Reading metaphysical texts from the Renaissance period is challenging, and the challenge is often compounded when the text is alchemical and symbolic in nature. For this reason, I approached this text with a little trepidation. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it much more accessible than I had expected.
In order to better understand the text, some basic biographical information may be helpful.
Paracelsus (1493/4 – 24 September 1541), born Theophrastus von Hohenheim (full name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer of the German Renaissance.
He was a pioneer in several aspects of the “medical revolution” of the Renaissance, emphasizing the value of observation in combination with received wisdom. He is credited as the “father of toxicology”.
He also had a substantial impact as a prophet or diviner, his “Prognostications” being studied by Rosicrucians in the 1700s. Paracelsianism is the early modern medical movement inspired by the study of his works.
I won’t spend a whole lot of time discussing Paracelsus’ medical writings from this book. But I will mention that he seemed to practice a form of holistic healing, treating the body and the spirit at the same time to promote optimal results. This is an idea which I personally embrace. I think spiritual and emotional unease manifests in physical ailment, and vice versa. Anyway, that is all I want to say regarding the medical aspects of this text.
The alchemical selections in this book I found fascinating. Paracelsus explains alchemy as the symbolic purification of the human soul.
Man must bring everything to perfection. This work of bringing things to their perfection is called “alchemy.” And he is an alchemist who carries what nature grows for the use of man to its destined end.
(pp. 92 – 3)
For the Great Physician created the ore but did not carry it to its perfect state; He has charged the miners with the task of refining it. In the same way He enjoined the physician to purify man’s body . . . from which purification man emerges as indestructible as gold.
Paracelsus believed that the next phase of human evolution would include an embrace of the mystical arts. He saw the next generation of humanity as one that would embrace spirituality and turn away from worldly trappings.
Know that man makes great discoveries concerning future and hidden things, which are despised and scoffed at by the ignorant who do not realize what nature can accomplish by virtue of her spirit . . . Thus, the uncertain arts are in such a state that a new generation must come, full of prophetic and sibylline spirit, which will awaken and direct the skills and arts.
(p. 132 – 3)
He then goes on to assert that God’s power is hidden within nature, and that it is in nature where humans must search for divine power.
For God has given His power to the herbs, put it in stones, concealed it in seeds; we should take it from them, we should seek it in them. The angels possess wisdom in themselves, but man does not. For him wisdom lies in nature, in nature he must seek it. His harvest is stored up in nature. Through nature God’s power is revealed to man, through nature he enters into his Father’s heritage, in wisdom and in the arts.
Finally, in the era of Twitter and social media, where people are wont to write whatever they want with little or no thought, Paracelsus reminds us of the divine power of the written word.
The Scripture says: the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life . . . That is to say, the spirit which bears nothing but the truth in itself. If a man adheres solely to the truth in his writings, it is not mere letters that he writes; it is the spirit that he sets down in its truth, the spirit that is invisible in itself and that must come to us through the written or spoken word . . . But if a man does not write the truth, he writes lies; and the letter that is a lie kills. Therefore let any desirous of writing be careful to keep always to the truth, that he may kill no one. For to kill is forbidden under the penalty of forfeiting eternal life.
(pp. 165 – 6)
I realize that this book is not for everyone. But if you are interested in the metaphysical, it is worth reading. You can certainly see the influence Paracelsus had on later thinkers in the area of mysticism.
8 responses to ““Paracelsus: Selected Writings””
I like the quotation about the power of words. It’s both mystical and factual.
Brilliant observation! And so true. It’s a wonderful thing when the mystical and factual converge.
Great choice! Well, materialism is still alive and kicking despite his hopes… The area where he was born (Einsiedeln) is one of my favourite in Switzerland not only because of the Black Madonna abbey but also because of the mountains and streams surrounding it.
Hi Monika! Einsiedeln sounds amazing. I’ve never been to Switzerland. One day, I hope. I actually thought about you when I was reading this text, thinking that you had probably read his work, and if not, that you would certainly connect with it. Hope you are doing well. Great hearing from you.
I have not read his work but Jung quotes him extensively so I’m not totally unfamiliar. Give me a shout when you come here with your family 🙂
I’ve always thought about the “letter” as the “letter of the law”—i.e. strict legalism vs. compassionate understanding.
But yours is an interesting interpretation. So often we say things without careful consideration, in the Twitterverse and elsewhere. Good reminder to “say what you mean and mean what you say.” 🙂
Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the post interesting.