1) Jakob Boehme – a professing Lutheran, Boehme’s ideas were widely considered orthodox among Lutherans (and, for that matter, Christians of all mainstream denominations). A shoemaker, he began writing after claiming to have experienced religious visions. He emphasized personal experience over dogmatic theology, though he did articulate a theological doctrine of his own.
emphasized will as the prime motivating factor within God, and taught that God had given man the will to choose to seek divine grace. He also taught that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe, saying that it was necessary for humanity to depart from God, through the rebellion of Satan, the separation of Eve from Adam, and their acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, in order for creation to evolve to a new and more perfect state of redeemed harmony(Britannica).
Boehme was not educated but acquainted himself with the Bible, as well as alchemy, Kabbalic literature and the writings of Paracelsus. He claims to have had the spiritual structure of the world revealed to him concerning the relationship between good and evil and the structure of the universe in general while observing a ray of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish.
A decade or so later, he began to write “Aurora”, one of his more important works. Threatened with exile for his heresy, he eventually nonetheless continued his writing, resulting in his banishment. His hardship was eased by many wealthy sympathizers, who allowed him to reside at their estates. He developed a following whose adherents would later merge with what became known as the Quakers.
Boehme explained the relationship between God’s eternal unity and the multiplicity of the universe by arguing that the only way God could have knowledge of himself was through His creation. Furthermore, God possessed an innate tendency to go beyond and manifest himself.
The first product of God’s will to manifest Himself was a desire or longing, a primal darkness which obscured the purity of the original Godhead. Since this darkness contradicted the original will, a second will, the desire to return to the original state of unity while still holding onto desire, arose. The result was an introversion, a contraction into a core of being (Grund) which became the ground for all the further stages of creation. This unrequited desire of God for self-revelation became a divine wrath or bitterness (Grimmigkeit) which perpetually consumed itself and caused tremendous pain and anguish, the first suffering known to the universe. This, said Böhme, could be described as God the Father and generator of all things. When this divine wrath turned upon itself, it triumphed and became divine love, which Böhme described as God the Son. The interaction between divine wrath and divine love produced the creative impulse from which the universe evolved. Böhme identified the continual movement between the two as the Holy Spirit, or living breath of the cosmos. Böhme identified a fourth component of the Godhead, a preliminary to the creation of the sensible world, called “Virgin Wisdom” or Sophia, which could be described as a sort of mirror in which God could see images of His own potentiality before manifesting them in reality(Britannica).
Böhme taught that reality was a continual process of unity and division, and that all things consisted of positive and negative aspects. He also said that conflict and suffering were inevitable, even desirable, and that finite creatures could only become aware of themselves and God through struggle with negativity.
If the natural life had no opposition (Widerwaertigkeit), and were without a goal, then it would never ask for its own ground, from which it came; then the hidden God would remain unknown to the natural life(Britannica)
This tendency of Boehme toward dialectic manifested itself likewise in his view of the Fall. He understands the Fall as an inevitable moment in the evolution of the cosmos:
In Böhme’s cosmology, it was necessary for all original unities to undergo differentiation, desire, and conflict. Therefore it was necessary for humanity to depart from God, through the rebellion of Satan, the separation of Eve from Adam, and their acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, in order for creation to evolve to a new state of redeemed harmony. This new state would be more perfect than the original state of innocence, allowing God to achieve a new self-awareness by interacting with a creation that was both part of, and distinct from, Himself(Britannica).
2) Swedenborg – Swedenborg might have been weird, but he was no dummy. He was a gifted mathematician, natural scientist and inventor. During the siege of Frederickshall in 1718, for example, he invented a way of transporting boats overland for 14 miles. At a religious turn in his life, however, between 1734 and 1745, he claimed that he had been granted the ability to talk with God and angels and various kinds of spirits. The religious writings inspired by this supposed turn of events is what he would become most known for.
Like Boehme, his unorthodox writings drew the attention of the established Lutheran church, but they were not censured. His lifestyle was relatively unremarkable, except for when he would apparently lay in a trance for several consecutive days. According to Swedenborg and his followers, Swedenborgianism was the succession of Christianity the same way Christianity had been the consummation of Judaism. The following is a doctrinal outline of their theology:
God is Love Itself and Wisdom Itself. His Power is from and according to these as they flow forth into creative act.
The Trinity does not consist of three distinct Divine persons as Catholics maintain; but is understood in the sense that in theIncarnation the Father or Jehovah is essentially the Divine Being, while the Son is the human (or sub-spiritual) element assumed by the Godhead in order to become present among men. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Presence and Power consequent upon thisassumption and resultant transfiguration (glorification in Swedenborgian language) of the human element which thus became “a Divine Human” with all power in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ is, therefore, not the incarnation of a second Divine person, but of the Divine as a whole; he includes the Father (Godhead), the Son (assumed humanity), and the Holy Spirit (Divine-human power).
Life does not exist except in Him or from Him, and cannot be created. Its presence in created forms is accounted for by continuous Divine influx.
On this earth man enjoys the highest participation of life, but he is greatly inferior, in this respect, to the races undoubtedly inhabiting other planets, e.g. Jupiter, Mercury.
His three constituent elements are soul, body, and power.
Originally granted full freedom in the use of his faculties, he erroneously concluded that he held them from no one but himself and fell away from God.
The Lord, after the fall, did not abandon the sinner, but appeared to him in the form of an angel and gave him the law to reclaim him from his evil ways. These efforts were useless, and God clothed Himself with a human organism and redeemed man, opening anew his faculties to the influx of Divine life.
Men are admitted into the New Church through baptism; they are strengthened in the spiritual life by the reception of the Eucharist.
Justification cannot be obtained by faith alone; good works are likewise necessary.
The seclusion of the cloister is not a help but a hindrance to spiritual growth; the healthiest condition for the latter is a life ofaction in the world.
Miracles and visions produce no real spiritual change because they destroy the requisite liberty.
The hope of reward is not to be recommended as an incentive to virtue, for good actions are vitiated when prompted by motives of self-interest.
Death is the casting off by man of his material body which has no share in the resurrection.
Immediately after death all human souls enter into the intermediate state known as the world of spirits, where they are instructed and prepared for their final abodes, heaven or hell.
We need not expect the Last Judgment for it has already taken place; it was held in 1757 in Swedenborg’s presence.
No pure spirits exist; both angels and devils are former members of the human race, have organic forms, and experience sensation.
The Anglican clergyman Thomas Hartley and John Clowes became devout adherents of Swedenborg’s doctrine, translating his work into English. The doctrine soon spread from England to America. In 1911, the General Church of Pennsylvania, a congregation holding to Swedenborgian views, listed 24 ministers, 16 churches and 890 communicants.
3) Thomas J. J. Altizer – Altizer was a proponent of a so-called ‘death of God’ theology. His main interests were “the distinctly Christian dimensions of modernity; secularization and the future of theology; the encounter of world religions, and Christian apocalypticism”http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm). In his 1961 work, “Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology”, he argues that “modern men and women cannot accept religion as a mode of encounter with anything truly real”http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm). In other words, because of the corrosive anti-foundationalism and relativism typical of modernity, we can no longer take seriously the idea that religious narratives be taken as having real, objective referents. In his following work, “Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred”,
“The theological weight of this book is borne in the second half, in which Eliade’s conception and evocation of the sacred for modern, critical thought is compared with literary modernist exponents of the profane consciousness as the dialectical path to epiphanies of the sacred”(http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm).
Altizer’s “radical” Christianity is intended to be contrasted with ecclesiastical Christianity. He believed that mainstream, ecclesiastical Christians needed to come to terms with the reality of the “death of God.” It is only by acknowledging the death of the transcendent in the death of God, he argues, paradoxically, that experience of God is possible. He articulates this dynamic in his work “Total Presence: The Language of Jesus and the Language of Today”, which “goes beyond engaging the loss of transcendence and suggests possible concrete signs of actual divine immanence, that is, of ‘God’s’ “total presence,” through a dialectical negation of the total isolation of the subjectivity of modern persons”(http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm).
For example, considering his following comment on the philosophical implications of jazz music:
The power embodied in jazz violently shatters our interior, as its pure rhythm both returns us to an archaic identity and hurls us into a new and posthistoric universality. Most startling of all, the “noise” of jazz releases a new silence, a silence marked by the absence of every center of selfhood, the disappearance of the solitude of the “I.” That silence is the silence of a new solitude, an absolute solitude which has finally negated and reversed every unique and interior ground of consciousness, thereby releasing the totality of consciousness in a total and immediate presence And we rejoice when confronted with this solitude, just as we rejoice in hearing jazz, for the only true joy is the joy of loss, the joy of having been wholly lost and thereby wholly found again. (Altizer, 1980. pp. 107-108.)
Summarizing his goal in a more concerete manner, he argues that “Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology”
…was written with the hope that the very abyss of faith in which we must live may paradoxically make possible a deeper encounter with the authentic meaning of religion. For “modern man” has lost his homeland in faith. . . . We moderns are immersed in a profane world that charges the immediate moment with absolute meaning and value. To us, religion can only appear as an alien reality. In our sensibility, the religious Reality can manifest itself only as the Other. Therefore man, qua modern man, cannot associate religion with “reality”(Altizer, 1961).
The problem with which Altizer is most preoccupied is the problem of modernity, according to which the distinction between the sacred and profane is abolished along with the distinction between the transcendent and the immanent which had hitherto served as its foundation:
Modern men and women face the religious problems of the desacralization or disenchantment of the world at the hands of their objectifying scientific knowledge and the radical relativization of all human values through coming to consciousness of the historicity of human being. The world which comes to view through these allied ways of knowing is utterly profane. This cultural articulation of the religious problems has a ‘metaphysical’ side to it, too; whether and how the sacred can relate to such a world. The authoritative voice of religions is silenced for modern men and women…(Altizer, 1961).
For Altizer, the professing theist “can apprehend the historical reality of all religions, but in no authentic sense can [they] respond to the reality of religion itself…Today the theologican can know religion only as idolatry, for he can know religion only as a historical phenomenon, as an ideology, as a product of human grasping and will to power”(Altizer, 1961).
It is in this historically enshrined Nietzschean sense of the “death of God” in which Altizer thinks he is able to speak of the phenomenon. In the specific case of the Christian view, “Christian history has been the rediscovery that Jesus’ conceptual and ethical and imaginative worlds were determined by apocalyptic expectation.”
Efforts to maintain that the imminence of the eschatological event is no more than an expression of the intensity of faith, that eschatology is merely a temporal representation of an eternal meaning and value, or that eschatological faith is simply an incontrovertible assurance that God will act, must all be recognized as modernizations of the gospel which are far removed from the ecstatic faith of the early Christians(Altizer, 1960).
Altizer sees the answer to the demythologization of Christianity typical of the neo-orthodox school neither as a straightforwardly secular abandonment of the Christian message nor as a return to fundamentalism. Instead, he believes the best way of approaching this problem is through the ‘underground’ theologies of Dante, Joyce and Blake.
For Altizer, the meaning of Christ’s death of the cross is not that it was a death that then resulted in a literal resurrection of Christ, but that it symbolized the real and irreversible death of God and that this death is itself a kind of resurrection insofar as it symbolizes the death of God-as-the-transcendent and radically immanetizes God:
The very meaning of the incarnation is that God is in the world, wholly and without remainder. The bad faith of the church only confirms this: “the world of Christian theology . . . is irredeemably satanic insofar as it is bound to the dead body of that God negated and left behind by the forward and apocalyptic movement of the incarnation.”(Ibid, 626) The apocalyptic faith of Jesus is that God is unveiled fully in a radical self-negation or kenosis. The crucifixion is both death and resurrection, a symbol of the death of the transcendent God “once and for all” resurrected not as a lord who returns to heaven but as the radical profanity of worldly presence(http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm).
This quote, perhaps, summarizes the whole of Altizer’s philosophical theology:
If we allow Heidegger to speak for the being that is manifest in our time, we could say that genuinely contemporary human existence is finitude, that the nothingness which has been resurrected by the death of God is the source of the Angst that has identified being and time, that in the “night of the world” in which we live, transcendence can only appear as immanence, eternity can be present, if at all, only in time itself. But can a genuine epiphany of eternity take place in the context of such a mode of human existence? Is a radically profane mode of existence open to the presence of the sacred? Can eternity become manifest upon the plane of radical finitude? (Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred, 107.)
It is paradoxically only throught the absence of God through the negation of his absolute transcendence that God could be truly present with us at all, and that, through his radical immanence.
Eriugena accepted the Dionysian authorship of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, and since the person to whom authorship was attributed had the approval of Paul himself, Eriugena greedily devoured and incorporated the doctrines of the corpus without reservation. There is a significant degree, however, of anti-Christian pantheism in the writings(Catholic Encyclopedia). Though a “Westerner” geographically, his contemporaries criticized his tendencies to draw too much from Greek writers like Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, though he held Augustine in high regard(Catholic Encyclopedia).
Eriugena’s doctrine of sin expressed in “Liberde Predestination” wasw condemned by Prodgentius of Troyes and Florus of Lyons, in which they bitterly condemned Eriugena for arguing that sin is nonexistent(Catholic Encyclopedia). The Councils of Valenecia(855) and Langres(859) likewise both condemned Eriugena’s theology in this respect(Catholic Encyclopedia).
Interestingly enough, Eriugena seems to have anticipated the view of the Lord’s Supper commonly associated with Baptists today, known as the “memorialist” view, according to which the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic rather than a literal consumption of the body of Christ(Catholic Encyclopedia).
In the “De Divisione Naturae”, his most important and systematic work, Eriugena treats in the form of a dialogue the principal problems of philosophy and theology. The meaning of the title is evident from the opening sentences in which he outlines the plan of the work. “Nature”, he says, “is divided into four species”: (1) “Nature which creates and is not created” — this is God, the Source and Principle of all things; (2) “Nature which is created and creates” — this is the world of primordial causes or (Platonic) ideas; (3) “Nature which is created and does not create” — this is the world of phenomena, the world of contingent, sense-perceived things; (4) “Nature which neither creates nor is created” — this is God, the Term to which all things are returning.
Eriugena developed an apophatic theology from the Greeks according to which, to quote Pseudo-Dionysius, “The being of all things is the over-being of God” (esse omnium est superesse Divinitatis), and because of his absolute transcendence, cannot be directly referred to(Catholic Encyclopedia).
If we have recourse to positive predication, we must use the prefix hyper and say God is hypersubstantia, i.e. more-than-substance, etc. Similarly, when we say that God is the “Creator” of all things we should understand that predicate in a sense altogether distinct from the meaning which we attach to the predicate “maker” or “producer” when applied to finite agents or causes. The “creation” of the world is in reality a theophania, or showing forth of the Essence of God in the things created. Just as He reveals Himself to the mind and the soul in higher intellectual and spiritual truth, so He reveals Himself to the senses in the created world around us. Creation is, therefore, a process of unfolding of the Divine Nature, and if we retain the word Creator in the sense of “one who makes things out of nothing”, we must understand that God “makes” the world out of His own Essence, which, because of its incomprehensibility, may be said to be “nothing”(Catholic Encyclopedia).
Eriugena likewise believed that prior to the fall, Adam was androgynous. He erred in a manner similar to that of Origen in his hostility towards the physical world in arguing that the “dependence of man’s mind on the body and the subjection of the body to the world of sense, as well as the distinction of male and female in the human kind, are all the results of original sin”(Catholic Encyclopedia).
Like Origen, furthermore, he seems to have taught some sort of universal salvation. He elaborated this universalism through an eccentric, speculative metaphysical schema:
Not only man, however, but everything else in nature is destined to return to God. This universal resurrection of nature is the subject of the last portion of Eriugena’s work, in which he treats of “Nature which neither creates nor is created”. This is God, the final Term, or Goal, of all existence. When Christ became man, He took on Himself body, soul, senses, and intellect, and when, ascending into Heaven, He took these with Him, not only the soul of man but his senses, his body, the animal and the vegetative natures, and even the elements were redeemed, and the final return of all things to God was begun. Now, as Heraclitus taught, the upward and the downward ways are the same. The return to God proceeds in the inverse order through all the steps which marked the downward course, or process of things from God. The elements become light, light becomes life, life becomes sense, sense becomes reason, reason becomes intellect, intellect becomes ideas in Christ, the Word of God, and through Christ returns to the oneness of God from which all the processes of nature began. This “incorporation” in Christ takes place by means of Divine grace in the Church, of which Christ is the invisible head. The doctrine of the final return of all things to God shows very clearly the influence of Origen. In general, the system of thought just outlined is a combination of neo-Platonic mysticism, emanationism, and pantheism which Eriugena strove in vain to reconcile with Aristotelean empiricism, Christian creationism, and theism. The result is a body of doctrines loosely articulated, in which the mystic and idealistic elements predominate, and in which there is much that is irreconcilable with Catholic dogma(Catholic Encyclopedia).
5) John Caputo – John Caputo is well known for his development of what has come to be known as “weak theology.” He contrasts his account of ‘weak’ Christian theology, which he (mistakenly) associates with the traditional Christian doctrine of kenosis, or emptying, according to which Jesus temporarily set aside some of His divine attributes in the incarnation. Caputo’s criticism of the traditional understanding of the significance of Jesus’ forgiveness of His enemies on the cross is that judgment and condemnation of one’s enemies are not utterly renounced, but rather reserved for the Day of Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ. Instead, he argues that Christ’s submission to the Father in His crucifixion was an utter and unqualified rejection of any force or violence whatsoever and that such
On the classical account of strong theology, Jesus was just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the Father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. … That is not the weakness of God that I am here defending. God, the event harbored by the name of God, is present at the crucifixion, as the power of the powerlessness of Jesus, in and as the protest against the injustice that rises up from the cross, in and as the words of forgiveness, not a deferred power that will be visited upon one’s enemies at a later time. God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and calls across the epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal and defer it and then, in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise, to lay them low with real power, which shows the enemy who really has the power. That is just what Nietzsche was criticizing under the name of ressentiment.
— John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event
6) Julian of Norwich – An English mystic of the 14th century who claimed to have been the recipient of visions. These supposed visions became the content of her work “Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.” She plainly taught universal salvation, arguing that there was a “place in Christ’s side for all mankind that shall be saved”(Catholic Encyclopedia). She likewise claims to have entered into a trance while contemplating the crucifix, during which time she supposedly experienced visions of Christ’s sufferings.
7) Origen of Alexandria
Origen is perhaps more famous than any theologian for being weird. While instrumental in articulating the Trinity in theologically precise terms (and on this account, to be commended), he introduced the strange and unbiblical notion of human souls as preexistent beings into Christianity.
According to Origen, God’s first creation was a collectivity of rational beings which he calls logika. “Although Origen speaks of the logika as being created, they were not created in time. Creation with respect to them means that they had a beginning, but not a temporal one” (Tripolitis 1978, p. 94). Further, Origen explains that the number of these rational beings is necessarily limited, since an infinite creation would be incomprehensible, and unworthy of God. These souls were originally created in close proximity to God, with the intention that they should explore the divine mysteries in a state of endless contemplation. They grew weary of this intense contemplation, however, and lapsed, falling away from God and into an existence on their own terms, apart from the divine presence and the wisdom to be found there(Moore, 2005).
Fortunately, this doctrinal deviation did not stick. The Bible teaches that humans are temporally finite (though eternal) creations of God. Origen also unfortunately incorporated a Gnostic hostility towards the material body into his philosophical theology:
What are now souls (psukhê) began as minds, and through boredom or distraction grew “cold” (psukhesthai) as they moved away from the “divine warmth” (On First Principles 2.8.3). Thus departing from God, they came to be clothed in bodies, at first of “a fine ethereal and invisible nature,” but later, as souls fell further away from God, their bodies changed “from a fine, ethereal and invisible body to a body of a coarser and more solid state. The purity and subtleness of the body with which a soul is enveloped depends upon the moral development and perfection of the soul to which it is joined. Origen states that there are varying degrees of subtleness even among the celestial and spiritual bodies” (Tripolitis 1978, p. 106). When a soul achieves salvation, according to Origen, it ceases being a soul, and returns to a state of pure “mind” or understanding. However, due to the fall, now “no rational spirit can ever exist without a body” (Tripolitis 1978, p. 114), but the bodies of redeemed souls are “spiritual bodies,” made of the purest fire (see A. Scott 1991, Chapter 9)(Moore, 2005).
And yes, perhaps more famously than anything he wrote about, Origen probably castrated himself:
Origen appears to have thought better of this act later in life. In his Commentary on Matthew he writes disparagingly of those who take 19:12 literally, and calls such an action an “outrage.” This and other factors have led some scholars to doubt the veracity of Eusebius’ report of the matter (which is the only report available). But it is difficult to imagine what would prompt Eusebius to fabricate an event that does not reflect all that favorably on his hero, and Origen wrote of the physical problems resulting from castration in a way that suggests personal experience(religionfacts.com).
Moore, Edward. “Origen of Alexandria.” 2 May 2005. Web. 10 31 October. Retrieved from: http://www.iep.utm.edu/origen-of-alexandria/#H3
www.religionfacts.org. “Origen of Alexandria.” Retrieved from: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/origen.htm
www.britannica.com. “Jakob Böhme.” Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/71646/Jakob-Bohme
http://people.bu.edu. “Thomas J. J. Altizer (1927-).” Retrieved from: http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/altizer.htm
Altizer, Thomas J. J. 1980. Total Presence: The Language of Jesus and the Language of Today. New York: The Seabury Press.
Altizer, Thomas J. J. 1961. Oriental Mysticism and Biblical Eschatology. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
Altizer, Thomas J. J. 1960. “Demythologizing and Jesus.” Religion in Life 29: 564-574.