Apart from "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary," Eckartshausen is a name only to the Christian Transcendentalists of England. He wrote much, and at his period and in his place, he exercised some considerable influence; but his other works are practically unknown among us, while in Germany the majority at least seem forgotten, even among the special class to which some of them might be assumed to appeal.
"The Cloud upon the Sanctuary" has, I believe, always remained in the memory of a few, and is destined still to survive, for it carries with it a message of very deep significance to all those who look beneath the body of religious doctrine for the one principle of life which energizes the whole organism. This translation has offered it for the first time to English readers, and it enters here upon the third phase of its existence.
It appeared originally in the pages of "The Unknown World," a magazine devoted to the deeper understanding of philosophical and mystical religion, and it was afterwards republished in volume form, of which edition this is a new issue. It has attracted very considerable attention and deserved it; it has even been translated into French, under the auspices of the late Countess of Caithness, for the pages of L’Aurore.
These few words of bibliography are not unnecessary because they establish the fact that there has been some little sentiment of interest working within a restricted circle, as one may hope, towards a more general diffusion and knowledge of a document which is at once suggestive from the literary standpoint and profoundly moving from other and higher considerations. It encourages me to think that many persons who know and appreciate it now, or may come under its influence in the future, will learn with pleasure the little that I can tell them of its author, the Councillor Eckartshausen, and of certain other books not of his writing, which, as I think, connect therewith, and the study of which may help us to understand its message.
Perhaps the most interesting thing that I can say at the beginning concerning Eckartshausen is that he connects with that group of Theosophists of which Lavater was so important a figure, the Baron Kirchberger an accomplished and interesting recorder, and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin a correspondent in France and a certain source of leading. In his letters to Saint-Martin, Kirchberger says that Eckartshausen, with whom he was in frequent communication, was a man of immense reading and wonderful fertility; he regarded him in other respects as an extraordinary personage, "whatever way providence may have led him."
It would appear that at this period, namely, in 1795, Eckartshausen was looking for and obtaining his chief light from the mystical study of numbers, but was also, to use the veiled and cautious language of the correspondence, in enjoyment of more direct favours. Saint-Martin confesses on his own part that he was more interested in Eckartshausen than he could express. Kirchberger must have held him in even higher estimation, and undertook a journey to the Swiss frontier actually for the purpose of receiving from him the personal communication of the Lost Word; but the illness of the proposed communicator frustrated this project.
The point is important because it establishes the pretensions of Eckartshausen. As to the Councillor of Berne so to us, he comes speaking with authority; and whatever may be our opinion as to the kind of sacramentalism or economy which was conveyed in a proposal to communicate the incommunicable name, there are some of us who know, at least within certain limits, that the little book which I am here introducing is not one of vain pretension.
Saint-Martin acknowledges that part of the numerical system of Eckartshausen was in astonishing agreement with things that he had learned long ago in his own school of initiation—that of Martines de Pasqually. Altogether the French mystic had formed the best opinion possible of his German brother, and his Swiss correspondent further tells us that Eckartshausen, although a courtier, walked in the narrow way of the inner life. In a letter to Kirchberger dated March 19th, 1795, Eckartshausen bears witness to his own personal experience and instructions received from above, his consciousness of a higher presence, the answers which he had received and the visions, with the steps by which he had advanced even to the attainment of what he terms "the Law in its fullness."
I have thought it well to give these data derived from private correspondence, the publication of which was never designed or expected at the time, because they constitute a sketch of Eckartshausen taken to some extent unawares, when there could be the least reason to suppose that he was adopting an attitude. Let us now compare the very strong claim which they incorporate with that of "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary" itself, and the little analysis which I shall give here will, I think, be otherwise serviceable to readers as a summary of the chief purport of the work.
It is possible by seeking inwardly to approach the essential wisdom, and this wisdom is Jesus Christ who is also the essence of love within us. The truth of this statement can be experimentally proved by any one, the condition of the experience being the awakening within us of a spiritual faculty cognizing spiritual objects as objectively and naturally as the outward senses perceive natural phenomenon. This organ is the intuitive sense of the transcendental world, and its awakening, which is the highest object of religion, takes place in three stages: (a) morally, by the way of inspiration; (b) intellectually, by the way of illumination; (c) spiritually, by the way of revelation.
The awakening of this organ is the lifting of the cloud from the sanctuary, enabling our hearts to become receptive of God, even in this world. The knowledge of these mysteries has been always preserved by an advanced school, illuminated inwardly by the Saviour, and continued from the beginning of things to the present time. This community is the Invisible Celestial Church, founded immediately after the Fall, and receiving a first-hand revelation for the raising of humanity.
But the weakness of men as they multiplied necessitated an external society, namely, the Outward Church, which, in the course of time, became separated from the Inner Church, also through human weakness. The external church was originally consecrated in Abraham, but received its highest perfection in the mystery of Jesus Christ. The Interior Church is invisible and yet governs all; it is perpetuated in silence but in real activity, "and united the science of the temple of the ancient alliance with the spirit of the Saviour," or of the interior alliance.
This community of light is the reunion of all those capable of receiving light, and is known as the Communion of Saints. It possesses its school, its chair, its doctor, and a rule for students, with forms and objects of study, and in short a method by which they study, together with degrees for successive development to higher altitudes.
We must not, however, regard it as a secret society, meeting at certain times, choosing its elders and members, and united by special objects; for even the chief does not invariably know all the members, and those who are ripe are joined to the general members when they thought least likely, and at a point of which they knew nothing. The society forms a theocratic republic, which one day will be the Regent-Mother of the whole world. Its members are exactly acquainted with the innermost of religions and of the Holy Mysteries, but these treasures are concealed in so simple a manner that they baffle unqualified research.
This doctrine of the interior church must be interpreted by everyone after his own lights; it is presented by Eckartshausen as one having full knowledge and ambassadorial powers, as one speaking from the centre. My purpose is solely to show that he was sincere, and this sincerity furnishes us with one more proof, out of many which are to be derived from other and independent sources, that there is a great experiment possible, and that some have performed it.
The sincerity of which I speak is I think illustrated by his life, which I will now summarise briefly. Carl Von Eckartshausen was born on June 28th, 1752, at the Castle of Haimbhausen in Bavaria, and was the natural son of Count Carl of Haimbhausen by Marie Anne Eckhart, the daughter of the overseer of the estates. His mother died in giving birth to him, and he appears to have been the subject of the most solicitous affection on the part of his father, being educated with the utmost pains. However, from the earliest years, his illegitimacy is said to have filled him with perpetual melancholy and an inclination to retire from the world, characteristics which at the same time endeared him to his family and friends.
Through all his life he remained less or more a prey to the painful consequences of his original disqualification. He was destined notwithstanding to a career of some public importance. His first education was received at the college of Munich, and he afterwards proceeded to Ingoldsladt for the study of philosophy and law, which he pursued with marked success. His university course at an end, his father procured him the title of Aulic Councillor; and in 178o he was appointed censor of the library at Munich. This, in spite of the rectitude and goodness which characterised him, made him many enemies, but the favour of the Elector Carl Theodore sustained him against all combinations.
In 1784 he was nominated Keeper of the Archives of the Electoral House, an appointment said to have been conferred upon him through the desire of the Elector to keep him near his person. He published in all some sixty-nine works, embracing many classes of literature, including science, the fine arts, the drama, politics, religion, history, and, in particular, certain contributions of great merit to the occult sciences. As already indicated, the majority of these are now forgotten, though some of his plays seem to have been successful in their day. "The Prejudice of Birth " in particular, his first published drama, is described as abounding in felicitous situations and interest. He even attempted a comedy, and this also received considerable approbation.
One only of his books, under the title "God is the Purest Love," commanded wide popularity. Sixty editions are said to have been published in Germany, and it was translated into most languages of Europe, as well as into Latin. It is a small collection of Catholic prayers and meditations on the fear of God, the love of God, the elevation of man's sentiments towards his Creator, the knowledge of the Eternal, etc. There are also devotional exercises for use at Mass, before and after Confession, and at Communion, with acts of penance and adoration to the Blessed Virgin. In a word, I fail to see wherein or how far it differs from the innumerable manuals of piety which have been produced during the last two or three centuries for the use of the Catholic laity.
I believe, however, that it still circulates in Germany, and perhaps even in France; it is said to have a wonderful charm, though its intense mysticism is also stated to have puzzled some of its admirers; it has indeed been described as speaking the language and expressing the soul of Fenelon. Eckartshausen, however, as already indicated, wrote other and very different books, some on magic and some on the properties of numbers, and he is even accredited with a certain knowledge of Alchemy.
Finally, he was the author of "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary," though the biographers to whom I am indebted almost for the words of this notice have scarcely mentioned this last and crowning production of his intellectual life. In his private capacity he was exceedingly amiable and charitable, devoting every month the result of his economies to the poor, and his whole time to the practice of virtue. He was married three times, and left several children. He died on May 13th, 1813, [Wikipedia says May 12, 1803] after a painful illness. The monographs of his period mention him as one of the best writers of Bavaria.
There are two matters to which before concluding I wish to draw attention briefly, and, as regards the first, in a very particular manner. The point of view from which "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary" should be regarded is important from the claim which it makes. What is this inner church of which Eckartshausen speaks, is a question which readers must answer for themselves, according to their best direction. One thing which it is not has been indicated by Eckartshausen himself. It is not any corporate body existing merely within the church and controlling and leading it from a specific local centre.
This possibility being negatived by the best of all authority on the subject, I should like on my own responsibility to negative also its most direct and clearest antithesis. It does not answer to the collective mind or oversoul of the most advanced members of the visible church, nor is it the consensus omnium sanctorum which, according to the old church maxim, is sensus spiritus Sancti.
Despite the absence of all corporate bonds, there is in the claim itself too direct a suggestion of conscious association occurring somehow in this present physical life. We must take the key which Eckartshausen himself offers, namely, that there is within all of us a dormant faculty, the awakening of which within us gives entrance, as it develops, into a new world of consciousness, which is one of the initial stages of that state which he, in common with all other mystics, terms union with the Divine.
In that union, outside all formal sects, all orthodox bonds of fellowship and veils and webs of symbolism, we shall form or do form actually a great congregation, the first fruits of immortality, and in virtue of the solidarity of humanity, and in virtue of the great doctrine of the communication of all things holy with all that seeks for holiness, the above and the below, this congregation is, in very truth, the leader of the visible church of faith, aspiration and struggle, the church triumphant over-watching the church militant, and the channel through which the graces and the benedictions of the holy and glorious Zion are administered to the Zion which is on earth.
The second point concerns certain books which I have promised to mention as connecting with the claim of Eckartshausen, and perhaps in some measure assisting us to get in touch with that claim. Unfortunately, in this restricted notice, I can do little more than name them. The first is "The Mystery of the Cross," originally published in 1732, anonymously, in the French language, but evidently written by a foreigner.
It is a profound and beautiful work which, unknown to the world at large, has in private, if I may so speak, influenced many to their advancement, and to the deeper understanding and fruition of the hidden truth. Strongly embedded in this book will be found several of the governing ideas and aspirations of schools of mystic thought which became illustrious in later years.
I may add that I am acquainted with the existence of a translation made many years ago, but still remaining in manuscript. The next books which I would note come at first sight a little strangely in the professed connection, but they enter none the less into the series; they are the two dramatic poems of the German poet, Werner, namely, "The Templars in Cyprus" and "The Brothers of the Cross." They are the work of a man who was intimately acquainted with the occult movement of his period—that of the French Revolution—and a participant therein.
After all his experience he carried his great genius and exceptional knowledge into the fold of the Latin Church and became a priest. His two plays convey many moving suggestions of a guiding but unknown hand leading the Christian Church. The next book is of Russian origin, but was translated into French and published in Paris in 1801; of this translation a reprint was issued recently at Lyons. It is entitled "Some Characteristics of the Interior Church." It connects the point of view which is met with in "The Mystery of the Cross " with that of Eckartshausen, and is interesting on account of its origin, and also for certain Martinistic associations, but it is less suggestive and less profound.
Finally, there is a very remarkable and I may add a very rare series of works published at Berleburg in the province of Westphalia in seven volumes, dated 1738. It is entitled "New Spiritual Discourses on various matters of the Interior Life and the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, or testimony of a Child of Truth concerning the Ways of the Spirit." These discourses occupy three volumes; two others contain a commentary on the Apocalypse; the sixth volume is a literal and mystical explanation of the epistle to the Romans, with some supplementary papers and a catechism of the science of Christian religion.
The seventh volume is another commentary, verse for verse, on the first three chapters of Genesis. The collection as a whole may perhaps be best described as an appeal from external creeds with their differences, their arguments and their justifications, to the witness of the heart itself. It is an appeal also to the mystical doctors of the church, and it cites many of the great mystics from Tauler and Ruysbroek to Engelbrecht, Antoinette de Bourignon and Madame de Guyon.
The discourses on the union of the Church of Christ and the spiritual union of the children of God, as also on a new church, in the second volume, will be found very interesting to students of Eckartshausen. There are also extraordinary analogies with Saint-Martin, Eckartshausen and the "Mystery of the Cross" to be found in the third volume, and having regard to the proximity of the date of publication to that of the last work, I incline to the opinion that there may have been some connection also in the authorship. When all these works have been studied, not in the letter but in the spirit, along with "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary," the spiritual truths which Eckartshausen has to some extent veiled, and his motives for doing so, will not be beyond discernment, nor the line of his experiences in all cases beyond pursuit.
I should add that, so far as I can trace, Eckartshausen always remained in loyal communication with the external church in which he was originally trained, and did not therefore regard apostasy and rebellion as among the first evidences of personal illumination. Perhaps, like one of the Eastern teachers, he thought that some things could be changed from within, and essentially, without altering outward names and forms.
A. E. WAITE.