Pansophia

Pansophia [pan-sophia] means “all-wisdom”, or, “all-encompassing wisdom”. Although there have been instances to try to define Pansophia, historically it’s a subject that has remained elusive and not very well known. The name, like that of the Rosicrucians, itself may harbor a mystery of its own. Although receiving less attention than Rosicrucianism, Pansophia and RC are nonetheless intrinsically entwined spiritually, intellectually, and historically. Whereas Rosicrucianism comes out of the movement behind the Rosicrucian manifestoes of the early 17th century—with its own particular symbolism behind the elements of the Rose and Cross—the first swirlings of Pansophia came about in the interaction of the scholastic and humanist environments of the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods.

To the mystic philosopher of earlier antiquity, the term “pansophia” might not have meant much, yet to the Renaissance humanist mage, it would likely have held greater meaning. It might be said that Pansophia first appeared as an attempt to outline a “universal wisdom” comprised of various realms of wisdom, including that of divine emanation (which we might refer to as theosophy), the interaction between spirits and humankind (anthroposophy), as well as the natural world (naturosophy). In the classical world, these “sophias” (or wisdoms) would have comprised various aspects of philosophy—prescribing a way of living in the world through the knowledge of ontology, metaphysics, ethics, and natural science. Pansophia later became an encyclopedic attempt at compiling all known knowledge, while for others, it became an entire cosmological model in its own right. Working beyond the mere scope of knowledge, however, one might detect here the spiritual dimension alluded to by Pansophia. For this, one might also consider the difference between the meanings of the words knowledge and wisdom, with the former suggesting understanding gained through facts, information, and skills, and the latter suggesting good action developed through experience, knowledge, and judgment; one more theoretical and the other more practical and involved with being in the world.

The unique appearance of Pansophia varied from the ancient philosophies in terms of two key factors. One is determined by the particular historical and cultural influences under which it appeared. The other is by the attempt of synthesis under which Pansophia became defined. In the late medieval and Renaissance periods in the Latin-speaking world, with the so-called “recoveries” of certain ancient texts, traditions that had previously experienced centuries of relatively isolated development had the opportunity to become reacquainted with their common roots in the ancient world.

In the classical world, the subjects of mysticism, science, and philosophy were not only seen as parts of an overarching approach to living in the cosmos. For centuries, philosophers from various schools discussed and developed their ideas in step with mystic and spiritual life. With the eventual outgrowth of competing religious trends, however, these subjects tended to drift apart. As political authorities discovered power in controlling social groups through dominant religious narratives, faith started to find prominence over the subjects of nature, science, or even ethics. The socio-religious world, we could say, had become more prevalent than the philosophical world. Instead of a world where individuals might find their place in the cosmos, instead, they were given ready-made doctrines that addressed everyone as “one size fits all”, all to be accepted wholesale and at face value.

Inadvertently, or even blatantly, such obstinant religious dogmas stripped away their own mysteries and obscured the path for their members, in some cases even leading them to incorrect worship, obliterating the message of their own inner connection to the divine. Over centuries, their varying religious adherences and isolated development made these religions more and more alien to one another. At their cores, however, they maintained common components. Such foundations include the teachings of Plato, the Stoics, Aristotle, Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, or even the Egyptian mysteries. Such ideas passed into the theologies of Philo of Alexandria, Valentinus, Zosimos of Panopolis, Origen, Augustine, Origen, Psuedo- Dionysius, Boethius, al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes, and so on. By the time we reach the Medieval period, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are each operating with familiar influences that could be recognized by theologians taking the time to look at each comprehensively, even if their common roots lay distant in the past.

What transpires next is a story that is seen to repeat itself in esoteric history. In the medieval period, the kingdom of Christendom experienced a rift as communication between the Eastern and Western Christian empires eroded in during a period known as the Great Schism. As a result of this schism, certain works of antiquity known to the East became lost and unknown to the Western, Latin-speaking world. The West continued on its own, losing connection with its roots, and becoming more restritive and dogmatic in its outlook. Nearing the 12th and 13th centuries, however, the religious climate of the West was about to experience some important developments. Magical texts like the Picatrix, the Sworn Book of Honorius, and the Sefer Raziel Ha-Malakh came to light, as did other texts such as the Hermetic Asclepius and the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. Waves of Aristotelian-influenced text by Averroes and Avicenna from Arabic lands enticed scholastic thinkers and manuscript illuminists with their familiar, yet seemingly unique doctrines. Next, following the first full translations of Aristotle’s writings into Latin (ie. the Corpus Aristotelicum), their influence in Europe caused a great deal of new religious, philosophical, and mystical thought. Significant Christian theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas were greatly influenced by Aristotelian philosophy as evidenced in his Summa Theologica, a work that would remain influential for several generations.

What was to come out of this climate of Scholastic Aristotelianism was an impulse towards empirical and natural philosophy which contrasted the rigid, religious dogmatism prevalent at the time. Aristotle’s physics, metaphysics, and psychology through deductive analysis added vitality and a missing component to the Medieval climate—a connection with the observable, physical world. This impetus eventually led to the development of the scientific method. It was also during this time that the trivium and quadrivium emerge: a curriculum of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry. These formed the eventual foundation of the liberal (ie “freeing”) arts. Combined with the expansion of universities that took place across the European continent in the ensuing centuries, the basis of Scholastic education was established.

If one were to consider Aristotle as revealing an exclusive tendency towards logical thought or analytic method, the result was quite the contrary. Following his works’ introduction, many mystic streams of thought emerged being influenced by it. Alchemy especially bore an influence from it at this time, with figures like Ramon Lull, Roger Bacon, and Albert the Great among those eager to study him and his commentators like Averroes and Avicenna. They sought further concern with the “natural sciences” involving the heavens, the earth, principles of generation and corruption, as well as the examination of meteors and the mineral, animal, and vegetable kingdoms. Other medieval mystics, like the proto-Kabbalist Maimonedes, closely studied Aristotle and Aristotle’s commentators as well. His student Abulafia developed a system of practical mystical exercises at least partially based on Aristotle’s principle of ‘active imagination’; since called ‘ecstatic Kabbalah’. The Aristotelian influence in some sense broke dogmatic Christianity from its restrictive bonds and revealed a path of mysticism.

A few centuries later, however, with the settled establishment of Scholasticism and its appropriation to support Christian theology, it too became rigid and dogmatic (becoming a familiar story by now!). With the arrival of the Renaissance, scholasticism and Aristotelianism started to become viewed as limiting and cold. After the Papal Schism of the late 14th century, followed by an effort to mend the rift between the Eastern and Western churches, the idea of reconnecting the Latin, Roman world with the perennial roots of classical origins became a highly valued pursuit, as did the study of classical languages. Then came the fall of Constantinople, with many citizens from the East—including many Greeks—arriving in the Western, Latin-speaking world, bringing with them many classical works. In Florence, Marsilio Ficino translated several of these into Latin: Plato, Hermes Trismegistus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Plotinus. He made them available to Latin speakers for the first time. This work helped usher in a new era of humanist thought, one which contrasted that of the Scholastic institutions. The pendulum, in other words, was now swinging in the other direction.

The study and pursuit of Platonism and Hermeticism became codified with everything considered to be new and forward-thinking in the Renaissance, as did Aristotle in the late medieval period. Many previous adherents of Aristotelianism were now openly rejecting it, citing its deficiency and limitations in the areas of mystic thought. Plato and Hermes Trismegistus, of course, appeared more mystic and transcendent, whereas Aristotle was too involved with rational science. Plato and Hermes pointed to higher worlds, gave rise to explanations of complete cosmologies and even devotional or mystical practices. All of this was true, yet perhaps unaware, many thinkers of the Renaissance inadvertently began reinforcing a duality of rational vs. spiritual, or philosophy vs. religion. Often, such a divide did not exist in the classical period. In cased in fact, they were seen as participating in the same world, with the spiritual and rational considered as being aspects of the same faculty.

Yet, as we have already seen through the mystics influenced by Aristotle earlier, the perceived opposition between the philosophical/rational vs. the spiritual/esoteric is not so cut and dry, but perhaps more a matter of familiarity with content—one which could perhaps be best described as a marriage between spirit, soul and the physical world/body. Some thinkers took the direction of trying to reconcile these issues. Francesco Patrizi, for example, developed a philosophy that favored Platonism, Hermeticism, and Chaldean mysticism, which was still quite influenced by Aristotle (albeit still heavily criticizing the latter, as many did at the time). This can be seen in his work Nova de universis philosophia, where his universal vision of philosophy sought a reconciliation of natural law and spiritual metaphysics, combining elements familiar to the Renaissance mystic mind. John Amos Comenius— influenced by Patrizzi—expanded on it in his own writings such as Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. He added to the subject a social, utopian element of pedagogy, one involved with elevating the souls of humanity. Comenius was also a major advocate of Pansophia, and so an important figure for us today. He is also important in his connection with Johannes Valentine Andrea—one of the authors of the Rosicrucian Manifestos.

Where this all leads is to explain how Pansophia becomes a way not just of seeing divisions between worlds or disciplines, but a unified approach towards spirituality, philosophy, and the natural world. Here, one element or aspect of the cosmos is not pitted against the other as we see them to co-exist in harmony. In Pansophia, we seek a holistic wisdom involving the inner, outer, and infinite worlds with mysteries spanning from the micro to the macro. These we see as unifying the physical, psychic, and spiritual worlds. Like the symbol of the Rose and Cross, however, Pansophia also alludes to other mysteries beyond just philosophy, pedagogy, or social movement. It is a way to approach a non-dualistic reality wherein the divine permeates through every substance and discipline with the potential of awakening and enlivening the soul and spirit, as well as realizing the spiritualization of the physical world.

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