Jan van Rijckenborgh was born in 1896 in Haarlem, The Netherlands, in an orthodox reformed family. In 1968, he died in Santpoort, near Haarlem. As an adolescent, he already showed a great interest in religious issues, particularly in the practical application of religion in everyday life. The hypocrisy and untruthfulness of many people around him -- being pious on Sunday, but living unscrupulously during the rest of the week, deceiving their neighbours and occupying themselves with gossip and slander -- but also the great emptiness he observed in the theologians of his days, ultimately alienated him from the church.
Realistic theology of De Hartog
However, there was one theologian, Prof. Dr. A H de Hartog (1869-1938), whose ideas went far beyond the prevalent orthodoxy of the Dutch churches of those years. He had a demonstrable influence on Van Rijckenborgh. At the time, De Hartog introduced a Realistic Theology. Because he believed in reality, he wanted to face reality. He emphasised a rational faith and a rational worship and based his teachings on, among other things, Romans 12:1, which states that the new life is the true sacrifice. De Hartog was a fiery speaker who was able to touch people's hearts. Everywhere he preached in The Netherlands, the churches were overflowing and Van Rijckenborgh was also among his audience. De Hartog often debated with the leaders of the labour party of those days. He was known as a liberal preacher, whose thoughts covered a wide range of topics. He was also one of the cofounders of the International School of Philosophy in Amersfoort, an institution for studies of comparative religion and culture.
All these matters strongly appealed to the young Van Rijckenborgh, because he was fervently seeking the spiritual depth of human existence. In turn, De Hartog was, to a certain extent, influenced by the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906), the author of Philosophie des Unbewussten (Philosophy of the Unconscious). From this book, De Hartog derived the insight that there is a reality outside of a human being that can be known by him, and hence is a reality. But the human representation of this reality does not coincide with this reality. This is why De Hartog thought that a 'primordial principle' underlies everything that exists and can be observed, a Primordial Power behind the existence of everything, including the human spirit.
This thought goes back to Jacob Böhme's 'Ungrund', via Schelling's Über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (On the essence of human freedom, 1809). De Hartog was also very interested in Böhme, as can be seen from his booklet Uren met Böhme (Hours with Böhme), in which he makes a selection from Böhme's works. In this way, Van Rijckenborgh became acquainted with Böhme's two nature orders (Aurora). Later, in the 1930's, he himself published a Dutch translation of Aurora. In the introduction to this publication he wrote: 'In Uren met Böhme by the late professor De Hartog, we see, for example, Böhme appear as a philosopher by the grace of God. But he takes care that the most profound basis of Böhme's thoughts, esotericism, is not mentioned. And the same applies to many others. Yet, we are grateful that Böhme's name -- albeit besmirched -- has been handed down as a philosopher par excellence. How can this love be explained, we might ask. We think that it can be explained on the basis of the magical power of Böhme's unwavering faith, which testifies to such immeasurable knowledge and wondrous certainty that it can touch countless people. We know and testify that this refers to the power of faith arising from the imperishable fount of esoteric Christianity. This is why we are submitting a translation of Böhme's masterwork Aurora or the Rising Dawn. We are convinced that a new wave of interest will arise, now flowing in the direction of Böhme's sympathizers who are freely offering his wisdom, in a modern garment, to the world again.'
The world has become a house of darkness...
In Böhme's works, Van Rijckenborgh found confirmation of the two nature orders as described in Aurora, judging by the following quote: 'The entire house of this world, which is standing in the visible and comprehensible being, is the house of God, or the old body, which existed in heavenly purity before the time of wrath. However, when the devil kindled the wrath in it, it became a house of darkness and death. This is why the holy birth of God was separated from wrath as an individual body, and why the best part of Heaven was placed between love and wrath, so that the birth of the stars is in the middle. But in such a way that their outer form is standing in the wrath of death; and together with the birth, which is lost in it and has its seat in the middle, where heaven is closed, it exists in the meekness of life. Meekness surges against wrath and wrath against meekness, and in this way they form two different realms in the same body of the world...
The heavens were closed, so that the new life could have all powers and effects, just as the old life had possessed them before the time of wrath, and so that it with the pure Deity outside this world, would have the same quality and be one holy God with the Deity outside of this world.'
Gnostic thought spanning the ages
Here, Jacob Böhme is the pure gnostic, which is why he was persecuted all his life. But Van Rijckenborgh recognised the universal gnostic thought spanning the ages. He found it in numerous surviving fragments. In De Hartog's writings and sermons, the firm conviction emerges that a rebirth is necessary. Only the reborn human being can see reality in the proper light. The concept of 'Revelation' was also an essential point in De Hartog's theology. The divine Word, the Logos, was active in three ways, according to De Hartog: as the creative Word, as the Word incarnated in Christ and as the written Word in the Bible. De Hartog felt related to the mediaeval group of 'Friends of God', who disregarded ecclesiastical barriers. Revelation, the entering of eternity into time, the Incarnated Word, the Logos, points to the need for rebirth. Or, as Jacob Böhme said:
'Whoever as eternity has become time and as time eternity, is liberated from all conflict.'
'He who does not die before he dies, he will be corrupted, when he dies.'
These and many other views of De Hartog strongly appealed to Van Rijckenborgh, as did the words of Angelus Silesius (pseudonym of Johannes Scheffler, 1624-1677), who was often quoted by De Hartog:
'Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, but not in thee, Thou shalt be yet forlorn.'
Silesius' basic idea as the foundation of the philosophy of the Rosycross
This basic idea, so poetically expressed by Silesius, was later propagated by Van Rijckenborgh in numerous addresses and books about the philosophy of the Rosycross. Studies about these texts stimulated Van Rijckenborgh to think about these people and he began to search for their sources. Particularly when De Hartog was criticised by his theological colleagues and accused of not keeping to the official doctrine. This proved to the young Van Rijckenborgh that he should look elsewhere for the truth. To him, it was one of the signs that the church does not give solace to the true Christian pilgrim. He took a well-known statement of De Hartog to heart. It was a statement that he himself later often quoted: 'The essential truth is not offered to us on a silver platter, or in the form of an article or dictated literally, but it must be conquered and appropriated by the general human consciousness.'
Yet, he continued to think in a Christ-centred way. He always sided, on the basis of the Rosicrucian ideas, with the Gnosis, the Rosycross and Hermetism, the universal way of thinking, free from dogmas, theological snares and orthodoxy. In his article The mystery of the Soul, he wrote: 'If the Bible is the most important religious security of a human child, it is absolutely certain that he will become stuck in textual obstacles. As proof of this statement, I remind you of the immense number of religious confessions, groups, types and sects. All these groups shroud themselves in literal, symbolic or esoteric Bible exegeses of a spontaneous or more or less scientific nature. The part of humanity calling itself Christian will never achieve unity, elevation and liberation, if it does not detach itself completely from the path on which it has been forced through the ages. The Holy Books are used in the wrong way. The Holy Books will only testify to God, and their language can only be understood, if we approach them in a totally different way. There is a wide abyss separating us from the mysteries of God and life, concentrated, among other things, in the Bible. This is why the path of life is an inner path. Only the process, the path of the sanctification of life, can liberate you. And the signature can never be a basket full of words or a platter full of texts. The person who walks the path of sanctification proves this by light, by inner light. And the inner Light itself is the bridge across the wide abyss between us and the mysteries of God and life. Don't we need the Bible then? Is it virtually superfluous? The Rosycross devotes itself to a development in which humanity will learn to approach the Bible in an entirely new way.'
We have presented this long quotation from one of Van Rijckenborgh's earliest writings, because it shows that he clearly continues the line of De Hartog: a religious experience during the actual practice and manifestation of life, which has to be released from our own inner being.
Before Van Rijckenborgh left the church, he was very active in the Y. M. C. A., and had already demonstrated his own vision of the Bible. This was a vision that arose from his own inner revelation. Of course, this resulted in conflict. He was searching much further for the unveiling of the Word, for the profound meaning that was not given by the theologians.
When he was about 28, his search led him onto the track of the modern Rosycross. Due to this, he came into contact with Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Fellowship. Heindel's esoteric explanations of the Bible and religions strongly appealed to him. In Heindel's book The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception (1909), he recognised much of what had already been revealed in his inner being and for which he had constantly been seeking: the reality of things behind the perceptible material existence and the purpose behind every form of life and every manifestation. In this way, he was introduced to the Manifestoes of the Rosicrucians and to the writings of Paracelsus, Comenius, Van Helmont, Böhme and Fludd, to name only a few. He felt very much attracted to their works, but after a few years he dissociated himself from the American Rosicrucian movement of Max Heindel, because he thought this movement was too much on an occult path and was losing the Christian aspect of the Rosicrucians.
The evangelical process must take place in a human being
He founded the School of the Golden Rosycross. He concentrated on the Manifestoes of the classical Brotherhood and gave lectures about them. At the same time, he began to give lectures about the esoteric meaning of the Christian gospels. In these lectures, he emphasised the evangelical process that has to take place within a human being, and he relegated the historical aspect to the background. In the introduction to the book The Good Tidings of the Gift of God, an esoteric analysis of the Gospel of Matthew, he wrote: 'After some investigation, it will therefore be discovered that the whole New Testament presents a complete philosophy to the pupil, by means of which he will be able to view and to fathom the past, the present and the future of the world and humanity; (this is) the work for humanity and society of this wonderful, divine being, the Christ. We are living in an era in which a part of humanity is ready and capable of viewing the Bible, or a part of it, as an esoteric, gnostic-scientific document, by means of which we might learn to understand the intentions of God.'
Nobody paid any attention to it
In the meantime, he travelled to London, where he visited the British Library in order to gain access to the original texts. There he copied some of the works of Johann Valentin Andreae, including an English translation of the manuscript of Republicae Christianopolitanae. In the introduction he wrote: «During research in the famous library of the British Museum in London, a few years ago, we discovered the little-known work Christianopolis by Johann Valentin Andreae, the author of the Fama Fraternitatis. This document is from 1619 and has possibly been in this library for a few hundred years without anybody paying attention to it. We were allowed to take an English translation back to The Netherlands, inwardly feeling that we had to publish its content and comment on it.»10
This commentary, together with the Dutch translation of Christianopolis, was published in 1939. In 1978, a second edition appeared. But while he was publishing his commentary on Christianopolis, he also tended to the Dutch translation of the Fama, the Confessio and the Alchemical Wedding of C. R. C. He also published the periodical Nieuwe Religieuze Oriëntering (New Religious Orientation), which contained a series of instalments of the Dutch translation of Die geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer (The secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians).
Unveiling the underlying meaning
All of this proves how much Van Rijckenborgh connected with the message that the classical Brotherhood of the Rosycross had sent into the world. He didn't consider these writings to be primarily of historical importance; instead, he more particularly wanted to unveil the meaning behind them, the implicit meaning that is hidden to the eye.
Again he experienced in his innermost being the spiritual inspiration emanating from them. His comments on the Fama, which he called 'an esoteric analysis', are published under the title The Secrets of the Brotherhood of the Rosycross. In his introduction he writes: 'The time has come to open this veiled spiritual testament of the Brotherhood of the Rosycross and bring its hidden values to light. Through the ages, the work of the Brothers of the Rosycross has been completely misunderstood, and numerous esotericists, influenced as they were by Oriental magic, have caused incalculable damage by their publications, which have obscured the light of the Rosycross with strange teachings.'
Did the person C. R. C. really exist?
He further justifies his comments with the words: 'Some of those who tried to analyse the Fama began by asking: 'Did the person C. R. C. really exist? Who was he? Were there contemporaries who saw him? Is there literature of his time that speaks about him?" [...] However, we will leave historical investigation for what it is, for we only want to speak about «a human being». Let us assume that a man called C. R. C. were living now, that we all know him and that we are observing his struggle. [...] So we are evoking for you a man, a figure, in your imagination, and together we will animate this mythical figure, so that he will begin to live for us. We will call him Christian Rosycross and tell you that he was of German origin. This means that our figure is a full-blooded European, a Westerner. Well, this Westerner wishes to follow the path of a Westerner, that is the path shown and exemplified by Christ. That is why we call him Christian. This Westerner wants to develop all the latent faculties that slumber within every human being, by which a human being is marked as a Son of God, a child of God and thus a God-in-genesis. To this end, he exerts himself steadfastly and is prepared to follow the way of complete self-sacrifice. That is why we also call our hero Rosycross. And now that this mythical figure is fully alive for us, now that we are enthusiastic about the heroic struggle begun by him, we say, in prayerful longing: «My dear brother, may the white rose of Christ shine from your cross.'
Call to a complete reformation of the human being
Note that this is the language of the 1930's. Van Rijckenborgh tried to convince the reader that the Manifestoes had to be applied directly to the human being himself. They call for a complete reformation of the human being, for only this can, and will, lead to a change in society.
In the same book he says: 'We want to direct ourselves according to the ways shown in the old books, the old testaments of the Order of the Rosycross. The Confessio Fraternitatis gives us the programme, the confession of faith. In the Fama Fraternitatis, the pupil begins to carry out the programme. In The Alchemical Wedding of Christian Rosycross, we can read an outline of the complete development on the path of Christian initiation, which takes place after the aim, the call, the Fama has been accomplished by means of the individual task. And finally there is the Rosicrucian work: Christianopolis, in which the structure of a new society is outlined, as it has to be built by the Brothers.'
Thus we conclude that the Manifestoes of the old Brotherhood go much deeper for Van Rijckenborgh than superficial reflection suggests. He reads in them what is moving him. The message, at that time sent into the world by the Brotherhood, the call for a total reformation, was especially intended to achieve a fundamental change in the human being himself.
During the war years 1940-1945, when his School was closed by the occupier and he was forbidden to continue his work, he went deeply into the Corpus Hermeticum, the writings of the Manichaeans, the Gnostics and the history of the Cathars. He also found various teachings from these writings in the veiled and symbolic language of the Manifestoes. In addition, he became convinced that the teachings of Hermes returned, in their own way, in the books by Paracelsus, and he discovered that Paracelsus was highly respected by the Brothers of the Rosycross. He ascertained that the authors of the Manifestoes must also have had the Corpus Hermeticum at their disposal and that a great deal of other esoteric-gnostic literature must have been available in their libraries. The inner path, the path of the mysteries, lies hidden in all these documents.
Dei Gloria Intacta» appeared immediately after the war
Immediately after World War II, Van Rijckenborgh published the book Dei Gloria Intacta, with the subtitle: the Christian mystery of initiation of the Holy Rosycross for the new era.16 In this book, the inner path is extensively explained as a sevenfold path. What matters is not having initiation imposed or introduced by someone else, a so-called «initiate». The point is a path of self-initiation, a practical path leading to complete life renewal on the basis of self-knowledge, as was said by the Gnostics and Hermetics: «He who knows himself, knows the Universe.»
Dei Gloria Intacta, with a part from the classical Fama as an introduction, proved to be a great preparation for two monumental works to be published later: a four-volume work with commentaries on, and explanations of, the Corpus Hermeticum, and a masterly, two-volume work with detailed explanations of the path of initiation, in which The Alchemical Wedding of Christian Rosycross (C. R. C.) is unlocked for the reader. In these books, Van Rijckenborgh proves that he was allowed to receive the key, after a long path of preparation during which he gradually penetrated into the secrets of the Brotherhood.
The 'struggle of C. R. C.', as he described it in every possible way, is at the same time his own struggle to open the path, especially for others, from the swaddling clothes of time, and to break open the mysteries in which the ancient writings were veiled. He received the key that gives access to the books of wisdom in which this path is shown.
Liberation from the swaddling clothes of time and mystery
He also applied this key to the mystery book The Alchemical Wedding. He says about this: 'All the initiations of C. R. C. are so minutely described in The Alchemical Wedding that it could not have been improved upon; all the information is given without neglecting one single detail. Who was, or rather, who is Christian Rosycross? He is the prototype of the true, original human being, the new human being who is truly Christian; who has freed the Christ within him by walking the path of the cross in the power of the rose. [...] In the cross, two lines of force meet which are diametrically opposed. It means a total change, a conversion of forces, an alchemical transmutation. The rose within a human being must be linked with its true life field, the field of immortality. The rose must be freed through the way of the cross of transfiguration. This is why we speak of the Rosycross. This work has to be done in the power of Christ, the electromagnetic power of the Universal Life.'
When the light spark flares up, inner knowledge is born
Here the rose is the symbol of the Light spark, the divine spark of the gnostics. Van Rijckenborgh, in modern parlance, called this the «spirit-spark atom» or the «spirit nucleus», the divine life nucleus in a human being.
He explained that, when this spiritual nucleus is activated and this light spark flares up in the heart, inner knowledge is born, the knowledge of the heart. It is manifested from the divine primordial atom that lies hidden in a human being as a germ of the Spirit. If this seed germinates and begins to blossom, it produces the fruits of the All-Good, the fruits of the Tree of Life. When the seed of the Rose fertilises the soul, it will become immortal and the body, the personality, will transfigure. The knowledge of the All-Good is a spiritual insight that grants the power of opening up the inner knowledge about the human being himself, the knowledge about his divine destiny and about the inner God.
Stimulating the reader to acquire self-knowledge
Van Rijckenborgh had only one purpose, which runs as a golden thread through all his works: to stimulate the interested reader to acquire self-knowledge; to acquire knowledge of his true self, which lies hidden in his heart as a rosebud, a spirit-spark. The microcosm is where the true origin of the human being, or, as the Fama says, man's nobility, lies hidden. This points to the original human being who belongs to the unknown part of the world, the true Divine nature. A person should be inspired, so that he sets out to achieve liberation from his human-animal state of life.
Van Rijckenborgh discussed knowledge of the path leading to the rebirth of the soul extensively in his works, the necessity of man being reborn of water and of the spirit. It is the path of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Here we see again the spur to action that made Van Rijckenborgh set out in his youth. It is the need for a rebirth, about which De Hartog had spoken, but Van Rijckenborgh did not veil it in an exoteric sense, as it was in the woolly language of the theological exegeses. Van Rijckenborgh spoke of an esoteric experiencing of the evangelical path leading from the Johannine human being to the Jesus human being. This is the path of Christian Rosycross. The process of rebirth from 'animal human being to Spirit human being', about which he had heard De Hartog speak in his early years, was, for Van Rijckenborgh, not mere philosophy, but a pure reality and necessity.
The nature-born human being, who is of the earth earthy, must put on the Spirit human being lying hidden within him as a Divine rose, as a spark of the spirit. Spirit, soul and body must be reunited into a true unity, the Bytoss, Nous and Alezeia of the ancient Gnostics. The divine, biblical principles of spirit, water and blood, the Hermetic elements of spirit, soul and body, and the mercury, sulphur and salt of the Rosicrucians,19 originate from the depth of the divine Spirit from which the Truth is made manifest. This is the path from transmutation to transfiguration, symbolised in a veiled way in the seven days of the Alchemical Wedding. It is the sevenfold recreation of the human being, the rebirth on the basis of giving up the old, I-centred life of the nature-born human being, who, despite everything, is still a divine-human being, because he carries the spirit-spark in his microcosm.
Gnosis transforms the whole human being into his fundamental nature
Ignorance of all of this is the greatest human tragedy. The fundamental idea underlying Van Rijckenborgh's entire work is the tearing up of the garment of the evil of ignorance by the human being who has been called to transfigure to the Divine generation, but who has remained stuck in his nature-born state, or, as Hermes puts it: «When the Gnosis enlightens the whole consciousness, It makes the soul flare up again and lifts it up by releasing it from the (nature-born) body. In this way, It transforms the whole human being to his fundamental nature.»20 We know from the following well-known quote from the Alchemical Wedding that the Rosycross and Hermetism are closely related:
Hermes is the Primordial Fount
'After so much harm has been inflicted on the human race, I, Hermes, being the primordial fount, flow forth here as a healing remedy, according to divine decree and assisted by the art. Let him who can, drink of me. Let him who will, cleanse himself in me. Let him who dares, stir me. Drink, brothers, and live.'
Van Rijckenborgh bridges the gap between the intentions of the Brothers of the Rosycross and the Primordial Fount of Hermes. He writes in his analysis of the Alchemical Wedding: 'Who was, or rather, who is Hermes? Hermes is the spirit itself in manifestation, the primordial fount which seeks to quench the thirst of every human being. [...] So now you will understand why we, in the young Brotherhood of the Golden Rosycross, draw so consistently from the fount for our testimonies; why ever and again we study the ancient hermetic texts.'
Thus Hermes is a mythical figure, but at the same time he is a great example of the universal power of wisdom, which has lost none of its radiant wisdom through the ages. That Van Rijckenborgh studied the Corpus Hermeticum line by line, is demonstrated by his four-volume work with explanatory texts titled: The Egyptian Arch-Gnosis and Its Call in the Eternal Present. He also emphasised that Hermes is the Primordial Fount, the Arch-Gnosis, the original knowledge, the eternal wisdom that has been fundamentally the same throughout all times, or rather: has always passed on the same wisdom, and hence, is the 'Eternal Call', a call which is always relevant. Jan van Rijckenborgh wanted to again make this Call resound with the same power that the Brothers of the Rosycross gave to their Fama. But Van Rijckenborgh spoke against the background of the current time by means of a universal idea, which, through all times, has constantly propagated the same principle.
On the basis of this explanation, we believe that we may state that Jan van Rijckenborgh is an example of the modern Gnostic Rosicrucian. In his works, he professes the Christ-centred gnostic Rosycross as it was manifested in the Rosicrucian Manifestoes of the beginning of the 17th century.
Source: Rosicrucians through the ages, Rozekruis Pers