Agrippa's Dilemma: Hermetic 'Rebirth' and the Ambivalences of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia

[First published in Renaissance Quarterly 41.4 (Winter 1988): 614-53. This essay was awarded the Renaissance Society of America's William Nelson prize for the best article in Renaissance Quarterly; it has been the most frequently cited of my scholarly articles. Earlier versions of this essay were presented as “Cornelius Agrippa and the Confounding of Opposites,” Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies Conference, University of Guelph, 2-5 June 1984; and, in revised form, at the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Conference, Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado, 19-20 April 1985. In the version given here some typographical errors have been corrected, and the format has been slightly altered; the essay has not otherwise been changed—except through the addition to note 66 of a helpful clarification shared with me in private correspondence by Paola Zambelli of the University of Florence.]


When in 1625 Gabriel Naudé wished to clear the name of Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) from the pious slanders of the demonologists of the intervening century, he argued that this learned man, “who was not only a new Trismegistus in the three higher faculties of Theology, Law, and Medicine, but who desired to travel in body through every part of Europe, and to exercise his mind on all sciences and disciplines,” deserved better than to be abused with stories “which would be much more appropriate in the magical tales of Merlin, Maugis, and of Doctor Faust, than in writings which are (or rather should be) serious and well-examined....”1 Naudé's words provide an accurate anticipation of the three principal reasons for the interest of modern scholars in the writings of this enigmatic humanist and magician.

First, as Naudé was most certainly aware when he praised him as another Hermes Trismegistus, Agrippa was a nodal figure in the transmission of the Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition of the Renaissance. His De occulta philosophia (written by 1510, and printed in a much expanded form in 1533) is studded with quotations from the Hermetica and (usually unacknowledged) from the writings of Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, Ludovico Lazzarelli, and Johannes Reuchlin. It was, in turn, a major source for such later Hermetists as John Dee, Giordano Bruno, and (in the following century) Thomas Vaughan.2

Secondly, in his De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium atque excellentia verbi dei declamatio (written 1526, printed in 1530), Agrippa deployed his knowledge of “toutes les Sciences & disciplines” in a brilliant attack upon those sciences—and upon those who sought to govern their interpretation. This made him an obvious target for orthodox polemicists, both Catholic and Protestant. He was active in the transmission of Erasmian tendencies, and his own works, especially De vanitate, helped to fuel what has been called the “Radical Reformation.” Paola Zambelli has remarked that the writings of the spiritualist reformer Sebastian Franck, which include a German translation of part of De vanitate, “owed as much to Agrippa's inspiration as to Erasmus',” and Jean Wirth has established Agrippa's importance as one of the earlier “Libertins.”3 His influence in other directions was also considerable: Johann Weyer and Reginald Scot, the two most important sixteenth-century opponents of the witch-craze, drew upon the skeptical side of his thought.4 There is evidence, which goes well beyond the echoes of De vanitate in Montaigne's “Apologie de Raymond Sebond,” that his works were widely read in France as well as in Germany,5 while on the other side of the Channel he was equally well-known. An English translation of De vanitate was published in 1569 and reprinted in 1575; Sidney refers to this work with respect, while Greville seems to have absorbed its central doctrine, and Nashe (who was also interested in Agrippa's reputation as a magician) its freewheeling and abusive rhetoric.6

This Hermetic magus and humanist heretic thus cast a large, if irregular, shadow. But of equal interest to literary historians (and this is the third reason for returning to his works) is his penumbra—his unwitting contribution, thanks to the form of demonological narrative which orthodox attacks on him tended to take after his death, to the development of the legend of Faustus. Gabriel Naudé's allusion, in his defence of Agrippa, both to the historical Faustus and to his legend suggest a hesitant awareness of this contribution.7 But to Christopher Marlowe, several decades earlier, it was fully apparent. His Doctor Faustus, aspiring to be “as cunning as Agrippa was,” makes a distinctly Agrippan dismissal of the orthodox paths to knowledge, goes on to echo Agrippa's rhapsodic praise of the power of magic, and quickly finds (as I think Agrippa did himself) that a belief in the magical efficacy of language is a dangerous response to religious uncertainty or despair.8

While one consequence of the present article will be to establish certain connections between Agrippa's magic, his religious beliefs, and his posthumous career as a prototype of the legendary Doctor Faustus, my primary intention is to suggest an answer to a problem that confronts any reader of his two major works, De occulta philosophia and De vanitate. How could the same man have written an enthusiastic and uncritical summa of Renaissance magic, and also an aggressively skeptical fideistic attack on all human knowledge, which presents the Bible as the only source of truth? Other writers of the period—one thinks of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola or Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples—moved from an early interest in magic towards a fideistic or evangelical form of Christianity.9 But in this case the issue is complicated by the sequence in which Agrippa wrote and published these two works. An early version of De occulta philosophia was written by 1510, and circulated in manuscript; De vanitate, written in 1526, contains an explicit recantation of that work. How, having published De vanitate in 1530, could Agrippa go on to publish a greatly enlarged version of his De occulta philosophia?

The notion that he must have been a charlatan cannot survive a careful reading of his works. Nor does it make sense to say that he wrote De vanitate to provide a pious screen for his occult interests: the uncompromising polemics of that book led to its rapid condemnation by the theological faculties of Louvain and the Sorbonne.10 Equally unconvincing is the theory that the contrast between his two major works reflects a process of intellectual development from occultist credulity (itself based on doubts as to the powers of human reason), through an extension of these doubts to a questioning of the validity even of occult traditions, and finally to a stage of attempted reconstruction characterized by a species of “mysticism.” This theory, advanced by Charles G. Nauert, requires that one distinguish between the bulk of De vanitate, which belongs to the second of these states, and its final chapters, in which Nauert finds evidence of the third.11 But this book, which builds upon a number of Agrippa's life-long preoccupations, is carefully planned, and its concluding arguments are clearly anticipated in the first chapter.12 Moreover, the letter of 1527 which Nauert adduced as evidence of “mysticism” is no more than another expression of the Christian Hermetism to which Agrippa adhered throughout his life: that letter paraphrases Hermes Trismegistus as well as St. Paul, and what it hints at is the same doctrine of spiritual rebirth to which Agrippa alluded in his Oratio in praelectione Hermetis Trismegisti (1515): “[Hermes] instructs us moreover in the knowledge of oneself, the ascent of the intellect ... the divine union [connubium], and the sacrament of regeneration.... The Pimander of Mercurius teaches us how we can obtain a firm and steady mind, through which, without deceit, we can both know and work marvels.”13 No more helpful is Barbara C. Bowen's argument that De vanitate belongs to the mock-epideictic genre of the literary paradox, and is thus in part purely declamatory.14 Agrippa's Dehortatio gentilis theologiae, written in the same year as De vanitate,15 repeats its denunciations of occultist authorities (Hermes Trismegistus is condemned with particular vehemence), and does so in a manner that does not permit an ironic interpretation. Bowen, moreover, in using Sir Philip Sidney to place De vanitate in the genre of the literary paradox, seems not to have observed that Sidney was careful to distinguish Agrippa, along with Erasmus, from the general run of those playing wits who “praise the discretion of an ass, the comfortableness of being in debt, and the jolly commodities of being sick of the plague”: “But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another foundation than the superficial part would promise.”16

In what follows, I will argue that the “foundation” of De vanitate, which underlies alike Agrippa's satirical games, his corrosive attacks upon the “wicked Tyrannie” of scholastic theology,17 and his own eager piety, is none other than a Hermetic interpretation of the Christian mystery of spiritual rebirth or regeneration. The same understanding of rebirth is also, as Agrippa indicates in De occulta philosophia, “the principle and complement and key of all magical operations”18—nor are its magical implications concealed in De vanitate. Readers are nonetheless right in sensing a radical contrast—one that is more than a matter of literary genre—between these two books. This contrast is derived, in large part, from the fact that the common foundation of the two works is itself an unstable confounding of opposites which finally results in a confusion of the highest forms of magic and of Christian faith (these two are one for Agrippa) with the most dangerous variety of demonic heresy.

It was in the first place a syncretic habit of mind that enabled Agrippa to adopt a Hermetic-Christian doctrine of rebirth as a central tenet of his faith. But this syncretism provided him with no principle of exclusion. Agrippa was thus caught in a dilemma when his readings of patristic literature showed him that the doctrine of rebirth expounded by Hermes was very similar to the teachings ascribed to Simon Magus, the first-century Gnostic heresiarch, magician, and antichrist—from whose legend, one must add, the later sixteenth-century legend of Faustus borrowed some of its distinctive features.19 The writings of the Cabalists, as interpreted by such scholars as Pico, Lazzarelli, and Reuchlin, taught Agrippa, as did the Hermetic texts, to see a spiritual rebirth with magical implications as the central message of the New Testament. St. Peter, indeed, wrote: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). But if Simon Magus espoused the same doctrine, was it sacred or demonic? Was it in fact the same doctrine? If St. Peter and Simon Magus believed in the same things, is it not curious that they found so much to argue about in the apocryphal Acts of the apostles and in the pseudo-Clementine writings, where they are represented as antagonists in a series of theological debates and magical contests?

It is De occulta philosophia that provides the essential clues to the nature of Agrippa's confounding of opposites—of holy writ and Gnostic heresy. But while in De vanitate and in other texts he abuses Hermes and the Cabalists, he was unwilling to let fall the doctrine which had learned from them, and which was at once the center of his magical-religious faith and the source of his confusions. The teachings of Hermes could be, and were, conflated with those of the Neoplatonists and Cabalists, and with the doctrines of the New Testament. Indeed, the efforts of Erasmus on behalf of “Saint Socrates” pale by comparison with the determination of Renaissance Hermetists to smuggle Hermes Trismegistus into the church.20 But though Agrippa in one of his early works identified him with Enoch, the grandson of Abraham,21 Hermes was not a pre-Mosaic source of divine revelations. He was, rather, as much a legend as the Simon Magus of the pseudo-Clementine writings and the apocryphal Acts—although it was only in the early seventeenth century that he was recognized as being the creation of writers contemporary with the Gnostic heretics of the early Christian centuries.22

Agrippa's dilemma, then, is that of a man lodged between two legends, both of which he takes for truth; and although one is acceptably divine and the other demonic, to choose between them is impossible, because both tell him the same thing. While Gabriel Naudé, in 1625, defended Agrippa as “un nouveau Trismegiste,” orthodox sixteenth-century writers were more likely to associate him, along with his contemporary Georgius Faustus, with the Simon Magus of demonological legends. In a curious sense both reactions are legitimate.

* * * * *

In the light of a recent tendency to emphasize the importance of the Christian Cabala in Renaissance occultism (indeed, in Renaissance thought in general), my focus on the Hermetic, rather than Cabalistic, derivation of Agrippa's doctrine of rebirth may require some explanation.23 I must confess to a certain distortion, inevitable in a study of this length. However, the relative priority of Hermetism, as well as the difficulty of distinguishing between Hermetic and Cabalistic influences, can be illustrated by an examination of one of Agrippa's many allusions to a well-known passage of the Hermetic Asclepius. The Hermetic text reads: “And so, Asclepius, what a great miracle is man, a being worthy of reverence and honor. For he passes into the nature of a god as though he were himself divine; he is intimate with the order of daemons, knowing that he is sprung from the same origin; he despises that part of his nature which is only human, for his hope is in the divinity of the other part.”24 Giovanni Pico set the tone of his famous Oration with a quotation from this passage (“A great miracle, Asclepius, is man”);25 and these same words are echoed in Agrippa's De triplici ratione cognoscendi dei: “A great miracle indeed is Christian man, who, placed in the world, rules over it, and accomplishes operations like to the Creator of the world himself; these works are commonly called miracles; the root and foundation of them all is faith in Jesus Christ.”26 This development of the motif is not original: the idea that “while placed in nature, we rule over it”27 is derived from a passage in Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico in which, having revealed the Pentagrammaton IHSUH, the verbum mirificum, as the means by which man is mystically deified and made one with God, he adds that it is also the means by which men can perform miracles. The Agrippan passage is thus Cabalistic as well as Hermetic—and yet, to complicate matters further, Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico is itself pervaded with Hermetic influences: the explanation of the final He of the Tetragrammaton (and thus also of the Pentagrammaton) as representing the medial place of man in the cosmos is itself based on the Asclepius passage, which Reuchlin quotes in its entirety.28

The distortion involved in my emphasis on the Hermetic, rather than Cabalistic, Neoplatonic, or pseudo-Dionysian derivation of Agrippa's ideas about deification or rebirth can thus perhaps be excused on the grounds that the Hermetic doctrine of rebirth constitutes the nucleus around which the composite doctrine inherited by Agrippa took shape. The pseudo-Dionysian pattern of deification advanced by Pico and Trithemius,29 and Reuchlin's appropriation of the practical Kabbalah of Abraham Abulafia and Joseph Gikatila30—these were subsequent additions to the Hermetic pattern which had already been publicized by Ficino. It is in this sense that Frances Yates was right to assert that “The Renaissance magus had his roots in the Hermetic core of Renaissance Neo-Platonism....”31

It may not be evident from a first reading of the Corpus Hermeticum—by which I mean, primarily, the fourteen tractates translated by Ficino under the title Pimander (which properly refers only to the first of these, the Poimandres), the Definitiones Asclepii (a fifteenth tractate translated by Lazzarelli), and the Asclepius—that this “Hermetic core” has itself any principle of coherence. These religious texts in semi-philosophical dress often seem to be linked by no more than their supposed common authorship, their intense piety, and the recurring form of the gnostic revelation dialogue:32 taken together, they are philosophically incoherent. Source studies reveal a wildly eclectic mixture of motifs from popular Middle Platonic and Stoic teachings, which appear to have coalesced (if one can accept the historical primacy of the Poimandres) around an unorthodox exegesis of the opening chapters of Genesis.33

But that some Renaissance humanists did find a principle of coherence in the Hermetica, and that this principle was a religious one, is suggested by Ludovico Lazzarelli's statement in his Crater Hermetis: “Christianus ego sum ..., et Hermeticum simul esse non pudet.”34 To be a Hermetist was for him in some way both comparable to and consistent with being a Christian. What made this so is the fact—recognized by modern as well as by Renaissance scholars35—that certain tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, notably the first, fourth, seventh and thirteenth, supported at some points by the Asclepius and other tractates, outline a coherent doctrine of spiritual rebirth or regeneration which has at certain points impressive similarities to Christian teachings.36 Briefly, the outlines of this doctrine are as follows.

In the first tractate translated by Ficino, Hermes, having suppressed his bodily senses in meditation, is rewarded by “Pymander, mens divinae potentiae”37 with a vision of the cosmogonic processes which includes the revelation that man, who was originally a divine being, is still potentially divine: “I am that light, Mind, your God, who existed before the moist nature which flowed out of the shadow. The offshoot of mind, the shining Word, is the Son of God.... Think accordingly: that which in you sees and hears is the Word of the Lord, and the Mind in you is God the Father.”38 Man declined into his present state not through any sin of disobedience, but rather through the desire to create something himself which resulted in a narcissistic error: falling in love with the reflection of his own divine image in nature, he consequently begot “a form devoid of reason.”39 This fall is not irreversible, for those who by despising the body and its senses undo the error of the primal Man can reascend to their proper place above the planetary spheres.

The language in which, at the end of this tractate, Hermes sets about encouraging others to turn from the debauchery of ignorance and the enticements of “irrational sleep”40 is echoed, with increased vehemence, in the brief diatribe which makes up the seventh tractate: “Whither are you falling, drunken mortals, you who have drained the full draft of the unmixed wine of ignorance? Since you cannot carry it, vomit, live sober, look with the eyes of the mind.... But first you must cast off the clothing which you carry about, this garment of ignorance, this foundation of depravity, this bond of corruption, this veil of darkness, this living death, this sensate corpse....”41

In the fourth tractate a similarly dualistic message takes the form of a myth about baptism. Of those who have scorned all corporeal things and have baptized themselves in the basin filled with mind which God sets up in the midst of men, Hermes says: “When you compare their works, they are to mortals as immortal gods, embracing in their understanding all that is on earth, in the sea, and even above the heaven.”42 Although the emphasis is still on an eschatological ascent to the One, this passage suggests a growing interest in this-worldly applications of gnosis.

The seventh tractate's reference to “him who can lead you into the ways of truth [where] the shining light is unmixed with darkness”43 is reminiscent of the prophetic messages of tractates one and four, and also anticipates the thirteenth tractate, which deals explicitly with “the hidden mystery of regeneration.”44 Hermes here guides his son Tat through a process of rebirth which culminates in the expulsion from him of the twelve “irrational afflictions of matter” and their replacement by the ten powers of God.45 Once he learns to transcend his corporeal senses, Tat is deified and acquires an immortal form. “Do you not know,” asks Hermes, “that you have been born a god and a son of the One?”46 The vocabulary of this text is in some respects close to that of Christianity: Hermes says that the author of rebirth is “the Son of God, the One Man, by the will of God.”47 Hermetic rebirth, however, has immediate this-worldly applications. Thanks to the powers within him, Tat experiences a strange sense of self-projection into the processes of nature: “I am in the heaven, in the water, in the air; I am in animals, in trees, in the body, before the body, and after the body, and everywhere.”48 This text thus gives experiential form to that deifying mystery of the word hinted at in the first tractate: “For the sleep of the body became the temperance of the mind, and the shutting of the eyes true vision, and my silence a fruitful gestation of goodness, and the pronouncing of the word a generation of all good things.”49 It also makes a deliberate reinterpretation of the eschatological ascent outlined there: in the thirteenth tractate Tat asks Hermes to recite the hymn which he heard in the realm above the seven planetary spheres where those who have received gnosis merge with God.50 It would appear that, like St. Paul (2 Cor. 12:2-4), Hermes has been to the uppermost heaven and returned.

These texts thus provided Renaissance readers with a coherent dualist account of the creation, man's fall, and the possible restoration of his primal powers. Other Hermetic texts, which speak in hyperbolic terms of the godlike powers of the human mind, could be interpreted as descriptions of the magical capacities of deified men.51 And thanks to Hermes' exemplary piety and his “prophetic” references to the Logos, the Trinity, baptism, and the Son of God, the whole amalgam could be passed off as compatible with Christianity.

* * * * *

Frances A. Yates, whose survey of Agrippa's De occulta philosophia in her Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition gave equal space to all three books, described it there as a “trivial work.”52 The rather different attitude of Renaissance occultists who, overlooking its less than lucid structure, recognized Book Three as the climax of the whole, is perhaps best expressed in the verses by Thomas Vaughan which prefaced the English translation of 1651:

How am I rapt when I contemplate Thee
And winde my self above All that I see
The Spirits of thy Lines infuse a Fire 
Like the Worlds Soul, which makes me thus aspire
I am unbody'd by thy Books, and Thee
And in thy Papers finde my Extasie.53

Agrippa's first reference to the doctrine of Hermetic rebirth appears in his dedication of Book Three to the Archbishop of Cologne:

[T]he understanding of divine things purges the mind from errors and renders it divine, gives an infallible virtue to our works, and drives far away the deceits and hindrances of all evil daemons. And at the same time it subjects them to our command and even compels the good angels and the universal virtues of the world into our service; that is to say, the virtue of our works being drawn from the archetype himself, when we ascend to him all creatures necessarily must obey us, and all the choir of the heavenly beings follow us.54

The reader does not have to wait long for guidance as to the primary source of these ideas. On the first page of Book Three, Chapter One, Agrippa writes that “We cannot obtain a firm and solid intellect (as Hermes says) otherwise than by integrity of life, by piety, and finally, by divine religion. For holy religion purges the intellect and renders it divine....”55 Chapter Three reveals the central mystery, “the principle and complement and key of all magical operations: it is the dignification of man to this so very exalted virtue and power.” This “dignification” is clearly Hermetic, for Agrippa refers to that process in the thirteenth tractate in which the afflictions of matter are expelled and replaced by the powers of God: “Indeed, the apprehension and power of all things inheres in our own selves. We are prevented, however, from having full use of these, through passions hindering us from our begetting, through deceptive imaginations and immoderate desires: which being expelled, divine knowledge and power suddenly arrive.”56

Other chapters, notably Five, Six, and Thirty-Six, work variations on the theme of rebirth which seem primarily designed to integrate the Hermetic form of this doctrine into Christianity, but which incidentally reveal Agrippa's thoroughly instrumental attitude towards religion. In Chapter Six he speaks repeatedly of working through religion;57 and though his piety is genuine, what most interests him about the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and charity is the miraculous power which is their consequence:

[O]ur mind, pure and divine, burning with religious love, adorned by hope, and directed by faith, placed in the height and summit of the human soul, attracts the truth, and suddenly comprehending, beholds in the divine truth itself, as though in a certain mirror of eternity, all the conditions, reasons, causes and sciences of things both natural and immortal.... Hence it comes to us, who are established in nature, sometimes to rule over nature, and to accomplish operations so wonderful, so sudden, and so difficult, whereby the spirits of the dead may obey, the stars be disordered, the divine powers compelled, and the elements enslaved: so men devoted to God, and elevated by these theological virtues, command the elements, drive away mists, summon winds, collect clouds into rain, cure diseases, raise the dead....”58

The workings of Agrippa's Hermetic-Christian syncretism are particularly evident in Chapter Thirty-Six, a treatise of human dignity in which a sequence of rapturous paradoxes on the Word of God leads into the assertion that “even our words can bring forth very many miracles, provided that they be shaped by the Word of God. In these miracles also our single generation is perfected, just as Isaiah says: We have conceived by thy face, O Lord, as women rightly conceive by the face of their husbands, and have brought forth spirit....”59 Having returned in this unexpected manner to the subject of rebirth, Agrippa does not waver from it for the rest of the chapter. The Mohammedans, he says, believe in a form of rebirth without carnal coition to a life like that of angels. And he quotes Ludovico Lazzarelli's Crater Hermetis on the ability of men to become like gods, and themselves to bring forth gods by means of the God-given Word. A Christian understanding of the Logos and of the Holy Spirit has become indistinguishable from the verbal mysteries of rebirth in the fourth and thirteenth tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum—which have, significantly, been conflated with the demonic magic of the Asclepius.60

Enough has been said to indicate the centrality of Hermetic rebirth in Agrippa's understanding in De occulta philosophia of the highest forms of magic. However, it is much less obvious that this Hermetic doctrine of rebirth as a sequence of dualist ascesis, visionary illumination and deification is also operative in De vanitate. Luther advanced an Augustinian conception of grace and illumination as having no content independent of Scripture, but as providing rather the essential criterion for a correct understanding of God's Word.61 And of those who are not satisfied with God's promise that he will raise up a prophet among his people, but desire angelic descents, direct revelations, and miracles—who want, in other words, an illumination with content and with proofs—Calvin was to write: “When we have these appetites, it is clearly the devil who impels us.”62 Agrippa's comments in De vanitate on the proper criterion for scriptural interpretation might easily mislead readers into thinking that he shared this orthodox view of grace and illumination.

He emphasizes in one chapter that the initiative is with God, and that human powers are of no avail: “... the truth and understanding of these scriptures (I mean the canonical ones) depends upon the sole authority of God revealing it: for it cannot be comprehended by any judgment of the senses, any discursive reasoning, any demonstrative syllogism, any science, any speculation, any contemplation—in short, by any human powers, unless by faith alone in Jesus Christ poured into our soul from God the Father through the Holy Spirit.”63 Elsewhere he makes the same point by contrasting man's active involvement with the works of nature to his necessary passivity in relation to God: “... the divine prophecies, very obscure and hidden, are given to be expounded by our interpretations, not indeed from our powers and inventions, as though, like the works of nature, the prophecies of God might have need of our help, but from the self same Holy Spirit of these scriptures, which distributes its gifts to all men as it wills, and where it wills, making some prophets, and others interpreters of prophets.” For this interpretation, “there is need of a higher spirit to judge and discern, which is evidently not granted from men, nor from flesh and blood, but from above by the father of lights: for concerning God, without his light no man can properly utter anything. This light, however, is God's Word, through which all things were made, and which illuminates every man who comes into this world, giving as many as will receive and believe in it power to become the sons of God.”64

The Augustinian tonality of these passages and their echo of the Lutheran watchword sola fide might seem to make their orientation unambiguous. But restored to their context, Agrippa's words point in a very different direction. As the immediate continuation of the first of these passages reveals, his understanding of illumination is an instrumental one; illumination is, in fact, a substitute for those philosophical methods and occult arts against which he rails in De vanitate. “This faith,” he continues,

truly is as much higher and more stable than all the credulity of human sciences by as much as God himself is more exalted and more truthful than men. But do I say more truthful? Nay rather God alone is truthful, and every man a liar: all therefore which is not of this truth is error, just as that which is not from faith is sin. Indeed God alone contains the fountain of truth, from which he must drink who desires true doctrines: since there is not, nor can be had, any science of the secrets of nature, of the separate substances, much less of God their author, unless it is revealed by divine inspiration. For divine things are not touched by human powers, and natural things at every moment flee from power of sense....65

Faith is not an end in itself: Agrippa wants to know about the secrets of nature, and about the spiritual beings which pervade it.

The other two passages which I quoted are from the ninety-eighth chapter of De vanitate, “De theologia interpretativa,” the most striking part of which is Agrippa's attempt to define, for those who like himself are not endowed with prophetic inspiration and thus can only be interpreters of prophecies, a means of gaining knowledge of God and nature. He dismisses the “defining, dividing, and compounding” of the Aristotelians: this method “cannot reach God, since he cannot be defined, or divided, or compounded.” But there is, he claims,

another way of knowing, midway between this and the prophetic vision, which is the agreement of the truth with our purged intellect, like a key with a lock. As our intellect is most desirous of all truths, so is it receptive of all intelligibles , and therefore it is termed the passive intellect [intellectus passibilis], by which even if we do not perceive in a full light the things which the prophets and those who have beheld divine things set forth, nonetheless the gate is opened to us, so that by the conformity of the perceived truth to our intellect, and by the light which illumines us from the opened inner sanctuaries we are made more certain than by the apparent demonstrations, definitions, divisions, and compositions of philosophers. And it is granted us to read and understand, not with outward eyes and ears, but to perceive with better senses, and with the veil taken away and the face uncovered to drink the truth that flows out from the marrow of the sacred writings, which those who saw with true insight handed down under veils, and which was hidden from the wise men of this world and from the knowledge of philosophers. And we lay hold of it with such a judgment of certainty that every perplexity is removed.66

Agrippa's primary references here are to the New Testament: Matthew 13:13-17 probably underlies his remark about reading and understanding “with better senses,” and 2 Corinthians 3:15-18 the motif of the veil. But the words of St. Paul referred to here may well suggest that Agrippa's talk about illumination carries implications that go beyond any ordinary interest in scriptural interpretation: “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”67 If Agrippa is indeed hinting at deification in this passage, it seems legitimate to suggest that his comment about reading and understanding “with better senses” may reflect not only the words of Christ, but also those of Hermes, who in the thirteenth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum insists that the transcending of one's corporeal eyes and earthly vision, the abolition of the senses of the body, is an essential part of the birth of deity. A double allusion of this kind should come as no surprise: according to Hermes, after all, the author of rebirth is “the Son of God, the One Man, by the will of God.” One's suspicion that the illumination to which Agrippa refers is as much Hermetic as Christian can only be strengthened by his discussion, immediately following the passage I have quoted, of the modes of scriptural interpretation. The one to which he devotes most space is that which “searches out in the holy scriptures the powers and virtues of the universe, of the sensible world, of all nature, and of the frame of the world; this exposition is called physical or natural....”68

The Hermetic orientation of De vanitate is confirmed by the peroration to the whole work. “If you desire a true and divine wisdom,” Agrippa writes,

not from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but from the tree of life, then you will cast aside human sciences ..., and entering now not into the schools of philosophers and the gymnasia of the sophists, but into your own selves, you will know all things. For the knowledge of all things is concreated in you, which (as the Academics acknowledge) even so the holy scriptures confirm, because God made all things very good, that is to say, in the best grace in which they might remain. Therefore, as he created trees full of fruits, so also he created souls or rational trees full of forms and cognitions. But through the sin of the first parent all things were veiled, and oblivion the mother of ignorance entered in. Wherefore now remove, you who may, the veil of your intellect, you who are wrapped in the darkness of ignorance. Vomit forth the drink of Lethe, you who have made yourselves drunk with oblivion, awaken to the true light, you who have been enticed by irrational sleep, and soon with unveiled face you will climb from glory to glory: for (as John says) you are anointed by the Holy One and know all things, and again, you have no need to be taught by any, because his anointing teaches you about all things....69

As before, Agrippa's words are permeated with Biblical references. He quotes 1 John 2:20, 27, giving a general meaning to words which in context refer only to that knowledge which will enable Christians to identify the antichrist. And the motifs of sleep, drunkenness, darkness, and ignorance which appear in this passage are all used by St. Paul: one thinks immediately of Romans 13:11-13, or Thessalonians 5:4-10. But while Agrippa seems to be appealing to St. Paul, and indeed encloses these motifs within a more extended reference to that motif of the veil in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians which has been mentioned above, the tonality of this passage is nonetheless quite definitely Hermetic rather than Pauline. In Romans 13 and 1 Thessalonians 5, St. Paul uses these motifs of sleep, drunkenness and darkness in a complex sequence of antitheses, and he combines with them another motif, that of “the armor of light,” which becomes in 1 Thessalonians “the breastplate of hope and love” and a helmet which is “the hope of salvation.” Agrippa makes no reference to this armor, and the simpler structure within which he concentrates the other motifs is forcible reminiscent of the preaching of Hermes in the first and seventh tractates.

If Agrippa's exhortation to conversion is thus at least as much Hermetic as it is Christian, so also his understanding of the Fall is not entirely orthodox. The expulsion from Eden is allegorized as a separation of man from his real self, from the truth within him—this is hardly very novel; but it is less orthodox to say that to reverse the Fall man need only purge his intellect and thus remove the veil which envelops it in ignorance. Here, as elsewhere in De vanitate, this interpretation supports Agrippa's interest in deification. In the penultimate chapter, for example, he links the Fall to the sciences of men by insisting that the serpent's deceitful promise to make men like gods, knowing good and evil, was fulfilled when the pagans superstitiously worshipped the inventors of sciences as gods. “This and no other,” he writes, “is that deification of the sciences which the old serpent, the maker of such gods, promised to our first parents, saying: You will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”70 Agrippa is here repeating the theme with which he began the first chapter of the work, in which he wrote that contrary to the praises heaped upon them, “the sciences bring to us, above the limit of humanity, no other blessing of deity but that perchance which the old serpent promised to our first parents....”71

What he has against the sciences, then, is not that they hold out the promise of raising men above the limit of humanity, but that they fail to fulfil it. He is agitated not because men want deification, but because they are tricking themselves out of it: “O fools and impious ones, who, sacrificing the gifts of the Hold Spirit, labor to learn from faithless philosophers and masters of errors that which you should take up from Christ and the Holy Spirit. Or will you think yourselves able to drink knowledge from the ignorance of Socrates?”72 But those who depart from “the clouds of human traditions,” return to themselves, and cleave to the true light, will receive divine illumination:

Behold, a voice from heaven, a voice teaching from above, and showing more clearly than the sun that you are unjust to yourselves, and delay taking up wisdom. Hear the oracle of Baruch: God is, he says, and no other shall be esteemed with him. He has found out the whole way of learning, and handed it on to Jacob his servant and to his beloved Israel, giving law and precepts, and ordaining sacrifices; after these things he was seen in [various] lands, and lived with men, that is to say was made flesh, teaching in open language what in the law and the Prophets he had enigmatically transmitted. And lest you think that these refer only to divine, and not also to natural things, hear what the Wise Man witnesses of himself: It is He, he says, who gave me the true knowledge of those things which are, that I might know the arrangements of the world, the virtues of the elements, the beginning, consummation, middle, and vicissitudes of times, the course of the year, the dispositions of the stars, the natures of living creatures, the anger of the beasts, the force of the winds, the thoughts of men, the differences of the plants, the virtues of roots, and whatsoever things hidden and unforeseen I have learned: for the artificer of all things taught me wisdom.73

To gain this wisdom that embraces all things, he concludes, there is no need for long study or the reading of books, but for faith and prayer, for humility of spirit and cleanness of heart, and for a purgation of the intellect, and truth chosen even as a key with a lock. The Bible contains all things, but only the illuminated can learn them. And Jesus alone has the key to knowledge; he is “the Word, and the Son of God the Father, and the deifying Wisdom, the true teacher, made man as we are so that he might perfect us as sons of God, just as he himself is....”74

It is with this passage that De vanitate ends. Agrippa proclaims the possibility of reversing the Fall, of attaining deification, and although he uses St. Paul's formulations, and the words of St. John, he wants something distinctly different in nature. In his hands St. Paul's unveiling becomes an unveiling of the intellect analogous to the tearing off of the “fabric of ignorance” in the seventh tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum; the potential restoration of man's primal guiltlessness by Christ's redemptive sacrifice becomes a restitution of man's primal powers. Among Christ's attributes, for Agrippa, is that is sapientia Deificans, and the deification which comes through him is made instrumental to the acquisition of knowledge of natural things. Agrippa's message, then, is a Hermetic one. He has successfully integrated Hermetic ideas into a Christian context, and the result is a form of Christianity hardly less unorthodox than that of Ludovico Lazzarelli. The outward trappings of De occulta philosophia have been cast off, but the inner substance is the same.

It would be a misinterpretation of Agrippa's rather peculiar piety to say that in De vanitate he is merely using Christianity for his own ends, and yet it can be observed that (like Lazzarelli) he tends to make minor but significant alterations in the Biblical texts he quotes. There are two particularly significant alterations in the passages I have quoted from the peroration to De vanitate. St. Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “we all, with unveiled face, ... are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (“Nos vero omnes, revelata facie, ... in eamdem imaginem transformamur a calritate in claritatem”); Agrippa renders this as “soon with unveiled face you will climb from glory to glory” (“mox revelata facie transcendetis de claritate in claritatem”). St. Paul's passive verb is replaced by an active one, and the passage acquires a subtly Pelagian—or Hermetic—tonality. This, one might say in extenuation, is less a quotation from St.Paul than a passing reference to him. But Agrippa gives a similar twist to his quotation from the Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-21. In the Vulgate the last words of this passage are “omnium enim artifex docuit me sapientia” (“for Wisdom, the artificer of all things, taught me”). Agrippa, adding one letter, writes “sapientiam”—and wisdom becomes, not his teacher, but the content of what he is taught; not an aspect of God, but an instrument of his own desire for power over nature.

* * * * *

It may be somewhat disconcerting for a reader who has registered the contrasting tonalities of De occulta philosophia and De vanitate to recognize that the same doctrine of Hermetic rebirth underlies both works—the more so since this recognition cannot, I think, override one's literary experience of the two texts as essentially different in orientation. The former is open and encompassing (to the extent of including, in Book Three, Chapter Five, a summary statement of the concluding message of De vanitate),75 while the latter represents, in its complex mixture of wit, anger, and pious commitment, a recoil (surrounded by ironies, but a recoil nonetheless) from all but the most central of Agrippa's beliefs.

This contrast, I have suggested, cannot be adequately explained in terms either of literary genre or Agrippa's intellectual development: one registers it less perhaps as a matter of differing opinions or formal intentions than a matter of sheer vehemence. For in De vanitate—and also in parts of De occulta philosophia—one finds a verbal violence which not even Agrippa's sure knowledge that his enemies would respond to his heterodoxy with all the means at their disposal can account for. It might be supposed that once he had written De vanitate Agrippa's quest for certainty ought to have been at an end. But in a letter of 1527, in which he expresses the belief that there must be a hidden sense in all the apparently vain and fictitious writings about the power of magic and of astrological images, a sense which could be revealed by a trusty teacher or by illumination, he also describes the search for occult wisdom as a movement into a labyrinth. “But alas for you,” he writes, “who are your guides, whom will you follow, you who venture to enter the house of Daedalus, from which there is no return, to pass through the guard of the terrible Minos, and to entrust yourself to the Fates? Who are your teachers? ... Beware, lest you be deceived by those who were deceived.”76 The fact that in his Dehortatio gentilis theologiae Agrippa launched a frontal attack on Hermes Trismegistus—on whose guidance he nonetheless continued to rely—may perhaps suggest that he had begun to wonder whether Hermes' doctrine of rebirth was an Ariadne's thread, or rather part of the labyrinth itself.

The verbal violence to which I have referred appears quite clearly if we compare Agrippa's preface to De occulta philosophia with a part of that long extract from De vanitate which he appended to the first edition of the former work. This extract consists of Chapters Forty-One to Forty-Eight of De vanitate (those chapters which deal with the various magical arts), and Chapter Forty-Eight ends with an explicit, if disingenuous, recantation of De occulta philosophia—which thus in effect constitutes the conclusion to the first edition of that work.

Agrippa seems to have been fully aware when he wrote the preface to De occulta philosophia that the work would not win him friends among the orthodox. With his customary aggressiveness, then, he anticipated their attacks, arguing that while the ignorant or the malicious may condemn it, magic nonetheless deserves the highest respect:

I do not doubt but that the title of our book of Occult philosophy, or of Magic, may by its rarity entice a large number to read it, among whom some of a twisted opinion, feeble in mind, and also many ill-disposed and hostile to my talents, will approach, and who, in their rash ignorance, taking the name of magic in the worse sense, will cry out, hardly having beheld the title, that I teach forbidden arts, sow the seed of heresy, am an offense to pious ears and a stumbling block to outstanding minds, that I am a sorcerer, a superstitious person and a demoniac, because I am a magician [magus]. To these people I would reply that “magician” among learned men does not signify a sorcerer, nor a superstitious man, nor one possessed, but one who is a wise man, a priest, a prophet. The Sibyls were magicians; hence they prophesied most plainly of Christ. And now truly the Magi knew by the wonderful secrets of the world that Christ the author of the world itself was born, and were the first of all to have come to worship him. And the name itself of magic was accepted by philosophers, extolled by theologians, and was also not displeasing to the Gospel itself.

So far, so good. But Agrippa continues:

I believe those censors to be of such steadfast arrogance that they will forbid themselves the Sibyls and the holy magicians, and even the Gospel itself, sooner than that the name of magic should be admitted into favor; to such a degree are they careful of their conscience, that neither Apollo, nor all the Muses, nor an angel from heaven would be able to deliver me from their curse. And I advise them now that they neither read, nor understand, nor remember our treatise, for it is harmful, it is poisonous, the gate of Acheron is in the this book, it speaks stones: let them take heed lest it beat out their brains.77

What does he mean by this extraordinary outburst? It would be comforting to think that he is mocking the sort of formula by which he expects to be denounced. But he goes on to apologize for the book's contents: he urges his readers to set aside whatever may displease them; he assures them that he narrates much more than he asserts, or demonstrates; and he emphasizes the usefulness of the book—for as physicians use poisons as antidotes, so magic serves to avert evils, destroy witchcraft, cure diseases, drive away delusions, and preserve life, honor, and fortune, all without offense to God or injury to religion. He wrote it as a young man, he adds, and has since retracted a large part of it in his De vanitate; moreover, he is only publishing it because corrupted manuscript copies are already circulating in Italy, France, and Germany. This apology undermines, to say the least, his defence of magicians as wise men, priests, and prophets. But his outburst, with its threats against his critics, amounts almost to a kind of counter-curse: let them damn him, he seems to say; his book will take a hellish revenge. By implication, magic is neither holy, as he says to begin with, nor excusable, as he says later—it is demonic. The effect of this preface is thus very largely self-contradictory. Like the symbolic serpent of the alchemists, Agrippa has wound himself into a tight circle, and bitten down hard on his own tail.

The final passage from those chapters from De vanitate which Agrippa appended to De occulta philosophia as a form of recantation leaves the reader with the impression that magic is wholly damnable. For although in this chapter, “De praestigiis,” he is actually discussing only that form of magic which consists of diabolical tricks and illusions, his concluding words seem se general as to imply an absolute condemnation of all magic:

Now therefore from what has been said it is manifest that magic is nothing other than a complex of idolatry, astrology, and superstitious medicine. And now indeed from the magicians arose a great crowd of heretics in the church, who just as Iannes and Mambres resisted Moses, so those resisted the apostolic truth: their leader was Simon the Samaritan, who because of this art was given a statue at Rome in Claudius Caesar's time, with this inscription: To Simon the holy God. Clement, Eusebius, and Irenaeus tell of his blasphemies in great abundance. From this Simon, as if from a nursery of all heresies, came forth through many successions the monstrous Ophites, the infamous Gnostics, the impious Valentinians, Cerdonians, Marcionists, Montanians, and many other heretics, lying against God for profit and vain glory, exhibiting nothing useful, no benefits to men, but deceiving them, and casting them into destruction and into error: and those who believe in them shall be confounded in the judgment of God. But while still a young man I wrote three books on magical things in a large enough volume, which I named De occulta philosophia, in which whatever then through the curiosity of youth was mistaken, now, being more cautious, I desire by this retraction to be recanted: for formerly I spent a great deal of time and expense in these vanities. At last I advanced to this, that I might know by what reasons it might be proper to dissuade others from this ruin. For all who presume to divine and to prophesy, not in the truth, nor in the power of God, but in the deception of demons, according to the operation of evil spirits, and by means of magical vanities, practising exorcisms, incantations, love-potions, conjurings, and other demoniacal works and idolatrous deceits, presenting short-lived deceptions and apparitions, boast that they work miracles: all these shall be destined, with Iannes and Mambres and Simon Magus, to be tortured by eternal fires.78

Agrippa's suggestion of a link between the magic of Simon Magus and that of his own De occulta philosophia puts that work into bad company indeed, for Simon Magus was one of the great villains of the history and legends of the early church. An approximate contemporary of Jesus, he too claimed divine and magical powers, and he seems to have been regarded in Samaria as a messianic saviour.79 The canonical books of Acts and also the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Acts of Peter and Paul80 record a series of contests between Simon Magus and St. Peter, and in the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions the apostle and the magician clash again, this time in a marathon three-day debate. The contest in the apocryphal acts are so littered with marvels and so obviously legendary in character, at least to modern eyes, as to raise doubts about the historical reality of Simon Magus; but the Recognitions contain passages which evidently have a degree of historical validity, and the book was accepted by many Renaissance scholars as the work of Clement, the disciple of St. Peter and the first bishop of Rome after him.81 Moreover, other patristic works, especially Irenaeus' Against Heresies (from which Agrippa quotes almost verbatim),82 give detailed information about the doctrines of Simon and his followers.

In the Recognitions we are told of Simon that “By nation he is a Samaritan ...' by profession a magician, yet exceedingly well trained in the Greek literature; desirous of glory, and boasting above all the human race, so that he wishes himself to be believed to be an exalted power, which is above God the Creator, and to be thought to be the Christ, and to be called the Standing One. And he uses this name as implying that he can never be dissolved, asserting that his flesh is so compacted by the power of his divinity, that it can endure to eternity.”83 Simon was accompanied by a woman named Luna, or Helena, who he claimed was “Wisdom, the mother of all things, for whom, says he, the Greeks and barbarians contending, were able in some measure to see an image of her; but of herself, as she is, as the dweller with the first and only God, they were wholly ignorant.”84 According to Irenaeus, Simon called her his First Thought, who had descended to the lower regions and there generated the powers by whom the world was made; these powers, ignorant of Simon, had imprisoned her in a succession of human bodies, including that of Helen of Troy. Simon, then, has descended to liberate her and all who believed in him from these evil angels.85

Simon's Christian opponents in the Recognitions give grudging testimony to hs abilities. Who is there, asks one of Clement's brothers, “that would not be astonished at the wonderful things he does? Who would not think that he was a god come down from heaven for the salvation of men?”86 In Book X of the Recognitions he transforms Faustinianus, the father of Clement, into the appearance of Simon himself. In the Acts of Peter, where he again claims to be the Standing One, and also in the Acts of Peter and Paul, he possesses the power of flight: “and everyone saw him, all over Rome, passing over its temples and its hills....”87 But this leads to his quite literal downfall. For the prayers of St. Peter bring him crashing down—into the Via Sacra, as the Acts of Peter and Paul with a certain ironic fitness has it. His claim to be the Standing One is thus unanswerably refuted.

Patristic sources are unanimous in attributing Simon's powers to the devil; and the interest of Renaissance demonologists in his powers of transvection and transformation as providing authoritative evidence of the abilities of witches added to the danger of any association with this heresiarch.88 At least one of Agrippa's contemporaries was not put off by this danger: the earliest traces left by the historical Faustus suggest strongly that his boasts of magical power were in part modelled on those of Simon Magus.89 Georgius Faustus, of course, operated on a very different social level from that of Agrippa, the university lecturer and courtier. But let us for a moment take at its face value Agrippa's repentant association of De occulta philosophia with Simon Magus, the magician and arch-heretic, and return to that work, keeping it in mind that one at least of Agrippa's contemporaries regarded Simon Magus as a serious forerunner in the art of magic.90 What we find casts new light on Agrippa's ambivalences; and perhaps not unexpectedly, the doctrine of Hermetic rebirth proves to have been at the heart of the problem.

The third book of De occulta philosophia contains other discussions of Hermetic rebirth in addition to those upon which I have already commented. One of these occurs in the forty-fourth chapter. Agrippa writes: “There is no work in the whole succession f the world so admirable, so excellent, so marvellous, that the human soul, embracing its image of divinity (which the magicians call the soul standing and not falling) cannot accomplish by its own virtue without any external assistance. The form, therefore, of all magical virtue is from man's soul standing, and not falling.”91

Earlier in this chapter he uses the same terminology: “The soul which is united to the mind is therefore called the soul standing and not falling: but not all men have obtained mind, because (as Hermes says) God the Father wanted to set it forth just as a contest and prize of souls. Those who, devoid of mind, despise this prize, being given over to bodily senses, are made like the irrational brutes, and share the same annihilation with them.”92

Agrippa makes here an extended reference to the fourth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, and he goes on to emphasize the mind's ability to know all things in a manner that suggests he may be thinking also of the thirteenth tractate. There can be no doubt that he is speaking of Hermetic rebirth. But who are the unnamed magicians from whom he derives the doctrine that “The form of all magical virtue is from the soul of man standing, and not falling”? Although Agrippa associates this doctrine with the name of Hermes, it is not to be found in any of the Hermetic texts. Its author is Simon Magus.

Clearly, then, Agrippa saw enough similarities between the doctrines of Simon Magus and the doctrine of Hermetic rebirth to decide that they were one and the same. In this he was not wholly deceived. The group of Hermetic tractates which I have discussed insists on the necessity of a separation of the essential self from the body; this is a precondition for that illumination, that acquisition of mind, that possession by the powers of God which constitutes rebirth and knowledge of God. Similarly, in the Recognitions, Simon is made to say: “It is truly very difficult for man to know [the supreme God], as long as he is in the flesh; for blacker than all darkness, and heaver than all clay, is this body with which the soul is surrounded.”93 Since he also maintains that this knowledge is nonetheless possible, and is acquired by hearing and accepting revelation, a syncretic mind might infer that a process of purgation is somehow involved. And if we are willing (as was Sebastian Franck, a writer much influenced by Agrippa) to dismiss the more rabid claims of heretics like Simon Magus and Mani as the inventions of polemicists, then we are left in Simon's case with something not unlike the doctrine of Hermes.94 Hermes, the reborn one, has an incorruptible form, and Tat, his disciple, is made “steadfast” by the same rebirth; Simon Magus, the incorruptible, calls himself the Standing One. What is the difference? This approach, of course, distorts the message of Simon Magus as much as the excision of Jesus' claims to divinity would distort the New Testament. Agrippa's conflation of Simonian and Hermetic terms suggests, however, that his attitude may have been similar to that of Sebastian Franck. And as a result, Agrippa allows Simon Magus to play with Hermes Trismegistus the same trick that he played on Clement's father, Faustinianus, in the tenth book of the Recognitions. The priest-magician takes on the face of the sorcerer and arch-heretic; Hermes Trismegistus and Simon Magus become different names for the same thing.

* * * * *

Agrippa's dilemma, then, was not one of a clear-cut choice between two courses of action; his real problem was not one of deciding whether or not, or to what degree, magic is permissible. For this was only the surface expression of a more fundamental difficulty. On this surface level, the question which his equivocations on the subject of magic pose for us is insoluble: his violent oscillations back and forth, his praise and condemnation of magic, his boasts, his threats, and his recantations, are quite simply unintelligible.

If, however, he is seen as a man whose ideology led him into a hopeless entanglement of the sacred and the demonic, then these alternations begin to make sense. Hermetic rebirth provided him with a theory for the understanding of the divine; it set out the means by which God is to be approached and outlined the consequent rewards. One could call it indifferently the highest form of magic, or the purest form of Christianity. And whether the emphasis was on rebirth as a source of magical power, or on rebirth as the true interpretation of Christianity, a syncretic breaking down of oppositions was involved. Reason and faith, pagans and Christians, were reconciled. The doctrines of the Platonists and the secret opinions of Aristotle (as in Book III, Chapter Twenty-Six of De occulta philosophia) were shown to be identical. St Paul, as we have seen in De vanitate, could be used to support the doctrine; and St. Peter speaks quite openly of rebirth: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). But if Hermetic rebirth and the ideas of Simon Magus are indistinguishable, then the whole effort is compromised: a breaking down of oppositions has been allowed to go too far.

Agrippa does not seem to have contemplated a retreat from his instrumentalist view of religion, for that would have thrown him back into the camp of the scholastics, whose philosophy he challenged, and whose methods of suppressing dissent he despised.95 Such a retreat would in addition open up again that old running sore, the conflict between faith and reason, which it was one of the claims of Renaissance Hermetists to have healed. He was thus wedged into an untenable position. His knowledge rested upon unfulfilled promises, and the expected illuminations persistently did not arrive. Was the Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition he had inherited to blame? Some of his comments in De vanitate suggest that he occasionally thought as much. One of the Gnostic sects which Irenaeus derived from Simon Magus was that of the Ophites, who worshipped the serpent of the Genesis story as a bringer of gnosis. In Chapter Forty-Eight of De vanitate Agrippa quotes Irenaeus on this, but at another point he proposes that it was the Cabalists who gave rise to this sect, and elsewhere he associates the Ophites with “a certaine Spirite, called Theutus, enemie to mankinde, ... the first deviser of Sciences, no lesse hurtful then profitable....” As Agrippa knew very well, this Theutus or Thoth was commonly identified with Hermes Trismegistus.96

Is Hermetic rebirth to be accounted one of these sciences “no less hurtful than profitable”? I will not hazard a guess. But Agrippa's preface to De occulta philosophia shows that he was unable to resolve either his basic dilemma or the problem of the assessment of magic which arose from it. And his outburst in that preface is the cry of a man who, whether or not suspects himself to be damned, is in any event weary of denying his enemies' charges that he is.

The doctrine of Hermetic rebirth thus gives us access to the inner dynamic of Agrippa's thought. The basic unity of his two major works stems from the fact that Hermetic rebirth remained for him throughout his life the way both to salvation and to knowledge; and their contradictions and ambivalences, and the violent and excessive manner in which these are expressed, arise in part from the fact that the pious Hermes, the holy Scriptures, and that mighty heretic Simon Magus all pointed him in the same direction. How then could he tell whether he moving towards transfiguration and a godlike knowledge and power, or whether he was destined, with Iannes and Mambres (Egyptian magicians, like Hermes), and with Simon Magus, to the torments of eternal fire?

Agrippa may have been unsure, but most of his contemporaries were not: “... in the ende,” James Sanford wrote, “his wicked knowledge was the cause of his miserable deathe: for as John Manlius a Germaine writer doth recorde, when he was at the point of death, he called to him a dog which went about with him, and spake to him with these wordes, Abi a me perdita bestia, quae me perdidisti: that is, Depart from mee thou wicked beast which hath destroyed me. So foorthwith the dog departing from him, caste himselfe headlong into a river: this dog was without doubt a Divel of Hell.”97 Agrippa thus joins Simon Magus in hell, and some decades later Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, their lineal descendant, is dragged screaming down to bear them company.

And yet later sixteenth-century writers had no adequate solution to Agrippa's dilemma, or to the problem of knowledge with which it is connected—unless, that is, we can consider it a solution of the matter to

                       ... exhort the wise, 
Onely to wonder at unlawfull things: 
Whose deepnesse doth entice such forward wits, 
To practice more then heavenly power permits.98

Agrippa's dilemma was of that sort which cannot be resolved; it can only become irrelevant. He might have been interested to know that René Descartes, one of those who most helped to make it so, wrote as a young man that the key to his own philosophical method came to him by divine illumination: the Spirit of Truth, who wanted “to reveal to him the treasures of all the sciences,” descended on him while he slept.99 The magician is denied; the mathematician and philosopher is rewarded. The Spirit of Truth, it may be, owes us an explanation.




1  Gabriel Naudé, Apologie pour tous les grands personnages qui ont esté faussement soupçonnez de magie (Paris, 1925), p. 404: “...c'est plustost suivre l'ignorance ou la passion de Paul Jove & des Demonographes, que la verite de l'histoire, de faire un jugement si peu favorable & sinistre de cet homme, qui n'a pas esté seulement un nouveau Trismegiste és trois facultez superieures de la Theologie, Jurisprudence & Medecine, mai qui a voulu promener son corps par toutes les parties de l'Europe, & faire rouler son esprit sur toutes les Sciences & disciplines ...”; p. 419: “Cette preuve qui est la plus forte & la moins desguisee que puissent avoir nos adversaires, estant ainsi rendue vaine & de nulle consequence, il n'y a rien si facile que de venir a bout des autres, lesquelles se liroient beaucoup plus à propos dans les Romans magiques de Merlin, Maugis, & du Docteur Fauste, que dans les Escrits serieux & bien examinez, ou qui le devroient estre, de plusieurs Historiens & Demonographes....” (Here and throughout these notes, u/v and i/j have been normalized in accordance with modern practice.)

2  On Agrippa's use of the Hermetica and of the writings of his predecessors in the Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition, see Charles G. Nauert, Jr., Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought (Urbana, Illinois, 1965), pp. 117-39, 153-56; D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958; rpt. Notre Dame, 1975), pp. 90-96; and Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London, 1964), pp. 130-47, 281-83. Agrippa's influence on Bruno is discussed in many passages of this latter book; for his influence on Dee, see Yates, The Art of Memory (1966; rpt. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1969), p. 257, and Theatre of the World (Chicago, 1969), pp. 23-24, 30-31; also Peter J. French, John Dee (London, 1972), pp. 29-30. His importance to Thomas Vaughan is evident in The Works of Thomas Vaughan, ed. Alan Rudrum (Oxford, 1984), pp. 84-87, 99-103.

3  Paola Zambelli, “Magic and Radical Reformation in Agrippa of Nettesheim,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976), 88-103, 102; see also her article “Cornelio Agrippa, Erasmo e la teologia umanistica,” Rinascimento 21 (1969), 29-88; Jean Wirth, “'Libertins' et 'Epicuriens': Aspects de l'irréligion au XVIe siècle,” Bibliothèque d'humanisme et renaissance 39 (1977), 609-13.

4  See Christopher Baxter, “Johann Weyer's De praestigiis Daemonum: Unsystematic Psychopathology,” and Sydney Anglo, “Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft: Scepticism and Saduceeism,” in The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft, ed. Sydney Anglo (London, 1977), pp. 59, 65, 71-72; 121, 125.

5  See Pierre Villey, Les Sources et l'évolution des Essais de Montaigne (2 vols,; 2nd ed.; Paris, 1933), vol. 2, pp. 166-70; Jean de la Taille, Dramatic Works, ed. K.M. Hall and C.N. Smith (London, 1972), p. 23; André Thevet, Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres (2 vols.; Paris, 1584), vol. 2, fols. 542-544v; Gabriel Naudé, Apologie, pp. 400-29. Marin Mersenne, in his Quaestiones celeberrimae in Genesim (Paris, 1623), col. 590, denounced Agrippa as “Archimagus”; in the same year that this book appeared a man was burned at Moulins for possessing a copy of De occulta philosophia (cf. Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, ed. Cornelis de Waard and René Pintard [Paris, 1932], p. 51n). For indications of Agrippa's influence in Germany, see R. Klibansky, E. Panofsky and F. Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (London, 1964), pp. 350-65; and Will-Erich Peuckert, Pansophie: Ein Versuch zur Geschichte der weissen und schwarzen Magie (2nd ed.; Berlin, 1956), pp. 135-45.

6  There is a recent edition of this translation: Of the Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences, ed.Catherine M. Dunn (Northridge, California, 1974). Sidney refers to De vanitate in A Defence of Poetry, ed. J.A. Van Dorsten (London, 1966), pp. 49-50; and for indications of the extent of Sidney's interest in Agrippa, see A.C. Hamilton, “Sidney and Agrippa,” Review of English Studies n.s. 7, no. 26 (1956), 151-57. Greville echoes the main argument of De vanitate in Caelica, 66, and in A Treatise of Religion, st. 107; Selected Poems of Fulke Greville, ed. Joan Rees (London, 1973), pp. 32-33, 53. For indications of Nashe's use of Agrippa, see The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R.B. McKerrow (5 vols.; London, 1904-1910), vol. 3, pp. 151-52, vol. 5, p. 125; and for a brief discussion of the possibility that Nashe felt a more radical affinity with Agrippa, see Jonathan V. Crewe, Unredeemed Rhetoric: Thomas Nashe and the Scandal of Authorship (Baltimore, 1982), pp. 77-80, 113n. One might, with less confidence, add Spenser to the list of Elizabethan writers who drew upon Agrippa. See Spenser: Poetical Works, ed. J.C. Smith and E. De Selincourt (1912; rpt. London, 1966), pp. 624, 541; Douglas Brooks-Davies, Spenser's “Faerie Queene”: A Critical Commentary on Books I and II (Manchester, 1977), pp. 6, 65, 86, 105; and my article “Agrippa,” in A.C. Hamilton et al., ed., The Spenser Encyclopedia (University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).

7  As an exponent of Reuchlin's Cabalistic-Hermetic philosophy, Agrippa was subjected to anti-Semitic attacks from 1509 onwards—a year before the Reuchlin affair began (cf. Paola Zambelli, “Agrippa von Nettesheim in den neueren kristischen Studien und in den Handschriften,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichten 51, Heft 2 [1969], 276ff. The first slander printed against him was in Ortwin Gratius' Lamentationes obscurorum virorum (1518); cf. Zambelli, “Agrippa von Nettesheim,” 280, and “Magic and Radical Reformation,” 70. There is an intriguing possibility that the “Georgius Subbunculator” with whom Gratius has “Agrippa Stygianus” exchange letters could be none other than Georgius Sabellicus Faustus—who, from the accounts given of him by Trithemius in 1507 and Mutianus Rufus in 1513, was indeed something of a botcher-up of old clothes. For these accounts, and for subsequent attacks which link Agrippa and Faustus, see Alexander Tille, Die Faustsplitter in der Literatur des sechzehnten bis achtzehnten Jahrhunderts nach der ältesten Quellen (Berlin, 1900), pp. 1-5, 16, 56, 87-88, 102; and P.M. Palmer and R.P. More, ed., The Sources of the Faust Tradition from Simon Magus to Lessing (1936; rpt. New York, 1965), pp. 83-88, 101-03. The earliest printed legends about Faustus are contained in Johannes Gast's Sermones conviviales (1548), and include the statement that Faustus' dog and horse were devils (Tille, p. 12; Palmer and More, p. 98); this echoes the claim of Paolo Giovio, in his Elogia doctorum virorum (1546; rpt. Basle, c. 1560), pp. 236-37, that Agrippa's dog was a devil. Gabriel Naudé's Apologie (pp. 400-02, 419-20) shows an awareness of the manner in which orthodox polemicists had used demonological legends to sully Agrippa's reputation, but he seems not to have realized that the stories told about Agrippa in some cases antedated those told about Faustus.

8  Faustus' direct reference to Agrippa is quoted from Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts, ed. W.W. Greg (1950; rpt. Oxford, 1968), scene i, line 150 (1604 text; line 139 in the 1616 text), pp. 170-71. On Marlowe's use of Agrippa, see Michael Hattaway, “The Theology of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus,” Renaissance Drama n.s. 3 (1970), 54-55, 61-65; and my articles “Verbal Magic and the Problem of the A and B Texts of Doctor Faustus,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82 (1983), 324-46, esp. 336-40; and “Misreading Faustus Misreading: The Question of Context,” The Dalhousie Review 65.4 (Winter 1985-86), 511-33, esp. 527-29.

9  On Pico, see Eugenio Garin, “Le interpretazioni del pensiero di Giovanni Pico,” in L'Opera e il pensiero di Giovanni Pico della Mirandola nella storia dell'Umanesimo (Florence, 1965), pp. 3-32; and D.P. Walker, “Savonarola and the Ancient Theology,” in his The Ancient Theology (London, 1972), pp. 42-62. On Lefèvre, see Eugene F. Rice, Jr., “The De magia naturali of Jacques Lefèvre d”Étaples,” in Philosophy and Humanism: Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller, ed. Edward P. Mahoney (New York, 1976), pp. 19-29; and Brian P. Copenhaver, “Lefèvre d'Étaples, Symphorien Champier and the Secret Names of God,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 40 (1977), 189-211.

10  For a refutation of the charges of charlatanism raised by earlier interpreters, see Nauert, Agrippa, pp. 196-99. The view that De vanitate was intended as a “safety-device” is advanced by Yates, Giordano Bruno, p. 131; on the condemnations of De vanitate and the resulting controversies, see Nauert, Agrippa, pp. 106-11.

11  Nauert, Agrippa, pp. 214, 220.

12  For a suggestive analysis of the structures and rhetorical intentions of De vanitate, see Eugene Korkowski, “Agrippa as Ironist,” Neophilologus 60 (1976), 594-607.

13  Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, In praelectione Hermetis Trismegisti, ed. Paola Zambelli, in Eugenio Garin et al., ed., Testi umanistici su l'ermetismo (Rome, 1955), p. 124: “Instruit nos praeterea de cognitione sui ipsius, de ascensu intellectus, de arcanis precibus, de divino connubio, deque regenerationis sacramento.... Firmam autem robustamque mentem, per quam sine fallacia mirabilia et cognoscimus et operamur, quomodo possimus adipisci, ipse nos Mercurii Pimander edocet.” The letter to which Nauert refers (Agrippa, p. 214) is printed in Agrippa's Opera, ed. Richard H. Popkin (2 vols.; Lyon, c. 1600; facsimile rpt. Hildesheim, 1970), vol. 2, Epist. V, xix.

14  Barbara C. Bowen, “Cornelius Agrippa's De vanitate: Polemic or Paradox?” Bibliothèque d'humanisme et renaissance 34 (1972), 249-56.

15  Maurice de Gandillac, “Les secrets d'Agrippa,” in Aspects du libertinisme au XVIe siècle, ed. André Stegmann (Paris, 1974), p. 133, dates the Dehortatio to 1518. The date of 1526 suggested by Nauert (Agrippa, pp. 98, 208) is much more probable: this short work was dedicated by Agrippa in June of 1526, and bears marked similarities to De vanitate, which was completed in September of that year.

16  Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, pp. 49-50.

17  Of the Vanitie, “Cornelius Agrippa, to the reader,” p. 10. The work of Eugenio Garin on the place of magic in Renaissance thought (see his Medioevo e Rinascimento [3rd ed.; Bari, 1966], pp. 90-99, 151-91) encouraged scholars like Zambelli and Nauert to insist that Agrippa's major works have a common substructure. See Nauert, Agrippa, p. 200, and Zambelli, “A proposito del De vanitate scientiarum et artium di Cornelio Agrippa,” Rivisita critica di storia della filosofia 15.2 (1960), 167-81; “Humanae literae, verbum divinum, docta ignorantia negli ultimi scritti di Enrico Cirnelio Agrippa,” Giornale critico della filosofia italiana (1965), 101-31; and “Agrippa von Nettesheim,” 264-95. The present article attempts a more clearly-focussed analysis of that substructure, and offers more detailed suggestions as to how it might explain the contrasting orientations of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia.

18  Agrippa, De occulta philosophia, III.iii in Opera, vol. 1, p. 314. See n. 56 below.

19  These features include the initially polemical nature of the Faustus legend, its emphasis on flight, the insistently blasphemous nature of Faustus' aspirations and deeds, his final death (rather than conversion) and, of course, the Helen of Troy episode. See Michael H. Keefer's dissertation “This Fatal Mirror”: Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the Legend and the Context (University of Sussex, 1980), pp. 22-23, 90-91, 118-34. On patristic accounts of Simon Magus, the most important of which for Renaissance readers were Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, I.23, 1-4, and the pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones, II.5-15 (the Refutatio omnium haeresium of Hippolytus was not recovered until the nineteenth century), see R. McL. Wilson, The Gnostic Problem (1958; rpt. London, 1964), pp. 36-44; R.M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (1959; 2nd ed., New York, 1966), pp. 7-96; and Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (2nd ed., Boston, 1963), pp. 103-11. For references to more recent studies, which have been increasingly concerned with the relations between the Simonian gnosis and certain texts in the Gnostic library discovered at Nag Hammadi, see Sasagu Arai, “Simonianische Gnosis und die Exegese über die Seele,” in Martin Krause, ed., Gnosis and Gnosticism (Leiden, 1977), pp. 185-203; and Arai, “Zum 'Simonianischen' in AuthLog und Bronté,” in Krause, ed., Gnosis and Gnosticism (Leiden, 1981), pp. 3-15. The methods of patristic heresiologists are analyzed by Gérard Vallée in A Study in Anti-Gnostic Polemics: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius (Waterloo, 1981).

20  See, for example, the texts of Ludovico Lazzarelli reprinted in Garin et al., ed., Testi umanistici; or Augustinus Steuchus, De perenni philosophia libri X (Lyon, 1540), I.viii, I.x, I.xxiii-xxvi, II.xvii, X.x; and among modern studies, R. Marcel, “La fortune d'Hermès Trismégiste à la Renaissance,” in L'Humanisme français au début de la Renaissance, ed. André Stegmann (Paris, 1973), pp. 137-54; D.P. Walker, The Ancient Theology; and Elaine Limbrick, “Hermétisme religieux au XVIe siècle: le Pimandre de François de Foix de Candale,” Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme n.s. 5 (1981), 1-14.

21  Agrippa, In praelectione Hermetis Trismegisti, ed. Zambelli, in Garin et al., ed., Testi umanistici, pp. 122-23.

22  See Anthony Grafton, “Protestant Versus Prophet: Isaac Casaubon on Hermes Trismegistus,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 46 (1983), 78-93.

23  Symptomatic of this tendency is Frances A. Yates' last book, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London, 1979). The influence of Reuchlin's Christian Cabala, as set out in his De verbo mirifico (1494), is very much evident in Agrippa's De occulta philosophia, especially in the manuscript version of 1510. Charles Zika claims (correctly, I think) in “Reuchlin's De Verbo Mirifico and the Magic Debate of the Late Fifteenth Century,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976), 138, that “it was primarily Reuchlin's statement of the possible fusion of magic with religion which constituted the driving force behind Agrippa's formulation in the De Occulta Philosophia of a sacralized magic which would enable other forms of magic to be viewed in a correct perspective and ultimately to be purified and restored to their former place of honour.” See also Zika's “Reuchlin and Erasmus: Humanism and Occult Philosophy,” The Journal of Religious History 9 (1976-77), 242-43. My point in this paragraph is that Reuchlin's Cabala was itself deeply indebted to Hermetic sources.

24  Asclepius, 6, in A.D. Nock and J.J. Festugière, ed. and trans., Corpus Hermeticum (4 vols.; 2nd ed.; Paris, 1960), vol. 2, pp. 301-02: “Propter haec, o Asclepi, magnum miraculum est homo, animal adorandum atque honorandum. Hoc enim in naturam dei transit, quasi ipse sit deus; hoc daemonum genus novit, utpote qui cum isdem se ortum esse cognoscat; hoc humanae naturae partem in se ipse despicit, alterius partis divinitate confisus.”

25  Pico's Oratio (de hominis dignitate) opens with these words: “Legi, Patres colendissimi, in Arabum monumentis, interrogatum Abdalum Sarracenum, quid in hac quasi mundana scaena admirandum maxime spectaretur, nihil spectari homine admirabilius respondisse. Cui sententiae illud Mercurii adstipulatur: Magnum, o Asclepi, miraculum est homo.” G. Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno, ed. E. Garin (Florence, 1942), p. 102. On Pico's Oration, see Ernst Cassirier, “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,” Part II, in Renaissance Essays from the “Journal of the History of Ideas”, ed. P.O. Kristeller and P.P. Wiener (New York, 1968), pp. 33-52; Eugenio Garin, “Le interpretazioni del pensiero di Giovanni Pico,” in L'Opera e il pensiero di Giovanni Pico, pp. 3-32; and in the same volume, P.O. Kristeller, “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and his sources,” pp. 35-133, esp. pp. 53-67; Agnes Heller, Renaissance Man, trans. R.E. Allen (London, 1978), pp. 60, 532-33, 450-52.

26  Agrippa, De triplici ratione, cap. V in Opera, vol. 2, pp. 469-70. Agrippa actually makes a double reference to this passage of the Asclepius: “O magnum miraculum homo, praecipue autem Christianus, qui in mundo constitutus, ea quae supra mundum sunt, ipsiusque mundi autorem cognoscit, tum in eo ipso inferiora quaeque cernit & intelligit: non solum ea quae sunt, & quae fuerunt, sed et illa quae non sunt, & quae ventura sunt. Magnum certe miraculum est homo Christianus, qui in mundo constitutus supra mundum dominatur, operationesque similes efficit ipsi Creatori mundi, quae opera vulgo miracula appellantur, quorum omnium radix & fundamentum fides est in Iesum Christum.”

27  De verbo mirifico (1494), sig. B4: “Simulque in natura constituti, supra naturam dominamur, et monstra, portenta, miracula divinitatis insignia, nos mortales uno verbo, quod iam pridem vobis explicare ausus sum prodigimus” (cited from Zika, “Reuchlin's De Verbo Mirifico,” 107).

28  See Zika, “Reuchlin's De Verbo Mirifico,” 129-30. Reuchlin consistently devalued Hermes and the “Egyptian” magical tradition by comparison with the Cabala (Zika, 112, 123-24), but for further instances of Hermetic influence in De verbo mirifico, see Zika, 114, 118, 120, 123.

29  Cf. Pico, De hominis dignitate, in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Gian Francesco Pico, Opera omnia (2 vols.; 1557-1573; facsimile rpt. ed. Cesare Vasoli (Hildesheim, 1969), vol. 1, pp. 316-17. Pico is referring here to Dionysius the Areopagite, De divinibus nominibus, IV.2. A similar pseudo-Dionysian pattern is apparent in the Oratio Joannis Tritemii abbatis spanhemensis de vera conversione mentis ad Deum (Moguntina, 1500), sig. A iijv, c, c ij.

30  Gikatila's Ginat Egoz was a major source for Reuchlin; on Gikatila and his teacher Abulafia, see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (3rd ed.; New York, 1961), and Scholem, Kabbalah (New York, 1974).

31  Frances A. Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science,” in Charles S. Singleton, ed., Art, Science, and History in the Renaissance (Baltimore, 1970), p. 255.

32  An initial attempt to define this genre has been made by Pheme Perkins, The Gnostic Dialogue (New York, 1980).

33  On the sources and coherence of the Hermetica, see A.J. Festugière, “L'Hermétisme,” Arsberättelse, Bulletin de la Société Royale des Lettres de Lund (1947-48), 1-58; and his La Révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste (4 vols.; Paris, 1950-54).

34  Ludovico Lazzarelli, De summa hominis foelicitate dialogus, qui inscribitur calix Christi et crater Hermetis, ed. M. Brini, in Garin et al, ed., Testi umanistici, p. 56.

35  For indications of the influence of (among others) the first, fourth, and seventh tractates on Ficino, see P.O. Kristeller, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters (1956; rpt. Rome, 1969), pp. 233-35. Kristeller does not mention the thirteenth tractate, but see Ficino's Dialogus inter Deum et animam theologicus (trans. in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. 1[London, 1975], pp. 35-39; compare Corpus Hermeticum XIII.3-11) for clear evidence of his interest in it. For a later echo of the Corpus Hermeticum XIII, see Ficino's Commentaria in Philebum Platonis, cap. xx (The Philebus Commentary, ed. and tr. Michael J.B. Allen [Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975], p. 202). Lazzarelli's Crater Hermetis conflates elements of the first, fourth, and thirteenth tractates with the god-making mystery of the Asclepius into a Hermetic-Christian mystery of regeneration (see Kristeller, Studies, pp. 237-40). For modern evaluations of the coherence and central importance of C.H. I, IV, VII, and XIII, see Festugière, “L'Hermétisme,” 11; A.D. Nock, Conversion (Oxford, 1952), pp. 117-18; Nock, “Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background,” in his Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, ed. Zeph Stewart (2 vols.; Oxford, 1972), vol. 1, pp. 16, 128n., 61; Nock and Festugière, Corpus Hermeticum, vol. 1, p. 85; and C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953), p. 190. These four tractates are translated by R.M. Grant in his Gnosticism: An Anthology (London, 1961), pp. 311-33.

36  See John 1:12-23, 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23. A number of Pauline passages lend themselves to interpretation in terms of rebirth: Romans 12:2, 1 Cor. 4:15, Gal. 4:19, Eph. 4:22-24, Col. 3:9-10.

37  Mercurii Trismegisti Pymander, de potestate Dei ... [Marsilio Ficino Florentino interp.] (Basle, 1532), sig. A6. In this same passage the narrator (who is unnamed in the Greek text, but identified as Mercurius by Ficino) makes it clear that he wishes knowledge of nature as well as of God: “Cupio inquam rerum naturam discere, deumque cognoscere” (sig. A6). My quotations from the Hermetic tractates I am discussing are drawn from Ficino's translation: Agrippa, who was not fluent in Greek, relied upon this translation rather than the Greek text. These tractates were unknown in Europe before Ficino obtained a Greek manuscript and translated it in the early 1460s; the Hermetic Asclepius (of which the Greek text is lost) was already available in a Latin translation that was ascribed to Apuleius of Madaura and was cited with some frequency from the twelfth century onwards.

38  Mercurii Trismegisti Pymander, sig. A6v-A7: “Lumen illud ego sum, mens, deus tuus, antiquior quam natura humida, quae ex umbra effluxit. Mentis vero germen, verbum lucens, dei filius.... Sic inquit cogita, quod in te videt, & audit, est verbum domini, mens autem pater deus.”

39  Ibid., sig. A8r-v: “Qui cum naturam contueretur mira pulchritudine preditam esse, actionesque omnes septem gubernatorum, atque insuper dei ipsius effigiem possidere, illi amore ingenti subrisit, utpote quae humanae pulchritudinis speciem in aqua speculaterur, eiusdemque adumbrationem quandam in terra conspiceret: ille praeterea conspicatus similem sibi formam in seipso existentem, velut in aqua, amavit eam, secumque congredi concupavit. Effectus evestigio secutus est voluntatem, formamque carentem ratione progenuit.”

40  Ibid., sig. B3v: “O populi viri terrigenae, qui vosmetipsos ebrietati, somno, & ignorantiae dedidistis, sobrii vivite, abstinete a ventris luxu vos, qui irrationali somno demulcti estis.... Cur ô viri terrigenae praecipites in mortem ruitis, cum vobis haudquaquam desit immortalitatis consequendae facultas?”

41  Ibid., sig. D2v-D3: “Quo ruitis mortales ebrii, qui merum ignorantiae combibistis? Cum id ferre nequeatis evomite, vivite sobrii, oculis mentis inspicite.... In primis autem oportet vestem quam circumfers exuere, indumentem inscitiae, pravitatis fundamentum, corruptionis vinculum, velamen opacum, vivam mortem, sensitivum cadaver....”

42  Ibid., sig. C3: “... ii ô Tati secundum operum comparationem pro mortalibus immortales habentur, intelligentia sua cuncta complexi quae in terra sunt & quae in mari, & si quid est praeterea super coelum.”

43  Ibid., sig. D2v: “... ad fontem vitae recurrite, illumque qui vos introducet, in adytum veritatis capescite. Ibi fulgidum lumen nullis immixtum tenebris.”

44  The words are those of Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples in his introductory note to the thirteenth tractate. “Argumentum decimitertii,” Mercurii Trismegisti Pymander, sig. G3: “Tertiusdecimus est de arcano regenerationis mysterio....”

45  Ibid., sig. G5: “Absit hoc ô fili: recurre in teipsum, & consequeris: velis, ac fiet: purga sensus corporis, solve te ab irrationabilibus materiae ipsius ultoribus.” The ten powers of God (sig. G5v-G6) call out for conflation with the ten Sephiroth of the Kabbalists.

46  Ibid., sig. G7: “An ignoras quod & deus & unus [sic: read “unius”] filius natus es?”

47  Ibid., sig. G4v: “... quis erit regenerationis autor? TRIS. Dei filius, homo unius voluntate dei.”

48  Ibid., sig. G6: “O pater concipio, non oculorum intuitu, sed actu mentis, qui per vires intimas exercentur. In coelo sum, in terra, in aqua, in aëre, in animalibus sum, in arboribus, in corpore, ante corpus, atque post corpus, & ubique.

49  Ibid., sig. B4: “Corporis enim somnus animi sobrietas extiterat. Oculorum compressio verus intuitus. Silentium meum bonitatis foecunda praegnatio. Sermonis prolatio bonorum omnium genitura.”

50  Ibid., sig. G7.

51  See, for example, Corpus Hermeticum X.25, XI.19-20, XII.1, Asclepius 6.

52  Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 130.

53  “An Encomium on the three Books of Cornelius Agrippa Knight, by Eugenius Philalethes,” lines 5-10; in Three Books of Occult Philosophy, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, of Nettesheim, tr. J.F. (London, 1651), sig. A2. Cf. The Works of Thomas Vaughan, p. 86.

54  Agrippa, De occulta philosophia, “Epistola nuncupatoria,” in Opera, vol.1, p. 307: “Divinorum autem intelligentia purgat mentem erroribus, redditque divinam, virtutem operibus nostris infallibilem praestat, & malorum omnium daemonum fraudes & obstacula longe propellit, illosque simul imperio nostro subiicit, etiam bonos angelos & universas mundi virtutes in nostrum ministerium cogit, attracta videlicet ab ipso archetypo operum nostrorum virtute: ad quem quum ascendimus, necesse est omnem creaturam nobis obedire, totusque nos sequitur coelestium chorus.” In the opening sentence of this dedication, Agrippa warns that “nulla in re nobis in hac vita magis elaborandum esse, quam ut ab animi nobilitate, quo Deo proxime accedimus divinamque induimus naturam, minime degeneremus: ne quando inani ocio torpescens animus, ad terreni corporis fragilitatem, carnisque vitia resolvatur, illumque tanquam proiectum per perversarum cupiditatum tenebrosa praecipitia perdamus” (p. 306). The purgation of which he speaks thus implies a form of dualist ascesis.

55  De occulta philosophia, III.i, p. 310: “Firmam autem & robustam mentem (ut inquit Hermes) consequi non aliunde possumus, quam a vitae integritate, a pietate, a divina denique religione. Religio enim sacra mentem purgat, redditque divinam....”

56  Ibid., III.iii, p. 314: “nunc vero narrabimus rem arcanam, necessariam & secretam, unicuique qui in hac arte operari affectat, quae est principium & complementum & clavis omnium magicarum operationum: & ipsa est dignificatio hominis ad hanc tam sublimen virtutem ac potestatem.” P. 315: “Inest enim nobis ipsis rerum omnium apprehensio & potestas. Prohibemur autem quo minus his fruamur, per passiones ex generatione nobis obstantes, per imaginationes falsas, & appetitus immoderatos: quibus expulsis, subito adest divina cognitio atque potestas.”

57  Ibid.,, p. 322: “... sic etiam per solum opus religionis, fit aliquod sine applicatione naturalium coelestiumque virtutem: sed nemo potest operari per puram & solam religionem, nisi qui totus factus est intellectualis. Quicunque autem sine admixtione aliorum virtutum, per solam religionem operatur, si diu perseveraverit in opere, absorbetur a numine, nec diu poterit vivere.”

58  Ibid,, p. 321: “Mens itaque nostra pura atque divina, religioso amore flagrans, spe decora, fide directa, posita in culmine & fastigio humani animi, veritatem attrahit, omnesque rerum tam naturalium quam immortalium status, rationes, causas & scientias, in ipsa veritate divina, tanquam in quodam aeternitatis speculo intuetur, subito comprehendens.... Hinc provenit nos in natura constitutos, aliquando supra naturam dominari: operationesque tam mirificas, tam subitas, tam arduas efficere, quibus obediant manes, turbentur sidera, cogantur numina, serviant elementa: sic homines Deo devoti, ac theologicis istis virtutibus elevati, imperant elementis, pellunt nebulas, citant ventos, cogunt nubes in pluvias, curant morbos, suscitant mortuos....”

59  Ibid., III.xxxvi, p. 411: “Sic & verba nostra plurima producere possunt miracula, modo formentur verbo Dei, in quibus etiam unica nostra generatio perficitur, sicut inquit Esaias, A facie tua Domine concepimus, sicut mulieres recte concipiunt a facie maritorum, & peperimus spiritum....”

60  On Lazzarelli's previous conflation of the Hermetic-Christian doctrine of rebirth with the demonic magic of the Asclepius, see Kristeller, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, pp. 221-57, and Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, pp. 64-72.

61  See Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (New York, 1961), pp. 174-75, 341; and Gerhard Ebeling, Luther, tr. R.A. Wilson (London, 1972), pp. 108-09. This view of illumination was given systematic formulation by Jean Calvin in his Institution de la religion chrestienne, I.vii and I.ix.

62  Ioannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. Baum, Cunitz and Reuss (59 vols.; Brunswick, 1863-1900), vol. 27, col. 515: “Quand nous avons ces appetis, il faut bien que le diable nous y pousse.”

63  Agrippa, De vanitate, cap. C, in Opera, vol. 2, p. 299: “Harum autem scripturarum (dico canonicarum) veritas & intelligentia a sola Dei revelantis authoritate dependet, quae non ullo sensuum iudicio, nulla ratione discurrente, nullo syllogismo demonstrante, nulla scientia, nulla speculatione, nulla contemplatione, nullis denique humanis viribus comprehendi potest, nisi sola fide in Iesum Christum, a Deo patre per Spiritum sanctum in animam nostram transfusa.”

64  Ibid., Cap. XCVIII, pp. 286-87, 289-90: “... ita etiam divina oracula admodum obscura & abscondita, data nostris interpretationibus explicanda, non quidem ex nostris viribus aut adinventionibus quasi Dei oracula sicuti naturae opera opus habeant nostro adiumento, sed ex ipsomet scripturarum illarum sancto Spiritu, qui distribuit dona sua omnibus secundum quod vult & ubi vult, faciens alios quidem prophetas, alios prophetarum interpretes.... Hic tamen altiore opus est spiritu, qui diiudicet atque discernat, qui videlicet non ex hominibus, nec ex carne & sanguine, sed desuper datis sit a patre luminum: de Deo enim sine eius lumine nemo rite quicquam effari potest, lumen autem illud est verbum Dei, per quod omnia facta sunt, illuminans omnem hominem vienientem in hunc mundum, dans illis potestatem filios Dei fieri, quotquot receprunt, & crediderunt ei....”

65  Ibid., Cap. C, pp. 299-300: “Quae tanto quidem superior est atque stabilior omni humanarum scientiarum credulitate, quanto Deus ipse hominibus est sublimior & veracior, sed quid veracior? Imo solus Deus verax, omnis homo mendax: omne igitur, quod ex hac veritate non est, error est, sicut quod ex fide non est, peccatum est. DEUS enim solus fontem veritatis continet, a quo haurire necesse est qui vera dogmata cupit, cum nulla sit nec haberi possit de secretis naturae, de substantiis separatis, deque ipsorum authore Deo scientia, nisi divinitus revelata: divina enim humanis viribus non tanguntur, & naturalia quovis momento sensum effugiunt....” 'Separate substances' means angels and/or Intelligences.

66  Ibid., Cap. XCVIII, p. 287: “... sed alia constat cognoscendi via, quae inter hanc & prophetam visionem media est, quae est adaequatio veritatis cum intellectu nostro purgato, veluti clavis cum sera, qui ut est veritatum omnium cupidissimus, ita intelligibilium omnium susceptivus est. Atque idcirco intellectus passibilis vocatur, quo etsi non pleno lumine percipimus ea, quae depromunt prophetae & hi qui ipsa divina conspexerunt, aperitur tamen nobis porta, ut ex conformitate veritatis perceptae, ad intellectum nostrum, & ex lumine, quod ex ipsis penetralibus apertis nos illustrat, multo certiores reddamur, quam ex philosophorum apparentibus demonstrationibus, definitionibus, divisionibus & compositionibus, daturque nobis ut legamus & intelligamus, non oculis & auribus exterioribus, sed percipiamus melioribus sensibus, & ablato velamine & revelata facie haurimus veritatem, a medulla sacrarum literarum emanentem, quam sub velaminibus tradiderunt hi, qui vero intuitu conspexerunt, quae a sapientibus huius mundi & philosophis cognitionibus abscondita est, eamque nos tanto certitudinis iudicio apprehendimus, ut omnis amoveatur perplexitas.” Agrippa's passible or passive intellect is not to be confused with the “possible intellect” of Aquinas and other scholastics; a close parallel to it is Ficino's De Amore, Orat. 6, cap. 3, according to which the gods are immortal and impassible, men passible and mortal, and daemons immortal but passible; the passible intellect is thus common to men and daemons. [Paola Zambelli, of the University of Florence, generously clarified this for me in private correspondence, noting that “intellectus passibilis (nous padetikos) is an Aristotelian term (De anima III, cap. 5; 430a25), commented on by Themistius (De anima, ed. Heinze, p. 101,5ff.), Simplicius (De anima, ed. Hayduck, p. 17,2ff.), Philoponus (De anima, ed. Hayduck, p. 6,1ff. et passim), Averroes, t.c.20, and finally Aquinas, De anima III, lect. 10. Its meaning is the same as fantasia, imagination, aestimativa, cogitativa: it was clearly not confused with the universal Possible intellect, but widely used by scholastics to indicate this passible faculty to receive images coming from senses.”]

67  I have quoted the Revised Standard Version; the Vulgate text of 2 Corinthians 3:15-18 reads as follows: “Sed usque in hodiernum diem, cum legitur Moyses, velamen positum est super cor eorum. Cum autem conversus fuerit as Dominum, auferetur velamen. Dominus autem Spiritus est: Ubi autem Spiritus Domini: ibi libertas. Nos vero omnes, revelata facie gloriam Domini speculantes, in eamdem imaginem transformamur a claritate in claritatem, tanquam a Domini Spiritu.”

68  Agrippa's model for this sort of interpretation is the Cabala: “Altera in ipsis sacris literis ipsius universi, & sensibilis mundi, totiusque naturae, ac mundanae fabricae vires, virtutesque exquirit, quam expositionem inde physicam, sive naturalem appellant. in hac excelluit Rabbi Simeon, Ben Ioachim, qui super Leviticam amplissimum volumen scripsit, in quo pene omnium rerum naturas discutiens, ostendit quomodo Moyses secundum triplicis mundi convenientiam & rerum naturam arcam, tabernaculum, vasa, vestes, ritus, sacrifia, & reliqua mysteria ad Deum & virtutes caelestes placandas, & ad explicandam horum imaginem, hominem ordinavit, & hanc expositionem multi cabalistae sequuntur, illi videlicet, qui de Bere[s]ith, hoc est, de creatis tractant... (Agrippa, De vanitate, p. 288).

69  Ibid., pp. 311-12: “... si divinam hanc & veram, non ligni scientiae boni & mali, sed ligni vitae sapientiam assequi cupitis, proiectis humanis scientiis, omnisque carnis & sanguinis indagine discursu, qualescunque illae sint, sive in sermonum rationibus, sive in causarum perscrutationibus, sive in operum & effectuum meditationibus vagentur, iam non in scholis philosophorum & gymnasiis sophistarum, sed ingressi in vosmetipsos cognoscetis omnia: concreata est enim vobis omnium rerum notio quod (ut fatentur Academici) ita sacrae literae attestantur, quia creavit Deus omnia valde bona, in optima videlicet gradu, in quo consistere possent: is igitur sicut creavit arbores plenas fructibus, sic & animas ceu rationales arbores creavit plenas formais & cognitionibus, sed per peccatum primi parentis velata sunt omnia, intravitque oblivio mater ignorantiae. Amovete ergo nunc, qui potestis, velamen intellectus vestri, qui ignorantiae tenebris involuti estis, evomite lethaeum poculum, qui vosmetipsos oblivione inebriastis, evigilate ad verum lumen, qui irrationabili somno demulcti estis, & mox revelata facie transcendetis de claritate in claritatem: uncti enim estis a sancto (ut ait Ioannes) & nostis omnia. & iterum: non necesse habetis, ut aliquis vos doceat, quia unctio eius docet vos de omnibus....”

70  Ibid., Cap. CI, p. 305: “Atque haec es illa, nec ulla alia scientiarum deificatio, quam antiquus ille serpens huiusmodi deorum artifex primis parentibus pollicebatur, inquiens: Eritis sicut dii, scientes bonum et malum. In hoc serpente glorietur, qui gloriatur in scientia.” Thanks presumably to a printer's error, the 1575 edition of James Sanford's translation renders “deificatio” as “edification” in this passage; the error is perpetuated in Dunn, ed, Of the Vanitie, p. 379.

71  Agrippa, De vanitate, Cap. I, p. 3: “... nec aliam nobis supra humanitatis metam afferre deitatis beatitudinem, nisi illam forte, quam antiquus ille serpens pollicebatur primis parentibus....”

72  Ibid., p. 313: “O stulti & impii, qui posthabentes dona Spiritus sancti, laboratis, ut a perfidis Philosophis, & errorem magistris discatis ea, quae a Christo & Spiritu sancto suscipere deberetis. An putabis vos posse ex Socratis ignorantia haurire scientiam?”

73  Ibid., pp. 313-14: “Sed revocate vosmetipsos qui veritatis cupidi estis, discedite ab humanarum traditionum nebulis, adsciscite verum lumen: vox ecce de caelo, vox de sursum docens, & sole clarius ostendens, quod vobis iniqui estis, & sapientiam suscipere cunctamini. Audite oraculum Baruch: Deus, inquit est, & non existimabitur alius ad illum. Hic adinvenit omnem viam disciplinae, & tradidit eam Iacob puero suo, & Israeli dilecto suo, dans legem & praecepta, atque ordinans sacrificia: post haec in terris visus est, & cum hominibus conversus est videlicet factus caro, & aperto ore docens, quae in lege, & Prophetis aenigmatice tradiderat. Et ne putetis ad divina duntaxat, & non etiam ad naturalia haec referri, audite quid de seipso testatur Sapiens: Ipse inquit, mihi dedit eorum, quae sunt, scientiam veram, et sciam dispositiones orbis terrarum, & virtutes elementorum, initium, consummationem, mediatatem, & vicissitudines temporum, anni cursus, stellarum dispositiones, naturas animalium, iram bestiarum, vim ventorum, cogitationes hominum, differentias virgultorum, virtutes radicum, & quaecunque sunt abscondita & improvisa, didici: omnium enim artifex docuit me sapientiam.” The 1530 edition also reads “sapientiam.” Agrippa's quotation in this passage of the apocryphal book of Baruch 3:36-38 provides an example of his habitual freedom in dealing with scriptural texts. In the Vulgate this passage reads as follows: “Hic est Deus noster, et non aestimabitur alius adversus eum. Hic adinvenit omnem viam disciplinae, et tradidit illam Jacob puero suo, et Israel dilecto suo, Post haec in terris visus est, et cum hominibus conversatus est.”

74  Agrippa, De vanitate, p. 314: “His est IESUS CHRISTUS, verbum, & filius Dei patris, & sapientia Deificans, verus magister, factus homo sicut sumus nos, uti nos perficeret filios Dei, sicut est ipse....”

75  See De occulta philosophia, III.v, in Opera, vol. 1, pp. 319-20. The fideism evident in this passage is also present in the 1510 version of De occulta philosophia; see Nauert, Agrippa, p. 220.

76  Opera, vol. 2, Epistolarum Liber V.xiv, p. 873: “Sed, heus tu, qui sunt duces tui, quos sequeris? Tu qui audes irremeabilem domum intrare Daedali, atque tremendi Minois ire per excubias, & te committere Parcis? Qui sunt magistri tui? ... Cave, ne decipiare ab his qui fuerunt decepti.”

77  Henrici Cornelii Agrippae ab Nettesheym ... De occulta philosophia libri tres (1533), “Ad lectorem,” sig. aa ii: “Non dubito, quin titulus libri nostri de Occulta philosophia, sive de Magia, raritate sua quamplurimos alliciat ad legendum, inter quos nonnulli obliquae opinionis mente languidi, multi etiam maligni & in ingenium nostrum ingrati accedent, qui temeraria sua ignorantia magiae nomen in deteriorem partem accipientes, vix conspecto titulo clamabunt nos vetitas artes docere, haeresum semina iacere, pius auribus offendiculo, praeclaris ingeniis scandalo esse, maleficum esse, superstitiosum esse, daemoniacum esse, magus qui sim. Quibis si respondeam magum apud literatos viros non maleficum, non superstitiosum, non daemoniacum sonare, sed sapientem, sed sacerdotum, sed prophetam: Sibyllas magas fuisse, proinde de Christo tam apertissime prophetasse: iam vero & magos ex mirabilibus mundi arcanis, ipsius mundi auctorem Christum cognovisse natum, omniumque primos venisse ad illum adorandum, ipsumque magiae nomen acceptum philosophis, laudatum a theologis, etiam ipsi evangelio non ingratum. Credo ego istis tam pertinacis supercilii censores Sibyllis & sanctis magis, & vel ipso evangelio prius sibi interdicturos, quam ipsum magiae nomen recepturi sint in gratiam, adeo conscientiae sua consulentes, ut nec Apollo, nec Musae omnes, neque angelus de coelo me ab illorum execratione vendicare queant. Quibus & ego nunc consulo ne nostra scripta legant, nec intelligant, nec meminerint: nam noxia sunt, venenosa sunt, Acherontis ostium est in hoc libro, lapides lquitur, caveant ne cerebrum illis excutiat.” Agrippa continues, in words which I have paraphrased: “Quod si qua repereritis, quae vobis non placeant, mittite illa, nec utimini: nam & ego vobis illa non probo, sed narro. Caetera tamen propterea non respuite, nam & medicorum volumina inspicientibus contingit cum antidotis & pharmacis simul etiam venena legere. Fateor praeterea magiam ipsam multa supervacua, & ad ostentationem curiosa docere prodigia, simul haec ut vana relinquite, causas tamen illorum ne ignorate. Quae vero ad hominum utilitatem, ad avertendos malos eventus, ad destruendum maleficia, ad curandos morbos, ad exterminanda phantasmata, ad conservandam vitae, honoris, fortunae dexteritatem, sine dei offensa, sine religionis iniuria fieri possunt: quis illa non tam utilia censeat, quam etiam necessaria? Sed quia admonui vos, multa me narrando potius quam affirmando scripsisse: sic enim opus esse visum fuerat quo pauciora praeteriremus, multa insuper Platonicorum caeterorumque gentilium Philosophorum placita secuti sumus, ubi instituto nostro scribendi suggerebant argumentum: ideo si alicubi erratum sit, sine quid liberius dictum, ignoscite adolescentiae nostrae, qui minor quam adolescens hoc opus composui, ut possim me excusare ac dicere, dum eram parvulus, loquebar ut parvulus: sapiebam ut parvulus, factus autem vir, evacuavi erant parvuli, ac in libro nostro de Vanitate ac incertitudine Scientiarum, hunc librum magna ex parte retractavi. Sed hic me iterum forte redarguetis inquientes: Ecce iuvenis scripsisti, & senex retractasti, ut quid ergo edidisti? Fateor iuvenis admodum hoc libros scribere aggressus sum, spe tamen illos aliquando correctiores locupletioresque emissurus, atque ea causa Ioanni Tritemio abbati Peapolitano quondam Spanhemensi, viro arcanarum rerum admodum industrio, primum illos obtuli corrigendos. Contigit autem postea, ut interceptum opus, priusquam illi summam manum imposuissem, corruptis exemplaribus truncum & impolitum circumferretur, atque in Italia, in Gallia, in Germania, per multorum manus volitaret, iamque nonnulli impatientius nescio an impudentius, ipsum informe opus sub praelum exponere volebant, quo uno perculsus malo, ipse edere constitui, cogitans minus periculi fore, si libri isti paulo castigatiores mea manu prodirent, quam si laceri per incondita fragmenta invulgarentur per manus allorum” (sig. aa iir-v).

78  Ibid., pp. CCCLXI-CCCLXII: “Iam itaque ex his quae dicta sunt, patet non aliud esse magiam, quam complexum idololatriae, astrologiae, superstitiosaeque medicinae. Iamque etiam a magis magna haereticorum caterva in ecclesia orta est, quid sicut Iannes & Mambres restiterunt Moysi, sic illi restiterunt apostolicae veritati: horum princeps fuit Simon Samaritanus, qui Romae sub Claudio Caesare propter hanc artem statua donatus est, cum hac inscriptione: Simone sancto deo. Eius blasphemias copiose narrant, Clemens, Eusebius, & Irenaeus. Ex hoc Simone tanquam ex haeresum omnium seminario, per multas successiones monstrosi Ophitae, turpes Gnostici, impii Valentiani, Cerdoniani, Marcionistae, Montaniani, & multi alii haeretici prodierunt, propter quaestum & inanem gloriam, mentientes adversus deum, utilitatem nullam, neque beneficia hominibus praestantes, sed decipientes, & in perniciem & in errorem mittentes, & qui credunt illis confundentur in iudicio dei. Verum de magicis scripsi ego iuvenis adhuc, libros tres amplo satis volumine, quos de Occulta philosophia nuncupavi, in quibus quicquid tunc per curiosam adolescentiam erratum est, nunc cautior hac palinodia recantatum volo: permultum enim temporis & rerum, in his vanitatibus olim contrivi. Tandem hoc profeci, quod sciam quibus rationibus oporteat alios ab hac pernicie dehortari. Quicunque enim non in veritate, nec in virtute dei, sed in elusione daemonum, secundem operationem malorum spirituum, divinare & prophetare praesumunt, & per vanitates magicas exorcismos, incantationes, amatoria, agogima, & caetera opera daemonica, & idololatriae fraudes exercentes, praestigia & phantasmata ostentantes mox cessantia, miracula sese operari actant: omnes hi cum Ianne & Mambre & Simone Mago aeternis ignibus cruciandi destinabuntur.” It should be remarked that nowhere in this passage does Agrippa deny the possibility of legitimate and non-demonic divination, prophesying, and miracle-working.

79  See R. J. Coggins, Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritanism Reconsidered (Oxford, 1975), pp. 154-56, for a brief discussion of Samaritan messianic expectations. Two years after the confrontation between Simon and Saints Peter and Philip recorded in Acts 8, Pilate intervened to prevent the followers of a Samaritan prophet from gathering on Mount Gerizim, their holy place (Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII.iv,1). On the basis of this passage, R.M. Grant speculated that Simon may have been a messianic figure, “and that Gnostic reinterpretation arose out of the failure of his mission” (Gnosticism and Early Christianity [New York, 1966], p. 73).

80  Only the latter of these two works could have been known to Agrippa, but the main narrative contents of both are reported in a number of patristic texts, which were in turn used by medieval writers like Jacobus de Voragine. On Jacobus and his Legenda Aurea see Sherry L. Reames, The “Legenda Aurea”: A Reexamination of its Paradoxical History (Madison, 1985).

81  Giovanni Pico's opinion that the Recognitiones contained apostolic doctrine was quoted by Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples in the preface to his 1504 edition of the work; see Eugene F. Rice. ed., The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (New York, 1972), pp. 117-18. Agrippa shared this opinion: see De occulta philosophia, III.xli (Opera, vol. 1, pp. 432-33). Others, especially Calvin, were more skeptical (cf. Calvin, Commentarius in Acta apostolorum, in Opera, vol. 48, VIII, also cols. 187-88).

82  Cf. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, I.23; Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, II.i, 13-14 (the latter two chapters being largely derived from Irenaeus).

83  Recognitions, II.7, in The Writings of Tatian and Theophilus; and the Clementine Recognitions, trans. B.P. Pratten, M. Dods, and T. Smith (Edinburgh, 1867), p. 196. S. Clementis Romani Recognitiones, Rufino Aquileiensi presb. interprete, II.7, in J.P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca, vol. 1 (Paris, 1857), col. 1251: “Simon hic, ... gente Samareus ex vico Gethonum, arte magus, Graecis tamen litteris liberalibus apprime eruditus, gloriae ac jactantiae supra omne genus hominum cupidus, ita ut excelsam virtutem quae supra creatorem Deum sit, credit si velit, et Christum putari, atque Stantem nominari. Hac autem appellatione utitur quasi qui neget posse se aliquando dissolvi, asserens carnem suam ita divinitatis suae virtute compactam, ut possit in aeternum durare.”

84  Recognitions, II.12, trans. Pratten et al., p. 199. Recognitiones II.12, Migne, PG, vol. 1, col. 1254: “... Simon accepit Lunam, cum qua usque ad praesans circuit, ut videtis decipiens turbas et asserens, semetipsum quidem virtutem esse quamdam, quae sit supra conditorem Deum, Lunam vero quae secum est, esse de superioribus coelis deductam, eamdemque cunctorum genitricem asserit sapientiam, pro qua, inquit, Graeci et barbari confligentes, imaginem quidem ejus aliqua ex parte videre potuerunt, ipsam vero ut est, penitus ignorarunt, quippe quae apud illum primum omnium et solum habitaret Deum.”

85  Adversus haereses, I.23.

86  Recognitions, II.6, trans. Pratten et al., p. 196. Recognitiones, II.6, Migne, PG, vol. 1, col. 1251: “Quis enim est, qui non obstupescat super his, quae facit, mirabilibus, ut putet eum de coelis Deum ad salutem hominum descendisse?”

87  Acts of Peter, 32, in E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, ed. W. Schneemelcher, tr. R. McL. Wilson et al. (2 vols.; London, 1973-74), vol. 2, p. 316. Actus Petri cum Simone, XXXII, in R.A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet, eds., Acta apostolorum apocrypha (3 vols.; 1891-1903; rpt. Hildesheim, 1959), vol. 1, p. 83: “en subito in alto visus est omnibus videntibus in tota urbe supra omnia templa et montes.”

88  On patristic representations of Simon Magus, see the sources listed in n. 19 above, and for further detail, K. Beyschlag, Simon Magus und die christliche Gnosis (Tübingen, 1974), and G. Lüdemann, Untersuchungen zur simonianische Gnosis (Göttingen, 1975). For examples of the use of Simon Magus by Renaissance demonologists, see Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus maleficarum, I, Qn. 1, ch. 9; Johann Godelmann, Tractatus de magis, veneficis et lamiis... (Franfurt, 1591), I.iii, p. 27; Benedictus Pererius, Adversus fallaces et superstitiosas artes (Lyon, 1592),, pp. 40-41 (sig. C4v-C5).

89  See E.C. Richardson, “Faust and the Clementine Recognitions,” American Society of Church History 6 (1894), 141-42. Frank Baron, who seems unaware of this article, believes that the historical Faustus, “bold as he was, seems to have stopped short of making such a dangerous identification” (Doctor Faustus from History to Legend [Munich, 1978], p. 86).

90  For an earlier example of Simon Magus being used as an authority on magic, see Lynn Thorndike, Michael Scot (London, 1965), pp. 119-20.

91  Opera, vol. 1, pp. 445-46: “... nullum opus sit in tota mundi serie tam admirabile, tam excellens, tam miraculosum, quod anima humana suam divinitatis imaginem complexa, quam vocant Magi animam stantem & non cadentem, sua propria virtute absque omni externo adminiculo non queat efficere. Forma igitur, totius magicae virtutis est ab anima hiominis stante, & non cadente.”

92  Ibid., pp. 443-44: “Quae igitur menti unita est anima, haec dicitur anima stans & non cadens: verum non omnes homines mentem adepti sunt, quoniam (ut inquit Hermes) voluit illam Deus pater tanquam certamen praemiumque animarum proponere: quod qui neglexerint mentis expertes, corporeis sensibus mancipati, irrationalibus animalibus similes facti, eundem cum eisdem sortiuntur interitum....” It seems to me certain that Agrippa knew what he was doing in making these allusions to Simon Magus: in De occulta philosophia, III.xli, only three chapters earlier, he quotes at length both from the Recognitiones and from Irenaeus. The fact that the last sentence quoted in n. 91 above is an exact echo of the twelfth of Giovanni Pico's Conclusiones magicae (Opera omnia, vol. 1, p. 105, sig. I 5) does not, I think, alter the Simonian tonality of the passage. However unexceptionable “stans et non cadens” might be in a theological context, in a magical context it can only be a Simonian allusion.

93  Recognitions, II.58, trans. Pratten, et al., p. 231. Recognitiones, II.58, in Migne, PG, vol. 1, col. 1276: “Et Simon: Magnus sane labor est agnoscere eum homini in carne posito. Omnibus enim tenebris tetrius, et omni luto gravius est corpus hoc, quo circumdatur anima.”

94  Sébastien Castellion, De haereticis an sint persequendi, ed. Sape van der Woude (1554; facsimile rpt. Geneva, 1954), sig. F8-F8v (pp. 95-96), quoting 'Augustinus Eleutherius' (Sebastian Franck): “At de iis qui postea secuti sunt haereticis, nihil nisi mera nequitia et abominandae blasphemiae traduntur, sine ulla specie aut scriptura: sicut de Simone, de Mane, de Menandro, &c. quorum nunnulli se Deum aut Christum esse iacteraverunt, & tam inepta tradiderunt, ut ego non possim credere, potuisse primos illos Christianos ab eis decepi, si tam crassae fuissent eorum haereses. Videtur Eusebius saepe, si quid probabile habuerunt, praetermisisse, ut solemus: si quem odisse coepimus, nihil nisi malum de eo dicere possumus: ut est in proverbio, Inimicum os nemini bene dicit. Scriptores ea aliquando de haereticis post eorum tempus scripserunt, quae vulgo ferrentur: sed credibile est, illos longe aliam speciem habuisse. Itaque credo multa eorum dicta esse inversa, multa etiam eis falso adscripta: aut bonis omissis, si quid mali erat, id esse decerptum atque auctum.”

95  Cf. De vanitate, cap. 1, Opera, vol. 2, p. 7.

96  Of the Vanitie, cap. 1, pp. 12-13; Opera, vol. 2, p. 3: “Astipulatur istis Platonica historia, non minus offensivas, quam utiles....” Agrippa is referring to Plato's Phaedrus, 274C-275B. The Egyptian god Theut or Thoth was equated by Cicero with that Mercury who killed Argus, fled to Egypt, and gave laws and the art of writing to the Egyptians (De natura deorum, III.55); Lactantius, repeating this statement, identified Thoth-Mercury with Hermes Trismegistus (Institutiones divinarum, I.6), an identification that is repeated by Ficino in his preface to Mercurii Trismegisti Pymander (Basle, 1532), sig. A2. Agrippa's attack on Theut-Hermes may be compared with that of Erasmus in Moriae encomium, cap. 32. For Agrippa's suggestion that the Ophites (along with other sects) were derived from the Cabalists, see De vanitate, cap. 47.

97  Henrie Cornelius Agrippa, of the Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences, trans. James Sanford (London, 1575), “to the Reader,” sig. ¶ iiij.

98  W.W. Greg, ed., Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts (1950; rpt. Oxford, 1968), p. 293 (1616 text, lines 2118-21).

99  Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, ed., Oeuvres de Descartes (12 vols.; 1897-1910; rpt. Paris, 1974), vol. 10, p. 185: “il fut assez hardi pour se persuader que c'étoit l'Esprit de Vérité qui avoit voulu lui ouvrir les trésors de toutes les sciences par ce songe.” This quotation is from a paraphrase of Descartes' early text Olympica (1619-20) in A. Baillet's Vie de Monsieur Des-Cartes (1691). The Olympica manuscript, since lost, contained Descartes' account of the dream-revelation of November 10, 1619 which was the inaugural moment of his original philosophical thinking. See Henri Gouhier, Les premières pensées de Descartes: contribution à h'histoire de l'anti-Renaissance (Paris, 1958). The reader who compares (as Gouhier did not) the Descartes-Baillet account of this dream-revelation with the Hermetic texts discussed above cannot fail to be struck by the parallels between them, which suggest that Descartes' experience followed a Hermetic paradigm.