Volume 15, Issue 1, Spring 1971
Ernest B. Koenker
Potentiality in God
Grund and Ungrund in Jacob Boehme
No contemporary philosopher has argued more consistenily or more convincingly for a God of becoming than Charles Hartshorne. Boehme looms large
in the historical background of his dipolar theology: both classical theism, which sees God as supreme actuality and most strictly absolute, and pantheism, which
sees in God only supreme potentiality and universal relativity, are correlated in his panentheism. The ultimate contraries are united in the divine relativity,
where eternal permanence and temporal process are both preserved in a tension that, logically, precedes them.
Hartshorne has been reluctant to develop relationships to earlier and "simpler" representatives of his type of philosophical theology. Berdyaev, on the other hand, is ready to acknowledge Boehme as the real founder of his own philosophy of freedom. The affinity between the two stands out sharply when they explore the problem of evil, tragedy within divinity, or the Unground as Nothingness which gives rise to Something and the entire theogonic process. Berdyaev sees Boehme as one of the rare thinkers who broke with the optimistic rationalism of Western thought to construct a more spiritual philosophy of tragedy.
Heidegger's revolt against Western ontology and Christian theology has certain affinities to Boehme's thought. We may point to but one aspect here, the central basic question of metaphysics, which is foolishness to Christian theology: "Why is there any being at all and not rather nothing?" This question and Heidegger's "Nothingness" have obvious connections with Boehme's question and his "Nichts." For both. Nothingness is a primordial and fundamental working. It is found in Being itself rather than outside it. It gives rise through primordial discord to Being. To be sure, Heidegger develops his dialectic far beyond anything suggested by Boehme when he interprets his Dasein as suspended in dread over das Nichts. But Heidegger's profoundly dialectical conception of Being has obvious relations to the non-Being of Boehme: Nothingness or nihilation is present in all beings and is the essence of Being itself. It is the dynamic power of Being thai gives rise to Being. Self-negation is always present in the coming-into-presence of Being. For both Boehme and Heidegger Nothingness is required for the "letting-be" of beings, for the un-concealment of Being.