Guillaume Postel, at first blush

I wrote about John Webster (1611-82) in my previous post.  Peter Elmer’s article about John Webster’s library mentions the fact that he possessed a book written by

the French eirenicist, Guillaume Postel (1510-81), entitled Absconditorum a constitutione mundi clavis.  An exposition of apocalyptic cabbalism, it has been described as an attempt by the author to envisage “a return to the earthly paradise of Genesis” where “mankind will be united in a common speech [Hebrew], a common government, and a common religion based on cabala.”  (p. 23)

This reference piqued my interest.  In my spare time since, I’ve been learning more about Postel and the Kabbalah.  The Kabbalah is a subject I’ve needed to become more familiar with but I just hadn’t gotten around to it.  My natural tendency has been to resist “esoteric” forms of spirituality, but this seems as good a time as any to take a closer look at the Kabbalah, at least insofar as Postel was concerned with it.

The first thing to say about Guillaume Postel is that he was an amazingly gifted linguist.  He picked up foreign languages as easily as knit socks pick up sand burrs: with the slightest brush of contact, the thing was entrenched.  In fact, an Ottoman Turk who taught Postel Arabic was convinced that he was a demon, so rapid was his mastery of that language.  Postel was arguably Europe’s first Orientalist.

The second thing to say about him is that he was a heretic.  Based on his interpretation of the Kabbalah, Postel believed that Christ, or at least Christ’s feminine aspect (the Shekinah), had reappeared on earth in a sixteenth-century Venetian woman (a Mother Teresa-like figure Postel had met, who ran a hospital for the indigent) in order to complete mankind’s redemption.  Postel furthermore believed that he himself was the spiritual offspring of a union between Christ and this Venetian woman, and that he was tasked with bringing about, or at least prophesying, world concord under the aegis of the Catholic Church and the French king.  Even in the turbulent times of the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, when many religious minds were more or less, and sometimes literally, “on fire” in Europe, this was considered loony tunes stuff.  The Catholic Church put him on trial and declared him insane.  Postel deplored the verdict, but it saved him from the stake, and he was eventually freed from prison.

The third thing to say about Postel is that in spite of the second thing, his life is worthy of study.  There is a largeness and generosity of spirit about him that many a more orthodox believer, even today, would do well to emulate.

More to follow, later . . .

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