Our most illustrious Church of Light “founding father,” as measured by the esteem of his contemporaries, has fallen into undeserved oblivion. Or so I believed until recently discovering how much Thomas M. Johnson, President of the Council of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in the US, is still honored in his hometown and home state. Future blog posts will delve into that story, but for now I want to highlight the availability of his writings online. His philosophy journal The Platonist was the first US publication in which Thomas H. Burgoyne was published, and three of its four volumes are available online, but not the crucial first volume. The second volume began in February 1884. The third volume did not appear until 1887; the fourth in 1888.
From the opening of the second volume we have a statement by Johnson of his commitment to the philosophy of Plato and its relevance to the contemporary world:
The Second Volume of The Platonist begins with the present number. The field which it occupies Is broad, and the endeavor will be made to occupy it to good purpose. We shall endeavor to do our work faithfully, to discriminate wisely, welcoming knowledge at every avenue of its approach.
Platonism is a method of discipline rather than the designation of a system. Its aim is to bring out into bold relief that Philosophy which embraces the higher nature of man within its scope, unfolds the mysteries of the interior being and renders us awake to everything essential to human wellbeing. The faith of all ages, the most ancient as well as the present, however diverse in form, has always been the same in essence. In every creed the effort to realise the Truth is manifest; and every worship is the aspiration for the purer and more excellent. It is therefore only when symbols supersede substance, and external rites vail their own true scope and meaning, that we have any occasion to withhold countenance from them. Even History becomes untrue when its occurrences are described in actual disregard of the inspiring principles of action; and that Science is radically at fault which ignores the Supreme Intellect.
If Platonism has seemed to place a low estimate upon what is usually regarded as practical and scientific knowledge, it always contemplates the Truth which transcends it. It gathers the wisdom of the more ancient schools and nations, together with the learning of more modern centuries, with the purpose of extracting what is precious from all. It is a proving as well as a prizing of all things. It teaches how to discriminate the permanent from the changing, that which is from that which seems, the mathematic and absolute from the geometric and relative, Mind in its integrity from instinct and the lower understanding. It essays to make us acquainted with our true selfhood, to familiarise us with Reason—the raying forth of Divinity into human consciousness, to bring us to the knowledge of the Truth, and to awaken in us that longing which is never satisfied except at that fountain.
It is the province of Philosophy to place at their true value the whole body of facts accumulated from the world’s experience, and to render them useful. The moral sentiments, which have sometimes been described as resting on those accumulations, like islands on reefs of coral-accretion from the ocean’s bottom, it proves to be at one with what our souls have brought with them from the eternal world. We have but to winnow away the chaff and foreign seeds to have the pure grain. The philosophic discipline unfolds the interior nature of the soul, arouses the dormant truth there inhumed, brings into activty the spiritual faculty, and enables us to peruse the arcana of the higher life. It discloses the absolute identity of truth as a divine presence and manifestation in every people, a pure ideal in every faith, an overhanging sky over every lofty human aspiration.
The late Count Cavour, it is said, predicted a new religion for the coming century. The gradual waning of faith everywhere, and the honey-combing process which is steadily wearing away present institutions seem to afford a warrant for the declaration. The antipathies between races and creeds are steadily weakening. The West is constantly adopting the notions, habits and luxuries of India and China; and the bustling activity of Europe and America is shaking the whole fabric of Oriental custom. There is a steady unifying influence operating among the nations; the exigencies of commerce and daily communication, require and render more probable their acceptance and employing of a single language, which event would be the precursor of a common literature. The new worship must be accordant with the genius of the period. It will be at one with Science, but all the time intellective. There may be no single apostle or hierophant to establish it, but it will be the outgrowth of agencies now in operation. Doubtless, like the other world-religions, it will be founded upon some form or manifestation of the-supernatural; it will be evolved in a manner that will declare the relations of mankind in this form of existence with the greater and older universe and the essences that constitute it.
Already there is manifest among individuals of various shades of opinion in the thinking world, something like a reacting impulse against the materialism of the age, to arrest its progress before it shall totally benumb the moral sense of mankind. The modest little assemblages of late years, such as the School of Philosophy at Concord, the School of Christian Philosophy at Greenwood Lake, and other places, the various organisations of other forms, but all seeking to direct attention to a higher and more practical spirituality, are so many witnesses. The American Akademe, latest of them all, with a “Plato Club” for its nucleus and a goodly number steadily increasing of earnest, clear-seeing men and women for its membership, also voices the same conviction.
The times appear propitious for our venture. These things are so many assurances that we are taking a judicious step in the right direction. If one man on the side of God is in the majority, it is reasonable to presume that we, in this humble endeavor in behalf of the True and the Right, will not be on the side that fails from want of sympathisers and a deficient commissariat. We have put our hand to the work as a thing proper for us to undertake, leaving to the Divinity which inspires it, all considerations of prudence and results. It is ours individually in the fact that the work has seemed to fall to us; really, however, the whole number of those who cherish like affection for the higher knowledge and communion, are partakers of the labor and the reward—leaving to the editor as his part the gratification of the benefits of which he has been the instrument.
The scope of The Platonist will be extended to include not only the Wisdom-Religions of the archaic period, Oriental as well as Occidental philosophy, and expositions of the intrinsic and esoteric nature of the various beliefs of the world, but likewise philological investigations, translations and interpretations of the later writers as they may be offered; and in that every variety of energy and speculation relating to its department of labor or tending to enlarge the field of knowledge. Eminent writers and specialists both in America and the other Continent, have promised their assistance. The readers and patrons have therefore reassurable assurance that the pages will be supplied with rich material gathered by diligent hands and not unskilfully elaborated.
We have sent forth our little galley hopefully. The auspices have been examined, the overlooking divinities invoked, and all the propitiatory rites duly performed. The right arm of the oarsman and the benignity of the heavens must now be relied upon for the future of the voyage. We are sanguine and confident, because the Supreme Optimism that energises the universe is certain to work out the result which will be really good. It will inspire such co-operation as will best meet that end. We must be content to labor and to wait. We have indicated such apparent reasons as exist for hope that our undertaking will prosper. We shall be patient till they realise their assurance or disappoint us. The springtime is certain, whether we or others are to minister at its advent. Yet to those who desire to promote the knowledge of Philosophic Truth, and to-co-operate in the dissemination of such knowledge with a view to moral elevation and spiritual communion—to the real friends of The PLATONIST, the oracle is spoken: “now is an accepted time.” This work, this whole enterprise, all that it is and all that can be hoped from it, belong to you. The end is with you; its apocalypse will be yours.