In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom by Franz Hartmann.

Hartmann In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom

This short book is an early work (ca. 1890) by the physician who went on to serve as a Secretary General of the German Theosophical Society and a founding member of Ordo Templi Orientis. The “temple of wisdom” at issue is the Temple of the Rosy Cross, understood by Hartmann as the body of hidden chiefs or secret adepts, after the manner of Eckartshausen’s Cloud Upon the Sanctuary. Hartmann is generally contemptuous of modern Rosicrucianisms, writing for instance (in unfriendly allusion to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn): 

“The true brothers of the Golden and Rosy Cross were and still are a spiritual society, and therefore the effort made [during the Middle Ages] of finding a real and living, indisputably true Rosicrucian, were as unavailing as was at a more recent period the effort made by a certain London society of proving the existence of real and living Adepts.” (36)

After some introductory perambulation, the opening chapters address the esoteric tradition in antiquity and the Middle Ages through such exponents as Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Malchus Porphyrius, Iamblichus, Proclus, Hierocles, and Cornelius Agrippa. Then Hartmann discusses legends of adepts and alchemists from the late medieval and early modern periods, progressing to the Rosicrucian “Orders” (his scare quotes) stemming from the manifestos of the 17th century, and this latter chapter culminates with a useful bibliography of the Early Modern “Rosicrucian Controversy.” 

Chapter Six was for me the highlight of the book, supplying an overview of the 18th-century competition between Rosicrucians and Illuminati. In Hartmann’s telling, the Rosicrucian orders of the period are obscurantist “impostors and fools,” while the Illuminati pursued a virtuous bid for rationality and freedom. This short account was possibly the most useful reference on its historical topic until the publication of McIntosh’s Rose Cross and the Age of Reason more than a century later in 1992.

The final two chapters reproduce historical Rosicrucian, alchemical, and Hermetic materials with Hartmann’s commentaries to them. He says in his foreword that these “will be incomprehensible to the would-be wise; while those who are unsophisticated will find therein a great deal of wisdom” (6), but such “unsophisticated” readers will still find it useful to be able to read Latin and to recognize biblical allusions and traditional metaphors.

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