In my research of the Renaissance, I have come across some characteristics for determining whether a thinking was an adept of magic and/or part of the network of kabbalistic thinkers of the Early Modern period. If a thinker has one of the following characteristics, then it is possible that he or she deserves a closer look:
- Some association with the counsel of Florence and the influx of Eastern Orthodox thinkers into Italy.
- An attempt to synthesize Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
- Intimate familiarity of with the Corpus Hermeticum and Gnostic ideas.
- Slavish adherence to Plato and or NeoPlatonists as well as part of the effort to transmit. pagan thought from Eastern Orthodoxy into the West.
- Serves as a harbinger of Enlightenment scientific ideas.
- Familiarity with the Kabbalah and or Talmud and the promotion of Jewish magic and thought.
- Political and theopolitical ideas that later branched into liberalism and laid the groundwork for separation of church and state, ecumenism, and world government.
- Favoring the power of councils over the papacy.
This is not to say that all or even most people in the Renaissance who espoused these ideas was an active, conscious agent of evil. However, many agents of evil seemed to gravitate to these notions.
Nicholas of Cusa or Nicholas Cusanus (1401-64) has some of these qualities, and he should be reexamined as being something more than simply a late medieval philosopher. Called the “gatekeeper of the modern age” and “the first modern thinker,” Cusanus’s thinking influenced Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes as well as the notorious heretic and occultist Giordano Bruno. Cusanus also believed that the universe is infinite (an important idea for modern atheism) and was influenced by nominalism.
However, more than his interest in science, it is Cusanus’s interest in Gnosticism and magic that makes him so interesting. Praised by Abbot Trithemius of Sponheim, a notorious occultist, Cusanus was influenced by the NeoPlatonic Christian thinker Dionysius the Areopagite whom Nicholas of Cusa praises for having assigned God “many names” (an idea present in the occult and Islam as well as Joseph Campbell-esque New Age thought). Cusanus also traveled to Constantinople in 1437 on behalf of Pope Eugenius in order to invite Orthodox leaders to the council of Florence, bringing back NeoPlatonic writings with him. Cusanus further wrote of man as a “humanized God” and, drawing from the magician Hermes Trismegistus, called man a “second God.” These ideas clearly prefigure Pico della Mirandola’s “Hymn to the Glory of Man” and echoes ideas present in Gnosticism and the New Age movement.
Finally, in his work De concordantia catholica, Cusa argued for the power of councils over the papacy.
All of this is not to suggest that Nicholas of Cusa was an agent of evil or anything more than an erroneous teacher who had some bad ideas. There are impeccably orthodox Catholic thinkers who believe that Cusanus himself held entirely correct theological ideas. Nonetheless, whether or intentionally or not, Cusanus seems to have some role to play in the fermenting of Renaissance magic that gave birth to the modern world and brought about the decline of Christianity.
Hexagram diagram from Cusanus’s Opera.