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Author Topic: THE RENAISSANCE  (Read 4446 times)
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« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2008, 10:37:37 am »

Renaissance scholars devoted serious attention to delineating the various kinds of mathematics. To help distinguish the licit from illicit, the question of origins was given a new priority in the years leading up to 1500. The debate originated with Pico della Mirandola's considerations of the orthodoxy of astrology, that most controversial of mathematical arts. Against the backdrop of a late Quattrocentro Italy bursting with astrological prediction, Pico set the grounds for debate in two considerations of the history of magic.5 The first, his Apologia, defended a rigorously narrow range of pious magic. This tract answered the papal condemnation of twelve of his famous 900 theses.6 In defense, he wrote, "I put forward magical theorems, in which I show Magic to be twofold. One side is supported by the work and authority of demons, and consists of things, by my faith, execrable and portentous; the other is nothing other, when it is well explored, than the absolute consummation of natural philosophy."7 Pico went on to claim that natural magic was necessary for faith, since it alone allowed one to distinguish miracles from simple extraordinary events. Pico did not, however, offer much support for modern practitioners of the magical arts. With few caveats, he defended the thesis that, "All the magic, [End Page 90] which is in use amongst the moderns, and which the Church has rightly banished, has no firmness, nor truth, nor support, because it is manipulated by the first enemy of truth."8 In defining contemporary magic as diabolic, Pico suggested that a legitimate natural magic had been corrupted, lost, or, he suggested, enclosed within the ancient Jewish tradition of cabala—orally transmitted and secret wisdom—that Pico firmly supported and to which he claimed unique access. Pico's dismissals of modern astrology enabled him to advertise himself as the lone point of entry to this alternative tradition that would lead to the recovery of an unimaginably potent ancient knowledge.

Pico did not construct a thorough account of the fall of magic in his Apologia, but he did towards the end of his life in his Twelve Books Against Divinatory Astrology. Unpublished in Pico's lifetime, this tract was compiled from his remaining manuscripts and published in 1496 under the close supervision of his nephew, Gianfrancesco. This younger scholar was notoriously unsympathetic to the astrological arts and the publication cemented the family anti-astrological reputation by comprehensively critiquing the philosophical, theological, and rational grounds for astrological divination.9 In the Twelfth Book, the elder Pico dismantled the historical data with which proponents of astrology supported their claims. Two of his points were particularly effective. According to Cicero, the Chaldean astrologers claimed to found their art on 470,000 years of observation. Since this claim set the beginnings of observation roughly 466,000 years before God created the universe, Pico noted, it was extremely unlikely.10 Following Ptolemy, the greatest ancient authority on both astronomy and astrology, he instead allotted relatively modern origins to astrology, an effective means of diminishing its legitimacy. Second, Pico argued that astrology's Chaldean origins did not indicate venerable antiquity. Rather the birth of astrology formed a significant part of Babylon's notorious corruption of true religion.11 Pico's devastating exposé grounded astrological criticism for the next century. [End Page 91]   
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