When Isaac Casaubon showed the Hermetica to be Christian-era confections, this didn’t lead to the immediate total collapse of their authority. The great antiquity of the Hermetica continued to be credited for at least a century by many intelligent and learned men, especially natural scientists (!)—including Descartes and Newton—who couldn’t follow Casaubon’s philological arguments and who needed Hermetic ideas as part of their narrative about Man’s domination of Nature. Ironically, it was Cartesianism and Newtonianism that ultimately led to the marginalization of the Hermetica, not by proving anything about them but by leading to a worldview that made them irrelevant. Meanwhile, one of the most immediate effects of Casaubon’s debunking had been the appearance of the Rosicrucian manifestos, which held out initiatic access to supposed primordial truths without the necessity of appealing to primordial documents. Thus Perennialism survived, in more restricted quarters, the downfall of its supposed justification.
- B. J. T. Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy: The Hunt for the Green Lion (Cambridge, 1983)
- Michael Keefer, “The Dreamer’s Path: Descartes and the Sixteenth Century,” Renaissance Quarterly 49 (1996): 30-76