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Moreschini, Claudio, Hermes Christianus: The Intermingling of Hermetic Piety and Christian Thought.

Moreschini, Claudio, Hermes Christianus: The Intermingling of Hermetic Piety and Christian Thought (Cursor Mundi, 8), Turnhout, Brepols, 2012; hardback; pp. xii, 306; R.R.P. 80.00 [euro]; ISBN 9782503529608.

From the time of the early Church until the beginning of the seventeenth century, Hermetic doctrine enjoyed some considerable renown as an authentic pre-Christian revelation, but never without controversy. For Lactantius, the teachings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus represented a prefiguring of many aspects of Christianity, and as such they could be used in the effort to convert educated pagans. For Augustine, however, Trismegistus was an idolater and demon-worshipper whose writings were to be shunned. On the whole, the view of Lactantius tended to prevail among Christian scholars throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Claudio Moreschini shows that the Latin work called Asclepius, an early translation of a Greek Hermetic text, was well known to medieval theologians and often quoted by them. Marsilio Ficino's later interest in Hermetism is conceptualized, then, by his familiarity with earlier Christian writers who drew on the Asclepius as well as on fragmentary quotations from Hermetic works by Lactantius and others. Ficino's Latin translation of fourteen treatises from the Greek Corpus Hermeticum in 1463, under the title of Pimander, was a natural sequel to his study of these writers and established the Pimander together with the Asclepius as the primary sources of prisca sapientia for the next hundred and fifty years.

This doctrinal amalgam of Christianity and Hermetism was further developed in the late sixteenth century by the French Catholic bishop Francois Foix-Candale during the wars of religion, but ultimately Catholic Protestant enmity brought about the decline of religious interest in the Corpus Hermeticum. In 1615, the Huguenot scholar, Isaac Casaubon, presented a sophisticated philological argument denying the pre-Christian origin of the Corpus Hermeticum, as part of his much larger anti-Catholic polemic. Although the Corpus was not marginalized immediately, the Hermetic texts eventually became seen as late antique forgeries imitating Christian doctrines rather than as pagan anticipations of those doctrines from the time of Moses or even earlier.

Moreschini traces the career of Christian Hermetism over this long trajectory, including Byzantine and western European scholars within his scope. A weakness of his study, however, is the unevenness of the level at which it is pitched, shifting from synoptic overview to philological detail and back, without much attempt at smooth integration. This characteristic makes Moreschini's text somewhat disconcerting to read through from start to finish, even though the depth of his scholarship is evident and impressive throughout the book.

W R. Albury, The University of New England

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Author:Albury, W.R.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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