Robert Fludd was born at Milgate House, in the parish of Bearsted and county of Kent, in the year 1574. His father was Sir Thomas Fludd who served Queen Elizabeth for many years and received his Knighthood for his services as War Treasurer in the Netherlands.
Little is known concerning the early life of Robert Fludd. At the age of seventeen, he entered St. John’s College, Oxford and graduated B.A. and M.A. between the years 1596-1598. Although the spirit of the College St. John the Baptist was in the direction of a variety of knowledge, it still remained a center for theological studies. His years at St. John made a great impression upon him, and he remained “at all times a faithful and attached friend and member of the Church of England.” (Craven, 22)
Fludd was more conservative than other Paracelsians of this time, and yet he had enough of his own radical philosophies to raise the eyebrows of his more conservative contemporaries. These interests may have developed during his six year journey throughout Europe following his graduation.
Upon graduation, Fludd decided to pursue the medical sciences and ventured to the Continent to further his studies as a roaming scholar. It was during these six years of study as a medical student that he became quite proficient in chemistry, an interest that led him into Paracelsian medical circles. He also developed a great interest in Rosicrucian philosophy and later was to become one of the Movement’s most ardent supporters.
After his travels through Europe, Fludd returned to Oxford and by 1605, he had earned his degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine. However, it was not until 1609 that he was finally admitted a Fellow of good standing, for a number of reasons. Although the application of Paracelsian chemicals into medicine was receiving less opposition by the Fellows of the College, Fludd’s esoteric and mystical speculations were still under suspicion. Further, they found him arrogant and offensive. (Debus, 2)
However, after a series of unpleasant encounters, he was finally admitted to the London College of Physicians. He then established a practice in London. Fludd was successful enough to employ his own apothecary and maintain his own laboratory to prepare his chemical remedies, as well as carry on his alchemical experiments. The success of his practice was due not only to his skills, but to what has been attributed to his mystical approach, and to what has been described as a magnetic personality and “…his influence on the minds of his patients, producing a ‘faith-natural,’ which aided the ‘well-working’ of his drugs.” (Craven, 29)
Further, in addition to established methods of diagnosis, Fludd also used a patient’s horoscope for such a purpose, as well as to anticipate critical days.
In spite of his busy medical practice, Fludd also found time to write, and as a writer, became associated with the school of medical mystics who claimed to be in possession of the Key to Universal Sciences. His interest in the Rosicrucians continued and it is said that he became, during this time, an influential member of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross.
Significantly, in this early part of the Seventeenth Century, a great stir was created in Germany, and soon to spread across all of Europe, by the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes: the Fama Fraternitatus and the Confessio Fraternitatus. These manifestoes were a call to the educated to unite in a scientific and spiritual reform of Europe. Through knowledge, humanity would be able to experience and understand the Divine in nature, the difference between the material and the spiritual, and their relationship with God. The learned to whom these Manifestoes were addressed included in their ranks students of alchemy, the cabala and mysticism. It is no wonder then that many who responded to the Manifestoes were of the medical and alchemical mind and almost all, such as Fludd, were involved in the Paracelsian tradition.
Part of the controversy surrounding the Manifestoes is based upon the fact they were written anonymously, and those who responded to the Manifestoes through the publication of letters and pamphlets did not necessarily receive official responses.
“In the library of Gottingen there is a body of letters addressed to the imaginary Order of ‘Father Rosy-Cross, from 1614-1617, by persons offering themselves as members.’ Other persons published small pamphlets on the subject, and even impostors appeared professing to be Rosicrucians, ‘and deceived many.’ No printed letters received printed answers. What answers, if any, were given privately, of course, cannot be known. A secret society will act secretly. No one could tell the result.” (Craven, 39)
Another Paracelsian physician at this time and friend to Robert Fludd was Michael Maier. He explained this secrecy in his work entitled “Silentium Post Clamores,” by maintaining that since ancient times, colleges existed to perpetuate studies in medicine and science and that such knowledge for its own protection was secretly passed from generation to generation through a system of initiation. He felt this system was somehow tied in with the writers of the “Fama” though not necessarily directly connected. It was this aspect of secrecy that invited so many different responses to the Manifestoes, some in support and others attacking them as fraudulent.
Maier is important in the life of Fludd for several reasons. One, he was dedicated to the religious and spiritual aspects of alchemy as Fludd was, and he is credited with introducing the Order of the Rose Cross into England. It is also alleged that he initiated his friend, Robert Fludd, into the order. Both writers were published by the same publishing concern, DeBry in Oppenheim, and both writers used the same engraver. They apparently were of great influence to each other in their respective works concerning the spiritual revitalization of science and medicine as well as in their relationship to the Rosicrucians.
Robert Fludd greatly admired and was in sympathy to the ideals and intent expressed in the manifestoes. He wrote several works to express this admiration, and thus became known as a Rosicrucian Apologist.
We will now quote directly from Craven’s book.
“Fludd’s apology for the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross was first issued in 1616, being printed in Leyden. It ‘entitles him to be regarded as the high priest of their mysteries.’ It is said that Maier visited Fludd in London in 1615, and the result of his visit was, we know, the publication of his ‘Apologia,’ written in Latin, and published in Leyden in 1616…
….It is believed that the ‘Apologia’ was issued at the request of Maier, and probably he took or sent to Leyden the MS. Fludd’s studies in mysticism had now continued for several years. ‘Since about the year 1600 he had begun to study the Cabala, magic, astrology and alchemy, as is proved by his ‘Historia Utirusque Cosmi.’ Oppenheim, 1617, folio…
….The title of Fludd’s first work is, Apologia Commendiaria Fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce Suspicionis et Infamiae Maculis Aspersam Veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens et abstergens.Leyde 1616….
….The ‘Apologia’ is in three parts…The different chapters have quotations or mottoes taken from the ‘Confessio.’ The contents of the work are the germs of Fludd’s subsequent writings. These develop his purpose in the ‘Apologia’ to be ‘to protect the purity and innocence of the society and to wipe off the spots of shame smeared over the Brethren, as with a stream of pure wisdom.’…
…at page 195, the author [Fludd] addresses the Brethren of the Rosy Cross. He refers to their promise to bring happiness to those who have been reduced to misery by the fall of Adam. He honours them because they serve Christ with pure and upright hearts. He asks pardon of the Brotherhood if, through his ignorance, he has made any error or mistake in his ‘Apologia.’ He adds, ‘he wished nothing more or better than to be only the lowest associate in your order, that he might satisfy the inquisitive ears of men by a trustworthy spreading of your renown.’ He then states shortly who he is. ‘I am,’ he says, ‘of a distinguished noble race. My spouse is called ‘desire of wisdom'; my children are the fruits produced by it…I have experienced and fortunately overcome the stormy sea, the steep mountains, the slippery vallies, ignorance on land, and the coarseness of the towns; the haughtiness and pride of the citizens, avarice, faithlessness, ignorance, foulness, almost all human inconveniences…I have found that almost everywhere vanity rules and triumphs. All seems to be self-assertive misery and vanity itself.’ He then bids the brethren farewell, in all kindness and affection.” (Craven, 42-45)
Robert Fludd’s intense religious devotion and mystic quest caused him to be perpetually concerned with the creation myth as comprehended by man. In 1617, he published two works dealing with the subject.
The first was Tractatus Theologo-Philosophicus. It concerns Life, Death and Resurrection and is essentially a mystical and alchemical account of creation combined with his Mosaical philosophy. As a retelling of Genesis, it describes creation, the garden, Adam and the Fall. It begins with the premise that God, the Word and Light are the origin of the universal life, and the Devil, the origin of death. As an alchemical interpretation, it deals with the separations as a chemical process, or “‘high Chymicall virtue’ that effected ‘the separation of one region from another’…Quite simply, ‘earth is dense water, and water is dense air,…air is nothing else than dense and crass fire.'” (Debus, 12-13)
Divine Light remains a central theme throughout Fludd’s writings and represents the active principle behind creation. He considered Adam to be the divine animal, his mind a palace of light and a perfect work of God. The resurrection represents the return to this state of being, before the Fall.
This work did not receive a great deal of attention or debate. However, its importance to us is that it is dedicated to the Brotherhood of the Rose Cross. In this work, Fludd maintains, says Craven, that “Those who were really sons of God were the light in the Word. Chief among these are the brethren of the Rosy Cross. They have all virtues. Their light is greater than the rising sun. We have, he exclaims ‘Leonem fortissimum solem devorantem.’ They possess the true alchemy.” (Craven, 59)
Fludd ends this work by referring to a passage in the Fama, “descriptive of the heptagonal monument, supposed to be found in the famous vault, ‘which was enlightened with another Sun, which was situated in the upper part in the centre of the building.’ There was found the body of Brother R.C., and the inscription Jesus mihi omnia.” (Craven, 60)
Concepts of Tractatus are continued in his next work. In 1617, Fludd published the first part of his largest work entitled, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica Physica Atque Technica Historia. Overall, the work deals with the history of the Macrocosm from the abyss, the first Light, through the separations and diversities, to the Microcosm of man. It depicts the separation between the lower world of elements from the lower heavenly realm which in turn is separated from the celestial realm beyond the stars. It is based on the concept that all was created from the Light of God, and as the light emanated farther and farther into darkness, the more darkness subdues the light. This, however, is not strictly in a linear sense. The outpouring was both outward and inward. In other words, everything is both a macrocosm and microcosm. As man is a microcosm to the greater cosmos, he is also a macrocosm to the cells of the body, and the cells are a macrocosm to another microcosm until all circles are complete.
In all realms of creation there are beings: angels in the empyrean world; stars, planets and demons in the ethereal, and the elemental world of men, plants and minerals. “All these creatures partake of God’s light in measure according to their place on the hierarchy. But there is one level in particular which, though not at the top of the hierarchy, is nevertheless particularly favoured by God. This is the Sun, which is placed at the crucial midpoint of the chain of being, where spirit and matter are in perfect equity and balance.” (Godwin, 14)
All these beings are within an hierarchical structure and have within them a corresponding degree of light. Or, they are beings who serve the devil with their corresponding degree of darkness. The Sun is a midpoint of these realms and is considered by Fludd to be the Tabernacle of God. When the initiate comprehends the midpoint, he may recognize instantly those who serve the Light and those who serve the dark. However, the infallibility and purity of this recognition is only by the acceptance of the midpoint at the center of their being which reflects the Tabernacle and leads them the embrace of the Alpha and the Omega.
This macrocosmic history is dedicated to God and secondly to King James. Interestingly, his dedication to King James included a defense of the Rosicrucian brotherhood, a ‘Declaratio brevis’, the purpose of which was to defend the society from the suspicions of theologians. Letters of support from French and German associates were attached to the Declaration.
This work was never completed and was supposed to have been in two volumes, the first to contain two treatises, and the second, three. What was completed was not finished until 1624. It appears his views were based on a combination of Scriptural, Hermetic and alchemical authorities. Fludd believed that humankind “…should base their knowledge on revelation as seen in the Holy scripture and in Nature or God’s book of creation. (Debus, 12)
His Mosaical philosophy, as stated, was also tied in with the mystical alchemical interpretations frequent among the Paracelcians of the time. Further, he often refers to Hermes Trismegistus in his works.
“Fludd starts with the hypothesis that ‘all things were completely and ideally in God and of God before they were made; that from God all things did flow and spring, namely, out of a secret and hidden nature to a revealed and manifest condition.'” (Craven, 65)
God formed a thought in His mind which was the structure and form of the Macrocosm and through the power of love, the thought was brought into existence. This bringing forth was through a series of circles. Circumferences and circles are important images throughout the copperplate illustrations of “Historia.”
The title page shows a diagram of the macrocosm and microcosm surrounded by an abundance of clouds. The circle is encompassed by a cord wrapped four times and pulled by a winged creature with hoofs, and on his head is the sandglass, depicting Time. Most of Fludd’s illustrations represent the universe as a series of circles each surrounding the first, much like looking down into a spiral. He borrows from Trismegistus to illustrate the concentric flow, “God is the centre of everything whose circumference is no where to be found.” (Craven, 65)
Fludd also uses other images such as triangles and squares. In the first chapter, he describes nature as “spiritus immenus, ineffabilis”; God, depicted as a triangle, is the artificer of all, and Man, is the image of God. God is also depicted as the Triangle within a circle. Inside the triangle are three inner circles — elemental, ethereal and angelic. “The light triangle of the Trinity represents God, who remains ‘beyond all things,’ entering the black hole of matter. As a result three worlds arise…in the center is the Tetragrammaton…” (Godwin, 52)
The images of the circles and triangle are of interest to us as we recall a triangular altar with three orbs, and that matter manifest according to the triangle and life according to the ideal of the circle.
Fludd then describes the threefold manifestation. The first material of the earth was formless and void, surrounded by darkness. From the chaotic abyss Light rose and order began. That is, order came from Chaos by the light acting upon it, and substance was formed. Light, always a central theme with Fludd, is pure fire. “It is light which gives the angelic world its glory and splendour…God dwells in ‘light inaccessible.’ Thus, ‘the Light is the life of men.'” (Craven, 69)
“The purer part of the elementary substance rose into the upper, the heavenly, and more divine part of the macrocosmos, but the denser remained below. This applies also to angelic existences, and to the nature of man…
..the macrocosm has three ‘regions’…the highest includes the heavens of the Trinity…is formed of perfect light and purest spirit. The middle… is the place of the stars, the state…of lesser light, neither very gross nor very subtle. The lower is itself divided in three parts: the tabernacle, second is the earth, and the middle is the region of water and air. The archetypical world remains in the Divine Mind.” (Craven, 70)
Again, these concepts are illustrated by circular forms depicting the circular progression in the universe, a concept founded in Tractatus in which Fludd described the operation of God’s order through the circumgyration of His threefold Light.
The next book in the Macrocosmic History concerns the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres, or sound created by the movement of the heavenly bodies and which makes the universe one musical instrument. “Earthly music is only the faint ‘tradition of the angelic state, it remains in the mind of man as a dream of, and the sorrow for, the lost paradise.’ The music is ‘produced from the impact upon the paths of the planets, which stand as chords or strings, by the cross travel of the sun from note to note, as from planet to planet.'” (Craven, 72)
Fludd illustrates his point with a diagram of a sphere covered by an instrument with only one chord. The sun is the center of the picture. The different circles represent the issuance of the different notes. To each member of each realm, is assigned a note, Low G for earth up through gg for the highest division of the angelic world.
Later in the Microcosmic History Fludd continues this concept to show that the same Divine Harmony influences the interior of the “anima humana.” The Microcosmic reflection of the Threefold Division, or Holy Trinity, is made complete by the heavenly music of the Divine Essence which illuminates the opaque body and creates a harmony between body and soul and makes it complete.
The next part of the treatise concerns the creatures of the angelic and ethereal worlds. In the angelic world, there are nine “good” daemons* in the hierarchy — Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Princes, Archangels and Angels. The creatures of the Ethereal world are light, stars, planets and spirit. [In Greek mythology, 'Daemons' are any of the secondary divinities ranking between the gods and men.]
Lucifer has his own nine orders with named princes: Beelzebub, Python, Belial, Asmodaeus, Satan, Meririm, Abaddon, Astaroth and Mammon. This implies the concept of correspondences between the lower and upper worlds. In other words, we do not turn our back to an evil earthly life and rise up to purely positive higher realms by a simple act of will. Rather, according to the dominant note within our natural, intelligent and spiritual self, we correspond to the country of which we are citizen. The return to the palace of light is by the mystical process of purification.
Fludd then describes the “Anima Mundi.” As man has a soul, then must the macrocosmos have a soul. “This ‘supreme intelligence’ is of ‘an angelicall nature'; ‘God is all, and in all, and above all, and that in Him are all things, and in His spirit and word all things consist. God is in everything that existeth, seeing that from Him, by Him, and in Him are all things.'” (Craven, 74)
This concept of the “Anima Mundi”, the soul of the world soul, brought Fludd a great deal of criticism and accusations of being a heretic, as we will see later. However, what is interesting about the Plate, The Ptolemaic Universe III which depicts the Anima Mundi is that it is very similar to a description in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelations: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”
The third chapter deals with the origin and diversity of the Macrocosm, and Fludd uses an image that is repeated later. “The sun, Fludd considers, is the centre and fountain of all life, all heat proceeds from it, and there has God placed His tabernacle. It must have a center, and there God dwells. Divine power issues forth from the sun. Thus ‘the heavens declare the glory of God.’ The sun is full of essential divinity, and took its origin when the light, which was expansed over all the heavens in place of the sun, was in the fourth day of creation.” (Craven, 76)
Placing the tabernacle of God in a position that is more spiritual, less material than the earth, yet more material than the outer planets raised a few questions. Fludd compensated this issue by referring to the Sun as a second home, as it were, for God. Later, in defending many of his ideas, he notes in like manner that God works through secondary causes.
An illustration that is referred to as The Central Sun depicts concentric circles of the elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth and in the center is the Sun. “Fludd derived this image from an alchemical experiment which he witnessed performed by a friend, and describes in detail the battle of elements which was reproduced in the vessel. At the end, he says, they extracted from the centre of the mass a ‘solar substance’, a precious gem ‘like Lucifer fallen from heaven.'” (Godwin, 25)
Perhaps this experiment is reflected in Fludd’s alchemical interpretation of Creation. “After the three stages the ‘darkness of the lower region was treble after ye second heavens perfection.’ The resultant chaos therefore contains the three true elements (fire, humidity and earth) and from them proceed the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. This mystical alchemical account of Genesis also explains the major concentric spheres of our world.” (Debus, 39)
The first part of “Historia” ends with treatments of the elemental world, mostly inanimate such as minerals, metals, plants and vegetables.
The second part of “Historia Technica” was published in 1618, a part of which concerns the universal arithmetic in eleven books. In 1619, the “Tomus Secudus” of the “Historia” was issued. It is divided in three tracts. The visual of the title shows a naked youth in the center of a circle and represents the Microcosm.
The work begins with a prayer of gratitude to God for His mercy and kindness, God the incomprehensible creator of man. Fludd calls upon man to worship and praise God, for from God man was imbued by the breath of life. “‘Tu Solus, Tu Ter Maximus, O Jehova.’ He is God, whose ineffable name shall be blessed forever.’ The power of Jehova was one of the deepest realizations of Fludd.” (Craven, 87)
Fludd then looks to the cause of discord in creation. “Although God, in the most Holy Trinity, is the original of concord, the Devil, on the other hand, is the parent of discord. Thus the strife between concord and discord produced between light and darkness. From this discord, introduced into the heavenly music and perfect progression of the spheres, has come the fear of death, the fall of Adam. Hence, bad is taken for good, hence the love of the world and vanity, hence the hatred of God, the Creator.” (Craven, 92)
However, the pure soul can rise and be guided by the rays of wisdom to discern the path of rectitude. “The divine architect who formed the universe, made man equally perfect and complete, the image of His own greatness. The circle of existence was made complete. The circle of existence which formed the worlds, formed man…what perfection the world received, that also did man receive. Heaven and earth have their counterparts in the body and soul of man. As the universe is one, so body and soul are one. Thus man is properly called the image of God–the other world–microcosmos…so man, regularly proportioned, can be bounded by a circle, at the centre of which are the organs of reproduction. Thus, is man the ‘mundus minor.'” (Craven, 93)
As a microcosm, man reflects the Threefold nature of Divinity in terms of reason in the head, feeling in the heart and the means by which they emanate, so that the reason and feeling ultimately form a single unity by virtue of the third power. Further, as the Sun is the Tabernacle of God and mid-region of the macrocosm, so the heart is the Tabernacle of man and his center. Our heart then can become to us our personal and immediate pathway, awareness and realization of God’s presence within us.
The soul of man is united with the Deity and various physical attributes are related to the angelic world. For this reason, “…in contradistinction to the lower creatures, he lifts his head upward…in ascertaining man’s position as microcosm, he is to face the east.” (Craven, 95)
Robert Fludd makes a distinction between what are the mortal and immortal parts of man. As stated, the soul is related to God. Our animal part belongs to nature and returns to the dark regions as dust to dust. The spirit of life, vital spirit, or we would call it, the Vital Life Force, is the central part. “It is etherial, and is connected both with the true mind and the animal spirit. It is that life which is the cause of all the functional aspects of life.” (Craven, 96)
“Know truly, that man is framed and consisteth of flesh and an inward soule, and that either of this two hath his bliss and pleasure a part, for as much as the highest happiness and goodness of the Soul is God himself With the mellifluous influence of his sweetness; but the cheefest solace and pleasure of the flesh is the World With his delightful concupiscences. Againe consider that the World is but an external object, When contrarywise nothing is more internal and present With man then God, being that in him are all things, and againe he is exterior to each thing, in so much as he comprehendeth and is above all things. If God then be all in all, above all, Without all, and that be unity, Why shouldest thou so Wickedly teare and rent that Unity and goodness of God in pieces. (Caluminiatours Vision (Fludd) cited Debus, 76)
In other words, the VLF is the midpoint between Cosmic Consciousness and Christ Consciousness. Cosmic Consciousness being the consciousness of the cosmos, the physical universe, matter and its inherent, underlying energies. Christ Consciousness being the perfected consciousness of the Divine Mind in man. Therefore, the Vital Life Force delivers to man in potentiality all manifestation, both physical and spiritual. It is the part of unity that we seek. The marriage of the bride and bridegroom, the goal of true alchemy.
The concept of the three in unity, whether we look at the three phases of consciousness, three points of the triangle, the threefold light, or Yod He Vau, is a recurring theme with Fludd and is reflected by other mystical writers as well. Philo said that there were three kinds of life: that which concerned God, that which was the creaturely life and the intermediate life which combined the two.
The soul of man, says Fludd, also has a threefold nature: corporal, spiritual and intellectual. Respectively the divisions function in spheres of (1) color and sensations, using perceptive attributes of consciousness, (2) spiritual correspondences and (3) reflection within the mind of the virtues.
The second section of Technica Historia is in seven parts which deal with Prophecy, Geomancy, Memory, the art of casting Nativities, Physiognomy, hand reading and the science of the Pyramid.
Again, Fludd brings in the concept of correspondence in the realm of divination. First, having a gift of prophecy does not necessarily make one a benevolent prophet, and the information received is not necessarily of a positive nature.
The distinction of the law of correspondence in terms of divination is an important one, is timeless, and can be readily related to current popular practices or claims. In other words, someone may claim to be a channel for some entity or spirit, or they may claim to call in the angels. Even if one were to accept that this were true, they would be quite gullible to assume that just because it is a disincarnate entity, it is, therefore, of a benevolent nature.
A prophet of pure heart may be filled with God’s spirit and make known to others the will of God. However, Fludd admonishes, evil spirits also enter into men, but by the power of the devil, and try to foretell events. In other words, if a questionable entity wanted to win the confidence of a would-be prophet, then naturally they would provide a message or vision that proved out. Once this confidence is established, one can only imagine the rest. Fludd seems to believe, maintains Craven, that even before Christian times, each man had a good and bad spirit continually associating with him. Thus, a person’s alignment and motive will have a bearing on messages received. Before a person enters into such a practice, they are advised by Fludd to remove sin and evil from their hearts in order to receive divine light in their soul. “The spirit of lying prophecy cannot stand in the presence of God, but by the light and power of Jehovah is silenced.” (Craven, 104-105)
Otherwise, a person may find themselves speaking with gods they do not know. While some prophets may see clearly the Divine light immediately from God or through angels, there are also false gods who have no mission for God nor angels, but from Lucifer. Twelve laws are given to distinguish true from false prophets. (Craven, 104-105)
The doctrine of correspondence also indicates that on every level of the hierarchy from the mineral upwards there is a reflection of the next highest realm. In other words, minerals such as gold, or plants or herbs will contain within them certain attributes of an archetype that will imbue the person wearing or consuming the element certain corresponding effects which in turn prepares them to exercise a certain art.
A point to remember is that in the time of Fludd, the exercise of certain arts was confined to a relatively small group. The notables of this group were very religious people who were devoted to living a holy life. Their beliefs and motives may have acted as a safeguard against psychic confusion. Even so, Fludd went to a great extent to caution his readers to have a pure heart. It is curious to speculate what Fludd’s advice would be in today’s world where formulas and keys to magical practices are as accessible as a 900 number.
Fludd ends the second tractate with Theosophical and Cabalistic studies. He asks the reader to see in the Hebrew characters the fiery symbols of the sacred Trinity. He explains the ten sephiroths and interprets them as rays emanating from the Sun and acting as a garment of light with which Jehovah covered himself.
The tree of life illustrates his previous treatments of the hierarchal structures and different realms, and once again the Divine Light is an essential theme and the invisible Word of God. “The universal and mystical word, the light uncreated, is exhibited in universal nature by the watery Mem and the igneous Shin. So we are to venerate Jehovah as revealed in the light of the sun, moon and stars; in them, by them existing, and existing beyond all and in all. His power is seen both in macrocosm and microcosm, even in the fire of Gehenna.” (Craven, 127)
Fludd ends this section acknowledging that his efforts may be met with mockery, but they were done in good conscience and patience. He does not seek riches but only desires to peacefully serve God. Fludd was correct in his anticipation that his work would be criticized and with great severity.
A French scientist and author named Marin Mersenne accused Fludd of being a magician, an atheist and heretic. Mersenne in a commentary on Genesis, objected to an alchemical interpretation of creation. While he saw the value in alchemy, he felt it should remain divorced from Theology and left entirely to medicine and science. Further, he did not like the idea of Christ being reduced to the angelic world and even worse, a mere angel. Fludd countered this as a misinterpretation on Mersenne’s part by saying that a single principle manifests in different ways in different realms. Further, that the first light is reflected in the angelic world much like a mirror. Without the first light there would be no reflection, and without the reflection, nothing could be created. Again, the concept of second causes.
Mersenne was also offended by the concept of the Anima Mundi, a criticism we noted earlier. He was quite outraged that, “All souls, whether of men or of brutes, are none other than particles of this same Soul.” (Mersennes Letters, Debus 17)
To be accused of heresy, magic or atheism was a serious matter in Fludd’s day. He must have been surprised at the accusation that he was an atheist. His writings clearly show his belief in God and his religious convictions.
He had always remained faithful to the Church of England. Yet, he was open- minded to other institutions. In fact, he often tutored relatives of the Pope and other Roman Catholic young men. The Bishops of England were among his friends, and King James was his patron. Fludd felt that perhaps Mersenne simply wished him to change religions. Due to the conflicts taking place between religious institutions at this time, this is not very surprising. The fact that Fludd was receptive to different faiths in this climate of opposition, indicates his high level of tolerance and lack of prejudice.
A number of years went by before Fludd answered the charges leveled at him by Mersenne. First, in a book written on Genesis in which he defended his analogy of the Macrocosm and Microcosm as a model of the universe, insisting on the harmony that existed between the two worlds. Further, his view on the angelic world had nothing to do with magic, and cabalistic treatments are not a matter of heresy. Fludd claims his place is in the church catholic apart altogether from Rome. He appeals to the searcher of hearts to examine his very soul and see how false such an accusation is. He offers a prayer addressed to the “Eternal Wisdom, dwelling in light eternal–the spotless mirror of God’s majesty.” (Craven, 133)
In 1629 another piece was published by Fludd called Sophiae Cum Moria Certamen. Affixed to it was a folio, Summum Bonum, written under a pen name, Joachim Frizius. It has been said that Fludd denied authorship of the latter. However, subsequent scholars, including DeBus and Craven, feel that he did write Summum. The title page shows a rose on a cross stem. There are two bees, beehives and a spider’s web across them. This work treats not only the essence of Alchemy, but was also a defense of the Brotherhood of the Rose Cross.
“The Summum Bonum treats of the noble art of magic, the foundation and nature of the Cabala, the essence of veritable alchemy, and the `Causa Fratrum Roseae Crucis.’ It identifies the palace or home of the Rosicrucians with the spiritual house of wisdom…The foundation of the mountain…is declared to be the `Lapis Angularis,’ the corner stone, cut out of the mountain without hands. The stone is Christ. It is the spiritual palace which the Rosicrucians desire to reveal, and is therefore no earthly or material abode.” (Craven, 134)
The author explains the different kinds of magic, the divine and the foolish, and that all magic is not rejected by Christian authors. He points out the wise men who visited the new born Christ were Magi and that secret arts do not offend God. Fludd, or author, concludes with a summation which he addresses to the most Christian readers.
1. That all Christians are said to be living stones, they bear the same name and are the same in significance as S. Peter.
2. That all Christians are stones, members of the great “petra Catholilca,” it follows that no single man, not even S. Peter, can alone be said to be the foundation of the Catholic Church.
3. As Christ lay hidden in the rock of Moses, and as the spiritual body lies hidden in the natural body, so the words of the apostle are true –“The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
4. The true corner stone is Christ.
5. The Incarnation opened the way to the knowledge of the what that corner stone is.
6. Vain, therefore, are all traditions and teachings which would persuade us that Cephas was this foundation.
7. God having willed to tabernacle amongst mortal men, uses the same imagery and confirms its explanation as now given. ‘Listen’ says the prophet, ‘and see the rock from which ye were hewn.'”
True alchemy is then treated. “Our gold is not the gold of the vulgar, but the living gold, the very gold of God…There is a spiritual chemistry, which purges by tears, sublimates by manners and virtues, decorates by sacramental graces, makes even the putrid body and the vile ashes to become living, and makes the soul capable of contemplating the things of heaven and the angelic world. This is the application of spiritual chemistry, by which, through the power of resurrection of I.C.D.N. will confirm unto the end.” (Craven, 137-139)
The writer then takes up the cause of the Brethren of the Rose Cross. The writer states that he had already defended the Brethren in a previous tractate, a reference that leads Craven to conclude that both writers were Robert Fludd. The similarity of the two pieces, Sophia and Summum, put together also suggests the same author.
Fludd maintains that throughout history there has been a continuity of men who turned away from the gross and material in order to dedicate themselves to the spiritual life and investigation into the mysteries. These people have been few in number. “yet a few seek the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God, the hidden manna, the white stone, the white vesture. Their names are written in the book of life and they become pillars in the spiritual temple. These, indeed, inhabit the house of wisdom, which is founded on the mount.” (Craven, 139- 140)
Mersenne had also accused the Rosicrucians of being heretics and blasphemous, and he challenged them to reveal their dwelling place.
To this the writer of Summum Bonum replies the house of the Rosicrucians is the House of the Holy Spirit. It is not a house made of stone, and again, a stone cut without hands. Nor is it a house built by magic or false alchemy, but rather it is a spiritual house…”the house of wisdom, built upon the `rational mount’ or `rock spiritual’…The house constructed by the Brethren, then, is on the spiritual rock, and is built up of the mystical stones of wisdom. It is the mystic castle of Bethlehem –`de quo loquitor Evangelista Christus erat de castella Bethlehem’…
..an elect nation, who shall reign as kings and priests–called from darkness to light–who were once not a people, but are now the people of God. These are they ‘that have put off the mortal clothing and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God, now are they crowned and receive palms’…they are called the sons of God, the elect of God, prophets and friends of God…the ‘fraternitas Christiana.'” (Craven, 142)
It is this type of reference that added to the debate of whether or not the Brotherhood was visible or invisible. In anticipation of this, the author wants to reassure the reader of the actual existence of the Brotherhood and appends a letter supposedly written by an actual member of the Order to an initiate. “It was `written and sent by ye Brethren of R.C. to a certain Germaine, a coppy whereof Dr. Fludd obtained of a Polander of Dantziche, his friend.’…the immoveable palace of the brethren is declared to be the centre of all things–it is `the resplendent and invisible castle which is built upon the mountaine of the Lord, out of whose root goeth forth a fountaine of living waters, and a river of love.’ The letter is signed `F.T.F., in Light and C.'” (Craven, 147)
Other writers published charges against Fludd in addition to Mersenne. Like Mersenne, they objected to an alchemical interpretation of the Bible, the notion that Christ was reduced to a mere angel, and Fludd’s concept of the “Anima Mundi” caused some discomfort as well. The problem arises when one tries to interpret a mystical analysis in a literal way.
Fludd explains to his critics that alchemy is a part of natural philosophy. It is the division of the pure from the impure, light from darkness, sin and vice from goodness and virtue. True alchemy seeks to comprehend the Creation and spirit of life and serves as a key to understanding both. In terms of the Creation, the separation of light and dark was set into motion by the eternal Fiat.
There are places in Fludd’s writings that could indicate a leaning toward a Pantheistic point of view. Some writers have argued that he concluded that God is identical to matter. For example, Fludd held that all things were of God before they were made. From the blaze of power, life vibrates from the center to the circumference. However, he also explained this as being a thought. He felt that all things owe their existence to God. But that does not necessarily conclude the God owes His existence to all created things. In other words, physical matter, through the theory of emanation, may be a manifestation of God, but is by no means the whole of God. Craven maintains that Fludd would have answered this debate by saying all things of full of God, as opposed to all things are God. Fludd is clear when he says “God is all, and in all, and above all…”
If we look at his concepts in terms of our First Degree, for example, we get a perspective of Fludd’s three circles within the triangle that explains both concepts. In other words, if Fludd’s critics were alive today, they might object to our saying that there is a vibrating spirit in matter that holds it together. They might look at us as saying that is the entirety of God. We, however, know that indicates one aspect of a triune expression, or to use Fludd’s visuals, reflects only one of the three circles.
His critics were also unhappy over Fludd’s concepts of the angelic world and again felt he placed Christ in this realm. However, Fludd clearly illustrates a hierarchal structure and even though daemons — Seraphim, Cherubim, etc,– watch over a planetary structure, they are not necessarily the same as the Divine or Absolute principle. To be sure, Fludd maintained a soul of the world. This soul was the cornerstone of the universal “petra” upon which the church was built, the philosopher’s stone, signified by Christ both Divine and human, the corner stone having its effect in both the macrocosm and microcosm. This hardly reduces Christ to the celestial realm.
Further, Fludd believed that Christ was part of the Infinite Godhead. The realm of God has no beginning and no end. The temporal world has a beginning and an end. And the angelic world has a beginning, but no end. Therefore, by Fludd’s own divisions, he could not have reduced Christ to the angelic realm.
However, images Fludd used such as the previously mentioned, “venerate Jevovah in the moon and stars…” probably led his critics to this conclusion. They took him literally and not metaphorically. Again the image of Divine light is a central theme. Fire represents the first cause. Therefore, a physical manifestation such as a fiery star would represent to Fludd a metaphor for the Divine principles of fire and light.
Fludd felt that God worked in the world through second causes and his depiction of their realms led his critics to believe that he equated the second causes as being identical with the first Cause.
Craven quotes Hargrave Jennings from his book The Rosicrucians where he interprets Fludd’s ideas on this subject. “The Rosicrucians [through Fludd] declare in accordance with the Mosaic account of creation, — which they maintain, is in no instance to be taken literally, but metaphorically, — that two original principles, in the beginning, proceeded from the Divine Father. These are Light and Darkness, –or form or idea, and matter or plasticity. Matter, downwards, becomes fivefold, as it works its forms, according to the various operations of the first informing light…This produced the being (or thought) to whom, or to which creation was disclosed. This is properly the `Son.’ or Second Ineffable Person of the Divine Trinity.” (Craven, 159- 160)
Robert Fludd wrote scientific, medical and alchemical books in addition to his philosophical writings. He was consumed by his work and this feverish pitch may have contributed to his death, the cause of which is not known. He knew he was in a weakened state and that his time was soon to come. He methodically arranged his affairs and had prepared a special stone for his grave. He died September 8, 1637 and was buried in Bearsted Church. On the slab of the stone floor is the inscription:
In Jesu qui mihi omnia in vita morte resurgam Under this stone resteth the body of Robert Fludd of Phisick who changed this transitory life for an imortallthe VIII day of September A.D. MDCXXXVII being LXIII years of age, whose monument is erected in this chancell according to the forme by him prescribed
Even though Robert Fludd was devoted to the church of his baptism and was a religious person, he was also very independent from exoteric religion and recognized wisdom from a variety of sources. He embraced his church rather than reject it. Yet he transcended the theological concerns of the day by incorporating many different points of view.
In keeping with the continuous images he used of expanding and concentric circles, Fludd sought an expanded and inclusive view of the greater world. He wished to see the spiritual world directly through metaphor, personally through ascension and intellectually, through science. He was a medical doctor and a Paracelsian. Yet he incorporated new alchemical ideas into his traditional and chosen profession, rather than try to destroy a tradition of which he was a part. We might even describe him as a Rosicrucian one who lived by Evolution, not by Revolution.
As a writer and thinker, Fludd was unique. He lived in a time to see a separation in the world of medicine and the world of philosophy. His medical art may have seemed of the old way as he depended upon astrology, and his religious views were founded to a great extent in geocentric theories. Yet, he had his feet on two platforms: one from the old and one facing towards a future. Fludd lived in a time where there was a great crack in the cosmic egg, new light poured into the minds of men, the old warred for the status quo, the new warred to bring in change. Fludd stood at the center of his being, at the center of his beliefs and in the center of his dedication to the truth in healing and the truth to knowledge. He sought only to serve God and His creation.
He saw God in all things. “The intensity of reverence which saw the hand of God in everything, and His sacred presence generating, preserving, and controlling all, in an absolute nearness and actual filling of all in all, was the key to Fludd’s character and writings…His connection with the Rosicrucian controversy arose from the deep respect in which he held his instructor, Michael Maier, and that cast of mind which saw wonders in Nature, which to most were but the outcome of common operation. That a society of the nature of the Rosy Cross existed, and that both Maier and Fludd were initiates, need not, I think, be now doubted by any disinterest students of the history of those wondrous sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What its origin may have been, we shall, I suppose never know with any certainty, though there is some ground for supposing that it was in existence in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Its whole story is one of the most curious episodes in History.” (Craven, 238-239)
Robert Fludd never married and left no heirs. However, as Craven ends his book, “The real successors of a writer like Fludd will be found in those who, assimilating his thoughts, and their results, hand on to others the encouraging hope that a time will come `when all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.'”(Craven, 242)
Rosicrucians can also be said to be his successors, for Robert Fludd left us much. He defended the fraternity by saying the brethren did not seek the vulgar gold,…”but progress in virtue, by sublimation, by tears, by the inhaling of the divine breath of God, thus will the soul be sublimated, rendered subtile, able clearly to contemplate God, be conformed to a likeness with the angels; thus apparently dead, lifeless stones become living and philosophic stones. Such are the opinion and methods of the brethren; such is the alchemy and process referred to in their confession.” (Craven, 149)
To end with final words from Robert Fludd himself: (Debus, 86)
“Farewell my freends let playne simplicity
Be stil your guide to lead you in your race
So shal ye neare approch to Vnity
And euermore obtayne from him his grace
For double dealers, false and treacherous men
Wil quickly be entrapt in Errours den.”
By Sharon M.W.