The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

By Francis Yates

Growing up in a rather rigid and guilt-ridden Calvinist-Protestant culture, the revolutionary spirit of the Reformation always was a mystery to me. Of course, I knew it was a reaction to the abuse of power within the Catholic Church, but the fact that the ideas of Luther and Calvin initially went hand in hand with an open attitude towards all kinds of knowledge, was new to me. 

In The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, historian Francis Yates convincingly demonstrates that, at the beginning of the 17th century, in protestant parts of Europe many hoped that all the knowledge in the world could be brought together to uplift mankind. This was not only about new, ‘scientific knowledge’ that was emerging at the time, for example in the field of mechanics, but also about ancient, hermetic-kabbalistic knowledge. 

Alchemical treatises, a kind of fusion of science and esotericism, and the Rosicrucian Manifestos, which enjoyed great popularity at the time, were, as it were, the pinnacle of this zeitgeist. 

Some Protestant kings associated themselves with this zeitgeist and for a short time seemed to be on the winning hand, due to the cooperation of the English, Dutch and several German courts. But they soon lost out to the Catholic-Habsburg alliance. Many of their libraries were burned, their progressive worldview vanished, and their sense of tolerance made place for the Inquisition again. And, alas, from then on science developed separate from esoteric wisdom, in order to be less suspect in the eyes of the church.