Angelus Silesius : biography
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 (Latin 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 German mystic Jacob Böhme through Böhme’s friend, Abraham von Franckenberg."Angelus Silesius: Physician, Priest and Poet" in Paterson, Hugh Sinclair and Exell, Joseph Samuel. The British & Foreign Evangelical Review. Volume XIX, No. LXXIV (October 1870) (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1870), 682-700; based in large part on Kahlert, August (Dr.). Angelus Silesius: Ein literar-historiche Untersuchung (Breslau: s.n., 1853). 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 monastery where he remained for the rest of his life.
An enthusiastic convert and priest, Silesius worked to convince German Protestants in Silesia to return to the Roman Catholic Church. He composed 55 tracts and pamphlets condemning Protestantism, several of which were published in two folio volumes entitled Eccleciologia (trans. "The Words of the Church"). 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 Cherubinische Wandersmann ("The Cherubinic Pilgrim"), a collection of over 1,600 alexandrine couplets. His poetry explores themes of mysticism, quietism, and pantheism within the Christian context.
Early life and education
While his exact birthdate is unknown, it is believed that Silesius was born in December 1624 in Breslau, the capital of Silesia. The earliest mention of him is the registration of his baptism on Christmas Day, 25 December 1624. At the time, Silesia was a German-speaking province of the Habsburg Empire. Today, it is the southwestern region of Poland. He was born Johann Scheffler and was the first of three children. His parents, who married in February 1624, were Lutheran.Sources (including Flitch, vide infra) state he had a younger sister, Magdalena (b. 1626), and brother, Christian (b. 1630). His sister Magdalena married a doctor name Tobias Brückner. His brother Christian is recorded in history as either "feebleminded" or mentally ill. His father, Stanislaus Scheffler (c.1562-1637), was of Polish ancestry and was a member of the lower nobility. Stanislaus dedicated his life to the military was made Lord of Borowice (or Vorwicze) and received a knighthood from King Sigismund III. A few years before his son’s birth, he had retired from military service in Krakow. In 1624, he was 62. His mother, Maria Hennemann (c. 1600-1639), was a 24-year old daughter of a local physician with ties to the Habsburg Imperial court.
Scheffler obtained his early education at the Elisabethsgymnasium (Saint Elizabeth’s Gymnasium, or high school) in Breslau. His earliest poems were written and published during these formative years. Scheffler was likely influenced by the recently published works of poet and scholar Martin Opitz and by one of his teachers, poet Christoph Köler.
He subsequently studied medicine and science at the University of Strasbourg (or Strassburg) in Alsace for a year in 1643. It was a Lutheran university with a course of study that embraced Renaissance humanism. From 1644 to 1647, he attended Leiden University. At this time, he was introduced to the writings of Jacob Böhme (1575-1624) and became acquainted with one of Böhme’s friends, Abraham von Franckenberg (1593-1652), who likely introduced him ancient Kabbalist writings, alchemy, hermeticism, and to mystic writers living in Amsterdam.Flitch, J. E. Crawford (translator). "Introduction" in Angelus Silesius: Selections from the Cherubinic Wanderer (London, 1932), 15-64. Can be found online here: (accessed 17 July 2012).Stockum, T.C. von. Zwischen Jakob Böhme und Johannes Scheffler: Abraham von Franckenberg (1593-1652) und Daniel Czepko von Reigersfeld (1605-1660). (Amsterdam: Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie von Wetenschappen, 1967), passim. Franckenberg had been compling a complete edition of Böhme’s work at the time Scheffler resided in the Netherlands. Dutch authorities provided refuge to many religious sects, mystics, and scholars who were persecuted elsewhere in Europe. Scheffler then went to Italy and enrolled in studies at the University of Padua in Padua in September 1647. A year later, he received a doctoral degree in philosophy and medicine and returned to his homeland.