The Secret History of the Rosicrucians – 3. Dating The Fama And The Confessio.

Decades ago, Carlos Gilly, Martin Brecht and others famously argued that Johannes Valentin Andreae was the author of all three canonical Rosicrucian texts. Moreover, they dated the composition of the Fama and the Confessio to 1608 and 1609 respectively. Their arguments are based on a reconstruction of a Tübingen group based around Tobias Hess and Christoph Besold that Andreae joined around that time.

All the same, I think it is important to note that the Confessio seems to me, when compared to the Fama or the Chymical Wedding, to have been written by a very different (and far less novelistic) hand. Others have pointed out that the original (German) Fama was written in quite a different dialect from Andreae’s. So it would seem that the story is a little more complicated than such a reductive conclusion might suggest.

My own dating approach is slightly different. Given that the Fama tries hard to convince its readers that the Rosy Cross brothers are up to date with the latest scientific, technical and astronomical discoveries, I suspect we should also look to the timeline of the history of science when trying to date these books.

In modern Rosicrucian literature, much historical analysis has focused on the ‘twin lights’ mentioned in the Confessio: that is, the 1604 supernova and a comet that appeared in the sky at around the same time. Many contemporary astrologers saw these as highly auspicious: even Kepler (who studied at Tübingen University) wrote in his book on the subject that these phenomena probably indicated the emergence of a new social movement. Hence we can comfortably date the Confessio to after 1604.

(Incidentally, Adam Haslmayr – whose open obsession with the Rosy Cross caused him to be sent to the galleys for five years – founded a religion based on his own Paracelsian interpretation of these two new lights in the sky and the Rosy Cross, and wrote innumerable books and pamphlets on the subject.)

But I think we can do much better. When the Confessio refers to disburdening Man of those things that obscure and hinder his understanding, it gives the specific example of “the vain Epicycles, and Excentrick Astronomical Circles”. I think that this is a specific reference to the ideas expressed in Kepler’s 1609 book: and as a result the Confessio itself must surely have been completed in or after 1609.

Similarly, for dating the Fama I think that the history of the telescope comes to our rescue. When the Fama talks about “looking glasses of divers virtues” (in Vaughn’s translation), I would argue that it can only be talking about telescopes. The idea for modern telescopes began in Holland in late 1608 with several individuals independently claiming patents on the same basic idea within weeks of each other.

Indeed Galileo Galilei (who quickly went on to make his own high-performance telescopes) only heard of the “Dutch perspective device” in June 1609, which was when the newly-made Dutch telescopes started to be sold across Europe. Hence I conclude that the mention of telescope-like devices (which were named “telescopes” only in 1611) dates the Fama’s final composition phase to no earlier than mid-1609.

What then of the relationship between the Fama and the Confessio? Even though the existence and content of the Confessio is foreshadowed in the Fama, the Fama looks forward to the Confessio while the Confessio attempts to clarify various ambiguities left open by the Fama.

As a result, there seems little doubt that the Fama came before the Confessio, but was probably edited late on to incorporate forward references to the Confessio. In either case, the two suggested dates seem broadly consistent with the dates argued for by Gilly and Brecht (1608 and 1609), though fractionally later.

All in all, I think that the Fama was completed no earlier than late 1609 and no later than 1610; while the Confessio was completed no earlier than 1609 (but after the Fama’s completion).

The Secret History of the Rosicrucians (c) 2012, 2015 Nick Pelling.
1. Introduction
2. The Three Texts
3. Dating The Fama And The Confessio
4. The Fama’s First Draft
5. So… What Was The Point Of It All?
6. ‘Book M’
7. Another Mysterious Manuscript
8. Stories From The Margins
9. Andreae’s Two Journeys
10. The Limits Of Evidence