My honors thesis, entitled “Conversing with Angels: John Dee and His Quest for Divine Knowledge”, was a study of the Elizabethan scholar John Dee and the angelic conversations he is most known for. I decided to focus my work on the nature of the conversations, as well as looking for an answer to the question of why Dee spent years of his life figuring out how to contact, invoke, and converse with God’s divine beings. After extensive research I found five scholars whose works held six different arguments as to Dee’s motivations for the conversations.
I began my thesis discussing the conversations themselves, starting with Dee’s scryer, Edward Kelly, and the ways in which he was able to contact the angels. I also went into detail about the prayers and psalms Dee used to invoke the angels, as well as the multiple topics discussed throughout the conversations. I found that Dee’s transcriptions of the conversations were written in a form of short hand, and often included his own commentary to go along with what the angels told him. After the general overview of the process that let to the conversations, as well as the conversations themselves, I moved on to discussing the six different arguments from the five scholars: Deborah Harkness, Nicholas Cluelee, Stephen Clucas, György Szönyi, and Stuart Clark.
A quick rundown of each argument is as follows. Deborah Harkness argued that Dee’s conversations found their root in apocalyptic concerns, while Harkness and György Szönyi believed he was trying to bring religious reformation to the world. Stephen Clucas felt Dee was doing everything to bring glory to God, and Nicholas Cluelee claimed Dee was conversing with angels for a purely scholarly reason. Finally, Stuart Clark played devils advocate and argued that Dee was not actually talking to angels, but rather to demons.
After much consideration, taking each of the six interpretations into account, I concluded my thesis by arguing in agreement with György Szönyi and Nicholas Cluelee. I believed, like Szönyi, that Dee was doing all of this work to bring glory to God. But that was most likely only to a lesser extent, for when it comes to Dee’s main reasoning behind the conversations, I argued, like Cluelee, that Dee was a scholar through and through. He had spent his whole life chasing after the idea of omniscience, finally looking to the heavens in hopes that God would share his divine knowledge. Therefore, while Dee might have been conversing with angels for many different reasons, I believe that the main reason was somewhat selfish. He was a scholar with the chance to learn the secrets and knowledge of the divine, there was no other motivation needed.