Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius

Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius was born at Cologne Sept. 14, 1486. He first followed the profession of arms, and served in the armies of Italy seven years with credit. Subsequently he took the degrees of doctor in law and medicine, and in 1509 had the chair of Professor of Sacred Literature at Dole, in Franche- Corte. After passing over into England on some secret mission, he took up his abode at Cologne, where he delivered some theological lectures called Quodlibetales. His active mind was early turned to the so-called secret arts, and he belonged to a society for the promotion of them. In 1509-10 he wrote his treatise De Occulta Philosophia, which was kept in MS. until 1531. But now he appears to have returned to his first profession of arms, and served again with the Emperor Maximilian I, until he was called to the Council of Pisa, in 1511, by the cardinal of St. Croix. In 1515 he taught theology at Turin and Pavia, where he explained Mercurius Trismegistus. After his wife's death in 1519 he wandered about for the following twelve years from place to place, and eventually, in 1535, returned to France, where he was imprisoned for having written against Louisa of Savoy, the mother of Francis I. As soon as he was set at liberty he proceeded to Grenoble, where he died in the same year, 1535. It has been said that he became a Calvinist or Lutheran, but without foundation. Many authors accuse him of dealing in magic; and Paul Jovius, Delrio, and others speak harshly of him. He was styled the Trismegistus of his time, because he was learned in theology, medicine, and law.

Agrippa was a man of quick intellect and of varied knowledge: in many respects he was far in advance of his age. His Occulta Philosophia is a system of visionary philosophy, in which magic, the complement of philosophy, as he terms it, and the key of all the secrets of nature, is represented under the three forms of natural, celestial, and religious or ceremonial, agreeably to the threefold division of the corporeal, celestial, and intellectual worlds. He there enumerates, with a superficial show of scientific classification, the hidden powers which the Creator has assigned to the different objects of the creation, through the agency of the Spirit of the World. It was natural that Agrippa should become a partisan of Raymond Lull (q.v.), and he accordingly wrote a commentary on his Ars Magna. Nevertheless his caprice sometimes inclined him to opinions directly the reverse; and in such a mood he composed his cynical treatise, as he terms it, De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum. This work, which had great reputation in its day, occasionally presents us admirable remarks on the imperfections and defects of scientific pursuits. It contains also severe rebukes of the superstitions of Romish worship. He insisted on the Bible as the only rule of faith, and taught the necessity of a moral change through the Holy Spirit. Still he remained a Romanist to the end. Agrippa and his follower, John Weir, were of service to philosophy by opposing the belief in witchcraft. A full account of Agrippa is given in Meiners' Lives of Eminent Men, vol. 1. His writings are collected in Opera H. C. Agrippae (Lugd. 1560, 2 vols. 8vo); and a translation of the treatise De Incertitudine, etc., under the title The Vanity of Arts and Sciences, appeared in London (1684, 8vo). See also Morley, Life of C. Agrippa (Lond. 2 vols. 1856); Tennemann, Hist. Philippians § 289; Ritter, Geschichte d. Phil. 9.

 
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