Louis Claude, Comte de Saint-Martin (January 18, 1743 - October 13, 1803) led a gentle and blameless life in the midst of the holocaust of the French Revolution. He was a true Theosophist and an Adept. His times witnessed human distress, degradation and disintegration to a degree which made many cynical and nihilistic. Saint-Martin calmly drew attention to the 'ministry of man,' his immortal nature and divine destiny, exemplifying in his own life that one can perceive timeless truths in temporal chaos.
Born in Amboise, Touraine, his early life is unknown. Tradition suggests that at about the age of fifteen he met the Comte de Saint Germain who had taken up residence in Chateau Chambord a few miles from Amboise. After studying jurisprudence, Saint-Martin became King's Advocate at the High Court of Tours, but his interest in the roots of human justice outweighed his tolerance of judicial technicality. He appealed to his influential friend, the Duc de Choiseul, to help him gain another post, and in 1766 he became a lieutenant in the Regiment de Foix garrisoned in Bordeaux. Then, in 1767, he met Don Martinez Pasquales, a Rosicrucian, founder of a Masonic order and student of the Kabbalah.
Pasquales founded his order in Paris and established an occult school in Bordeaux called the Order of Elect Cohens, which Saint-Martin joined in 1768. Deeply impressed by the presence of his teacher and by his doctrines, Saint-Martin renounced his military career in 1771. His seriousness of purpose and devotion to his teacher elevated him to the head of the school when Pasquales had to travel to Santo Domingo in the West Indies. Though the school taught the highest ethical principles, its interest in practical occult powers struck Saint-Martin as dangerously premature for the spiritual progress of its members, even though they included the Comte d'Hauterive, Abbe Fournie, Marquise de la Croix and probably Cazotte. Saint-Martin travelled between Bordeaux, Paris and Lyons in an attempt to refound the school on firmer spiritual foundations. When Pasquales died in Port-au-Prince in 1774, Saint-Martin moved to Lyons and established a secret Masonic rite called the "Rectified Rite of Saint-Martin" in an effort to revivify occult Masonry as a bastion against the growing materialism of the Encyclopaedists.
In the same year, Saint-Martin began his first important work, On Errors and the Truth, which was published in 1775 over the pseudonym un philosophe inconnu. None of his writings were to bear his real name until after his death. In this work, Saint-Martin countered Boulanger's thesis that religion arose out of man's primitive fear of natural catastrophies. The truth, Saint-Martin insisted, is that "At the first glance which man directs upon himself, he will perceive without difficulty that there must be a science or evident law for his own nature."
The law of our being is found in the nature and exercise of the human will – the key to the mysteries of both man and nature – for the will itself proves the reality of an active intelligent Cause which is the source of all laws.
The tendency to attend to external phenomena rather than internal nature generates a confusion and derangement of thought in which human aspiration can appear an absurdity amidst a seemingly indifferent universe. Hence evil arises. "Good is for every being the fulness of his proper law, and evil is that which is opposed thereto." Evil can never totally or permanently obscure good, for evil is a derangement which presupposes an ontologically prior order and can at most retard the fulfilment of the law of being. "It is thus evident that no equality of power or antiquity can be ascribed to these two principles." Evil is the disharmony which arises in the human will through attachment to external phenomena. Any good which is understood solely in terms relative to some corresponding evil is not good in its highest sense. The will must be redirected toward a good universally conceived as the harmony and unity of being, and to do this we begin by accepting responsibility for our present condition.
Through a conscious recognition of the unity of all being in the law of the human will, man can come to remember that he entered the world on a high mission which intoxication with phenomena has caused him to forget. Man is "the sole being in the natural order who is not compelled to pursue the same road invariably," and who can restore himself and all nature to a paradisic state.
After travelling in Italy and settling in Versailles, he published his Natural Table of Correspondences Which Exist Between God, Man and the Universe in 1778. It is an extension of his first work, and details the relations and analogies which hold between various levels of being. Through a proper understanding of correlations, the will can elevate man to higher levels of self-conscious unity. The effort must be undertaken in a spirit of renunciation and self-sacrifice. Otherwise we will not cease to be fascinated by the gross relativities which bind us in a fallen state. Correlations can be understood mathematically, though this method is the most difficult because it is the most precise. The fall of man can be found in the movement from 4 to 9. "The proportion of evil to good here below is numerically as 9 to 1, in intensity as 0 to 1, and in duration as 7 to 1." But the Divine is not subject to calculation and is therefore ever unknowable.
After this work appeared, Saint-Martin travelled between Paris (where Mesmer had recently gained great attention) and Lyons, and undertook a mysterious visit to Russia. Though the school of Pasquales had closed in 1778, many of its members helped to found the Paris Philalèthes, a branch of the Loge des Amis Réunis, and both Saint-Martin and Cagliostro were invited to join in 1784. Cagliostro accepted in the hope of purifying the Loge of its phenomenalistic tendencies. Saint-Martin refused because of its psychic interests, though he often met with members whose convictions were primarily spiritual. He joined Cagliostro, Mesmer and Saint Germain at the Wilhelmsbad Masonic Convention of 1782 and the Paris Convention of 1785.
In 1787 he travelled to London, where he met Herschel, Lord Beauchamp and the Russian Prince Galitzin, who was probably a member of Cagliostro's 'Northern School.' He studied William Law's writings on Jacob Boehme and the mystical writings of Jane Lead. With Prince Galitzin, he travelled to Rome where Cagliostro lay in a prison of the Inquisition. There the Prince confided to Fortia d'Urban: "I am really a man only since I have known Saint-Martin."
Saint-Martin took up residence in Strasbourg for three years, learning German in order to study the writings of Boehme in detail. He became friends with the Chevalier de Silferhielm, a nephew of Swedenborg, and took an interest in the seer's works. In 1790 he published The Man of Aspiration, a psalmody of the striving of the soul to reach its parent Spirit. In the following year, he returned to Amboise to attend to his dying father.
In 1792 he published two works, Ecce Homo and The New Man. The former is an instruction against inclinations toward lower marvels such as spiritualistic phenomena. The latter is a discussion of man's innermost principle. "The entire Bible," he wrote, "has man alone for its object, and man is its best and fullest translation." Each man bears within him a Word of which his life should be a manifestation. Each soul is, in a sense, a divine thought, and as one learns to read this thought and to translate it into every thought and act, these capacities become the basis of spiritual renewal and regeneration. The promised New Jerusalem lies in the heart of each man.
Also in 1792, he began his famous theosophic correspondence with Kirchberger, Baron de Liebestorf, Member of the Sovereign Council of the Republic of Berne. Saint-Martin outlined the concerns he had in mind when he published these last three works:
He was in Paris during the bloody fighting of August 10, 1792. "The streets near the house I was in were a field of battle." Nevertheless, Saint-Martin tended the wounded and crossed the battlelines to care for his sister. He witnessed horrors perpetrated in the name of 'Liberté, Égalité', Fraternité,' a motto which he himself had coined, and yet he remained steadfastly optimistic.
Later he was elected a member of the department assembly at Amboise and in the next few years wrote a number of brief tracts interpreting the events of the Revolution in the context of man's moral capacities and spiritual destiny. He held that the legitimate basis of the social order is a theocratic rule which emanates from an awareness of and alignment with the spiritual center of man.
In 1800 he published The Spirit of Things and followed it in 1802 by his masterpiece of philosophical synthesis, The Ministry of the Man-Spirit. He also published some translations of Boehme.
In 1803 he felt his approaching end and told Monsieur Gence: "I am ready. The germs I have endeavoured to sow will fructify." He retired to the residence of Count Lenoir la Roche at Aunay and died quietly on October 13.
Man-Spirit calls man to exercise his spiritual capacities and to develop radically his inner nature. Nature groans under the burden which man has thrust upon it by his own fall from his true place in the scheme of harmonious being. "Say no more that the universe is on its bed of death," for "thou art the tomb thereof." "Inject quickly, by all its channels, the incorruptible elixir; it is for thee to resuscitate it."
To sing within, man must sacrifice the falsely precious elements of himself which are the product of identification with external forms rather than the internal and eternal Centre. To restore the Logos to its rightful position in man, each must realize his own immortality. This realization is possible because we act upon it unconsciously throughout our lives.
The refusal to remove our blindness to our real nature threatens to destroy us. We must come to experience the life-affirming energy at the core of our awareness of death, for this will show us that we need consciously to engage in active spiritual regeneration. "If we feel not our spiritual death, how should we dream of invoking life?" Physical death is only a transition phase which can lead to a greater life:
Our debt to man and nature is paid through self-sacrificing service which is the cultivation of love for all creatures. "As a proof that we are regenerated, we must regenerate everything around us."
Saint-Martin was a lover of humanity because he knew men were better than they seemed to be. However obscured by degrading circumstances, man was the solar centre of the spiritual universe, the pivot of manifested Nature. His sublime gentleness and supreme confidence rested upon his conviction that "God is a fixed paradise; man should be a paradise in motion." And he exemplified the aphorisms which express the movement of the true man: