alchemia contra natura.

William Newman writes:

"My purpose has not been to prove the continued influence of alchemy on the development of applied science and technology throughout the Scientific Revolution, but merely to show that here, in these obscure treatises of the thirteenth century, a propagandistic literature of technological development was born. During this innovative period, alchemical writers and their allies produced a literary corpus that was among the earliest in Latin to promote actively the doctrine that art can equal or outdo the products of nature, even if human art is learned by imitating natural processes. Similarly, these alchemical propagandists - or at least the bolder among them - did not shy away from the conclusion that man can even change the order of the natural world by altering the species of those products. This technological dream, however premature, was to have a lasting effect on the direction taken by Western culture." [*]

This insight into early alchemical theology, is especially interesting in the light of the present controversy over the effects of genetic engineering.

Liz Greene also deals with the alchemical accomplishments versus Nature:

"All alchemical writings strongly make the point that alchemy accomplishes what Nature leaves imperfect. In other words, left to her own devices, Nature, or human nature, muddles through somehow in a state of inherent conflict and confusion; but the alchemist saw himself (or herself, for there were women alchemists) as the transformer of this natural chaos, the individual who stepped in and interfered with God's noble but imperfect creation in order to accomplish its ultimate evolutionary design. You can see how very advanced a psychological perspective this is for the early Christian mind, because it is, in effect, a gross heresy. Implicit in this belief is the conviction that somehow God depends upon human consciousness for His redemption, rather than the other way around, and that individual effort in some way accomplishes what the divine in unable to do in the manifest world. This great heresy naturally made the Church's ears prick up, because from early Christian times through the Reformation, the Church, and not the individual, held the key to salvation. The alchemists were not unchristian; but they were a very special kind of Christian, and therefore subject to persecution. So they cloaked their doctrines in some very florid and strange symbolism in order to conceal the enormity of the heretical statement they were making. Alchemy presented a world-view in which the individual is no longer a poor sinner, helpless and damned without the succouring arms of Mother Church; he or she is a noble participant in God's creation, and in fact can enhance or transform that creation through individual effort, self-honesty, integrity and moral responsibility.

These are deep and difficult concepts, but I would like you to think about them carefully. You will see, if you reflect for a while on this key issue of transforming nature through individual effort, that this is also the same perspective held by modem psychotherapy, although more overtly religious in its language."

Liz, Greene, Dynamics of the Unconscious, Alchemical Symbolism in the Horoscope, p. 259

 [*] William Newman, Technology and Alchemical Debate in the Late Middle Ages, Isis 80: 1989, p.443