Preface to the 1923 Edition
In this work more than twenty years ago, I wanted to answer the question,
Why do a particular form of mysticism and the beginnings of modern scientific
thinking clash in a period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century.
I did not wish to write a “history” of the mysticism of this period,
but only to answer this question. The publications which have appeared on this
subject in the past twenty years do not, in my opinion, furnish any grounds
for making any changes in the answer. The work can therefore reappear in the
The mystics who are dealt with here are the last offshoots of a way of
inquiry and thinking which in its details is foreign to present-day
consciousness. However, the disposition of soul which lived in this way of
inquiry exists in thoughtful natures at the present time. The manner of
looking at objects of nature with which, before the period characterized
here, this disposition of soul was connected, has almost disappeared. Its
place has been taken by present-day natural science.
The personalities described in this book were not able to transmit the
earlier way of inquiry to the future. It no longer corresponds to the
cognitive powers which have developed in European man from the thirteenth
and fourteenth century onward. What Paracelsus or Jacob Boehme preserve of
this way of inquiry appears only as a reminiscence of something past. In
essence it is the disposition of soul which remains to thoughtful men. And
for it they seek an impulse in the inclinations of the soul itself, while
formerly it arose in the soul when the latter observed nature. Many of those
who incline toward mysticism today do not want to kindle mystical
experiences in connection with what present-day natural science says, but
with what the works of the period described here contain. But in this way
they become strangers to what most occupies the present.
It might appear as though the present-day knowledge of nature, seen in its
true character, does not indicate a way which could so incline the soul as
to find, in mystical contemplation, the light of the spirit. Why do
mystically inclined souls find satisfaction in Meister Eckhart, in Jacob
Boehme, etc., but not in the book of nature, insofar as, opened by
knowledge, it lies before man today?
It is true that the manner in which this book of nature is discussed today
for the most part, cannot lead to a mystical disposition of soul.
It is the intention of this work to indicate that this manner of discussion
does not have to be used. This is attempted by speaking also of those
spirits who, out of the disposition of soul of the old mysticism, developed
a way of thinking which also can incorporate the newer knowledge into
itself. This is the case with Nicolas of Cusa.
In such personalities it becomes apparent that present-day natural science
too is capable of a mystical intensification. For a Nicolas of Cusa would be
able to lead his thinking over into this science. In his time one could have
discarded the old way of inquiry, retained the mystical disposition, and
accepted modern natural science, had it already existed.
But what the human soul finds compatible with a way of inquiry it must, if
it is strong enough, also be able to extract from it.
I wanted to describe the characteristics of medieval mysticism in order to
indicate how, separated from its native soil, the old way of conceiving
things, it develops into an independent mysticism, but cannot preserve
itself because it now lacks the spiritual impulse which, through its
connection with inquiry, it had in earlier times.
This leads to the thought that those elements of more recent research which
lead to mysticism must be sought for. From this inquiry the spiritual
impulse which does not stop at the darkly mystical, emotional inner life,
but ascends from the mystical starting-point to a knowledge of the spirits,
can be regained. Medieval mysticism atrophied because it had lost the
substratum of inquiry which directs the faculties of the soul upward to the
spirit. This book is intended to provide a stimulus for extracting from more
recent inquiry, when properly understood, those forces which are directed
toward the spiritual world.
Goetheanum in Dornach bei Basel, Switzerland