Ah! Qué tiempos aquellos...!
Quod scripsi, scripsi!
Reactionary hermetists: ROBERT FLUDD
It was in 1614 that Casaubon's volume containing his critique of the Hermetica was published in England and with a dedication to James I. Three years later the Englishman, Robert Fludd, dedicated to the same monarch the first volume, published in Germany, of his Utriusque cosmi . . . historia.1 A more total contrast than that exhibited by these two works, published within a few years of one another and both dedicated to the King of England could hardly be imagined. Casaubon, using humanistic tools on Greek scholarship, had convincingly demolished the early dating of the Hermetica and had shown that parallels between these writings and the Old and New Testament and the works of Plato and the Platonists were to be explained as borrowings by later writers from earlier ones. Fludd, totally ignoring the new dating both in this work and in all his other voluminous writings,2 lives in a world in which Casaubon might never have been born, the world of religious Hermetism with its profound respect for Hermes Trismegistus as the very ancient Egyptian whose sacred writings are of practically canonical authority. Again and again Fludd quotes the sayings of the holy Hermes as of equal weight with those of Genesis or of St. John's Gospel and as teaching the same religious truths, or as the utterances of a prisons theologus long prior to Plato and the Platonists who absorbed his teachings.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that on nearly every page of Fludd's works there will be found a quotation from Ficino's Latin translation of the Corpus Hermeticum. He also uses the Asclepius freely and some other Hermetic writings, but Ficino's Pimander was his chief stand-by. Comparisons of Fludd's quotations with Ficino's text suggest that Fludd knew the latter by heart and is quoting from memory, always pretty closely but sometimes freely.
He also sometimes quotes from Ficino's commentaries, and he had completely absorbed from these and from the subsequent Christian Hermetic tradition the attitude which regarded Hermes Trismegistus as in agreement with Moses on the creation and as foreshadowing the Trinity. It would be tedious to illustrate these statements in detail, and I take as an example the dedication to the reader of the first volume of the Utriusque cosmi . . . historia. Here Fludd quotes from "Trismegistus, the most divine of all philosophers and near to Moses", who has said in his Pimander that man was given the powers of the Seven Governors (the passage is quoted in Ficino's Latin), whence he may not only know the nature of the stars and their action on things below but may rise to the highest heights and understand all truth. Man's mens being made of life and light, in the image of God, when man knows himself he becomes like God (again quoted in Ficino's Latin).1 It is thus on this Hermetic basis of man as the Magus Man2 that Fludd proceeds to his account of the two worlds, the macrocosm and the microcosm, in his Utriusque cosmi. . . historia.
The account of the creation, with which he begins his first volume and which is illustrated by De Bry's remarkable plates, is based on the usual conflation of the Hermetic Pimander with Genesis, with copious quotation from both. A later work, the Philosophia Moysaica,' is also Mosaic-Hermetic; the hieroglyphic figure on its title-page is explained in the text opposite as referring to: "Tenebrae fuerunt super faciem abyssi. Genesis I. Et Hermes, Erat umbra infinita in abysso, aqua autem & Spiritus tenuis in abysso inerant." In fact, as in the Renaissance, Fludd sees Hermes as the Egyptian Moses, and as the almost Christian Trinitarian.
Like Pico della Mirandola, whom he frequently refers to with respect,2 to this Ficinian type of Hermetism, with which he is absolutely saturated, Fludd adds Cabalism. I cannot make it my business here to discuss how much about the Cabala, or how much Hebrew, Fludd actually knew. When I say that he adds Cabala to the Ficinian Hermetism, I mean that in Fludd's cosmos above the spheres of the elements and the spheres of the planets, there is ascent to the higher spheres of the Pseudo-Dionysian hierarchies of angels, as in Ficino, and these are equated, or ranged together with, the Sephiroth of the Cabala. This is the scheme which resulted from Pico's addition of Cabala to Magia, and I used plates from Fludd's work in an earlier chapter3 to illustrate it. The scheme is set out and discussed in the text of the first volume of the Utriusque cosmi . . . historia in the chapters on demons and angels, where the Pseudo-Dionysian angelic hierarchies are related to the star demons, or angels4; in the De philosophia moysaica in the chapter on the Sephiroth, for which Fludd is using Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica, the Sephiroth are related to the Pseudo-Dionysian hierarchies.5
Thus Fludd is living entirely within the scheme within which the Renaissance Magus operated with Magia and Cabala—a scheme which was kept vaguely Christian through its connection with the Christian hierarchies of angels. Was Fludd an "operator", that is to say a practising Magus ? His frequent quotation from Agrippa's De occulta philosophia, makes it pretty certain, to my mind, that he was. Mersenne certainly thought so and accused him firmly of being a magician.1
In this very brief sketch of Fludd, I aim at no more than putting him in a place in the context of this history in general. Thar place seems to me to be, roughly, as follows. At a very late date, after the Hermetica have been dated and when the whole Renaissance outlook is on the wane and about to give way before the new trends of the seventeenth century', Fludd completely reconstructs the Renaissance outlook. He might be living in the full flood of that intense mystical enthusiasm aroused by Ficino's translations of the Hermetica, or just after Pico had completed Magia with Cabala. This is, of course, an exaggeration since there are many later influences. For example, Fludd knows the useful text-book of Renaissance magic compiled by Agrippa. I would say, too, that he knew something of the traditions of sixteenth-century religious Hermetism of the purely mystical and non-magical type, such as that of Foix de Candale. As a firm believer in the Hermetica as canonical books of equal value with the Scriptures, Fludd's enthusiasm knows no bounds. Writing in England in the seventeenth century, he is giving expression, by a kind of delayed action, to sixteenth-century religious Hermetism of the most intense kind.
Fludd (1574-1637) is almost exactly contemporary with Campanella (1568-1639). Both might be described as late religious Hermetists, but they do not come out of the same stream. Campanella belongs into the original Italian tradition which was still alive and developing; by their lack of emphasis on Cabala and the intense naturalism of their Hermetic cult, Bruno and Campanella make something different of the Renaissance tradition; compared with them, Fludd is a reactionary towards the origins, towards Ficino and Pico. Moreover, Fludd does not have that Dominican formation, which makes the two Dominican Magi so formidable and forceful, both as philosophers and as missionaries. Nevertheless there are points at which the student of Fludd might find help through comparison with Campanella and Bruno. Campanella's De Sancta Monotriade is based on a similar type of Hermetic Trinitarianism to that which Fludd is using, though the book could not have actually influenced Fludd, since Campanella's Theologia, of which it forms a part, was never published. Comparison of Fludd with Bruno might be even more revealing. As already pointed out,' though Fludd is certainly not like Bruno in the latter's avoidance of Trinitarianism and in his general extreme attitude, there are points in Fludd's works at which one feels tha the is near to Bruno. At least one of Bruno's works, the De imaginum compositione, was I think, certainly known to Fludd, for it is reflected in Fludd's memory system,2 which helps to explain it.
And some of Bruno's magical diagrams, particularly those in the Latin poems, might possibly have been seen by Fludd. Fludd's mystical interpretation of the compass (PI. 16a)3 might also be examined in connection with Bruno's mysterious controversy with Fabrizio Mordente.
In his earliest works, Fludd announced himself as a disciple of the Rosicrucians, the mysterious sect, or secret society, or group, which seems to have originated in Germany, and apparently in a Lutheran milieu. The evidence as to the views of the Rosicrucians is tantalisingly vague, nor is it by any means certain that they were an organised sect. The Rosicrucians represent the tendency of Renaissance Hermetism and other occultisms to go underground in the seventeenth century, transforming what was once an outlook associated with dominant philosophies into a preoccupation of secret societies and minority groups.4
The connection with the Rosicrucians places Fludd within such tendencies. His late revival of the outlook of the Renaissance Magus comes at a time when the Renaissance Magus—driven by the dominant thought of the seventeenth century from the high position in which Ficino and Pico had placed him—is going underground and turning into something like a Rosicrucian.
1 Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi, maioris scilicet el minoris, metaphysial,
physica atque technica historia, Vol. I, Oppenheim, 1617; Vol. II, Oppenhcim,
Another interesting date in connection with Casaubon's exposure of
Hermes is that it was published whilst Sir Walter Raleigh was a prisoner
in the Tower writing his History of the World, which is peppered with
quotations from Ficino's Pimander and contains a whole section on
Hermes Trismegistus (Part I, Book II, Chap. 6, paragraph VI), whom
Raleigh thinks probably more ancient than Moses and venerates profoundly,
taking the line that the idolatry of the Asclepius must be a
corruption introduced into the writings of this holy man. We have, therefore,
at about the same time under James I, (1) Casaubon critically exposing
Hermes Trismegistus, (2) a survivor from the Elizabethan age,
Raleigh, still deeply under his spell, (3) the young Fludd preparing to
carry the cause of Hermetism into the new age.
2 A bibliography of these is given by R. Lenoble, Mersenne 011 la
naissance du mecanhme, Paris, 1943, pp. xlvi-xlvii.
1 Fludd, Utriusque cosmi... historia, I, pp. 11-12; cf. Ficino, Pimander,
cap. I (Ficino, pp. 1837-8).
2 The "magnum miraculum est homo" passage is, of course, constantly
quoted by Fludd; see for example, Utriusque cosmi . . . historia, II, PP-
72; ibid., second section, p. 23, etc.
1 R. Fludd, Philosophia Moysaica, Gouda, 1638.
2 He uses Pico's Conclusiones; cf. for example, Utriusque cosmi . . .
historia, II, p. 55.
3 See Pis. 7a, 8, 10.
4 Fludd, Utriusque cosmi . . . historia, I, pp. 108 ff.
5 Fludd, De philosophia Moysaica, pp. 84 ff.
1 See below, pp. 437-8
1 See above, p. 322.
2 Fludd, Utriusque cosmi. . . historia, I I , section I I , pp. 54 ft". See above
3 Ibid., II, pp. 28-9.
4 As E. Garin has put it, Renaissance Hermetism in this period descends
"sul terreno dell'occultismo e delle confraternite ed associazioni variamente
caratterizzate"; "Nota sul Permetismo", in Cultura, p. 144.
Frances A. Yates. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.