[From the Masonic Review for September, 1885.] By Bro. J. Ralston Skinner (McMillau Lodge, No. 141).
It is said in the article on Hebrew Metrology, in the July number of the Review, that the system embracing it was a language, veiled under the Hebrew text of Scripture, and that “to the extent to which the language was known among the Jews, the learning and teaching thereof was called ‘Cabbalah.’”
It is a fact that so little is known of Cabbalah that its existence has been denied. It has seemed to possess a like property with that of the existence of Prester John, namely, the more and further he was searched for the less he could be found and the more fabulous he became. After the same fashion, as very much was related of wonders connected with Prester John, so the most marvelous things are claimed for Cabbalah. The Cabalistic field is that in which astrologers, necromancers, black and white magicians, fortune tellers, chiromancers, and all the like, revel and make claims to supernaturalism ad nauseam. Claim is also made that it conceals a sublime divine philosophy, which has been attempted to be set forth in a most confused and not understandable way. The Christian, quarrying into its mass of mysticism, claims for it support and authority for that most perplexing of all problems the Holy Trinity, and the portrayed character of Christ. The good, pious, ignorant man picks up Cabbalah at will as a cheap, easy and veritable production, and at once, with the poorest smattering of starved ideas, gives forth to the world, as by authority, a devout jumble of stuff and nonsense. With equal assurance, but more effrontery the knave, in the name of Cabbalah, will sell amulets and charms, tell fortunes, draw horoscopes, and just as readily give specific rules, as in the case of that worthy Dr. Dee, for raising the dead, and actually—the devil.
No wonder then that the whole affair has been discredited and condemned by the rational and the wise. Discovery has yet to be made of what Cabbalah really consists before any weight or authority can be given to the name. On that discovery will rest the question whether the name should be received as related to matters worthy of rational acknowledgment.
The writer claims that such a discovery has been made, and that the same embraces rational science of sober and great worth. He claims that it will serve to clear up and away very much of the mysticism which up to this time has been an unexplainable part of religious systems, —especially the Hebrew or Jewish, and the Christian, —so much so that the supernatural in those systems will have to give place to the rational, to a very great extent. He claims that that sublime science upon which Masonry is based is, in fact, the substance of Cabbalah,— which last is the rational basis of the Hebrew text of Holy writ.
As Cabbalah is inseparably connected with the text of the Scriptures, as an exposition of the inner sense of the same, it is proposed, concisely as possible, to set forth a description of that Hebrew text and the history of the Old Testament, —before the Christian Era, and thereafter to the time of the Reformation. And this is to be done to show that what the Reformation really needed to perfect its great promise, and without which it had to be imperfect and in complete, was the knowledge of Cabbalah as to its real teaching and containment. John Reuchlin did claim at the time that knowledge of the Cabbalah was necessary to a right and full understanding of the Sacred Text. But he saw vaguely, being taught in the same, only in a mystic phraseology which was a blind, and he did not come into possession of solid, rational grounds of the same which he could formulate and impart. For this reason, though he was right in his general assertion, his scheme failed, and his works in this regard, passed away from the common sense world, and have ever since lived only among the mystics and dreamers.
Like all other human productions of the kind, the Hebrew text of the Bible was in characters which could serve as sound signs for syllabic utterance, or for this purpose what are called letters. Now in the first place, these original character signs were also pictures, each one of them; and these pictures of themselves stood for ideas which could be communicated, —much like the original Chinese letters. Gustav Seyffarth shows that the Egyptian hieroglyphics numbered over six hundred picture characters, which embraced the modified use, syllabically, of the original number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The characters of the Hebrew text of the Sacred Scroll were divided into classes, in which the characters of each class were interchangeable; whereby one form might be exchanged for another to carry a modified signification, both by letter, and picture and number. Seyffarth shows the modified form of the very ancient Hebrew alphabet in the old Coptic by this law of inter change of characters. This law of permitted interchange of letters is to be found quite fully set forth in the Hebrew dictionaries, such as Fuerst’s and others. Though recognized and largely set forth it is very perplexing and hard to understand, because we have lost the specific use and power of such interchange. In the second place, these characters stood for numbers —to be used for numbers as we use specific number signs,—though, also, there is very much to prove that the old Hebrews were in possession of the so-called Arabic numerals, as we have them, from the straight line I to the zero character, together making 1+ 9 =10. The order of these number letters run from 1 to 9, then 10 to 90, then 100 and upward. In the third place, it is said, and it seems to be proven, that these characters stood for musical notes; so that for instance, the arrangement of the letters in the first chapter of Genesis, can be rendered musically, or by song. Another law of the Hebrew characters was that only the consonantal signs were characterized, — the vowels were not characterized, but were supplied. If one will try it he will find that a consonant of itself cannot be made vocal without the help of a vowel; therefore it was said that the consonants made the frame work of a word, but to give it life or utterance into the air, so as to impart the thought of the mind, and the feeling of the heart, the vowels had to be supplied.
Thus the dead word of consonants became quickened into life by the breathing in of the Holy Spirit, or the vowels.
This being said then
First: The Holy or Sacred Text was written in consonants only, without any voweling, or signs of vowels.
Second: The letters were written one after the other at equal distances, without any separation whatever of distinct words, and without any punctuations whatever, such as commas, semi colons, colons or periods.
It will be seen at once that a various reading of the text might be had in many places, both by differing arrangements of letters, and by a differing supplying of vowels. A very important difference of reading may be instanced in the first line of Genesis. It is made to be read «B’rashith bara Elohim,» etc., «In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth»; wherein Elohim is a plural nominative to a verb in the third person singular. Nachminedes called attention to the fact that the text might suffer the reading, «B’rash ithbara Elohim,» etc. «In the head (source or beginning) created itself (or developed) Gods, the heavens and the earth,» —really a more grammatical rendering.
What the originally and intended right reading was who can tell? It may be surmised, however, that it was made to subserve a co-ordinating, symmetrical and harmonious working of the characters to unfold and develop their various uses;— as sound signs to frame a narrative, —as numbers to develop geometrical shapes and the numerical enunciations of their elements, comparisons and applications, —as pictures to show forth ideas in some accordance with the story told, and finally, —as musical sounds to give an appropriate song to embrace the whole. The whole compass was to embrace rational proofs, through operations in nature, of the existence of that Divine Contriving Willing Cause which we call God. But be this as it may there was no end of effort for thousands of years, by the best trained and most learned men of the Hebrews and Jews, to give and preserve what had to be decided upon by them as the right reading of the Sacred Text. This reading was certainly perfected as we have it, as early as the time of Ezra; and as to the various readings which offered, the present was perfected as the orthodox one, —or that one to be received by the profane vulgar.
It must be known that it is claimed for the Sacred Scroll, that no letter in it has ever been changed, and that even the marginal readings were part of the original text for a varied use thereof, in perfect accord with the object of its writing. Unlike the Christian Gospels, with the Hebrews and Jews, alike, the original text was sacredly precious as to its every and very letter, and had to be thus preserved. To the contrary of this, the Gospels can be changed in their reading to suit the currently changing ideas of what the same should be. The marks to indicate «right reading» were after the time of Ezra gradually made public, were called Massorah, and finally, edited by Ben Chajim, were published by Bomberg, in Venice, in the fifteenth century.
After this fashion and mode the books of the Old Testament were prepared and read by the Jews long before the time of the Christian era. They were thus accepted at that time; and afterward by the Christian World: —so that, today, we accept the record, as thus prepared by the ancient orthodox Jewish and Hebrew Church.
Whatever may have been the Jewish mode of complete interpretation of these books, the Christian Church has taken them for what they show on their first face, —and that only. As they may be read orally, so is their fullest meaning to be gathered from the oral reading ; and by means of what the sound of the words may convey to the ear the full and complete intendment of meaning is to be had. The Christian Church has never attributed to these books any property beyond this; and herein has existed its great error.
[From the Masonic Review for November, 1885.] THE OABBALAH. By Bro. J. Rautton Skinnek (McMillan Lodge, No. 141).
The present form of the books of the New Testament has come down to this time with little change, certainly from the beginning of the fourth century. How to account for the modes of construction of the manuscripts selected to compose this form is now, and as far back as known was, a problem. Agreeably to the laws of evidence for historical facts the existence of the blessed man, the Savior, Jesus, the Jew, is to be accepted as true; and it is this truth upon which the whole burden of the Gospels and the remaining books of the New Testament is made to rest. The record of His life is the portraiture of the perfect man, the Adam-Cadmon, the Archetypal Man, the express image of God in perfect holiness, our elder brother, friend and helper. Since His time commenced the worldly tradition of the incidents of His life. This must have become widely spread, and through a sufficient length of time to cause those incidents to bear a various narration and a various connection. What appears to be singular with regard to this tradition is that so little, if any trace of it was ever derived as of and from the place of its source, Holy Land, and that its first appearance seems to have been clothed in the garb of the Greek language, perhaps of Alexandria, the seat of so much mystic philosophy. The lack of any trace of origin of tradition in the country about Jerusalem, in the language of that country is as strange as though a series of like occurrences had happened in and about London, of constantly growing popular interest for a space of fifty or one hundred years, the sole evidences of which were to be found only in the French language, with’ not a trace of record in the English.* But be this as it may the books as we now have them show that they are the results of compilations upon compilations, —that the substance thereof embraced the development of a system requiring much
*It was said of Eusebius that the original of the Book of Matthew was writ ten in the Hebrew dialect, and every one translated it as he was able. But there are intrinsic evidences in the book itself that this could not have been the case, which if necessary could be pointed out.
change of circumstances and a considerable lapse of time after the destruction of the Temple. The subject matter being open and plastic there is no certainty as to what extent modification of recital, with even new matter, could have been worked in upon original tradition, during a formative period of from one to two and three hundreds of years when final results were reduced to a fixed and un alterable condition. Critical exegesis of these books touching such matters is very interesting. It is a singular fact that germs for much of the essential part of these books already were contained in the old Grecian theosophy, which in time had been derived from the old Hebrew books,— from whence, again, the New Testament claims its authoritative source The life of the Blessed Savior, human in fact, but Divine in manifestations of character, is an unequalled and unparalleled one in all human annals and experiences, save one, and because so such a life history must have been through all time beyond the range of possible conception to any genius however exalted, or to any learning of human character however great or deep. The exception is this, viz., that His life record seems to be the combination or aggregate in one individual of a great number of fragmentary descriptions to be found throughout the Old Testament; and indeed, from the books Job, the Psalms, and the Prophets, can be drawn material sufficient to almost duplicate His history. The substance of such a life, i. e. the Divine truths taught in it, had to become, through the influence of a Divine source ; and the causative thereof is distinctively to be found set forth in the Hebrew books. The parallels of the Old and New Testaments so abound as to embrace most of the substance of the latter, —and its detail to a large extent. He is styled the second Adam; as Noah went down into the Ark and was delivered there from, and as Jonah went into the belly of the fish and was rescued alive, so He went under the earth and came forth; as Moses the leader of the hosts through the waters and the wilderness was the precursor of Joshua who, only, could enter the promised land, so John the Baptist was in the wilderness the fore-runner of the second Joshua (for this is Jesus’ name); Samson was His prototype as to breaking through the gates of Darkness and entering into the Spring-time life of the resurrection ; and He was claimed in a spiritual sense as sitting by right in the seat and on the throne of His father David, in the restored Paradise of the second Eden. It seems as if the salient features of the whole scope of the Old Testament had been epitomized in Him as a purposed novel mode of their exhibition, and republication in this new dress, for an unaccustomed part of the world.
The lapse of time, after the destruction of the Temple, through which the materials for the books of the New Testament might have undergone change by an insensible progress, or molding transition, to center them about a purposed fixed system,—such a long lapse of time opens these books to the criticisms of the Tubingen school of examination in a number of important regards.
In its teachings the New—may in great part be looked on as a modified form and a development out of the Old Testament. This being said, it is certainly the fact that by the Early Church Fathers the outward form was pronounced to be a garment, or cloak, or veil, for an inward hidden sense, a reading between the lines, having an esoteric meaning and intent. This view on the secular establishment of the Church as an arm of the Government, was suppressed. Thus it appears that as there has been assertion of a Cabbalistic mystic interpretation of the Old—among the Jews, so the Christian Early Fathers made like claim for the New Testament.
After Constantine, when the Church was made, as said, an arm of the Imperial Government, all right of private interpretation of the Sacred Text was taken away, and a fixed mode of reception of the same was enforced by the strong hand of the State or temporal power. The books of the Old Testament as prepared by Jewish learning and care were adopted without question as to right reading. The Church held and enforced as the only acceptable mode of interpretation for the Old and New Testaments, that the visible text orally read conveyed all the meaning, or intent of meaning thereof; and by this the sole value of these books was made by force of Supreme physical authority to consist only in the open letter, —and this state or condition of acceptation and reception continued unquestioned down to the time of the German Re formation.
[From The Masonic Rev1ew for December, 1885.] THE CABBALAH. No. III. By Bro. J. Ralston Skinner, (McMillan Lodge, No. 141.)
THE GERMAN REFORMATION AND JOHN REUCHLIN.
«It is the spirit of some single mind
Makes that of multitudes take one direction,
As roll the waters to the breathing wind,
Or roams the herd beneath the bull’s direction.»
Barham on the Genius of John Reuchlin.
The word «protestant» has reference to sifting evidence, separating true from false or vicious, and protesting against the alliance. This was the office and task of those who set in motion the Reformation in Germany. Systems of religious government have the Bible as their base, because some element of the kind is necessary to fasten with firm, natural, unyielding hold upon the deepest feelings, hopes and aspirations of the human heart, in perfect purity. But this done, then, almost always, this base, in alliance with a subtle, corrupted power, is made to sanction abuses of all sorts against common good, right and sense. Such abuses, especially those that arise out of a cultivated superstition, become enlarged on just in the measure of growth of sottishness and ignorance (by cause of that same superstition) of the population on which they are to be worked, without love, or pity, or limit. By a kind of natural process, such resulting condition reacts upon conspirators, reduces them to like low states; so, the current once set in direction, people, and teachers, and rulers, alike, sink into barbarisms of civil and religious life, more or less open, or more or less subtle, almost beyond recall, or even hope of recall. This was about the situation in Germany prior to 1348, the date of establishment of the first German University at Prague;—after which others were founded in the following order: Vienna, 1365; Heidelburg, 1386; Cologne, 1388; Erfurth, 1392; Leipsic, 1409; Rustuk, 1419; Griefswald, 1456; Freiburg, 1457; Treves, 1472 ; Ingolstadt, 1472 ; and so on. Nor was the situation much different for the better, in the interval from 1455, the date of the birth of John Reuchlin, to 1517, when Luther posted his ninety protesting propositions on the gates of Wittenberg. For it was one thing to learn philosophy as it was then taught (poorly enough) and to treat on it, and entirely another thing to criticise a lame theosophy in any open, public way. «Theology had a certain circle be yond which inquiry dared not stir, for freedom of the teachers was limited by the strong arm of the .Church and her ministers… Theology had long made philosophy her slave, and she was still enchained when the age in which Reuchlin was born and educated vigorously broke through the shackles.» * It was then, as if to day, by supreme punishing power, the great geological epochs were made to be published in all books treating thereon, as limited within the space of six natural days, because the Church so interprets the reading of Genesis. In Germany, as elsewhere, at that time, simple truths of Holy Writ had been, by innocent ignorance and cunning deceit, warped and dressed up in false garbs to suit the purposes of power, playing upon a still lower state of ignorance, and a baser superstition; and, as we all know, the attempts at undressing the monster, so as to expose and set free real truths, —however just and equitable, in themselves, however necessary to advancement of humanity in freedom of individual knowledge, —before long, in partially accomplishing this, had to do it through hells of torment, oceans of blood, and convulsions of the nations. And all in and for the name of Christ! It is said «partially,» because even after the Reformation the work of exposing truth and eliminating error was not by any means accomplished.
The Reformation, which was a result certain to attend the spread of intelligence, sooner or later, was precipitated upon the world not in and by virtue of itself, as a matter of primary investigation into theological questions, but as an incident, an objective point, worked towards by extraneous causes, —political and social, as well as religious. The country, in the masses of its people, which in England are called «yeomanry,» and in this country «farmers» or «planters,» but then, as now, «peasants,» (a caste term for a low-down, degraded class,) was suffering under intolerable oppression of every kind. Little if any care was evinced for this part of community, which, as now, was, at bottom, that producing class on which all others rested for support, but which did not then, as now, in our own
* Much of the substance of this article is taken from Barham’s » Life of Reuchlin,» and Kӧstlin’s «Luther.»
country, make itself felt as the very necessary and almost only intelligent saving bulwark to preserve the purity of government and the liberties of the whole people. This part of community suffered under crying wrongs. The burgher classes, even in the free cities, had little if any representative right in the councils of the nation. They were divided in interests and counsels; and were after all subordinated to the men-at-arms, who lorded it by the strong right hand. The heads of this last class were, the titled nobility, and the ecclesiastics, — removed to an immeasurable distance from the suffering, toiling, human body and heart, which supported them in their high estates. The indications of the extremes to which affairs had reached, were to be found in the «peasant insurrections» repeatedly made during the last half of the fifteenth, and that one arising in the first half of the sixteenth, century, as an outgrowth of the preparing Reformation. «Their grievances were the intolerable and ever growing burdens laid upon them by the lay and clerical magnates, the taxes of all kinds squeezed from them by every ingenious device (very much as with us now), and the feudal service which they were bound to perform.» The grasping, cheating, robbing, strong or crafty hand was, as usual, at last over reaching itself in the convulsive movements of outraged humanity. Like the over strained earth, storm and tempest, and the upheaving earthquake threatened everywhere. Ready to make use of every offering pre text, the occasion of the sale of indulgences to raise means for constructing St. Peter’s, at Rome, by Leo X., was seized upon by intelligent men (especially Luther) to lay bare the jugglery made of things Divine, to humbug, and bamboozle, and oppress in every way. Every incisive blow at miserable false pretence thrilled through the whole people, as a blow does upon a steel bar, as a welcome harbinger of betterment from wrong. That the people at least thought that in Protestantism they had seized on the main solution of their troubles is found from the fact that «Before Protestant ism was fifty years old, in spite of all difficulties, ninety percent, of the population of Germany were protestant.» The Reformation was in a measure prepared for by the teachings of individual men, to some extent known, — but until the time stated, no opportunity had offered for presenting unquestionable truths to an aroused and fired popular hearing. «Individual great men had made immeasurable efforts for the benefit of the coming era of new light, and many teachers, for instance, Huss and Jerome, of Prague, preceded by Conrad Stickna (1309), Johann Miliez (1374), and Math. v. Janon (1394), who, as deeper theologians, had prepared men’s minds, and excited an inclination for better instruction.» But that . . . instruction was new, was surprising, and difficult to realize. So much so, that Luther, as to his experience, wrote Spalatin : «I have hitherto, unconsciously, taught everything that Huss taught, and so did John Staupitz; in short, we are all Hussites without knowing it;» —and long before this, in 1473, John Wessel, who was called » the light of the world,» had made impression as novel as profound upon the youthful mind of John Reuchlin, eager for the newly offered learning, when he said: “The popes may be mistaken. All human satisfactions are a blasphemy against Christ, who has perfectly reconciled and justified mankind. To God alone pertains the power of granting entire absolution. It is not necessary to confess one’s sins to the priests. There is no Purgatory except God himself, who is a consuming fire, purifying from every stain.”
So bound, so stultified were the minds of the ablest men, that they received the plainest and simplest truths of freedom only by great effort, and as a surprise, as a shock, and as a trenchant subversive discovery. It resulted, that, after all, the Reformation involved only a partial clearing up of befogging mysteries;—and such only as lay under the very eyes, upon the upper surface of things.
The great preparation came with the «Revival of Learning» in Germany; which traveled that way from the East, by way of Italy, after the fall of Constantinople. That fine writer, Mrs. Jamieson, says: «The 15th century was a period perhaps the most remarkable in the whole history of mankind, —distinguished by the most extraordinary mental activity, by rapid improvement in the arts of life, by the first steady advance in philosophical inquiry, by the restoration of classical learning, and by two great events of which the results lie almost beyond the reach of calculation, —the invention of the art of printing, and the discovery of America… The fermenting activity of that century found its results in the extraordinary development of human intelligence in the commencement of the 16th century. We often hear in these days of ‘the spirit of the age,’ but in that wonderful age, three mighty spirits were stirring society to its depths: the spirit of bold investigation into truths of all kinds, which led to the Reformation; the spirit of daring ad venture, which led men in search of new worlds, beyond the eastern and western oceans; and the spirit of art through which men soared even to the seventh heaven of invention.»
The revival of art in Italy commenced with Cimabue, in the end of the 13th century, and culminated in the end of the 15th; and with this came the great revival of learning. Leonardo da Vinci was born 1452, John Reuchlin 1455, Michel Angelo 1474, Titian 1477, Albert Durer about the same time, Raphael and Martin Luther 1483, Carreggio 1493. Attendant upon the revival of study of the Hebrew, the Dominican outrages, headed by the grand inquisitor, Hoogstraaten, broke forth in 1509-10. They had their origin 1n the advice of a Christian Jew, John Pfefferkorn, to obtain an edict from the emperor to destroy all Hebrew literature with the exception of the Sacred Books, or Old Testament. These outrages in the prosecution of this most worthy and catholic enterprise, were breasted and overcome by John Reuchlin, but endured with all malice and bitterness till 1515. They prepared for and ushered in the Reformation; —and the Reformation itself, Martin Luther being its chiefest exponent, took place in 1517.
At fourteen years of age Luther was placed at school at Magdeburg, with the «Null» or «Noll» brethren, —laymen and clergy men. These brethren, otherwise called «Humanists,» were the chief originators of the great movement in Germany, at that time, for promoting intellectual culture, and reviving the treasures of ancient «Roman and Greek Literature,» which opened the mind to a contempt for the old Scholasticism, » or the theological and philosophical School Science of the Middle Ages, a system of thought and instruction, embracing, indeed, the highest questions of know ledge and existence but at the same time not venturing to strike into any independent paths, or to deviate an inch from tradition or dogmas or decrees of the Church.» Luther’s mind was from the start made free by the new classical learning. «It was the Greek and Latin poets, in particular, whose writings stirred the enthusiasm and emulation of the students. For refined expression and learned intercourse, the fluent and elegant Latin language was studied, as given in the works of classical writers. But far more important still was the free movement of thought, and the new world of ideas thus opened up. In proportion as these young disciples (Luther being one) of antiquity learned to despise the barbarous Latin and insipidity of the monkish Scholastic education and jargon of the day, they began to revolt against Scholasticism, against the dogmas of faith propounded by the Church, and even against the religious opinions of Christendom in general. History shows us the different paths taken, in this respect, by the Humanists; and we shall come across them in another way, during the career of the Reformer (Luther), as having an important influence on the course of the Re formation.»
John Reuchlin was at the head of the school of the Humanists. Of him it is said, in D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation: «To the triumph of truth it was before all things necessary that the arms with which she was to conquer should be drawn from the arsenals in which they had been laid aside for ages. Those arms were the sacred writings of the Old and New Testaments. It was necessary to revive in Christendom the love and the study of the sacred Greek and Hebrew literature. The man chosen by Providence of God for this task was named John Reuchlin.» Luther’s mind was opened, taught and stimulated toward thoughts, aspirations and gleams of light of freedom, preparing him for his course as reformer, through their teachings, Reuchlin being by him recognized as their head. This he fully acknowledges in a letter to Reuchlin himself, as follows:
LUTHER TO REUCHLIN
«God be with thee, brave man. I give thanks for the mercy of God manifested in thee, in that thou has been able to stop the mouths of the blasphemers. Thou, though unconsciously, wert the instrument of the Divine Counsels, greatly desired by all friends of a purer theology. Thou and thy followers had thought to carry on the matter one way, but God turned it another. I always wished to show myself as one of thine own, but no opportunity presented itself, yet my prayers and my good wishes were ever with thee. What was then denied to me as thy ally, falls abundantly to my share as thy successor, for the fangs of this Behemoth fasten upon me, as if they would wipe out the disgrace which they endured in the quarrel with thee (that of Pfefferkorn, and the Dominican monks, headed by Hoogstraaten, the grand inquisitor). I also resist them, if with far less power of mind, yet with no less confidence than thou didst oppose to them, and whereby thou didst hurl them to the ground. They refuse to fight me, and will not answer, but press on with might and power; but Christ lives, and I can lose nothing, for I possess nothing. Thy force has no little broken the horns of these beasts. By thee the Lord has brought it about that the tyranny of the Sophists has at last lea1nt to withstand the true friends of theology more prudently and mildly, and that Germany has begun to breathe again, after having been for so many centuries oppressed, nay, almost annihilated by the school theology. The beginning of better learning could only have been effected by a man of no small gifts, and as God did (if the comparison may be permitted) reduce into dust the greatest of all rocks, our Lord Christ, and afterward from this dust raised so many rocks, so wouldest thou have brought forth but little fruit, if thou hadst not also been killed and trodden into dust, (by the Dominicans,) whence now arise so many defenders of the Holy Scripture… This is the doing of my soul, which is bound to thee, which is intimate with thee, not only by memory, but also by studying thy works… Farewell, rejoice in the Lord, thou, my most honored teacher.»
As John Reuchlin was the head and front and substance of the Humanist movement, which was attended by the consequent results of freedom of thought, and also of the Reformation, when the last was forced by the sale of indulgences, he obtained by right the title by which he has since been known, —
THE FATHER OF THE GERMAN REFORMATION.
The sum and substance of the Reformation, out of all kinds of opposition, was simply this: to afford to any individual the literal text of the Scriptures, in every language, with perfect freedom to study, comment upon and discover the real, essential meaning of the same, without terror of fanatical persecution for so doing; in which way, and this alone, the real merit of religions could become, as Guizot affirmed it ought to be, commonly acquired and accepted.*
*Guizot says: » What is the object of religion?—of any religion, true or false? It is to govern the human passions, the human will. All religion is a restraint, an authority, a government. It comes in the name of a divine law, to subdue, to mortify human nature. It is, then, to human liberty that it directly opposes itself. It is human liberty that resists it, and that it wishes to overcome. This is the grand object of religion, its mission, its hope. But while it is with human liberty that all religions have to contend, while they aspire to reform the will of man, they have no means by which they can act upon him; they have no moral power over him, but through his own will, his liberty. When they make use of exterior means, when they resort to force, to seduction, in short, make use of means opposed to the free consent of man, they treat him as we treat water, wind, or any power entirely physical, —they fail in their object ; they attain not their end ; they do not react; they cannot govern the will. Before religions can really accomplish their task, it is necessary that they should be accepted by the free will of man; it is necessary that man should submit, but it must be willingly and freely, and tl1at he still preserve his liberty in the midst of this submission. It is in this that resides the double problem which religions are called upon to resolve. They have too often mistaken their object. They have regarded liberty as an obstacle and not as a means; they have forgotten the nature of the power to which they address themselves, and have conducted themselves toward the human soul as they would toward a material force. It is this error that has led them to r 1nge themselves on the side of power, on the side of despotism, against human liberty; regarding it as an adversary, they have endeavored to subjugate rather than protect it. Had religions but fairly considered their means of operation, had they not suffered themselves to be drawn away by a natural but deceitful bias, they would have seen that liberty is a condition, without which man cannot be morally governed; that religion neither has, nor ought to have, any means of influence not strictly moral. They would have respected the will of man in their attempt to govern it. They have too often forgotten this, and the issue has been that religions, power and liberty have suffered together.
Reuchlin, in his research into the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament, and into the literature pertaining thereto, became acquainted, by instruction, with the especial literature of the Cabbalah, as a sacred divine teaching of the Old Testament. This, to the best of his ability, he gave to the learned and Christian world as an essential part of the new learning and of true theology; and, therefore, as part and parcel of that Reformation, John Reuchlin was right. The end and perfection of the Reformation could not be attained without reception of the Cabbalah. But the time had not then come for its recognition and acceptance, because Reuchlin did not receive the keys for the proper interpretation of the Cabbalah, though his instructors may have had them. In publishing the fact of the existence of the philosophy of the Cabbalah, Reuchlin opened up sources and fields for reformation far beyond the narrow confines within which the utmost capacities of Luther were necessarily limited by reason of the narrowness of his knowledge; and it is to these sources and fields that we will now turn our attention.
THE CABBALAH No.17. By Bro. J. Ralston Skinner. (McMillan Lodge, No. 111.)
JOHN REUCHLIN AND THE CABBALAH.
John Reuchhn is called by Ginsburg «the renowned scholar and revivor of oriental literature in Europe.» It is said that he was led to the study of the Bible by John Wessel, the disciple of Thomas a Kempis, and that Wessel taught him the elements of the Hebrew language. In 1492 he was so far taught in Hebrew by Jekiel Loans, a learned and much respected Jew, that he was able to proceed without further help; but still, in 1498, in Rome, he took daily lessons of Abdias Sphorno, or Obadiah Jacobson, another learned Jew. His great work, Linguae Hebraicae Rudimenta, the result of many years severe labor, first appeared in Pforzheim, in 1506, of which he says: «A work hitherto unheard of, which has cost me the greatest trouble, and a large portion of my fortune.» Although he was not the first Hebrew grammarian, because Kimchi Michlol had already prepared a way for him, yet assisted by his work (de Rud. Hebr.) «people of all countries, but especially in Germany and Italy, cultivated the language,» and the full credit of revival or rather introduction of Hebrew literature was given to Reuchlin. Barham says: «The greatest credit which Reuchlin obtained, and which none shared with him, was from the study of the Hebrew language, first by teaching it, and afterwards by his Hebrew gram mar and dictionary. By means of this language he explored a completely new field in literature, particularly in theology; for, in it also, this study had been unknown for almost a century; it was to be found only among the Jews, and here and there very rarely with individual Christian teachers. If the Greek language was then decried as leading to heresy, it was still worse with Hebrew: — according to what was said by the lovers of darkness, whoever learnt it was sure to become a Jew.»
He opened the way and means for Luther’s translations into the vulgar tongue. But his great desire and aim was to afford the means of critical examination as to what the original Hebrew Bible itself did contain as a matter of fact, and of real scholarship; for, as to this, no one could without such helps pronounce; and the Church cared little, as ever, for anything but its then present existing orthodoxy, —nay, any show of awakening curiosity as to what the Hebrew Bible was, or might be, could only meet with disfavor from that highly conservative source.
Ginsburg and others tell us that already Raymond Lully and John Picus de Mirandola had acquired knowledge of the Hebrew and the Caballah. Mirandola studied Hebrew and Cabbalistic theology under Jochanan Aleman, who came to Italy from Constantinople, and —» found that there is more Christianity in the Cabbalah than Judaism; he discovered in it proof for the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Divinity of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem, the fall of the angels, the order of the angels,» and so on, and so on. » In i486, when only 24 years old, he published 900 theses, which were placarded in Rome, and which he undertook to defend in the presence of all European scholars, whom he invited to the Eternal City, promising to defray their traveling expenses. Among the theses was the following: “No science yields greater proof of the Divinity of Christ than magic and the Cabbalah.”
Through Picus de Mirandola Reuchlin became aware of this phase of Hebrew philosophy or theosophy, as, by a school of the rabbins, a recognized appurtenant to the Hebrew Scriptures. He not only examined into the Cabbalah to satisfy his thirst for facts of literature, but, on investigation, became a convert to the system, — «within two years of beginning to learn the language, published (1494) his De Verbo Mirifico, and afterwards (1516) with more mature learning, his De Arte Cabbalistica.» And thus the joint efforts of Mirandola and Reuchlin established a field of literature, the Cabbalah, which has always flourished, and will continue to flourish so long as our civilization shall last.*
It is interesting and useful to place this great fact, but it is a matter of especially great weight and value that the knowledge of the Cabbalah was sprung upon the world of letters, with, and as an essential part of the Reformation itself. Not that the philosophy of the Cabbalah became engrafted into the study and development of Hebrew (and consequently Christian) theosophy; — for, because of lack of knowledge of what the Cabbalah really was, such could not be the case, —but it was entitled so to be, and the assertion of its existence as a real element of Scripture was, even then, so strongly and enduringly made, that, though an unknown quantity except by name, it has ever since stood firmly, and ready to have such claim made good:—with a vitality that has outworn four hundred years of patient waiting.
Of course there was a field of Jewish Cabbalistic literature, —not open, but confined, for the most part, as a kind of sacred mystery, within narrow and restricted limits, even among the Jews them
* Mention ought not to be omitted as to the true standing of Reuchlin compared with that of Luther. It has already been said that the sale of indigencies offered a pretext for some movement of a people already very much oppressed by wrongs, as much political as else wise; and Luther became the exponent and leader of that movement, specializing it against Church action. Admitting, for the sake of the argument) that such a sale was an abuse against the people, in the way of getting their money from them without adequate exchange, it is hard to see what legitimate result or inference could be drawn from the fact itself, in any way affecting ultimate questions of theology or theosophy. Luther was led, step by step, to attack the Church itself, and he found there was no stopping place short of that which affected the very foundation of religious government as it was then exercised, viz., the «Authority of the Church» in matters of ecclesiastical discipline. To make the attack successfully, something had to be invented to take the place of such «authority,» and he found it in the idea of «faith,» or simple belief,—which, however, for obvious reasons, had to be a common one among the masses in order to keep a compact organization together, viz., the Church itself. A common faith, when based upon a simple abstraction, that is, without the intervention of a true rational process, would imply the ultimate necessity of a teacher, armed with as much influence to enforce such faith, as the Church already had to enforce its authority; — for which reason it is difficult to see in what respect Luther’s invention had any essential superiority over that necessity which the Church had arrived at as the result of centuries of experience. Indeed, with Luther’s daring to make an invention about so delicate and vital a matter, chaos sprung forth, with wildness of theories amounting to absolute insanity; until in the midst of it Luther himself was put to his wits end, and placed in despair. Communism even, in its worst form, became rampant as part of the result, and cropped out under the lead of Munzer, at Muhlhausen, and elsewhere. Zwingli had his favorite pet ideas, as did Melancthon, and Luther was put, strange as it may seem, to great perplexity as to the proposed polygamous marriage of Landgrave Philip to Margaret von der Saal, and so on, and so on. Reuchlin, on the other hand, was an abiding Churchman, or Romanist, and took no stock in Luther’s movements. He opened the field of true critical scholarship, and his unfolding of the Cabbalistic philosophy was part of that field, offered for study. It was a legitimate field of scholastic research, and as such it was received with delight by the heads of the Roman Catholic Church. Aegidius, General of the Eremites, wrote to the holy Augustin, that Reichlin helped him, as well as the rest of humanity, pleased with his work, which has made everyone so far unheard of. Philip Beroald, Jr. wrote to him, “that Pope Leo X readily read his book of Pythagorean, like all good books; later Cardinal de Medici did the same, and that he himself would soon enjoy it.” He opened a field of study that was grateful and fascinating for both the Church and the laity.
selves. It was of the same nature with what is called, to-day, The Speculative Philosophy of Free Masonry, an ever seemingly substantive embodiment out of surrounding shadowy mists and mental fogs, wherein a doubt always exists whether after all there is in the nebulous matter of the mist itself anything from whence substance may congeal; or, it may, for illustration, be compared to the city of King Arthur, before whose gate Gareth, standing, says: «But these my men — (your city moves so wierdly in the mist), —doubt if the King be King at all, or come from Fairy land; and whether this be built by magic, and by fairy kings and queens, or whether there be any city at all, or all a vision.» It is necessary to make a brief mention of this literature with its sources; both that these may be known, and that a foundation may be laid for what is proposed to be stated as to the reality of Cabbalah, and its significance.
There is almost no teaching of the Cabbalah in the English language, except an Essay by Christian D. Ginsburg, LL.D., entitled «The Cabbalah, its Doctrines, Development and Literature» — to which the reader is referred for an extended treatise on a subject, as to which Dr. Ginsburg says: «A system of religious philosophy, or more properly, of theosophy, which has not only exercised for hundreds of years an extraordinary influence on the mental development of so shrewd a people as the Jews, but has captivated the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of Christendom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and which claims the greatest attention of both the philosopher and theologian.»
It is faintly claimed that some statements applying to Cabbalah are to be found in the Talmud; but apart from this we have: — (1) The Commentary on the Ten Sephiroth, by R. Azariel ben Manachem (n6o — 1238), who was a pupil of Isaac the Blind, and master of the celebrated R. Moses Nachmanides, (2) The Book Sohar (Light), or Midrash, Let there be Light, claimed to have been a revelation from God, communicated through R. Simon ben Jochai, A. D. 70-110, to his select disciples. This book has been pronounced by the ablest critics to have been a pseudograph of the thirteenth century, — the composition of Moses de Leon, who lived in Spain; who, by the admission of his wife and daughter, after his death, first published and sold it as the production of R. Simon ben Jochai, and (3) The Book Jetzirah or Book of Creation,— of unknown age and authorship, but mentioned as early as the eleventh century in the Book Chazari, by R. Jehudah Ha Levi,— as the literary sources for the entire system and scope thereof, so far as disclosed. It is from these sources that the entire volume of Cabbalistic literature hrs had rise and development.
From these sources, and the numberless treatises and expositions thereon, the history of the subject matter and containment of Cabbalah is laid down as follows: It was first taught by God himself to a select company of angels. After the fall the angels taught it to Adam. From Adam it passed to Noah, thence to Abram, the friend of God, who carried it to Egypt. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was initiated into it in the land of his birth. He covertly laid down the principles of its doctrines in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy (» this constitutes the former the ‘man’ and the latter the ‘woman'»). Moses initiated the seventy elders, and they again passed the sacred and secret doctrine down to the heads (continually imparting the same) of the Church of Israel. David and Solomon were adepts in it. No one dared to write it down before the suppositious Simon ben Jochai, who really lived and taught, as one of the most celebrated doctors, at the time of the destruction of the second temple; and his teachings are claimed to constitute the Book of Sohar, published, as already said, by Moses de Leon of Vallidolid, in Spain. But Ben Jochai, or whoever worked under his name, though he wrote and published, as said, covered the true doctrines by veils, so that no one but an initiate, or, as the saying runs, ‘ by the gift of God,’ could penetrate behind them;—though the veils of the words still plainly held the secret doctrine, to those who could see. The Cabbalah, as an exposition to the Sacred Text of Holy Writ, was claimed to contain the Wisdom of- God in every branch and department of His working, —and all terms and descriptions were exhausted to express the inedible reward to him who might be permitted to penetrate behind the veil, either by initiation or ‘ by the gift of God;’ satiating every function of enjoyment, and affording an indescribable bliss, in the ultimate possession of the Divine conceptions.
More definitely:—The exposition of the system treats of the Impersonal First Cause manifesting within the limits of the finite. «Before he gave any shape to this world, before he produced any form, he was alone, without a form and resemblance to anything else. Who, then, can comprehend him, how he was before the creation, since he was formless? Hence, it is forbidden to represent him by any form, similitude, or even by his sacred name, by a single letter or a single point; and to this, the words, ‘Ye saw no manner of similitudeon the day the Lord spake unto you ‘ (Deut. iv. 15) —i. e., ye have nor seen anything which you could represent by any form or likeness, — refer» (Sohar 42 b, 43 a, Sec. AB) :—And this shows clearly enough that the supposed sacred names of Scripture do not have reference to the Impersonal First Cause, as its essential designations, but rather to its creations… Then— «The creation, or the universe, is simply the garment of God woven from the Deity’s own substance (The Impersonal manifesting in the cosmos, in modes to be expressed by the sacred names and otherwise). For although, to reveal himself to us, the Concealed of all the Concealed, sent forth the Ten Emanations (the Ten Sephiroth) called the Form of God, Form of the Heavenly-Man, yet since even this luminous form was too dazzling for our vision, it had to assume another form, or had to put on another garment which consists of the universe. The universe, therefore, or the visible world, is a further expansion of the Divine Substance, and is called in the Cabbalah, ‘the Garment of God.'» (Sohar i, 2 a) — «The whole universe, however, was in complete, and did not receive its finishing stroke till man was formed, who is the acme of the creation, and the macroscosm uniting in himself the totality of beings, — ‘ the Heavenly Adam, i. e., the Ten Sephiroth, who emanated from the highest primordial obscurity (The Impersonal First Cause), created the earthly Adam.» (Sohar ii, 70 b). This is more definitely expressed in another place, where it says: — «Jehovah (for which stands the letter jod, or j or i) descended on Sinai in fire,» the word for which is a-sh א-ש fire). Let the j, or i, the signature for Jehovah, descend in the midst of this word, and one will have a-i-sh, which is the Hebrew word for man (א-י-ש, man); thus man became out of the Divine fire.» Man is both the import and the highest degree of creation, for which reason he was formed on the sixth day. As soon as man was created everything was complete, including the upper and nether world, for everything is comprised in man. He unites in himself all forms.» (Sohar iii, 48 a)— «But after he created the form of the Heavenly Man, he used it as a chariot (Mercabah) (wheels, circles) wherein to descend, and wishes to be called by this form, which is the sacred name Jehovah.» (Sohar i, 42 b, 43 a, section AB.)
It is to be observed especially, as to the ground work of the Cabbalah, that the» first manifestation was in the «Ten Sephiroth» or Emanations, so called, out of which came the «Heavenly Man»;— and the human or earth man represented these Ten Sephiroth in himself. «The lower world is made after the pattern of the upper world; everything which exists in the upper world is to be found as it were in a copy on earth; still the whole is one.» (Sohar i, 20 a.)
Thus it is that the compass of the Cabbalah, by Sohar, is idealized in the form of a man. This man represented the combination of the Ten Sephiroth, or, as systematically called, Emanations, in which as a unity the whole cosmos existed in its segregated detail; and through which all knowledge thereof, physically, psychically and spiritually, was to be had, in passiveness and in activities; — and through which these activities, as of all potencies —as of angels and powers, — had their special existences. These Emanations had Dames of qualities, as Beauty, Strength, Wisdom, etc., etc., each name being located upon one of nine parts marked out on the form of the man ; each of which was oiled a Sephira. The totality of the man being taken as one, this added to the nine made ten; and as a number this was the letter jod, already spoken of. The locations of these Sephiroth (shown as circles) are united one with another, so that one Emanation may flow into another; one into all, and all into one; — and the 22 letters of the alphabet with the 10 vowel sounds, are found therein, or thereby; and these are called the «thirty two ways or canals of Wisdom»; and as these letters stood also for numbers, there is in this containment every possible mode of expression by word and number. The exposition of the Old Testament, especially the Thora, in the secret or esoteric way, is claimed under this statement;—that is, by numbering the letters of words, and by their permutations and changes of positions; so that this is one of the functions of the Emanations or Sephiroth; and a mighty one for disclosing the Wisdom of God.
The Book Jetzirah deals especially with these letters and numbers: «By thirty two paths of secret wisdom, the Eternal, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, the living God, the King of the Universe, the Merciful and Gracious, the High and Exalted God, He who inhabited! eternity, Glorious and Holy is His name, hath created the world by means of numbers, phonetic language and writing.»
The Commentary on the Ten Sephiroth, by R. Azariel Ben Menachem, as its name implies, is directly in consonance with the Sohar.
As to the Book Jetzirah, Dr. Ginsburg says: «The Book Jetzirah, which the Cabbalists claim is their oldest document has really nothing in common with the cardinal doctrines of the Cabbalah. There is not a word in it bearing on the En Soph (Impersonal First Cause), the Archetypal Man,» and so on, and so on. But here the doctor is at fault for this reason :—The word «Sephiroth» means «Numbers,» and the ten Sephiroth means the Ten Numbers; and in the Cabbalistic way these are composed out of a geometrical shape. The circle is the first naught, but out of this naught develops a straight vertical line, viz., the diameter of this circle. This is the first One; and having a first one, from it comes 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and 9,—the circle or naught and its diameter one, the embracement of all together, forming the comprehensive Ten, or Ten Numbers, Ten Sephiroth, Ten Emanations, «The Heavenly Man, the great Jah, of the ineffable name. Hence the contents of the Book Jetzirah are of the very essence of the other two; and all are one.
Now, as said, the substance of the Cabbalah is a rendering of the secret doctrine of the Old Testament, and this is not only asserted, but an argument is raised about the matter in the following set terms: «If the Law simply consisted of ordinary expressions and narratives, ex. gr., the words of Esau, Hagar, Laban, the ass of Balaam, or of Balaam himself, why should it be called the Law of Truth, the perfect law, the true witness of God? Each word contains a sublime source, each narrative points not only to the single instance in question, but also to generals.» (Sohar iii, 149 b). «Woe be to the son of man who says that the Tora (Pentateuch) contains common sayings and ordinary narratives… There is the garment that everyone can see, but those who have more understanding do not look at the garment but at the body beneath it; while the wisest, the servants of the Heavenly King, those who dwell at Mount Sinai, look at nothing else but the soul (i. e., the secret doctrine), which is the root of all the real Law.» Sohar, iii, 152 a).
Now it is a strange thing, that in the quotations made by Dr. Ginsburg in his Essay, can be gleaned a series of data wherewith to arrange a philosophy of Cabbalistic teaching, covered by the names and remarks on the Ten Sephiroth. The «trick of the thing» lays plainly before the eyes in its development, and yet is perfectly concealed from unintelligent observation. In other words, the very text is laughing at the worthy doctor, while he is criticising it with an apparent aspect of superiority and authority. The same thing is to be found in the text of Plutarch’s Morals, by C. W. King, and in many other texts where the like phenomenal mode is practiced. It in fact is said that the Cabbalah is evolved by «hints scarcely perceptible» and the cunning of the concealment is something to admire and laugh at. The description in Sohar of the mode of communication tends to explain what has been said: «The opinion that the mysteries of the Cabbalah are to be found in the garment of the Pentateuch is still more systematically pro pounded in the following parable: ‘Like a beautiful woman, concealed in the interior of her palace, who when her friend and be loved passes by, opens for a moment a secret window and is seen by him alone, and then withdraws herself immediately and disappears for a long time, so the doctrine only shows herself to the chosen (i. e., to him who is devoted to her with body and soul); and even to him not always in the same manner. At first she simply beckons at the passer by with her hand, and it generally depends upon his understanding this gentle hint. This is the interpretation known by the name of râmāz. Afterwards she approaches him a little closer, lisps him a few words, but her form is still covered with a thick veil, which his looks cannot penetrate. This is the so-called dârausch. She then converses with him with her face covered by a thin veil; this is the enigmatic language of the hāgadah. After having thus become accustomed to her society, she at last shows herself face to face and entrusts him with the innermost secrets of her heart. This is the secret of the Law, sōd. He who is thus far initiated in the mysteries of the Tora will understand that all these profound secrets are based upon the simply literal sense, and are in harmony with it , and from this literal sense not a single iota is to be taken and nothing is to be added to it.'» (Sohar, ii, 99)
The foregoing is a very general outlined sketch of the history and containment of «The Cabbalah.» For one so very imperfectly ac quainted with the literature on this subject as the writer is,—for its chief part is stored away in the Hebrew, the Aramaic, and the Lishon Chakamin, or «Rabbinical Hebrew,» which requires a special study,— it would be foolish presumption for him to think of passing criticism on, either the reported system of the Cabbalah or its authority, as against, or in company with, the skillful adepts in its study, or the keen, cultivated, masterly spirits who have treated on the matter. Nor is such a thought entertained for a moment. But one may have come into the possession of some original mode of clearing the matter up, both for a system and authority for it, without entering on this vexed ground, or even touching upon it. Instead of dwelling upon the Cabbalah, as disclosed or treated on in the manner and by the means, recognized usually, and hereinabove somewhat set forth, let us turn our attention to the Sacred Text itself :—If it can be shown to set forth alike or similar esoteric teaching with that claimed in the written works on the Cabbalah, it will do away with all necessity of any nice, severe learning in this described literature; and will only need; to establish this literature (The Sohar, The Commentary on the Ten Sephiroth, and The Book Jetzirah) as completely authentic, a sufficient showing of sameness between the concealed learning of the Sacred Text and the said literature —with the claims made in it. If the Sacred Text can be shown to hold a systematic development of such esoteric tuition, the question will be set at rest ; and we will have to admit as a result that the Bible is susceptible of a reading entirely novel, and different from that which appears upon its plain face, or, in its open letter.
The attempt will be made to show this to be the fact, — judgment thereon, of course, being left to the reader. The showing should be of interest to the student in Masonry,—for the burden of this secret doctrine, this Cabbalah, is of pure truth and right reason, for it is of geometry with applied proper numbers, of astronomy, and of a system of measures, viz., the Masonic Inch, the twenty four inch guage (or, the double foot), the yard, and the mile. These were claimed to be of Divine revelation and impartation; by the possession and use of which, it could be said of Abram: —»Blessed of the Most High God be Abram, measure of heaven and earth!”