Pragmatick Schoolmen, men made up of pride, And rayling Arguments, who truth deride, And scorn all else but what your selves devise, And think these high-learned Tracts to be but lies, Do not presume, unless with hallowed hand To touch these books who with the world shall stand; The are indeed mysterious, rare and rich, And far transcend the ordinary pitch. I believe that the supercilious censors will object against the Sybils, holy Magicians and the Gospel it self sooner then receive the name of Magick into favor; so conscientious are they, that neither Apollo, nor all the Muses, nor an Angel from Heaven can redeem me from their curse. Whom therefore I advise, that they read not our Writings, nor understand them, nor remember them. For they are pernicious, and full of poyson [poison]; the gate of Acheron is in this book; it speaks stones, let them take heed that it beat not out their brains. But you that come without prejudice to read it, if you have so much discretion of prudence, as Bees have in gathering honey, read securely, and believe that you shall receive no little profit, and much pleasure; but if you shall find any things that may not please you, let them alone and make no use of them, for I do not approve of them, but declare them to you; but do not refuse other things, for they that look into the books of Physicians, do together with antidotes and medicines, read also poysons [poisons]. I confess that Magick it self teacheth many superfluous things, and curious prodigies for ostentation; leave them as empty things, yet be not ignorant of their causes.
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Related Entries 1. He matriculated at the University of Cologne in and graduated in The degree in medicine which he claimed to have earned was ruled out by Prost 67—74 , who also raised serious doubts about his doctorates in Canon and Civil Law in utroque iure.
Nauert 10—11 , however, suggested that they might have been obtained during the two periods of his life about which we have very little information: — and — Agrippa came into contact with the school of Albertus Magnus at Cologne, where it was still a living tradition and where he pursed his interest in natural philosophy, encountering the Historia naturalis Natural History of Pliny the Elder for the first time.
During his youthful studies, Agrippa also established personal relationships with those German humanists who shared his interest in ancient wisdom. He spent a short period in Paris, where he might have been a student. With some French friends, he formed a sodalitium, a sort of secret circle or initiatory brotherhood, which, according the collection of letters from and to Agrippa, included Charles de Bovelles c. Between and , Agrippa undertook a mysterious journey to Spain, seemingly engaged in a military mission.
This academic appointment had been supported by the chancellor of the university, Archbishop Antoine de Vergy. In the inaugural lecture, Agrippa pronounced a prolusion in honor of the daughter of Emperor Maximilian, Margaret of Austria, Princess of Austria and Burgundy.
He planned to develop the speech into a more comprehensive treatise in praise of womankind, dedicating it to Margaret. Therefore, he began to draft, but perhaps did not finish, his celebrated De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus declamatio Declamation on the Nobility and Pre-Eminence of the Female Sex , which was published only in Returning to Germany, in the winter of — Agrippa went to the monastery of St.
Over the course of a few intense days, the famous abbot and his young visitor discussed a topic of mutual interest: natural magic and its role in contemporary culture. The meeting had a crucial impact on Agrippa. He quickly finished a compendium on magic, which he had been working on for some time. This aim was achieved only twenty years later.
B6 , probably on the orders of Emperor Maximilian, he became familiar with John Colet, who introduced him to the study of St. Agrippa wrote Commentariola Little Commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, which he then lost in Italy and recovered only in , but which remain totally unknown to us.
From to , Agrippa was in Italy, serving Maximilian, but his military duties did not prevent him from pursuing his philosophical interests. He probably believed that he might be able to achieve his academic ambitions there, but his fervent expectations were soon disappointed.
After the defeat of the Swiss and Imperial troops at Marignano 13—14 September , he was forced to quit teaching and to abandon Pavia. He then sought patronage at the court of William IX Paleologus, Marquis of Monferrato, to whom he promptly dedicated two little works, De homine On Humankind and De triplici ratione cognoscendi Deum On the Threefold Way of Knowing God , gathering together some notes and materials he had already organized or perhaps even prepared for press, in Pavia.
During his stay in Italy, he joined a network of friends and correspondents, who allowed him to deepen his knowledge of Neoplatonic and Hermetic literature, to sharpen his acquaintance with kabbalistic texts, and to broaden and update his bibliographical information. For a time he was in Turin, where he lectured on theological topics. In the following years, Agrippa was in Metz — , as the city orator and advocate advocatus , in Geneva — , where he practiced medicine, and, finally in Freiburg until , as the city physician.
Throughout this period, he came into contact with a number of humanists who were engaging with the new religious ideas circulating at the time. In Metz, he was involved in the debate on St.
Meanwhile, Agrippa had successfully defended a woman of Woippy who was accused of being a witch, saving her from the stake. Thanks to these courageous positions and his intense relationships with pre-Reform circles, Agrippa was gradually assuming a by no means secondary role in the general movement against the scholastic tradition.
He won the esteem of many scholars some of them would later on join the Reformation , but, at the same time, attracted the particular attention of the religious authorities. Unfortunately, it was a blunder and a terrible failure. His friendships, his sympathies for the work of humanist Reformers, his more and more aggressive theses—in he reworked an earlier oration or letter, Dehortatio gentilis theologiae Dissuasion from Pagan Theology , in which he criticized contemporaries for their excessive curiosity about Hermetic theology and their disregard for Christian education—were raising doubts his religious orthodoxy.
His correspondence with the Duke of Bourbon, who had betrayed the French Crown in order to side with the Emperor, called into question his political loyalties, and he was suspected of involvement in a plot. Agrippa was stripped of his pension and forbidden to leave France. In the midst of such dramatic misadventures, he wrote his De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum.
It was a biting commentary on all human sciences and arts and a fierce attack on the moral and social assumptions of his day.
Agrippa subjected the work to later revisions and enlargements, right up to the moment of publication, in When, at last, he was allowed to leave France, Agrippa accepted the office of archivist and imperial historiographer at the court of Margaret of Austria, governor of the Low Countries, in Antwerp. He finally dedicated himself to publishing his writings. In a collection of his short treatises was printed in Antwerp by Michael Hillenius, and in another Antwerp printer, Johannes Graphaeus, brought out De vanitate.
Both De vanitate and De occulta philosophia circulated widely, thanks to further editions in Antwerp, Cologne, and Paris , and once more Agrippa found himself in trouble with the religious authorities. The Louvain theologians, questioned by Margaret of Austria herself, condemned De vanitate as scandalous, impious and heretical, and so did the Sorbonne with respect to the Paris edition.
He replied with two fearless writings, refuting, point by point, the criticisms in his Apologia Defense and accusing, in turn, his opponents of ignorance and bad faith in his Querela Complaint. Hermann von Wied, who was both interested in occult sciences and sympathized with moderate religious reform, offered him protection and, in June , brought him into his own household.
Eventually, Agrippa was able to deliver the complete, final version of De occulta philosophia to the Cologne printer Johannes Soter, who in November was already typesetting it. It was, instead, the forceful intervention of Hermann which enabled De occulta philosophia to appear, even though accompanied by an appendix including the chapters of De vanitate which criticized magic.
He was perhaps the author of a self-defense, Dialogus de vanitate scientiarum et ruina Christianae religionis Dialogue on the Vanity of the Sciences and the Ruin of Christian Religion , fictitiously attributed to Godoschalcus Moncordius, an otherwise unknown Cistercian monk, and printed, in all probability, by Johannes Soter in Zambelli — According to his pupil Johannes Wier — , Agrippa was in Bonn until Shortly after his release, he died in Grenoble in or, at the latest, in Corrupted texts and inadequate critical and philosophical awareness had made magic a convoluted jumble of errors and obscurities, despised by the learned, mistrusted by the Church, and used with feckless irresponsibility by superstitious old witches.
Instead, in its original and pure form, magic was a sacred body of knowledge, providing the possibility of human dominion over all of created nature elemental, celestial, and intellectual. These authors had already endeavored to restore magic, distinguishing from different perspectives and with different aims between true and false magic, between philosophy and pseudo-philosophy, between the sacred and the sacrilegious.
This definition had significant implications. Unlike his predecessors, Agrippa conceived of magic as a comprehensive knowledge, gathering together all the cognitive data collected in the various fields of human learning, and making explicit their potentials for acting on reality.
All three forms are true and good, if properly practiced in the context of the reformed magic. This assessment highlighted that Agrippa had moved away from another of his sources. Magic based on physics natural magic cannot be checked and is therefore limited in its powers. Magic based on astrology is often false and confused. As far as ceremonial magic is concerned, goetia, which relies on malign demons, is clearly superstitious; theurgy, which attempts to establish contact with benign demons, is practicable in theory, but complicated and dangerous in practice.
In Book I Agrippa explores the elemental world, reviewing the manifest and occult virtues of stones, plants, animals, and human individuals. Occult virtues, on which natural magic mainly focuses, are explained by the relationship of causal correspondence, connecting the eternal exemplars, the ideas, to the sublunary forms through the stars. In his Neoplatonic animated cosmos, all things are harmoniously related to each other. It is diffused everywhere and distributes life to everything, acting as the mediator between heavenly souls and earthly bodies, and allowing a sympathetic exchange between the different levels of the ontological hierarchy.
Book II, dedicated to astrology, opens with the celebrated image of the magus as the go-between who subjects sublunary world to the stars. The knowledge of the laws, governing how the celestial influences flow down to the earth, enables the magus to collaborate actively with nature, modifying the phenomenal processes.
To describe astrological images, attracting astral virtues, Agrippa pillaged the technical details described by Ficino in De vita coelitus comparanda On Obtaining Life from the Heavens , but he also went back to the medieval tradition. In Book III, Agrippa commits the physical and celestial worlds to the protection of religion, which has the task of guaranteeing a rigorously non-superstitious magic, immune to demonic deceptions. In describing the human path to Hermetic deification, the first draft of Book III makes a clear distinction between faith and science.
Agrippa draws on Reuchlin to define the link between illumination, offered by God to the human mind through faith, and reason, which can gain true knowledge only by receiving it from the mind. Reason, after attaining the innate contents of the mind, produces a science which is legitimized by its divine origins and is therefore not susceptible to the assault of doubts and errors.
At this time, the primacy of faith, as expressed by Reuchlin, functioned chiefly as the basis for a powerful and reliable operative practice. The early version of De occulta philosophia was, in many respects, an original attempt.
In the Plotinian and Ficinian theory of the tripartite division of psychological faculties mens, ratio, idolum , mind mens represents the highest function, the head caput of the soul, the divine spark present in every human being; when God creates each soul, it is into this supreme portion that he infuses the innate ideas, which mind directly intuits in God.
Reason ratio is an intermediate function between the mind, which continually communicates with God, and the lower powers idolum, that is, the sensory faculties , which are connected to the material world.
Reason, the seat of the will, is free to conform to either of the contrasting directions indicated to it by the other parts of the soul. This more structured view was already capitalized in the short treatise De triplici ratione cognoscendi Deum On the Threefold Way of Knowing God , dedicated to William Paleologus in , but published only in , in a version somewhat expanded by Agrippa before printing.
The term ratio had many meanings for Agrippa. To manifest himself to mankind, God wrote three books, by which the three different religious cultures were able to know him. Ancient philosophers, reading the book of nature, knew God through the created world; Hebrew theologians, reading the book of the law, knew God through the angels and the prophets; Christians, reading the book of the Gospel, gained perfect knowledge of God through his son, made man.
Adam willingly renounced true knowledge when he, trusting more in Eve than in God, presumed that he could achieve a knowledge capable of making him equal to God. Similarly, each of us renews the original sin committed by Adam when our reason denies that it is created and proudly proclaims an autonomy of its own, shattering its harmonious relationship with God.
Once the hierarchy of cognition has been destabilized, reason strives to find its contents in the senses, which are fallacious and deceptive, and builds up a science which is both dubious and vain: devoid of foundation, inert, and morally pernicious. Original sin is also repeated in the schools of contemporary theologians, who try to know God by the wretched means of their rebellious reason.
Contemporary culture, as the fruit of this rebellious reason which is, after all, Aristotelian and scholastic reason , is fated only to describe, to lightly touch on the structure of reality, without being able to penetrate it.
Agrippa was not professing any form of anti-intellectualism, but he was applying the Platonic broadly speaking model of the tripartite soul to the Christian way of knowledge. In accordance with this pattern, if reason respects its subordination to the mind, that is, to the message, which God has implanted directly in the soul, it fulfils the role which has been assigned to it in the project of creation, which is to know God by means of the book of nature.
On the other hand, since the book of nature is written by the hand of God, the fundamental goodness of the world is implied; and it is also implied that human beings have the ability to read these pages and are, indeed, obliged to do so. Reason is therefore perfectly literate and legitimate when it comes to deciphering this bundle of communicative signs. Nonetheless, the book of nature is a means through which God helps us to return to our origin.
This is not a mystical experience. It is an intellectual experience, founded on some intuitive philosophical certainties, which revelation proves true. Faith fides does not provide new contents, but unveils the deep sense of the existing contents of the reason, which is operating in harmony with the mind. A truly Christian philosopher, however, cannot be satisfied with having achieved individual knowledge. In addition, he has to take care of the social benefits deriving from his knowledge.
Adam is faith, the foundation of reason. The Tree of Life, that is, the privilege of knowing and contemplating God, was reserved to him. Eve is reason, which was allowed to have a relationship with the snake, that is, with material things and the senses.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim
Writings of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535)
De occulta philosophia, libri tres
De occulta philosophia libri tres