O Eliphas Lévi . . .

Eliphas Lévi (1810 – 1875)

O Eliphas Lévi, how I struggle with your legacy!

Eliphas Lévi, born Alphonse Constant in Paris in 1810, ordained a Catholic deacon in 1835, later author of books on esotericism and dubious magic, later penitent and lover of Christ, who not only knew that Christ established the way of tears in the world of the serpent, but who affirmed that the Catholic Church possessed the greatest magic of all …

There are ways in which your legacy, Monsieur Constant, belongs at this site, this site that owes so much to France, Catholic France and to the Hermetic legacy of Valentin Tomberg . . .

But then are ways in which certain aspects of your legacy, at least, terribly contradict everything this site is about.

And there are readers of this website who may never understand why I place you here.

And I understand their concern. They are readers who understand the ‘Divine Magic’ of Jesus Christ in His Church who honour the power of the Sacraments working through the TRADITION.

Video on Valentin Tomberg and Rudolf Steiner—Article Continues Below

Knowing this, they will ask: what possible need for such a contradictory figure as Lévi?

And I want sincerely to join with and support such Traditionalists. That is to say, those Traditionalists who see so clearly that the Church is suffering dreadfully through the erosion and indeed wholesale destruction of Tradition.

I confess it frankly: I have wanted neither to trouble their hearts, who suffer with my own heart the plight of the Church, nor alienate readers who are fighting for the same things I am fighting for.

But now I am placing at this site – with CAVEATS – two old reviews of books I have written.  The first involves a biography of Lévi, while the second review concerns a book by Levi himself.

Why, certain readers may ask, when Eliphas Lévi, you were in many ways a fount of the New Age movement today? For among other things, clearly you influenced Helena P Blavatsky from whom so much of the New Age derives …

Why?! If you are such a reader, here is a short answer up front. The answer is this: however paradoxical it is, I believe that the penitent Eliphas Lévi can offer an unusual and helpful witness to the Mystery of Christ in His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

And as I shall elaborate, this witness may be needed at a time when the West is being engulfed by New Age-ism. Because there are sadly people in this world, who will listen to Lévi, but who would never listen otherwise.

This as I say, is a short answer – an incomplete answer. A longer answer now follows.

That answer involves the fact that at your best Eliphas Levi, you have deeply moved my heart (And at your worst, you have made me shudder!)

That answer also involves the fact that in the course of your life, you changed.

For there is much to suggest that before you died in Paris in 1875, you had repented.

It is certain that just before you died, you summoned a priest to hear what would seem to be your final confession.

I would say that you summoned him to your bedside, but that would not be true. For you died in a chair—in agony too great to rest lying down.

The priest came to you that afternoon in Paris and listened for an afternoon …

To be sure, Valentin Tomberg believed that Lévi had gone through a conversion before he died, a conversion that exchanged the infatuation with power for Christian humility. And thus Tomberg repeatedly made the distinction regarding the mature Eliphas Lévi versus the younger, less faithful Lévi.

It would seem that this is also why Tomberg quotes Lévi at length from a late, posthumous work:

The ancient rites have lost their effectiveness since Christianity appeared in the world. The Christian and Catholic religion, in fact, is the legitimate daughter of Jesus, king of the Mages. A simple scapular worn by a truly Christian person is a more invincible talisman than the ring and pentacle of Solomon.

The Mass is the most prodigious of evocations. Necromancers evoke the dead, the sorcerer evokes the devil and he shakes, but the Catholic priest does not tremble in evoking the living God.

Catholics alone have priests because they alone have the altar and the offering, i.e. the whole of religion. To practise high Magic is to compete with the Catholic priesthood; it is to be a dissident priest.

Rome is the great Thebes of the new initiation. It has crypts for its catacombs; for talismen, its rosaries and medallions; for a magic chain, its congregations; for magnetic fires, its convents; for centres of attraction, its confessionals; for means of expansion, its pulpits and the addresses of its bishops; it has, lastly, its Pope, the Man-God rendered visible.

Can there be any doubt that these are words from a man who has repented? For he rejects his former magic as the way of the ‘dissident Priest’ and now honours the Church and the Pope as Christ made visible!

It is perhaps worth noting that after Tomberg has quoted this remarkable passage, he indicates more to suggest the gulf between Lévi and Blavatsky, who as we noted above, is a major source for the New Age today.

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In illustrating this gulf, Tomberg invokes another French Hermeticist who followed Lévi:

Josephin Péladan … declared himself in agreement with the preceding [words from Lévi]

The Eucharist is the whole of Christianity; and through it Christianity has become living magic.  Since Jesus there are still sorcerers, (but) there are no more mages. (Josephin Péladan, L’occulte catholique, Paris, 1898, p. 312)

And in regard to both Péladan’s and Lévi’s testimony, Tomberg will then say:

This is why Madame Blavatsky accused Eliphas Lévi of Jesuit politics and why Josephin Péladan’s old occultist-friends regretted his relapse into Roman sectarianism.

Later on, Tomberg will say:

Madame H. P. Blavatsky reproached [Lévi]. She said that he had subsequently disavowed his own magical teaching and turned to Christian mysticism — for fear of the ecclesiastical authorities taking him amiss. The truth is, however, that Eliphas Lévi … surpassed the bounds of ceremonial magic … He passed through the Faustian trial …

From everything Tomberg writes regarding Lévi, he clearly believes that Lévi in the end set himself apart from the kind of currents Blavatsky favoured. He aligned himself with the Church.

Eliphas Lévi – still I hesitate to place you at this site.

Your legacy is so contradictory, complex. Your writing, I confess, strikes me as highly erratic …

But amidst all you went through, all you suffered, there are these nuggets of gold, gems of brilliance, jewels of Christian love and devotion, strewn throughout your legacy.

As I say, they have moved my heart very deeply indeed.

I place you at this site – fearing I confess it, being misunderstood – with several things in mind.

First, this site owes a profound debt to the work of Valentin Tomberg – a work that I believe is vital for the battles of the Church in the new millennium.

For among many other things, Tomberg can save many from the de-Christianised currents of the New Age taking root in the West. (Certainly, he saved me.)

And Tomberg with many qualifications embraced you, Eliphas Lévi.

But I want to stress: there are many qualifications strewn throughout Tomberg’s work. He suggests that you succumbed to temptation of grandiose inflation, he regrets that you did not do more to honour the Blessed Virgin, but preferred the Serpent.

These are grave things – although Tomberg points to them gently. He will not throw stones at you.

I will not throw stones at you either.

I cannot help but believe you were and are a penitent …

And you have things to say that can help New Age types, such as I myself once was. Yes, there may well be New Age types who google this page and find your surprising witness, your beautiful witness (More of this below).

Yes I think of many different kinds of folk who google these pages and this is partly why this site departs from convention. I want to speak to people beyond the Church of the living wonders I have found in the daily Sacraments of the Holy Church.

There is no point in simply preaching to the choir. The Church is dying …

Whatever else you were, Eliphas Lévi, you testify to the Mysterious Power of the Church.

Moreover, you offer a kind of testimony that certain New Agers, such as I myself once was, may hear. They will not listen to the Holy Father, but they will listen to you …

But I have still further reasons for including you.

This site owes a profound debt to Catholic France and most of all Catholic France of the Nineteenth Century.

This was the Catholic France of the Counter Revolution, the France that resisted the brutal, secularising forces unleashed by French Republicanism.

In all kinds of ways, it is clear that your heart, Eliphas Lévi, belonged to the Catholic France of the Counter Revolution. And here perhaps is why Blavatsky accused you of Jesuitism. For the Jesuits were key to Counter Revolutionary aspirations. This  is why, not long after your death in 1875, the Third French Republic exiled the Jesuit Order from France altogether.

Yes, Eliphas Lévi, you belong however falteringly to that lost Catholic France suffused by rays of His Sacred Heart to which this website owes so very much …

But I have still more reasons for placing you here at last, after my struggles.

As I draw to my close, I think of the words of your biographer, Thomas Williams:

The more I found out [about Levi], the more interested I became. Levi emerged as a far richer personality than I would ever have suspected.

Nearly Five Hours on Tomberg, France and Themes Related to This Article

I concur – the more I pursued you Eliphas Lévi, the more I have felt that richness.

The more I have felt your broad, generous wide-open heart radiating humanity and love …

For whatever your failings – and the Lord knows we all have plenty – I will not cast stones.

Rather I would like to listen to you at your finest and best.

Earlier I spoke of the nuggets of gold, gems of brilliance, jewels of Christian love and devotion I have found throughout your admittedly erratic writing, Eliphas Lévi.

But I would also stress once more that far away Counter Revolutionary Catholic France that Valentin Tomberg led me to, that far away Catholic France in which the Traditional Catholic movement is rooted, that far away Catholic France which still has so much to say to us today. For Eliphas Lévi, you have much to tell us about all of this, as well …

I will cease with my own voice now, in order that, below, you might speak to us today. (However, the emphasis in what follows is my own.)

Ninety-Eight Seconds, not Five Hours—Article Continues Below

Eliphas Lévi on Voltaire. The ‘philosophical father’ of the Revolution:

`We will not speak of the criticism of Voltaire. That great mind was dominated by an ardent love of truth and justice, but he lacked that rectitude of heart, which the intelligence of faith gives.

Voltaire could not admit faith, because he did not know how to love. The spirit of charity did not reveal itself to that soul which had no tenderness, and he bitterly criticized the hearth of which he did not feel the warmth, and the lamp of which he did not see the light.

If religion were such as he saw it, he would have been a thousand times right to attack it, and one would be obliged to fall on one’s knees before the heroism of his courage.

Voltaire would be the Messiah of good sense, the Hercules destructor of fanaticism. …

But he laughed too much to understand Him who said: “Happy are they who weep,” and the philosophy of laughter will never have anything in common with the religion of tears.’

Eliphas Lévi on the Holy Communion:

‘The supernatural is the eternal Paradox of the infinite desire. Man craves to assimilate himself with God, and he does so in the Catholic communion.

From a Rationalistic point of view and considered in a purely natural manner, this communion is a thing of colossal extravagance.

In the Catholic Communion, they eat the spirit of God and the body of a man! Eat a spirit, and an infinite Spirit! What madness! Eat the body of a man! How horrible! Theophagy, and Androphagy! What claims to immortality! And yet, what can be more beautiful, more soothing, more really divine than the Catholic Communion?

The religious want, innate in man, will never find more complete satisfaction …

The First Communion is the coronation of the human royalty, it is the inauguration of the serious side of life, it is the apotheosis and the transfiguration of childhood, it is the most pure of all joys and the most true of all happinesses.’

Eliphas Lévi on the experience of his own First Communion around age Twelve

‘Through the Mysteries of Catholicism I had glimpsed the infinite; My heart became filled with the passion for a God who sacrifices himself for his creatures and transforms himself into bread to nourish them. The gentle image of the immolated lamb brought tears to my eyes, and my heart throbbed at the tender name of Mary.’

Eliphas Lévi on Love:

“Up to one’s last breath, one may retain the simple joys of childhood, the poetic ecstasies of the young man, the enthusiasms of maturity.

Right to the end, one may intoxicate one’s spirit with flowers, with beauty and with smiles; one may ceaselessly recapture the past and always recover what has been lost. A real eternity can be found in the fine dream of life.

‘How can this be achieved?’ you will surely ask me. Read attentively and meditate on what I am going to tell you: It is necessary to forget oneself and live only for others …

When Jesus said: ‘If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and come after me,’ did he mean us to bury ourselves in some lonely spot?

He, who always lived among men, who took up little children and blessed them, who restored fallen women, despising neither their show of affection, nor their tears, who ate and drank with the outcasts of pharisaism [and] healed the sick …

To live in others, with others and for others is the secret of love …

To love is to live in those whom one loves.

It is to think their thoughts, fathom their desires, share their affections.

The more one loves, the more one’s own life is enlarged.

The man who loves is not alone and his existence is in many places at once … He talks baby talk and plays with children, joins in the enthusiasm of youth, holds a rational discussion with the middle aged and clasps the hand of the old.”

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10 responses to “O Eliphas Lévi . . .”

  1. […] Cor Jesu Sacratissimum HomeAbout UsKim's WeblogRoger's WeblogWebburstsReviewsImagoArticlesUK StoreUS Store « O Eliphas Lévi … […]

  2. […] As I have recently explained elsewhere, I have decided to place at this site some old reviews I originally wrote for Amazon, concerned with Eliphas Lévi. […]

  3. Billy Bishop Avatar
    Billy Bishop

    It took courage to post that about Levi.

    Part of what I love about this site learning the history that I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about 19th century French piety and what a crying shame. Where else would I have learned? It would seem the Church would have a vested interest in sharing this, but isn’t doesn’t seem high on the priority list if so.

    By the same token, who would think to bring this up about Levi? I knew he was influential in 19th c. French occultism and was also hugely influential to the Golden Dawn and thus the anglophone world. But a late in life convert. That’s really interesting and heartening too. Thanks again..

  4. roger Avatar

    Well, thank you so much for your encouraging words Billy – once again.

    I confess to trepidation publishing fearing being misunderstood by people – the very kind of traditional Catholics we want to support.

    At the same time, I am more and more and more alarmed by a de-Christianised New Age taking over the Anglophone world and I believe Eliphas Levi can provide an odd bridge to the Church for souls are caught up in the New Age as I was once completely caught up.

    As for the Church having an interest in sharing this. How true! The French Church especially though seems terribly embarrassed by 19th Century piety and does a very great deal to press down various French traditional movements which hold to this piety.

    Happily, the situation looks much better in America to me. Piety everywhere is endangered, of course, but it honestly seems to me that America retains more piety than many places and the American bishops are far more appreciative of this than the French.

  5. […] no doubt that Tomberg quotes the penitent Eliphas Levi at length, with the same concerns in […]

  6. QOH Avatar

    One of, if not the best, on the web! Beautiful.

    1. roger Avatar

      Warm thanks QOH! Just a very belated little reply after lengthy illness … Unsure what to say now, except that there is incredible beauty in these quotes. God bless you …

  7. John Weiskittel Avatar
    John Weiskittel

    Regrettably, the deathbed scene of Levi doesn’t seem to be borne out of any evidence I’ve been able to glean, Aside from a photo of his body on his deathbed clutching a crucifix, there’s more reason to believe he died as he lived: An enemy of true Catholicism, who would like to have reformed the Church into some sort of occult society. All heretics want to reform the Church in their own image–witness Luther–and Levi was no exception.

    No, it seems certain that he was excommunicated from the Church around the same time he was expelled from the seminary for heresy. And if died reconciled with Rome, pray tell us out of which church was he buried? That’a a question you can’t answer with the name of any, because he died unreconciled. How do we know this?
    Simple. He wasn’t buried in hallowed ground, but in the secular Parisian cemetery long favored by Communists. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimeti%C3%A8re_parisien_d'Ivry

    1. roger Avatar

      Belated thanks for this, John Weiskittel. Your point about that burial is an interesting one that I did not know. I do wonder, though, whether it might be accounted for by other factors, such as the tumultuous conflicts between Church and the Left in Paris of that era or the Church being unwilling to have Levi buried there for reasons other than that deathbed scene.

      I think we can be sure, however, that, whatever its outcome, the scene in question did take place. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend to you Paul Chacornac’s biography in French, Eliphas Lévi (Paris: Chacornac Freres, 1926), pgs 284–85.

      1. John Weiskittel Avatar
        John Weiskittel

        Thanks for the feedback, Roger, and the source material to research. I certainly have no problem believing that the photo is legitimate and I hope that he saved his soul, but the doubts linger. Firstly, where is the name of the priest who gave him last rites? There should be a record of that. This is something that the Church would want to make publicize, as a wayward sheep had returned to the fold.

        I cannot see how for someone as notorious as Eliphas Levi, occultist, to once again become Alphonse Louis Constant, Catholic, would not go unannounced in the Catholic press of the day.

        Okay, no name of a priest at his bedside and no report of his abjuration of error and return to the bosom of the Church, those are two more red flags to go with him not being buried out of a Catholic church or in hallowed ground.

        Also, the posthumous work cited by Tomberg — who himself is highly suspect as an author favoring the Tarot — shows Levi using language more suggestive of a neo-Gnostic than a Roman Catholic, as when he refers to a scapular as a “talisman” or object of magical power. The Church has taught quite the opposite. For example, in Vol. 2 of Radio Replies is the following:

        1083. Now I ask you, do you believe, as a man and a priest, that a scapular has such magic power?

        I certainly do not believe that a scapular has any magic power. Nor does any Catholic. Nevertheless, I myself wear a brown scapular, and hope to benefit by its blessings. http://www.radioreplies.info/radio-replies-vol-2.php?t=119

        It has always been part of the Gnostic tradition, dating back to Simon Magus and up through modern practitioners, that the Sacraments and sacramentals are somehow invested with magical powers, which is one of the reasons (another being questions as to validity, of course) we see Old Catholic clergy in neo-Gnostic sects always seeking to amass as many ordinations and consecrations as possible, in the belief that the more they get, the more power they acquire. They are know to speak and write in a quasi-Catholic manner.

        Further, the mere presence of the rosary clutched by Levi gives us only the suggestion that he died penitent (as we hope). It’s just as possible that a Catholic relative placed it in his corpse’s hands in hope that it would have an effect on his possibly lingering soul (I’ve heard of scapulars being placed on the deceased for such a reason). Then again, he still retained his occult beliefs, but incorporated trappings of Catholicism along with them — he could easily have had a heterodox view of the rosary, similar to his error concerning the scapular. For examples, I’ve seen videos of Gnostic Catholic clergy wearing Roman collars, but it doesn’t make them truly Catholic. The apostate priest, Canon Paul Rocca, a near contemporary of Levi also into magic, was pushing for an occult transformation of Church, including it. Indeed, I’ve done rather extensive research into the occult scene in 19th century France, and have run across numerous proponents of “Catholic” occultism, such as Vintras and Boullan, so Levi was by no means that unique, simply the most notorious of a bad batch.

        Again, I’d hope he saved his soul, but I don’t see any solid supporting evidence for that pious thought.

  8. Paulus Avatar

    Greetings from Turkey. I’m Paulus.
    Eliphas Levi is definitely the person who brought me from radical atheism to the Catholic faith. Now I am a Turk in the traditional Catholic movement. And I am preparing to enter the monastery soon, God willing. Please pray for me.

    1. roger Avatar

      Oh Paulus, I am really sorry for how long I have taken to attend to your moving words. I have been away from this site, which is now about to be majorly revamped and relaunched. The new site launching very soon will have comments closed as I can no longer find time for them anymore. But I just said a prayer for you in this beautiful journey and testimony . . .