1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saint-Martin, Louis Claude de
SAINT-MARTIN, LOUIS CLAUDE DE (1743-1803), French philosopher, known as “ le philosophe inconnu,” the name under which his works were published, was born at Amboise of a poor but noble family, on the 18th of January 1743. By his father's desire he tried first law and then the army as a profession. While in garrison at Bordeaux he came under the influence of Martinez de Pasquales, usually called a Portuguese Jew (although later research has made it probable that he was a Spanish Catholic), who taught a species of mysticism drawn from cabbalistic sources, and endeavoured to found thereon a secret cult with magical or theurgical rites. In 1771 Saint-Martin left the army to become a preacher of mysticism. His conversational powers made him welcome in Parisian salons, but his zeal led him to England, where he made the acquaintance of William Law (q.v.), the English mystic, to Italy and to Switzerland, as well as to the chief towns of France. At Strassburg in 1788 he met Charlotte de Boecklin, who initiated him into the writings of Jacob Boehme, and inspired in his breast a semi-romantic attachment. His later years were devoted almost entirely to the composition of his chief works and to the translation of those of Boehme. Although he was not subjected to any persecution in consequence of his opinions, his property was confiscated after the Revolution because of his social position. He was brought up a strict Catholic, and always remained attached to the church, although his first work, Of Errors and Truth, was placed upon the Index. He died at Aunay, near Paris, on the 23rd of October 1803.
His chief works are—Lettre à un ami sur la Révolution Française; Éclair sur l’association humaine; De l’esprit des choses; Ministère de l’homme-esprit. Other treatises appeared in his Œuvres posthumes (1807). Saint-Martin regarded the French Revolution as a sermon in action, if not indeed a miniature of the last judgment. His ideal society was “a natural and spiritual theocracy,” in which God would raise up men of mark and endowment, who would regard themselves strictly as “divine commissioners" to guide the people. All ecclesiastical organization was to disappear, giving place to a purely spiritual Christianity, based on the assertion of a faculty superior to the reason—moral sense, from which we derive knowledge of God. God exists as an eternal personality, and the creation is an overflowing of the divine love, which was unable to contain itself. The human soul, the human intellect or spirit, the spirit of the universe, and the elements or matter are the four stages of this divine emanation, man being the immediate reflection of God, and nature in turn a reflection of man. Man, however, has fallen from his high estate, and matter is one of the consequences of his fall. But divine love, united to humanity in Christ, will work the final regeneration.
See J. B. Gence, Notice biographique (1824); L. I. Moreau, Le Philosophe inconnu (1850); E. M. Caro, Essai sur la vie et la doctrine de Saint-Martin (1852); Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, x. 190; A. J. Matter, Saint-Martin, le philosophe inconnu (1862); A. Franck, La Philosophie mystique en France à la fin du dix-huitième siècle (1866); A. E. Waite, The Life of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1901). There are English translations of The Ministry of Man the Spirit (1864) and of Select Correspondence (1863) by E. B. Penny.