True Christianity: Book Four

by Johann Arndt

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Johann Arndt (1555–1621) was an early evangelical. His four volume True Christianity is characterized by a scientific vitalism that would later influence Emanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, and W.B. Yeats.

Arndt’s masterwork draws on Paracelsus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Bernard of Clairvaux, Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, and Valentin Weigel. By today’s standards, this is weird, mystical stuff. But in its day, True Christianity was the standard work of Lutheran sprituality.*

According to W.R. Ward, the first three books of True Christianity correspond to the three classical stages of the mystical way: the via purgativa, the via illuminativa, and the via unitiva. The fourth book is entirely different.

In Book Four, Arndt lays out a thoroughly ecological vision of the natural world based on Paracelsian and Cabbalistic sources. According to this early modern translation of medieval metaphysics, humans must draw on a sympathetic magic—a technical term referring to the laws governing the relationships between species, plants, and animals—in order to resist the very modern urge to compete with and dominate both nature and one another.

* see Ward, W. R. Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History, 1670-1789. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 7–12.

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