Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and the Supérieurs Inconnus
by Mike Restivo
Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was born in Amboise in the French province of Toursine, on January 18, 1743. He was a barrister at Tours, France, and that tired of the petty intrigues of that life, he entered the Regiment of Foix, France, on the recommendation of Msr. Choisoul and took a commission. It was while in the army that he met Msr. de Grainville, who was an Elu-Cohen.
Saint-Martin was initiated into the Elus-Cohen in October of 1768. For more than 6 years, he will practice the Works of the Order. He gradually feels uneasy about the theurgic “operations” of the Rite of Martinez de Pasqually. Towards the end of 1770, Saint-Martin leaves the Army and becomes the personal secretary to Martinez. In the course of his new duties, he frequently visits Lyons, which has become the centre of Martinism. It is during these visits that he drafts his first book, Des Erreurs et de la Vérité [i.e. Of Errors and Truth], which is published in 1775.
Saint-Martin continues to evolve away from the theurgic/operative side of the Works of the Elus-Cohen. In 1777, he stays in Versailles, France. Martinez has been dead for three years. Saint-Martin tries to bring the Elus-Cohen round to his ideas and to pure Christian Mysticism. He fails to convert them and they remain faithful to the operations that Martinez had taught them. Saint-Martin is now entirely disinterested in the cause of reforming Martinism and, having failed within the Temples of the Elus-Cohen, he carries on his activities in the Hermetic cenacles and esoteric areopagoi of the time. He publishes further works and assumes the role of a mentor and teacher. While in Strasbourg, Germany, he meets Rudolphe Salzmann, who is then known for his translations and commentaries on the works of Jacob Boehme. Saint-Martin becomes associated with the Order of Unknown Philosophers. Saint-Martin carries on with his mission, forming followers and disciples during extensive travels. From January to July of 1787, he is in London, England. In September, 1787, we find him in Italy. He establishes numerous contacts in all countries.
By 1790, Saint-Martin has become entirely divorced from his earlier Elus-Cohen Work. On July 4th, he resigns from Freemasonry, asking that his name be removed from all Masonic records. This requires him to also resign from the Elus-Cohen. Saint-Martin then undertakes a journey to Russia. Prince Galitzin, who becomes a disciple of Saint-Martin, spreads the mystical teachings of Saint-Martin within the ranks of the Russian Order of Strict Templar Observance.
It has sometimes been denied that Saint-Martin created an organization of any kind. This argument rests on Saint-Martin’s well-Known aversion for societies organized on the Masonic pattern and for elaborate ceremonies, as well as on the lack of positive evidence, that he founded an esoteric Order. With regard to this last point, however, one should not forget the essential difference between secret societies of the Masonic type, which are officially known and registered and which would be more accurately described as “discreet” societies, in contradistinction to the really esoteric societies whose very existence is generally unknown. Furthermore, the evidence, if slight, is not altogether lacking. It is generally found in private correspondence, and we see there references to the existence of what is sometimes referred to as the “Société des Initiés”/“Society of Initiates.” and at other times as the “Société des Intimes”/“Society of Friends”. One will no doubt not the fact that in both these cases this society is represented by the initials “S.I.”. In fact, all these names only serve to indicate that the organization in question was constituted by people bearing the title of “Supérieur Inconnu”.
Saint-Martin acquired numerous followers in many countries. These followers, secretly known as “Supérieurs Inconnus”, were grouped in a very loosely knit organization often called the “Society of Sain-Martin”. In fact, this Society was not created by Saint-Martin, but simply animated by him on the basis of any older secret society known as the Order of Unknown Philosophers. The Society of Initiates of Saint-Martin was based upon Initiation. This was nearly always a personal and private ritualistic transmission of an intimate character, conferring the quality of “Unknown Superior” or in the commonly used French form, “S.I.”.
It is known from records and from the signs used after his signature, that Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was a Réau-Croix of the Order of Elus-Cohen. It is also known from a letter from Joseph Pont, successor to J.B. Willermoz [Willermoz was also a Réau-Croix, as verified from a published certificate of same.] to J. F. Mayer, senator from Metz, a letter dated from the year 1829, that Saint-Martin had transmitted a high degree of the Elus-Cohen to his friend Gilbert. We note furthermore, that before he departed for San Domingo, Haiti, Martinez had designated Msr. Bacon de la Chevalerie as his successor as Grand Master of the Order of Elus-Cohen of France, and five “SS.II.” to assist him: Saint-Martin, Willermoz, de Serre, Durey d’Hauterieve, and Msr. De Lusignan. This information comes from Prince Christian of Hesse, Knight Beneficent of the Holy City (i.e. “C.B.C.S.” in French, as commonly described) and a member of the “Society of Saint-Martin” of Strasbourg. It is obvious, therefore, that Saint-Martin was entitled to transmit the Elus-Cohens degrees. It is doubtful that the “S.I.” grade transmitted by Saint-martin within the “Society of Initiates” was the “S.I.” grade that he held in the Elus-Cohen and which probably corresponded to the rank of “Souverain Juge”/“Sovereign Judge”, which was an administrative degree. The Initiation transmitted by Saint-Martin constituted nevertheless, a link with the Elus-Cohen, owing to his position in the Order.
It is reasonable to accept the principle that the “essence” of the Initiation, that which is transmitted at the most intimate moment of the ceremony [i.e. The Initiator employs the Biblical “laying on of hands” upon the Initiate.] comes directly from the Order of Unkown Philosophers, and that it has been “vested” with a ritual inspired partly from the Rites of the Elus-Cohen.
This personal communication owes nothing to Freemasonry, the “Society of Unknown Philosophers” being known to have existed at least 75 years prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England.
Saint-Martin died in 1803, leaving many disciples in several European countries. After his death, his disciples carried on with the Transmission of the Initiation and with the diffusion of the doctrine of the “Unknown Philosopher”, the pseudonym under which Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin published his books. They are particularly active in France, in Germany, in Denmark, and in Russia. In 1821, Initiations from person-to-person are known to have taken place. From that year to the 1880's, groups of Initiators carried the Transmission everywhere and particularly in Italy and Germany. Today, there has been a renewed interest in the profound teachings of Saint-Martin.