A Selection of Letters Between

Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and Kirchberger, Baron de Liebistorf

Translated by E. Burton Penny, (Exeter: William Roberts, 1863)

Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was born of a noble, if not wealthy family at Amboise in the French province of Touraine on 18 January 1743. Saint-Martin’s mother died soon after his birth. He was educated at the well-known College at Pontlevoi, after which he was sent to study jurisprudence at Orleans. But Saint-Martin was not interested in the Law, and in 1766 Saint-Martin took a lieutenant’s commission in the regiment of Foix, then based at Bordeaux. His primary interests remained spiritual, and during this period, he became connected with Martines de Pasqually (1727 - 74), founder of a theurgic order of which Saint-Martin became an active member. Later, Saint-Martin was to move on to the theosophic path of the German mystic Jacob Böhme (1575-1624), whose influence shows throughout Saint-Martin's subsequent writings.

The French Revolution, including the chaos and violence of its Reign of Terror, ran from 1789 until Napoleon’s ‘coup d’état’ in 1799. In the midst of this confusion, Saint-Martin was writing and publishing his most profound works under the name of “The Unknown Philosopher.” Saint-Martin’s aristocratic background and friends meant that his own life was often in danger, and some of his aristocratic acquaintances were executed. Saint-Martin himself came under suspicion, but he managed to avoid the fate of many others. It was in 1792, during all of this confusion, that Saint-Martin began corresponding with the Swiss Baron Kirchberger de Liebistorf. This theosophic correspondence lasted for five years, until Kirchberger’s death in 1797. The letters were published after Saint-Martin’s death, and extracts have been translated into English, some of which are available here. In 1800 he published two volumes of essays entitled The Spirit of Things, as well as a translation of Jacob Böhme’s Aurora. 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 his health was failing, and in October 1803 he retired to a friend’s country residence at Aunay, near Paris. After only a few days’ stay, on 13 October 1803, he died.

Saint-Martin's work remains among the classics of all of the theosophic tradition, and these letters between him and Kirchberger reveal his warm and serene nature even amid social chaos, as well as his great friendship with Kirchberger, and his profound understanding of Christian theosophy. Here, we should note that the word "theosophy" has nothing whatever to do with the "Theosophical Society" of Madame Blavatsky, but represents a specific current of Christian spiritual practice and speculative philosophy that begins with Jacob Böhme, and that includes such remarkable figures as John Pordage, Johann Gichtel, Franz von Baader, and many others. For more information on the theosophic tradition as a whole, see Wisdom's Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: SUNY, 1999) and Wisdom's Book: The Sophia Anthology, by Arthur Versluis.

The following are selections of the letters between Saint-Martin and Kirchberger, chosen to highlight themes, like spiritual mathematics and Sophianic spirituality, that are often overlooked.

Selection I

Selection II

For the Full Text of Saint-Martin's Theosophic Correspondence, click here