They believe they are able to deal with Everything, solve every problem, interpret every text...rushing in with their absurdities, their vulgarities, their rubbish and quarrelsome disputations...Everything in spirit and faith that is simple, lucid and pure they have made complicated, polluted and confused...they have built something which is neither a divine nor human theology, but a sordid, hateful, pedantic and devilish vainglory. - Agrippa, De originali peccato (Original Sin, 1517), written on the evils of scholasticism and the Fall of the Angels.
Born of Nettesheim on 14 September, 1486, at Cologne, descended from a noble family of modest means; he died at Grenoble or Lyons in 1534 or 1535. Described as a "knight, doctor, and by common reputation, a magician", Agrippa constantly angered his more conservative contemporaries, challenging the faulty assumptions of Medieval Scholasticism . He began humbly as a poor student at Cologne in 1499 (matriculated 'minorennis', or under age) and later the University of Paris (1506), earned a degree in theology, then went into military service to Catalonia under the emperor Maximillian I, first as secretary and later as a spy. After a shadowy assignment in southern Spain he wandered up to Barcelona, Naples, Avignon, and finally Dôle (1507-08). In that town he studied medicine and jurisprudence and then acts as a teacher of Hebrew (1509). That year, according to legent, he also establishes a laboratory for the alchemical production of gold and to gain favor with Princess Margaret, one of his patrons, writes a small book of flattery for her (On the nobility and excellence of the feminine sex); a few months later he gives public lectures on Johann Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico, which gets him busted by a local Franciscan for its Talmudic influence.~

He returned to England (1510) after earning his doctorate, about which time he finished his first major work De occulta philosophia (published in Antwerp, 1531), a mixture of Neo-platonism and the Cabala. He returned for some time to the service of the Emperor Maximilian I, who rewarded his bravery by making him a Ritter or knight, before turning again to other pursuits. He began research in the fields of medicine, Hebrew, alchemy, theology, and finally devoted himself fully to "Cabalism" under the influence of the infamous wizard Raymond Lulli (q.v.).

During later life, he lived and taught abroad, from 1511-18, living in northern Italy (where the Franco-Italian Wars are well underway) earning a living as an alchemist while trying to secure a university position, especially at Pavia (where he expounded hermetic writings and lectured on Plato's Syposium in 1515) or Turin (where he lectured on the Bible while studying law). He lived free with his wife and child in Casale thanks to the generosity of a fellow Cabbalist, Marchese del Monferrat. Finally between 1518-20, he landed a 'real job' as a public advocate and defense lawyer in Metz.

During this period, as Reginald Scot outlines in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), he managed to defend a woman accused of witchcraft by the local Dominican and Grand Inquisitor, Nicholae Savin.µ His successful defense (in 1519) of the alleged witch results in his exile from the town. He travels next to Geneva to work as the town physican, making excursions to Paris and England while also frequently visiting his friend Abbot Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim in Würzburg (Trithemius had also been driven out of town by his intellectual peers, so they had things in common). By 1527, he moved to Mecheln, the town where Queen Margaret (the same lady he'd had the schoolboy crush on) had her court, and worked as court historian but by 1531 he was put in debtor's prison (or jailed on a charge of sorcery, or blasphemy depending which history you read). Cardinal Campeggio, Cardinal Lamarck, and Count Wied, the Lutheran archbishop of Cologne, helped him to escape and he fled to Cologne to the court of the archbishop.ƒ He soon was under pressure by the The Inquistion to leave Europe (who are also now leaning on Cologne printer/publisher Johannes Soter not to publish his De philosophia occulta). Agrippa dies soon after in 1535 at Grenobles.

His numerous works, chiefly philosophical, have a strong bias toward "occultism", and run counter to the received opinions of his time in theology and scholastic philosophy. At the time, there was little comprehension of "natural magic" which he advocated- seeking nature the natural and spiritual in the spirit. This is why the Abbot Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim advised him to communicate his views as a secret doctrine to those able to rise to a similar conception of nature and spirit, for "one gives only hay to oxen and not sugar, as to songbirds." Agrippa did not let his three volume Philosophia occulta appear until 1531, though it had been written for 20 years, as he considered it to be immature. In it, he embraces astrology, divination, numerology and the power of gems and stones; it was also rumored he practiced necromancy as way of consulting the spirits of the dead.

1. Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius, 1486?-1535. Three books of occult philosophy or magic by...Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim...Book one-Natural magic; which includes the early life of Agrippa, his seventy-four chapters on natural magic, new notes, illustrations, index, and other original and selected matter, Ed. by Willis F. Whitehead. By direction of the Brotherhood of magic: The magic mirror, a message to mystics, containing full instructions on its make and use... (Chicago : Hahn & Whitehead, 1898)
2. Cornelius Agrippa, the humanist theologian and his declamations / by Marc van der Poel. Leiden The Netherlands ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1997
µ This pretty much secured Agrippa's infamy in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. The priest he argued against was already notorious for the use of torture and illegal searches, but The Inquisition would rather things run smoothly. According to the entry in the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, after Agrippa himself died, a ersatz grimoire entitled the Fourth Book of Agrippa served as a popular textbook for country witches which became the classic handbook for witches on how to avoid witch-hunters, even through Agrippa never actually penned such a work.
~ This got him run out of town by the local monks on the charge of being a 'judaising heretic', as they apparently didn't like the way Agrippa made Hebrew scholastic practice look just as legitimate as medieval Church thinkers. The work itself by Reuchlin was a Neoplatonic tract published in Basel in 1494. It caused quite a stir for its eludication of the Pentagrammaton and insistance that true knowledge comes through revelation, not mere observation.
ƒ This was on account of they being free-thinking Lutherans who, understandably, found the Mother Church could be a bit doctrinaire by times.

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