[Open Access] Petr PAVLAS, Lex secundum quam disponuntur omnia: Trichotomic Trees in Jan Amos Komenský’s Pansophical Metaphysics and Metaphorics. In: Journal of Early Modern Studies, Volume 9, issue 1 (Spring 2020)


Lex secundum quam disponuntur omnia: Trichotomic Trees in Jan Amos Komenský’s Pansophical Metaphysics and Metaphorics

Petr Pavlas (Institute of Philosophy, The Czech Academy of Sciences)

Abstract: The goal of this article is to detail the opposition to “Ramean tree” dichotomic divisions which emerged in the age of swelling Antitrinitarianism, especially Socinianism. Scholars such as Bartholomaeus Keckermann, Jan Amos Komenský and Richard Baxter made a point of preferring the trichotomic to the dichotomic division of Petrus Ramus and the Ramist tradition. This paper tracks the origin of Komenský’s “universal triadism” as present in his book metaphorics and in his metaphysics. Komenský’s triadic book metaphorics (the notion of nature, human mind and Scripture as “the triple book of God”) has its source in late sixteenth-century Lutheran mysticism and theosophy, mediated perhaps by Heinrich Khunrath and, above all, by Johann Heinrich Alsted. Komenský’s metaphysics follows the same triadic pattern. What is more, Komenský illustrates both these domains by means of Ramist-like bracketed trees; regarding book metaphorics, clearly his sources are Khunrath and Alsted. Although inspirations from Lullus, Sabundus and Nicholas of Cusa are most probably involved, the crucial role has to be ascribed to the influence of Lutheran mysticism and Alsted’s “Lullo-Ramism.”

Keywords: division; metaphorics; metaphysics; early modern philosophy; Lullism; Ramism; Trinitarianism; Lutheran mysticism; theosophy

Although it has been shown that the famous bracketed, horizontal “Ramean trees”—which became increasingly widespread in the sixteenth century due to the novel technology of letterpress printing—were not as ground-breaking as previously supposed, they still remain one of the most characteristic pedagogical innovations of Petrus Ramus (1515–1572) and his followers. Representing arts and topics by means of such trees was the most visible innovation to have made Ramism widely influential and popular, first among textbook writers and later among encyclopaedists.
This study concentrates on the problem of trichotomic division, which is—according to later post-Ramist Protestant authors such as Bartholomaeus Keckermann (1572–1608), Jan Amos Komenský (1592–1670) and Richard Baxter (1615–1691) —a more natural division than dichotomy (promoted by Ramus himself) and also tetrachotomy and polychotomy in general, because it is based on the Triunity of God himself. Using the example of Komenský, I argue that—at least in his case—the priority of trichotomy to dichotomy and polychotomy, although officially defended with reference to Plato and Aristotle and to Christian orthodoxy, has its genuine source not only in Nicholas of Cusa—strongly and convincingly argued by Jan Patočka —but also (and perhaps above all) in Lullism and late sixteenth-century Lutheran mysticism, both apparently largely conveyed to Komenský by Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638). Nevertheless, Komenský could also immediately acquaint himself with the primary Lullist and Lutheran-mystical sources. The goal of this study is to show that Komenský projected this mystical triadic conviction not only onto his elaborated metaphorics of “God’s books,” but also onto his metaphysical system of predicaments. In the conclusion, attention shall be paid to the attitude of Johann Heinrich Bisterfeld (1605–1655) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716).
The dichotomic disposition, which according to Ramus and Ramists is the most natural, was considered a danger to Christian orthodoxy no later than the turn of the seventeenth century. In his monograph Bartłomiej Keckermann i filozofia, Danilo Facca has shown how vehemently Keckermann defended the orthodox Christian Trinitarian doctrine against Anti-Trinitarian polemical reasoning, which is, as Keckermann argues, only seemingly “rationalist” and logical, but actually inadequate and gravely heretical. Most recently, Simon Burton has pointed out a passage in Praecognita Logica (1604) where Keckermann criticizes the violent dichotomies of Ramists and their reduction of trinity to duality. As Keckermann puts it: “Ramists often violently confine to duality the things, which are multiple by nature and in terms of their parts. They make duality out of trinity, paucity out of multitude.” Burton also takes note of another passage where consciously preferring “trichotomy to dichotomy” is Keckermann’s argument in favour of the Aristotelian (and at the same time against the Agricolan and Ramean) division of logic.
Although still not very strongly pronounced by Keckermann, his criticism of Ramist dichotomizing is an important clue. It helps us understand Komenský’s later attitude to this issue. Johann Heinrich Alsted, Komenský’s teacher at the Herborn academy, was the editor of Keckermann’s works and heir to his efforts. Moreover, he was an ardent proponent of Lullism. However, the influence of Keckermann and Lullism via Alsted definitely does not fully explain Komenský’s “universal triadism.” There are other sources which must be taken into consideration, such as Raymond Sabundus (c. 1385–1436), Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) and to a greater extent certain figures in Lutheran heterodox mysticism.

Lullism and its journey to Komenský via Johann Heinrich Alsted, Nicholas of Cusa and Raymond Sabundus
Although Komenský’s direct acquaintance with the works of Raymond Lull (1232–1316) definitely cannot be ruled out, in this respect the major figure of influence was Johann Heinrich Alsted. When Komenský matriculated on 30th March 1611 in Herborn, Alsted, only four years older, had recently obtained the professorship of philosophy and just published two Lullist encyclopaediae: Clavis artis Lullianae (1609) and Systema mnemonicum (1610). Another Lullist publication, Trigae canonicae (1612), was to follow.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that we find many Lullist features in the pansophy of Komenský. One of them is Lull’s triadic theory of correlatives. Leaving aside the question whether Lull’s theory of correlatives was influenced by Augustine (354–430), Ernesto Priani briefly and aptly expresses the core of this fundamental Lullist doctrine:

According to the theory of the correlatives, the nature of a being is something defined by its activity. Therefore, being and activity are inseparable and identified (esse and agere). Consequently, according to the theory of the correlatives, the nature of a being is based on (a) its activity, that which makes it active and allows it to execute different intrinsic and extrinsic actions; (b) its passion, that which affects the being either intrinsically by itself or extrinsically by another; and (c) its action, that which makes it being in act and being in constant movement. This structure […] is presented in the book Liber de ascensu et descensu intellectus as follows: every being has a natural virtue, which can be “active,” “passive,” and “connective.” These virtues are the correlatives that Lullus linguistically distinguishes using suffixes. For the active nature he uses -tivus (e.g., bonificativus), for the passive, -bilis (bonificabilis), and for the connective, -are (bonificare).

Komenský, for example in his mature yet unauthorized and posthumously-published Janua rerum reserata (1681), writes similarly: “There is a triple substantial principle in every complete substance: ACTIVE, PASSIVE and CONNECTIVE; out of which, by which, through which.” Later he does not hesitate to add: “These three concur in motion: something which moves, something mobile and movement […], similarly these three concur in every activity: something which does, something able to be done and action.” Only a few pages later he continues: “Concurrunt in passione tria: (1) patiens, (2) passionem inferens, (3) mediumque seu instrumentum.”
Komenský also abundantly applies this rule to his lexicon of definitions entitled Lexicon reale pansophicum as well as in the unfinished masterpiece De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica, both of which remained unpublished until 1966. To show some examples of correlatives from the latter work: generans, generatum, generatio; amans, amatum, amator; intelligens, intellectum, intellectio. Furthermore, the mind is “spectans spectabile spectaculum seu speculum, eligens, eligibile, electio, agens, agibile, actorium.” It is interesting that instead of mentioning Lullus, Komenský refers in this context to the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135–1204): “Maimonides therefore, at the beginning of the book De fundamentis, did not distinguish in God between that which recognizes, that which is recognized, and recognition.”
Another source of Komenský’s Lullism is Nicholas of Cusa. He uses the correlatives in, for example, De docta ignorantia, De filiatione Dei, and in his sermon In principio erat verbum. The influence of Lull and Lullism on Cusanus via his teacher Heymericus de Campo (c. 1395–1460) has been investigated elsewhere. For the sake of our present investigation what matters is whether evidence can be found which confirms the influence of Cusanus on Komenský.
In one of Komenský’s polemics with the Socinian Daniel Zwicker (1612–1678), De iterato Sociniano, Komenský first cites Zwicker’s question on what he considers to be a geometrical contradiction, and what entails the theological contradiction of the orthodox Christian doctrine on God who is both three and one: “From what do you prove that the centre and the circumference are the same at the point? Or on the basis of which author or adherent you suppose it to be so?” Komenský answers: “Look into the Speculum Intellectuale of Nicholas of Cusa, who lived two centuries ago, and of Ulrich Pinder [?–1519], who lived 150 years ago. You will find this and many similar schemes, by means of which these wise men wanted to show how finite proportions in Infinity vanish into the infinite and how our finite concepts do not reach the infinite.”
Thus, one of the ways by which Lullism came to Komenský was via Nicholas of Cusa. Cusanus’ own Lullist library also included a manuscript of Raymond Sabundus’ Theologia naturalis seu Liber creaturarum with a few marginal notes. Moreover, in 1661 Komenský published an amended version of this work of Raymond entitled Oculus Fidei. However, Raymond’s influence upon Komenský was relatively late. In his Praefatio to Oculus Fidei, Komenský writes that he had recently (nuper) taken his first look into the Frankfurt edition (1635) of Theologia naturalis and that then he looked through it avidly (avide):

I wondered that [this book] had been so long unknown to me and at the fact that it was not recommended to me by any of my former teachers or later friends. I suspect that few people read it and even fewer understood it. That cannot be explained entirely by the fact that his meditations are prolix and permeated by many tautologies. The reason is rather that they are described in insufficient Latin (in the style of his age).

Sabundus was, therefore, another Lullist author whose works Komenský read and whose ideas he adopted—obviously neither on Alsted’s nor anyone else’s recommendation. However, there is another possible source of Komenský’s “universal triadism” and his preference for trichotomies over dichotomies, namely Lutheran mysticism. Unlike the case of Lullism, it seems that Alsted’s mediation of this tradition played a crucial role and can explain Komenský’s acquaintance with it. On the other hand, Komenský certainly read Jakob Böhme’s (1575–1624) Mysterium magnum (1623) and it is unimaginable that he had not read Johann Arndt’s (1555–1621) Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (1610) —although there we meet “tetradism” rather than triadism—and perhaps also other works from this rich and interesting movement.

Komenský and Lutheran mysticism: The Triple Book of God
In the spirit of the tradition leading from Augustine through Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096–1141), Bonaventure (1221–1274) and also Nicholas of Cusa, the Lutheran heterodox mystic Valentin Weigel (1533–1588) utilized the metaphor of the book to express his vision of God’s word, speaking not only by means of the Holy Scripture and the created universe, but also—and most importantly—from the depths of the human mind. The two traditional metaphorical dyads “the book of nature–the book of Scripture” and “human books–the book of the mind” converge in Weigel’s thought to allow the later emergence of the new metaphorical triad “the book of nature–the book of the mind–the book of Scripture.” Weigel, daringly echoing some of the motifs of Meister Eckhart (1260–1328), comes near to a kind of autotheism: “For the right book is in the most inner ground of man and it is God himself.”
Elsewhere, Weigel compares the book written inside man with the dead letter outside, concluding that this “book inside man” should be followed more than the books read by scholars:

This book is in me and in all people, in both small and large, young and old, literate and illiterate, but too few, yes, too few can read it. Yes, many well-learned people are capable of refusing and denying it, of sticking to the dead letter which is not of them, and of leaving the book of life that is written with the finger of God in the hearts of all men.

As Martin Žemla has shown, perhaps the first occurrence of the triad of God’s books can be found in the Pseudo-Weigelian Studium universale, written about 1590. The pseudonymous author develops a kind of logocentric theology and speaks about three sources of knowledge, literally a trinity of God’s Word, namely macrocosm, Christ and microcosm:

For a better understanding of this heavenly and earthly philosophy, you should know that there are three books: each one in the other, no one without the other. The first great book is the globe of the earth: this big world with all creatures. The second great book, which God makes, prints and sells, is Jesus Christ, God and man, the crucified Lord. The third great book is the man, who is all creatures.

Another occurrence of the triad can be found in the work of Bartholomaeus Scleus, a mysterious and little-known author from Little Poland. As he puts it in his Pater noster, written in 1595 and published in 1639 by Abraham von Franckenberg (1593–1652), we find God “in his threefold Word: body, soul and spirit.” Moreover, in his Theosophische-Schriften, written one year later (1596) and published not until 1686, Scleus changes the scheme and the title page reads that his work is “based and reliant on the threefold book of divine revelation: the Holy Scripture, the big world and the little world.” In the “Author’s prologue” he continues:

And these three books are and are called a living book of the living God. One is macrocosm, the second is mesocosm, the third is microcosm, i. e. the big, the middle and the little world. […] The first is the Holy Scripture, the second is heaven and earth, the third is man.

Last but not least, Benedictus Figulus (1567–after 1619) in his Pandora magnalium naturalium aurea, published in 1608 in Strassbourg by Lazarus Zetzner (1551–1616), speaks about the book of nature as Macrocosmus, the book of man as Microcosmus and the Holy Scripture as the third book, the “divine chronicle written by the Holy Spirit.” The proliferation and variety of the triadic book metaphors in Lutheran theosophy is finally brought into unity two years later in the famous Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum of Johann Arndt. These four books are—as Arndt proclaims—the book of Scripture, the book of life (namely Christ), the book of the human mind (or conscience) and the book of nature.
From the triadic and trichotomic perspective, however, Heinrich Khunrath’s (1560–1605) Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (first published 1595) is of much greater importance. This seems to be the first published work introducing the triad of God’s books:

KNOW GOD from the Sacred Scripture, Creation, as well as Thyself. […] KNOW THYSELF from the book of Sacred Scripture and from the book of Nature of the whole Universe, which is the whole macrocosm, and microcosm, or Thyself […]. KNOW NATURE universally and particularly from the book of Sacred Scripture and from the book of Nature itself, which is the whole big world, and the little world, i. e. man.

As Khunrath puts it, the triad of objects (God, Nature and “Thyself”) is knowable through a dyad of books (the Bible and Nature); Nature, however, is both extrinsic and intrinsic: it is both the universe (macrocosm) and man (microcosm). It is easy to see how these two dyads (with the second dyad subalternate to the second member of the first dyad) in fact constitute a triad. Moreover, in the first edition of Amphitheatrum of 1595 the scheme is—in the form of a bracketed, although vertical, tree—inserted into two impressive coloured engravings (see figures 1 and 2). Last but not least, in the edition of 1609, the scheme is elaborated to make up a Ramist-like trichotomic epitome (see figures 3 and 4).
What does all this mysticism and theosophy have in common with the post-Ramist encyclopaedism? The link is Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia naturalis from 1618. It adopts not only the book triad of Khunrath, but also the trichotomic scheme of its reading methods (figure 5). Furthermore, Alsted writes: “The general [Catholicus] book of God is triune, namely the Sacred Scripture, nature and our mind.” Via Alsted and his “Lullo-Ramism,” Khunrath’s triadic metaphor most probably came to Komenský, who in his major but unfinished encyclopaedic work De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica writes: “As there is everything in the triune God, so in his triune book will everyone find everything and agree on everything.” Furthermore, Komenský adds a trichotomic tree (figure 6), which is very similar to those of Khunrath and especially Alsted. One general difference is that Komenský’s metaphorics of the triple book of God is, in comparison with his sources, Khunrath and Alsted, throughout his texts much more elaborated. In fact, it functions as one of the basic frameworks of his Pansophia, i. e. “human omniscience” (omniscientia humana), which God not only permits but also requires. Pansophia should be an epitome of God’s books, a book of books.

Komenský’s metaphysics
Komenský’s metaphysics, the “universal norm in the construction of the great pansophical work” (in magno pansophico opere construendo universalis norma) and the “door of things” (Ianua rerum), also abounds with trichotomies. In his Mundus archetypus, a part of the great unfinished encyclopaedia, Komenský begins with the metaphysical triads:

All creatures have a common beginning, middle and end, because everything which is, comes from somewhere, goes through something and tends to some place, where it either ceases or at least rests. And from what else, if not from that first Archetype that is from itself, through itself and in itself, and created that other things are from another, through another and in another.

Then, however, Komenský moves into the sphere of cosmology:

Likewise, the whole universe consists of the three genera of the visibles (which are bodies), the invisibles (which are angels) and of those with the participation of both (which is man, the horizon of both the visibles and invisibles).

Komenský’s basic physical triad follows:

And the great visible world, the imprint of the eternal archetype, is as a whole joined from the three [elements] of matter, light and spirit. If any of these were removed, the world would perish; as any minor bodies of the world perish when their matter, their form or the nexus of both is taken away.

The list of triads continues with particular natural beings (the triple nature of the sun, the three colours of the rainbow, the three constituents of man and the triple spirit of nature) and then returns to metaphysics: Komenský derives nine categories from the traditional transcendentals “unitas–veritas–bonitas,” much like in his early textbook Prima philosophia (figure 7). Three of them are non-Aristotelian: “ordo–usus–amabilitas (or amor or jucunditas).”
Here in Consultatio catholica, however, the triadic deduction is taken further: time is trichotomised to “past (before)–present (now)–future (then)”; locus to three dyads “before–behind, up–down, left–right”; and quantity to “multiplicity–size–weight.” After an intermezzo in which Komenský accounts for the primality of the number three and qualifies it as communa rerum mensura, the next triadic deduction continues: size has three primary forms, i. e. “line–surface–body”; line consists of two endpoints and a “flow of the third point through the middle” ; surface consists of three lines, and a body of three dimensions, “length–width–depth.”
Considering qualities, Komenský finds the most notable to be shape, colour and activity. The prime shape is the triangle (tri-angulus); “bodies, light and position of surface” contribute to the production of colours; the conditions of activity are “posse–scire–velle” and an agent, instrument and object are necessary for its development. For instance, according to Komenský the activity of writing “runs” (emanat) from the mind of the writer, “passes” through (transmanat) the hand and pen and “flows” into (immanat) the paper. The fourth quality, passivity, is analogical to activity. Komenský’s illustration is an example from optics: the triad “shine–mirror–eye” corresponds to the triad “alien activity–its impact–reception.”
Yet the most original aspect is Komenský’s thought regarding the triad of categories “ordo–usus–amabilitas”—and even their structure is triadic as it is easy to see from a quasi-Ramist schematization (figure 8), extracted by me from Komenský’s text.

The above-described process of “trichotomization” within the post-Ramist tradition in general, and in Komenský in particular, begs some important questions: What do we learn about post-Ramism from that passage from the “dual” to the “trichotomic” model? Does this passage show any consequences on the epistemological level? Did this make a starting point of a process that was later to develop in the German writing territories or otherwise? How does this transformation process help us to understand better Komenský’s philosophy? Does this mean that Komenský should be separated from the Ramist tradition hermetically, or not?
I can provide only a provisional indication of the answers here as the whole theme requires more synthetic and interpretive study in the future. As Howard Hotson has shown, Komenský drew a clear and very concrete inspiration from the Ramist tradition. Therefore, he can be labelled, cum grano salis, as a post-Ramist thinker. However, his inspirations from Lullism and Lutheran mysticism are no less intensive. Whilst it seems untenable strictly to separate the early modern intellectual traditions in general, it is even more problematic in the case of seventeenth-century Protestant encyclopaedism/pansophism, the movement working on such a wide and multifarious intellectual heritage.
Given the programmatic nature of Komenský’s triadic conviction, trichotomies are omnipresent in his philosophical writings. Instead of listing them in detail, however, I shall conclude this study by indicating the attitude of two other important post-Ramist encyclopaedists, both coming from the German Protestant milieu and closely linked with Alsted and Komenský, to the dispute on dichotomy and trichotomy: Johann Heinrich Bisterfeld and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Bisterfeld’s position is illuminated by his letter to Komenský of 9th January 1643—he, as well as Komenský, appreciates the “study of trichotomies” but at the same time prefers “bringing trichotomies back to dichotomies.” Leibniz, on the other hand, appreciatively recalls Francis Bacon’s (1561–1626) criticism of Ramus and his followers for the exaggerated, unnatural and obscure use of dichotomies, but without favouring trichotomies instead.
After Komenský, other philosophers also made use of trichotomies in the very cores of their philosophical systems—Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) among others—yet without any clearly expressed (or acknowledged) intent to triadize. Philosophical and scientific tradition has never adopted a straitjacket made-to-measure for exclusive dichotomy or exclusive trichotomy. The division of categories, species and classes has remained free in the choice of the number of members as the subject demands. Neither Ramist dichotomy-obsession nor the theosophical appetite for trichotomies were compulsorily imposed upon the disposition of taxonomies, nomenclatures and classifications.

Acknowledgments: This paper results from research funded by the Czech Science Foundation, project GA ČR 19-02938S, “Early Modern Encyclopaedism in the Centre and on the Peripheries: Lavinheta, Apáczai Csere, Comenius, Leibniz”, based at the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy. I am grateful to both anonymous reviewers for their helpful recommendations.

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