German Lutheran mystic and writer (known also as Boehmme, Behmen); b. Alt-Seidenber near Görlitz, 1575; d. Görlitz, Nov. 17, 1624. Böhme's parents were poor peasants who apprenticed him to a shoemaker at Görlitz. Jakob became a master in 1599 and married the daughter of a master butcher. They had four sons and two daughters, and he prospered as a shoemaker. As he grew older, his tendency toward mystical experiences, already apparent in his youth, became more pronounced. He finally gave up his business and began to write.
About 1612 he published his first work, Aurora oder die Morgenröthe im Anfang. In it he attempted to clarify certain knowledge of God and the universe hitherto unknown causing his Lutheran pastor, Gregorius Richter, to declare him heretical and have him banished from town. However, the town fathers reversed the decision on condition that Böhme cease his writing. In the years that immediately followed, he suffered much from the criticisms of his more orthodox fellow religionists. Five years later, he again published his ideas, only to meet with renewed persecution. In 1624 he went to Dresden where he lived peacefully for a short while, then returned to Görlitz where he died. Though he was given Christian burial by the protesting clergy, the ornate cross placed on his tomb by friends was torn down by one of his enemies.
Böhme was, in spirit, a devout Lutheran who, throughout his religious experiences, clung to the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. It was in attempting to explain the doctrine of the Trinity that he went astray. When he identified God with heaven, hell, and the material world he was approaching pantheism. When he tried to explain the problem of good and evil, he posited a sort of dualism in the divine nature. He continued to attend church services, although he put much emphasis on the church as it existed in the hearts of men. He believed that by self-renunciation, prayer, and contemplation man can hasten the time of his union with God. Böhme had little formal education, and this deficiency as well as the nature of his writings produced a "dazzling chaos" that to the present day has confused even his admirers. Nevertheless, he had an impact not only on religious thinkers, such as George Fox, Antoinette Bourgignon, and Philip Spener, but also on philosophers, such as Hegel and Schelling.
Bibliography: j. bÖhme, Sämtliche Werke, ed. k. w. schiebler, 7 v. (Leipzig 1832–60). j. j. stoudt, Sunrise to Eternity: A Study in J. Boehme's Life and Thought (Philadelphia 1957). h. a. grunsky, Jakob Böhme (Stuttgart 1956). p. hankamer, Jakob Böhme (Hildesheim, Ger. 1960). a. koyrÉ, La Philosophie de Jacob Boehme (Paris 1929). l. loevenbruck, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. 2.1:924–926. f. w. debelius, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. s. m. jackson et al., 13 v. (Grand Rapids 1951–54) 2:209–211.
[h. j. muller]