Born in Cologne, Germany, Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim lived a life that combined action and adventure with scholarly pursuits. His early career was spent as a secretary and diplomat for the Holy Roman Emperor. Missions to Paris and London brought him into contact with new intellectual movements, and he immersed himself in the study of philosophy and theology. He learned Hebrew in order to read the Jewish cabalistic literature. His first great written work, The Occult Philosophy (De occulta philosophia), completed 1509-10 is a compendium offering a mystical interpretation of nature through such arcane methods as cabalistic manipulation of Hebrew words and Pythagorean numerology. It quickly established itself as a major handbook of Renaissance magic and deeply influenced such thinkers as Giordano Bruno. In the years following the writing of De occulta philosophia, Agrippa served as a soldier, lawyer, physician, and theologian. A virulent critic of the clergy and of scholastic theology, he engaged in bitter exchanges with theologically conservative opponents over his religious attitudes. Agrippa's own position lay between the intellectual reformism of Erasmus and the outright break with Catholicism represented by Martin Luther. However, Agrippa later moved away from his early confidence in the magical and mystical methods to an unquestioning biblical faith. Agrippa's most important later work Of the Vanitie and uncertaintie of artes and sciences (De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium) was published at Antwerp in 1530. In the work, Agrippa advocates a thoroughgoing rejection of learning and intellectual attainment in favor of a simple religious piety. That belief came to play an important role in the Renaissance revival of the skeptical tradition of antiquity. Shortly after the appearance of De incertitudine, Agrippa was imprisoned for heresy and died in exile in Grenoble, France.
Donald Tyson (Nova Scotia, Canada) is an occult scholar and the author of the popular, critically acclaimed Necronomicon series. He has written more than a dozen books on Western esoteric traditions. Visit him online at DonaldTyson.com.