The Cherubinic Wanderer, the title by which this collection is most widely known, is the perfect, succinct expression of two major themes in Christian literature: wisdom and pilgrimage. While “cherubinic” suggests to the twenty-first century mind the chubby little angels of Christian religious art, its implication for the seventeenth century mind involved finding God through reason and thought. The cherubim were the second order of angels in the early Christian tradition; the first order was the seraphim. If the seraph represents coming to God through the heart, the cherub represents coming to God through the mind. “Cherubinic” was the ideal approach not only for seventeenth century theology, when sectarian strife forced a minute intellectual analysis of doctrine, but also for the century’s poetry, which was known (and in the following century scorned) for intellectualizing poetic feeling.
The second key word of the title, “wanderer,” suggests the fallen individual’s role in a fallen world: We are in this world only as pilgrims, on our way to an unfallen, eternal reality. The feelings of exile and alienation are not often invoked by the poems of the collection; instead, the poems suggest the German folk tradition of the “Happy Wanderer,” the vagabond who recalls the wandering minstrels of the medieval tradition, the troubadour. Because Silesius joined the Franciscan order before publishing The Cherubinic Wanderer, there may also be overtones of Saint Francis’s call for Christians to be “troubadours for Christ,” transforming secular poetic traditions to religious use. The subversion of the worldly to the divine was a stated goal of many of the German religious poets of Silesius’s day: they called the technique Kontrafaktur, and it permeates The Cherubinic Wanderer.