Ideas in Society, 1500-1700
Robert Fludd (1574-1637)
Robert Fludd was born at Milgate House, in the parish of Bearsted, Kent. His father was Sir Thomas Fludd who served Queen Elizabeth for many years and received his knighthood for his services as War Treasurer in the Netherlands.  Little is known concerning the early life of Robert Fludd. At the age of seventeen, he entered St. John's College, Oxford and graduated B.A. and M.A. between the years 1596-1598.  Upon graduation, Fludd travelled to the Continent to further his studies. It was during his six years of study as a medical student that he became proficient in chemistry, which led him into Paracelsian medical circles.  He returned to Oxford and graduated as Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine. However, he was considered suspect both in Oxford and at the College of Physicians in London, where he had difficulty gaining admission.

He established a medical practice in London and was successful enough to employ his own apothecary and maintain his own laboratory to prepare his chemical remedies, as well as carry on his alchemical experiments.  His works were published abroad, perhaps because they were not really compatible with either Calvinist theology or the orthodox Galenism that was dominant in London medicine.  Despite having very different philosophical interests from those of his colleague, William Harvey, Fludd was one of the first to accept the circulation of the blood, because he saw it as compatible with his macrocosm-microcosm view of creation.

A close friend and colleague of Fludd was Michael Maier, who also claimed to be a Rosicrucian.  Perhaps prompted by Maier's visit to London,  Fludd's earliest works defended the mysterious society.

The biblical story of the Creation was central to theories of the origins of the cosmos, or cosmogeny.  In 1617, Fludd published two works dealing with the subject.

The first was Tractatus Theologo-Philosophicus. It concerns life, death and resurrection and is essentially a mystical and alchemical account of creation combined with his Mosaical philosophy. As a retelling of Genesis, it describes creation, the garden, Adam and the Fall. It begins with the premise that God, the Word and Light are the origin of the universal life, and the Devil, the origin of death. As an alchemical interpretation, it deals with the separations as a chemical process, or " 'high Chymicall virtue' that effected 'the separation of one region from another'...Quite simply, 'earth is dense water, and water is dense air,...air is nothing else than dense and crass fire.' "

Divine Light remains a central theme throughout Fludd's writings and represents the active principle behind creation. He considered Adam to be the divine animal, his mind a palace of light and a perfect work of God. The Resurrection represents the return to this state of being, before the Fall.

This work did not receive a great deal of attention or debate. However, its importance to us is that it is dedicated to the Brotherhood of the Rose Cross. In this work, Fludd maintains that those who were really sons of God were the light in the World. Chief among these are the brethren of the Rosy Cross. They have all virtues. Their light is greater than the rising sun. We have, he exclaims 'Leonem fortissimum solem devorantem.' They possess the true alchemy.  Fludd ends this work by referring to a passage in the Fama, descriptive of the heptagonal monument, supposed to be found in the famous vault, "which was enlightened with another Sun, which was situated in the upper part in the centre of the building." There was found the body of Brother R.C., and the inscription Jesus mihi omnia.

Whether the brotherhood really existed has been a matter of some debate.  Clearly, Christian Rosenkreutz, the supposed founder, was a mythical figure, but it is unclear whether there were any real meetings of sympathizers or whether it was an "Invisible College", to which like-minded alchemical philosophers claimed allegiance.  Johann Heinrich Alsted wrote in 1620 of Joachim Morsius, "he is a noble from Hamburg, a chemical philosopher who has spent a small fortune searching for the Fraternity of the Rosicrucians..."  It can perhaps be seen as the radical wing of the alchemical movement, most addicted to philosophical and theological speculation.  Those who openly espoused Rosicrucian ideas were attacked, not only by more orthodox Protestants and Catholics, but also by moderate chemists such as Andreas Libavius.

The concepts of the Tractatus are continued in his next work. In 1617, Fludd published the first part of his largest work entitled, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica Physica Atque Technica Historia. Overall, the work deals with the history of the Macrocosm from the abyss, the first Light, through the separations and diversities, to the Microcosm of man. It depicts the separation between the lower world of elements from the lower heavenly realm which in turn is separated from the celestial realm beyond the stars. It is based on the concept that all was created from the Light of God, and as the light emanated farther and farther into darkness, the more darkness subdues the light. This, however, is not strictly in a linear sense. The outpouring was both outward and inward. In other words, everything is both a macrocosm and microcosm. As man is a microcosm to the greater cosmos, he is also a macrocosm to the cells of the body, and the cells are a macrocosm to another microcosm until all circles are complete.

In all realms of creation there are beings: angels in the empyrean world; stars, planets and demons in the ethereal, and the elemental world of men, plants and minerals. All these creatures partake of God's light in measure according to their place on the hierarchy. But there is one level in particular which, though not at the top of the hierarchy, is nevertheless particularly favoured by God. This is the Sun, which is placed at the crucial midpoint of the chain of being, where spirit and matter are in perfect equity and balance.

All these beings are within an hierarchical structure and have within them a corresponding degree of light. Or, they are beings who serve the devil with their corresponding degree of darkness. The Sun is a midpoint of these realms and is considered by Fludd to be the Tabernacle of God. When the initiate comprehends the midpoint, he may recognize instantly those who serve the Light and those who serve the dark. However, the infallibility and purity of this recognition is only by the acceptance of the midpoint at the center of their being which reflects the Tabernacle and leads them the embrace of the Alpha and the Omega.

This macrocosmic history is dedicated to God and secondly to King James. Interestingly, his dedication to King James included a defense of the Rosicrucian brotherhood, a 'Declaratio brevis', the purpose of which was to defend the society from the suspicions of theologians. Letters of support from French and German associates were attached to the Declaration.

This work was never completed and was supposed to have been in two volumes, the first to contain two treatises, and the second, three. What was completed was not finished until 1624. His views were based on a combination of Scriptural, Hermetic and alchemical authorities. Fludd believed that humankind should base their knowledge on revelation as seen in the Holy Scripture and in Nature, God's book of creation. His Mosaical philosophy was linked to mystical alchemical interpretations frequent among Paracelsians, and  he often refers to Hermes Trismegistus in his works.

Fludd starts with the hypothesis that "all things were completely and ideally in God and of God before they were made; that from God all things did flow and spring, namely, out of a secret and hidden nature to a revealed and manifest condition."  God formed a thought in His mind which was the structure and form of the Macrocosm and through the power of love, the thought was brought into existence. This bringing forth was through a series of circles. Circumferences and circles are important images throughout the copperplate illustrations of "Historia."

The title page shows a diagram of the macrocosm and microcosm surrounded by an abundance of clouds. The circle is encompassed by a cord wrapped four times and pulled by a winged creature with hoofs, and on his head is the sandglass, depicting Time. Most of Fludd's illustrations represent the universe as a series of circles each surrounding the first, much like looking down into a spiral. He borrows from Trismegistus to illustrate the concentric flow, God is the centre of everything
whose circumference is no where to be found.

Fludd also uses other images such as triangles and squares. In the first chapter, he describes nature as "spiritus immenus, ineffabilis"; God, depicted as a triangle, is the artificer of all, and Man, is the image of God. God is also depicted as the Triangle within a circle. Inside the triangle are three inner circles -- elemental, ethereal and angelic. The light triangle of the Trinity represents God, who remains 'beyond all things,' entering the black hole of matter. As a result three worlds the center is the Tetragrammaton.

Fludd then describes the threefold manifestation. The first material of the earth was formless and void, surrounded by darkness. From the chaotic abyss Light rose and order began. That is, order came from Chaos by the light acting upon it, and substance was formed. Light, always a central theme with Fludd, is pure fire. It is light which gives the angelic world its glory and splendour...God dwells in 'light inaccessible.' Thus, 'the Light is the life of men.'

The purer part of the elementary substance rose into the upper, the heavenly, and more divine part of the macrocosmos, but the denser remained below. This applies also to angelic existences, and to the nature of man. The macrocosm has three 'regions'. The highest includes the heavens of the formed of perfect light and purest spirit. The middle is the place of the stars, the state of lesser light, neither very gross nor very subtle. The lower is itself divided in three parts: the tabernacle, second is the earth, and the middle is the region of water and air. The archetypical world remains in the Divine Mind.

Again, these concepts are illustrated by circular forms depicting the circular progression in the universe, a concept found in the Tractatus, in which Fludd described the operation of God's order through the circumgyration of His threefold Light.  The next book in the Macrocosmic History concerns the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres, or sound created by the movement of the heavenly bodies and which makes the universe one musical instrument. Earthly music is only the faint "tradition of the angelic state, it remains in the mind of man as a dream of, and the sorrow for, the lost paradise." The music is "produced from the impact upon the paths of the planets, which stand as chords or strings, by the cross travel of the sun from note to note, as from planet to planet."

Fludd illustrates his point with a diagram of a sphere covered by an instrument with only one chord. The sun is the center of the picture. The different circles represent the issuance of the different notes. To each member of each realm, is assigned a note, Low G for earth up through gg for the highest division of the angelic world.

Later in the Microcosmic History Fludd continues this concept to show that the same Divine Harmony influences the interior of the "anima humana." The Microcosmic reflection of the Threefold Division, or Holy Trinity, is made complete by the heavenly music of the Divine Essence which illuminates the opaque body and creates a harmony between body and soul and makes it complete.

The next part of the treatise concerns the creatures of the angelic and ethereal worlds. In the angelic world, there are nine "good" daemons  in the hierarchy -- Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Princes, Archangels and Angels. The creatures of the Ethereal world are light, stars, planets and spirit. Lucifer has his own nine orders with named princes: Beelzebub, Python, Belial, Asmodaeus, Satan, Meririm, Abaddon, Astaroth and Mammon. This implies the concept of correspondences between the lower and upper worlds. In other words, we do not turn our back to an evil earthly life and rise up to purely positive higher realms by a simple act of will. Rather, according to the dominant note within our natural, intelligent and spiritual self, we correspond to the country of which we are citizen. The return to the palace of light is by the mystical process of purification.

Fludd then describes the "Anima Mundi." As man has a soul, then must the macrocosmos have a soul. This 'supreme intelligence' is of 'an angelicall nature'; 'God is all, and in all, and above all, and that in Him are all things, and in His spirit and word all things consist. God is in everything that existeth, seeing that from Him, by Him, and in Him are all things.'

This concept of the "Anima Mundi", the soul of the world, brought Fludd a great deal of criticism and accusations of being a heretic. However, what is interesting about the Plate, The Ptolemaic Universe III which depicts the Anima Mundi is that it is very similar to a description in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelations: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

The third chapter deals with the origin and diversity of the Macrocosm, and Fludd uses an image that is repeated later. The sun, Fludd considers, is the centre and fountain of all life, all heat proceeds from it, and there has God placed His tabernacle. It must have a center, and there God dwells. Divine power issues forth from the sun. Thus 'the heavens declare the glory of God.' The sun is full of essential divinity, and took its origin when the light, which was extended over all the heavens in place of the sun, was in the fourth day of creation.

Placing the tabernacle of God in a position that is more spiritual, less material than the earth, yet more material than the outer planets raised a few questions. Fludd compensated this issue by referring to the Sun as a second home, as it were, for God. Later, in defending many of his ideas, he notes in like manner that God works through secondary causes.

An illustration that is referred to as The Central Sun depicts concentric circles of the elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth and in the center is the Sun. Fludd derived this image from an alchemical experiment which he witnessed performed by a friend, and describes in detail the battle of elements which was reproduced in the vessel. At the end, he says, they extracted from the centre of the mass a 'solar substance', a precious gem 'like Lucifer fallen from heaven.'

Perhaps this experiment is reflected in Fludd's alchemical interpretation of Creation. After the three stages the 'darkness of the lower region was treble after ye second heavens perfection.' The resultant chaos therefore contains the three true elements (fire, humidity and earth) and from them proceed the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. This mystical alchemical account of Genesis also explains the major concentric spheres of our world.

The first part of "Historia" ends with treatments of the elemental world, mostly inanimate such as minerals, metals, plants and vegetables.

The second part of "Historia Technica" was published in 1618, a part of which concerns the universal arithmetic in eleven books. In 1619, the "Tomus Secudus" of the "Historia" was issued. It is divided in three tracts. The visual of the title shows a naked youth in the center of a circle and represents the Microcosm.

The work begins with a prayer of gratitude to God for His mercy and kindness, God the incomprehensible creator of man. Fludd calls upon man to worship and praise God, for from God man was imbued by the breath of life. 'Tu Solus, Tu Ter Maximus, O Jehova.' He is God, whose ineffable name shall be blessed forever.' The power of Jehova was one of the deepest realizations of Fludd.

Fludd then looks to the cause of discord in creation. Although God, in the most Holy Trinity, is the original of concord, the Devil, on the other hand, is the parent of discord. Thus the strife between concord and discord produced between light and darkness. From this discord, introduced into the heavenly music and perfect progression of the spheres, has come the fear of death, the fall of Adam. Hence, bad is taken for good, hence the love of the world and vanity, hence the hatred of God, the

However, the pure soul can rise and be guided by the rays of wisdom to discern the path of rectitude. The divine architect who formed the universe, made man equally perfect and complete, the image of His own greatness. The circle of existence was made complete. The circle of existence which formed the worlds, formed man...what perfection the world received, that also did man receive. Heaven and earth have their counterparts in the body and soul of man. As the universe is one, so body and soul are one. Thus man is properly called the image of God--the other man, regularly
proportioned, can be bounded by a circle, at the centre of which are the organs of reproduction. Thus, is man the 'mundus minor.'

As a microcosm, man reflects the Threefold nature of Divinity in terms of reason in the head, feeling in the heart and the means by which they emanate, so that the reason and feeling ultimately form a single unity by virtue of the third power. Further, as the Sun is the Tabernacle of God and mid-region of the macrocosm, so the heart is the Tabernacle of man and his center. Our heart then can become to us our personal and immediate pathway, awareness and realization of God's presence within us.

The soul of man is united with the Deity and various physical attributes are related to the angelic world. For this reason, in contradistinction to the lower creatures, he lifts his head ascertaining man's position as microcosm, he is to face the east.

Robert Fludd makes a distinction between what are the mortal and immortal parts of man. As stated, the soul is related to God. Our animal part belongs to nature and returns to the dark regions as dust to dust. The spirit of life is the central part. It is etherial, and is connected both with the true mind and the animal spirit. It is that life which is the cause of all the functional aspects of life.
    "Know truly, that man is framed and consisteth of flesh and an inward soule, and that either of this two hath his bliss and pleasure a part, for as much as the highest happiness and goodness of the Soul is God himself With the mellifluous influence of his sweetness; but the cheefest solace and pleasure of the flesh is the World With his delightful concupiscences. Againe consider that the World is but an external object, When contrarywise nothing is more internal and present With man then God, being that in him are all things, and againe he is exterior to each thing, in so much as he comprehendeth and is above all things. If God then be all in all, above all, Without all, and that be unity, Why shouldest thou so Wickedly teare and rent that Unity and goodness of God in pieces." Fludd, Calumniators Vision

The soul of man, says Fludd, also has a threefold nature: corporal, spiritual and intellectual. Respectively the divisions function in spheres of (1) color and sensations, using perceptive attributes of consciousness, (2) spiritual correspondences and (3) reflection within the mind of the virtues.

The second section of Technica Historia is in seven parts which deal with Prophecy, Geomancy, Memory, the art of casting Nativities, Physiognomy, hand reading and the science of the Pyramid.

Again, Fludd brings in the concept of correspondence in the realm of divination. First, having a gift of prophecy does not necessarily make one a benevolent prophet, and the information received is not necessarily of a positive nature. A prophet of pure heart may be filled with God's spirit and make known to others the will of God. However, Fludd admonishes, evil spirits also enter into men, but by the power of the devil, and try to foretell events. Twelve laws are given to distinguish true from false prophets.

Fludd ends the second tractate with Theosophical and Cabalistic studies. He asks the reader to see in the Hebrew characters the fiery symbols of the sacred Trinity. He explains the ten sephiroths and interprets them as rays emanating from the Sun and acting as a garment of light with which Jehovah covered himself. The tree of life illustrates his previous treatments of the hierarchal structures and different realms, and once again the Divine Light is an essential theme and the invisible Word of God. "The universal and mystical word, the light uncreated, is exhibited in universal nature by the watery Mem and the igneous Shin. So we are to venerate Jehovah as revealed in the light of the sun, moon and stars; in them, by them existing, and existing beyond all and in all. His power is seen both in macrocosm and
microcosm, even in the fire of Gehenna."

Fludd ends this section acknowledging that his efforts may be met with mockery, but they were done in good conscience and patience. He does not seek riches but only desires to peacefully serve God. Fludd was correct in his anticipation that his work would be criticized and with great severity.

The French priest, mathematician and natural philosopher, Marin Mersenne, accused Fludd of being a magician, an atheist and heretic.  In his commentary on Genesis, he objected to an alchemical interpretation of creation. While he saw the value in alchemy, he felt it should remain divorced from theology and left entirely to medicine and science. Further, he did not like the idea of Christ being reduced to the angelic world and even worse, a mere angel. Fludd countered this as a misinterpretation on Mersenne's part by saying that a single principle manifests in different ways in different realms. Further, that the first light is reflected in the angelic world much like a mirror. Without the first light there would be no reflection, and without the reflection, nothing could be created.

Mersenne was also offended by the concept of the Anima Mundi, a criticism we noted earlier. He was quite outraged that, "All souls, whether of men or of brutes, are none other than particles of this same Soul."

A number of years went by before Fludd answered the charges leveled at him by Mersenne. First, in a book written on Genesis in which he defended his analogy of the Macrocosm and Microcosm as a model of the universe, insisting on the harmony that existed between the two worlds. Further, his view on the angelic world had nothing to do with magic, and cabalistic treatments are not a matter of heresy. Fludd claims his place is in the church catholic apart altogether from Rome. He appeals to the searcher of hearts to examine his very soul and see how false such an accusation is. He offers a prayer addressed to the "Eternal Wisdom, dwelling in light eternal--the spotless mirror of God's majesty."

In 1629 another piece was published by Fludd called Sophiae Cum Moria Certamen. Affixed to it was a folio, Summum Bonum, written under a pen name, Joachim Frizius. The title page shows a rose on a cross stem. There are two bees, beehives and a spider's web across them. This work treats not only the essence of alchemy, but was also a defence of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.

The author explains the different kinds of magic, the divine and the foolish, and that all magic is not rejected by Christian authors. He points out the wise men who visited the new born Christ were Magi and that secret arts do not offend God. Fludd, or the author, concludes with a summation which he addresses to the most Christian readers.

1. That all Christians are said to be living stones, they bear the same name and are the same in significance as S. Peter.

2. That all Christians are stones, members of the great "petra Catholilca," it follows that no single man, not even S. Peter, can alone be said to be the foundation of the Catholic Church.

3. As Christ lay hidden in the rock of Moses, and as the spiritual body lies hidden in the natural body, so the words of the apostle are true --"The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."

4. The true corner stone is Christ.

5. The Incarnation opened the way to the knowledge of the what that corner stone is.

6. Vain, therefore, are all traditions and teachings which would persuade us that Cephas was this foundation.

7. God having willed to tabernacle amongst mortal men, uses the same imagery and confirms its explanation as now given. 'Listen' says the prophet, 'and see the rock from which ye were hewn.'"

True alchemy is then treated. "Our gold is not the gold of the vulgar, but the living gold, the very gold of God...There is a spiritual chemistry, which purges by tears, sublimates by manners and virtues, decorates by sacramental graces, makes even the putrid body and the vile ashes to become living, and makes the soul capable of contemplating the things of heaven and the angelic world."

Fludd maintains that throughout history there has been a continuity of men who turned away from the gross and material in order to dedicate themselves to the spiritual life and investigation into the mysteries. These people have been few in number, "yet a few seek the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God, the hidden manna, the white stone, the white vesture. Their names are written in the book of life and they become pillars in the spiritual temple. These, indeed, inhabit the house of
wisdom, which is founded on the mount."

Robert Fludd wrote scientific, medical and alchemical books in addition to his philosophical writings. He was consumed by his work and this feverish pitch may have contributed to his death, the cause of which is not known. He knew he was in a weakened state and that his time was soon to come. He methodically arranged his affairs, arranged a full heraldic funeral, and had prepared a special stone for his grave. He died on September 8, 1637 and was buried in Bearsted Church.


William H. Huffman, Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance, London: Routledge, 1988

Allen G. Debus, Robert Fludd & His Philosophical Key, Being a Transcription of the Manuscript at Trinity College , Cambridge, New York: Science History, 1979

Robert M. Schuler, "Some Spiritual Alchemies of Seventeenth-Century England", Journal of the History of Ideas 41 (1980) 293-318

Allen G. Debus, "Robert Fludd and the Circulation of the Blood", Journal of the History of Medicine 16 (1961) 374-393

William H. Huffmann and Robert A. Seelinger Jr., "Robert Fludd's Declaratio Brevis to James I", Ambix 25 (1978) 69-92

Robert S. Westman, "Nature, art, and psyche: Jung, Pauli, and the Kepler-Fludd polemic", in Brian Vickers, ed., Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge, 1984) 177-229

Allen G. Debus, "The chemical debates of the 17th century: The reaction to Robert Fludd and Jean Baptiste van Helmont", in M.L. Righini Bonelli and W.R. Shea, eds., Reason, Experiment, and Mysticism in the Scientific Revolution (New York, 1975) 19-47