• Michael Martin

The Rosicrucian Mysticism of Henry and Thomas Vaughan


Roberti Flvdd, Alias De Flvctibvs Philosophia Sacra & Vere Christiana, Seu, Meteorologia Cosmica. Francofurti: Prostat in officina Bryana, 1626

I am currently putting the finishing touches on my Metaphysical Poets course (should be available March 9th). Since I have these poets on my mind, I thought I would share an excerpt on Henry Vaughan and his identical twin, the alchemist and Anglican priest Thomas, from my book, Literature and the Encounter with God in Post-Reformation England (Ashgate, 2014).


Scholars often speculate about how “hermetic philosophy” informs both Thomas’ religio-scientific writing and Henry’s poetry. “Hermetic philosophy,” I think, is an incredibly (and embarrassingly) inexact term. Certainly, Hermetism, a theosophical school stemming from the body of late classical writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum and attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, was, along with Neoplatonism, an important ingredient in humanist thought during the Renaissance, especially following Marsilio Ficino’s translation of the works into Latin in 1471.[1] And though Hermetic ideas trickled into early modern English intellectual life, as Robert M. Schuler has suggested, “among English writers familiarity with the actual texts of the Corpus Hermeticum was comparatively rare.”[2] A scholarly edition, however, Franceso Patrizi’s (1529 – 1597) Hermes Trismegisti Opuscula, in parallel Latin and Greek, was published in London in 1611,[3] and at least two editions of John Everard’s English version of the Hermetic (using the word in its proper setting) The Divine Pymander appeared between 1649 and 1657.[4] Thomas Vaughan, to be sure, mentions Trismegistus in several places, and it appears that the work he was most familiar with was the Pymander.[5]


As it has come down to us, “hermetic philosophy” is a catch-all phrase for a plethora of more-or-less heterodox ideas, including alchemy, magic, Kabbalah, and astrology as well as Neoplatonism and Hermetism proper. This habit seems to have been a product of the seventeenth century, as the Oxford English Dictionary situates the earliest use of the term “hermetic” in the mid-1600s. Unfortunately, this imprecise descriptive has become almost universally accepted, even in contemporary scholarship. Scholarship, indeed, has perpetuated the idea, as we see in Elizabeth Holmes’s Henry Vaughan and the Hermetic Philosophy (inspired in great part by L.C. Martin’s employment of “Hermetic” as an adjective describing Henry Vaughan’s poetry),[6] Yates’s popular Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition,[7] and many others that find the (imagined or real) presence of the ideas of Hermes Trismegistus in early modern texts. This often makes for some bizarre critical statements, such as this comment that attempts to justify calling Henry Vaughan’s poetry “hermetic”: “I do not mean that Vaughan necessarily subscribed to the ideas and doctrines from the Corpus Hermeticum that appear in it or that, as such, they were a dominant part of his religious creed…. Vaughan, I think, saw no fundamental incompatibility or contradiction between his borrowings and the more traditional Christian ideas he espouses in many of the poems of Silex Scintillans.”[8] Perhaps such inexact terminology were best left alone. A more exact way to describe the work of the Vaughans is as “Rosicrucian.”


By describing the Vaughans’ work as Rosicrucian, I do not mean to suggest that they were actual, dues-paying members of the Fraternity. Scholarly consensus has not concluded that the group even existed during the seventeenth century anywhere, save in print. What is important is that Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, and Thomas Vaughan thought they were real, and they said so in their works (we have no explicit mention of the Rosicrucians from Henry Vaughan). As Thomas wrote in the Preface to the Fame and Confession, “I am in the Humor to affirm the Essence, and Existence of that admired Chimaera, the Fraternitie of R. C.” although elsewhere he added “I have for my own part no Relation to them” (Works, 480; 483). Indeed, Maier, Fludd, and Thomas Vaughan were each at one time or another accused of being members of the Fraternity. Thomas Vaughan, for instance, is described in Athenae Oxioniensis as “a great Chymist, a noted son of the fire, an experimental Philosopher, a zealous brother of the Rosie-Crucian fraternity.”[9] Furthermore, the religious and philosophical ethos as laid out in the manifestos and found in Fludd is in profound resonance with the work of both brothers. Since we have no evidence of what the thought of the Vaughans was like prior to the late 1640s (when Henry worked through his first two poetry collections, Poems, with the tenth Satyre of Juvenal [1646] and Olor Iscanus [1651, but prepared in 1647]) we cannot properly say how it was or was not in harmony with the Rosicrucian ethos. It is fairly certain that Thomas must have seen the manifestos in manuscript by no later than 1648, the date he gives in the dedication to the “regenerated Brethren R.C.” in his first publication, Anthroposophia Theomagica (1650). We can infer, then, due to the intertextual connections between the writings of the two brothers, that Henry had at least undertaken a preliminary investigation of Rosicrucianism at the around the same time or very shortly thereafter.[10]



As we have seen with Fludd and his commentaries upon the Rosicrucian manifestos, a significant idea in Rosicrucianism is the understanding that the natural world bears witness to the glory of God down even to the chemical level. This notion, obviously, has biblical antecedents, such as Psalm 19’s declaration that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (19:1). But, for both Vaughans as well as for the manifestos and Fludd, this glory is obscured by the fallenness of both nature and the human being. For this reason, God’s glory, the Dei Gloria intacta of the Fama, cannot be seen without the presence of grace. “Wherefore should we not freely acquiesce,” asks the Confessio, “in the onely truth then (which men through so many erroneous and crooked ways do seek) if it had onely pleased God to lighten unto us the sixth Candelabrum?” (89).

Henry Vaughan explores this notion in the opening poem of Silex Scintillans, the Latin “Authoris (de se) Emblema”:


Tentâsti, fateor, sine vulnere saepius, et me

Consultum voluit Vox, sine voce, frequens;

Ambivit placido divinior aura meatu,

Et frustrà sancto murmure praemonuit.

Surdus eram, mutusque Silex: Tu (quanta tuorum

Cura tibi est !) aliâ das renovare viâ;

Permutas Curam: Iamque irritutus Amorem

Posse negas, & vim, Vi, superare paras,

Accedis propior, molemque et Saxea rumpis

Pectora, fitque Caro, quod fuit ante Lapis.

En lacerum ! Caelosque tuos ardentia tandem

Fragmenta, & liquidas ex Adamante genas.

Sic olim undantes Petras, Scopulosque vomentes

Curâsti, O populi providus usque tui!

Quam miranda tibi manus est! Moriendo, revixi;

Et fractas jam sum ditior inter opes.[11] (translation below)


Henry lays out his theological aesthetic in this poem. His speaker, a cipher for himself,[12] refers to his own fallenness and sinfulness (“Surdus eram, mutusque”—“I was deaf and dumb”) in terms evocative of Christ’s healings of the deaf, dumb, lame, and blind found in the Gospels and the association of these afflictions with sin.[13] He then goes on to repeatedly speak of himself in mineral terms: “Silex,” “Saxae,” “Lapis,” “Adamante,” “Petras,” Scopulos” as well as “Fragmenta” and “fractas,” indicating both the “brokenness” of the speaker and the way in which minerals break—into fragments, literally “going to pieces.” The use of capitalization and setting these words apart by not using italic adds further emphasis to an already compelling argument. “Adamante” and “Petras” are particularly poignant, punning on and alluding to the biblical Adam and Peter: one who disobeyed God the Father, while the other denied Christ. Henry here does something spectacular: he sets himself as well as the Scriptures in relationship to nature, each of which is inextricable from the other two. This is not, of course, the nature with which Wordsworth would be familiar.[14] Robert Ellrodt has observed that Vaughan’s alleged “nature mysticism,” though “at once intense and vague,” is ultimately “more precise than the later Romantic emotions because of its associations with a definite theology or natural philosophy.”[15] Nature does not interest Vaughan in and of itself; it only interests him as it relates to God. Nor can he conceive of nature, however fallen it might be, as separate from God. Furthermore, he cannot imagine himself outside of nature; nor can he imagine himself, however fallen he might be, as outside of God’s reach. He writes as much in the didactic “Rules and Lessons”:


To highten thy Devotions, and keep low

All mutinous thoughts, what business e’r thou hast

Observe God in his works; here fountains flow,

Birds sing, Beasts feed, Fish leap, and th’Earth stands fast;

Above are restless motions, running Lights,

Vast Circling Azure, giddy Clouds, days, nights. (lines 85 – 90)


Additionally, as we find in “The Tempest,” Henry Vaughan reads nature as figuring metaphysical desire:


All things here shew him heaven; Waters that fall

Chide, and fly up; Mists of corruptest fome

Quit their first beds & mount; trees, herbs, flowres, all

Strive upwards stil, and point him the way home. (lines 25 – 28)


This notion is found in Romans 8: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:22 – 23). In Henry’s poetry, then, nature and the processes of nature become signs of God.[16] Signs are important to the Vaughans, for, as Boehme wrote, a sign is “the Receptacle, Container or Cabinet of the Spirit.”[17]


Thomas Vaughan uses nearly identical language to Henry’s in “Authoris (de se) Emblema” in a poem he includes in Anthroposophia Theomagica. The second stanza of the poem reads,


My God! my Heart is so,

‘tis all of Flint, and no

Extract of teares will yield:

Dissolve it with thy Fire

That something may aspire,

And grow up in my Field. (Works, 70 – 71)


It is certainly no coincidence that Thomas uses the word “flint” to describe his heart—the exact word that Henry uses, though in Latin (“Silex”), to describe himself in “Authoris (de se) Emblema” and to entitle his collection, Silex Scintillans (“a sparking flint”). Indeed, the title page of Henry’s volume bears an image that could be used to illustrate Thomas’ poem: a heart made of stone dissolving in fire (see Figure 4.1). In Thomas’ Latin poem, “Carolus Primus, Anglorum Rex,” which Henry included in the collection Thalia Rediviva (1678)[18] twelve years after Thomas’ death, the younger brother puts the Latin word to use:


En, en Deorum Magnes, & tracti Numinis

Sub sole Thronus: Ignium Coeli Silex

Ferroque tritus in suas flammas abiens![19] (translation below)


The use of the flint as an image, of course, is important because of the flint’s ability to generate sparks when struck. In symbolic terms, it is not completely dead. Both poems argue that the earthbound (symbolized by the flint) still retain a spark of divinity. As Thomas writes, again using the figure, in Lumen de Lumine (1651):


Fire, notwithstanding the Diversities of it in this Sublunarie Kitchin of the Elements, is but one Thing, from one Root. The Effects of it are various according to the Distance, and Nature of the subject wherein it resides, for that makes it Vital, or Violent. It sleeps in most things as in Flints, where it is silent and Invisible.” (Works, 336)


Thomas’s association of this spark and its various effects (“Vital, or Violent”) dependent upon the nature of the subject seems to be related, at least in part, to Boehme’s idea of God’s perceived “wrath” or “love” being likewise dependent upon the state of the subject.[20] The

notion of violence, of course, suggests repentance, contrition, and even the “correction” God might choose to give his servants in order to bring them back to him, as Henry wrote in a poem using the same image:


for flints will give no fire

Without a steel, O let thy power cleer

Thy gift once more, and grind this flint to dust! (“The Tempest,” lines 59 – 60).


What we have here is an entirely holistic worldview: the symphonic relationship of nature, the soul, scripture, and God.


Furthermore, “flint” (silex) is a Rosicrucian symbol. Thomas O. Calhoun, for one, suggests Henry Vaughan’s use of silex in the title of his book refers to the Philosopher’s Stone as it was understood in Rosicrucianism.[21] There is something to be said for this opinion. The word also appears (spelled “SYLEX”) in a Rosicrucian emblem included in the eighteenth century compendium Die Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert (Altona, 1785) depicting the Virgin Sophia standing above a network of spheres. The lowermost sphere is labeled “SYLEX,” the nadir of creation, but still housing the potential for heavenly fire within its outwardly cold and hard substance. The Vaughans surely were operating within the same aesthetic and philosophical/religious framework that we find in the emblem.


.... The Vaughan twins also engage in some playful doubling on the title of one of Thomas’ works, Aula Lucis, or The House of Light (1651). Aula Lucis is the only one of Thomas’ treatises not to be published under the pseudonym “Eugenius Philalethes.” Instead, it is ascribed on the title page to “S. N. a Modern Speculator,” a not too obscure ruse, employing the last letters of his given name as initials. He plays with his aliases when he criticizes imprudent chymical philosophers: “But had my young friend Eugenius Philalethes been present he had laughed without mercy” (Works, 466).[22] Aula Lucis is the shortest of Thomas’ works, a rambling, discursive text that is equal parts meditation on light and darkness, exposition of Christian-Rosicrucian anthropology, and attack on his enemies, particularly Henry More.


In the more serious moments of the tract, Thomas explores the connections between the scientific search and the inherently religious phenomenon of metaphysical desire. If the reader wishes to discover the secret of the preparations of the alchemical work, Vaughan is willing to give instruction. “[T]hy best course,” he writes,


“is to consider the way of nature, for there it may bee found, but not without reiterated, deep, and searching meditations. If this Attempt fails thee, thou must pray for it (not that I hold it an easie or a common thing to attain to Revelations, for wee have none in England)[23] but God may discover it to thee, by some ordinarie and meere natural meanes: In a word, if thou canst not attaine to the knowledge of it in this life, yet thou shalt know it in thy own body, when thou art past knowing it in this subject.” (Works, 460 – 61)


Thomas’ own “meditations” have led him to conclude that “Matter…is the House of Light” (468). Light, for this Vaughan, is not to be confused with or reduced to that which we see raying from the sun, though this would be a very apt figure of what he is trying to communicate. Rather, light needs to be understood as a hidden principle in all things of nature:


“Wee see there is a certain face of Light in all those things which are very deare, or very precious to us. For Example, in Beautie, Gold, Silver, Pearls, and in every thing that is pleasant or carries with it any opinion of happiness. In all such Things I say there is inherent a certain secret concomitant luster, and whiles they last the possessors also are subject to a Clearnesse and Serenitie of Mind. On the contrary in all Adversities there is a certain corroding, heavie sadness; for the spirit grieves because he is Ecclips’d, and overcast with darknesse.” (470)


The idea of light as it is used here is also evocative of the Silex figure: the flint carries within itself the potential for producing light. And it is worth noting that the “SYLEX” sphere in the emblem from Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer is half dark and half light, a figuration of the principle Thomas describes here. Indeed, Thomas held to this idea throughout his work and mentions “the small Sparks of Heavenly Wisdom, which yet remaineth with men” in the Epistle to The Fame and Confession (A7v). The idea of a hidden light was also an aspect of Fludd’s Rosicrucianism, as he affirms in the Apologia Compendiaria when he writes of that which is “begotten of the Universal Light and the origin of the spirit of the world: the admirable effects, hidden qualities, hidden mysteries” as well as the “hidden strength to be admired in Light.”[24] Undergirding the concept is the notion of light found in the Prologue to John’s Gospel—“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4 – 5)—which Fludd does not fail to quote in his discussion.[25] Later Rosicrucian and Masonic philosophies capitalized on this imagery,[26] though they no longer retained much of the scientific import that we find in Robert Fludd and Thomas Vaughan.


Thomas’s idea of the indwelling light and its intrinsic beauty, truth, and goodness has much in common with Hans Urs von Balthasar’s notion of “splendour,” of that quality which shines forth from nature, works of art, scripture, or liturgy and awakens in the beholder a feeling of wonder or recognition of the numinous. In the presence of this splendour, “[w]e are confronted,” writes Balthasar,


“simultaneously with both the figure and that which shines forth from the figure, making it into a worthy, a love-worthy thing. Similarly we are confronted with both the gathering and uniting of that which had been indifferently scattered—its gathering into the service of one thing which now manifests and expresses itself—and the outpouring, self-utterance of the one who was able to fashion by himself such a body of expression: by himself, I say, meaning ‘on his own initiative,’ and therefore with pre-eminence, freedom, sovereignty, out of his own interior space, particularity, and essence….we are brought face to face with both interiority and its communication, the soul and its body, free discourse governed by laws and clarity of language.”[27]


The Rosicrucian ethos, though articulated in different cultural and historical circumstances, stands in general agreement with Balthasar. For both, God’s grace is able to shine through nature as light illuminates a pane of stained glass. Thomas argues that


“Hee that desires to be happy, let him looke after Light, for it is the Cause of happinesse both Temporall, and Eternall. In the House thereof it may be found, and the House is not farr off, not hard to find, for the Light walks in before us, and is the guide to his own habitation. It is Light that forms the gold, and the Rubie, the Adamant and the silver and he is the Artist that shapes all things. Hee that hath him, hath the Mint of Nature, and a Treasure altogether inexhaustible.” (471)


The claims of science, theology, aesthetics, and anthropology here coalesce. As in the Rosicrucian manifestos, Thomas Vaughan articulates in metaphoric terms the idea of a holistic, Christian culture underwritten by words found in the Gospel of John: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).


When we turn to the poetry of Henry Vaughan, we do not need to look very far in order to find a similar theological aesthetic. Light, indeed, is one of Henry’s primary metaphors for God’s grace and presence, and several instances of Henry’s use of the figure stand in dialectic with the writing of his twin. First of all, we find it in his anthropology, as stated in “Corruption,”


Sure, It was so. Man in those early days

Was not all stone, and Earth,

He shin’d a little, and by those weak Rays

Had some glimpse of his birth. (lines 1 – 4)


But Henry speaks most directly to his brother in one of his most noted poems, “Cock-Crowing.” The poem appeared in the second edition of Silex Scintillans, issued in 1655, well after Thomas published Aula Lucis in 1651.


In “Cock-crowing,” which has been called a poem in which he “is most triumphantly and fully himself,”[28] Henry straightway acknowledges the source of light as well as of all good things as he opens the poem with a direct quote from the Epistle of James, “Father of lights!” (line 1).[29] Light as an image moves throughout the poem, but in the second stanza it alludes to Thomas’ book as well as to the principle being explored, as Henry writes in terms of the cocks’ heralding of daybreak:


Their eyes watch for the morning-hue,

Their little grain expelling night

So shines and sings, as if it knew

The path unto the house of light.

It seems their candle, howe’r done.

Was tinn’d and lighted at the sun. (lines 6 – 12)[30]


It may seem at first that Henry is not referring explicitly here to matter as the “house of light,” the definition Thomas gives, but to the source of light. However, the two brothers may not be in disagreement. In Aula Lucis, Thomas explains things:


“It is Light then that wee must looke after, but of it selfe it is so thin and spirituall, wee can not lay hands upon it, and make it our Possession. We cannot confine it to any one place, or that it may no more rise, and set with the Sunne; wee cannot shut it up in a Cabinet, that we may use it when wee please, and in the darkest Night see a glorious Illustration. Wee must looke then for the Mansion of Light, that oylie Æthereal substance that retaines it, for by this meanes wee may circumscribe, and confine it.” (Works, 472).


What is important here, I think, is a tiny phrase in Henry’s poem one could easily miss: “as if.”[31] Henry is not saying his metaphorical bird knows the secret pathways to the light—only that it seems (in the world of the poem) as if it did. The house of light for Henry, then, is that which Thomas describes: the bird recognizes the light in the world. It is merely the innocence of the bird manifesting as instinct that allows the bird to recognize the splendor of the sun. The light of the sun, that is, is still material: the splendour contained in the aula lucis, on the other hand, is a spiritual substance revealed through all of creation.


William Huffman comments that, of all of the religio-scientific insights Robert Fludd arrived at “by contemplation” and presented to the public in his works, he was most proud of a figure representing “the emanation of spirit downward and matter upward by two interpenetrating pyr]. This is the essence of what has been called Fludd’s “non-mechanistic poesis”[32] and is present in the Vaughans as well. In Fludd’s magnum opus, the massive Utriusque Cosmi Historia (1617 – 1623)[33] we find several of these pyramids, which often are depicted in musical analogy as monochords.



The mundane and cosmic pyramids radiate toward one another, finding balance at the sphere of the sun (for Fludd, a signum of Christ[34]). Such a diagram and such an understanding of Christian metaphysics are certainly at home with the work and thought of the Vaughans. The earthly and divine orders completely interpenetrate, even though, as Fludd’s diagram illustrates, God himself (the fiery triangle at the top of the diagram) is completely outside of all order. The natural is never lacking the supernatural, nor the supernatural the natural; for, as Fludd’s design shows, though one triangle’s apex reaches the other’s base in a true spiritual reciprocity, even though it is diminished in proportion, it is still present. As Thomas Vaughan has it in Anima Magica Abscondita (1650), in words that almost serve as a caption for Fludd’s diagram, “Here now lies the Mystery of the Magicians denarius, his most secret and miraculous Pyramid, whose first Unity or Cone is always in Horizonte Eternitatis, but his Basis or Quadrate is here below in Horizonte Temporis” (Works, 111). He later reaffirms this notion with scripture, citing Wisdom 8:1, “God is not absent from his Creatures but that Wisdom reacheth mightily from one end to another and that his Incorruptible Spirit filleth all things” (112). Such an understanding is essential to Thomas’ thought, and his ongoing complaints against the innovations of the Neo-Scholastics are based precisely on the idea that they, he believes, hold God to be divorced from nature: “But, indeed, the doctrine of the schoolmen, which in a manner makes God and Nature contraries, hath so weakened our confidence towards Heaven that we look upon all Receptions from thence as impossibilities”[35] (Works, 83). It would be wrong, though, to ascribe this schematic to the “Great Chain of Being” familiar to scholars of Renaissance philosophy.[36] Fludd is not describing a system of degrees so much as two interpenetrating spheres, which we might call the natural and supernatural orders, that cannot even properly be thought of as discreet categories, save in the abstract. What we have here is less a hierarchical conception of world processes than a synergistic one.


Such an idea is hardly foreign to Henry Vaughan. The pyramid image, in fact, shows up in “The Tempest,” when Henry contemplates the ways in which human beings remain oblivious to this essential metaphysical truth:


All have their keyes, and set ascents; but man

Though he knows these, and hath more of his own,

Sleeps at the ladders foot; alas! what can

These new discoveries do, except they drown?

Thus groveling in shade, and darkness, he

Sinks to dead oblivion; and though all

He sees, (like Pyramids,) shoot from this ball

And less’ning grow up invisibly (lines 37 – 44)[37]


Though human beings cannot easily recognize such a phenomenon, Henry argues, it is nevertheless present. This is one of his favorite images, and, indeed, Henry often meditates upon the intertwined relationship of the divine and natural orders, as in “The Check,” where he writes,


Whose pow’r doth so excel

As to make Clay

A spirit, and true glory dwell

In dust, and stones” (lines 33 – 36).


Likewise, in “I Walkt the other day,” Henry articulates the ways in which God is signified in nature, indicating the flashes of the descending, celestial pyramid he detects in this world and the offer given to the flesh-bound to ascend:


That in these Masques and shadows I may see

Thy sacred way,

And by those hid ascents climb to that day

Which breaks from thee

Who art in all things, though invisibly (lines 50 – 54)


The source of this ascent is planted in human nature—and, indeed, in all nature. In “The Starre,” for example, this idea takes on colorings of metaphysical desire:


For where desire, celestiall, pure desire

Hath taken root, and grows, and doth not tire.

There God a Commerce states, and sheds

His Secret on their heads. (lines 25 – 28)


Henry also writes in terms of great consonance with Fludd’s design in the poem, “Ascension-Hymn.” The poem opens with the lines,


Dust and clay

mans antient wear!

Here you must stay,

But I elsewhere” (1 – 4)


and each stanza proceeds by degrees to illustrate the process of sublimation. The poem is a fine example of what Louis Martz called “melting association” in Henry’s work.[38] The speaker at first seems to be Christ as he ascends to heaven. Then the duties of speaker gradually slip over into a very human speaker, which is clear by the seventh and last stanza:


Hee alone

And none else can

Bring bone to bone

And rebuild man,

And by his all subduing might

Make clay ascend more quick then light (lines 37 – 42).


What is interesting here, besides the destabilization of speaker, is the way the poem performs ascension: the first word of the poem is “Dust” and the last is “light.” In between, as the reader tries to sort out the Christ-speaker from the human-speaker, we witness the equivalent of a literary sublimation. Not only that, but the reciprocity figured in the poem is stunning, as it opens with Christ contemplating the earthly and culminates with the human speaker contemplating the celestial.


Michael's latest book is Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses, including one on The Metaphysical Poets.

[1] Clement Salaman, “Echoes of Egypt in Hermes and Ficino,” in Marsilio Ficino: His Theology and His Legacy, ed. Michael J. B. Allen, Valery Rees, Martin Davies (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 116.


[2] Robert M. Schuler, “Some Spiritual Alchemies of Seventeenth-Century England,” Journal of the History of Ideas 41, no. 2 (1980): 309.


[3] Hermes Trismegisti Opuscula, cum fragmentis quotquot reperiuntur, ordine scientific disposita, et scholiis perutilibus illustrate (London, 1611).


[4] The Divine Pymander of Mercurius Trismegistus in XVII. Books, trans Doctor [John] Everard (London, 1649; 1657).


[5] See Works, 58, 60, 79, 145, 188, 191, 469.


[6] Holmes, Henry Vaughan and the Hermetic Philosophy, 1. See also L. C. Martin, editor, The Works of Henry Vaughan, 2nd ed. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1957). The first edition appeared in 1914.


[7] Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).


[8] Linden, Darke Hierogliphicks, 231 – 32.


[9] Quoted in Hutchinson, Life and Interpretation, 149.


[10] Thomas O. Calhoun, Henry Vaughan: The Achievement of Silex Scintillans (East Brunswick, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1981), 54.


[11] In French Fogle’s edition, John Carey gives this rendering: “Often have you attempted, I confess, to capture me without wounding me. Your speechless voice has tried unceasingly to bring me to my senses. Your divine breath has striven to win me over by its gentle motion, warning me in vain with sacred murmuring. I was deaf and dumb: a flint. So you consent (how great is your care for your dear ones!) to reform me in another way: you change your method completely and now, provoked, you declare that love cannot succeed: you plan to conquer force by force. You launch your attack and shatter that boulder, my stony heart. What was stone, becomes flesh. Look at it, broken in pieces! Look, its fragments are flashing at last to heaven and to you, and my cheeks are wet with tears wrung from flint. In the same way, ever provident for your people, you once commanded dry rocks to overflow and crags to gush with water. How marvelous your hand is! By dying I have gained new life: amidst the wreckage of my worldly fortunes, I am now richer than ever.”


[12] I find myself in agreement with Robert Ellrodt on the hegemony of the New Critical insistence on divorcing the author of a poem from the alleged “speaker,” especially of an early modern poem and even more so of an early modern religious poem. As Ellrodt writes, “My own conviction has always been that the author does speak and, when the writing is not purely imitative, does reveal some characteristics of his identity. Besides, through the study of a number of poets I was led to think that some unchanging structures of the individual mind were discernible in literary works.” See his Seven Metaphysical Poets: A Structural Study of the Unchanging Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 4.


[13] As, for instance, in Mark 7:32 – 37.


[14] Henry Vaughan is all too often described as a precursor to Wordsworth as some kind of Romantic avant le lettre, an unfortunately tenacious association. E. C. Pettet is guilty of such an association in his Of Paradise and Light: A Study of Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 13 – 14. See also Arthur C. Clements, Poetry of Contemplation: John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and the Modern Period (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990), 171.


[15] Ellrodt, Seven Metaphysical Poets, 70.


[16] Joseph A. Mazzeo sees Henry Vaughan’s habit of interpreting nature and things in nature as simultaneously signs of God, an inheritance of Bonaventurian spirituality, though this is certainly a feature of Franciscan spirituality in general. See Joseph A. Mazzeo, “Universal Analogy and the Culture of the Renaissance,” Journal of the History of Ideas 15, no. 2 (April 1954): 302.


[17] Jacob Behmen [Jacob Boehme], Signatura Rerum, trans. J. Ellistone (London, 1651), 2.


[18] Thalia Rediviva, the Pass-Times of a Countrey-Muse, in Choice Poems on several Occasions with Some Learned Remains of the Eminent Eugenius Philalethes, Never made Publick till now (1678).


[19] Rudrum provides this translation: “Behold, the magnet of the gods, and the throne of God who has been drawn down below the sun: flint of heavenly fires, fretted by the steel and vanishing in flames!” (Works, 758). The line following refers to “Depressa palmae” (“the oppressed palm-tree”) and certainly bears a relationship to Henry’s poem ‘The Palm-tree”: “Dear friend sit down, and bear awhile this shade / As I have yours long since; This Plant, you see / So prest and bow’d, before sin did degrade / Both you and it, had equal liberty / With other trees” (lines 1 – 5).


[20] This idea permeates Boehme’s mysticism. God’s wrath, however, was only revealed in Adam’s perception—God is unchangeable—as a result of the Fall. See, for example Jacob Behme [Jacob Boehme]. Concerning the Election of Grace. or Of Gods Will Towards Man. Commonly Called Predestination, trans. John Sparrow (London, 1655), especially chapter seven, from which I quote: “At this very hour, was in Man a Gate of the Dark world; in Gods anger, open; viz. Hell, or the Jawes and Throne of the Devill, as also the Kingdome of Phantasie was manifested in him. The Angry God, so called according to the Kingdome of Darknesse, was manifested in him, and caught hold on him according to the Soules Essence, in the Creature” (7.15; page 67).


[21] Calhoun, Achievement, 55.


[22] He actually alludes to his pseudonym twice in the text. See also, Works, 456.


[23] Rudrum interprets this as a gibe at Commonwealth-era “religious fanatics” who claimed immediate inspiration from the divine. (Works, 709, note 460.276-7). However, I think it more probable that Vaughan is suggesting that there is no revelation because no one (besides himself) is utilizing the methods he describes. Such an interpretation certainly agrees with the gist of the text.


[24] “Lucis universalis creatæ & spiritus mundani origo, admirabiles effectus, proprietates occulta, mysteria arcana” as well as the “admiranda Lucis arcana virtute.” Fludd, Apologia Compendiaria, 21.


[25] Fludd, Apologia Compendiaria, 23. Nor does Thomas Vaughan, as can be seen, for instance, first in Anthroposophia Theomagica. See Works, 58.


[26] McIntosh, “The Rosicrucian Legacy,” in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, 257.


[27] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Volume I: Seeing the Form, ed. Joseph Fessio S.J. and John Riches, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 20. Emphasis in source.


[28] Alan Rudrum, “An Aspect of Vaughan’s Hermeticism: The Doctrine of Cosmic Sympathy,” Studies in English Literature, 1500 – 1900 14, no. 1 (Winter 1974): 131.


[29] James 1:17.


[30] My emphasis.


[31] For a philosophical discussion of the “as if” see Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics, trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 35 – 39.


[32] William H. Huffman, Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge, 1988), 105.


[33] Taylor, Secular Age, 114.


[34] R. de Fluctibus [Robert Fludd], Utriusque Cosmi Mairois scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica, Physica Atque Technica Historia, 2 vol. (Oppenheim, 1617 – 1620).


[35] Debus, English Paracelsians, 113.


[36] In Anthroposophia Theomagica.


[37] The classic study on this concept is, of course, E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture: A Study of the Idea of Order in the Age of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton (1948; repr., New York: Vintage-Random House, 1968).


[38] Rudrum connects these lines with those of Thomas Vaughan on the pyramid in Anima Magica Abscondita quoted above. See Rudrum, note 42 – 4 to “The Tempest,” Complete Poems, ).

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