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Many serious scholars doubt that the old Rosicrucians ever existed as an organized fraternity. I refer to the article  Rosenkreuz in the “Handbuch der Freimaurerei” (Lenning), where this skeptical view is dominant. Other authors, on the contrary, believe in the existence of the old order and think that the freemasons who appeared in their present form in 1717 are the rosicrucians persisting, but with changed name. Joh.
Gottl. Buhle, a contemporary of Nicolai, had already assumed that the rosicrucian Michael Maier introduced rosicrucianism into England, and that freemasonry began then especially with the coöperation of the Englishman Robert Fludd (1574-1637).
Ferdinand Katsch warmly defended the actual existence of the old rosicrucian fraternity with arguments, some of which are disputed. He names with certainty a number of people as “true rosicrucians,” among them Julianus de Campis, Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, Frisius or Frizius, Comenius (Katch, p. 33).
Rosicrucianism turned into freemasonry for practical reasons.
As the most outstanding imposters represented themselves as rosicrucians this name was not conserved. The wrong was Section IV. Rosicrucianism And Freemasonry. 135 prevented, in that the true rosicrucians withdrew as such and assumed a different dress.
Generally we imagine a different origin of freemasonry. We are accustomed to look for its beginnings in practical masonry, whose lodges can be traced back to the fourteenth century. The old unions of house builders were joined by persons who were not actual workers but lay members, through whom spiritual power was added to the lodges. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the old working masonry was transformed into the  spiritual symbolical freemasonry, but with a continuance of its forms. At that time in London the building lodges had diminished to four. These were united on June 24 (St. John's Day), 1717, and chose Anton Sayer for their grand master. That is the origin of Freemasonry as it exists to-day.
This derivation is and will be considered unsatisfactory by many, however much it may satisfy the merely documentary claims. The attempt to make it better required an inventive phantasy and this was not always fortunate in its attempts. The rosicrucian theory cannot be dismissed off hand, especially if we conceive it in a somewhat broader sense. In agreement with Katsch, Höhler (Herm. Phil., p. 6) recalls how generally people were occupied in the 16th and 17th centuries in the whole of western Europe with cabala, theosophy, magic (physics), astrology and alchemy, and indeed this held true of higher and lower social strata, scholars and laymen, ecclesiastic and secular.
“The entire learned theology turned on cabala. Medicine was based on theosophy and alchemy and the latter was supposed to be derived from theosophy and astrology.” Höhler, in one respect, goes further than Katsch and conjectures: “Freemasonry had its roots in the chemical societies of the 16th and 17th centuries, in which all those things were fostered that constituted the science of that day.” This theory is incomparably more open to discussion than if one attempts to confine the origin to the insecure base of rosicrucianism. We shall learn to appreciate  136 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts more fully the significance of the chemical societies.
In connection with the question, important for us, as to the position of the alchemy of the rosicrucians (whether they lived only in books or as an actual brotherhood), it is worth while to glance at the literature.
Joachin Frizius, whom some think identical with Fludd, writes in the “Summum Bonum, quod est verum Magiae, Cabalae, Alchymiae, verae Fratrum Roseae Crucis verorum subjectum” (first published in Frankfort, 1629):
“Aben ( ) means a stone. In this one cabbalistic stone we have the Father, Son and Holy Ghost... for in Hebrew Ab ( ) means Father and Ben ( ) Son. But where the Father and Son are present there the Holy Ghost must be also.... Let us now examine this Stone as the foundation of the macrocosm....
Therefore the patriarch Jacob spake, ‘How dreadful is this place.
This is none other but the house of God,’ and rose up and took the stone that he had put for his pillow and poured oil upon the top of it, and said, ‘This stone that I have set for a pillar shall be God's house, etc.’ If therefore a God's house, then God is in that place or else his earthly substance. Here it was that the patriarch, as he slept on this stone, conserved something divine and miraculous, through the power of that spirit-filled stone which in its corporeality is similar to the relation of the body to the soul. But the spiritual stone was Christ; but Christ is the eternal wisdom, in which as the scripture says are many  mansions, which are undoubtedly distinguished on account of the different grades of grace and blessedness. For blessedness follows wisdom or knowledge, the higher and more we know the farther we go towards the Godhead.” (Summ. Bon., pp. 17 ff.) “Thereupon it clearly appears who this macrocosmic Stone Aben... really is, and that his fiery spirit is the foundation stone of all and given for all (sit lapis seu petra catholica atque universalis)... which was laid in Zion as the true foundation, on which the prophets and the apostles as well have built, but Section IV. Rosicrucianism And Freemasonry. 137 which was also to the ignorant and wicked builders a stumbling block and bone of contention. This stone therefore is Christ who has become our Cornerstone....” (Summ. Bon., p. 19.) “If we consider now the stone Aben in its significance for the microcosmos... we shall soon be sure that as a stone temple of God it can have no less value for every outer man in so far as the Holy Ghost also reserves a dwelling in him forever.” (Summ.
Bon., p. 20.) “That is also the reason why the stone Aben appears in double form (quod ambae petrae), that is, in the macrocosmic and in the microcosmic.... For the spiritual stone is Christ that fulfills all.
So we also are parts of the spiritual stone and such are also living stones, taken out of that universal stone (a petra illa catholica excisi)....” (Summ. Bon., p. 20.) Here again we have the alchemistic distinction between the universal and the particular,  and the like distinction is also expressed by the opposition of the celestial and the terrestrial stones. The second chapter of I Peter
speaks of the living stone. I Corinthians X, 4, says likewise:
“And did all drink of that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ.” Alchemistically expressed it is called aurum potabile (drinkable gold).
“But,” now you ask, “where then is all the gold with which those alchemists [Fama] glitter so famously?” So we answer you.... “Our gold is indeed not in any way the gold of the multitude, but it is the living gold, the gold of God.... It is wisdom, which the psalmist means, Ps. XII, 6, ‘The words of the Lord are pure words as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.’ If you now wish... to put before yourself the true and actual animal stone, then seek the cornerstone, which is the means of all change and transformation, in yourself.” (Summ.
Bon., pp. 34 ff.) “Finally the brother works towards the consummation of his labors in the form of a master builder (denique sub architecti figura operatur frater ad huius operis perfectionem).... Only 138 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts for the better carrying out of our building and thereby to attain the rose-red bloom of our cross concealed in the center of our foundation... we must not take the work superficially, but must dig to the center of the earth, knock and seek.” (Summ.
Bon., p. 48; Trans. Katsch, pp. 413 ff.) Just after that he speaks of the three dimensions, height, depth, and breadth.
 The masonic symbolism is accompanied clearly enough in the “Summum Bonum” by the alchemistic. Notice the knocking and seeking, and what is mentioned in the doctrines about the form of the Lodge. Immediately thereafter is a prolix discussion of the geometric cube.
Frizius and Fludd contribute also a letter supposed to have been sent by rosicrucians to a German candidate. It says, “Since you are such a stone as you desire, and such a work...
cleanse yourself with tears, sublimate yourself with manners and virtues, decorate and color yourself with the sacramental grace, make your soul sublime toward the subtile meditation of heavenly things, and conform yourself to angelic spirits so that you may vivify your moldering body, your vile ashes, and whiten them, and incorruptibly and painlessly gain resurrection through J[esus] C[hrist] O[ur] L[ord].” In another passage: “Be ye transformed, therefore, be ye transmuted from mortal to living philosophic stones.” In the “Clavis Philosophiae et Alchymiae Fluddanae” (published in Latin in 1633), are passages like the following:
“Indeed every pious and righteous man is a spiritual alchemist....
We understand by that a man who understands not only how to distinguish but with the fire of the divine spirit to separate [spagiric art] the false from the true, vice from virtue, dark from light, the uncleanness of vice from the purity of the spirit emulating God. For only in this way is unclean lead turned into gold.” (P. 75.) “If one now ventures to say that the Word of  Christ or the Holy Ghost of wisdom dwells in the microcosmic heaven [i.e., in the soul of man] we should not decry the blind Section IV. Rosicrucianism And Freemasonry. 139 children of the world as godless and abandoned. [But certainly the divine spirit is, as is later averred, the rectangular stone in us, on which we are to build.] This divine spark is, however, continuous and eternal; it is our gold purchasable of Christ....
So it happens in accordance with the teachings of Christ, or the Word become flesh, that if the true alchemists keep on seeking and knocking, they attain to the knowledge of the living fire.” (P. 81.) So again the important knocking and seeking of masonic symbolism, and this indeed, for the purpose of learning to know a fire.
In reference to the really elevating thoughts of the “Summum Bonum,” Katsch, enthusiastic about these ideas, exclaims: “What language, what an unflinching courage, what a dignified humility.
Even the most reluctant will not be able to avoid the admission that here quite unexpectedly he has... met the original and ideal form of freemasonry.” The comparison of masonry and alchemy remains true even if we work more critically than Katsch, who is accused of many inaccuracies. I recall for instance the later researches of the thorough and far-seeing Dr. Ludwig Keller.
For the illumination of the darkness that has spread over the past of freemasonry, Keller shows us (B. W. and Z., pp. 1,
2) the rich material of symbolism that is offered the diligent student, first of all in the very copious literature, printed matter,  and especially in the manuscripts, that is known by the name of Chemistry or Alchemy.
In the symbols of the alchemists, the rosicrucians, the Lodges, etc., “we meet a language that has found acceptance among all occidental peoples in analogous form, not indeed a letter or word language, but a language nevertheless, a token or a symbol language of developed form, which is evident even in the rock temples of the so-called catacombs, once called latomies and loggie. The single images and symbols have something to say only to the person who understands this language. To the man 140 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts who does not understand it, they say nothing and are not expected to say anything.” In reference to the symbol and image language, which was comprehensible only to the initiated, we think naturally of the ancient mysteries. The religious societies of the oldest Christians, in the centuries when Christianity belonged in the Roman Empire to the forbidden cults, found a possibility of existence before the law in the form of licensed societies, i.e., as guilds, burial unions, and corporations of all sorts. The primitive Christians were not the only forbidden sects that sought and found this recourse.
Under the disguise of schools, trade unions, literary societies, and academies, there existed in the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, and later inside of the world church, organizations that before the law were secular societies, but in the minds of the initiated were associations of a religious character. Within these associations there appeared very early a well developed system of symbols,  which were adopted for the purpose of actually maintaining, through the concealment necessitated by circumstances, their unions and their implements and customs—symbols that they chose as cloaks and that in the circle of the initiated were explained and interpreted according to the teachings of their cult.
Valuable monuments of this symbolism are preserved in the vast rock temples that are found in Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Sicily, and the Apennine peninsula, in Greece, France, and on the Rhine, and these vaults, which in part also served the early Christians as places of worship, show in their images and records and in their architectural form so close a resemblance that they must be acknowledged as the characteristic of a great religious cult extending over many lands, which has had consistent traditions for the use of such symbols and for the production of these structures.
Many of these symbols, it should be noted in passing, are borrowed from those tokens and implements of the building corporations, which were necessary to the completion of their Section IV. Rosicrucianism And Freemasonry. 141 buildings (Keller, l. c., p. 4). An important part was played even in the early Christian symbolism by the sacred numbers and the figures corresponding to them, a group of educational symbols which we find likewise in the pythagorean and platonic schools.
It is known that the symbolical language of the subterranean rock temples, some of which were used by the earliest Christians for their religious worship, are closely connected with the  pythagorean and platonic doctrines. From the year 325 A.
D. on, every departure from the beliefs of the state church was considered a state offense. So those Christians who retained connection with the ancient philosophic schools were persecuted.