Opus Galli Anonymi

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

I was sitting at my desk in the AITS building on the south end of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s research park when I received either a text or instant message from fellow Midnight Freemason contributor Greg Knott. Greg worked at the Main Library at that point, and his message simply said something along the lines of “If you want to see the Newton document, be here at 2:45PM”. I don't remember the exact time, but you can bet that I immediately spoke to my supervisor about allowing me to take the time off to be at the Main Library building at the time that Greg mentioned. This was in May of 2018.

Yes, it’s taken me over two years to write this article. I’ve wanted to write it for a long time, however both Greg and I made a promise to a library employee to not discuss what occurred or share photos of the document on social media. At the time, the library had recently acquired “Opus Galli Anonymi” by Sir Isaac Newton at auction. I think that the idea was that while the document was available to the public, due to the historical significance of the item, the employee did not want to give the impression that one could walk in and demand to see it.

“Opus Galli Anonymi” is a Newton’s manuscript translation of an anonymous French work detailing the creation of the philosopher’s stone into Latin. His inscription on front wrapper below title 'Opus galli anonymi' indicates that the procedures described in the text are similar to that of the French alchemical physician Pierre-Jean Fabre in his work L'abregé des secrets chymiques. No comparable source text is known, however. Newton's heavy emendations and corrections suggest that he was not merely transcribing, but extemporaneously creating an original translation from the French text, possibly with his own interpretations and elucidations. [i]

While there is no evidence that supports that Newton was a Freemason, he was very close friends with the Rev. John Theophilus Desaguliers. There is also a lodge, Isaac Newton University Lodge #859, which is for primarily made up of alumni and current students of Cambridge University. It is undeniable however that Newton was an alchemist.

Several documents other documents indicate an interest by Newton in the procurement or development of the philosopher's stone. Most notably are documents entitled Artephius his secret Book, followed by The Epistle of Iohn Pontanus, wherein he beareth witness of ye book of Artephius; these are themselves a collection of excerpts from another work entitled Nicholas Flammel, His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures which he caused to be painted upon an Arch in St Innocents Church-yard in Paris. Together with The secret Booke of Artephius, And the Epistle of Iohn Pontanus: Containing both the Theoricke and the Practicke of the Philosophers Stone. This work may also have been referenced by Newton in its Latin version found within Lazarus Zetzner's Theatrum Chemicum, a volume often associated with the Turba Philosophorum and other early European alchemical manuscripts. Nicolas Flamel, one subject of the aforementioned work, was a notable, though mysterious figure, often associated with the discovery of the philosopher's stone, hieroglyphical figures, early forms of tarot, and occultism. Artephius, and his "secret book", were also subjects of interest to 17th-century alchemists.

There is also The Epitome of the treasure of health written by Edwardus Generosus Anglicus innominatus who lived Anno Domini 1562. This is a twenty-eight-page treatise on the philosopher's stone, the Animal or Angelicall Stone, the Prospective stone or magical stone of Moses, and the vegetable or the growing stone. The treatise concludes with an alchemical poem.[ii]

Newton also extensively studied and wrote about the Temple of Solomon, dedicating an entire chapter of The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended due to his knowledge of and fascination with the temple. While a scholar of the bible, Newton was also interested in the sacred geometry of Solomon's Temple, such as golden sections, conic sections, spirals, orthographic projection, and other harmonious constructions, but he also believed that the dimensions and proportions represented more. Newton believed that the temple was designed by King Solomon with divine guidance. To Newton, the geometry of the temple represented more than a mathematical blueprint, it also provided a time-frame chronology of Hebrew history. It was for this reason that he included a chapter devoted to the temple within The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, a section which initially may seem unrelated to the historical nature of the book as a whole. Newton felt that just as the writings of ancient philosophers, scholars, and Biblical figures contained within them unknown sacred wisdom, the same was true of their architecture. He believed that these men had hidden their knowledge in a complex code of symbolic and mathematical language that, when deciphered, would reveal an unknown knowledge of how nature works.[iii]

Being able to see the document and the handwriting of one of the most influential scientific minds in History is something that I will never be able to forget. We were also able to view the book of Genesis from a Gutenberg bible that was in the library’s collection. I was humbled and honored to be able to view these documents. Being able to share the experience with Greg made it even more memorable. For those of you that are interested, the document can be viewed at: https://digital.library.illinois.edu/items/88be5740-57a1-0136-502d-0050569601ca-8#?cv=13&xywh=-4089%2C317%2C35026%2C11332


[i] https://digital.library.illinois.edu/items/88be5740-57a1-0136-502d-0050569601ca-8#?cv=13&xywh=-4089%2C317%2C35026%2C11332
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton%27s_occult_studies#The_Philosopher's_Stone

WB Darin A. Lahners is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com

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