Saint Martin, Louis Claude
A mystical writer and Masonic leader of considerable reputation in the eighteenth century, and the founder of the Rite of Martinism. He w as born at Amboise, in France, on January 18, 1743, being descended from a family distinguished in the military service of the kingdom. Saint Martin when a youth made great progress in his studies, and became the master of several aneient and modern languages. After leaving school, he entered the army, in aeeordanee with the custom of his family, becoming a member of the regiment of Foix. But after six years of service, he retired from a profession which he found uncongenial with his fondness for metaphysical pursuits. He then traveled in Switzerland, Germany, England, and Italy, and finally retired to Lyons, where he remained for three years in a state of almost absolute seclusion, known to but few persons, and pursuing his philosophie studies.
He then repaired to Paris, where, notwithstanding the tumultuous scenes of the revolution which was working around, he remained unmoved by the terrible events of the day, and intent only on the prosecution of his thcosophie studies. Attracted by the mystical systems of Boehme and Swedenborg, he became himself a mystic of no mean pretensions, and attracted around him a crowd of disciples, who were content, as they saids to hear, without understanding the teachings of their leader.
In 1775 appeared his first and most important work, entitled Des Erreurs et de la Vrit, ail les Hommes rappels au principe universel de la Science, or Some Errors and Truth, where Men recall the Universal Principle of Knowledge.
This work, which contained an exposition of the ideology of Saint Martin, acquired for its author, by its unintelligible transcendentalism, the title of the Kant of Germany. Saint Martin had published this work under the pseudonym of the l Unknown Philoso pher, We Philoso pie inconnu; whence he was subsequently known by this name, which was also assumed by solre of his Masonic adherents; and even a Degree bearing that title was invented and inserted in the Rite of Philalethes. The treatise Des Erreurs et de la Vrit was in fact made a sort of text- w book by the Philalethans, and highly recommended by the Order of the Initiated Knights and Brothers of Asia, whose system was in fact a compound of theosophy and mysticism. It was so popular, that between 1775 and 1784 it had been through five editions.
Saint Martin, in the commencement of his Masonic career, attached himself to Martinez Paschalis, of whom he was one of the most prominent disciples. But he subsequently attempted a reform of the system of Paschalis, and established what he called a Rectified Rite, but which is better known as the Rite or system of Martinism, which consisted of ten Degrees. It was itself subsequently reformed, and, being reduced to seven Degrees, was introduced into some of the Lodges of Germany under the name of the Reformed Ecossism of Saint Martin.
The theosophic doctrines of Saint Martin were introduced into the Masonic Lodges of Russia by Count Gabrianko and Admiral Pleshcheyeff, and soon became popular. Under them the Martinist Lodges of Russia became distinguished not only for their Masonic and religious spirit--although too much tinged with the mysticism of Jacob Boehme and their founder--but for an active zeal in practical works of charity of both a private and public character. The character of Saint Martin has been much mistaken, especially by Masonic writers. Those who, like Voltaire, have derided his metaphysical theories, seem to have forgotten the excellence of his private character, his kindness of heart, his amiable manners, and his varied and extensive erudition. Nor should it be forgotten that the true object of all his Masonic labors was to introduce into the Lodges of France a spirit of pure religion. His theory of the origin of Freemasonry was not, however, based on any historical research, and is of no value, for he believed that it was an emanation of the Divinity, and was to be traced to the very beginning of the world.
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