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Comenius and the Rosicrucians

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A high-profile exhibition opened this spring in the Embassy of the Free Mind:

The Rosicrucian Revolution

Everything the Embassy undertakes breathes the Rosicrucian idea: Ad Fontes, Back to the Source. At this exhibit, writers from different directions and currents explained what the manifestos have meant for their movement. In the middle of the seventeenth century, Johann Amosz Komensky, better known as Comenius, lived in the House With the Heads on Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. Comenius and Johann Valentin Andreae were kindred spirits.

The book For the Humanity of Culture, by Henk Woldring [1], was also published.  Woldring pansophically succeeds in not only discussing Rosicrucians and Freemasons in connection with Comenius, but he also connects with the thinking of Plato, Hermeticism and Gnosticism, especially from Egypt, to build a bridge to our time. In Logon 1, 2022 a book review was devoted to it.

Comenius and Andreae were two great ones in spirit, two Johann’s, two beloved disciples, faithful to Christ. The seventeenth-century Rosicrucian saga began with Johann Valentin Andreae, then the alleged author of the classical Rosicrucian writings. Andreae, studied at the first secular university in Europe in Tübingen (Baden Württemberg).  There, he became friends with a circle of theosophically interested scholars, the lawyers Tobias Hess and Christoph Besold, and Lazarus Zetzner, who later became his Strasbourg publisher. The mystical-spiritual reform movement of the Rosicrucians arose from this circle. The young Andreae contributed to this movement with one of the basic writings, which was the anonymously published initiation novel, Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz, anno 1459.

Andreae (1586-1654) and Comenius (1592-1670) were, as mentioned, kindred spirits, admittedly, in abstracto and certainly also in Christo.

In spirit, a certain kinship can be felt between the two, although they may have seen each other only once, and even that is uncertain. Comenius was six years younger than Andreae, and he admired him the most, but he did not follow Andreae!

In this article, we attempt to shed light on both the stark distinctions between the two as well as the striking similarities that exist. Let us begin with their vicissitudes of life. Both were driven from hearth and home. In 1620, after the Battle of White Mountain, the Protestants lost all their rights. They were oppressed, forced to become Catholics or to emigrate. Beginning in 1620 Comenius was forced to move from one place to another; his wife and two children died of the plague. In the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War, Andreae saved what remained of the population of largely devastated town of Calw by taking refuge in the wooded slopes surrounding the town.

In the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War, both their possessions—and their great libraries—were destroyed twice in great fires. But even though all that was dear to them was destroyed, the spirit fire for their inner ideal was never extinguished.

Later, we'll see how different their starting points have been!

If we may follow Richard van Dülmen in his study [2] of the two men, however, the similarities are also many. Take, for example, their mutual dislike for the teaching methods of the time and their ideas for improving them. The fierce educational innovator Wolfgang Ratichius had a great influence on both of them. Ratichius, aka Wolfgang Ratke (1571-1653), was born in Rostock.

The man did not have an easy character, but he was an educational genius. During his stay in Holland (1603-1611) he devised a new method to teach languages ​​faster. He based himself on the philosophy of Francis Bacon. The starting point was that you can go from things to names, from the particular to the general, and then from the native language to foreign languages. Ratichius believed that there is a natural sequence along which the mind moves in the acquisition of knowledge, that is, from the particular to the general. He especially advocated for the use of the vernacular as the proper means of approaching all subjects and demanded the establishment of vernacular schools based on the existing Latin school. As early as 1612 he championed a school system with instruction in the mother tongue – a spearhead for Andreae, to be sure, and especially for Comenius.

Ratke was an advocate and always argued. He tried to win Maurits, Prince of Orange, to his cause, but failed. His ideas found approval in Germany and in 1613 Landgrave Ludwig van Hesse-Darmstadt published a KKurzer Bericht von der Didactia oder der Lehrkunst Wolfgang Ratichii. A year later, he was commissioned in Augsburg to radically change the school system there. Five years later, in 1619, he had the opportunity to establish an educational institution in Köthen, which was unsuccessful. His ideas were progressive for their time, but he lacked executive power and his personality repulsed both assistants and patrons. He invariably came into conflict with the clergy and government, even spending eight months in prison. In 1653, at the age of 82, he died in Erfurt.

Referring once again to the two Johann’s, without going into great detail, I want to explore some of the differences between the two scholars here—differences that go back to a fundamentally different premise.

Within education, both Andreae and Comenius consider that the teacher's most important task is to prepare students – not for a position in society, but for eternal life. Both wanted to devote their knowledge and influence to educating young people to become 'citizens of heaven'. Comenius lists three steps to accomplish this:

  • instruction in wisdom,
  • cultivating virtue through moral honesty, i.e., motives,
  • cultivating religion, or real piety.

Andreae, on the other hand, educates the educators first. He urges that:

A true educator should be balanced and excel in four virtues: dignity, sincerity, diligence and magnanimity.

He goes on to say:

Anyone can encourage people to work, rules, regulations, dictate and imprint. But pointing out the essentials, support the efforts, arouse diligence and teach the correct use of aids, and in the end relate everything to Christ, there is lack of that. That is the Christian work that no treasures of the earth can pay for.

Neither Andreae nor Comenius are dogma driven. Both are erudite spirits who dedicate themselves to the younger fellow man from the inner nobility of their mind. They do not see Christ as a man-shaped God—but rather as a compendium, a concentrated focal point in the true Christian, in which all the above qualities are concentrated.

Andreae then asserts that with children, if the above conditions are met, you can:

  • develop a pure and pious concept of God, to which they can always turn;
  • then teach them to cultivate the best and most chaste attitude to life,
  • then teach them to exercise the mind as much as possible.

In those days, just before the so-called Enlightenment, reason came last!

Comenius and Andreae both are concerned with the formation of piety, but first they want to cultivate a natural interest in what Christ has done for mankind—and teach about it. Andreae especially wanted to educate the higher bourgeoisie. In addition, he considered girls just as suitable for education as boys, which was very special at the time, and which was also stimulated by the ardent Ratichius. Comenius wanted that too, but his efforts were focused on education for all people.

Without wishing to deprive Ratichius or Wolfgang Ratke from Hamburg of their place of honour, because, after all, he had propagated the same thing thirty-five years earlier, we may well see Comenius as the basis of all later education. He was the first modern thinker who took the light, receptive and also playful spirit of young people as a starting point. Jan Amosz seeks to lay a foundation with which those who come after him can create and organize a better world. He points out that until then education had been focused on what others said of things, and not on perceiving and studying the things themselves; I quote from the Didacta Omnia:

Our schools do not show things as they really are, but teach what this or that, or a third or tenth party thinks and writes, so that perfect knowledge consists in knowing the different opinions of different men about different things,  […but nothing about the things themselves!.]

The exact same reproach was made a century earlier by Paracelsus in connection with medicine. Medicine, in those days, was not a study of experiential facts, but the texts of authorities. Think of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, and their commentators. After all, they had already described everything correctly and completely; no one doubted that. It was not what worked, but what Hippocrates and Galen said about it that mattered.

Andreae has a different goal. His aim, his efforts and all his later suffering - and he suffered enormously - were for a better, more humane and above all morally excellent church. This is without prejudice to the tremendous social efforts he had made to twice rebuild the burned city of Calw and what was left of its people.

After the battles of the Thirty Years' War, only a third of the ministers were still alive and theologians were no longer trained at all. Andreae restored theological training at the Stift of Tübingen and also rebuilt the school system. And just as Tübingen was the first place in Europe to establish a secular university at the end of the fifteenth century, Andreae issued an ordinance in 1645 for compulsory general education throughout Württemberg, as the first country in Europe to do so. He also ordered the establishment of parish councils for the parishes; he involved the faithful in the practice of the Church.

Andreae believed it was essential to start from above - with the idea of ​​a brotherhood that should consist of a high-quality elite of prominent people - and then descend.

Comenius starts from the bottom and works upwards, towards an ideal of peace, with a Didacta Omnia – not only the teaching of everything but also for all.

Was Comenius a Rosicrucian then?

No – and yes.

No, because his way is quite different. He has never been associated as a member, and he is not a follower of Andreae nor of that movement, if any.

But also, yes, based on his independent, free spirit, and the fact that he explored all fields, improved all the sciences to  which he had access, sought in his pansophy to pacify all the contradictions of the academic turmoil of his time, and stood above all parties — and was a full member of the party of Christ, as he was formed by the Moravian Brotherhood and the thinking of Jan Hus. Such an autonomous mind — well, that's typical Rosicrucian.

Comenius starts from the bottom up, his Didacta Omnia is the prime example – not only the education of everything, but also for all – and works itself, and society, upwards towards an ideal of peace, a peaceful state for Europe. In 1667, three years before his death, he launched a peace initiative with his writing 'Angel of Peace' – but saw his ideal crumble when the French King Louis XIV crossed the borders of the Netherlands. It was not his moral and philosophical proposition, but the fear and coercion of weapons that forced a peace.

Andreae begins his writing career with a novel, seen as an imaginary, transcendental experience of a very godly man, Christian Rosencreutz. We can, therefore, safely call him a Rosicrucian. He wrote the Chymische Hochzeit in his own words in the years 1604 and 1605. It is a novel about a spiritual wedding, an alchemical process, an ideal image about a mortal's perception of a divine/alchemical development, in which he eventually turns out to be a part of transforming, as it were, to an existentially different field of consciousness.

But the Chymische Hochzeit is not his first publication. The first published by Andreae (in 1614, and he did not do it himself) is the Fama, a Rosicrucian mare or "rumor" about a brotherhood, an appeal to all scholars and heads of state. In which the brotherhood turns out to be an ideal, a matrix, to which society could best be transformed. The Confessio was added to that Call a year later, and only then, again a year later, did the Chymische Hochzeit appear in print in Strasbourg.

And then another masterpiece, Christianopolis, appeared in 1619. When that book was published, he had already said goodbye to all the fuss about the Rosicrucians, but his Beschreibung des Staates Christenstadt, 'The City-State of Christians' came very close! Here, the protagonist is a young man who has turned away from society and the strife and bickering of the academic community. Entirely in line with the ideal of the first three writings, which emanated from an exalted brotherhood, he sails away across the academic sea, but is shipwrecked. And when he washes up in a haven of peace, Caphar Salama, another utopian brotherhood awaits him, in the form of an ideal polis, a city-state; completely turned away from the world, living according to – let's say inhumanely pure – standards!

Andreae starts from above — with the idea of ​​a spiritually lofty brotherhood and the perfect man — and then sees in his life the realization of that ideal crumbling.

The four works of Johann Valentin Andreae, it has been described many times, form a mind-boggling high point of departure – and are unique. They form the spiritual starting point from which Andreae thinks, and in his four publications, he has four starting points for this. They are a critical evaluation of the society in which he found himself, in the intellectually vibrant milieu of the University of Tübingen, where Kepler lived and Michael Mästlin taught provocatively. Tobias Hess and Christoph Besold formed his circle of friends and his learned environment.

From there, the young Andreae took his points of departure – that is a synthetic ideal, so Platonic that Plato would nod very contentedly at the high ideal, and Aristotle would approvingly assent to the empirical method.

It is a purely spiritual image. Andreae presents man as a microcosm, a reflection of the universe, in the image of a universe, and so is, or should be, man. That image is transcendental, divine to perceive, but must be propagated in practice. That's how man should be. A person, a soul with its own consciousness, a spirit that blows through everything, as a core principle.

Andreae's mind is quick and lively; he learned to think from the greatest. In his early years, he wanted, in the words of the Confessio,

to command his mind to travel where it wished, and be there at the same time.

At the same speed, he sprays his ideas onto paper – and then moves on. For in those years appear next to Christianopolis, Menippus, Theophilus, and Turbo, and all are written with the same youthful fire and elan.

Turbo, the restless mind, driven by curiosity, traverses all scientific disciplines and cultural spheres of late humanist Europe, searching in vain for a place where truth and possibly the "castle of wisdom" can be found. Finally, Turbo finds it in his own heart in Christ, just as Luther put it…:

Des Christen Herz auf Rosen geht,

wenn's mitten unterm Kreuze steht.

[The Christian's heart rises to roses,

when it's in the middle under the cross.]

…and exactly the same ideal as told in Christianopolis, and in spirit only slightly different from the Rosicrucian manifestos.

Was it, therefore, in order to give this extremely receptive, lively and free spirit something to hold on to and not let it derail that Andreae had surrendered so wholeheartedly to the ecclesiastical institutions, sometimes crawling through the dust himself in order to obey his superiors and submit himself to the Formulae Concordiae, the foundations for the thousands of Lutheran churches in the German lands that his grandfather had prepared?

In the further progress of his life, we ​​see how Andreae increasingly conformed to the Lutheran ideal. Again and again, he had to answer for his free, deviant views. He probably developed esophageal cancer due to the pettiness and the compelling pressure of conscience that his colleagues exerted on him throughout his life, but he does not want to let go of the body of the church.

In 1646, under the spiritual name 'The Mild', he was admitted to the illustrious club 'Die Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft' and, until the end of his life, he continued to strive for an elite, a Societas Christianae, of leading scientists and theologians and morally dignified society. He saw himself gathered under the wings of the party of Christ, which gave him strength.

Comenius starts from very different values. An ideal image burns in him too, for which he will do everything. He is a builder; he wants to shape the world in such a way that peace and harmonious coexistence can exist. The man wrote two hundred and fifty works, and the seven volumes of his Meditations for the betterment of human conditions have not been completed; due to the fact that he was forced to first publish four other works.

Comenius took that responsibility on the basis of his relationship with God and fellow human beings. This ends, after a road of seven steps, with entering heaven. For Comenius, the solution to the question of what a man is lying in is the metamorphosis of man into a temple of God.

There, in that understanding, Comenius is closer to Andreae than many a follower. There, they meet. Of all the people Comenius held in high esteem, he recommended, honored, and defended none as often as Andreae. He writes of him:

A man of a fiery and refined spirit, a man who must be called the most prominent and eminent man, whom I had long ago come to revere as a father and a soul beloved of God, a chosen instrument of God, and the light of the church!

That's how he describes it. And in the Didacta Omnia it is said:

But above all, Andreae must be mentioned here, who in his beautiful writings pointed out not only the disease in church and state, but also in the school system, and who also knew how to specify the means for their healing.

And also, not unimportant:

The excellent Andreae kindly wrote back to me that he wished to pass the torch and urged me to carry it boldly on.

When Comenius' library went up in flames in the fires of the Thirty Years' War, the first thing he asked his friends to return to him was Andreae's books — and he lists all the titles he lost. This is not surprising, for even more than a thinker Andreae is a razor-sharp observer of the society of his time, and he is an equally astute writer who glories when he can lose his quill in delightful Latin grammatical finds and twists, or in the staccato rhythm in his own Swabian German.

On the other hand, when Andreae, in a letter to Comenius, expresses his grief and deep regret at the loss of one of his manuscripts, the Theophilus, which he had written in 1622, Comenius was only too happy, though it was 27 years later, to be able to send him his copy of it!

That is evidence of an intellectual, spiritual bond of friendship. If we fan out for a moment to the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist from Boston, wrote an essay on friendship around 1840. There is no way you can ever truly recognize someone as a real individual. He points out that a friend is partly shaped by one's imagination. Therefore, it is good for a friend to be at some distance, so that a personal acquaintance much too intimate does not diminish the ideal image of the friend. However, it’s not so good when you feel so comfortable with a friend that you forget that you should, in fact, be independent, and not just a familiar part of someone's world. We must be our own before we can be another's.

True friendship, he argues, is worthy of every friend. Friends help each other access the highest, eternal truths.

I feel that friendship at a distance with Comenius and Andreae. Waterfall calls to waterfall, I think, analogous to the psalm. By going his own way, Comenius was closer to Andreae than if he had become his imitator.

In 2022, the churches have been dismissed as relevant social control. Politicians are barely able to keep the ship afloat at all. Science, brilliant as it is, cannot bring forward those ideas that could drive out hunger, war, poverty and inequality from the world.

Caphar Salama, the port city of peace, seems further away than ever!

Would it then be the case that we should turn to the alternative, the last straw to which Johann Valentin Andreae also clung:

Never will I give up the true Christian brotherhood, which smells of roses under the cross, and which resolutely turns away from the wickedness of the world, with its errors, follies, and vanities.

 


[1] H.E.S. Woldring, Om de menselijkheid van de cultuur - Het streven naar cultuurvernieuwing bij Comenius, in relatie met rozenkruisers en vrijmetselaars[For the humanity of culture – The pursuit of cultural renewal in Comenius, in relation to Rosicrucians and Freemasons], Uitgeverij Damon, Eindhoven 2021

[2] Richard van Dülmen, Johann Amos Comenius und Johann Valentin Andreae. ihre persönliche Verbindung und ihr Reformanliegen. Address, held at the International Comenius Colloquium, The Academy of Science, Prerov/CSSR, 1968 

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