(1743 - 1803)
To the English reader, whose knowledge of French is poor, access to information on St Martin is not easy. Details of his life and work are often ignored by the Masonic reference books, and other material can be difficult to find.
St Martin was born of a noble but poor family at Amboise in the French province of Touraine on 18 January 1743. Amboise lies on the south bank of the river Loire some 25 km east of Tours. Its chateau had formerly been a favourite of the French monarchs. In 1560 it was the site of a rebellion by young aristocrats against the Catholic house of Guise: the plot failed, and the conspirators were ruthlessly put down. Thereafter, the chateau was often used as a prison: its days as a royal residence being over.
St Martin's mother died within a few days of his birth, and he was brought up by his stepmother, to whom he became very attached. He was educated at the well-known College at Pontlevoy (Pontlevoi) some 25 km from Amboise from where he was sent to study jurisprudence at Orleans. But though he qualified as a King's Advocate of the High Court of Tours, he was little interested in the Law, and he besought his father to take him from the legal profession.
The estate at Chanteloup some 3 km from Amboise belonged to the Duc de Choiseul
who was a friend of the family, and it was he who in 1766 obtained St Martin
a lieutenant's commission in the regiment of Foix, then based at Bordeaux.
It was a strange calling, since St Martin on his own admission was incapable
of anything at all strenuous; he dared not risk exposure, or even travelling
in bad weather.
But at this time, France was enjoying a period of peace - there was little danger of St Martin leading the soldier's life ! - and he was left to pursue his other interests, particularly religion and philosophy.
Martines de Pasqually (1727 - 74)
Commentators have identified three major influences upon St Martin's life and thought. The first of these arrived at Bordeaux in the spring of 1767 in the person of Don Martines de Pasqually (Pasquales or Pasqualez).
Pasqually was either a Spanish Catholic or a Portuguese Jew - opinions differ.
Born in Grenoble in 1727, he was an initiate of the Rose Cross, a disciple
of Emmanuel Swedenborg, and Grand Sovereign of the Order of the Elect Kohens.
Through this he is said to have taught a type of mysticism drawn from cabalistic
sources, and to have attempted to base thereon a secret cult with magical
or theurgical rites.
St Martin was admitted to Pasqually's Order in mid-late 1768, and became very active in the cause: such that in 1771 he gave up his military career entirely to devote himself to the work, - writing to other members of the Order and travelling to Paris and Lyons on the Order's business. St Martin's time with Pasqually, however, was very short, for early in 1772 his teacher was called on family business to St Domingo, in Haiti, where he died in 1774 without returning to France. He was only 47 years old.
The new head of the Order was Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a merchant in Lyons and a very active Mason. From 1771 until 1790 St Martin maintained a correspon-dence with Willermoz largely on ritualistic matters.
Left to his own devices, St Martin began to tour the salons of the aristocracy teaching his brand of mysticism, where he became much admired. His influence increased even more when he began to write and publish his thinking. He used the pseudonym of 'The Unknown Philosopher': no books appeared under his own name during his lifetime.
His first book Of Errors and of Truth was published in 1774 - 75. This was followed in 1778 by a sequel Natural Table of the Correspondences between God, Man and the Universe. In the first book, St Martin develops his spiritual and natural philosophy, which he then applies to Governments, Sovereigns and the Law. In the second book he explains and develops his arguments further, exploring Man as an emanation from God.
St Martin's time was also spent in travelling; to Paris, Lyons and - perhaps - to Russia: and in 1787 he came to London, where he met with the work of William Law (1686-1721). Indeed Law, the Northamp-tonshire clergyman, is seen by some as the St Martin of England, largely because of the writings of his later years which adopt a form of mysticism within the Christian tradition, and might therefore have been calculated to appeal to St Martin's way of thinking.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 - 1772)
A year later, 1788, St Martin was living at Strasbourg; and it was here that he met the Chevalier de Silferhielm, a nephew of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and through him was introduced to Swedenborg's writings.
In the first part of his career, Swedenborg wrote extensively on scientific subjects; - largely metallurgy - and on physiology and anatomy. But in 1743 - the year of St Martin's birth - he found himself called to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, and he began writing on spiritual matters.
His view was that the infinite, indivisible power and life within all Creation was God. He maintained the absolute unity of God in essence and in being: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost represented a trinity of the essential qualities of God - love, wisdom and activity. This Divine Trinity is reproduced in humans in the form of the soul, the body and the mind.
The time of Swedenborg's influence on St Martin covers the years 1787 - 91 during which St Martin was very productive: during this period he completed the book The Man of Aspiration and wrote The New Man and Ecce Homo. Although, this last book largely belongs to the third period of St Martin's works, even though it was written before The New Man.
Jacob Böhme (1575 - 1624)
The third great influence on St Martin was the German mystic Jacob Böhme (Boehme). Waite argues that St Martin was introduced to Böhme's writings during the period from 1788 when he was staying at Strasbourg. If this is the case then Böhme and Sweden-borg were both exerting an influence on the emerging St Martin.
Böhme conceived of the correlation of two triads of forces; each triad consisting of a Thesis, and Antithesis, and a Synthesis. The two triads were connected by an important link. The original triad contains the hidden life of the Godhead - attraction, diffusion and their joint resultant - the agony of the unmanifested Godhead. The transition is made and by an act of Divine Will the Spirit comes to Light; and immediately the manifested life appears in the second triad of Love and Expression - and their joint resultant, Visible Variety. The soul, body and spirit are explained as the action of contraries and their resultant; so also is explained good, evil and freewill.
It is interesting to note that William Law was also much influenced by Böhme, whose works he had come across in 1734. Could it be that it was Law who posthumously influenced St Martin, and that this influence was something that St Martin took back with him from England? Certainly, whilst St Martin credited Pasqually with introducing him to the higher truths, it was to Böhme that he owed his most important progress in developing an understanding of them.
In France, the years during which St Martin was writing were dangerous: a looming crisis of state finances was exacerbated by poor harvests in the 1770's and '80's. These led to social unrest, and the weakening and eventual collapse of the monarchy and the old institutions. The French Revolution, with its later Reign of Terror, ran from 1789 until Napoleon's 'coup d'état' in 1799. It was at the very time when the freedoms of thought and expression were severely constrained that St Martin was writing and publishing his thinking.
The summer of 1791 saw St Martin recalled to Amboise where his father was
seriously ill. And until February 1793 when his father died, St Martin was
either at Amboise or in Paris. St Martin's back-ground and his aristocratic
acquaintances meant that his own life was often in danger: a number of his
aristocratic acquaintances were executed. And St Martin himself came under
suspicion, but his making of gifts of money to the soldiers of the Republic
seems to have saved him.
It was in 1792 that St Martin began a period of letter writing to the Swiss Baron Kirchberger de Liebistorf. This theosophic correspondence lasted for five years, until Kirchberger's death in 1797. The letters were published after St Martin's death, and extracts have been translated into English.
St Martin was in Paris on 10 August 1793 when the Tuileries Palace was overrun and Louis XVI was taken prisoner. He was in no doubts about the seriousness of the situation at that time.
In 1794 a decree was issued exiling the nobility from Paris, and St Martin was forced to return to Amboise, where he was employed in cataloguing the books and manuscripts which had been taken from the houses and monasteries of the district. Waite conjectures that it was his experiences during these years which caused St Martin to produce his Letter to a Friend on the French Revolution and its sequel Elucidation of Human Association. These two works rehearse St Martin's view that all governments should be theocratic, in which God raises up men of ability who regard themselves as 'divine commis-sioners' to lead the people; together, the two works extend part of his first book Of Errors and Truth.
St Martin's freedom to visit Paris was soon restored, partly as a result of his work for his local community, and he was frequently in that city. But he seems to have been conscious of his approaching death; and his literary efforts were hastened. In 1800 he published two volumes of essays entitled The Spirit of Things. And a translation of Jacob Böhme's Aurora Breaking. In 1802 he produced The Ministry of Man and Spirit which was an attempt to bring together the approaches of Martines de Pasqually and Jacob Böhme; and a translation of Böhme's Three Principles.
But now his health was failing. In October 1803 he retired to a friend's country residence at Aunay, near Paris. And after only a few days' stay, on 13 October 1803, he died - three months short of his 61st birthday.£
Teaching of St Martin
St Martin's ideal society was that of a theocracy in which God chose the leaders who would guide the people. All ecclesias-tical organisation would disappear and be replaced by a spiritual Christianity, based on Moral Sense - a faculty superior to reason and from which we derive a knowledge of God.
God exists as an external personality, and the creation is an overflowing of Divine Love which was unable to contain itself.
The human soul, the human intellect or spirit, the spirit of the universe, and the elements of matter are the four stages in this emanation; Man being the immediate reflection of God; and Nature in turn a reflection of Man. Man however, has fallen from his high estate; and matter is one of the consequences of his fall. But Divine Love, united with humanity in Christ will bring about the final regeneration.
It is a pity that St Martin's works are so difficult to obtain in English: a modern commentator argues that St Martin is "the most important esotericist of his time, whose influence, directly and indirectly, has never ceased to spread." It behoves those of us with an interest in esotericism to explore further the writings of this man.