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Reviewed by:
  • Une Controverse sur la magie et la kabbale à la Renaissance
  • Jean-Pierre Brach

Pedro Garsia, Pico della Mirandola, magic, science, nature, Renaissance, Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalah

Jérôme Rousse-Lacordaire . Une Controverse sur la magie et la kabbale à la Renaissance. Travaux d'humanisme et Renaissance 465. Genève: Droz, 2010. Pp. 389.

This study by J. Rousse-Lacordaire concerns Pedro Garsia, a Spanish bishop and theologian (d. 1505) whose fame rests mainly on his late-fifteenth-century controversy with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94). Published almost three years after Pico's Conclusiones (Dec. 1486), Garsia's Determinationes magistrales appeared with the same Roman publisher, E. Silber, in October 1489, thus shortly following Pico's Apologia, which stirred the wrath of Pope Innocent VIII upon its appearance in May 1487. It is [End Page 107] indeed at the Pope's request that Garsia composed his work—a determinatio magistralis being a scholastic exercise designed to provide the basis, through a closely argued discussion, for a doctrinal statement and/or decision. In the present case, the chosen title was obviously meant to counter the proclaimed "Parisian style" of Pico's Apologia and, at the same time, to refute some of Pico's Theses (or Conclusiones).

Rousse-Lacordaire's effort provides us with the transcription, critical edition, and French translation of Garsia's eleventh determinatio, which centers on Pico's ninth "magical conclusion according to his own opinion": Nulla est sciencia, que nos magis certificet de divinitate Christi, quam magia et cabala. Given this openly provocative formulation, it was somewhat inevitable that this thesis in particular would entail controversy, and would end up being featured among the thirteen "conclusions" eventually condemned. The present critical edition of the nineteen chapters composing the text of Garsia's determinatio is accompanied by an excellent, very precise translation and is also equipped with careful and accurate annotations.

In a lengthy and erudite introductory study, the author makes evident what basically constitutes the crux of the controversy between Garsia and Pico: a complete misunderstanding about what is in fact at stake when using the terms and notions of "nature," "magic," and "science." Pico's controversial statement meant in fact that mastery over natural philosophy—including the possession of the summae scientiae of magic and kabbalah—could only confirm that Christ's miracles implied a level of accomplishment that far outreached that of any sort of natural means (even enhanced by magic and kabbalah), and therefore evidenced divine intervention. Garsia, however, stubbornly yet competently stood by the Aristotelian and Thomist worldview. Within this latter conceptual frame, magic is either linked to doubtful entities or—as "natural magic"—is endowed with much more restricted operative powers (if any at all) than are claimed within the early forms of Renaissance philosophia perennis, of which the young Pico was of course an enthusiastic exponent.

Pico's conception of magic as the apex of scientia naturalis, and of kabbalah as linked—under some particular aspects—to the practical application(s) thereof, not only raises the question of what scope he really attributes to the word (and concept) of "magic" as such, but also manifests the ambiguities of his use of terms such as "science" or "nature." In his Oratio and Conclusiones, it is more or less made clear that "nature" reaches up to the threshold of the divine realm (including the angelic spheres) and that "magic" tends to put on, accordingly, a theurgic garb. This is quite in tune with the contents of Ficino's translations of some of the late Neoplatonic philosophers, such as [End Page 108] Iamblichus or Proclus. Under these circumstances, a clear distinction is obviously difficult to maintain between "magic" (and/or "kabbalah") defined as "science"—that is, as a deductive, rational approach to "nature"—and the "revealed," divinely (or angelically) inspired aspects of magical/theurgic lore that aimed at deciphering Scripture as well as supporting the spiritual ascent and transformation (theôsis) of the human soul. This "active contemplation," in turn, conditions the redemption of the living universe, the "marriage" of the celestial and terrestrial virtues, achieved through Man's exalted powers. In this respect, Rousse-Lacordaire convincingly shows that Pico, whose situation is...


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