Trithemius and Magical Theology: A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe

Trithemius and Magical Theology: A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe

by Noel L. Brann
Pub. Date:
State University of New York Press


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Trithemius and Magical Theology: A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe

An examination of Trithemius's "magical theology," which argued for the compatibility of magic and Christian doctrines, and its influence during the Renaissance and Reformation.

Through an examination of the Benedictine abbot Trithemius (1462–1516), this book explores the intersection of the early modern debate over occult studies with a number of contemporaneous developments: late medieval mysticism, the revival of ancient letters, the Catholic and Protestant reform movements, the witch hunts, and the scientific revolution.

A Benedictine living to the threshold of the Reformation period, Trithemius excelled for most of his career in the fields of monastic reform, mystical theology, and Christian Humanism, and then, suddenly, announced himself to the world as an advocate of magic.

In many ways paralleling the life of his more famous contemporary Faustus, Trithemius, in contrast, left to posterity a body of theoretical work in support of his magical operations. Formulated to justify his own specialty, cryptography, Trithemius’s occult theory goes beyond establishing the compatibility of magic with orthodox Christian doctrine. Its basic thrust, on the model of mystical theology, is to present magic as an appropriate vehicle to convey the soul from the finite to the infinite.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780791439623
Publisher: State University of New York Press
Publication date: 11/28/1998
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 372
Sales rank: 1,041,978
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Noel L. Brann has taught Renaissance and Reformation History and Early Modern European Intellectual History at universities throughout the United States. He is the author of The Abbot Trithemius (1462–1516): The Renaissance of Monastic Humanism.

Table of Contents


1 Introduction: The Theoretical and Biographical Ingredients

The Theological-Magical Nexus
The Biographical Setting

2 The Magical Inheritance

Patristic and Medieval Demonology
The Medieval and Early Renaissance Defense of Magic

3 The Demonological Vision

The Monastic Rudiments
Sorcery Sin and Divine Providence
The Problem of Accommodating Magic to Miracle
The Witch Issue
The Problem of Learned Sorcery
The Distinction Between Sorcery and Exorcism

4 The Occult Vision

The Making of the Magical Legend
The Personal Defense
The Divine Revelation and the Esoteric Rule
The Special Appeal to Princes
Pelagius and Libanius
The Theoretical Precepts
From Occult Theory to Cryptographical Practice
Trithemius and Agrippa

5 The Debate over Trithemian Magic during the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Reason

Agrippa's Later Ambivalence
The Monastic Apologists
The Protestant Reaction
The Catholic Reaction
The Cryptographical and Alchemical Revivals
The "Jesuit Labyrinth" and Demonological Response
The Cryptographical Vogue
The Rosicrucian Debate
The Skeptical Shift and the Scientific Revolution

6 Conclusion: Trithemian Magic in Later Perspective
The Persisting Scholarly Conundrum
The Trithemian Will




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Trithemius and Magical Theology : A Chapter in the Controversy over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Before you buy what this book is selling, look up Trithemius on the internet - skip the mystical sites and go for the historical stuff like wikipedia. It was recently discovered that Trithemius hid simple messages within outrageous magical texts. He knew that people would focus on the mystical stuff and miss the true message in the writing. He called this method of hiding messages steganography. And it worked too - In his time and in ours. Don't waste your money on this book.