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The Unknown Philosopher

The Unknown Philosopher


A Comment by
A. H. Parker
Autumn, 1975

A. H. Parker is a noted translator of Anthroposophical documents.

The Anthroposophical Quarterly is published four times a year by the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain. The Editors for this issue are Mildred Kirkcaldy and A. C. Harwood.

Copyright © 1975
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The Unknown Philosopher

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin was born in 1743 of a devout Catholic family of aristocratic lineage at Amboise in Touraine. As a young boy at the Collège of Pontlevoi he discovered a book on self-knowledge by Abardie which made a great impression on him. Later he studied law and was called to the Bar, but felt an acute distaste for a mundane life and abandoned it for the Army in 1766. Whilst stationed with his regiment at Bordeaux he met the man who was destined to exercise a decisive influence upon his life — Don Martines de Pasqually, a leading member of a group of Masonic Rosicrucians alleged to be followers of Paracelsus and called the Elect Cohens. [The term Cohen signifies priest.] Pasqually was one of the most important esoteric teachers in France. He established an order called the Illuminés in Paris, also a form of Rosicrucianism, but with political aims. Saint Martin was initiated into the Elect Cohens in 1768, propagated mysticism in Paris and Lyons, was active in Masonic Lodges and devoted the rest of his life to mysticism. At the time of the French Revolution he was summoned as an aristocrat to appear before the revolutionary tribunal, but escaped the guillotine owing to the downfall of Robespierre. In his book, Considérations stir la revolution française, he attributed the revolution to the progressive apostasy of the nation. The unity, stability and continuity of the nation could only be assured by the monarchy and he defended the sanctity and inalienable rights of absolute kingship. The Pope, as sovereign pontiff, was the head of the social organisation and the link between the universe and God. Saint-Martin thus prepared the way for Joseph de Maistre, who in his Soireés de Saint Petersbourg defended the Holy Alliance of 1815 and campaigned on behalf of Roman Catholicism. Under the influence of Saint-Martin he wrote theocratic treatises.

In later life Saint-Martin broke away from Pasqually, translated Jakob Boehme and came under the influence of Swedenborg. Impoverished by the Revolution, he withdrew to Amboise. He died in 1803. He might be called the last representative of the theosophic doctrine of wisdom, of traditional alchemy and of the school of Paracelsus. He was the author of numerous books under the pseudonym of ‘the unknown philosopher,’ the chief of which was Des Erreurs et de la Vérité, published in 1775.

The correspondence between Baron Kirchberger de Liebisdorf and Saint-Martin is amongst the most important sources for the history of mystical societies. [Correspóndence Inédite de L. C. de Saint-Martin, dit le Philosophe Inconnu, et Kirchberger, Baron de Liebisdorf.]

Saint-Martin was a man of profound religious nature, a God-intoxicated man. ‘I need God,’ he said, and sought Him within himself. He described himself as the ‘official defender of Providence!’ In his lecture cycle, The Karmic Relationships of the Anthroposophical Movement, Rudolf Steiner stated that the last Michael age ended at the time of Alexander the Great. For 300 years the spiritual influences of this Archangel had been paramount. But during the early Christian centuries Michael had gradually lost his dominion over the Cosmic Intelligence and the new age of Intelligence began in the IX century when men began to form their own thoughts. The influence of Gabriel was most potent between the XVI and early XIX centuries, when his leadership was replaced by Michael's. The present Michael age dates from 1879. Meanwhile about the XV century the ancient teachings of the School of Chartres, with Christian Scholasticism, steeped in Cosmic Intelligence, arose in a supersensible school under the leadership of Michael in the spiritual world. The Sun Mysteries were kept alive in order to prepare souls for their future descent into the physical world. But the Intelligence descending from the Cosmos to the Earth at the time of Gabriel was bereft of spirit and exposed to Ahrimanic forces. Man was caught up in the struggle between Ahriman and the future Michael impulse. This super-sensible school of Michael led to a knowledge of the teaching about the sinful human being, the knowledge that man, at the beginning of his evolution was originally not destined to descend so deeply into the realm of matter. This teaching found expression in Saint-Martin. He instructed his pupils that before his earliest physical incarnation on earth man had occupied a certain spiritual height, but through some aboriginal sin or transgression which he called Cosmic Adultery, man had fallen from his high estate and it is due to this ‘Fall’ that he owes his position today. [See also Lectures I and II in Building Stones for an Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972.] Saint-Martin believed in the importance of man, that during life man experienced flashes of spiritual insight, that his faculties may extend beyond the body and communicate with their exterior ‘correspondents.’ ‘Man possesses innumerable vestiges of the faculties resident in the Agent which produced him.’ He has lost his sense for the highest in the universe; a kind of spiritual torpor or lassitude has overtaken him and ‘he has lost the courage to work to justify that title. The duties springing from it seem too laborious; we would sooner abdicate our position than realise them in all their consequences.’ (Quoted by C. Wilson in The Age of Defeat.) Des Erreurs et de la Vérité was directed primarily against the empirical philosophy of the Encyclopædists Condillac and la Mettrie which accepted sense experience as the basis of knowledge. It is disarmingly illustrated by David Hume who said, ‘If we take up any book of divinity or metaphysics let us ask: does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Then commit them to the flames ...’ Materialism and scepticism had invaded all spheres. Saint-Martin sought the refashioning of the human being, the re-awakening of the God-like and divine in man. We must remove ‘the stinking sulphur,’ as the alchemists say, cleanse the dross within the soul, for the soul is covered by ‘rust,’ i.e. sin. In the words of St Catherine of Genoa, man must aim at perfecting himself, at sublimation, refinement, release of the inward forces and purge matter of its ignoble forces. Saint-Michael was a harbinger of the coming Michael impulse.

There was much here that was echoed by Goethe. He studied alchemy and was introduced to its symbolism by Fraulein von Klettenberg, circa 1770; he was enthusiastic about the Emerald Table of Hermes Trismegistus, had studied Paracelsus, van Helmont, B. Valentinus, and Hermeticism. He was familiar with the secret societies of his day, including Rosicrucianism, and was introduced into the Amalia Lodge of Strict Observance in 1780. He became Master Mason in 1782 and revived the Lodge, which declined in 1808. Much of this ground was trodden by Saint-Martin. But it is Goethe's endeavour to introduce spiritual values into science and moral values into botany that reveals his affinity with Saint-Martin. He pointed to the sensory-ethical effects of colours in the Farbenlehre, and saw in the ideas of Polarität and Steigerung in the metamorphosis of plants the motive forces of nature. Steigerung implies perfecting, enhancement, refinement on the one hand and intensification, upward gradation or ascending progress, the stepping up of inner potency, on the other hand, which could be read as botanical fact or as a spiritual symbol of the life of man. He was also keenly interested in Shelver's idea of the asexual reproduction of plants (the bulbil structures of the lesser celandine and certain species of onions still bear witness to this today). The plant kingdom was originally intended to reproduce its own kind spontaneously by metamorphosis. Today it exists in a different sphere from that originally intended — it has participated in the ‘fall.’ [C.f. Building Stones — Lecture IV] Finally, Goethe's diatribe against Newton in the introduction to the Farbenlehre showed how deeply he resented the materialism of the science and natural philosophy of his day. Like Saint-Martin, he wished to ‘repair’ man and his thinking. To Haller and the natural philosophers no created spirit can penetrate to the inner essence of nature: it is inaccessible to the human mind — this was the Kantian view -that we can never know the Ding an sich, the thing in itself, and must forever be content with surface phenomena and investigation. In his poem Allerdings Goethe replied, ‘Nature has neither kernel nor shell, (knows neither within nor without); she is everything at once.’ The mathematical analytical approach to nature was anathema to Goethe. ‘The Greeks,’ he said, ‘brought great truths to the world in the form of Gods; we, on the contrary, state these truths in abstract terms.’ Goethe felt himself one with nature, ‘my thinking does not liberate itself from objects — my beholding (anshauen) is a kind of thinking, my thinking a kind of beholding.’ Man and creation are a unity; ‘everything that is in the object is in the subject’ ... ‘He who will deny that nature is a divine revelation might as well deny all revelation ... my own way of looking at things has taught me to see God in Nature and Nature in God.’ And to Jacobi he wrote, ‘You put your trust in faith, I put mine in direct vision.’ And in the year 1831 he said to Chancellor von Muller, ‘Those who understand my writings and what I stand for will have to admit that they have attained a certain inner freedom.’ Goethe speaks of a rejuvenated creation, mankind fashioned by new creative thinking. Though he never mentions Saint-Martin by name he was working in the same stream of thought.

Saint-Martin's Des Erreurs et de la Vérité was translated into German by M. Claudius, a member of the Hamburg Lodge belonging to the Zinnendorf rite. Claudius defended the rights of mysticism in literature and was especially attracted to Saint-Martin's treatment of the problems of evil, his explanation of evil and the freedom of the will. Through Franz von Baader, the philosopher of German romanticism, who drew largely on Jakob Boehme, can be traced the connection between German romanticism and the mysticism of Saint-Martin. Friedrich Schlegel, the Stolbergs, Görres, Tieck, Wackenroder, Novalis, Eichendorff, and others reflect the ideas and outlook of Saint-Martin. The affinity between the ideas of Saint-Martin and those of Goethe and German romanticism is a theme which has largely been ignored by scholarship and calls for further investigation.

A. H. PARKER


For further reading see:

  • A. E. WAITE: The Unknown Philosopher. Rudolf Steiner Publications, 151 North Moison Rd., Blauvelt, N.Y., 10913, USA: paperback, price 90p.

  • R. AMADOU: Louis Claude de Saint Martin et la martinisme (1946).

  • A. VIATTE: Les sources occultes du romantisme (1928) (2 vols.).

  • D. BAUMGARDT: Franz von Baader and die philosophische Romantik (1932).




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