On May 22nd, in the year 1792, Kirchberger, Baron of Liebistorf, and member of the Sovereign Council of the Republic of Berne, Switzerland, filled with an urge not to be stayed, wrote a letter:
. . . . I will declare to you, Sir, with Swiss frankness and sincerity, that the most eminent writer, in my eyes, and most profound of his age, is the author of "Des Erreurs et de la Verite," and that to correspond with him would be to me one of the greatest satisfactions of my life.
That letter, addressed to le Philosophe Inconnu, or "the Unknown Philosopher," proved to be the opening of a five years" remarkable correspondence, in which two "theosophers" of the late eighteenth century discoursed on the "active and intelligent Cause" of the universe, and the means by which man might again attain to conscious union with his Divine Principle.
Le Philosophe Inconnu — by which nom-de-plume Louis Claude de Saint-Martin sought, vainly it is true, to screen his identity — was, however, no ordinary "theosopher." Here was a man far and above the mediocrity of savants, spiritualistes, masons, rosicrucians, and so-called mystics, that thronged the continent of Europe during the French revolutionary period. For well may it be said that Saint-Martin was of those "who walk with God," whether for a moment, or longer, the reader may judge. But that he was thoroughly convinced of the actuality and experiencibility of the Divine Center — Sophia or Wisdom — there can be no doubt. His daily prayer epitomizes the one-pointed aspiration which dominated his life:
My God, be Thou with me so entirely that none save Thyself can be with me!
— Portrait Historique, I, 27
The republication of Theosophic Correspondence," (1) after some 150 years have elapsed since these two "theosophers," the one a pupil, the other a guide and cherished friend, wrote each other, presents a stirring challenge to the modern theosophist. There is here no clear-cut outline of theosophic doctrine, no strongly etched system of rounds and races globes and monads, planetary and solar chains. Yet, within the 110 letters may be found that indefinable "something" called atmosphere — the aroma of a strongly spiritualized individual, who conscious of his mission lived in whole-souled dedication to the restoration of erring man to God. To some, the form of this dedication may seem strange, difficult to grasp, perhaps even insignificant. To others, trained to sensitivity of inner concerns, recognition will be simple, and the validity of Saint-Martin's own words readily seen:
Those having soul will lend to my work what is wanted, but the soulless will deny it even that which it has.
— Port. Hist., I, 129
Born at Amboise, in the province of Touraine, France, on the 18th of January, 1743, of "pious and noble parents," Louis Claude de Saint-Martin was reared strictly in the Catholic faith, to which he adhered nominally throughout his life. Entering the college of Pontlevoi (or Portlevoy) at an early age, the first seeds of mystic thought were sown by a small book on The Art of Self-Knowledge. It was to this apparently insignificant treatise by Abadie, which he later termed "sentimental rather than profound," that Saint-Martin owed his primal impulse toward the inner life. Thence to the study of jurisprudence on his father's advice; but, on attaining the position of King's Advocate at the High Court of Tours, Louis Claude realized that as a magistrate it would be his duty to devote his entire time to his office. He therefore chose the army, in which profession, "during peace, he would have leisure to pursue his meditations, and to study man," to quote his friend and admirer, Mons. Gence, in Biographie Universelle (Theos. Cor., iv).
Thus, at twenty-two years of age, Saint-Martin, with a lieutenant's commission in the regiment of Foix, then garrisoned at Bordeaux, entered upon the next stage of his promising career. Unknown to himself, yet none the less potently, the mystic was being led through the labyrinth of worldly experience that he might himself, consciously, pick up the ancient thread of truth. For the very next year, at Bordeaux, the young subaltern was to meet Don Martines de Pasqually de la Tour, otherwise Martinez de Pasquales, who was permanently to stimulate the urgent desire for the inward life. In 1768, joining the Order of the Elect Cohens (Priests), founded by this Portuguese (2) theurgist, rosicrucian and mason, Saint-Martin was forever to be indebted to this teacher. With zeal and exactitude he gave himself to the cause of his Master, so that in 1771 he felt called upon to abandon the military profession in order the more fully to devote himself to the propagation of those seeds of wisdom which he had already received in no small measure.
Fortunately for him, in 1772 his preceptor was called to St. Domingo, never to return, death following for de Pasquales in 1774; for it was not long before Saint-Martin had far outdistanced the practices and rites of this Order. Nevertheless, as his letters to Kirchberger abundantly show, written twenty years and more after this period, Saint-Martin maintained to the last grateful reverence for the man who had turned him to the inward life, and firmly believed that if Martinez de Pasquales had lived he might very well have shown to him the "inward" way rather than merely the "external." As he writes on the 12th of July, 1792:
My leader therein was a man of very active virtues, and most of those who followed him, with myself, received confirmations thereby which may have been useful to our instruction and development Nevertheless, I, at all times, felt so strong an inclination to the intimate secret way, that this external one never further seduced me, even in my youth, for, at the age of twenty-three, I had been initiated into all those things, so that, in the midst of what was so attractive to others, in the midst of means and formulas and preparatives of all sorts, in which we were trained, I, more than once, exclaimed to our master, "Can all this be needed to find God?"
— Ibid., pp. 12-13 [italics ours]
By the death of Pasqually in 1774, Saint-Martin had already established himself in his own line of work which had taken a twofold direction: the one, of private social contact with personages of the higher circles of society, at Lyons, Paris, as well as at Bordeaux, whom he hoped to interest in the deeper issues of life; and secondly, in literary labors. Of Saint-Martin's personality, Mons. Matter, his biographer, writes:
At the age of thirty years  M de Saint-Martin found himself very favourably placed in the world. An expressive countenance and polished manners, marked by great distinction and considerable reserve, presented him to the best advantage. His demeanor announcing not only the desire to please but something to bestow, he soon became known widely and was in request everywhere.
— Saint Martin le Philosophe Inconnu, p. 74
As for his literary output, one has only to read Mon. Gence's careful description of the works of le Philosophe Inconnu, included by Penny in his Preface to Theosophic Correspondence, to recognize that in 1775 (note the year!) the publication of his first work, Des Erreurs et de la Verite ("Of Errors and of Truth") had definitely enlisted Saint-Martin in the fight for truth. It was this work, as stated, that was to inspire the Bernese philosopher, Kirchberger, eighteen years later, to take up his pen and seek the guidance of the "Unknown Philosopher." Significantly enough, it was also this first book which was to be condemned twenty-three years later by the Spanish Inquisition as "subversive of true religion and the peace of nations," to quote A. E. Waite in The Life of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher, p. 32. Herein Saint-Martin, indignant at Boulanger's assertion that "religion sprang from the fright occasioned by the catastrophes of nature," declared with vigor that there did reside within man a Divine Principle, and that it was not only possible but the duty of man to gain intuitive knowledge of this "active and intelligent Cause" from which all things sprang. Furthermore, contrary to prevailing opinion, he asserted that the "Will constituted the essential and fundamental faculty of man."
In 1782 his next work in two volumes appeared, also pseudonymously, Tableau Naturel or "Natural Table of the Correspondences between God, Man and the Universe," in which man's fall into generation was described, but also the hope instilled that man could, by the exercise of his moral and intellectual virtues, recover that which he had lost.
During the next five years there is a considerable "gap" in our knowledge of Saint-Martin's whereabouts. This should, of course, not surprise us, as the recorded history of other adepts, whether recognized as such or not, always includes a "lacuna" in their outward life. What takes place at these periods is not the concern of the public, nor is it ours today. It is believed that he did considerable traveling, not only to England, Germany, but even possibly to Russia.
In 1787 on his visit to England, it is known that he became acquainted with the works of William Law (who had died in 1761), a theosopher and ardent student of Bohme. It was not until the next year while at Strasbourg with Madame de Boecklin that he became fully introduced to the profundity of Jacob Bohme's writings — "What depths this author opens to me!" he was later to write to Kirchberger (Theos. Cor., p. 91).
In his forty-fifth year, Saint-Martin had at last come into his spiritual majority; for without question in the shoemaker of Gorlitz he had discovered a companion-in-arms, whose revelations through divine inspiration and a fearless defense of truth brought Saint-Martin lasting strength. In fact, so intense was his admiration that he applied himself, despite his nearing fifty years and failing eyesight, to learn the German language that he might not only read for himself the original, but also share with his compatriots in French translation his magnificent Bohme, whom he regarded as "the greatest human light that had ever appeared" (p. vi).
L'Homme de Desir or "The Man of Aspiration" did not appear until 1790, though it is believed he had begun it in England. Of this work, reputed to be the most exalted and inspired of all his writings, Saint-Martin gives evidence of that steady "guidance" which was to direct his inner genius throughout his life. Writing to Kirchberger, who had said that he regarded this work "as the most refreshing, and the richest in luminous thoughts, that has appeared in this age" (p. 126), Saint-Martin replied:
I acknowledge also that there are germs scattered in this work the properties of which I knew not when I sowed them, and which open to me daily, thanks to the aid of Providence and our authors. — Ibid., p. 130
More books followed, each one a development of the initial theme: that man is primitively a "thought of God," and that for renovation he must think and act solely by the Divine Principle within him. The reader is again referred to Mons. Gence's summary of Saint-Martin's numerous works, and his translations also of Bohme's writings, found included in the Preface of the book under study.
Let it not be supposed that these letters of Saint-Martin and Kirchberger lack in human appeal. Far from it. Besides the tender and affectionate exchanges between two patricians bred in the grace of noblesse oblige, we find as backdrop the dramatic scene of the French Revolution. The tortuous days, commencing with that fateful 10th of August, 1792 are thrown in bold relief as Saint-Martin casually, yet continuously, makes references while discoursing on the lofty theme of "their object." As he later wrote (in 1796) to Kirchberger, he felt the power of a great force behind the upheaval, "which springs from grounds unknown to those who have taken part in this great drama" (p. 235)
The great picture of our wonderful revolution rivets me, I am best situated here [at Paris] to contemplate it en philosophe. — p. 99
I listen to everything, I see all that come . . . There are some who had described to me beforehand, almost to the very letter, the shaking we have just experienced , in which I have again seen how fortunate and powerful the star is that presides over our revolution. — pp. 177-8
Do not believe that our French revolution is an indifferent thing upon the earth, I look upon it as the revolution of human nature, as you will see in my pamphlet, it is a miniature of the last judgment, with all its features, except that things succeed one another in it, whilst, at the last, everything will be done instantaneously. — p. 184
The pamphlet referred to was a treatise of considerable size and importance entitled: "Letter to a Friend, or Philosophical and Religious Consideration of the French Revolution," published in 1796, and which he hoped Kirchberger would translate into German for circulation among the German speaking countries. But though the Baron was deeply impressed with Saint-Martin's original, and in some instances startling views, and considered this the most remarkable treatise of its kind, he feared greatly that the Germanic peoples at that time would only turn it to bitter use.
There was danger, and plenty of it, for Saint-Martin during those years, who "walking on the borders of fire" (p. 223) had suddenly become persona non grata, of the proscribed classes, and whose mandat d'arret or Order of Arrest was soon to come. Yet, those who "walk with God" are under His care, and we find Saint-Martin not too surprised but deeply sensible of the "numerous proofs of the divine protection over me, especially during our revolution." (p. 150) He afterwards wrote to Kirchberger on the 30th of April, 1797:
There were many reasons for suspicion and arrest for one in my situation, civil, pecuniary, literary, social, etc, and yet I have been quits with an order once given to arrest me, which did not reach me till a month after the fall of Robespierre, who issued it, and which was cancelled before it could be executed. Moreover, I have three times passed through every crisis, I lived a whole year on the borders of La Vendee, and you will be not a little surprised when I tell you that, during these infernal agitations, when I went everywhere just like anybody else, things have been so ordered on high, that, since the Revolution, I have literally not heard the report of a cannon, except those which were lately fired here to announce peace with the Emperor (of Austria). You can tell this, if you like, to Mr. Jung, with my kind compliments. Do not let him take this for miracles, I am not worthy that any should be enacted for me: it was simply the care of Divine goodness, for which I am very grateful. — p. 297
The import of this correspondence is not the temporal events, however fascinating these may be. Of chief concern to our theosophers is the search after the Central Principle, the Divine Source, God, Sophia — whatever name came most readily to hand. We should not imagine, however, that the all-absorbing power of the inner life in any wise detracted from the performance of worldly duties on the part either of Saint-Martin or Kirchberger. Ample evidence is given in both cases that their duties in the world of men were fulfilled with diligence, exactitude and imagination.
Choice bits of wise counsel enrich the letters, where Saint-Martin kindly, affectionately, but always directly, urges Kirchberger to eschew the secondary or external way. It is difficult for us today to realize what a network of secret bodies, possessing in greater or less degree "masonic connections," had surrounded the entire continent of Europe by the late eighteenth century. Offshoots of original theosophic efforts, the dying embers of magical incantations, theurgic practices, secret formularies with numbers, were explained "behind closed door, with mouth to ear." Masonic, Rosicrucian, Kabbalistic Orders, so called, flourished by the dozen, not openly as today with far less danger to the unwary, but secretly, hidden under the spell of mystery, with mystifying signs and passwords, occult rites and ceremonial, "initiations," "traditions," and what not. "Brothers" of the different occult bodies would travel from one country to another, contacting isolated members of these fraternities. From time to time a few deeply intuitive and inspired "masters" did undoubtedly participate; but as with all such Orders, unless the flame be kept pure and tended by selfless motive, the fire dies and only the smoldering ashes testify that another "attempt of the Lodge" has failed.
Saint-Martin would have none of this mummery. Invited to participate in the re-opened school of Martines de Pasqually in 1784, which now called itself the Order of Philalethes, he refused, stating that they seemed "to speak and act only as freemasons, and not as real initiates, that is, as united to their Principle," as Mons. Gence records (Ibid., p. v). His uncompromising strength and chaste spirituality have cumulative force as one reads, consecutively, letter by letter. Never does this theosopher, and indeed adept, deviate one hair's-breadth from the Central Core, which to him was the only direct road to God. One is tempted to quote passage after passage, but the following will be suggestive evidence of the luminous quality of Saint-Martin's purpose:
I know, in short, that the whole earth is full of these prodigies, but, I repeat, unless things come from the centre itself, I do not give them my confidence. . . .
The inward or centre is the principle of everything, so long as this centre is not open, the greatest external wonders may seduce without advancing us, and, if I may venture to say so, it is our inward which ought to be the true thermometer, the true touchstone, of what passes without. If our heart is in God, if it is really become divine, by love, faith, and ardent prayer, no illusion can surprise us.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
— pp. 62-3
Innumerable references to numbers and their significances are to be found, particularly in the letters from Kirchberger who appeals to Saint-Martin for direction on behalf of friends of his similarly inclined. Though Kirchberger recognizes the wisdom of Saint-Martin's judgment, in fact his reverence for his friend's counsel adds a richness and a beauty not to be overlooked, he nevertheless is himself not a little intrigued by the power that numbers appear to have in revealing facts. Saint-Martin's sane, practical remarks give a timely warning to those today who in their over-enthusiasm at discovering part of the web of truth believe they have found all. Writes Saint-Martin:
They [numbers] have given me, and still occasionally give me, a sort of intelligence, but I never thought that they gave more than the mere ticket of the package, and not commonly the substance of the matter itself. I felt this from my first entrance into my first school. Friend Bohme came to justify this presentiment. . . .
— pp. 194-5
Further, Saint-Martin takes pains to reiterate that numbers do indeed express laws, but that, in the case of Man, they are "already removed from the divine sphere: we may work them, and they will always give us the representation of the same wonders; but only as images. . .." (p. 209)
One interesting point must be included, and that is the rigid silence maintained by Saint-Martin in regard to Cagliostro. There are at least a half-dozen references by Kirchberger to Cagliostro, whom he regards with candid disfavor, deeming him the author of dangerous practices. But never a comment in return from Saint-Martin. Was this adept under the reserve imposed by The Lodge which would prevent him even from hinting to his beloved correspondent that there might be "another side" to the coin of the Cagliostro mystery?
Mention must also be made of the doings of "our other good theosophists" where Kirchberger furnishes important information on the works of Doctor Pordage, Jane Lead, and Thomas Browne of England, as well as of Gichtel of Germany who deeply impressed by Bohme produced his now famous edition of Bohme's Works of 1682, later enlarged in 1715. Silverhielm, nephew of Swedenborg, also is mentioned by Saint-Martin who had met him personally; and though Saint-Martin was conscientiously interested in all these theosophers, whether through their writings or by personal contact, and would attend "meetings" whenever he felt that some seed of wisdom might be sown, he always returned to Bohme as the primal source of inspiration.
"Would you leave your work incomplete? . . . would you lose the fruit of six years" correspondence, or, what amounts to the same thing, would you not enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the grain you have sown arrive at its full maturity?" — Thus Kirchberger appeals to Saint-Martin when he discovers, in May 1797, that after months of hoping and planning for Saint-Martin to visit him in Switzerland, the latter has decided not to undertake the journey. And why? Because Saint-Martin has not received, he says, "the desired opening" which points to such a visit, and "however strong this desire may be [to visit K.], until I have more light than at present I must wait." — p. 299
Kirchberger's disappointment, naturally, is keenly felt, the more so as it unfolds that he is most desirous that Saint-Martin transmit to him "certain truths" which could not be told in writing. He writes:
I beg of you to weigh all this in your wisdom; and if present circumstances do not allow you actually to make the journey, to compensate me, in part at least, by some preparatory instructions which will make me more worthy and more fit to enjoy your conversation. — p. 300
Saint-Martin's answer (Letter CX) is a masterpiece of tender understanding yet firm adherence to esoteric principle. Initiation cannot be conferred, it must be earned; and in Saint-Martin's simple direct way he again affirms:
The only initiation which I preach and seek with all the ardour of my soul, is that by which we may enter into the heart of God, and make God's heart enter into us, . . There is no other mystery, to arrive at this holy initiation, than to go more and more down into the depths of our being, and not let go till we can bring forth the living vivifying root. . . .
This is the language I have held to you in all my letters; and certainly, whenever I may be present with you, I shall never be able to communicate to you any mystery more vast than this, and more suited to promote your advancement. . . . I cannot think you are in want, and I shall think so still less for the future, if you will only work your capital wisely.
— pp. 304-5
The two friends were destined never to meet. Kirchberger died suddenly in a year or two, and Saint-Martin continued in Paris occupied with further writings. Sensing that his end was near, he said to a friend:
I feel that I am going — Providence may call me — I am ready. The germs which I have endeavoured to sow will fructify. — p. 10
The next day he left for the country-seat of Count Lenoir la Roche at Aunay, near Sceaux, where after a slight repast, he "prayed in silence, and departed without a struggle, and without pain, on the 13th October, 1803." — p. xi . . .
To theosophists of the present, ingrown perhaps with too great a concern over the problems of the hour, Theosophic Correspondence comes as a refreshing spring. Somehow one is lifted out of the narrow sphere of isolationism into the broad expanse of that ageless theosophic force which has been "active since the commencement of our racial experience," as stated in the Foreword.
For in both the Preface by Edward Burton Penny, and in the Appendix by Christopher Walton, we find theosophers in the middle of the last century, the nineteenth, boldly planning a course of theosophic propaganda. And heaven knows, if the world must grope for the light in the fifties of our present century, it was far in arrears in spiritual expansiveness one hundred years ago. Is it of such slight importance to us today to realize that Mr. Penny of Topsham, Devon, England, found it worth his while to translate from the French these letters, and then with the aid of Walton and other like-minded "theosophers" accomplished in 1863 the sending of free copies to literally hundreds of libraries the world over: in Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Nova Scotia, India, Ceylon, Australia, The Cape, Gibraltar, France, as well as the United States?
We ask the reader to enter the courtly and noble rhythm of this book, and discover for himself much more than is here recorded.
1. Theosophic Correspondence between Saint-Martin and Kirchberger. Published by Theosophical University Press, 1949. 326 pp. $2.00. (return to text)
2. Later research suggests that Martinez de Pasquales was a Spaniard. (return to text)
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