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Ricius, Paulus

RICIUS, PAULUS (Rici, Rizzi, also known as Paulus Israelita; d. 1541), humanist, translator, and apostate. Probably born in Germany, Ricius was baptized in Italy about 1505 and in the following year met Erasmus at Pavia, where he became professor of philosophy and medicine. Ricius was one of the very few converted Jews of the age who made a serious contribution to Christian Hebraism, although he also wrote a series of works (Sal Foederis, 1507, 15142) designed to confirm his new faith and refute Jewish arguments by means of the Kabbalah. From 1514 he was body physician to the Emperor Maximilian in Augsburg; he was elected to the chair of Hebrew at Pavia in 1521; and the favor which he enjoyed at the imperial court led to his being ennobled as Baron von Sparzenstein in 1530. The works which Ricius published include translations of Jewish and Muslim texts and some original writings, mainly on mystical themes. The translations are: part of Joseph *Gikatilla's Sha'arei Orah; the sole surviving Latin edition of a medical treatise by the 12th-century Spanish scholar Albucasis; and works by Averroes.

It is, above all, as one of the architects of the Christian Kabbalah that Ricius is now mainly remembered. The Sha'arei Orah translation – Portae lucis (Augsburg, 1516) – was consulted by Conrad *Pellicanus while it was still in manuscript and inspired many later scholars to tackle similar projects (e.g., the Zohar translations of G. *Postel). Ricius helped to popularize the "prophecy of Elijah" (based on Sanh. 97a) and, like *Pico della Mirandola (whose knowledge of Kabbalah Ricius disparaged), he was able to "discover" the Trinity and other Christian doctrines in Jewish mystical works, which he defended against the attacks of Jacob *Hoogstraaten in his Apologeticus sermo (in Pistorius, Artis Cabbalisticae … Tomus I, 1587).

Other works by Ricius include the treatises De anima coeli (1519) and Responsio ad interrogationem de nomine Tetragrammato (1519), and Statera prudentium (c. 1532), which led to a controversy with the humanist Girolamo Aleandro because of the author's evident toleration of Protestantism. De coelesti agricultura libri quattuor (1541), a collection of Ricius' major works which appeared shortly before his death, contained a preface by his former teacher, the philosopher Pietro Pomponazzi.


F. Secret, Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (1964), 87–99 and index; idem, in: Convivium, 5 (1956), 550; idem, in: Rinascimento, 11 (1960), 169–92; Steinschneider, Cat Bod, 2141–43; C. Singer, in: E.R. Bevan and C. Singer (eds.), The Legacy of Israel (1927), 240; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 80, 145.