Friday, December 31, 2010

Portraits of Pico

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pico on Iamblichus: Five Quotes

Heptaplus 143-144
Let us learn from this also what actions we need to be united to better natures, on which depends the whole and highest strength of our felicity. The first day teaches us that, after driving away the night, the light first arose over the waters when the Spirit of the Lord brooded over them. This foreshadows the statement from James that every perfect gift comes from above, from the father of lights. (James 1:17) Not to mention the Christians, Jamblichus confirms this view when he asserts that human nature can promise itself little or nothing unless aided by a greater power, a divine one.

On Being and the One Ch6 54
Iamblichus… calls prime matter duality. This is because duality is the first multitude and is the root of other multitudes. Prime matter… is not only not one but is a multitude, and is the root of all multitude that is in things… Further, prime matter is neither altogether without unity nor without being. Prime matter receives its precise unity from the same form from which it receives being.

23.4. The elements are found in the eight heavenly bodies in two celestial
modes, which anyone will find if he proceeds in reverse order through that
numeration of Binah

23.7. There is no force in the celestial stars that in itself is evil.

23.9. When Plato says that the soul is placed in the middle of the world, this
should be understood of the unparticipated soul, which he says is placed in the
middle, because fireed firom every relation and particular location, it equally
approaches all things.

Five Proclan Conclusions

24.3. The name of God applies simply and absolutely to one, who is the God
of gods; simply not absolutely to anything supersubstantial; according to
essence to anything intellectual; according to participation to divine souls;
according to contact and conjunction to demons; according to similitude to
human souls.

24.5. In intelligibles number does not exist but multitude, and the paternal and
maternal cause of numbers; but in intellectuals number exists according to
essence and multitude communicatively.

24.17. Granted, as theology teaches, the divine hierarchies are distinct, it
should be understood that all exist in all in their own mode.

24.21. It is the property of the supermundane gods to assimilate and transmit
to beings that sympathy and reciprocal communion that they possess firom
their similarity to one another.

24.55. Just as a perfect understanding should be sought from intelligibles, so
the power that leads upwards should be sought from intellectuals; an operation
that is absolute and cut off from matter from the ultramundanes; a winged life
from the mundanes; the true expression of the divine from the angelic choirs;
its fulfillment, whose inspiration comes from the gods, from good demons.

Pico's Oration - Five Quotes on Angel Comparison/Emulation/Rivalling/Surpassing

man is the intermediary between creatures, that he is the familiar of the gods above him as he is the lord of the beings beneath him... he is the interpreter of nature... the very marriage hymn of the world, and, by David's testimony but little lower than the angels... Why, I asked, should we not admire the angels themselves and the beatific choirs more?

upon man, at the moment of his creation, God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. Whichever of these a man shall cultivate, the same will mature and bear fruit in him. If vegetative, he will become a plant; if sensual, he will become brutish; if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, dissatisfied with the lot of all creatures, he should recollect himself into the center of his own unity, he will there become one spirit with God, in the solitary darkness of the Father, Who is set above all things, himself transcend all creatures.

even the esoteric theology of the Hebrews at times transforms the holy Enoch into that angel of divinity which is sometimes called malakh-ha-shekhinah and at other times transforms other personages into divinities of other names

Let us ask the Apostle Paul, that vessel of election, in what activity he saw the armies of the Cherubim engaged when he was rapt into the third heaven. He will answer, according to the interpretation of Dionysius, that he saw them first being purified, then illuminated, and finally made perfect. We, therefore, imitating the life of the Cherubim here on earth, by refraining the impulses of our passions through moral science, by dissipating the darkness of reason by dialectic --- thus washing away, so to speak, the filth of ignorance and vice --- may likewise purify our souls, so that the passions may never run rampant, nor reason, lacking restraint, range beyond its natural limits. Then may we suffuse our purified souls with the light of natural philosophy, bringing it to final perfection by the knowledge of divine things.

If, by moral philosophy, the power of our passions shall have been restrained ... raised to the most eminent height of theology, ... we shall become the winged lovers of theology... smitten by the ineffable love as by a sting, and, like the Seraphim, filled with the godhead, we shall be, no longer ourselves, but the very One who made us.

Pico's Angelology in his 900 Conclusions -- Five Theses

3>49 It is more improperly said that God is intellect or that which has intellect, than that the rational soul is an angel.

3>43. The act by which the angelic and rational nature is bestowed with
the greatest happiness is an act neither of the intellect nor of the will, but
is the union of the unity that exists in the otherness of the soul with the
unity that exists without otherness.

3>63. Although in the soul there exists in act an intellectual nature, through
which it convenes with the angel, just as a rational nature exists in it, through
which it is distinguished from that, there is nothing intrinsic in it through
which it is able, without the appropriate image, to understand something dis-
tinct from itself.

5>13. If we follow the theology of Syrianus, it is rational [to claim] that priests
in the ecclesiastical hierarchy correspond to the analogous powers in the celes-
tial hierarchy.

5>17. If we follow the doctrine of Syrianus, it is appropriate after the unity of
total intellection, which is also divided triply into substantial, potential, and
operative intellection, to posit another triad of intellection, namely, partial,
participated, and imagerial.

Pico's Angelology in Commento and Heptaplus - Five Quotes Each

77-78 The Platonists hold as a fundamental postulate that every created thing has three kinds of being. The three are given different names by different Platonists, but they all mean the same thing. For present purposes we can use the following terms for them: causal being, formal being, and participated being.
...This distinction among three kinds of being should be noted carefully, for it sheds much light on the understanding of Platonic philosophy, and we shall refer to it often.

77 Of these three kinds of being, the highest and most perfect causal being. Accordingly the Platonists believe that all of the powers which are commonly attributed to God exist in Him only in the causal mode of being. Thus they say that God is not Himself being but the cause of all being, and similarly that God is not Himself intellect. Statements such as these can give a modern Platonist a good deal of trouble if he does not understand the principle behind them. I remember that a great Platonist once told me that he was amazed by a passage in which Plotinus says that God understands nothing and knows nothing. It is perhaps even more amazing that my Platonist did not understand in what sense Plotinus means that God does not understand: Plotinus simply means that the attribute of understanding exists in God in its causal being rather than in its formal being. Plotinus is not denying that God understands; he is only attributing to him understanding of a higher and more perfect kind. That this is the case can be clearly understood from the following. Dionysius the Areopagite, the prince of the Christian theologians, says in one place that God knows not only Himself but also every smallest particular thing; but elsewhere Dionysius uses the same manner of speaking that Plotinus uses, saying that God is not an intellectual or intelligent creature, but is ineffably exalted above all intellect and cognition.

108 the ancients called the Angelic Mind, adorned with the Ideas, paradise… they referred to people as being “in Paradise” if they lived a completely non-physical intellectual life, and, having already risen above human nature and become like angels, lived in contemplation alone.

Above these three hypostases is God Himself, the author and cause of every creature. The Attribute of divinity has its causal being in God, its original source. Proceeding directly from Him, divinity has its second or formal being in the Angelic hypostasis

81 The Platonists and the ancient philosophers Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster call this first creature sometimes “son of God,” sometimes “Wisdom,” sometimes “Mind,” and sometimes “Divine Reason,” which some even interpret as “the word.” But everyone should be careful not to suppose that this “word” is the “Word” that our theologians call the “Son of God.” For what we mean by “the Son” is of one and the same essence as the Father, is equal to him in everything, and, lastly, is a creator and a creature; whereas what the Platonists call “the son of God” must be identified with the first and noblest angel created by God.


107 God alone, who is derived from nothing and from whom all things are derived, is a wholly simple and individual essence… Therefore an angel is not unity itself, or else he would be God, or there would be many gods, which cannot even be conceived. For what will be one if not a unity? It is left for an angel to be a number. But if it is, it is a number in one aspect and a multiplicity in another. Every number, however, is imperfect insofar as it is a multiplicity, but perfect so far as it is one. Therefore, whatever is imperfect in an angel let us ascribe to the angels’ multiplicity, which it has from being a number, that is, a creature; and whatever is perfect to its participation in unity, which it has from being associated with God.

In an angel we find a double imperfection: the one, that it is not being itself but only an essence to which being comes by participation, so that it may be; the other, that it is not intelligence itself but only happens to understand, since by its nature it is an intellect capable of understanding. The second imperfection, however, depends on the first, since what does not exist of itself, certainly does not understand by itself, since there can be nothing where being itself is not. Therefore both of these imperfections befall an angel insofar as it is a multiplicity. It remains for its perfection and completion to be produced by unity coming from above. God is the unity from which angels draw their being, their life, and all their perfection.

Any number, after unity, is perfected and completed by unity. Unity along, completely simple, perfected by itself, does not go beyond itself but in its individual and solitary simplicity is composed of itself, since it is self-sufficient, in want of nothing, and full of its own riches. Since number by its nature is manifold, it is simple--so for as it is capable of simplicity--only by virtue of unity; and although every number falls into ever greater multiplicity the further it is removed from unity, and the more diversity, the more parts, and the more compoundness there is in it; nevertheless, none is so close to unity as not to be a multiple, having only an accidental unity and being one not by nature but by composition.

Let us apply these notions to divine things, after the Pythagorean custom. God alone, who is derived from nothing and from whom all things are derived, is a wholly simple and individual essence. Whatever he has, he has from himself. For the same reason that he exists, he knows, wills, and is good and just. We cannot understand any reason why he exists except that he is being itself. Other things are not being itself, but exist by means of it.

109 An angel, from what we have said, has perfectly realized his own nature and intellectual qualities. Nevertheless, he does not have a way to fulfill his functions of understanding and contemplation unless he is first surrounded by God with intelligible forms. For this reason the darkness has hitherto been upon the face of the deep.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Introduction : Pico’s Angel Comparison and Encounter with Neoplatonic Angel Metaphysics

Pico's angelology is a philosophical not a magical topic. He is doing an original interpretation of Christian Neoplatonism, which involves an encounter with Neoplatonic angelology that develops his Dionysian and Thomistic themes. Pico's contribution is characterized as much by this exploration of Neoplatonic angel metaphysics as it is by his encounter with "Kabbalah and Magic." There have been many attempts to discover an "angel magic" or "theurgy" in Pico but I will show that when we look at Pico's actual discourse on angels we do not find such a magic. Theurgy might be a useful term to describe Pico's Dionysian interest in angelology as part of the story of mystical ascent, but it must be studied with care before we can be sure that we have avoided misleading connotations.

Pico's Oration has been misunderstood as a celebration of the radical freedom of man to tap the powers of angelic being and become a Magus. But these readings have not held up. Pico's Oration does present a challenging vision of man in the context of the angelic life, but this is a Christian vision based on the Bible, as Pico understands it--relying on Dionysius' interpretation of Paul via Aquinas.

The Dignity of man does not consist in human power to do angel magic, but rather in his ability to choose any form of life, whether animal or angelic, or even divine. In saying this Pico does not suggest anything other than the Dionysian concept of divinization. The point of his angel comparison is not to celebrate only that man can become an angel, but to emphasize that he can go beyond even the angelic state into the mystical darkness of Dionysius. He does not imitate the angelic life in order to gain power over the world, but in order to by mystically uplifted away from the world.

Pico's 900 Conclusions have been the stuff of much speculations, but contemporary scholars who have studies Pico's methods of constructing the sentence collection have emphasized that it is difficult to extract any "position of Pico" from them.

Rather the 900 should be understood as a reference guide for debate. Pico promises to solve many interesting problems relating to the theme of man in contrast to the angel, from theory of mind to angelic illumination but especially on metaphysics. I will look at Pico’s discussions of angels in the 900 exploring these scholastic and neoplatonic themes, which provide more evidence for Pico preserving the distance between man and angels than for some magical conflation of the angelic and human levels.

Pico's Proclan conclusions, which add up to about a hundred, have not been studied very much but reveal a great deal of Pico's interests in developing Dionysian angel metaphysics themes. In the light of his deep engagement with the Thomistic reading of Dionysius in his later text On Being and Unity, I suggest that his encounter with Neoplatonic angelology in the 900 Conclusions might better be understood as re-reading Neoplatonism in light of Dionysian and Thomistic (Christian) metaphysical developments than as an attempt to use Neoplatonic angel metaphysics to construct a magical system. We have a great deal of evidence, much neglected, about Pico's philosophical encounter but very little evidence about his views on Neoplatonic magic.

Pico’s use of Iamblichus demonstrates that his interest in Neoplatonism was philosophical rather than magical. Although he describes Iamblichus as representing an “occult philosophy” in the Oration, he means by this a metaphysician in the Dionysian style rather than an idolatrous sorcerer. Pico’s Iamblichean conclusions in the 900 deal with problems understanding the metaphysics of the Celestial Hierarchy. Here we see an interesting correlation of the Kabbalistic Sefirah Binah with a Neoplatonic supercelestial entity. Pico does not bring material concerning Iamblichean theurgic theory for debate.

In the Heptaplus we get a hint of Iamblichus’ insistence that theurgy requires the influence of the Gods, but Pico uses this notion of Iamblichus without mentioning theurgy, in the context of a Christian pious sentiment about the need for divine aid. Pico shares with Iamblichus everything that can be found to resemble Christian mysticism due to the similarity with Dionysius, but he does not use Iamblichus as a source for magic. Copenhaver has pointed out that Pico uses Plotinus to define natural magic in the Oration but not Iamblichus, which indicates that Pico did not see magic in terms of Iamblichean theurgy—which is really a mystical topic not a magical one. Iamblichus like Pico was very clear in his “On the Mysteries” that theurgy is to be distinguished with the bad kind of coercive conjuring daimonic magic that both call goetia.

Pico’s deepest ontological treatise De Ente explores the Dionysian negative theology in detail. Continuing the trend of Heptaplus Pico emphasizes the limitations of man and the distance between man and the divine as well as the angelic. While Pico has been seen as a critic of Aquinas based on his willingness to debate Thomistic angelology in the 900 Conclusions, here we see Pico following the developments in angel metaphysics that Thomas made in his own encounter with Dionysius in the angel treatise of the Summa Theologiae.

In Pico’s Disputations against Astrology there is one significant mention of angels that demonstrates Pico’s consistent development of our theme of the angel comparison. Pico argues that planetary bodies should not be see as influencing man because that is the place of the angels. Even in his most anti-magical text Pico can be seen to be exploring and developing his angelological concerns.

Links to Primary Sources

Pico texts online