Angelus Silesius

[si-lee-shee-uhs, -zhee-uhs, sahy-]

Angelus Silesius (baptised December 25, 1624July 9, 1677) was a German mystic and poet.


Silesius was born in Breslau (Wrocław), Silesia as son of Polish noble and German mother His givenname was Johann Scheffler, but he is generally known by the pseudonym Angelus Silesius (meaning Silesian messenger), under which he published his poems and which marks the country of his birth, Silesia. His father moved from Kraków in 1618 and became a citizen of Breslau. Johann was brought up a Lutheran and educated as scientist and physician. He was at first physician to Silvius Nimrod, Duke of Württemberg-Oels, where he came into contact with Abraham von Franckenberg, who was later to influence him greatly and whose library he would inherit on Franckenberg's death in 1652. With the imperial Habsburg rulers pushing for re-Catholicisation, Silesius joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1652. Two years later Silesius received from Emperor Ferdinand III the status of imperial-royal (kaiserlich-königlich) court physician. In 1661 he took orders as a priest, and became coadjutor to the Prince-bishop of Breslau. He died at St. Matthias monastery in Breslau.


In 1657 Silesius published under the title Heilige Seelenlust, oder geistliche Hirtenlieder der in ihren Jesum verliebten Psyche (1657), a collection of 205 hymns, the most beautiful of which, such as, Liebe, die du mich zum Bilde deiner Gottheit hast gemacht and Mir nach, spricht Christus, unser Held, have been adopted in the German Protestant hymnal. More remarkable, however, is his Geistreiche Sinn-und Schluss-reime (1657), afterwards called Cherubinischer Wandersmann ("The Cherubic Pilgrim")(1674). This is a collection of Reimsprüche or rhymed distichs embodying a strange mystical panentheism drawn mainly from the writings of Jakob Böhme and his followers. Silesius also delighted specially in the subtle paradoxes of mysticism. The essence of God, for instance, he held to be love; God, he said, can love nothing inferior to himself; but he cannot be an object of love to himself without going out, so to speak, of himself, without manifesting his infinity in a finite form; in other words, by becoming man. God and man are therefore essentially one.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defends Silesius from the charge of pantheism. His prose writings are orthodox; "The Cherubic Pilgrim" was published with the ecclesiastical Imprimatur, and, in his preface, the author himself explains his "paradoxes" in an orthodox sense, and repudiates any future pantheistic interpretation.

Silesius also wrote prose, notably a series of tracts against Protestantism, published under the title Ecclesiologia.


"Die Rose ist ohne warum; Sie blühet, weil Sie blühet..."

["The Rose is without an explanation; She blooms, because She blooms..." This was held by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges to be a negation of Aesthetics.]

In the Martin Scorsese remake of the movie Cape Fear, Robert De Niro's character Max Cady quotes a verse of Silesius, notably "I am like God and God like me. I am as large as God. He is as small as I. He cannot above me nor I beneath him be."

[Ich bin wie Gott, und Gott wie ich. Ich bin so groß als Gott, er ist als ich so klein; Er kann nicht über mich, ich unter ihm nicht sein.]

Bibliographical references

A complete edition of Scheffler's works (Sämtliche poetische Werke) was published by D. A. Rosenthal, 2 vols. (Regensburg, 1862). Both the Cherubinischer Wandersmann and Heilige Seelenlust have been republished by G. Ellinger (1895 and 1901); a selection from the former work by O. E. Hartleben (1896). For further notices of Silesius' life and work, see Hoffmann von Fallersleben in Weimarisches Jahrbuch I. (Hanover, 1854); A. Kahlert, Angelus Silesius (1853); C. Seltmann, Angelus Silesius und seine Mystik (1896), and a biography by H. Mahn (Dresden, 1896). His poetic works appeared, Sämtliche poetishe Werke (3 Vols.), 1949-1954, under the editorship of H. L. Held.


This article incorporates information from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

Dünnhaupt, Gerhard. Johannes Scheffler. In "Personalbibliographien zu den Drucken des Barock." Vol 5. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-7772-9013-0, pp. 3527-3556.

Dürig, W.. Zur Frömmigkeit des A.Silesius in Amt und Sendung. Freiburg: 1950.

Garland, Mary, editor. The Oxford Companion to German Literature. 2nd Ed. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Hederer, Edgar, editor. Das deutsche Gedicht: Gedichte vom Mittelalter bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. 14th ed. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1974.

Steiner, Rudolph. Giordano Bruno and Angelus Silesius. Unknown Publisher: 2005.

External links

Two Silesius' texts in English translation

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