Angelus Silesius or Johann Angelus Silesius (born: Johann Scheffler; bapt. 25 December 1624 – 9 July 1677) was a German Catholic priest and physician, known as a mystic and religious poet. Born and raised a Lutheran, he adopted the name Angelus (from the Greek ἄγγελος, ángelos for “messenger”) and the surname Silesius (from the Latin for “Silesian”) on converting to Catholicism in 1653. While studying in the Netherlands, he began to read the works of medieval mystics and became acquainted with the works of the German mystic Jacob Böhme through Böhme’s friend, Abraham von Franckenberg. Silesius’s mystical beliefs caused tension between him and Lutheran authorities and led to his eventual conversion to Catholicism. He took holy orders under the Franciscans and was ordained a priest in 1661. Ten years later, in 1671, he retired to a Jesuit house where he remained for the rest of his life.
He is now remembered chiefly for his religious poetry, and in particular for two poetical works both published in 1657: Heilige Seelenlust (literally, “The Soul’s Holy Desires”), a collection of more than 200 religious hymn texts that have been used by Catholics and Protestants; and Der Cherubinischer Wandersmann (“The Cherubinic Pilgrim”), a collection of 1,676 short poems, mostly Alexandrine couplets. His poetry explores themes of mysticism, quietism, and pantheism within an orthodox Catholic context.
The poetry of Angelus Silesius consists largely of epigrams in the form of alexandrine couplets—the style that dominated German poetry and mystical literature during the Baroque era. According to Baker, the epigram was key to conveying mysticism, because “the epigram with its tendency towards brevity and pointedness is a suitable genre to cope with the aesthetic problem of the ineffability of the mystical experience.
Silesius’s poetry directs the reader to seek a path toward a desired spiritual state, an eternal stillness, by eschewing material or physical needs and the human will. It requires an understanding of God that is informed by the ideas of apophatic theology and of antithesis and paradox. Some of Silesius’s writings and beliefs that bordered on pantheism or panentheism caused tensions between Silesius and local Protestant authorities. However, in the introduction to Der Cherubinischer Wandersmann, he explained his poetry (especially its paradoxes) within the framework of Catholic orthodoxy and denied pantheism which would have run afoul of Catholic doctrine. His mysticism is informed by the influences of Böhme and Franckenberg as well as of prominent writers Meister Eckhart (1260–1327), Johannes Tauler (c. 1300–1361), Heinrich Suso (c. 1300–1366), and Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293/4–1381)
Quotes about Angelus
“Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and Angelus Silesius describe their spiritual vision of the sublime and ultimate reality of God, as well as their participation therein, by a dramatic use of the power of imagery of the German language which, although rooted in time and space, seems to be free from the constraints of these elements. Time and space alone are incapable of grasping eternity; only when struck by a shaft of eternal light can they reflect its splendor. Such a reflection of the eternal is present in the language of Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme and Angelus Silesius. It is, more-over, the light of eternity that makes it at all possible to see the teachings of these great metaphysicians and mystics as a unity, in spite of their having lived at different times and belonged to differing Christian confessions. The uniformity of their spiritual vision arises from the inner unity of Divine Reality itself. Human language becomes inadequate when confronted with this mystery of the inner unity of the Godhead; “the most beautiful statement about God of which man is capable is his silence in the face of his inner riches.”…Angelus Silesius summarized his spiritual vision in rhymes whose beauty is filled with an inner certainty that derives directly from the knowledge of the divine being. This direct knowledge of God is founded on the identity of essence between God and the soul, which occurs when the soul once more corresponds to its original state of being created in the image of God.”
~Roland Pietsch, Studies in Comparative Religion
“Although the influence of Boehme was to be felt far and wide, ranging from French and German theosophers and esoterists to Russian contemplatives, perhaps the most artistically powerful expression of purely sapiential teachings deeply influenced by him are to be found in the hymns of Christian gnosis which comprise the Cherubic Wanderer of Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) which are also among the most remarkable works of German literature. This collection, so close in both form and content to Sufi poetry, is based upon the central theme of return to God…it is the al-ma’rifah of Islam or the jnana of Hinduism and very much in accord with works of such nature whether they be in Arabic and Persian or Sanskrit.”
~Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred
“One of the most prominent and interesting mystics of Germany, Johannes Scheffler, or as he is better known by his adopted name, Angelus Silesius…was born of Protestant parents at Breslau, the capital of Silesia, in 1624…Scheffler’s mystic inclinations had long before alienated him from the dogmatic and anti-artistic spirit of the religion of his birth which during the middle of the seventeenth century was more severe and bigoted than ever before or afterwards. At the same time there was a religious revival in the Roman Catholic world which proved attractive to him, and so it was but natural that finally in 1653 he severed his old affiliations, and joined the Church that by the mystical glamor of its historical traditions was most sympathetic to him.”
~Paul Carus, in ANGELUS SILESIUS, THE OPEN COURT
“I will end with a great line by the poet who, in the seventeenth century, took the strangely real and poetic name of Angelus Silesius. It is the summary of all I have said tonight — except that I have said it by means of reasoning and simulated reasoning. I will say it first in Spanish and then in German: La rosa es sin porqué; florece porque florece. Die Rose ist ohne warum; sie blühet weil sie blühet.”
“The rose is without ‘why’; it blooms simply because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.”
~Jorge Luis Borges, Siete Noches (“Seven Nights”)
Excerpts from his writings:
“How fleeting is this world
yet it survives.
It is ourselves that fade from it
and our ephemeral lives.”
“Where is my dwelling place?
Where I can never stand.
Where is my final goal, toward which I should ascend?
It is beyond all place.
What should my quest then be?
I must, transcending God, into the desert flee.”
“Christ could be born a thousand times in Bethlehem –
but all in vain until He is born in me.”
“O Man, as long as you exist, know, have, and cherish,
You have not been delivered, believe me, of your burden.”
“The Thought and Deed of Deity
Are of such richness and extent
That It remaineth to Itself
An Undiscovered Continent.”
“A Loaf holds many grains of corn
And many myriad drops the Sea:
So is God’s Oneness Multitude
And that great Multitude are we.”
“The All proceedeth from the One,
And into One must All regress:
If otherwise, the All remains
“God is an utter Nothingness,
Beyond the touch of Time and Place:
The more thou graspest after Him,
The more he fleeth thy embrace.”
“Naught ever can be known in God: One and Alone Is He.
To know Him, Knower must be one with Known.”
“Ah, were men’s voices like the wood-birds’ melody—
Each happy note distinct, but all in harmony!”
“All Heaven is within thee, Man,
And all of Hell within thy heart:
What thou dost choose and will to have,
That hast thou wheresoe’er thou art.”
“Travel within thyself!
The Stone Philosophers with wisest arts Have vainly sought,
cannot be found By travelling in foreign parts.”
“Though Jesus Christ in Bethlehem
A thousand times his Mother bore,
Is he not born again in thee
Then art thou lost for evermore.”
“The Wise Man is that which he hath.
The precious Pearl of Paradise Wouldst thou not lose,
then must thou be Thyself that Pearl of greatest price.”
“The World doth not imprison thee.
Thou art thyself the World, and there, Within thyself,
thou hold’st thyself Thy self-imprisoned Prisoner.”
“Though Christ a thousand times
in Bethleham be born
And not within thyself,
Thy soul will be forlorn.”
“The Cross on Golgotha
Thou lookest to in vain,
Unless within thine heart
It be set up again.”
” If thou dost love a Something, Man,
Thou lovest naught that doth abide.
God is not This nor That—do thou
Leave Somethings utterly aside.”
“He has not lived in vain
who learns to be unruffled
by loss, by gain,
by, joy, by pain.”
“How short our span!
If you once realized how brief,
you would refrain
from causing any beast or man
the smallest grief, the slightest pain.”
“Christ was born a man for me,
for me he died –
Unless I become God
His birth is mocked
His death denied.”
“True prayer requires no word, no chant
no gesture, no sound.
It is communion, calm and still
with our own godly Ground.”
“God far exceeds all words that we can here express
In silence He is heard, in silence worshiped best.”
“No thought for the hereafter have the wise,
for on this very earth they live in paradise.”
“All heaven’s glory is within and so is hell’s fierce burning.
You must yourself decide in which direction you are turning.”
“Unless you find paradise at your own center,
there is not the smallest chance
That you may enter.”
“Saints do not die. It is their lot,
To die while on this earth to all that God is not.”
“The vengeful God of wrath and punishment
is a mere fairytale. It simply is the Me
That makes me fail.”
“No ray of Light can shine
if severed from its source.
Without my inner Light
I lose my course.”
“So high above all things that be.
Is God uplifted, man can dare.
No utterance: he prayeth best.
When Silence is his sum of prayer.”
“Even before I was me, I was God in God;
And I can be once again, as soon as I am dead to myself.”
“Time is eternity and eternity is time, just as long as you yourself don’t make them different.”
“I know God couldn’t live a moment without me; if I should disappear, He would die, destitute.”
“In waste God hides the gold, accept what He may send,
The great within the small, though we don’t comprehend.”
“No man has known perfect felicity,
Until his otherness is drowned in unity.”
“Love is alike to death, annihilates the senses,
My heart it breaks as well, the spirit’s drawn from hence.”
“The Spirit is like new wine, see the disciples all,
Like men inebriate, swept away and enthralled
By both its heat and strength; thus it remains true still
That the disciples had of sweetest wine their fill.”
“If you know how to launch your ship into God’s sea
Oh, what a blessed fate, submerged in it to be.”
“Two eyes our souls possess:
While one is turned on time,
The other seeth things
Eternal and sublime.”
“Who would expect it so?
From darkness light is brought,
Life rises out of Death,
And Something comes from Naught.”
“The resurrection is
In spirit done in thee,
As soon as thou from all
Thy sins hast set thee free.”
“If neither love nor pain
Will ever touch thy heart,
Then only God’s in thee,
And then in God thou art.”
“The nearest way to God
Leads through love’s open door;
The path of knowledge is
Too slow for evermore.”
“Here I still flow in God as a small stream of time,
There I shall be a sea of blessedness sublime.”
“Thou laughest that a child cries o’er its broken doll;—
The things o’er which thou mournest—are they not playthings all?”
“Three days: Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday, I know,
Yet if the past were cancelled within the here and now
And then the future hidden, I could regain that Day
Which I, before I was, had lived in God’s own way.”
“Never in endless time will ring a sound as sweetly
As when a human heart in God is tuned completely.”
“God, being a great abyss, to men his depth reveals
Who climb the highest peak of the eternal hills.”
“In schools throughout the world God’s but described to you.
Within the spirit’s school one sees and loves him too.”
“A spark without its fire, a drop without its sea,
Without rebirth what more, pray, wouldst thou be?”
“That thou seest, man, become too thou must;
God, if thou seest God, dust, if thou seest dust.”
“God is a flowing well which constantly may pour
Into his whole Creation, and yet be as before.”
“What does it matter to me if Gabriel salute the Virgin
If he does not also bring me the same marvellous news?
God is the Light of Light, my saviour is the sun,
The Virgin is the moon, and I am their secret joy.
Know that God becomes a child, lies in the virgin’s womb
So I can grow like him, and gather to me Godhead.
When God lay hidden in a young virgin’s womb
Then a miracle occurred; the point contained the circle.
Virginity is noble, but a mother you must also be
Or be a field stripped bare of all fertility.
The Virgin is a crystal, her son divine Light:
She is utterly pierced by him, yet stays untouched.
I must be the Virgin and give birth to God
Should I ever be graced divine beatitude.”
“Nothing can throw thee into the infernal abyss so much as this detested word — heed well! — this mine and thine.”