The work of Giles of Viterbo (1465-1532) - whom F. Secret counts among the greatest of the Christian Kabbalists in the Renaissance - is a good example of that nostalgic interest in origins which characterised the period from the Fifteenth to the Sixteenth century, and which was combined with the desire to discover - in the ancient wisdom of Judaism, Hermeticism and Neo-Platonic literature - a layer of truth common to all religions and philosophies.
As General of the Augustinian Order at the time of Luther's protest and as a famous preacher, Giles translated into Latin the fundamental texts of the Kabbalah: excerpts from the Zohar, Recanati's commentary on the Pentateuch, the Book of Creation, the Ho rtus Nucis, the Raziel, the Sefer Ha-Temunah, the Ginnat Egoz, the Sefer Ha-Bahir, and the Ma'areceth haelohut. A pupil of Elijah Levita, Giles was also in close contact with students of rabbinic and kabbalistic literature, including Michael ben Sabthai, Baruch da Benevento, Nicolaus Camerarius, Felice da Prato, Johannes Reuchlin, the Franciscan Petrus Galatinus and the Dominican Agostino Giustiniani. As with Pico della Mirandola, Giles interpreted the ancient Hebrew wisdom from his particular Platonic an d Christian point of view, but in a spirit of complete loyalty to the Church. With passionate syncretism, Giles amalgamated biblical images with classical mythology and kabbalistic references in order to reformulate the interpretation of Scripture. And he declared in the Libellus de litteris hebraicis (1517) - a mystical alphabet o f introduction to the Bible - that in order to grasp the divine truth borne by the sacred text it was first necessary to learn the language in which God spoke to man. In a voluminous treatise dedicated to Clement VII, written between 1528 and 1531, called the Scechinah - a Hebrew expression meaning God's presence among men - Giles attempted to introduce kabbalah into the world of Christian humanism. According to Giles all created reality reflected the world of the ten Sefiroth, the stages of the pulsating divine life. The first three Sefiroth corresponded to the supreme world of the Persons of the Trinity, while the remaining seven made up an interme diate world. And the function of these latter ones was to govern the sensible world in which we live - namely, the World of Asiyyah, or of Action and the Elements, in which the activities of the upper Worlds worked themselves out at a practical level. Th e Shekinah, the majestic presence of God among men, was merely the last of the ten Sefiroth. The garden of Eden, meanwhile, was the union of heaven and earth, a bridge between the upper and lower Worlds.
In kabbalistic terminology, it was the World of Formation (Yezirah), the place
where the androgynous man created in Beriah, the World of Creatio n, was separated into
Adam and Eve.
As the realm of differentiation, Eden was part of the process of creation, where things called forth and created as spirits were clothed in qualities and characteristics. From there Adam and Eve were sent down into the lowest World of materiality and given coats of skin - that is, fleshly bodies. For this reason, man could experience all the levels of existence, both on the way down and on the way up as he seeked first to regain Eden, then the heavenly realm of Creation , and finally Union with the Divine. The garden of Eden, then, was the natural habitat of the soul, outside ordinary time and space. It was also an interior reality, since man had within him the four corresponding levels of divinity, spirit, psyche and body. However, according to Giles's esc hatological and historical vision, set out in the Historia XX saeculorum, the pontificate of Leo X had inaugurated the Church's entry into the tenth and last of the ten ages of human history, one of perfection and fulfilment.
The Cinquecento, the century of great discoveries, was none other than the time of the troubles announced in the Gospels: and God had entrusted Charles V and Clement VII to give mankind a new jubilee of liberation. Rome, the holy city par excellence, "sancta latina Ierusalem", was th e focal point for this renovation. For Giles, the discovery of the kabbalah and the study of Hebrew by the Christians of his own day marked this great turning point in history. It was also a cause and a symptom of the spiritual unity of mankind which Gile s hoped would soon be accomplished. For kabbalah could unveil all the secrets of the divine and eternal world, just as the nautical discoveries were revealing the geography of the whole earth. According to Giles, the end of the tenth age would lead to man kind's re-entry into the garden of Eden and the apocalyptic consummation of history.