It has long been one of my contentions that the Medici family was one of the conduits through which NeoPlatonic natural magic as well as theurgy and even the tenets of Gnoticism entered into the West in the Renaissance. In fact, the accumulation of magical texts from the East was a top priority of the Medici who even made Marsilio Ficino halt his translation of Plato’s Opera to translate the Gnostic-occultic work Corpus Hermeticum.
It is further my contention that Gnostic and Neoplatonic magical teaching incubated in the West not only in Jewish communities and radical Protestant sects (especially in England and Germany), but in Catholic religious orders as well. We know of Johannes Trithemius, the German Benedictine Abbot who corresponded with the noted magus Cornelius Agrippa in a manner that seemed to indicate a network of magicians in the 16th century.
Such views have been confirmed by some of my recent reading. In his essay “The Camaldolese Academy: Ambrogio Traversari, Marsilio Ficino and the Christian Platonic Tradition,” Dennis F. Lackner points out that the Ambrosian order of Florence was integral in the birth of the Platonic academy in Florence and helped to seed the thoughts of famous Renaissance Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino. The General of the Camaldolese order, Ambrogio Traversari, also had the Theophrastus of Aeneas of Gaza, a work that attempted a synthesis of Platonism and Christianity and seems to contain some shards of occult teaching (this is not to say Aeneas was himself an occultist) translated. Ambrogio was further part of an attempt to unite the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy at the Council of Florence and revive a “primitive Christianity.” Such ideas would later surface in the magus John Dee as well as Protestant reformers.
The Florentine Camaldolese also possessed copies of magic works such as the Orphic Hymns and Iamblichus’s De mysteriis Aegyptiorum (one of the most seminal magical works).
Lackner also points out some details in regard to the Medici accumulation of the works of Plato. Cosmio de’ Medici had received the dedication to Diogenes Laertius’s Vitae Philosophorum, translated by a Camaldolese monk, and the first summary of Plato’s thought to appear in the West in a thousand years. The Medici also loaned Ambrogio Traversari fifty florin to help pay for the transportation of Greek manuscripts.
What are we to make of all of this?
Although there is some evidence to suggest that the Medici were Jewish or even a front for Jewish bankers, I personally believe the Florentine banking family, for the most part, considered themselves devout Catholics. Nonetheless, there was clearly some concerted effort to get magical texts in the hands of expositors in the West by the Medici who may have been pressured or influenced by an unidentified party.
Moreover, I do not know for sure that the Camaldolese under Ambrogio were necessarily occultists, but there methods and ideas were later emulated by Renaissance occultists.
Finally, if the Renaissance was marked by a combination of Christian theology and pagan teaching and culture (including occultism), then the Renaissance witnessed the seeds that later birthed of the heresy of modernism, which reared its head in the late 19th and early 20th century. Just like much of Renaissance philosophy, modernism is defined as a combination of both orthodox Christian teaching as well as heresy, including New Age teaching (the great grand child of Renaissance occultism).
What is more, if some chapters of religious orders were infected with cells of magi, why couldn’t later religious orders in the 20th and the 21st centuries also serve as cells? The general argument given by Novus Ordo conservatives is that some nuns merely dabbled in magic or some “liberal” priests and brothers entertained heretical ideas. The idea that there is active, maybe even generational, occultism practiced in religious orders is usually derided.
However, the existence of such cells may explain a lot of the concerted and deliberate efforts to destroy the Church by members of religious orders who clearly knew what they were doing.