Since I am currently researching on the topic of early Rosicrucianism, I have taken a closer look at the Rosicrucian Manifestos: Fama Fraternitatis andConfessio. My reading of the documents made me decide to provide a modern English version, as the 1652 version is slightly hard to read. While the Chymical Wedding benefited from such a modern English updating, the Manifestos didn’t. I will soon publish my version under a new envisioned section of the website called Downloads.
It is important to know that, although lumped together as the ‘Manifestos’, theFama and Confessio were not published simultaneously. The Fama was published in Kassel, Germany in 1614 as an appendix to a section of a Italian work by Trajano Boccalini. It was republished, together with the Confessio, in 1615. Hence, the Fama can be considered as the more original and important of the two treatises (in fact, the Confessio constantly refers to the Fama as authority).
To make things easier, I have set what I consider to be the main ideas of the Manifestos in a numbered list below.
1. Secret Medieval Tradition from the East. The works affirm that the Rosy Cross society was established in the 1300s by a legendary friar called Christian Rosenkreutz. He was supposed to have traveled widely in the Eastern lands and to have acquired secret knowledge from Islamic initiates. It was a peculiar aspect of Rosicrucian belief that secret knowledge could be obtained from Moslem thinkers in the Middle East. Needless to say, at the time, many anti-Rosicrucian writers attacked them for upholding non-Christian beliefs. Yet, as shown below, the Rosicrucian manifestos portray a mystical and ardent form of Christianity. Nevertheless, the composers of the Fama and Confessio must have been aware of the historical truth that esoteric knowledge came through the intermediation of Islam.
2. Paracelsianism. The Manifestos refer to Theophrastus Paracelsus as an important precursor of the Rosicrucian revelation; however, they say, he did not belong to the Rosicrucian lineage. Paracelsian language and ideas pervade bothFama and Confessio: they talk about universal medicine, the religious value of knowledge, the inferior nature of gold-making and other ideas traceable to Paracelsian followers. The Paracelsians, it must be remembered, were interested in medical alchemy rather than gold-making and often disparaged the latter as an inferior pursuit. They were also fervent knowledge-seekers, both in nature and in the Bible.
3. New Reformation. The Rosicrucian manifestos embraced Protestant values of reformation. However, they talk about a new, upcoming reformation that would complement or even go beyond the Protestant one. The nature of this new reformation is clear: it involves not only the proper reading of the Bible but the revelation of God in nature. The Rosicrucians emphasize knowledge of nature as a religious ideal, quite contrary to our modern understanding of science and religion as competing or even antagonistic pursuits. In fact, the Rosicrucians believed that the pursuit of knowledge would bring humanity back to the status of Adam before the Fall, i.e. in God’s grace.
4. Christian Esotericism. The Fama and Confessio evince strong Christian feelings; the Fama states that ‘Jesus is my all’. The Christian vision of Rosicrucianism was colored by Hermetic and Platonic thought, including ideas such as universal sympathy, man as God’s image or sacred knowledge. Another influence is the Christian Kabbalah, which had risen to prominence due to the works of Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Henry Cornelius Agrippa and Heinrich Khunrath.
5. German Mysticism. The Manifestos were the evident product of German circles (scholars point to the Tubingen circle led by Johann Valentin Andreae, the author of the Chemical Wedding). The writings refer to Germany as a blessed land where knowledge is now increasing. Rosenkreutz himself is portrayed as a German friar, who founds his Rosy Cross society in Germany, where he finds kindred spirits. While Rosicrucianism began as a purely German movement, it soon spread to England, France, Sweden, Russia and other lands, and became an internationalist phenomenon.
6. Invisibility. The Rosicrucian order was presented as invisible and only its members could contact outsiders, not viceversa. The writings affirm that Rosicrucians were protected from antagonistic forces by their ability to remain invisible. It is not exactly clear what they meant by this, but soon a mythology grew, which portrayed Rosicrucians as actually, physically invisible. This myth was based on the fact that no one ever admitted of being a Rosicrucian. Andreae, the only person to have claimed the authorship of a Rosicrucian tract, quickly distanced himself from the movement and affirmed that the whole Rosicrucian affair was a ‘ludibrium’, or a practical joke. It was only in the 1700s that a ‘real’ Rosicrucian order emerged in Germany, that of the Golden and Rosy Cross. It was apparently on their tradition that modern Rosicrucian orders were founded.
7. Proselytism. Despite the avowed secrecy of the Rosicrucian order, the Manifestos issue an open call for learned people to join the organization. This is in line with the writings’ idea of ‘new Reformation’ – we are at the threshold of a new age, they say, in which everything shall be revealed. To hasten the advent of God’s millennium, the Rosicrucians invite everyone to manifest their interest in the Rosicrucian project. Needless to say, there was a strong response to this open call, as many leading European intellectuals rushed to swear their allegiance to Rosicrucianism. Such Rosicrucian defenders included Adam Haselmayr, Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, Thomas Vaughan and others. It is said that Rene Descartes himself, in his youth, traveled to Germany in the hopes of discovering the brothers of the Rosy Cross.
The Rosicrucian movement, as this brief summary suggests, was full of paradoxes. On one hand, it issued an open ‘call to arms’ for the learned of Europe to participate in the renovation of knowledge; on the other, it never answered the letters of support received. The Rosicrucians maintained to be many, but not one was ever found. Their manifestos were written as highly earnest works; however, the only known Rosicrucian writer, Andreae, dismissed them as jokes. No wonder Rosicrucian came to mean many things to many people; from devil worshippers to invisible men, to enlightened, higher plane beings or beings of another world.