Molitor, Franz Joseph°

views updated


MOLITOR, FRANZ JOSEPH ° (1779–1860), Christian philosopher and kabbalist. Born into a Catholic family at Oberursel, near Frankfurt, Molitor at first studied law. Later he concentrated on research into the philosophy of history and was deeply influenced by *Schelling. His first book, Ideen zu einer kuenftigen Dynamik der Geschichte (Frankfurt, 1805), was an evaluation of the various books of idealistic philosophy. He pursued this inquiry in his next two books, in which he established Schelling's central position, although he criticized the latter's Philosophy and Religion. Molitor moved in liberal intellectual circles and consequently came into contact with Jews. He advocated the establishment of the Jewish school at Frankfurt, later known as the Philanthropin, and was one of its first teachers. Full of enthusiasm, he joined the *Freemasons and in 1808 he became a member of their "Jewish" lodge, Zur aufgehenden Morgenroethe, which he fought to have recognized. He headed this lodge in 1812, but finally succumbed to the opposition of the Masonic leaders and closed it in 1816. From the start of his activity in Jewish and Masonic circles he befriended Ephraim Joseph *Hirschfeld and was influenced by his campaign for Jewish-Christian brotherhood. Unlike Molitor's other Jewish acquaintances, who favored the *Haskalah, Hirschfeld was the first to direct Molitor's attention to *Kabbalah as a way of attaining this brotherhood. Schelling's espousal of theosophy in 1809 also influenced Molitor to explore Jewish theosophy, although he never compromised his faith in liberal Catholicism and Masonry.

Molitor's ascetic life weakened his body, and he was almost completely paralyzed for over 40 years. From 1816 he concentrated on the study of Judaism and the Kabbalah, but his Jewish guides, other than Hirschfeld, are unknown. He considered the Kabbalah to be that part of Jewish tradition which had preserved, in relative purity, those ultimate truths of primeval religion which tend to become more and more revealed with the progress of history. Learning Hebrew and Aramaic, he explored in depth both talmudic and kabbalistic literature. With the aim of describing kabbalistic teaching in all its depth and breadth, he devoted 40 years to this task. The four volumes of his great anonymous work, Philosophie der Geschichte oder ueber die Tradition, were actually intended as an introduction to the main bulk of the work, which remained uncompleted. After the appearance of the first volume (1827) he became acquainted with the philosophy of Franz von Baader, whose influence is marked in the succeeding volumes and in the second, much enlarged, edition of the first volume (part 2, 1834; part 3, 1839; part 4, 1853; part 1, in a second edition, 1857). The first volumes of his work are devoted to the principles of Judaism in the light of Kabbalah, with special emphasis, in the third volume, on purity and impurity. The fourth volume emphasizes the importance of Kabbalah for Christianity.

Despite his Christian theosophic leanings, Molitor's work remains unsurpassed by any previous attempt, both in speculative depth and familiarity with Jewish sources. His influence can be discerned in the work of all Christian theologians who were inspired by Baader. Molitor died in Frankfurt on March 23, 1860. His admiration for the Kabbalah was ignored by Jewish researchers in the 19th century, but it may well be that the weaknesses in the historical chapters of his book led the researchers to dismiss him completely.


J. Katz, Freemasons and Jews (1970), 33–37, 58–63; R. Rocholl, Beitraege zu einer Geschichte deutscher Theosophie mit besonderer Ruecksicht auf Molitor's Philosophie der Geschichte (1856); C. Frankenstein, Molitor's metaphysische Geschichtsphilosophie (1928); G. Scholem, Bibliographia Kabbalistica (1927), 108–9; G. Van Rijnberk, Episodes de la Vie Ésotérique 1780–1824 (1948), 174–91 (portrait).

[Gershom Scholem]