Alchemy was a precursor to chemistry. The word is derived from the Arabic الكيمية (Al Kimia), meaning "the art of transformation". The key pursuit of alchemy was to discover a way to turn lead into gold, known as the philosopher's stone. This was as much a spiritual quest as it was a scientific one: the transformation of the base metal of the animal man into the pure gold of a son of God. Unbeknownst to alchemists at the time, gold is an element, and therefore cannot be produced by combining any other elements except through fusion.
Symbolism of alchemy
The symbolism of alchemy is rich and employs many western and eastern traditions. Some of the important symbols of alchemy are Solomon's seal, the hermaphrodite, and the four Elements of wind, fire, earth and water. These symbols are said to be from the period of the legendary alchemist Hermes Trismegistus, founder of the Hermetic arts. These and the other symbols of alchemy are regarded as having psychological significance by Carl Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud.
Why it failed
Medieval alchemists wanted to turn lead into gold. It was a fruitless endeavor because they used chemical reactions. Nowadays, we know why: Chemical reactions cannot change one element into another. Only nuclear processes, which involve intense energies not available until the 20th century, can accomplish this.
A Decree of Pope John XXII in 1317, Spondent pariter, forbidding alchemies, also called The Crime of Falsification De crimini falsi, by which he prohibited the pretended making of gold and silver to defraud the people of their money by counterfeiting, is falsely claimed to have hampered the progress of chemistry. Anyone who reads this decree can see at once that it has nothing to do with, or says anything about, chemical researches. Pope John XXII took severe action against those who wandered about the countryside falsely claiming to be alchemists, but who were no more than charlatans and counterfeiters who conned many gullible persons out of their money, some of them rulers, even bringing some state treasuries close to bankruptcy through the political ambition of various state ministers who sponsored them in their greed for gold. The majority who were honest alchemists, who were serious medieval and renaissance researchers who made genuinely useful discoveries in chemical reactions and in medicine, were gradually defamed by the fraudulent activities of these imposters who brought the whole enterprise into disrepute.
Although the charge has been disproven multiple times by serious historians, there are many even today who still erroneously say that because of a fundamental hatred of the Catholic Church toward science this Pope condemned chemistry, and retarded the progress of chemical research by threat of excommunication. European chemical historians who have carefully traced the development of chemistry find no break in the progress of chemical research that can be attributed to the Spondent pariter decree of Pope John XXII.
The Alchemy of Christianity
Christian treatises on true alchemy
According to a multitude of medieval and renaissance Christian philosophical treatises on the allegorical meaning of true alchemy, a prayerful study of the following scriptural texts joined to a humble heart of submission to the Sovereign God through Christ the King, and invoking with a spirit of compassion toward others the prayerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph to God for the gift of a pure heart and mind which only God can bestow, is sufficient for a true knowledge of alchemy.
The true Alchemist
The true Philosopher's Stone
Christ Jesus is the true philosopher's stone. (Matthew 21:42-44; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17-18; Acts 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Psalm 118:22-23)
Touched by him—(Matthew 8:3, 15; 9:20-22, 29-30; 14:36; 17:7-8; 20:34; Mark 1:41-42; 3:10; 5:28-29; 6:56; 7:33-35; 8:22-25; 10:13; Luke 5:13; 6:19; 7:14-15; 18:15  ; 22:51)
Eternal life—(Mark 10:29-30; John 1:1-5; 3:16-21; 6:35-58; 10:27-30; 17:2-3; Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 2:4-5; 1 John 2:24-25; 5:11-13, 20; Revelation 22:1-2 the water stone)
The true Panacea
Redemption and Salvation in Christ alone through the mercy of God alone in Baptism, the Eucharist, the Forgiveness of sins and Anointing of the Sick is the true panacea. (Matthew 9:6; 18:18; Mark 6:12-13; John 6:27-69; 20:19-23; James 5:14-16)
The true Alkahest
The true Athanor
The purging of the soul by the Father is the true athanor. (Jeremiah 23:29; Daniel 3:16-30; Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:1-2 and 6-8; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; Hebrews 12:1-11; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 1:3-7; 4:12-14; Revelation 3:19)
—Alternatively, the gentle warmth of God's enveloping love and the exercising of patience by his grace in the willingly cooperative soul is the true athanor. (Job 14:14; Psalm 25:1-5; 37:3-11; 62:5-8; 130:5-6; Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 40:11, 31; Hosea 12:6; Micah 7:7; Matthew 13:8-9; Mark 4:26-29; Luke 8:15; 12:35-40; 13:6-9; 21;19; John 12:24-25; 15:7-11, 16-17; Acts 1:4-5; Romans 5:3-6; 6:22; 8:22-25; 15:4-6; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 9:6-10; Galatians 5:5, 22-24; Ephesians 3:9; 5:8-20; Colossians 1:3-6, 10-12; 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 11:1-2, 13-16; 11:39–12:3; James 3:17-18; 5:7-11; 1 Peter 2:19-20; 3:4; Revelation 6:9-11)
The true Red Lion
The true White Eagle
The true Heart of Purity
The true Prayer of Preparation for the Magnum Opus
The true Understanding of the Mystery of Transformation
The true Gold of Alchemy
The Christian is the true base transformed into the true gold. (1 Peter 1:6-7; Acts 15:8-9; 22:16; Romans 8:29-30; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 4:22-24; 5:26-27; Titus 2:3-7; 2 Peter 1:3-11; Revelation 22:14)
The true Chamber of Alchemical Transformation
The true Sublimation
Sublimation is the phase transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase, and is considered to be an essential part of the alchemical process. The transition of the soul from the kingdom of darkness directly into the kingdom of God's Son is the true sublimation.
Colossians 1:12-13 - Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Hebrews 5:5 - By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith, it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Titus 3:4-7 - For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 3:21 - The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection Jesus Christ:
Ephesians 5:25-27 - even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Galatians 2:20 - I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Isaiah 43:18-19 - Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?
Colossians 3:9-10 - Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him;
Ezekiel 11:19 - And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
Romans 6:1-15 - What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Ephesians 2:10 - For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
2 Peter 1:4 - Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Galatians 4:9 - But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
2 Corinthians 3:18 - But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
Titus 3:5 - Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 - Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Simplicity of heart
Alchemical texts offered consolation to those earnest souls who found they had no mind for grasping the profound depths of alchemical studies. The following Bible texts were put forth and recommended for their meditations.
- Psalm 131
- Deuteronomy 29:29
- Wisdom 7:7–9:19
- John 14:23
- Romans 12:16-18
- Colossians 2:2-4; 3:12-17
- 2 Timothy 3:14-17
- Hebrews 13:17
- James 1:27
- Revelation 3:12-13
See Kabbalah: Saint Paul.
Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross wrote a treatise on spiritual purification of the soul by God, which has become a classic of Christian spirituality and has been regarded as a profoundly insightful treatment of the psychology of the effects of sincere Christian dedication to God. Students of alchemy regard it, and other Christian writings treating of mystical theology, as alchemical texts.
- Luke 18:15 and Mark 10:13 are taken by Catholics and Orthodox as scriptural support for the practice of infant baptism, together with Luke 2:22-24 and those texts in the book of Acts which mention whole households being baptized by the apostles of the Lord as most probably having babies in them. They reason that if the blessing of Christ benefited children and babies, being received by them in their souls, the blessing of the grace of Baptism can likewise be bestowed on infants, and be received by them in their souls. See commentaries on Luke 18:15 and Mark 10:13.
- Roots of Alchemy (esotericonline.net)
- Holy Order of MANS - Wikipedia a New Age group that practiced "Spiritual Alchemy" (no longer in existence).
- History of Alchemy (alchemylab.com)
- Paracelsus - The Treasure of Treasures for Alchemists, By Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, Paracelsus the Great, Transcribed by Dusan Djordjevic Mileusnic, Paracelsus his Aurora, & Treasure of the Philosophers. As also The Water-Stone of The Wise Men; Describing the matter of, and manner how to attain the universal Tincture. Faithfully Englished. And Published by J.H. Oxon. London, Printed for Giles Calvert, and are to be sold at the Black Spred Eagle, at the West end of Pauls, 1659. (levity.com/alchemy)
- The Stages of the Alchemical Process, by Johnes Ruta (azothgallery.com)
- Book Review for Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park Oxford University Press, 2000, and Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction by Charles Wynn and Aurthur Wiggins, Joseph Henry Press, 2001, Prepared by the staff of Jupiter Scientific
- Alchemy - Religion Facts: Just the facts on religion (religionfacts.com)
- Alchemy - Brief History of Alchemy in the West (venerabilisopus.org) An edited compilation of anonymous voluntary contributions by serious students of alchemical history.
- The Church Opposes Science: The Myth of Catholic Irrationality, by Christopher Kaczor - CERC Catholic Education Resource Center (catholiceducation.org) Includes the names of influential Catholic scientists from the middle ages to the 21st century.
- Christian alchemy
- Christian Alchemy: Christ the Stone - Alchemy Lab (alchemylab.com) Click on this link, then scroll down to the text.
- The Relationship of Alchemy and Christianity, by John Granger, "The Dean of Harry Potter Scholars" - Hogwarts Professor: Thoughts for Serious Readers (hogwartsprofessor.com)
- Kjos Ministries (crossroad.to) - Using Alchemy to Teach Christianity? A chapter by chapter examination of Looking for God in Harry Potter. Author: John Granger, Christian Publisher: Tyndale House (June 2004) Phone: 800-323-9400 The author of this Kjos Ministries article warns that the Harry Potter books, and John Granger's book, are a deceptive syncretistic blending of occultism, paganism and Christian concepts.
- Alchemy - Catholic Encyclopedia/Catholic Answers. article by T. O'Connor Sloane (catholic.com)
- Attitude of the Catholic Church Towards Alchemy (alchemywebsite.com) About the 1317 Papal Decree Spondent parater.
- Papal Decree Spondent Pariter - Pope John XXII: Angry Chemist! (suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com) —This article includes a literal translation of De crimine falsi (On the Crime of Counterfeiting) also known as Spondent pariter (Guarantees equally or Guaranteed parity) and as Spondent quas non exhibent (Promising what is not forthcoming) - Pope John XXII at Avignon, 1317.
- Dark Night of the Soul - Wikipedia Article about a Christian classic on spiritual purification by God.
- Dark Night of the Soul - St. John of the Cross (carmelitemonks.org) pdf
- Mystical theology - Catholic Encyclopedia (newadvent.org)
- The Mystical Theology - Dionysius the Areopagite (esoteric.msu.edu) Chapter 1 treats the Divine Darkness.
- Alchemy in Christian Europe, Tara Nummedal, Department of History, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA - AMBIX, Vol. 60 No. 4, November 2013, 311-322 (tandfonline.com) "In his musings on the Last Days, printed posthumously in Table Talk, Martin Luther turned to the subject of alchemy."
- Mysticism and the Reformation: A Brief Survey, B. McCann (scielo.org.za) Beginning with Martin Luther, and continuing with figures like Johann Arndt, and a number of the "Spiritual Reformers," such as Andreas Karlstadt, Sebastian Franck, Valentin Weigel, as well as the theosophical Lutheran Jacob Boehme, McCann seeks to reopen the question of the relation between Protestantism and mysticism.