The Meaning of the Rose Cross

By Christopher Bamford

The Rose Cross challenged the early seventeenth century as a mystery, a question, and a promise. Indeed, if we are to be true to it and honest with ourselves, we must confess that, despite an enormous and proliferating bibliography on the subject, it still perplexes us today. Announcing itself as the hidden, symbolic center of a general reformation of science, art, and religion, the symbol of the Rose Cross arose in human consciousness in a paradoxical, uncertain time marked by religious strife, spiritual renaissance, burgeoning nationalism, individualism, cloak-and-dagger politics, and imminent apocalypse. At the time, this compound of conditions and motives caused confusion, outrage, and fanatical enthusiasm in equal measure. It still does so today. The historical wounds are by no means healed, nor do human beings seem any wiser than they were.

Thus, one must tread lightly when entering this territory. Conspiracy theories abound. Religious and political ideologies still polarize into oppositional stances, making the spiritual communion of humanity seem utopian. Materialism is more rampant than ever; the worshipers of Moloch rule the roost, while atheist humanists flee in terror from anything even suggesting the “occult.” Nevertheless, the promise was and is clear—then, as now. New possibilities still dawn for human consciousness. Now, no less than then, a brave new age still awaits its realization by those who heed the call proclaimed by that emblem of immaculate purity, the Rose Cross.

As a symbol, the meaning of the Rose Cross is necessarily inexpressible in words, incommunicable in that sense, and hence unbetrayable. I can give no secrets away. Yet, the symbol itself is an open secret. Inexplicable though it is, it makes possible its own understanding. If acted upon, that is, if enacted as a rite and allowed to act, it does the inner and the outer work that is its teaching. It does so because a symbol is not a thing but a synthesis of complements, a paradoxical process, a way, something that one must do. It embodies an injunction. Do this—conjoin the Cross and the Rose—and you will understand; you will attain what I am, what I do. The traditional derivation of the Greek rhodon, “rose,” from rheein, “to flow,” makes this active aspect very clear. Able to evoke what it stands for, the symbol is thus available to all. Erudition is not required, only openness of heart. For this reason, therefore, the framers of the Fama hoped that “it would be set forth in every one’s Mother Tongue, because those should not be defrauded of the knowledge of it, who (although they are unlearned) God hath not excluded.”

The method that I will follow will be that of amplification, both historical and metaphysical. As we delve into the prehistory of this symbol, however, we must never forget that as a true symbol, no human origin can be found for the Rose Cross, for a true symbol by definition is not a human construction but an ontological and cosmic reality. All this notwithstanding, something may said. It always can. I shall present one approach; naturally, there are many others.

At first, with the hindsight of four hundred years, the original context in which we encounter the Rose Cross seems clear enough. The marvellous rebirth of embodied beauty, truth, and goodness in a new sacred science and art, made possible by the Christianization of the perennial wisdom and cosmology of the ancient theologians effected by the humanists and magi of the Florentine and Roman academies (and the plethora of secret and semisecret societies it spawned), was in danger of falling apart under the pressures, at once reactionary and progressive, of a rationalist and dogmatic Counter-Renaissance. This Counter-Renaissance, seeking refuge from the bloodshed and instability of the times, would in turn give birth to the need for “intellectual certainty” and what we call, without a trace of irony, modern science and philosophy—not to mention modern religion. From this point of view, the Rose Cross stands for a last attempt, before going completely underground, to recapture the high ground and realize, in the form of a universal cultural transformation, what Gemistus Plethon, Marsilio Ficino, Leon Baptista Alberti, Nicholas of Cusa, Francesco Colonna, Pico della Mirandola, and others had only dreamed of some hundred and fifty years before.

There is a certain truth in this. The “Rosicrucian Enlightenment” did in fact arise as a kind of second, northern Renaissance, one stopped in its tracks by historical and intellectual counter-forces. But this explanation is deceptive for two reasons. The first is that, while certainly resuming and building upon the “renewal of wisdom” associated with the sages of the Quatrocento, the Rosicrucian Enlightenment as envisaged by its framers did not share all the assumptions of the Platonists and really sought to bring something new into human consciousness. This “new” thing, although it can to some extent be explained by invoking the twin names of Paracelsus and Luther, has, as we shall see, other, deeper roots. Second, there is the fact that, even though, from a certain point of view, the initiatory center of the first Renaissance is undoubtedly to be found in the various Italian academies—and these did arise suddenly and mysteriously, as if brought into being intentionally—there also existed other initiatory wisdom streams, currents, and traditions going back, initially at least, into the Middle Ages, to what is known, in fact, as the “twelfth century Renaissance.” In other words, when we try to understand the meaning of the Rose Cross, what we are faced with is the mystery of the historical process as it is woven from vertical and horizontal, that is, spiritual and historical, modes of transmission. Therefore, to begin with, let us try to unravel some of these. We shall have to cast our net wide, for it is a big fish we are after.

Seeing the only Wise and Merciful God in these latter days hath poured out so richly his mercy and goodness to Humankind, whereby we do attain more and more to the perfect knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ and of Nature, that justly we may boast of the happy time wherein there is not only discovered unto us the half part of the world, which was hitherto unknown and hidden, but He hath also made manifest unto us many wonderful and never-before seen works and creatures of Nature, and, moreover, hath raised human beings, endued with great wisdom, which might partly renew and reduce all arts (in this our spotted and imperfect age) to perfection, so that we might thereby understand our own nobleness and worth, and why we are called microcosmos, and how far our knowledge extendeth in Nature.

So begins the Fama or announcement “of Christian intent” of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross (R.C). The founding assumption, as is evident, is the reality of “these latter days” when “the only Wise and Merciful God. . . has poured out so richly his mercy and goodness.”

This assumption is neither new nor unique. Marie des Vallees, for example, who, with Margaret-Mary Alacoque, was the means by which the sacrament of the Sacred Heart was received as a universal consecration in the seventeenth century, was asked by Jesus in a vision to repeat one thing three times. “Whose is it? Where shall I find it?” she asked. Jesus replied, “Spiritus Domini replevit orbem terrarum (The Spirit of the Lord will be poured over the orb of the earth.),” adding,

This refers to the times when the Holy Spirit will spread the fire of divine love over all the earth and so create his floods. For there are three floods. . . The first was the eternal Father’s and was a flood of water; the second was the Son’s and was a flood of blood; but the third belongs to the Holy Spirit, and will be a flood of fire. It will cause as much unhappiness as the others, for it will find much resistance and much green wood that will be difficult to burn.

 In other words, in Catholic France (and there are other examples, as we shall see) we hear a precise echo of the announcement that began to circulate in Lutheran Germany some forty years earlier.

As I say, this was not new. It is as old as Christianity, or older. After all, the apocalyptic side of Christianity is closely linked to Judaism, whose sages and prophets, awaiting the messianic age in fear and hope, endlessly meditated the unfolding reality of God’s activity in time and in relation to his people as a unified, divinely predetermined whole. Starting with Lactantius, this same contemplation of the end also gradually filled the Christian West until, by the time of the Middle Ages, the expectation of supernatural, radical change was almost universal. Christ’s advent, it was believed, marked a new historical dispensation. More than that, it instituted a new era of creation: a second creation in which the Creator entered creation, transforming it utterly. No longer outside, beyond, and above creation, the Divine was now in creation, dissolving and overturning what had seemed from time immemorial the hierarchic cosmic norms of above and below, inside and out, beginning and end. The Lord of the World had become the King of the Elements. But none of this was yet fully evident. It would not become so, in fact, until the Second Coming, when history would close and, before the curtain of the Last Judgment finally fell, a millennial Golden Age would ensue—signs of whose approach could be read on every side. As the Rosicrucian Confessio says: “God hath most certainly and most assuredly concluded to send and grant to the World before her end, which presently shall ensue, such a Truth, Light, Life, and Glory, as the first Man Adam had.”

Medieval Christians thus felt themselves to be living in an interim period, a kind of endless pause or vacuum between revelations, in which the Church, as an institution, functioned as a kind of antechamber. This was a difficult role, fraught with tension and paradox. In an attempt to defuse these, the Church sought to de-emphasize history in its teaching and discourage apocalypticism among its members, but to little lasting effect, since these were inherent in its teaching and its texts. That this was so burst forth with particular clarity in the twelfth century. From Hildegard of Bingen, the popularity of whose prophecies, collected in a text entitled Pentachronon or Mirror of Future Times—much studied by the legendary Trithemius, Abbot of Spondheim—far outweighed her other writings, to Joachim of Fiore, the influence of whose prophetic understanding permeated the Rosicrucian ambiance of Paracelsus, Dee, Khunrath, Studion, as well as Johann Valentin Andreae and his friends, Christoph Besold and Tobias Hess, the twelfth-century renaissance well understood the imminence of new revelation.

Joachim was born in southern Italy, in Calabria, ancient Magna Graeca, about 1135. Many stories are told of his prophetic gift. As a youth,he is said to have gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where, as he lay thirsting in the desert, he was told in a dream to drink from a river of oil. Awakening, he found the meaning of the Scriptures revealed. Another tale has a vision of the Scriptures with the numerical scheme of their interpretation coming upon him on the Mount of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor. Yet another has him walking in the gardens at Sambucina, in the early days of his monastic life, and receiving a miraculous draft of inspiration from angelic hands. In all these tales, the illumination was immediate; but behind the immediacy, lay much “laboring on the way” as he struggled to understand the Psalms, the concordance of the Old and New Testaments and their fulfillment in the Apocalypse of Saint John.

The parallels with Luther are unmistakable. Like Luther, Joachim struggled to break through the hard surface of the dead letter to the living Spirit within, seeking the spiritual fruit beneath the skin. But his mind seemed to meet immovable obstacles. The ways of reason availed nothing; prayer, repentance, repetition of the Psalms seemed the only path this pilgrim could take. Sometimes, after arduous labor, he would lay his task aside; then, if he was lucky, grace would intervene, the stone would roll away, and the light of spiritual intelligence would flood his heart and he would return to the Scriptures and read them with new eyes.

Joachim did not regard his experience of illumination as exceptional, but rather as prophetic. He saw it as a foretaste of the spiritual intelligence that would be poured out on all humanity before the end of history. It had been given to him to understand that just as one spiritual Intelligence united into a single comprehension the Old and New Testaments so, in history, the work of God the Father and God the Son must be followed by the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was thus built into the time process itself. There was an Age (or Status) of the Father, then an Age of the Son, and, proceeding from these, the Age of the Spirit—the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter or Paraclete, who testifies of the Word and guides human beings into all truth.

The first age [he writes] was that of knowledge, the second that of understanding, and the third will be the period of complete intelligence. The first was servile obedience, the second filial servitude, and the third will be freedom. The first was affliction, the second action, and the third will be contemplation. The first was fear, the second faith, and the third will be love. The first was the age of slaves, the second the age of sons, and the third will be the age of friends.

Although each age, of course, was to some extent present and active in the other and Joachim’s scheme was not straightforwardly linear, his conclusion was nevertheless inevitable: no matter how complex the wheels, or Rotae of twos, threes, sevens, and twelves were, history would culminate in the pouring out of the spiritual intelligence of the Holy Spirit. The incarnation of Christ had no other purpose. Saint Augustine had equated the seven ages of the world with the seven days of creation: five before the Incarnation, the sixth from the Incarnation to his own time; and the seventh, the Sabbath age of rest. When this would begin was, of course, the great question. For the authors of the Confessio, who were assiduous students of Joachim’s Rotae , their own time bore the unmistakable sign that “the Lord Jehovah (who seeing the Lord’s Sabbath is almost at hand, and hastened again to his first beginning, his period or course being finished) doth turn about the course of nature.” For Joachim, this Sabbath age coincided with the Third State—that of spiritual humanity. And the fact that he, who was no prophet, magician, or mere speculator, had been able to clearly understand the meaning of the Scriptures, and hence of history itself, merely by the donum spiritualis intellectus, the gift of spiritual intelligence, meant that this moment could not be far off. It meant, too, that the Anti-Christ likewise stood in the wings and beside him Elijah, or Elias, the type of the Holy Spirit, who “will come and restore all things” and usher in the great renovatio.

 There were many signs of its approach. This was the time of the great Grail cycles, the Tale of Flor and Blanchflor, and the Romant de la Rose. It was also, and not unrelatedly, the time of what is called “the discovery of the individual,” from Abelard’s discovery of the inner voice of moral responsibility to Aquinas’s unfolding of the personality in pure thinking. It marked, too, the dawn of the divine feminine Isis-Sophia-Mary and a new devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the humanity of Jesus—which, as we shall see, are not two, but one. At the School of Chartres, hermetic Platonists, renewing the microcosm-macrocosm analogy, sought to reopen the Book of Nature and create a new sacred science of the Goddess Natura—the Anima Mundi—while Saint Bernard, the spiritual director of the Templars (guardians, like the Grail knights, of the “Holy Land”) gave evidence in music and architecture of profound Pythagorean understanding. This was the time, too of the first translations of alchemical texts from Arabic into Latin, beginning with Morienus around 1182, and of the compilation by Moses de Leon of the Zohar. At the same time, among the Beguines and in the new Cistercian monasteries, or “schools of love”—and what is love but to “profess no other thing than to cure the sick, and that gratis”—women mystics were initiating a new, non-dualistic path of love, penetrating the mysteries of the Sacred Heart, and creating a new vernacular devotion to the Eucharist: the sacred blood and body available to all. Meanwhile, the Troubadours and Cathars in the South of France, fedeli d’amore both, were drawing together Christian, Ismaili, Manichaean, and Sufi traditions and creating a new lived, “I”-based vernacular culture for the transformation of the world in the human soul—the rescue of the sparks of light scattered and mixed with darkness in every perception.

Underlying all these different manifestations is a new understanding of the centrality of the heart, the purified soul, and the feminine I (three aspects of a single reality)—and thereby also of non-dualism or the complete interpenetration of the individual soul and the world soul, the activity of their interpenetration being the true seat of the “I”—all this in the work of divine transformation or deification (spiritualization) of the world, which is the meaning of esoteric Christianity.

Let us begin with the heart, never forgetting that “Rosicrucian” alchemists like van Helmont, sickened by the verbiage and prattle of the ratio and seeking the divine “kiss” that would bring illumination to the unmediated perception of things as they are, spoke of the necessity of cutting off the head. Summa scientia nihil scire, ends The Chemical Wedding:—affirming that the height of knowledge is to know nothing. The aim was to become a virgin and give birth to Christ—in Meister Eckhart’s language, “a human being who is devoid of all foreign images and who is void as he or she was when they were not yet.” This is the territory not only of purity of heart but also of poverty of spirit, which the twelfth century realized depended on each other. Thus, the age demanded the purification of the soul and the creation of a new, spiritualized heart.

This heart is naturally neither the biological pump nor, metaphorically, the personal seat of affective emotion. In a sense, it is not even personal. To attain it, detachment from all things, all desires, is necessary. We may call it “transpersonal,” if we understand transpersonal in the widest sense as extending to the cosmos. In fact, “cosmic” would be a better designation. After all, it is the center of that “globe” whose circumference is nowhere and whose “centrum,” or heart, is everywhere. Remember that the Fama and the Confessio speak of axiomata that lead “like a Globe or Circle to the only middle Point and Centrum” and of “the concurrence of all things to make Sphere or Globe, whose total parts are equidistant from the center.” This center is the heart—indeed, the Sacred Heart, the heart of the world. To begin to understand it, however, several “hearts” must be superimposed.

 There is first “the heart of Jesus.” Indeed, just before invoking the “Sphere or Globe, whose parts are equidistant from the center,” the Fama had spoken of their truth—which is that given to Adam—as “peaceable, brief, and like herself in all things” and “accorded with by Jesus in omnia parte”—Jesus in all parts. This is a tradition going back at least to the prophet Ezekiel to whom the Lord said: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh.” Now, in the last days, in the twelfth century, this was becoming known. “I and Jesus have one heart,” said Saint Bernard, giving the age its seal. Whether or not this was a new revelation, it was received as such by the saints of that time. “I was charged to announce to the Church now being born,” wrote Saint Mechtild of Magdeburg, “the uncreated Word of God and, as for the Sacred Heart, God left it to be known for the end of times when the world would begin to fall into decrepitude to reanimate the flood of his love.”

Everywhere at that time—among troubadours and knights, Platonists and Franciscans, Hermetists, Cathars, and lay brethren, and above all, perhaps, in the monasteries, those laboratories of the soul—Saint Benedict’s ideal, “to the heart and with the unutterable sweetness of love to move down the ways of the commandments of the Lord,” was taken to new heights. The task was to become one with the heart of the world, the divine-human heart of Christ Jesus opened up in the world by the lance of Longinus to become a fountain of living water for the sake of the world’s transformation into the divine body of God. From this opened heart, slain from the foundation of the world, water and blood poured over and into the earth, permeating it, filling it with the spirit of creative love, ennobling it as the growing heart of creation.

In the monastery of Helfta, for instance, Gertrude the Great began her Spiritual Exercises in seven books or seven stages—we may call them the seven roses— with the fundamental gesture of the heart’s wisdom: affirmation. “Let my heart bless,” she begins. By this practice of affirmation, the heart becomes true, perfect, whole. Wide open, innocent, it enters into the “penetralia” of Jesus’s heart, living in that “cavern” or “bedchamber”—empty of memory, desire, and understanding—living in dying, void, ever capable of being made anew, stamped, fashioned, modelled on the heart of Jesus. By this, one becomes an organ of creative, loving perception—no longer blind, deaf, and dumb but “converted into a paradise of all virtues and a red berry bush of total perfection.” This is the heart as the whole person, the person as an organ of perception.

Gerhard Dorn, commenting on Trithemius’s alchemical treatise says:

First, transmute the earth of your body into water. This means that your heart, which is as hard as stone, material, and lazy must become supple and vigilant. . .Then spiritual images and visions impress themselves on your heart as a seal is impressed on wax. But now this liquefaction must transform itself into air. That is to say, the heart must become contrite and humble, rising toward its Creator as air rises toward heaven. . .Then, for this air to become fire, desire, now sublimated, must be converted into love—love of God and neighbor—and this flame must never be extinguished. At this point, to receive the power of things above and things below, you must begin the descent.

This is what it is to transform oneself “from dead stones into living philosophical stones.”

A more graphic explanation of what is involved in this schooling of the heart is revealed in the phenomenon of “the exchange of hearts” that also arose at this time, both in the monasteries and, for instance, among the troubadours, where the exchange of hearts was not with Jesus but with the Lady, the Madonna Intelligenza, the Active Intelligence. Among the monastics, for instance, there is Saint Lutgard of Aywieres who, as a child, had a vision of the humanity of Jesus, the wound in his side bleeding as if recently opened. By this encounter, she became intimate with the Lord, who finally asked her what she wanted. “I want your heart,” she said. “No, rather it is your heart I want,” replied the Lord. “So be it,” said Saint Lutgard, “but only on condition that your heart’s love is mingled with mine” as wine is with water. “And from that day forth,” her biographer writes, “in the same way as a nurse watches over an infant lest the flies disquiet it, so did Christ hold close to the entrance of her heart.”

Saint Gertrude had a similar experience. Striving to pay complete attention to each note, word, and thing in the liturgy, and failing, hindered by human frailty, she asked, “What profit can there be in a labor in which I am so inconsistent?” Christ, hearing her, came gave her “his divine heart in the form of a lighted lamp,” saying: “Here is my heart. . . I hold it before the eyes of your heart; it will supply what you lack.” Then Gertrude asked, “How is it that I am aware of your divine heart within me in the form of a lamp in the midst of my heart and yet, when I approach you, I find it within you...? To which the Lord replied:

Just as you stretch out your hand when you take hold of something and, when you have taken it, you draw it back toward you; so, languishing for love of you, when you are distracted, I stretch out my heart and draw you to me; but when your inmost thoughts are in harmony with mine, and you are recollected and attend to me, then I draw back my heart again, and you with it, into myself, and from it I offer you the pleasure of all virtues.

To begin to understand the significance of all this for the meaning of the Rose Cross, one must realize that what is at issue here, potentially at least, is not only a personal mysticism of union with the divine, but a cosmic transformation, a work of regeneration. For Christians, the incarnation is a cosmic event. God entered creation itself, became flesh, penetrated the very entrails of matter, so that He might be all in all and the hidden treasure known. God entered creation for the sake of creation itself and as such, not just for the comfort of fallen, skin-bound, human beings, but so that these beings might again assume their cosmological function as cosmic beings, participant co-workers with God, capable of raising up the world and hence also God himself who was now one with it. This is the meaning of Saint Paul’s great lines in Romans 8 when he writes:

For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. For creation herself waits with eager longing for the revealing of God’s children; for creation was subject to futility, not of its own will, but of the will of the one who subjected it. Creation herself will be set free from the bondage of corruption into glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning in pain and labor until now.

This is to say that the “dulcet heart of Jesus”—rosy-fleshed Jesus—as invoked by the mystics, is not simply located. Indeed, it is not a thing to be located anywhere. Rather, it is the activity that is the center of all things: the potential center of every perception, the magical fulcrum of every marvel. This is the meaning of Christ in all things—of Christ, our stone—of the Roses in the Cross.

A further clue is given if we consider the recovery of Sophia, the divine feminine, as taught, for instance, by Hildegard of Bingen (b. 1098), of whom the monk Guibert wrote that no woman since Mary had received so great a gift. Her’s was the gift of vision, of being able to see in the reflection of the living light and sometimes in the living light itself. Like Mary, Hildegard was a “poor little figure of a woman” and perhaps it was this that allowed her to recognize that the very humility—“littleness” Saint Therese of Lisieux would call it—of the feminine exalted it over every creature.

For Hildegard, Sophia, whom she calls either Sapientia (Wisdom) or Caritas (Love) is the complex reality—the cosmic glue—articulating many things we usually keep separate. Primarily, she is the living bond between Creator and creation, God and cosmos. As such, it is by her perpetual mediation that the divine can manifest itself and be known. That is, Sophia lives in the encounter of God and creation, where God stoops to humanity and humanity aspires to God. Primordially, then, it is Sophia who makes possible not only creation itself—she is the cosmogenic, playful companion of the creator, “set up from everlasting... a pure effluence from the glory of the Almighty. . . the flawless mirror of the active power of God and the image of his goodness”—but also the incarnation of that creation in time, namely, the redemption or new creation which, for Hildegard, was the center and cause of all, the event for which the world had been made. Finally, indeed, this event of Christ’s incarnation was the world for Hildegard, for the process of the incarnation would not be complete until the entirety of creation had been subsumed in the body of Christ.

This new creation—the union of divinity and humanity and the earth—of course, was accomplished by a woman, Mary. Thus, for Hildegard, woman, the feminine, is the means of God’s becoming all-in-all. And this means that the feminine—Sophia: Wisdom and Love—is not limited just to Mary. It extends, firstly, to Jesus, the Humanity of Christ—“Jesus, our mother”—and then, by extension, to the “Church,” humanity, the earth—which is, in turn, one with the cosmos itself. Jesus, the crucified Christophore, humanity, matter, the earth, the cosmos is thus feminized as Sophia, the place where the heart of Christ must come to dwell.

From this perspective, the heart of Jesus and the heart of Mary are one—they are the heart of Sophia—and are also at the same time no other than the heart or center of the cosmos itself. The dawning realization among twelfth- and thirteenth- century adepts, then, was that creating such a heart by the process of the radical purification and transformation of the soul—occultists would later call it the “astral” body—made possible the indwelling of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. At its highest level, it was understood that this inner work made possible a renewal of a cosmogenic or Adamic function for humanity. For, once the soul was so purified that it was one with Sophia—was Sophia or Wisdom and Love—the being in whom it was purified was perfected in the three realms of Sophia that are, traditionally, the perfection of the human state. Perfected in these, one becomes “Trismegistus”—master of the three realms. Hildegard has a marvellous antiphon that describes these realms—realms that, through the presence of Christ, become four and one:

O energy of Wisdom,

encompassing all

you circled circling

in the path of life

with three wings:

one flies on high

one distills from the earth,

and the third flies everywhere.


Thus we see that Saint Dominic’s institution of the Rosary (encouraged, it is said, by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin herself) and Arnold of Villanova’s alchemical Rosarium Philosophorum have more in common than one might suspect. For the symbol of this Sophia—the purified soul with access in the three realms—has always been the Rose. Sixteenth century alchemists knew this and called it the flos sapientium:, the flower of wisdom; for them, to accomplish the Great Work was to have “attained the Rose.” Throughout the Middle Ages, the figure of the Rose—Rosa Mystica, that rose planted beside the waters—proliferates alarmingly, seemingly used indifferently of Jesus and Mary but in fact always referring to this purified heart of humanity in which the Christ—the center of the world, the immanent transcendent principle—can dwell. In Dante’s words, it is “the Rose wherein the divine Word made itself flesh.”

Here mention must be made of the Grail which, as Guenon pointed out, following Charbonnneau-Lassay, echoes the kind of symbolism we have been following. From one perspective, the Grail, too, is a kind of heart or flower and belongs to what might be called the prehistory of the Sacred Heart. Guenon was led to this insight by the Egyptian hieroglyphic for the heart, which is a vase or vessel containing the blood of life. Indeed, in several versions of the legend, the Grail is precisely that vessel in which Joseph of Arimathia gathered the first drops of blood that flowed from the wound opened in Christ’s side—which is to say, in Guenon’s words, that “this cup [the Grail] stands for the Heart of Christ as receptacle of his blood.” This “Heart” is the new, incarnated archetype of the “sacrificial Cup” that everywhere represents the Center of the World, “the abode of immortality”? As for the Rose, does not this flower too, like all flowers, contain a chalice in its calyx and evoke thereby the idea of a “receptacle.” No wonder, then, that we find twelfth-century molds for altar breads that show blood falling in little drops in the form of roses and altar canons where a rose is placed at the foot of the lance down which the sacred blood flows. Nor should we forget that whether it is a cup or dish borne by women, a celestial stone or stone of light (or simply immaterial), the primary virtue of the Grail is a unique, nourishing, healing light—a brightness as ofsix thousand candles—the light of the Holy Spirit, the Dove, whose coming Age Joachim of Fiore first foresaw.

All of this may seem very high-flown—as indeed it is—but it represents “high flying” of a new and revolutionary order. For the background against which these unfolding developments occurred—in a sense, the critical element—was the recovery of the vernacular of lived experience, the mother tongue, what Paracelsus and Van Helmont would call the language of true or certain knowledge.

It is difficult to trace a historical lineage for this movement to uncover the living experiential-perceptual language of the heart buried beneath the mud of dead tongues. Perhaps the earliest intimations are to be found in the cantigas de amigo or Frauenlieder—love songs in women’s voices—that dawned almost simultaneously in the monasteries of the north and in Mozarabic Spain in the ninth and tenth centuries. But the first flowering comes with the culture of the Troubadours and the full blossom with the Fedeli d’Amore, whose master, Dante Alighieri, would write a spirited defence of “vulgar eloquence”—“our first true speech”— where he shows that each person’s mother tongue represents a development of the primordial language with which Adam discoursed with God and named the things of his experience. Here we find Sufi (and Ismaili), Cathar, Kabbalistic, and esoteric Christian influences flowing together almost in equal measure. At the same time, the vernacular was also employed by the great courtly epics and poems and, above all, the movements of lay spirituality such as the Beguines, Beghards, Lollards, and Waldenses of the twelfth century.

These “little women” and “little brothers without domicile,” practicing an apostolic life of poverty, prayer, preaching, healing, and mendicancy—free spirits all, called together by the Holy Spirit rather than the Church of Rome—were “noble travellers,” Rosicrucians before the fact. Translating the Bible and reading commentaries in the vernacular in the public square, they created a new mood in Christian piety, that of becoming not just Christ-like but one with Christ in nature—taught by him, acting in him, speaking from him. They were condemned in the fourteenth century, but what they had started could no longer be stopped. Penetrating ever deeper into the human souls, impelled by such mysterious figures as “Friend of God from the Highlands” (the incarnation the Master Jesus himself, according to Rosicrucian tradition), and absorbed and transmitted by Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Suso, Thomas a Kempis, and others, what came to be called the “modern devotion” (devotio moderna) arose in such communities as the Brotherhood of the Common Life and Rulman Merswin’s Community of the Green Isle and, later still, among the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren. All of these revolutionary vernacular and visionary spiritualities of common experience embody a new interiority, a new sense of the inwardness of the letter, whether of scripture or of nature—and, hence, as Henry Corbin points out, a new spiritual hermeneutics based upon the heart as the organ and realm of transformative meaning.

 This period, too, saw the rise of medieval alchemy or hermetism, which is, of course, perhaps the distinguishing mark of the Rose Cross and whose innermost teaching in many ways parallels the paths of experience opened up by these vernacular spiritual movements. Morienus tells Khalid: “No one will be able to perform or accomplish this thing which you have so long sought, nor attain it by means of any knowledge, unless it be through affection and gentle humility, a perfect and true love.” Only a purified heart, according to alchemical teaching, can receive this gift of God—a donum dei, according to the Summa Perfectionis—for God alone gives “direct, unerring access to the methods of this science.” He “in his mercy has created this extraordinary thing in yourself.” But God and nature, the human soul and the world soul, in this are one, not two. The alchemist is a co-worker with God; prayer must accompany manipulation.

We see this implied in the first major Western alchemical treatise, the Summa Perfectionis, attributed to Geber, but probably written by the Franciscan Paul of Taranto in the fourteenth century. The Summa begins by telling the aspirant: “Know, dearest son, that whoever does not know the natural principles in himself, is already far removed from our art, since he does not have the true root upon which he should found his goal”—a root that only that person can find who “has natural ingenuity and a soul subtly searching the natural principles and foundations of nature.” In other words: alchemy depends upon a purified heart—knowing the natural principles in oneself that are one with the root of all things—and the ability to observe the processes of nature directly, precisely, and closely with what the Summa calls “the highest scrutiny,” a scrutiny depending upon a profound purification of the soul and senses. As Gertrude in her monastic enclose realized, it is the transformed heart that must acquire eyes and ears. Neither nature nor God are to be naturalistically analyzed but are rather revealed, received by one with the eyes to see and the ears to hear what will be given.

Implicit here is the fact that alchemy, which entered the West from Arabic sources—as in Morienus and Geber—underwent a profound sea change in the transmission: it was spiritualized. This is not to say that alchemy had not had a spiritual and mystical component in Hellenic times but only to suggest that in Islam it had assumed primarily a practical, quantitative form. It worked almost exclusively with the four elements. The “fifth essence,” or spiritual, Sophianic substance potentially uniting nature, God, and the human soul, played little part in the original Arabic Jabirian corpus. Yet in the West this quintessence came to found a new sacred—we may even say “eucharistic”—science for the transformation of the world. Precisely how this came about is as yet unknown. A primary influence, as suggested by Dan Merkur, must have been the version of the Emerald Tablet that became the Bible of Western hermetists. Recall that, in the Latin translation, it begins: “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the one thing.” However, in the Arabic version, the text reads: “That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above”—a straightforward reference to circulation. In the Latin text, which became known above all in Hortulanus’s Commentary, not only is there the suggestion of parallel universes—supernal and inferior—but also of their ultimate identity.

 All this would have been known by the one called Christian Rosenkreutz, who was born, according to legend, in Germany, in 1378. The tale told by the Fama and Confessio is well-known and summarizes many of the elements we have discuss already. Raised in a cloister, CR determined when still a youth of fifteen or sixteen to go to the Holy Land—Palestine in a literal sense, but symbolically the supreme center or heart of the world, the Sacred Heart or Holy Grail. Geographically, he never reached his goal of Jerusalem, visiting instead Damascus, or Damcar, Egypt, and Fez. He learned Arabic, and studied “mathematica, physic, and magic” with the Hermetists and spiritual masters of Islam. Accepting this account, we may say that in Arabia he was fully initiated into the sacred sciences of the group of medieval Arab philosophers known as the Ikhwan al-Safa or Brethren of Purity and studied their fifty-two Epistles— fourteen of which deal with the mathematical sciences, seventeen with the natural sciences, ten with psychology, and eleven with theology. In Fez, through which the great Ibn Arabi had just passed, he would have met with the highest levels of Sufi intellectual realization. As a fifteenth-century historian wrote: “In Fez one finds masters of all branches of intellectuality, such as grammar, law, mathematics, chronometry, geometry, metaphysics, logic, rhetoric, music and these masters know all the relevant texts by heart. Whoever does not know by heart the basic text relating to the science about which he speaks is not taken seriously.”

Alhough he believed that what he was taught was somewhat “defiled” by his teachers’ religion, C R “knew how to make good use of the same.” He found his Christian faith strengthened and “altogether agreeable with the Harmony of the whole World” and its evolution through “periods of times.” After two years in Fez, therefore, he decided to return to Europe which was already “big with great commotions,” as we have seen, and laboring to give birth to a new world. But, of course, no one in power would listen to his new, nonhierarchical, unified vision and he was forced to return to Germany, where in solitude and secrecy he founded the Fraternity of the Rosie Cross with its celebrated six-point rule:

First, to profess no other thing, than to cure the sick, and that gratis. We have already remarked that this rule, as stated, is a rule of love. “Compassion,” wrote Paracelsus, “is the true physician’s teacher.” “Compassion,” of course, means “feeling with,” and what is love (or healing) but to feel another’s suffering as one’s own and recognize that the disease, the pain, is one in all. In addition, however, we should also note that the primary orientation is toward the world, the Liber Mundi—that is, toward other beings, for we can love only other, living beings. The Rosicrucian, then, works for the sake of the world, not the individual soul. Granted that from a nondualist perspective there is no difference between the healing of one’s soul and the healing of the world, the Rosicrucian rule nevertheless affirms the primacy of service and of action. If one is a true Rosicrucian, one walks “the true thorn-strewn way of the cross—the renunciation of all selfhood—for the sake of the redemption of the world, that is, the building of the New Jerusalem.” That is why the rule specifies that the nature of the service as aimed at “healing,” which, too, must be understood in the largest sense to include nature. From this point of view, nature, like humanity, fell with Adam and is sick and needs healing. Like humanity, nature is not the unity it ought to be: it groans and travails in pain; it is diseased. Paracelsus called this state of separation and disunity the “cagastrum.” Yet precisely to heal this disease, to renew the unity of nature in and through humanity, Christ came. Indeed, as Prince Lapoukhin writes, Christ not only “mystically sprinkled every soul with the virtue of his blood, which is the tincture proper to the renewal of the soul in God. . . but he also regenerated the mass of immaterial elements of which he shall make a new heaven and a new earth.” In other words: “The crown of all the mysteries of nature adorns the altar of the sanctuary, lit only by the light of the stainless Lamb...[whose] precious blood, sacrificed for the salvation of the world, is the sole tincture that renews all things.” To conjoin the Rose and the Cross in nature as a whole, to heal and unite nature and human nature in its center or heart, is thus the Rosicrucian aim.

The second rule is stated as follows: That no one should be obliged to wear any kind of distinctive dress but should adapt himself to the customs of the country At its simplest, this is the injunction to live anonymously, unpretentiously, plying some ordinary trade, drawing no attention to oneself. At another level, since chief among the customs of a country is its language, this rule invokes the “gift of tongues,” so often mentioned as a Rosicrucian characteristic. This gift, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, is said to mean that the possessor of it addresses everyone in their own language, that is, in the way and at the level appropriate to their understanding, implying, as Guenon points out, that the person who has attained the Rose Cross, having reached the center or heart of the world, is attached to no form, no name, not even his or her own—some sources adding that the second rule includes the injunction to change one’s name with each country one visits. Here, then, is the meaning of the designation “cosmopolitan” found throughout the literature—true Rosicrucians are at home everywhere and nowhere. It should be remarked, too, that this rule of nonattachment to phenomenal forms extends in principle also to beliefs. As Ibn Arabi notes: “The true sage is bound to no particular belief.” In other words, the partisan Protestant context in which the announcement of the Rose Cross is embedded is antithetical—indeed, diametrically opposed—to its true spirit.

The third rule enjoins thus: That every year on Christmas Day they meet together at the House Sancti Spiritus or write the cause of their absence. Sancti Spiritus or Holy Spirit is the name Rosenkreutz gave to his “building,” naming it after what it housed. This is to say that the “mother house”—the Church or Temple—of the Rose Cross is invisible. It is the Temple of the Spirit, the Inner Church, which is the redeemed Sophia, the mystical body of Christ. It is the Church of the Fire of Love. Prince Lapoukhin, writing of The Characteristics of the Interior Church , after having discounted faith, prayer, fasting, the seeing of visions, the gift of prophecy, miracles, and even humility as distinctive—for these can be deceptive—concludes that the only true sign is love. “Love is the manifestation of Christ’s spirit, which can only exist in love, and can only work by love.” Only what proceeds from the spirit, the fire, of love is good and true. In other words, we return again to the heart, this time as the Temple of the Rose Cross.

The last three rules seem simpler: first, each Brother must chose a successor. This means, in keeping with what we have already understood, there is to be no Rosicrucian school or similar institution. The Rosicrucian, working alone, anonymously, for the sake of humanity and the world seeks one intimate friend to continue the work. Second, the word C. R. should be their Seal, Mark, and Character. As their seal, the Rose Cross is stamped on their heart: it has become their heart, their work. As their mark, it radiates from them like the light of six thousand candles. As their character, it affirms that they will be known by their fruits of love. Finally, the last rule: they shall remain secret one hundred years.

Christian Rosenkreutz, let us recall, was born in 1378 and lived one hundred and six years, that is, he died in 1484—though his tomb was not discovered oand opened for 120 years, that is in 1604. Much went on then between the putative founding of the Fraternity and the publication of the primary documents around 1614 and 1615. Indeed, these documents, clearly written by Johann Valentin Andreae and his friends sometime between 1604 and 1614 acknowledge the revolutionary impact of the preceding century and a half.

 First, there was the visit of the initiate Georgios Gemistos, known as Plethon, to Italy for the last ecumenical council of Florence/Ferrara in 1438-1439. It was Plethon who so fired Cosimo de Medici with the idea of a lineage of ancient theologians reaching back into primordial times that Cosimo “conceived in his noble mind a kind of Academy” to study this perennial wisdom and, about 1450, asked the son of his favorite doctor to organize this and start translating the texts of these ancient masters that Plethon had provided. Thus the Platonic Academy of Florence came into being, and Marsilio Ficino began his epoch-making translations, including those of Plato, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, Proclus, the Corpus Hermeticum and the Chaldean Oracles. But Plethon’s influence outran even this. Besides Cosimo, Plethon met and equally inspired Leon Battista Alberti and Nicholas of Cusa whose association in the “other” Academy, that of Palestrina, was also to have far-reaching effects in that magic work The Dream of Poliphilo.

It was Plethon, who at the time that Christian Rosenkreutz was laying down the foundations of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross, publicly introduced the project of the Christianization of ancient wisdom. To what extent Plethon himself believed in this project, or whether he would rather have preferred to see a return of the most ancient solar cosmic religion, must remain a moot point. Certainly, some like Jean Robin, have attributed to his offspring a sinister stream of counter- or at least counter-Christian initiation. Nevertheless, Plethon’s influence was enormous. He did much more than merely inspire Ficino’s translations and Cusanus’s philosophy. Above all, it was he who brought the symbol of “fire” to the center of the tradition we have been following and pushed the idea of ecumenicism to the bounds of heresy upholding the universality of all forms—which is the same as being attached to none. His position was, to adapt a current slogan, “to think religion globally and embody it locally”—as good an explanation as one can find of our Fraternity’s second rule. As for fire, drawing on the Chaldean Oracles and what he knew of Zoroastrianism and the Persian Ishraki or theosophers of Light (of whom, Corbin proposes, he was a student), Plethon considered fire to be the all-luminous substance, the pure luminescence or Spirit, which is the nature and source of all created things. All things then, were filled with tongues of Sophianic flame, descended from a single fire. Fire was, in other words, the quintessence and as such was the medium at once of magic and of alchemy.

The consequences of this initiation (or counter-initiation) were far-reaching. Most important, perhaps, for us was the influence on Paracelsus of the ancient Gnostic and Platonic texts translated by Ficino (to which we must add Pico de la Mirandola’s initiating of Christian Kabbala, then carried on by Trithemius and Johannes Reuchlin). These provided the great precursor with a vocabulary of ideas he could oppose, transform, and play with in an individual, prophetic manner—but only with a vocabulary. Although the consequences of the Florentine and Roman Academies were great and in a sense formed modern esotericism as we know it, from the point of view we are pursuing here in our search for the meaning of the Rose Cross, their efforts were contingent, not essential. In other words, even though Paracelsus used many of the Platonic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic ideas flowing forth from the Academies, he was, like Luther, and the Fraternity of the Rose Cross itself, more a radical and innovative continuer of the medieval traditions we have been following than a “Renaissance Magus.”

I realize that to say this is controversial. Nevertheless, the three primary documents of the Rose Cross are unarguably Christian in essence and are founded in Luther’s return to the fundamental fact of the incarnation, the Cross. Because of this, the central device of the Rose Cross is Ex deo nascimur, in Jesu morimur, per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus. From God we are born, in Jesus we die, through the Holy Spirit we are reborn. Jesus mihi omnia, “Jesus is all to me,” they repeat. Behind this affirmation of the universal necessity of death and resurrection lies Luther’s radical understanding that everything must be viewed in the light of, and pass through, the life-giving revelation or crucible of the Cross. This is to say that the experience of the Cross must everywhere be interiorized. And it was this process of interiorization that led Luther to his existential and epistemological breakthrough. Interiorizing the Cross, Luther realized that the meaning of God—God’s justice, goodness, wrath etc.—was to be understood nowhere else than in himself, in his own experience, his own heart. The meaning of God is what God works in us.

For this reason Luther was the first to take as his emblem the Rose and the Cross: a large five petalled white rose, enclosed within the blue circle of the world which is bounded by gold, at whose center lies a heart, wherein sits a black cross.

The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saves us. ‘For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature, i.e. does not kill, but keeps alive...

The rose is white, writes Luther, because white is the color of all angels and blessed spirits. The fact that it is so, and not red, the color of incarnation or embodiment, and single, not sevenfold, shows that Luther was more a mystic than a hermetic sacred scientist. Nevertheless, Luther appreciated the hermetic science not only for its many uses “but also for the sake of the allegory and secret signification. . . touching the resurrection of the dead at the Last Day.” He understood that alchemy, too, in the final analysis, depended upon the Cross—Christ crucified—and that, in the Lutheran Khunrath’s words, “the whole cosmos was a work of Supernal Alchemy, performed in the crucible of God, “where the fundamental fact of existence, the “crucified God” becomes the key to the nature of God, humanity, and the cosmos.

For this tradition, all the meaning of history, evolution, nature, resurrection—is to be sought in the Cross. Since Christ’s Incarnation, indeed, this Cross—making possible the reality of resurrection—is everywhere, in the very substance of things. It is the root fact of existence, closer to human beings than their jugular veins. One can easily understand why this reality makes a mockery of any institutions or speculative philosophies that seek to “mediate” between this central fact of existence and human existence as such. God and nature, nature and grace, grace and gnosis or revelation are two sides of a single coin. Therefore Luther reaffirmed the possibility of each soul’s having direct, unmediated access to God and God’s nature and processes. What had been separated before was now united in and through the Cross. To pass through the Cross, to enact it, was to participate in the new creation—the transubstantiation—that it alone made possible.

Paracelsus, of course, was no friend of Luther. He felt that Luther had dogmatized his revelation so that it had become a justification of privilege and election. Paracelsus took his stand on experience, against all authority. On this basis, he espoused the interdependence of radical religious and intellectual freedom, freedom of the will, pacifism, and the unity of humanity. Fighting for these, he was on the side of the poor and the oppressed: everything he did was motivated out love for the fallenness of creatures, and the goal of all his work was to hasten the great redemption or healing he felt was possible. Thus, though disapproving of Luther, he shared the Reformer’s insight into the Cross as the Rosetta Stone of the Great Work. But he did so while bringing to consummation and transforming the medieval traditions of vernacular spirituality we have followed. That is, he took the practice of sticking close to experience out of the cloister, out of the hermetic order, and into the world. He sought out teachers, experience, and wisdom wherever he could find them—in nature, in the mines, among peasants, herb gatherers, gypsies, in the schools of anatomy, at the feet of Kabbalists, magicians, scholars, and monks, in his father’s alchemical laboratory. He would take nothing on faith or on the basis of someone else’s theory; he had to prove what was real by experiencing its truth in himself. And he traveled, crossing and recrossing Europe and, according to legend, passing even into Turkey, Russia, and perhaps even China.

In this way, in nature as well as in himself, Paracelsus discovered the truth of the Cross and the Rose. As he studied all the ancient authorities—though he found much that was of value in them—he found them universally and necessarily deficient, because he realized that the world had changed since they had had their experiences. The world after the incarnation was not the same as the world before. The world was a growing, changing organism. It was ever in the process of becoming more perfect. More than that, for the sake of this perfection, it had, as it were, been turned inside out from its center, but in such a way that there was no longer really any outside. Through the incarnation, the Godhead, the Holy Trinity, had entered the world—or at least the Mysterium Magnum, “the one mother of all things,” what Hildegard called Sapientia or Sophia—and was now in the world, actively participating in its drama, seeking its own redemption in the microcosm/macrocosm. Consider, for instance, the magnificent opening of Hortulanus’ prayer that begins his famous Commentary on the Emerald Tablet. Hortulanus writes: “Laude, honor, power, and glory, be given to thee, O Almightie Lord God, with thy beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. O holy Trinity, that art the only one God, perfect man, I give thee thanks...”

Here is why so much of Paracelsus’s effort went into combating simple-minded reliance on the ancient doctrine of the elements. For these four elements, like the diseases preying on humanity and nature itself, have been utterly transformed by the immanence in humanity and nature, microcosm and macrocosm alike, of the three principles he names Sulfur, Mercury, and Sal, these principles always representing in some degree the Trinity—Ex deo nascimur, in Christo morimur, per spiritum sanctum reviviscimus.—but a Trinity that is now in the world, the principle of all.

Paracelsus’ great accomplishment—for which he was forever invoked as the great precursor—was to unite the mystical and the alchemical, the religious and the cosmological, in a life completely given over to service of humanity and the world. What the medieval mystics saw as the promise of the mystical exchange or union of the three hearts—their own, that of Mary-Jesus, and that of Christ—Paracelsus realized more practically as the union of the human with nature and the divine. The image of the alchemist or Rosicrucian as a kind of universal lay priest celebrating a kind of healing Mass in which not just bread and wine were transformed but nature and human nature in its entirety derives from Paracelsus. It was he who fully re-spiritualized alchemy into a cosmic liturgy, a universal path of healing and worship in the largest sense. Paracelsus, indeed, was the type of the new priest who realizes in himself—by means of the star in himself, the Imagination—the identity of macrocosm and microcosm and on the basis of such knowledge by identity, or experience, understands the world from within as a complex field of signatures, seminal images, and analogies and acts in it, healing and transforming it.

Paracelsus died in 1541, but not before prophesying the return of Elijah, Elias Artista, who would inaugurate an age of renovatio, “at which time there shall be nothing so occult that it shall not be revealed.” As Christ had said: “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid, that shall not be known.” So far, God had allowed only the lesser to appear. The greater part still remained hidden, but, as Paracelsus prophesied, all would emerge with Elias who would usher in a new “golden age.” “Humanity will arrive at true intellect, and live in human fashion, not in the way of beasts, the manner of pigs, nor in a den”—this, of course, after the defeat of the Anti-Christ. In the course of the next half century, this and other prophecies and portents echoed, amplified, and resounded against the turbulence of social, religious, and political unrest. And not only prophecies—for it seemed on the basis of the new discoveries, imperial voyages of exploration, and the magical universes being opened up, that the new age had to be near. Dee had published the Monas Hieroglyphas (whose symbol adorns The Chemical Wedding) in 1564. “Cosmopolitans” like Alexander Seton and Michael Sendivogius began to circulate through Europe, producing wonders and disappearing. Lutherans like Libavius and Khunrath strove to usher in the new epoch. Some, like Simon Studion, announced it.

Thus, with hindsight, the Rosicrucian call to arms comes as no surprise. In a sense, it is self-explanatory. The texts, both in their emphases and their polemics, make the Lutheran origin of the documents very clear. Frances Yates has demonstrated the political ends to which the General Reformation was intended. What then is the mystery? It has to do with the distinction, contained in the documents themselves, between “Rosicrucian” and “Rose Cross.” Rosicrucians are those who wish to usher in a new epoch of sacred science, art, and religion, and work for cultural transformation in that sense. Those who bear the “Rose Cross”—whose “seal, mark, and character” it is—are those who have united inner and outer, spirit and matter, divine and created worlds, and bear that union and intimate congress of heaven and earth in their hearts. They thus move about in the world as servants of the Word invisibly serving, healing, and creating for God’s greater glory and the salvation of all creatures. They are something else. Only if you know them will you recognize them. Who is to say, in this sense, whether Saint Vincent de Paul or Saint Francis de Sales or Berulle of the Oratory or Saint John Eudes—all contemporaries of the Rosicrucian Enlightenment—are not true Rosicrucians, as Jean Robin has suggested. Who is to say? The legend is that following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648—which marked the end of the Thirty years War—the true Rose Cross left Europe for the East. Yet the practice of the Rose in the Cross and the affiliation to the Invisible Temple or New Jerusalem continued. It continues still: we still await the outpouring of spiritual intelligence that Joachim of Fiore foresaw.

Rose, pure contradiction, joy

to be no one’s sleep under so many lids.

With these words the Prague-born Rainer Maria Rilke, who bore his cross and knew his roses, marked his little grave in the high churchyard of the old church of Raron. Perhaps no more can be said.


By Christopher Bamford, an essay from The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited