was the most influential proponent of a form of Christian "magick"
in the early sixteenth century. He was a Christian humanist philosopher
who wrote declamations on a variety of subjects (for example, one
in defense of women and another on the uncertainty of the arts and
sciences). His magnum opus was a great compendium of magic, De
Occulta Philosophia. He completed an early version of De
Occulta Philosophia around 1510. It circulated in manuscript
for years. A partial printed version of what became known as Book
One was published in 1531, and the entire three books were published
in 1533. (Some later editions include a fourth book added by an
unknown subsequent author). This synthetic work of philosophical
magic drew upon numerous traditions of ancient study that include
medicine, alchemy, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and, not least, the
Agrippa was involved
in numerous philosophical-theological controversies and disputes.
Although Agrippa's lifestyle, as we know it today, was judged extraordinary
even by his contemporaries, there seems to be little reason to doubt
that he considered himself a genuine Christian Magus, a man in search
of-and in some degree in possession of-powerful esoteric knowledge
about creation in all its aspects.
Agrippa's vision of
a universal search for wisdom is illustrated by the images of man
1651 edition, probably translated into English by John French. In
this image, Agrippa amalgamates several themes from ancient traditions
into a fundamentally Christian perspective. The topic of the chapter,
illustrated by the image, is the "proportion, measure, and
Harmony of man's body" (p. 263). Agrippa proposes that man,
so far as our human knowledge or wisdom is concerned, is the measure
of all being. The woodcut illustrates this idea by portraying man
in a circle, the most perfect symbol of universality. The stars
held by the man within the circle suggest man's search for knowledge
of the stars, and his intrinsic relationship to the divine realm.
On the next page is a similar image of a man with outstretched arms
enclosed in a square, illustrating the "four square measure,"
where man "will make a quadrature equilateral." These
images presuppose a basic "macrocosm-microcosm" relationship.
Agrippa interprets the relationship in an explicitly mathematical
way, specifying the proportional relationships of the human body
to human edifices including temples and even Noah's Ark.
relationships are built on the assumption that man, by way of proportion
and consonance, repeats and reflects in his being the same order
that is also perceived in the totality of being. Agrippa states
that, "there is no member in man which hath not correspondence
with some sign, Star, intelligence, divine name, sometimes in God
himself the Archetype," a belief that ultimately builds on
the assertion from Genesis that the Creator has made man in his
own image and likeness (p. 264). Thus, just as the Great Architect
(Archetype) may be known by sign and symbol in the work of his universe,
so may man.
cabalism and doctrine of divine signatures is particularly evident
in his discussion of the tables of the planets. These
illustrations show the tables and signs for Saturn, Jupiter, and
Mars. Each planet possesses a table of numbers, shown on the left.
Each number in the table corresponds to a divine name and a table
of Hebrew letters, and each has a "seale" in three parts
that represents, first, the characteristics of the planet as a whole,
second, the "intelligence" of the planet, and third, the
"spirit" of the planet. The diagrams in the illustration
each correspond to one of the seals. By correspondences, sympathies,
and celestial influence, each planet influences earthly matters
in its own characteristic way. The magus can discover the hidden
signs, correspondences, and seals, and thereby understand and, indeed,
manipulate cosmic forces for human good.
Conception Seminary College
Agrippa, H. C. Three Books of Occult
Philosophy or Magic, by the famous mystic Henry Cornelius Agrippa.
Book 1, Natural Magic. Edited by Willis F. Whitehead.
Chicago: Hahn and Whitehead, 1898.
Agrippa von Nettesheim, Cornelius. "De
occulta philosophia libri tres." Edited by V. Perrone Compagne.
Studies in the History of Christian Thought, 48. Leiden:
Brill, (1992): 1-660.
Nauert, Jr., Charles G. Agrippa and
the Crisis of Renaissance Thought. Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1965.
Van der Poel, Marc. Cornelius Agrippa:
The Humanist Theologian and His Declamations. London: Brill,
Zambelli, Paola. "Magic and Radical
Reform in Agrippa of Nettesheim." Journal of the Warburg
and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976): 69-103.
Zika, Charles. "Agrippa of Nettesheim
and His Appeal to the Cologne Council in 1553: The Politicvs of
Knowledge in Early Sixteenth Century Germany." In Humanismus
in Köln / Humanism in Cologne, edited by James
V. Mehl, 119-74. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1991.
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"Catalog of the Scientific Community
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