In the Key to Theosophy the author says that at the last quarter of each century there is always a distinct movement partaking of the nature of the present Theosophical one, and this opinion is held by many Theosophists. Can these efforts be traced? Did any people call themselves by the name "Theosophist" one hundred years ago? Is it necessary that all such movements should have been called in the past "Theosophical"? And if the claim that such movements are started by the Adepts be true, is the present Society the only body with which those beings work? Taking up the last question first, we may turn to H. P. B. for authority. She often said that while the T. S. movement of today was distinctly under the care of the Adepts, it was not the only one through which effect was sought to be made on the race-thought and ethics, but that in many different ways efforts were constantly put forward. But still, she insisted, the T. S. wears the badge, so to say, of the Eastern and Ancient Schools, and therefore has on it the distinctive mark — or what the Sanskrit calls lakshana — of the old and united Lodge of Adepts. Inquiring further of reason and tradition, we find that it would be against both to suppose that one single organization should be the sole channel for the efforts of the Brotherhood. For if that Brotherhood has the knowledge and power and objects attributed to it, then it must use every agency which is in touch with humanity. Nor is it necessary to assume that the distinct efforts made in each century, as contradistinguished from the general current of influence in all directions, should be called Theosophical. The Rosicrucians are often supposed not to have existed at all as a body, but deep students have come to the conclusion that they had an organization. They were Christian in their phraseology and very deep mystics; and while they spoke of Holy Ghost, Sophia, and the like, they taught Theosophy. They were obliged by the temper of the time to suit themselves to the exigencies of the moment, for it would have been extreme folly to destroy the hope of making any effect by rushing out in opposition then. It is different now, when the air and the thought are free and men are not burned by a corrupt church for their opinions. In one sense the T. S. is the child of the Rosicrucian Society of the past. H.P. B. often said this, and inquiry into their ideas confirms the declaration. The Rosicrucians were Christian in the beginning and descendants afterwards of Christians. Even today it is hinted that in one of the great cities of this new Republic there is a great charity begun and carried on with money which has been given by descendants of the Rosicrucians under inward impulse directed by certain of the Adepts who were members of that body. For blood does count for something in this, that until an Adept has passed up into the seventh degree he is often moved in accordance with old streams of heredity. Or to put it another way, it is often easier for an Adept to influence one who is in his direct physical line than one who by consanguinity as well as psychic heredity is out of the family.
Looking into Germany of 200 years ago, we at once see Jacob Boehme. He was an ignorant shoemaker, but illuminated from within, and was the friend and teacher of many great and learned men. His writings stirred up the Church; they have influence today. His life has many indications in it of help from the Masters of Wisdom. A wide-spread effect from his writings can be traced through Germany and over to France even after his death. He called himself a Christian, but he was also named "Theosopher", which is precisely Theosophist, for it was only after his day that people began to use "ist" instead of "er". Long after his death the influence lasted. In the sixties many hundreds of his books were deliberately sent all over the world. They were given free to libraries all over the United States, and prepared the way for the work of the Theosophical Society in an appreciable measure, though not wholly.
One hundred years ago there was such a movement in France, one of the agents of which was Louis Claude, Count St. Martin, whose correspondence was called "Theosophical correspondence". He refers to Boehme, and also to unseen but powerful help which saved him from dangers during the Revolution. His books, L' Homme de De'sir and others, were widely read, and there are hints of a Society which, however, was compelled to keep itself secret. At the same date almost may be noted the great American Revolution influenced by Thomas Paine, who, though reviled now by ignorant theologians, was publicly thanked by Washington and the first Congress. This republic is a Theosophical effort, for it gives freedom, and fortunately does not declare for any particular religion in the clauses of its Constitution. Hints have been thrown out that the Adepts had some hand in the revolt of the Colonies in 1775. In replying to Mr. Sinnett some years ago, it was written by his Teacher that the Brotherhood dealt with all important human movements, but no one could arraign the body at the bar and demand proofs.
Bro. Buck wrote in 1889: "I have a volume entitled Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society, London, 1697, and another dated 1855, entitled Introduction to Theosophy or the Science of the Mystery of Christ, and in 1856 Theosophical Miscellanies was issued."
About 1500 years ago Ammonius Saccas made a similar effort which was attended with good results. He had almost the same platform as the T. S., and taught that the aim of Jesus was to show people the truth in all religions and to restore the ancient philosophy to its rightful seat. It is not at all against the theory we are dealing with that the various efforts were not dubbed with the same name. Those who work for the good of humanity, whether they be Adepts or not, do not care for a mere name; it is the substantive effort they seek, and not a vindication in the eyes of men of being first or original or anything else.
But we have only considered the Western World. All these centuries since A. D. 1, and long before that, Theosophical efforts were put forth in Asia, for we must not forget that our theories, as well as those of Ammonius Saccas, are Eastern in their origin. However much nations may at first ignore the heathen and barbarian, they at last came to discover that it is frequently to the heathen the Christian owes his religion and philosophy. So while Europe was enjoying the delights of rude and savage life, the Easterns were elaborating, refining, and perfecting the philosophy to which we owe so much. We who believe in the Adepts as Brothers of Humanity must suppose that ignorance did not prevail in the Brotherhood as to the effect sure to be one day produced in Europe whenever her attention could be diverted from money-making and won to the great Eastern stores of philosophy. This effect came about through England, Germany, and France. Frenchmen first drew attention to the Upanishads, Germans went in for Sanskrit, and England conquered India, so that her metaphysical mines could be examined in peace. We have seen the result of all this more and more every year. There is less ignorant, narrow prejudice against the "heathen", the masses are beginning to know that the poor Hindu is not to be despised in the field of thought, and a broader, better feeling has gradually developed. This is much better than the glorification of any Brotherhood, and the Lodge is always aiming at such results, for selfish pride, arrogance, and the love of personal dominion have no place therein. Nor should they in our present Theosophical Society.
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