Angelus Silesius (c. 1624 – 9 July 1677), born Johann Scheffler and also known as Johann Angelus Silesius, 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 “angel” or “heavenly messenger”) and the epithet Silesius (“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 the German mystic Jacob Böhme through Böhme’s friend, Abraham von Franckenberg. 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 house 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 Ecclesiologia (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 Cherubinischer Wandersmann (“The Cherubinic Pilgrim”), a collection of 1,676 short poems, mostly Alexandrine couplets. His poetry explores themes of mysticism, quietism, and pantheism within an orthodox Catholic context.
Johann’s father, Stanislaus Scheffler, was a member of the Polish nobility, but was forced to leave his homeland because of his adherence to Lutheranism. Johann attended Elizabeth’s Gymnasium in Breslau, than enrolled as a medical student at the University of Strassburg in 1643. The next year, he went to Leyden, and in 1647, to Padua (PhD & MD 1648). He then returned to Silesia, where in 1649 he became the private physician of Sylvius Nimrod of Württemburg-Oels.
The Duke was a staunch Lutheran, and his court preacher, Christiantoph Freitag, administered the ecclesiastical affairs of the district according to strict Lutheran orthodoxy. Scheffler, who in Holland had become acquainted with the writings of Jakob Böhme, and had been a personal friend of Abraham von Frankenberg, editor of Böhme’s works, soon found that the spiritual atmosphere of Oels did not suit him. Johann resigned his post in 1652 and returned to Breslau. There he became acquainted with the Jesuits. In 1653 he joined the Roman Catholic church, and took the name Angelus.
In 1654, Emperor Ferdinand made Scheffler the Imperial Court Physician, but the title was purely honorary, and Scheffler remained in Breslau. In 1661, Scheffler joined the order of St. Francis, and was also ordained priest at Niesse, Silesia (now Nysa, Poland). In 1664, he was appointed Rath and Hofmarschall to his friend Sebastian von Rostock, the newly created Prince Bishop of Breslau. After the bishop’s death in 1671, Scheffler retired to the monastery of St. Matthias in Breslau.