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Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803): “Die innere Kirche entstund…”

Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803): “Die innere Kirche entstund…”

by Theodor Harmsen

The Christian theosopher Karl von Eckartshausen was an eminent and influential exponent of early German romanticism. His work in natural philosophy and Christian theosophy was read and discussed by some of the most well-known European writers and poets of his time. In Germany Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottfried Herder (who regarded him as the prophet of ‘Harmonie im Sittlichen und in der Natur’ – harmony in morality and in nature) and especially also Novalis knew his work. In Russia, where his works appeared in translation, he was mentioned in the novels of Nikolai Gogol (Dead Souls) and Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace). Tsar Alexander I was an avid reader of his work. In France, Eckartshausen influenced contemporary mystical thinkers and Böhmist theosophers such as Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (‘le Philosophe Inconnu’) (1743-1803) and members of various Martinist circles.

With regard to Naturphilosophie, the Christian kabbalah and Christian theosophy, corresponding themes may be discovered between his work and that of his friends, the Christian theosophers and philosophers Franz von Baader (1765-1841) and Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817). Works by Eckartshausen were translated in several languages and published especially in France and Russia, as part of a strongly revived interest in these countries in Hermetic philosophy and Christian kabbalah. In Russia, this revival was stimulated through the book production in the masonic and Rosicrucian circles of Nikolai Novikov and Ivan Vladimirovitch Lopuchin (1756-1816). Only much later (towards the end of the 19th century), English translations of Eckartshausen’s works began to appear. Through the exertions of Arthur Edward Waite, the mysticism of both Eckartshausen and Lopuchin received more public attention in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Eckartshausen lived and worked in the south of Germany, straddling the cultural divide between the German Aufklärung (Enlightenment) and the early Romantic period. He defended his own kind of religious philosophy against the new rationalism and materialism of what he considered the wrong sort of Enlightenment. Strongly involved in the social and legal developments in his society, he foresaw and warned against the political and religious unrest in the era of the French Revolution (1789-1801). He joined Adam Weishaupt’s masonic order of the Illuminaten (Illuminates) but withdrew his membership soon after discovering that this order only recognized enlightenment through human reason (‘Man cannot enlighten: the truth enlightens…’). His works have always confronted the turbulent political, social and religious reality of his times and thus caught the early romantic Zeitgeist. This holds true for his early legal studies, the didactic, political and polemic works (Über Religion, Freydenkerey und Aufklärung, 1785-86), the theatrical plays, the sentimental and romantic-theosophical narratives (Kostis Reise), and the later religious, theosophical and spiritual works from Aufschlüsse zur Magie onwards.

Eckartshausen did not always mention his sources (but see nrs. 9a-b). However, his esoteric thinking unmistakably contains elements from the writings of Paracelsus, the theosophy of Jacob Böhme, the Christian kabbalah (e.g. in Zahlenlehre der Natur, 1794, possibly through Welling’s influential Opus mago-cabbalisticum), the Hermetic Gnosis and from spiritual alchemy (e.g. the posthumously published Katechismus der höheren Chemie zum Beweis der Analogie der Wahrheiten der Natur mit den Wahrheiten des Glaubens).

Antoine Faivre, who devoted his PhD thesis to Eckartshausen, has recognized a number of themes and motives in his work. First, Faivre distinguishes the principle of analogy or correspondence. This Hermetic principle allowed new insights attained by modern natural science to be interpreted as so many confirmations of long-existing theosophical intuitions. Another motive appearing in the major texts by both Ivan Lopuchin and Eckartshausen is the concept of the Inner Church. Here Faivre sees Lopuchin’s indebtedness to Eckartshausen, but the influence may have been less pronounced or may have been mutual (for this point, see also Danilov’s study of Lopuchin). The outer church and its many changing appearances and doctrinal differences were neither denied nor dismissed – in fact an interdependence of outer and inner church was recognized, but the spiritual meaning of the mystical inner room was given special emphasis. Ideas about the relations between man and the divine and between creation and the mortality of nature were formed on the basis of especially gnostic and theosophical insights. Eckartshausen further valued nature and the principle of regeneration, which made a union with God a possibility. Influences of alchemy (the three principles mercury, sulphur and salt), Pythagorean number symbolism (arithmology or arithmosophy), and the Christian and magical kabbalah directed his religious-philosophical as well as his scientific search.

According to Eckartshausen, philosophy without religion would lead to freethinking; religion without philosophy to Schwärmerei and superstition. In Die Wolke über dem Heiligtum (The cloud upon the sanctuary) Eckartshausen expressed it as follows: ‘Alles was die äussere Kirche an Symbolen, Zeremonien und Ritualen besitzt, ist Buchstabe, von dem der Geist und die Wahrheit in der inneren Kirche liegt’ (‘Everything the outer Church possesses by way of symbols, ceremonies and rituals, is Letter, the spirit and truth of which lies in the inner Church’). He also discovered the outer and inner qualities in language and letters and developed his own aphoristic writing style without too many structural elements or any clear progression of thoughts and ideas. Still, this outwardly formless style, according to some, was most apposite in order to call forth his inner ideas and the coherence of his mystical insights.

Select bibliography:

Andrej V. Danilov, Iwan Lopuchin. Erneuerer der russischen Freimaurerei. Seine Lehre von der inneren Kirche als eigenständiger Beitrag zum Lehrgebäude der freimaurerischen Mystik, Dettelbach 2000
Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. W.J. Hanegraaff, 2 vols, Leiden 2005, for entries on Baader (Arthur Versluis), Eckartshausen (Jacques Fabry), Lopuchin (Antoine Faivre), Saint-Martin (Arthur McCalla).
Raffaela Faggionato, ‘Un’ utopia rosacrociana. Massoneria, rosacrocianesimo e illuminismo nella Russia settecentesca: il circolo di N.I. Novikov’, in: Archivio di storia della cultura, 10 (1997), pp.11-276
Antoine Faivre, Eckartshausen et la théosophie chrétienne, Paris 1969
Hans Grassl, Aufbruch zur Romantik. Bayerns Beitrag zur deutschen Geistesgeschichte 1765-1785, München 1968, pp. 319-335
Edward Burton Penny, ed. Theosophic correspondence between Louis Claude de Saint-Martin and Kirchberger, Baron de Liebistorf, Pasadena, Ca 1949
Arthur Edward Waite, “Introduction” to 3rd edition of English translation The Cloud upon the Sanctuary by Isabelle de Steiger, 1909 (first ed. of tr. 1896)
Arthur Edward Waite, “Introduction” to I.V. Lopuchin, Some characteristics of the interior church, tr. D.H.S. Nicholson; ed. Waite, 1912

A. Context


1585 Pietro Bongo, Mysticae Numerorum Significationis Liber, Bergamo

Eckartshausen published a number of books on the title-pages of which he presented the number fifteen (‘15’) as the pseudonymous author’s name. When asked about his motivation he answered that in order to clarify this mystery, the reader would do well to turn to a book by Pietro Bongo (Petrus Bongus), a study that attempted to unite Pythagorean number mysticism and the Jewish kabbalah with Christianity. Bongo made significant use of John Dee’s works. In fact, both these authors worked in the tradition of the Christian kabbalah that took off in the Renaissance with the Hebrew studies of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Johann Reuchlin. Pico and Reuchlin had already connected Pythagorean number symbolism and kabbalist letter mysticism. The number fifteen had an important mystical, kabbalistic and apparently also personal significance for Eckartshausen (see nr. 17).


1730 Jacob Böhme, Aurora, oder Morgenröthe im Aufgang, das ist: Die Wurzel oder Mutter der Philosophiae Astrologiae und Theologiae, aus rechtem Grunde, oder Beschreibung der Natur, [Leiden]

Eckartshausen, as many of his contemporaries, worked in the tradition of Jacob Böhme’s Christian theosophy. Böhme’s ideas about the cosmos, the divine and nature were expounded already in his first published work Aurora (first ed. 1634). There is a certain order in nature, in which forces or powers are at work. In chapter eight the beginning of this pattern in nature is represented by seven Quellgeister (source-spirits, powers, qualities). The sevenfold pattern works on the levels of the macrocosm (nature) and microcosm (man). This dynamic order of powers is a model of divine harmony realized by Geist (spirit). Working out these ideas, Böhme used corresponding astrological, alchemical and kabbalistic elements. According to Antoine Faivre (see nr. 16), Eckartshausen’s Die Zauberkräfte der Natur paid tribute to Böhme.


1782 Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Irrthümer und Wahrheit, oder Rückweiss für die Menschen auf das allgemeine Principium aller Erkenntniss, Breslau [Wroclaw], tr. Matthias Claudius

Saint-Martin in this work offers a philosophy of nature that is also an attack on the secular Aufklärung. Saint-Martin learned about Eckartshausen through his friend Niklaus Anton Kirchberger, who corresponded with both men. There are important affinities between this work and Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum (nr. 15). The Frenchman Saint-Martin discovered the work of Jacob Böhme (at first in the English translation by William Law) in 1788-1790. In 1795 Kirchberger wrote to Saint-Martin that Eckartshausen much admired the theosopher Böhme. Kirchberger also had to admit that for him Eckartshausen remained an enigma. Still he kept Saint-Martin informed about Eckartshausen’s activities and he regularly sent his friend the new (also French-language) publications.

It is very well possible that Eckartshausen read this well-known work by Saint-Martin (Des erreurs et de la vérité, 1775) in the German translation by the poet and journalist Matthias Claudius (1740-1815). Claudius moved in masonic circles in Hamburg, where he was a member of the lodge “Zu den drei Rosen”. In 1785 the first part of the Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer appeared in nearby Altona. This German translation was also included in the anonymous Rosicrucian bibliography (entry nr. 179) added to a new edition of the Missiv an die hocherleuchtete Brüderschaft des Ordens des Goldenen und Rosenkreutzes, Leipzig 1783.


1784 Georg von Welling Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum, Frankfurt and Leipzig (reprint of later ed.)

This work by Georg von Welling about the magic kabbalah and theosophy was of great importance to the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer, a movement of Rosicrucians and Freemasons which flourished at the time. Motives and symbols from Welling’s work also appear in the Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer (Secret symbols of the Rosicrucians) published in Altona from 1785. Considering his writings, Eckartshausen will have shared more of his ideas with the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer than with the rival order of the Illuminaten. He was critical about the Geheimbünde (secret societies) that organized themselves in ever increasing numbers of lodges but he shared with the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer their focus on Christian kabbalah and spiritual alchemy. Like Welling (e.g. ch. 1: ‘Vom Ursprung des gemeinen Saltzes’), Eckartshausen used the concept Aesch-maim, fiery water, the principle of the unification of contraries. This concept also occurs in the Geheime Figuren.


1785 [Christian von Haugwitz] Hirten-Brief an die wahren und ächten Freymäurer alten Systems, Leipzig 5785 [=1785]

This work originated in circles of Freemasons and Gold- und Rosenkreuzer and, according to Antoine Faivre (Dictionary of Gnosis), inspired the Russian mystic Ivan Lopuchin to write his work about the Inner Church (nr. 6a-b), a theme that is also prominent in Eckartshausen. In 1784 Lopuchin joined the Russian branch of the order of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. He was an active publisher of Russian translations of Hermetic and mystical works and to this end also set up his own free printing press. A large part of the Hirten-Brief (pastoral letter) is devoted to natural philosophy or natural mysticism and is related to the thought of Jacob Böhme: here, too, there is mention of the seven ‘Naturgeister’ (nature spirits) and the seven ‘Grundkräfte der Natur’ (powers of nature). The inner world is here related to ‘die Welt der Gnade’ (the world of grace), the outer to ‘die Welt der Natur’ (the natural world) (p. 220).

6 a-b

1798 Ivan Lopuchin, Some characteristics of the interior church, ed. A.E. Waite, London 1912; and Russian edition, St. Petersburg 1801

The theosophy of the mason and Rosicrucian Ivan Lopuchin was inspired by the thought of Johann Arndt, Böhme, Eckartshausen, and Saint-Martin. Lopuchin in his turn also influenced Eckartshausen (especially in Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum), who read this most well-known work by the Russian theosopher in French translation (1793) and afterwards also corresponded with him about it (Eckartshausen had also meant to translate the work into German). The first Russian edition appeared in 1798. Eckartshausen’s Inner Church referred to the divine in man and also to the Christian theosophy that is manifest in the world, especially outside the churches. Lopuchin saw the Inner Church as a means also to give a place to his masonic insights within the Outer Church. Both Lopuchin and Eckartshausen remained members of the established churches, respectively the Russian-Orthodox and the Catholic Church. For Franz von Baader (nr. 7) the inner and outer churches were inextricably bound up with each other (see ‘über die sichtbare und unsichtbare Kirche’, in Sämtliche Werke VII, 211-222).


1851-1860 Franz von Baader, Sämtliche Werke, vol. 2, pp. 194-5, Leipzig

Franz von Baader (1765-1841) is regarded as one of the most important Christian theosophers of the beginning of the nineteenth century. His work in the tradition of the Christian theosophy of Jacob Böhme en Louis-Claude Saint-Martin touches on all disciplines of science, religion and philosophy. Many points of agreement can be found in Eckartshausen’s Naturphilosophie. In 1798 appeared Baader’s über das Pythagoräische Quadrat in der Natur, oder die vier Weltgegenden. In the same year Eckartshausen, equally interested in the workings of nature, published Die neuesten Entdeckungen über Licht, Wärme und Feuer. Baader’s idea of the holy “UrtetraktysÓ can be compared to the symbolism of the Tetragrammaton in Jewish and Christian Kabbalah. Eckartshausen also used the kabbalist symbol of the holy number 4 as a unifying principle.

B. A selection of works by Karl von Eckartshausen


1785 Über Religion, Freydenkerey und Aufklärung, Munich

On 5 April 1785 Eckartshausen gave an important lecture (‘Über die litterarische Intoleranz unsers Jahrhunderts’) to the Bayerische Akademie in Munich about the intolerance of exactly those movements that appealed to the defence of tolerance. This work incorporates the lecture and is directed against the order of the Illuminaten and the work of Friedrich Nicolai, which, according to Eckartshausen, supported the wrong sort of enlightenment, a philosophy without religion. For Eckartshausen, freethinking presented a danger to the people, the state and the church. He pleaded instead for a kind of romantic middle way based on what he saw as the true religious philosophy, a way between the rationalism, liberalism, and materialism of his time and religious restoration through universal love, themes he also worked out in Die Wolke über dem Heiligtum.

9 a-b 

1788-1792 Aufschlüsse zur Magie aus geprüften Erfahrungen über verborgene philosophische Wissenschaften und verdeckte Geheimnisse der Natur, 4 vols., Munich

In this first wide-ranging esoteric study, Eckartshausen shows his elaborate knowledge of the Hermetica, Naturphilosophie, Kabbalah and magic. Though, generally, few references to sources can be found in this work, the first volume does contain a bibliographical part (pp. 389-409) and the second volume presents a chronology beginning with Hermes Trismegistus, ‘König von Aegypten’ (king of Egypt), placed before Moses under the year 1996 B.C.; many names from the Hermetic tradition are included in this chronological survey. In this volume Eckartshausen again writes against the Illuminaten. The text ‘Entdeckte Ruinen von Salomons Haus als ein Beytrag zur Geschichte der mystischen Gesellschaften’ is critical about secret masonic societies (pp. 196-228). Eckartshausen is especially concerned here about those societies that lead away from the true and the good. ‘Die Geheimnisse Mosis, der in aller Weisheit der Aegyptier unterrichtet war, kamen nur auf wenige von Israel; von jenen zu den Essäern, von selben zu den Christen; da blühten sie einsweilen unter dem Schatten einer Rose, die aber der Sturm entblätterte. Sie sind daher nur das Antheil weniger mehr, die im Wahren und Guten leben’ (Of the secrets of Moses, who was raised in the wisdom of the Egyptians, only few were passed on to Israel; from them to the Essenes, from the same to the Christians; there they once bloomed in the shade of a rose, which the storm un-leaved. Therefore only few share in them, who live in the true and the good.) (p. 227). Cf. Saint-Martin, Irrthümer und Wahrheit (nr. 3)

10 a-b

1791 Gott ist die reinste Liebe, Munich; 1791 Mistische Nächte, oder der Schlüssel zu den Geheimnissen des Wunderbaren, Munich

This popular Catholic prayer-book was reprinted often and appeared in several languages (an early Dutch translation Ð God is de reinste liefde Ð appeared in Groningen in 1808). Around this time, Eckartshausen got to know the theosopher Niklaus Anton Kirchberger (a friend of Saint-Martin) with whom he conducted a correspondence in subsequent years (1793-1797) and who, like Eckartshausen, published polemical tracts against the revolutionary, anti-monarchist and anti-religious movements of his time. They also held similar views on Christian and Böhmist theosophy. Mistische Nächte was valued less in Russia because Eckartshausen criticized some gnostic and neoplatonic ideas in the chapter called Neunte Nacht.


1794 Zahlenlehre der Natur, oder: Die Natur zählt und spricht; Was sind ihre Zahlen? Was sind ihre Worte? Ein Schlüssel zu den Hieroglyphen der Natur, Leipzig

Eckartshausen (already in Aufschlüsse zur Magie, vol. IV) and his contemporaries, including his friends Kirchberger, Baader and Saint-Martin, were interested in what they termed arithmology or arithmosophy, a symbolic metaphysics of numbers that originated in the Jewish Kabbalah and in the thought of Pythagoras but was developed further (perhaps also via Böhme and Welling) in the Christian Kabbalah and Naturphilosophie (Eckartshausen identified the 10 numbers of nature with the 10 sephirot) to arrive at new harmonizing insights about the relations (analogies) between God, nature and man. With the principle of the tetraktys (tetra = four; the Pythagorean symbol of harmony and order in the cosmos) natural phenomena and the life of man could be explained. The principle was also used by Baader.


1795 Kostis Reise von Morgen gegen Mittag. Eine Reisebeschreibung aus den Zeiten der Mysterien, mit wichtigen Bruchstücken der Wahrheit belegt, und anwendbar für die Gegenwart und die Zukunft, Donauwörth

Eckartshausen’s theosophically orientated initiation story of Kosti’s journey shows similarities with his friend Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling’s (1740-1817) roman à clef: Das Heimweh (1794). The parable can be compared to an earlier fictional work by Eckartshausen, which appeared in the year of the French Revolution: Der Tiger von Bengalen. Ein Buch mit vielen Wahrheiten, Munich 1789. The context of this fable is the social and political crisis of the time. Kostis Reise, a kind of purifying journey between white and black magic, also defends old values against the unrest of the times and anticipates a religious and political crisis.


1796 Die wichtigsten Hieroglyphen fürs Menschen-Herz, Leipzig

This work already prepared Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum because here we find the characterization of the Outer and the Inner Church, the main theme of the later work. Language and presentation of both works are also similar. A.E. Waite discussed the close thematic relations of three of Eckartshausen’s works, Die wichtigsten Hieroglyphen, Die Wolke, and the Katechismus der höheren Chemie, which appeared in Zauberkräfte der Natur (see nrs. 15, 16). In the latter work Eckartshausen tried to relate the language of nature (alchemy) with the language of Christian faith, an experiment which Waite thought less successful. Yet at the beginning of the nineteenth century, alchemical symbols, even if generally difficult to interpret in practice, were still being used next to other symbols, allegories and correspondences.


1797 Einige Worte aus dem Innersten für die, die noch im Tempel und in den Vorhöfen sind, en: über die Perfektibilität des Menschengeschlechts und die nahe Vollendung der Erwählten. Eine Trostschrift für die Wartenden, Munich

The Dutch Lectorium Rosicrucianum published a number of Eckartshausen’s works in Dutch translation, among them also such very rare works as the 1797 Einige Worte aus dem Innersten für die, die noch im Tempel und in den Vorhöfen sind, together with über die Perfektibilität des Menschengeschlechts und die nahe Vollendung der Erwählten. Eine Trostschrift für Wartenden, Haarlem 1993, 1994; also published were translations of über die Zauberkräfte der Natur (nr. 16); Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum (nr. 15, first ed. 1940; revised ed. 1948); and of über die wichtigsten Mysterien der Religion (nr. 17), which made the spiritual thought of Eckartshausen available to Dutch readers.


1802 Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum, oder Etwas, wovon sich die stolze Philosophie unsers Jahrhunderts nichts träumen lässt, Munich

Die Wolke über dem Heiligthum appeared the year before his death and it remains the work by which we still know Eckartshausen today. Arthur Edward Waite wrote an introduction for a new edition of the English translation by Isabel de Steiger (first ed. 1896; edition Waite 1909). Waite tries to grasp the essential meaning of the Inner Church, the theme of this work, through his own mystical way of reading Eckartshausen: ‘We must take the key which Eckartshausen himself offers, namely, that there is within all of us a dormant faculty, the awakening of which gives entrance, as it develops, into a new world of consciousness, and this is one of the initial stages of that state which he, in common with all other mystics, terms union with the Divine.’ (A.E. Waite, ‘Introduction’, in: The cloud upon the sanctuary, pp. xiv-xv).


1819 Über die Zauberkräfte der Natur. Eine freie Übersetzung eines egyptischen Manuscripts in coptischer Sprache. Mit einem Anhange eines aus magischen Characteren entzifferten Manuscripts. Ein nachgelassenes Werk, Munich

Published posthumously, this work regards man as microcosm in body, soul and spirit through Hermetic-gnostic, alchemical and kabbalistic insights. According to Faivre this work, also related to Paracelsus’ theory of imagination (imaginatio), formed a tribute to Jacob Böhme and his dynamic view of the godhead (Faivre, Introduction to Dutch edition, pp. xii-xiii; and nrs. 2, 14). Themes such as creation, the fall of the first Adam, the possible perfectibility of nature and of man (microcosm-macrocosm) are expounded in a series of reflections. At the same time Christian religion and the figure of Christ remained central in Eckartshausen’s thought. Added to this work was the alchemical Katechismus der höheren Chemie zum Beweis der Analogie der Wahrheiten der Natur mit den Wahrheiten des Glaubens (see nr. 13)


1823 Über die wichtigsten Mysterien der Religion, Munich

In the chapter entitled ‘Mysterium Crucis in Natura rerum’ Eckartshausen through his arithmosophical way of thinking relates the figure 15 to the sign of the cross. In this work more kabbalistic motives have been applied, a practice possibly influenced by the Christian and magical kabbalah of Georg von Welling (see nr. 4), and beyond Welling of Jacob Böhme. The work contains shorter texts on themes developed in Eckartshausen’s published works.