Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"It is impossible to see all this as a mere coincidence."

In 1486-1487, Pico and Ficino were forced to write Apologiae for their theses on magic, which form the core of (respectively) Pico's Conclusiones and Ficino's De vita coelitus comparanda. In the same years, two Dominican monks, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Institoris (Kramer) published Malleus maleficarum, a tract directed against adepts of magic who, of course, had few speculative, dialectical, ad political means at their disposal to defend themselves. Just before condemning Pico, Pope Innocent VIII was induced by Kramer to issue his famous bull against witches. This bull, the Summis desiderantes affectibus, was included as a preface to Malleus maleficarum in 1487--the Pope's stamp of approval. Together, the bull and the tract established the criteria for repression for two centuries to come. Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola were undoubtedly very different in culture and influence from the simple countrywomen accused of witchcraft. Nevertheless, these two scholars aimed at establishing a natural theory of magic urgently needed in a period when more and more witches were being burned at the stake. It is impossible to see all this as a mere coincidence. Only then could they return--without incurring too much danger--to their readings and hymns, free to continue their speculation and fumigation in peace.
Excerpt from White Magic, Black Magic and the European Renaissance, by Paola Zambelli (link), pp 21-22.