Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (14 September 1486 – 18 February 1535) was a German polymath, physician, legal scholar, soldier, theologian, and occult writer. Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy published in 1533 drew heavily upon Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and neo-Platonism. His book was widely influential among occultists of the early modern period, and was condemned as heretical by the inquisitor of Cologne.
No evidence exists that Agrippa was seriously accused, much less persecuted, for his interest in or practice of ritual magic and occult arts during his lifetime, although it was known he argued against the persecution of witches.
Agrippa was born in Nettesheim, near Cologne on 14 September 1486 to a family of middle nobility. Many members of his family had been in the service of the House of Habsburg. Agrippa studied at the University of Cologne from 1499 to 1502, (age 13–16) when he received the degree of magister artium. The University of Cologne was one of the centers of Thomism, and the faculty of arts was split between the dominant Thomists and the Albertists. It is likely that Agrippa's interest in the occult came from this Albertist influence. Agrippa himself named Albert’s Speculum as one of his first occult study texts. He later studied in Paris, where he apparently took part in a secret society involved in the occult.
In 1508 Agrippa traveled to Spain to work as a mercenary. He continued his travels by way of Valencia, the Baleares, Sardinia, Naples, Avignon, and Lyon. He served as a captain in the army of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, who awarded him the title of Ritter (knight).
Agrippa's academic career began in 1509, receiving the patronage Margaret of Austria, governor of Franche-Comté, and Antoine de Vergy, archbishop of Besançon and chancellor of the University of Dole. He was given the opportunity to lecture a course at the University on Hebrew scholar Johann Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico. At Dôle, Agrippa wrote De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminae sexus (On the Nobility and Excellence of the Feminine Sex), a work that aimed at proving the superiority of women using cabalistic ideas. The book was probably intended to impress Margaret. Agrippa’s lectures received attention, and he was given a doctorate in theology because of them. He was, however, denounced by the Franciscan prior Jean Catilinet as a "Judaizing heretic", and was forced to leave Dôle in 1510.
In the winter of 1509-1510 Agrippa returned to Germany and studied with Humanist Johannes Trithemius at Würzburg. On 8 April 1510 he dedicated the then unpublished first draft of De occulta philosophia ("On the Occult Philosophy") to Trithemius, who recommended that Agrippa keep his occult studies secret.
Theologian to Emperor Maximilian
Proceeding to the Netherlands he took service again with Maximilian. In 1510 the king sent Agrippa on a diplomatic mission to England, where he was the guest of the Humanist and Platonist John Colet, dean of St Paul's Cathedral, and where he replied to the accusations brought against him by Catilinet (Expostulatio super Expositione sua in librum De verbo mirifico). In the reply he argued that his Christian faith was not incompatible with his appreciation for Jewish thought, writing "I am a Christian, but I do not dislike Jewish Rabbis". Agrippa then returned to Cologne and gave disputations at the university's faculty of theology.
Agrippa followed Maximilian to Italy in 1511, and as a theologian attended the schismatic council of Pisa (1512), which was called by some cardinals in opposition to a council called by Pope Julius II. He remained in Italy for seven years, partly in the service of William IX, Marquess of Montferrat, and partly in that of Charles III, Duke of Savoy, probably occupied in teaching theology and practicing medicine. During his time in northern Italy, Agrippa came into contact with Agostino Ricci and perhaps Paolo Ricci, and studied the works of philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and the kabbalah.
Lecturer and physician
In 1515 he lectured at the University of Pavia on the Pimander of Hermes Trismegistus, but these lectures were abruptly terminated owing to the victories of Francis I, King of France.
In 1518 the efforts of one or other of his patrons secured for Agrippa the position of town advocate and orator, or syndic, at Metz. Here, as at Dôle, his opinions soon brought him into collision with the monks, and his defense of a woman accused of witchcraft involved him in a dispute with the inquisitor, Nicholas Savin. The consequence of this was that in 1520 he resigned his office and returned to Cologne, where he stayed about two years.
He then practiced for a short time as a physician at Geneva and Freiburg, but in 1524 went to Lyons on being appointed physician to Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I. In 1528 he gave up this position, and about this time was invited to take part in the dispute over the legality of the divorce of Catherine of Aragon by Henry VIII; but he preferred an offer made by Margaret, Duchess of Savoy and regent of the Netherlands, and became archivist and historiographer to the emperor Charles V.
Margaret's death in 1530 weakened his position, and the publication of some of his writings about the same time aroused anew the hatred of his enemies; but after suffering a short imprisonment for debt at Brussels he lived at Cologne and Bonn, under the protection of Hermann of Wied, archbishop of Cologne. By publishing his works he brought himself into antagonism with the Inquisition, which sought to stop the printing of De occulta philosophia. He then went to France, where he was arrested by order of Francis I for some disparaging words about the queen-mother; but he was soon released.
According to his student Johann Weyer, in the 1563 book De praestigiis daemonum, Agrippa died in Grenoble on 18 February 1535. Augustin Calmet wrote that Agrippa had a dog that jumped into the Rhone as his master neared death causing many to believe it was a demon.
Agrippa married three times and had a large family.