Finding God in the World: Approaches of the Renaissance Occult Philosophers to the nature and value of Matter.
By Catherine Noble Beyer
234 x 156 mm Perfect Bound (Paperback), 152 pages, RRP 14.99; ISBN 1-905297-97-1
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The world of the Renaissance occult philosophers was ultimately composed of two substances, one spiritual and the other material. However, occult studies were principally directed toward communion with and understanding of God, while research tended to focus on the spiritual side of the subject. It was understood that all things in the universe, whether corporeal or angelic, existed through a combination of both substances. Matter was as integral to the universe as spiritual forces. The majority of the substance within human beings and in the corporeal world was material, and while the goal of occult philosophy was to become more spiritual, the methods employed were frequently very much material.
Matter is neither evil nor insignificant, and it played a complex and important role within occult philosophy, in particular those branches influenced by Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, as is evident in the writings of Marsilio Ficino, Cornelius Agrippa, Robert Fludd, and Thomas Vaughan. Nature is seen as a crucial intermediary between God and humanity, with three major aspects: its soul, making Nature a living, thinking being in itself; its body, which is the physical world; and its spirit, which joins soul and body.
Finding God in the World: Approaches of the Renaissance Occult Philosophers to the Nature and Value of Matter started as the award-winning thesis of the author Catherine Noble Beyer. It is a masterpiece combining excellent scholarship with eloquent and engaging insight.
Catherine Noble Beyer received her BA from Kalamazoo College and her MA from the University of Wisconsin, both in history. Her focus has been medieval Europe, but her studies have covered a wide variety of topics. History and religion have remained important aspects of her life. She has taught in the University of Wisconsin system for several years about religion, the history of Western Civilization, and Western Humanities.
From Chapter 1, Composition of the Universe: Divine Light and Primal Matter
“But many other occultists (and Renaissance thinkers in general) had more ambivalent and even positive approaches to matter. Overall, Renaissance thinking was much more optimistic about the material world than medieval thinking had been. It was a culture of conspicuous consumption with an atmosphere which encouraged excellence in all manner of non-spiritual activities. Education was an increasingly important mark of a cultured individual, and Renaissance education took many cues from the classical educations of Greece and Rome, both of which heavily valued study of the natural, material world.
Perspectives on the nature of humanity shifted. Medieval thinkers had focused on the Fall of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. That first sin separated not just them but also the world from God. Humans were their broken, sinful descendants living in a world full of temptation. Now, theologians and philosophers emphasized that both the world and humanity were creations of God and thus magnificent, if imperfect.
When Fludd wrote his five-volume compendium on cosmology, he logically started at the beginning. In the Biblical creation story, the universe begins with God’s pronouncement: “Let there be light.” This light has nothing to do with visible light, without which we cannot exist; in fact, the sun, moon and stars won’t be created for another eleven verses. This is the granting of divine light, without which the very universe could not exist.
Divine light is not visible light. Visibility is a physical quality, detectable and appreciated through the physical sense of sight, and physicality requires matter. At that moment, there was not yet matter in the universe to create visible light. Instead, divine light is a force of actualization, stemming directly from God. Only through that force of actualization can the rest of creation take place.
 Genesis 1:3, RSV
 Fludd, Cosmos, p. 26. “
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