A mystical Christian sect in the 17th century, emphasizing asceticism and the inner spiritual life.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Gichtelianism
Founder: Johann Georg Gichtel
Founded: late 17th century
Ended: Gradually declined after Gichtel’s death in 1710
Location: Primarily in Germany and the Netherlands

The Gichtelians, also known as the Brothers of the Angels, emerged from the teachings and spiritual leadership of Johann Georg Gichtel (1638–1710), a German mystic deeply influenced by the works of Jakob Böhme and Paracelsus. This group is notable for its stringent ascetic practices, an inward-focused spirituality, and a distinct separation from established church institutions, positioning themselves as part of a broader Christian mystical tradition that sought a deeper, more personal communion with the divine.

Gichtel’s journey into mysticism began in Regensburg, where he was born into a family with a father who was a member of the senate. His early education introduced him to languages like Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, setting the stage for his later theological explorations. Opting to study theology in Strasbourg, Gichtel found himself disillusioned with the Lutheran teachings of the time, prompting a shift towards law before ultimately dedicating himself to mysticism after meeting influential figures like the Hungarian nobleman Justinianus von Weltz.

Gichtel’s dissent against Lutheran doctrines led to his prosecution, resulting in banishment and the confiscation of his assets in 1665. His journey through banishment brought him to the Netherlands in 1667, where he settled in Amsterdam and lived a life marked by poverty, visions, and the formation of a community known as the “Brethren of the Angelic Life”. He was deeply influenced by Jakob Böhme, under whose mentorship he published a complete edition of Böhme’s works in 1682. This marked a significant period in Gichtel’s life, where he gathered a small band of followers, the Gichtelians, who sought to live a life free from carnal desires, akin to angels. They aimed for a spiritual existence that involved hearing God’s voice within and enduring sufferings vicariously, much like Christ, for the salvation of others.

The Gichtelians distinguished themselves through their strict ascetic practices, including celibacy, and their rejection of established church structures, which positioned them as separatists from the broader Christian community. They believed in living a life free from carnal desires, mirroring the purity of angels, and aimed to attain a state of communion with God that transcended conventional religious practices. For them, the inner spiritual life was more important than external observances, so they sought to experience God’s presence directly within their souls, considering themselves equal to the inhabitants of heaven. They also claimed to exercise a priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, a figure known for his role as a king and priest without lineage, aimed at vicariously atoning for the sins of the world through suffering and prayer, in imitation of Christ.

Over time, bands of Gichtelians formed in various regions across Europe, notably in Amsterdam, Leyden, Berlin, Halle, and Magdeburg, among others, maintaining their distinct spiritual practices and beliefs into the 19th century. Gichtel’s extensive correspondence, published posthumously without his knowledge, provides a window into his theosophical and pansophical ideas. These writings, alongside the first complete edition of Böhme’s works, serve as a testament to his influence and the doctrinal foundation of the Gichtelians.

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