus 3:14. No, I don't think so. I think that, at this point, actually, Schelling is pretty clear that, with revelation, we're dealing with something that is the direct disclosure of the personal God to his community, to God's community.

That's not a theosophical moment. Yes, theosophy appears to be somehow revelatory, but its privacy is a problem. And I think it's very important for Schelling to recognize that, when we speak of these events, we're speaking of collective changes in consciousness, which-- God's declaration of his name to Moses is revelation [LATIN].

And in that revelation, God gives his name as, I am who I am, or if you follow the Hebrew tenses of the verb, as Schelling does, I will be who I will be, which Schelling finds to be precisely the point that God is a developing God, and he is pointing towards God's own future the things that will happen, not only in the Christ event, but at the end of time. So that's not a theosophical point. That's a point of revelation.

Now, with regard to the instrumentalization of Sophia, Sophia instrumentalizing the trinity-- I'm trying to get my head into that now. What does that mean? Instrumentalize the Trinity-- that trinity mediates between the underground and Sophia.

No, it's not the trinity that mediates between the [GERMAN] and Sophia, so to speak, as-- well, let's think about this now. The trinity doesn't really come together fully for itself until it's reflected back to it by Sophia. The point here is that the principles are not persons. These three principles are at work in the [GERMAN] and they become fully-- you could say personalized or in the initial stage of personalization when they're reflected back to it it in Sophia.

Does she instrumentalize the trinity? I wish John were here, and I'd asked him what he means by that. I suppose he is there.

HADI FAKHOURY: John, you can post a follow-up if you want to give a clarification to that question. Meanwhile, here's an interesting question by Dale Rose asking-- where sophiology and post-temple Judaism takes on a strong relationship with exile. Does this play into Boehme's thought-- exile and sociology?

And perhaps a related question by Dale is-- what is Sophia's role in the movement of the source spirits? I'm assuming this was a reference to the theogony.

SEAN MCGRATH: Yeah, the first point, with regard to exile-- Boehme does belong to that millenariast age. He wasn't the only one of the spiritual Protestants. In the Thirty Years' War, there was a wave of spiritual-- spiritual, or you could call it esoteric Christianity, which had a strong millenarian focus. Boehme belongs to that. And the language of exile, of course, is the language proper to that tradition, in a certain way, as we understand ourselves to be sojourning journeying towards the kingdom, not where we want to be. And Boehme certainly participates in that.

I'm not sure that he's the strongest voice in that tradition on the eschatological point. It's actually still an open question for me. And Boehme is someone whose writings are so difficult that I can really only say-- I can only claim to know about 100 pages of it well enough to comment on. So I'll have to let that lie there.

On the next point, though, I can be a little more helpful, on the seven spirits. So these seven spirits-- it's Burma's variation on the Kabbalah. It's Burma's Christian Kabbalah. So as in the Kabbalah, there are nine sefirot, which externalize the divine nature.

And in Boehme, there are seven forms of nature, seven natural spirits. And he calls them peculiar things like, harshness, bitterness, and anxiety-- are the first three. And then you have, sound, light, and figure, as the second three, in the mediating one being the [GERMAN], or the spark of light. These are very peculiar terms. They seem to be describing material qualities.

So what we can say is that these seven spirits, as I said, are the basal notes for the production of the world. So it's like God's palette. It's out of these colors that he will create his creation, which is why the alchemist works with him-- at least Boehme thinks he does-- that we are actually dealing with these kinds of qualities when we're breaking substances down to their simpler components and then producing more complex substances out of them.

Now, where are they vis-a-vis Sophia? I think that this is fairly clear from the passage we looked at, that Sophia-- the seven spirits are implicit in each of the three principles. So the first principle, the dark principle, has its dark spirits-- harshness, bitterness, and anxiety. This is a trinity, of course. And each of the Trinity's repeats the structure of the trinity-- very Peircean thought here.

And there's a trinity of light principle, of light spirits as well-- light, sound, and figure. And then there's a mediating trinity. So each of the principles have within them, implicit, these seven forms of nature. But until Sophia reflects the whole of God back to God, God's self, they are not explicit enough to become media for the creation of the world.

So it's one of the most important functions of Sophia. Whenever he refers to her, he speaks about God seeing all the colors in her, and all of the elements the virtues. Not unlike platonic Cora, she is the site for manifestation of structure. But here, the structures are the qualities that will become materialized in the creation.

Now, what are they prior to that? One interesting commentary that I've read said that they are actually activities of the three persons, because the harshness is Boehme's descriptive word for that element in a substance which contracts and holds itself within, resists in a certain way. And this contractive-- of what we could call in another configuration, egoism, or selfism, is properly an attribute of the father, or of the dark principle. That's why the father can be wrathful. When it's time to punish the evildoers, it's not the son that's deployed. It's the father because his wrath-- he's got the dark power within them that can be deployed to a just end.

These seven forms of nature could be understood as seven characteristic ways in which the three persons express themselves, and they do not become fully differentiated until Sophia holds up the mirror, which is, I think, her primary function.

HADI FAKHOURY: In the Introduction to Philosophy, his 1830 lectures, he explicitly identifies Sophia with the human consciousness-- actually, Schelling. Now, this is something which made me think of what you were saying about Jakob Boehme, that Sophia is it comes at the end of the theogonic process, and that that process has an autonomy and independence that-- creation and cosmogeny is a contingency, as you put it in the case of Boehme.

This also raised another question in my mind because I was thinking of Angelus Silesius's passage who was one of Boehme's students-- that, without me, God cannot exist for a second. You've probably seen those passages yourself, which-- I was wondering how it is that you saw that in Boehme, that the human being is entirely superfluous.

And I'm connecting that with what Schelling's reading as seeing the human consciousness-- even though he says, not human consciousness as it exists today and in these kind of present conditions, but in an original [INAUDIBLE] consciousness.

SEAN MCGRATH: I didn't mean to cut you off. I didn't mean to cut you off, Hadi. Please finish.

HADI FAKHOURY: No, absolutely, yeah, please.

SEAN MCGRATH: It's just such a hot point because the idealist thesis is that God needs man in order to be God, right? And Angelus Silesius offers it to the German idealists, and he picks it up from Meister Eckhart, and Boehme seems to be involved in this. And therefore, we all go, oh, no, look at this nonsense, God now finitized and dependent upon his creation.

Only, it's not what Boehme said. And I think this is why Franz von Baader, who is the great Boehmeian of the 19th century, so deeply resisted Hegel and Schelling, in particular. Now, Schelling had two different phases. In the middle period, he was quite caught up in this-- what I call the historical imminentism, which is that God is imminent in history and needs history in order to be God. So it's a variation on pantheism, in a certain way, but it's now a pantheism that's inflected historically. And so history becomes the ages of the world, but really the ages of God's self-realization and becoming conscious. He begins unconscious. He ends conscious through history.

That's not at all what Boehme said. Boehme said that the achievement is already there in eternity. And precisely Sophia, who allows God-- so in a certain way, Boehme kind of anticipates the logic of the thing, that a God who is not mediated to God's self by some other is missing something, like consciousness or life. Only, Boehme says, yes, that's true. Only, God already has it within him. And that is precisely who Sophia is.

So one notices, then, that in order to get from that already realized deity to the more familiar thesis of the historical imminentists, especially Hegel, you need to knock Sophia out of the picture. And it would be interesting to test this against Hegel and really read Hegel as an anti-sophiologist, because it really is Hegel's thesis that--

And the other thing that happens is when Sophia is knocked out of the picture and God now needs creation to do for him what Sophia was doing for him in Boehme, the human being is elevated to a position of centrality, which is precisely Hegel's point. This is really all about us and what we do. And these are all pictures from another age helping us to understand the grandeur of the human spirit, so that apotheosis of the human, conditional upon the displacement of Sophia. So Sophia is doing multiple things there.

Now, with regard to Schelling, he came to it. And I think, by the end, he is no longer historical imminentist. And that's why he goes to such pains to speak about how God is already complete before God creates the world. And nevertheless, there is this question, then, how to avoid the old problem of actus puris, which is-- you just now have a creation that has no reason to exist.

Well, in a certain way, the reason for creation to exist is because this will to manifestation, that is the divine, cannot rest content with this internal self-manifestation but spills over and produces-- not unlike a platonic moving image of eternity, produces a created world that now images the life of God. You could say, oh, that's just platonism.

But notice, however, is what images God now is not the static essences that can be abstracted from things through intellection, but the life and the dynamism and the growth-- the juice and the joy, the expansion and the contraction-- all that fascinating detail that natural science was beginning to unravel for Schelling for Boehme's age and afterwards. All of this is, in fact, a kind of small "r" revelation, a disclosure of the divine being.

That's a different thought. That's a different thought than divine exemplarists. We're not looking at the purified ideas alone as icons of God. Now we're looking at the dynamic coming to be and the forces, the material forces by which things come to be as themselves ectypes of divine archetypes. That's why I say the material is now sourced to God.

HADI FAKHOURY: Thank you for this very comprehensive, thorough answer. Sean, we got many questions and have limited time. We have about five more minutes. So I'm going to have to pick two here and maybe address them briefly.

If you could say something about the resonance between sophiology and Mariology and the focus on potentiality or virginity. Is there any explicit connection between Sophia and Marions in this thought world or specifically in Schelling? If we can briefly address that.

SEAN MCGRATH: Yes. Well, not Schelling but Boehme. Well, of course, we all know that Bulgakov and the 20th century sociologists make an explicit connection between Theotokos and Sophia. Interestingly, Boehme also does. He gets in trouble with his Protestant contemporaries for being a Marioleter.

But the way that Boehme speaks about Mary is very curious. It's almost as though she is the incarnation of Sophia, as the Christ is the incarnation of the logos, almost as though. But we don't want to make Sophia into a person. But there's a kind of functionality here. Sophia is to unground what the Virgin Mary is to Jesus. And that is, the Virgin Mary is playing a role for the God man that's Sophia played for the unground. Yes. So there's that theme of virginity again.

Does Schelling pick this up? Schelling is not particularly loquacious on Mary. But he does, in the passage that follows the passage I've read-- he does speak about Sophia as related to other figures in world religions, including Fortuna and Maya, and the wet nurse of the world. This is the image I want to fix on, the wet nurse of the world, as though the mother of God, who nurtures the infant God into maturity-- Schelling owns this image without any particular nod to Roman Catholicism.

HADI FAKHOURY: Thank you, Sean. Maybe one more question, and then we can start wrapping up. My colleague and co-organizer of the speaker series, Mimi Winick, has two questions here. And maybe this will allow you to expand more broadly on your work in general, Sean.

She says, I would love to hear more about Boehme's sophiology as interpreted by Schelling remains relevant to the philosophy of religion today, too. This is a very broad question, Sean, but I know your interests are also not purely historical. Your work is very much concerned with the direction of philosophy of religion today. And you've also written on ecological philosophy of thinking. Could you address this question?

SEAN MCGRATH: Yes, certainly. Thank you for the question. It's a wonderful question. And I did promise to say something about relevance in the title and haven't said much. Have I? Right. So now is was my chance to make good in two minutes.

For me, it's deeply relevant. And yes, as Hadi says, I'm as preoccupied as with contemporary things as I am with old things. So I would point to three areas of relevance, three places where we need a sophiological-- or sophianic-- I like that word better, a sophianic intervention.

One would be ecology. A second would be psychoanalysis. And the third would be contemplative Christianity or the dire need we have of resuscitating it. So with ecology, I think the point is pretty clear. When ecologists get metaphysical, like Arne Naess, they tend to go East or pantheist, in some respects. And we also know that doesn't really work very well, because we end up saying things that, the world would be better if there was 1/10 of the humans on it and. Therefore, we get this anti-humanist ecology.

And I think that the sophiological tradition-- not just Boehme, but others-- is offering a way of thinking a naturalism which is not at the expense of humanism and a humanism which is not at the expense of naturalism. And I don't have much time to say more about that. But I did write a book on it. That the human being as microcosm and as mediator of these spiritual dynamics is precisely the one who not only needs to shepherd God's creation, but gather it all up within himself, within his or herself and make it lively again. I think, from a sophiological perspective, ecological devastation it's indeed sinful.

With regard to psychoanalysis, this is clearly some kind of doctrine of the unconscious. And I think that there is obvious resonance here with certain schools. There is, first of all, something of the divine unconscious at work in this theogony. God-- whatever else God might be has something unconscious about himself, herself, God's self, which is why God can develop.

How are we to think of this unconscious? Well, certainly not in a repressive and reactive way, as Freud and Lacan would have it, but as prospective and archetypal. And so yes, it's time to say that terrible name, CJ Jung, who seems to be making a comeback. Now, Jung was deeply interested in all this stuff. And the unions are deeply interested in all this stuff. And frankly, they're not making good work of it.

For whatever reason, because of certain prejudices that they have against Christianity because of certain things Jung said that were not particularly intelligent or learned about Christianity, there is a haphazard appropriation. Sophiology gets tossed together with gnosticism and whole pile of other things, and you end up with this jumbled mess. I think that sophiology is an ideal way for a Christian theologian to recover what's best about the notion of the archetypal unconscious.

And then thirdly, contemplative Christianity-- yes, I believe that Christianity is always losing its contemplative essence-- these days, probably more so than ever, in fact. One of the repercussions of the closing of the seminaries and the emptying of the churches and so on and so forth, at least in the Western world, is that we are losing our capacity to pray, and we're losing our tradition of prayer, and we're losing the culture of prayer-- not completely, of course. But it was much more visible, I think, 75 years ago than it is today. We don't even necessarily see a space for it. Churches now are becoming cultural centers and so on.

I think the sophiological tradition is deeply contemplative. It is, in some respects, this sourcing of potency, possibility-- a [LATIN], if you like, into God-- is a way of elevating contemplation, quite different from the negative theological tradition, but also just as affirmative of the contemplative act as the highest, for, of course, what does God do when he beholds the wonders of the possible creation reflected back to God in Sophia-- is he contemplatively enjoys the show. It's an act of prayer. It's God's act of prayer.

Yes, so that's these three, then. Still construction sites, at least for me-- ecology, psychoanalysis, and contemplative Christianity.

HADI FAKHOURY: Sean, thank you very much for this answer. I think there's some activity around sophiology here at the Center this year. There's-- doing a reading group focus on sophiology, reading Jakob Boehme, right up to Bulgakov and, perhaps beyond, and the conference on Corbin coming up.

So the way you've just summarized, there's a lot of questions about what is sophiology doing, what does it serve, why are we even interested in sophiology. And I think you've addressed that beautifully. And I'm very grateful for this answer and your talk.

So I think we're out of time here. I'm going to ask everyone to join me in thanking Sean. Thank you very much, Sean. There are many questions which we couldn't field. I apologize, but I will send them to you, so you will be able to see the reactions that your talk inspired.

SEAN MCGRATH: Yes, I'd to see the written questions. Yes, thank you. Yeah.

HADI FAKHOURY: OK, I'll make an announcement about our next event, which is on December 1, so two weeks from now, titled The Daughters of Allah: Goddess Worship in Pre-Islamic Arabia, by Valentina Grasso. Very much looking forward to that talk.

And in the meantime, I wish you all well, and see you soon. Sean, take care, and talk soon.

SEAN MCGRATH: Thanks very much, everyone. Thank you, Hadi.

All right.

SPEAKER 2: Sponsors-- Center for the Study of World Religions and Esalen.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright, 2021, The President and Fellows of Harvard College.