VON CHRISTI TESTMENTEN 24" X 36," acrylic on canvas, 2000
How can we know all of this? We know because the light of the soul has a priori knowledge of God. As a free being, the reborn soul recreates itself. To recognize this self-creating self is to know God. Self-knowledge, that is, recognition of "the hidden man," the soul, is a knowledge of the hidden God. -Andrew Weeks (Boehme - An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth-Century Philosopher and Mystic, SUNY, 1991, p. 109.)
Von Christi Testamenten, "Christs Testament" (1623), describes the macrocosmic influences upon the microcosm of the sacraments, and also discusses the occult nature of baptism. In this work, Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) presents reason as the "pictorialism of the understanding," and its contention with logic is shown to be the source of disagreements over the nature of the Eucharist. Through the use of alchemystical and magical symbolism, he demonstrates how Christ is present in the Eucharist just as the suns rays are present in the life of the plant. The solar influence upon the vegetable realm produces a spiritus which further empowers the plant to bear fruit. In baptism, the water used is transformed into a spiritus in the same way the recombined elements that make up the creation will pass into One at worlds end.
On the Structure of the Symbolism Found in the Engraving Von Christi Testamenten "Christs Testament"(1623)
By this Time the Soul begins to draw near the eternal World, in its fixed Station and habitual Enjoyment, lying under the showers of Love which descend from the Heart of God and the Bosom of Sophia: Here the blessed Tincture of Jesus coming so powerfully, as though it streamed from his glorified Humanity, flows into the Soul like a River of Oyl mixed with Fire, which affords that unutterable Delight...
- Thomas Bromley (The Way To The Sabbath Of Rest, Or The Souls Progress In The Work Of The New Birth, 18th century, see: Appendix, "Theosophical Works," in Arthur Versluis, Theosophia. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, 1994, pp194-208.)
The original engraving for Von Christi Testamenten is found on p 315 of The Golden Game, by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola. (Thames and Hudson, London, 1988.) Johann Georg Gichtel (1638-1710) compiled and published Jacob Boehmes works under the title Theosophia Revelata in 1682. It is not known if the design for the engraving upon which the painting by John Eberly is based was done by Gichtels hand, or by a more experienced engraver such as deBry. We do know that his disciple Dionysius Andrew Freher (1647-1725) designed other images to accompany Boehmes writings such as "An Illustration of the Deep Principles of Jacob Behmen, the Teutonic Theosopher in Thirteen Figures," which is usually found appended to another work, the Clavis, or "Key." However, as beautiful as Frehers "Thirteen Figures" appear, they bear only superficial resemblance to the frontispiece of Von Christi Testamenten.
By supplimenting Boehmes text with symbolic visual elements, Gichtel attempted to employ a similar initiatory approach used by Boehme to describe his vision in words. To Gichtel, it must have seemed reasonable to compress the text into visual symbols based on Boehmes text. This approach has the potential to move closer to the original vision that Boehme translated from a visual experience into an abstraction of words. However, Gichtels figurative interpretation is obviously twice removed from what Boehme saw in the pewter vessel, and later, in the bosom of Nature. What we are left with in the visual imagery -at best- is an abstraction of an abstraction of an original, direct experience.
We may assume that Gichtels choice of imagery was determined by the terms used by Boehme to describe his experience. As striking and profoundly familiar as the artwork seems, it is initially as difficult for the majority of viewers to approach as Boehmes way of writing is for most readers. However, this imagery, like the text upon which it is based, holds the initiatory keys to catapult one exposed to it into the deep realization that Boehme, albeit through Gichtel, wished to impart to an audience of potential fellow initiates. The summary which follows, then, becomes a further abstraction, being a commentary on a painting based upon Gichtels engraving. It is left to the viewer of the work, visual, verbal or otherwise undertaken by the followers of Boehme to determine if that work partakes of the original tincture of his vision.
Our nature springs from the physical world, the locus of psycho-spiritual opportunity and potential. The structure of the "tree" in the image may be derived from the Hebrew Qabalistic Tree of Life, with roots in malkuth, crowned in kether. It has a distinctive Christian overlay, obvious in the movement from "tree" to "cross."
The "S" within a circle found halfway up the trunk of the tree relates to Boehmes "Salliter," in the Aurora; in later works he refers to the same concept as the "Matrix," more appropriate to the alchemical philosophers "Salt." "Salliter" according to some commentators represents Saltpeter, used in gunpowder and also a popular ingredient found in many alchemical recipes of the time. "Salliter" is possibly the combination of "Sal" and "Niter," representing the marriage of heaven and earth that engenders all natural life. (See John Eberly, "On Salt and Stars," Abiegnus: A Journal of the Western Esoteric Traditions, Seattle, Spring 1998, Issue #1, for more on this concept.) In the context of the visual representation of Von Christi Testamenten, "Salliter" has a similar inseparable dual nature, earthly and corruptible, and heavenly and divine co-existing as reality and the reflection of that same reality, tree reflecting cross.
The bottom upright equilateral triangle corresponds to the alchemical symbol of fire and represents Boehmes concept of the "fire-world." The flames represent the anguish, longing, and yearning of "fallen" creation for its divine origin. The inverted larger heart pours the lifes blood of the cross into Nature and the world, bestowing the potential for exaltation upon every created thing.
Slightly above the world, matter is being purified through fire and is being reduced to its matrix. The Phoenix/Hermes bird rising from the flames begins its flight. (See: "Version of Ripley Scrowle" by James Standish, 16th century, British Museum, London, Add. 32621, detail found on p 96 of Stanislas Klowwski de Rolas Alchemy The Secret Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1973) It looks downward as it begins to rise: this is the state of the mixture of spirit/flesh working toward purification. The left heart-nature nourished by the cross in the blood/tincture of Christ looks down upon the passions, entering fully into the sensual world. The right heart-nature whose tree-limb connection sprouts leaves, looks upward into the potential of spirit-consciousness. Already participating in this consciousness, it weeps tears of joy, and yearns for a more complete union. Both smaller hearts are the fruits of the Tree of Life. The balancing of the smaller hearts and the phoenix reveals the Son of Man, and the Son of God, our potential as revealed by the Incarnation.
The top inverted equilateral triangle represents Venus, Love and Light. Her greenery (life) fills both worlds, (paradise is "green" in the Quran) upper and lower, uniting both in the "miracle of the One Thing." The upright larger heart overlaying the Venus triangle is the cup running over with Love, the Holy Grail.
John 15:1, "I am the true vine...": grapes=wine=blood/holy tincture. The crowning of Nature appears from the aperture at the top of the heart overlaying the Tau cross in the form of grapes, leaves, and vines wrapping around the "I" of "I Am That I Am," of "IHS," and of "Incarnation." Here are found the fruits of Loves labours.
7. Now observe what I have signified by this similitude: the soil or mould signifieth nature; the stock of the tree signifies the stars; by the branches are meant the elements; the fruit which grows on this tree signify men; the sap in the tree denoteth the pure Diety. Now men were made out of nature, the stars, and elements; but God the creator reigneth in all: even as the sap does in the whole tree.
-Jacob Boehme (John Sparrow trans. The Aurora - That Is, The Day - Spring. Holmes, Edmonds, 1992. Preface, p 3).
In conclusion, let us look at John 15:1-8, as this New Testament passage gives us extraordinary clues to unlocking the imagery found in Von Christi Testamenten:
1. I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5. I am the vine, ye are the branches; He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6. If a man abideth not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
Von Christi Testamenten Painting Research Bibliography
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(Boehme) Law, William (trans?). The Three Principles of the Divine Essence. Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, Masonic Temple, 1909.
(Boehme) Law, William (trans.). The "Key" of Jacob Boehme. Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, 1991.
(Boehme) Law, William (trans?). The Signature of All Things. James Clark & Co. Ltd., Cambridge, 1969.
(Boehme) Palmer, W. Scott (ed.) The Confessions of Jacob Boehme. Harper, New York, 1954.
(Boehme) Sparrow, John (trans.). The Aurora - That Is, The Day - Spring. Holmes, Edmonds, 1992.
(Boehme) Sparrow, John (trans.). The Forty Questions of the Soul and The Clavis. John M. Watkins, London, 1911.
(Boehme) Sparrow, John (trans.) Mysterium Magnum. John M. Watkins, London, 1924.
Brinton, Howard H. The Mystic Will - Based on a Study of the Philosophy of Jacob Boehme. MacMillan, New York, 1930.
Hochfield, George (ed.). Selected Writings of The American Transcendentalists. New American Library, New York, 1966.
Holy Bible, (King James trans.). Oxford University Press, New York, 1947.
Nicolescu, Basarab. Science, Meaning, & Evolution - The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme. Parabola Books, New York, 1991.
(Saint-Martin) Theosophic Correspondance.Theosophic University Press, Pasadena, 1991.
Versluis, Arthur. Theosophia. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, 1994.
Waterfield, Robin. Jacob Boehme - Essential Readings. Thorsons, Wellingborough, 1989.
Weeks, Andrew. Boehme - An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth-Century Philosopher and Mystic. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1991.