the Jesuits in this book appear equal, regardless of whether they worked in Germany in the 1570s, Mexico in the 1670s, or China in the 1720s. If this is globalization, then Clossey’s second major theme, soteriology, is its ideal match. Clossey defines this term as “the study and technology of salvation” (6), asserting that the early modern Jesuits felt an extreme sense of urgency toward the salvation of souls, both their own and those of others. Taking the bursts of baroque pathos in his sources literally, Clossey argues that the unifying principle behind early modern Catholicism was its heightened preoccupation with salvation. For him, Catholicism practiced after the eighteenth century was “not so salvific” (and before the sixteenth century it was “not so global”; 256). While he should be commended for taking the religion of early moderns seriously, one wonders whether Clossey does not go a step too far by turning the pious commonplaces of Jesuit letters from the far corners of the world into proof of a globalized uniformity of ritual, thought, and action or, in his phrase, “Global Salvific Catholicism.” The use of the vocabulary of economics and science relative to globalization to discuss the early modern Jesuits is not just poor style but a distraction from the analysis of the historical issues at hand. Clossey clearly wants his book to have ramifications beyond the study of Jesuit history. The question is whether we should agree to use fashionable terms to describe early modern history or whether we should be skeptical of terminological innovations whose recent coinage brings to mind modern realities instead of premodern ones. The vastness of “globalization” used by Clossey conceals more than it reveals, homogenizing the past to such an extent that it has little explanatory power except at the most general level. We should therefore resist the temptation when it presents itself, uttering vade Satanas even if it means that we have to wander longer still in the desert. LIAM MATTHEW BROCKEY Michigan State University Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic, and Mission at the End of Time. By Charles Webster. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. Pp. xiv⫹326. $40.00. Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493–1541), known under the name of Paracelsus, was a radical reformer not only in the realm of medicine and science but also in the problems related to society, state, and religion. His literary production can be divided into two major groups. The first consists of scientific and medical treatises, which were published and widely diffused after his death, having a considerable impact on the natural and medical philosophy of the period. The second group, comprising social, ethical, and religious writings, remained in manuscript. Modern monographs on Paracelsus, including the most successful one by W. Pagel, Paracelsus (Basel, 1958), were based almost exclusively on the first group. It is only in recent decades that the second group has been gradually published, and specialized studies devoted to it have begun to appear. Charles Webster’s monograph aims to fill the gap by paying considerable attention to this movement. Although A. Weeks tried to place Paracelsus in the context of the early Reformation and the German Peasants’ War in his Paracelsus: Speculative Theory and the Crisis of the Early Reformation (Albany, NY, 1997), Webster goes much further in his endeavor. Readers will soon realize that his approach has been prefigured in his published articles (1990, 1993, and 1995). In fact, already his small but ambitious work From
Paracelsus to Newton (Cambridge, 1982) has dealt with the fundamental features of Paracelsus’s eschatological and apocalyptic worldview in some depth. The book under review is the natural development of Webster’s long-term engagement with this elusive figure. As for its documentation, although major German contributions are taken into account, two important post-Pagelian monographs in Italian, G. Zanier’s L’espressione e l’immagine: Introduzione a Paracelso (Trieste, 1988) and M. L. Bianchi’s Introduzione a Paracelso (Rome, 1995), are neglected, not to mention some recent French works on Paracelsus. Webster’s monograph is divided into seven chapters and a conclusion. Chapter 1 offers a sketch of Paracelsus’s life in a broad social and cultural context of the early Reformation. From this emerges the idea of “mission” as the main theme of the Swiss physician’s lifework. Chapter 2 explores the young Theophrastus’s quest for a publisher for his writings, while his bitter experience of a public humiliation in Basel explains, for Webster, the genesis of the literary brand “Paracelsus.” Thus, the Basel affair was the turning point of the young Theophrastus’s career. Chapter 3 gives a penetrating analysis of Paracelsus’s early theological work, De septem punctis idolatriae cristianae (ca. 1525), by placing it in the context of religious controversies at the eve of the German Peasants’ War. Although Paracelsus maintained a position of total independence, his radical ideas, Webster suggests, echoed those of some independent lay theologians of the time. Chapter 4 demonstrates that Paracelsus’s iconoclastic outlook in medicine was coherent with his severe attitude toward the established religious authorities. Webster sums up the double leitmotif of Paracelsus’s reformation: the rejection of the old (the pagan authorities in philosophy and medicine and the Roman dominance in religion) and the call for a new start following the spirit of the Gospel. As for Paracelsus’s dependence on Renaissance Platonism, referring to Marsilio Ficino’s De vita and Agrippa von Nettesheim’s De occulta philosophia, Webster expresses a reservation. For him the apparent doctrinal similarities “are perhaps best explained by their reference to common Neoplatonic sources” (111). While admitting Ficino as an obvious source, he prefers to see Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and especially his Oration as Paracelsus’s sources of inspiration. I wonder whether his demonstration is really successful in superseding Pagel’s. Chapter 5 focuses on Paracelsus’s famous theory of the three principles (Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt) of natural things and on the role of magic in his natural philosophy. While placing the first detailed exposition of the theory in Opus paramirum (ca. 1530), Webster stresses its slow internal evolution from an early period, on the basis of textual evidences. He rejects the hypothesis of borrowing from an external source, such as the medieval alchemical tract Das Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit. In this connection, Webster accepts Karl Sudhoff’s dating of composition for Paracelsus’s treatise De mineralibus as 1527. However, this work, which explains the three principles in detail, might have been composed after the true manifesto of Paracelsus’s new medicine, Paragranum (ca. 1529), which does not explicitly formulate the theory. Since the three principles were the fundamental elements of his new philosophy, why did Paracelsus not expound them in his manifesto against the traditional authorities of medicine? Webster does not offer a clear-cut answer. Chapter 6 detects Paracelsus’s “general compatibility with the radical movement and his particular drift towards a congregationalist perspective” and insists on Paracelsus’s “convergence with the Anabaptists, especially those representing the spiritualist and apocalyptic perspective” (188). This is the core of Webster’s contribution. It also leads him to identify the influence of late medieval German mysticism, repre-
sented by such works as the sermons of Johann Tauler and Theologia Teutsch and actively exploited by reformers of all tendencies. Chapter 7 masterfully deals with the eschatological and apocalyptic framework of Paracelsus’s worldview and places his conception of mission in its own right. The book closes with a short but moving conclusion. There Webster sums up his overall finding: “Engaging with the writings of Paracelsus was therefore never a task for the fainthearted” (244). One crucial question still remains: How can Paracelsus’s theory of seeds (semina) and its related notion of predestination ( praedestinatio) be explained? These ideas were extremely important for his sixteenth-century disciples such as the Danish Petrus Severinus (1540/42–1602). In fact, for Paracelsus the word of God, “Fiat,” pronounced at the moment of the Creation, was the primordial seed of the universe. It contained the particular spiritual seeds, each of which in its turn encloses a set of the three principles to determine the predestination (future organization and development) of a natural being as its fruit. Such an essential element of Paracelsus’s philosophy is unfortunately left unquestioned by this otherwise accomplished book by Webster. HIRO HIRAI Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia Spain in Italy: Politics, Society, and Religion, 1500 –1700. Edited by Thomas James Dandelet and John A. Marino. The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World, volume 32. Edited by Larry J. Simon, Gerard Wiegers, Arie Schippers, Donna M. Rogers, and Isidro J. Rivera. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Pp. xiv⫹594. $188.00. Ninety years ago, the Italian scholar Benedetto Croce published La Spagna nella vita Italiana durante la Rinascenza (Spain in Italian life during the Renaissance), which cast a long shadow on Italian and Spanish historiography. Croce’s work, which went virtually unchallenged until the 1970s, portrayed the 200 years of Spanish domination of Italy as a period of foreign oppression and of Italian “decadence.” Recently, however, this view has been greatly modified. In 2003, the American Academy in Rome sponsored a conference on politics and society in Spanish Italy, and the collection of essays that resulted demonstrates how much opinion has changed in the last few decades. We now have a much more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between Spain and Italy during this crucial period. While Spanish power may have been the single biggest fact of life in Italian culture and society, Italians actively participated in, and often benefited from, the Spanish imperial system. They also often resisted or subverted that system. While much more work needs to be done, as many of these essays emphasize, scholars have done much to rehabilitate our ideas about Italy’s place in Spain’s early modern empire. The breadth and depth of coverage of this collection is impressive. The book contains nineteen essays, by scholars from five countries, with a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. The main theme that ties most of the essays together is the Spanish imperial system in Italy: how and why did it function or fail? As the editors state in their introduction, many competing social forces were at work; thus, they emphasise “the methods and mechanisms of control and collaboration, cooperation and cooptation, assimilation and resistance” (4). Most of the articles that follow likewise discuss the tensions within Spanish-Italian relations and within the Spanish
Published on Oct 14, 2010
Published on Oct 14, 2010
Review of Charles Webster's "Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic and Mission at the End of Time" (Yale UP, 2008), in Journal of Modern History, 82 (...