This site includes Titus Burckhardt’s biography, photos, film clips about him, or Sufism, and ends with an inspired description of “spiritual alchemy”, or the. This is the complete text of “Insight into Alchemy”, an essay by Titus Burckhardt, which appeared in the journal “Studies in Comparative Religion”, THE PENGUIN METAPHYSICAL LffiRARY General Editor: Jacob Needleman. ALCHEMY. The son of the Swiss sculptor Carl Burckhardt, Titus Burckhardt was.
He devoted all his life to the study and exposition of the different aspects of Wisdom and Tradition. In the age of modern science burckyardt technocracy, Titus Burckhardt was one of the most remarkable of the exponents of universal truth, in the realm of metaphysics as well as in the realm of cosmology and of traditional art. In a world of existentialism, psychoanalysis, and sociology, he was a major voice of the philosophia perennisthat “wisdom uncreate” that is expressed in Platonism, Vedanta, Sufism, Taoism, and other authentic esoteric or sapiential teachings.
In literary and philosophic terms, he alcnemy an eminent member of the “traditionalist” or “perennialist” school of 20th century thinkers and writers. Although he first saw the light of ubrckhardt in Florence, Burckhardt was the scion of a patrician family of Basle. He was the great-nephew of the famous art-historian Jacob Burckhardt and the son of the sculptor Carl Burckhardt.
Titus Burckhardt was Frithjof Schuon’s junior by one year, and they spent their early schooldays together in Basle around the time of the First World War. This was the beginning of an intimate friendship and a deeply burckjardt intellectual and spiritual relationship that was to last a lifetime.
Titus Burckhardt: Biography, Photos, Sample Writings, Slideshows, Bibliography, Resources
Burckhardt’s chief metaphysical exposition, beautifully complementing the work of Schuon, is An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine. This is an intellectual masterpiece which analyzes comprehensively and with precision the nature of esoterism as such.
It begins by making clear, by a series of lucid and economical definitions, what esoterism is and what it is not, goes on to examine the doctrinal foundations of Islamic esoterism or Sufism, and ends with an inspired description of “spiritual alchemy”, or the contemplative path that leads to spiritual realization.
This work clearly established Burckhardt as the leading exponent, after Schuon, of intellectual doctrine and spiritual method. Burckhardt devoted a large portion of his writings to traditional cosmology, which he saw in a sense as the “handmaid of metaphysics”.
He formally presented the principles at stake in a masterly and concise article “The Cosmological Perspective”, first published in French in and now constituting a chapter in the present volume. Much later—in a series of articles published in both French and German in —he covered the cosmological ground very fully indeed, and also made many detailed references to the main branches of modern science.
All of these articles are included in the present book, in the section entitled “Traditional and Modern Science”. Not unconnected with his interest in cosmology, Burckhardt had a particular affinity with traditional art and craftsmanship and was skilled in the evaluation of traditional architecture, iconography, and other arts and crafts. In particular, he dwelt on how they had been—and could be—turned to account spiritually, both as meaningful activities which by virtue of their inherent symbolism harbor a doctrinal message, and above all as supports for spiritual realization and means of grace.
Here of course it is a case of scientia sacra and ars sacrathese being the two sides of the same coin. This is the realm of the craft initiations of the various traditional civilizations, and specifically of such things, in the Middle Ages, as operative masonry and alchemy. Indeed Burckhardt’s principal work in the field of cosmology was his full-length book Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soula brilliant presentation of alchemy as the expression of a spiritual psychology and as an intellectual and symbolic support for contemplation and realization.
Burckhardt’s main work in the field of art was his Sacred Art in East and Westwhich contains masterly chapters on the metaphysics and esthetics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Burckhatdt, Christianity, and Islam, and ends with a useful and practical insight into the contemporary situation entitled “The Decadence and Renewal of Christian Art”. Many extracts from this book are included here. His main activity during these years was the production and publication of a whole series of facsimiles of exquisite illuminated medieval manuscripts, especially early Celtic manuscripts of the Gospels, such as the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow from Trinity College, Dublin and the Book of Lindisfarne from the British Library, London.
This was pioneer work of the highest quality and a publishing achievement which immediately received wide acclaim both from experts and the wider public. Alchmey Urs Graf Alchey House wished to present a copy of the edition to the saintly and princely Pope, and it was decided that there could be no better person to effect the presentation than their artistic director Burckhardt.
In the eyes of the Pope, Burckhardt was ostensibly a Protestant gentleman from Basle. The Pope granted him a private audience at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo.
When, in the audience chamber, the bhrckhardt figure of the Pope suddenly appeared, he welcomingly approached his visitor and said to him in German: Burckhardt bowed and, when the Pope offered him his hand bearing the Fisherman’s Ring, he respectfully took it in his.
As a non-Catholic, however, he kissed, not the ring as is the custom amongst Catholicsbut the Pope’s fingers. Together they talked about the Dark Ages and about the surpassingly beautiful bhrckhardt of the Gospels that had been so lovingly budckhardt so finely produced during them.
Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul
At the end of the audience the Pope gave his blessing: These were historical-cum-spiritual studies of certain manifestations of sacred civilization, and covered such themes as Mount Athos, Celtic Ireland, Sinai, Constantinople, and other places.
Burckhardt himself contributed three books in the series: Siena is an enlightening account of the rise and fall of a Christian city which, architecturally speaking, remains to this day something of a Gothic jewel. Most interesting of all, however, is the story of its saints. Burckhardt devotes many of his pages to St. Catherine of Siena who, amongst other things, was a powerful influence on the Pope of her day and to St. Bernardino of Siena who was one of the greatest Catholic practitioners—and teachers—of the invocatory mode of prayer, based on the saving power of the Holy Name.
Chartres is the story of the religious “idealism” in the best sense of the word which lay behind the conception and practical realization of the medieval cathedrals—the still extant monuments of an age of faith.
In ChartresBurckhardt expounds the intellectual and spiritual contents of the different architectural styles—distinguishing in this respect not merely between the Gothic and the Romanesque, but even between the different varieties of the Romanesque. It is a dazzling example of what is meant by intellectual discernment or discrimination. As a young man, in the s, he spent a few years in Morocco, where he established intimate friendships with several remarkable representatives of the as yet intact spiritual heritage of the Maghrib.
This was obviously a formative period in Burckhardt’s life, and much of his subsequent message and style originates in these early years. Already, at the time concerned, he had committed much of his experience to writing not immediately publishedand it was only in the late s that these writings and these experiences ripened into a definitive and masterly book.
In Fez, City of IslamBurckhardt relates the history of a people and its religion—a history that was often violent, often heroic, and sometimes holy. Throughout it all runs the thread of Islamic piety and civilization. These Burckhardt expounds with a sure and enlightening hand, relating many of the teachings, parables, and miracles of the saints of many centuries, and demonstrating not only the arts and crafts of Islamic civilization, but also its “Aristotelian” sciences and its administrative skills.
There is indeed much to be learnt about the governance of men and nations from Burckhardt’s penetrating presentation of the principles behind dynastic and tribal vicissitudes —with their failures and their successes. As always, this is a book of truth and beauty, science and art, piety and traditional culture. But in this book, perhaps more than in all others, it is a question of the romance, chivalry, and poetry of pre-modern life.
Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul by Titus Burckhardt
During his early years in Morocco, Burckhardt immersed himself in the Arabic language and assimilated the principal classics of Sufism Islamic mysticism in their original form. Burckhardt’s last major work was his widely acclaimed and impressive monograph Art of Islam. Here the intellectual principles and the spiritual role of artistic creativity in its Islamic forms are richly and generously displayed before us. With this noble volume, the unique Burckhardtian literary corpus comes to its end.
Here is the text to which Stoddart refers i. Aliquid est in anima quod est increatum et increabile; si tota anima esset talis, esset increata et increabilis; et hoc est Intellectus. There is something in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable; if the whole soul were such, it would be uncreated and uncreatable; and this is the Intellect. Urs Graf Verlag, Otto Wilhelm Barth-Verlag, Vom Wessen heiliger Kunst in den Weltreligionen.
Titus Burckhardt: Alchemy – Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul
Siena, Stadi der Jungfrau. Olten Switzerland and Freiburg-im-Breisgau Germany: Alchemie, Sinn- und Weitbild. Fes, Stadt des Islam.
Chartres und die Geburt der Kathedrale. Texte zu Wissenschaft und Kunst. Kampf um das Mittelmeer by Friedrich Donauer.
Cover design and six illustrations by Titus Burckhardt. Translated and edited by Titus Burckhardt.
Athos, der Berg des Schweigens by Philip Sherrard. Alchimie translated from the English edition by Madame J. Fondation Keimer, ; Milan: Science moderne et Sagesse traditionnelle. Ashraf, ; Wellingborough, England: Perennial Books, ; Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae, ; Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom Books, Stuart and Watkins, ; Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, ; Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books, ; Louisville, Kentucky: Language and Meaning translated from the French by Peter Hobson.
Islamic Festival Trust Ltd, Beshara, ; Louisville, Kentucky: Islamic Texts Society, Mirror of the Intellect: Quinta Essentia, ; Albany, NY: Chartres and the Birth of the Cathedral translated by William Stoddart.
Golgonooza Press, ; Bloomington, Indiana: World of Islam Festival Publishing, Illustratededited by Michael Fitzgerald. Language and Meaning, Commemorative Edition. Links News Ways to Help. Bookseller Locator Bookseller Trade. Essays on the Meaning of Man. Essays on Nature and the Sacred.
This essay by Titus Burckhardt is a sort of primer on sacred art, covering many aspects of the production, value, and intent of sacred art, with many important points also made regarding the one who produces sacred art—namely, the artist.
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