Friday, December 2, 2011

Hegel on Pico in History of Philosophy

Two counts of the name of Pico della Mirandola — Giovanni, and Giovanni Francesco, his nephew — were influential rather by virtue of their marked personality and their originality; the elder propounded nine hundred theses, fifty-five of which were taken from Proclus, and invited philosophers one and all to a solemn. discussion of the same; he also in princely fashion undertook to pay the travelling expenses of those at a distance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Triumph of Aquinas

here's a little site on the Iconography of Aquinas

Pico and Henry of Ghent

Amos Edelheit, "Pico della Mirandola and Henry of Ghent" in A Companion to Henry of Ghent
370 Pico's admiration towards scholastic philosophy is evident in his writings.
372 It is important to see that for Pico scholastic philosophy represents a stage in the development of philosophicl trdition... This should be regarded as part of Pico's positive attitude towards scholasticism.
Pico completely disregards the chronological sequence
373 Pico had in his library Henry's Summa theologica, his Quodlibeta, and another unknown work which was ascribed to Henry, Improbatio quorundam actorum
The 900 Theses and the Apology are, on the one hand, the loci classici for a discussion of the relation between Pico and the scholastic philosophy, since they contain plenty of references to scholastic authorities. But on the other hand, these texts, which belong to Pico's Roman period, contain some essential methodological difficulties for modern scholars: with regard to the Theses, we simply do not have any explicit evidence (beyond the notion of concordia, a certain harmony between all philosophical schools) concerning Pico's general aim in collecting and presenting these theses.
374 identifying Pico's sources and the way he used them (citing or paraphrasing his sources, his accuracy in working with his sources, etc.) can give us some important details regarding the 'reception' of scholastic philosophers, and in our case, of Henry of Ghent, in the Renaissance. It is not impossible that in some of these details we shall find out some indications of a specific influence.

Theses according to Henry
1. There is a light which is superior to the light of faith, by which the theologians see the truth of theological science.
2. Paternity is the principle of producing in the father.
3. Processions are divided in divine matters between the intellect and the will.
4. This proposition should not be confirmed: 'The father is the essence of the son'.
5. Demons and sinful souls suffer from fire, in as much as it is hot, [that is] by a suffering of the same kind as that which bodies suffer.
6. Operations of angels are measured by determined time.
7. Angels understand through a scientific habit which is natural to them.
8. Irascible and concupiscent [powers] are divided in the same wy in both the superior and the inferior appetite.
9. Having some specific and definable reality is common to both fictions and non-fictions.
10. Friendship is a virtue.
11. Formally, the approval of some creature is respect.
12. With respect to this, it is necessary for mutuality of a real relation that a foundation would be set with regard to another [foundation] out of its own nature, just as with regard to its own perfection.
13. Relation is not really distinguishable from a foundation.

375 Thesis 1 is basically present in Henry's Summa, art. VI, q.1, where the medieval master claims that in theology there are matters held by belief through faith, but the divine light helps the faith. In the comparison between the philosopher and the theologian in art. VII, q.1, the theologian is described as someone who considers first singular matters which were held by belief through the light of faith, and then intelligible matters through the light which is beyond and above the infused light of natural reason. The spiritual man mentioned in art. VII, q. 13, whose intellect is enlightened by superior light, is also close to Pico's theologians. The more general epistemological problem is dealt by Henry in rt. I, q.2, which is focused on the problem whether man can know anything without divine illumination. Neglecting the possibility of knowing pure matters naturally, i.e. only through created intellectual faculties, Henry contends that every act of knowing involves the influence of the first intelligible entity who is the first agent in any intellectual and cognitive act, just like the presence of the first mover in any movement. This divine influence assists man in every act of understanding. This view is more radical than Pico's thesis (which reflects a more traditional and accepted view regarding theology) and includes every science, not only theology, and thus, for instance, makes it impossible to distinguish between theology and philosophy. One the other hand, Pico's thesis is focused on a specific distinction between a superior divine light and a 'common' light of faith.

379 Pico's thesis [2] does show an understanding of Henry's view on this issue, and includes an interesting term, processiones, which I could not locate in Henry's discussion of this point. Henry mentions potencies and actions or operations in God, not processions in divine matters. This term might reflect another discussion of Henry or an intermediate source used by Pico, or even Pico's own interpretation and understanding of Henry's opinion.
380 [Thesis 4] reflects his own elaborated synthesis, rather thn a direct fragmentary citation; it shows a good good understanding of some of the more technical, abstract, and complicated issues dealt by the Parisian master.
Thesis 5... Henry points out that we need some explanation for the fact that a spiritual entity can suffer from corporeal fire... The only possibly solution, contends Henry, is that God supernaturally imprinted a common faculty in the nature of angelic and human spirits, through which they can suffer from corporeal fire... Pico's thesis accurately reflects Henry's opinion.
381 [Henry on the angel]
382 the fact that angelic operations are measured in determined time is not emphasized in Henry's discussions mentioned above, it is only implied... Pico's thesis seems to reflect in this case his careful reading and interpretation of the Parisian master, in which his discussion of the angelic nature and operations (without emphasizing the aspect of time) and the discussion of angelic thoughts, their measures, and separated quantity of time (without mentioning angelic operations) are joined together. This can be found in Quodlibet XIII, q.7.
383 thesis 7 can be found in Quodlibet V, q.14, where Henry claims that separated intellect as an intellect does not have its own proper natural operation except naturally understanding singular intelligibles. Some lines later in the same question Henry says that an angel or a separated intellect understands through his own natural cognition, through which he understands things in their proper nature, not as a word or concept, and in this way an angel was born for understanding. In fact, it is impossible for the angelic intellect, being informed by intelligible species, not to understand. Further on in the question we have more or less the same formulation that we find in Pico's thesis.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

notes for discussion email on Pico+Allegory for myth list

Pico + Allegory
notes from Crofton Black: Pico's Heptaplus and Biblical Hermeneutics

154 Proclus model of 3 worlds not consonant with Pico's
159 mutual containment
160 Whatever is in all of the worlds is also in each of them, and there is not one of the worlds in which there is not everything that is in each world.
161 Allegorical Theory
The cosmic scheme is the basis for Pico's theory of allegory.
"the mutual containment of worlds is also indicated in Scripture"
162 ancient fathers were trained in the bonds and affinities of things
164 Proclus -- mechanics of emanation
165 Proclus ET 103
166 n.67 liber de causis n.68 quote from 900
167 mutual containment in Ps.Dionysius+Aquinas
168-70 angelic cognition and human cognition
236 Pico never discusses the events of the Genesis narrative in relation to their own time.
236 Pico's exegesis is anagogical...
237 intellectual ascent

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dionysius on Free Will, Angelic Guidance

If someone should ask why the Hebrews alone were guided to the divine Illuminations, we should answer that the turning away of the nations to false gods ought not to be attributed to the direct guidance of Angels, but to their own refusal of the true path which leads to God, and the falling away through self-love and perversity, and similarly, the worship of things which they regarded as divine.

Even the Hebrews are said to have acted thus, for he says, 'Thou hast cast away the knowledge of God and hast gone after thine own heart'. For our life is not ruled by necessity, nor are the divine irradiations of Providential Light obscured because of the freewill of those under Its care; but it is the dissimilarity of the mental eyes which causes the Light streaming forth resplendently from the Goodness of the Father to be either totally unshared and unaccepted through their resistance to It, or causes an unequal participation, small or great, dark or bright, of that Fontal Ray which nevertheless is one and unmixed, eternally changeless, and for ever abundantly shed forth.

For even if certain Gods not alien to them presided over the [32] other nations (from which we ourselves have come forth into that illimitable and abundant sea of Divine Light which is outspread freely for all to share), yet there is one Ruler of all, and to Him the Angels who minister to each nation lead their followers.

Let us consider Melchisedeck, the hierarch most beloved of God — not of vain gods, but a priest of the truly highest of Gods — for those wise in the things of God did not simply call Melchisedeck the friend of God, but also priest, in order to show clearly to the wise that not only was he himself turned to Him who is truly God, but also, as hierarch, was the leader of others in the ascent to the true and only Godhead.

Of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, and of their last Hierarchy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aquinas on Concord

"We should love both: those whose opinion we follow, and those whose opinion we reject. For both have applied themselves to the quest for the truth, and both have helped us in it." St. Thomas Aquinas

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

almost the whole thing

Pico della Mirandola's texts contain some of the most controversial writings on angels of the Renaissance. Because he compares man to angels, suggest imitation of angels, becoming angels, and going beyond the angelic state to union with divine—in a text that also celebrates the philosophical-theological value “magic and Kabbalah”—Pico has been suspected of angel magic. As a result of these suspicions, his philosophical treatment of angels has not received the serious attention that it deserves. His ideas about angels when examined carefully turn out not to be so radical or magical, but rather deeply grounded in his Christian Neoplatonic commitments. Pico drew his angelology from Dionysius the Areopagite and Thomas Aquinas, whom he referred to as “the glory of our theology.” He was working with problems he inherited from these authorities concerning the relation between angels and humans and angelic knowledge.

Although the controversial “angel magic” interpretation of Pico has come under historical criticism and is not widely held by Pico scholars (footnote on MVD), these magical interpretations have obfuscated the meaning of Pico's writings on angels, which remain largely neglected although they represent a unique, highly original contribution to Renaissance philosophy, however incomplete and controversial. Recent Pico scholarship has argued for the philosophical seriousness, committed Christian piety, and extensive influence of Pico's thought. In this paper I will review Pico's often unusual, but always pious and philosophical investigations into Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic angel lore. I will argue that his encounters with these foreign angelologies did not represent a dabbling in magic, but rather a philosophical project. It was not an attempt to syncretically include strange or radical non-Christian ideas about angels, but rather an apologetic attempt to find confirmation for Christian angel metaphysics in the ancient and exotic angel lore of the Neoplatonists and Kabbalists.

Admittedly, this philosophical approach cannot take into account all of the problems concerning Pico's “magic and kabbalah.” I will consider approaches to interpreting Pico's “magic and kabbalah” as impacting his angelology, but since these approaches do not seem to work, I will proceed to bracket these problems of magic and consider Pico's angelology as non-magical. Some of the mysteries of Pico's magic and Kabbalah, especially in connection with angels, remain unsolved, but we will be in a better position to solve these problems once we have a better grounding in the philosophical motivations behind Pico's involvement with magic, kabbalah, and angelology. And even if attention to Pico's philosophical motivations cannot clear up all the mysteries of his “magic and kabbalah,” it can give a picture of Pico that does more justice to his philosophy than the glib dismissals that he receives in survey treatments written by authors dubious of Pico due to his undeservedly unsavory reputation.

The Magical Interpretation of Pico's Angelology

Frances Yates professed a popular interpretation of Pico della Mirandola as a Hermetic Renaissance Magus in her “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.” She thought that Pico's contribution was bringing Kabbalistic magic, which involved, she thought, conjuring good angels to make magic “safe.” Pico was taking magic up to the supercelestial level, and however cautious and pious he may have been with his “magical mysticism,” his “safe conjuring” leads in a “straight line” to the more dangerous and power-motivated angel magics of latter Christian Cabalist occultists such as Reuchlin, Trithemius, Agrippa, and John Dee.

Frances Yates' interpretation was influential in the 20th century, but also drew many criticisms. Pico scholars no longer understand Pico as having offered a vision of “Man the Magus.” He himself was clear to distinguish his “licit, natural” magic, which is apparently little more than “the practical part of natural philosophy” (although it has theological significance as a theoretical example). Furthermore, Pico was not discussing “magic and kabbalah” in connection with angels, except in so far as he describes Kabbalah as a Dionysian-style mystical theology—an “ineffable theology of supersubstantial divinity” containing an “exact metaphysics of angels.” Metaphysics is far from magic. Implications of angel magic appear to have been read into Pico's texts by his interepreters. Some of these interpreters imagine that Pico must not have been telling the truth about his interest in angel magic, merely hinting at it but expecting his readers to interpret the metaphysics as really being motivated by magic, or having secret magical applications. But this raises the question of why he spent so little time with magic in his texts—even in the Oration and Conclusions which contain all the suspect magical material. Magic had a significant but small place in Pico's constellation of philosophical influences. The main mistake of interpreters who see Pico as a Magus is that they make magic central when it does not seem that this was the case for Pico. Of course he is famous for having brought “magic and kabbalah” to the table for a philosophical debate, but in doing so he did not intend to make magic central or tamper with the Christian faith in a magical way.

The most recent collection of scholarly essays on Pico only devotes a few sentences to the problem of magic in Pico. Dougherty's article in his Pico della Mirandola: New Essays tersely mentions the “controversial” occultist interpretation of Pico as having come under historical criticism. Later in the book Sheila Rabin argues that Pico studied magic as a university topic, but his interest was strictly theoretical and that he did not practice magic. Many Renaissance historians have pointed out that Pico does not discuss magic in his later texts, and removes the term “kabbalah” from his Heptaplus although Jewish hermeneutics continue to play an important role. One was of understanding this change in the content of Pico's works is to assume that Pico “abandoned” magic and kabbalah, or at least seriously reduced the role of magic and kabbalah in his “system.” Another way to look at this is to understand the magic and Kabbalah of his Oration and 900 Conclusions in the way Pico claims he expected them to be intended. Pico thought a discussion of magic and kabbalah would be interesting and potentially be useful in solving problems having to do with his philosophical project of harmonizing Plato and Aristotle, but he did not bring up magic and Kabbalah because he wanted to import radical ideas or magical ideas into Christianity.

The accusation of angel magic is no longer widely held by Pico scholars, but it is still being repeated in surveys of angelology that discuss Pico. Marshal writes ____ sees Pico's angelology as problematic but does not do it justice.

Angels/Med/Phil author dismisses Pico as

One of the biggest misunderstandings of Pico, which has come under criticism in recent scholarship, is the idea that Pico was a “syncretist” working on a project trying to harmonize the truth of all religious traditions, or a “synthesist” trying to “fuse traditions” by combining Christian mysticism and Pagan or Cabalist forms of magic. The many accounts of Pico as a “syncretist” fail to take into account his stated motivations in exploring extra-Christian philosophical ideas, which Pico thinks confirm the truth of Christianity, rather than seeing them as ideas useful on their own terms. When we look at the methods Pico used to understand, translate, and digest Kabbalistic and Neoplatonic ideas (among other traditions) we see that he was only interested in them insofar as they reminded him of his own tradition. Magic he presents in scholastic terms, attempting to articulate his insights into the theological uses of natural philosophy according to the constraints laid out by medieval Christian philosophical authorities like Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas.

Another “occultist” interpretation of Pico is more persuasive than the “angel magic” version. This approach uses the term “theurgy” to describe Pico's mysticism. Theurgy is a term that has different meanings when used by pagan Neoplatonists like Proclus and Iamblichus, Christian theologians like Dionysius, Renaissance magic theorists, and contemporary scholars of Kabbalah. Brian Copenhaver has argued that Pico uses “magic and Cabala” like the Neoplatonists used theurgy, as a preliminary stage in a system of mystical ascent:

Theology, spirituality and philosophy—all in the broadest sense—are the main topics of Pico's Cabala, which shows (or hints) how God reveals himself in the Sefirot, the divine names and the words of scripture. In the 72 Cabalist theses at the end of the Conclusions, this revelation becomes Christology and Trinitarian theology. From a Cabalist point of view, the Sefirot and the divine names are actors in dramas of theology, cosmology, anthropology and angelology whose major themes are exile, death, atonement and redemption, stories that Pico transposes onto the Christian Trinity, with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as the saving hero. Accordingly, leading points of spiritual practice in the Conclusions are prayer, prophecy and ascent to mystical union with God, which is also the main topic of theOration, where Pico makes positive use of magic and theurgy as steps toward the ascent. The Conclusions, which confirm this endorsement of magic, also show in greater detail than the Oration why Pico links magic with Cabala. He sees it as a spiritual technique which, like the higher theurgy of the Neoplatonic philosophers, locates and opens routes to God which ordinarily are unknown to humans. The practice of Cabala starts with theory because these hidden channels of divinity must be disclosed and interpreted before they can be used: spirituality follows hermeneutics.” (Copenhaver _____ )

Copenhaver calls this system Pico's “angelic regimen,” which he explains in terms of the Dionysian mysticism of imitating the “contemplative life of the angels” laid out in Pico's Oration. According to Copenhaver Pico recognizes a similar theurgy in Kabbalah, although he does not explain how this correlation is established. Alongside these positive uses of theurgy to describe Pico's mystical system, Copenhaver also uses a negative sense of theurgy to describe what Pico is avoiding. Since Pico makes clear in his Apology that he does not intend any demonic or conjuring magic, Copenhaver argues that Pico is trying to find a way to do angel magic “without becoming guilty of theurgy” in his magical and Kabbalistic Conclusions.

Copenhaver's approach is attractive because it attempts to explain Pico's “magic and Cabala” as part of his mysticism. But there are problems with Pico's approach. Pico does not use the term “theurgy” himself when discussing the Neoplatonists, and he doesn't seem very much interested in Neoplatonic magic or theurgy. Moshe Idel has argued that he doesn't find the theurgy in Kabbalah but rather_____. Instead of Neoplatonic magic, Pico is deeply interested in the same Neoplatonic metaphysics that inspired the angelology of Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as the metaphysical innovations of Thomas Aquinas. Rather than studying Pico's Neoplatonic influences as theurgic influences, I will look at this context of Neoplatonic metaphysics, which forms the background to Christian angelology.

Looking at this background will allow us to clear up many of the magical misconceptions surrounding Pico's writings on angels. Pico does not turn to Neoplatonism and Kabbalah as a resort to magic, but in order to develop philosophical approaches to the problems of angelology he inherited from the great Christian Platonists Aquinas and Dionysius.

Does Pico have a “mystical system?” Is the Oration enough to be understood as a mystical manual, or is it merely the humble exhortation to celebrate philosophy that Pico claims he intended? Unfortunately Pico doesn't give us much information about how magic is to be integrated into his “system.” Many scholars have argued that the Oration and its accompanying 900 Conclusions should not be considered as giving a systematic treatment of Pico's own opinions. Some emphasize that Oration was merely a rhetorical introduction (the name “Dignity of Man” was added after Pico's death), which was never even delivered. But most importantly Pico attempts to make clear what he means by magic, and he is even more clear in his Apology to rule out interpretations such as angel magic, which he explicitly says is not what he's talking about.

Scholarly visions of Pico as magician tend to exaggerate the importance of the Oration in Pico's body of work. Others have pointed out that in Pico's other texts, the position of man is not being celebrated so optimistically. Everywhere else Pico emphasizes the distance between man and angels, the low position of man in the hierarchy and the need for divine assistance. Rather than seeing this as a shift from a “more magical” position in the Oration to a “less magical” position in his later texts, it makes more sense to see Pico's Oration as a somewhat bold rhetorical exercise in celebration of mystical philosophy, but not a manual of angel magic. Although he does not discuss magic in these later texts, Pico's interest in angelology remains consistent. We see Pico developing his account of the “angel comparison,” the notion of becoming angels, the problem of angelic knowledge, and the importance of angelic influence in his later texts. There is still a place for “magic and Kabbalah” as Pico understands them, and we still have much to learn about the ways that Pico understood “magic and Kabbalah” in philosophical and theological terms, but until we better understand Pico's philosophy we must bracket the problem of magic. Pico's encounter with the Neoplatonic metaphysics behind Christian angelology has been neglected in the scholarly study of Pico's texts, but once this important context is better understood we will be on a much more solid foundation to speculate about the mysterious meanings of his magic.

Turning from speculation about Pico's potential “angel magic” or theurgy, I will turn to the philosophical context of Pico's writings on angels. When we look at his angelology (if Pico even has an angelology—his writings are not systematic and characterized by their incompleteness and provisional/experimental nature) in this philosophical context, we see him consistently developing the same themes of the Oration in a non-magical way. For example, when we understand what Pico means by “becoming angelic” in Commento and Heptaplus, texts that contain no magic and very little Kabbalah, it becomes clear that this notion does not depend on magic. While Pico is notorious for bringing “Magic and Kabbalah” to Christianity, ironically his most interesting and original contributions to angelology have little to do with magic.

Pico and Aquinas

Pico and Aquinas

Pico's writings on angels do not have many obvious magical implications. Rather they are explicit efforts to explain, criticize, and develop ideas about angels from Dionysius and Aquinas. As we will see below, Pico explores alternative philosophical approaches to Aquinas in the experimental wanderings of the 900 Conclusions, and Dionysius in the exercise in Neoplatonic commentary that is the Commento, but ultimately embraces both philosophers in his more mature works Heptaplus and On Being and Unity. Even when he is questioning them Pico makes his debt to Dionysius and Aquinas clear, and in his late works we see Pico accepting Aquinas' interpretation of Dionysius, which he employs in a polemic against Ficino and the Proclan-style Neoplatonism that places Unity over Being. Pico agrees with Aquinas that God is better seen as Being itself than Beyond Being, and that anything that has being gets its unity from the being. This makes sense to Pico in terms of the same logic of participation that Aquinas adopted from Dionysius but modified in light of his Aristotelian reaction to Platonism, which he had to employ in order to think about Angels and God but had to modify in light of his Aristotelian metaphysics. The end result in Aquinas has been described as Aristotelian, but as scholars of Aquinas and Platonism have soundly demonstrated, since Aquinas accepts many Platonic notions in a modified form the situation is more complicated. This complication should be our guide to understanding the difficulties of Pico's own reaction to Neoplatonism and Aristotelian, both of which he embraces although he feels free to criticize aspects of both approaches as well. Aquinas has a story about divine illumination and the Agent Intellect that was clearly a profound influence on Pico, and tells us more about his correlation of the angel Metatron with the Agent Intellect than any Kabbalistic or magical explanation. In arguing for a compromise with the view that there is an intellectual or angelic part of the human mind, Pico is doing something similar to what Aquinas did making a compromise between the Augustinian illumination model and the Aristotelian interpretation of the role of the agent intellect. Pico's criticisms of Aquinas deal with problems concerning angels and the intellect. Since he sees Aquinas in the light of the scholastics who followed him, as well as having access to more texts from the Aristotelian and Platonic texts that form Aquinas' background, Pico thinks he can solve the philosophical problems that Aquinas left behind.

Pico's work on angels is better understood as a development of the philosophical themes of the Angel Treatise of Aquinas than an application of Neoplatonic metaphysics to magic. He never got very far with his project, and can't be considered to have produced anything like the angel treatise of Aquinas. Pico's explorations of the metaphysical themes from the angelology of Aquinas and their master Dionysius are original, sometimes brilliant, but not developed into anything like the systematic rigor we see in Aquinas. Pico offers some genuinely interesting new starts, but since he did not live to complete his project we will never know what the finished angelology would have looked like. We do not even know how he would have argued the propositions from the 900 Conclusions that claim to reconcile the differences between Aquinas and his scholastic opponents like Scotus on angelology problems.

The Angel Comparison in Pico's Oration

Pico begins his Oration with a few key Biblical references on angels. According to David, man is only a little lower than the angels. This is an especially effective quotation because it sets up the paradox that Pico is exploring in so few words. Man is connected to the angels—having a rational soul he is part of the angelic continuum of spiritual/intellectual substances—although he is at the bottom rung of the hierarchy. The distance between man and angels must be preserved, but man has such an exalted position in the cosmos that he is only “a little lower” and almost seems to threaten the status of the angels. Pico will be concerned consistently with this comparison, explaining in detail the Christian story about what man shares with angels, how he differs from them, and in some of his more controversial moments what advantages man has over angels. Man can choose his own destiny, but angels being messengers of the divine without self-determination cannot.

Pico speaks of man being able to cultivate whatever seeds he chooses ____ this is an interesting example of his method of multi-level explanation which we'll see theorized in detail in Commento and Heptaplus. Man can cultivate seeds corresponding to the different ontological strata of the universe, all of which are contained within him according to the Dionysian (or Proclan) principle that “all is in all...”

Pico sees Dionysius as explaining Paul's angelology:

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.” (Pico, Oration)

55. Let us see what they do, what life they lead.
56. If we live that life (and indeed we can), we will be equal to their lot.

______ functions of the angels are the ones already given by Dionysius, (which have been expanded and systematized in Aquinas, but Pico doesn't mention the angelic doctor here)

Moses as font of angelic wisdom. Dionysian-style depiction of Moses. Problem of angelic knowledge reaching humans. Pico sees Kabbalah as being connected with the angelic knowledge of Moses. This is the crucial angelology connection with Kabbalah for Pico, not magic.

Moses loved the God whom he had seen and as judge of his people he administered what he had previously seen in contemplation on the mountain. Therefore the Cherub is the intermediary and by his light equally prepares us for the fire of the Seraphim and the judgement of the Thrones. This is the bond which unites the highest minds, the Palladian order which presides over contemplative philosophy; this is then the bond which before all else we must emulate, embrace and comprehend, whence we may be rapt to the heights of love or descend, well instructed and prepared, to the duties of the practical life. But certainly it is worth the effort, if we are to form our life on the model of the Cherubim, to have familiarly before our eyes both its nature and its quality as well as the duties and the functions proper to it. Since it is not granted to us, flesh as we are and knowledgeable only the things of earth, to attain such knowledge by our own efforts, let us have recourse to the ancient Fathers. They can give us the fullest and most reliable testimony concerning these matters because they had an almost domestic and connatural knowledge of them.” (Pico, Oration)

Here we see Moses' angelic knowledge described in terms of both separate orders of angels, and the “Angelic Mind” as a whole.

Pico interprets the biblical concept of Jacob's Ladder as a symbol of this contemplation

§ 15 Our Approach to Jacob's Ladder

79. So, if we are to carry out these things in our efforts to imitate the angelic life, who, I ask, will dare to touch the Ladder of God, either with an unclean foot or with unwashed hands?

87. Once we, inspired by the Cherubic spirit, have reached this point through the art of speaking or of reasoning, that is, philosophizing according to the grades of Nature, penetrating the whole from the center to the center, we will then descend, dashing the one into many with Titanic force like Osiris, and ascend, drawing together with Apollonian force the many into one like Osiris' limbs6 until at last, resting in the bosom of the Father Who is at the top of the ladder, we will be made perfect in theological bliss.

Pico sees this philosophical involvement, the human analog of angelic activity, as leading to union with God (not compatible with some magical power)

119. For we, raised to her most eminent height... roused by ineffable love as if by a sting, and borne outside ourselves like burning Seraphim, filled with the godhead, we shall be no longer ourselves, but He Himself Who made us.

Sees theological particpation as a passive participation, one is raised, doesn't raise oneself.

Aquinas on Angels (he does his own angel comparison)

ST 50 Substance of the angels

1. Creatures exist in a series of grades. They participate and represent the goodness of God in various ways. In the world about us, there are three kinds of substances: mineral, vegetal, animal. These are all bodily substances. We find also in this world the human substance which is mineral, vegetal, and animal, and yet is something more; it is not all bodily; man has a spiritual soul. To round out the order of things, there must be some purely spiritual or nonbodily substances. Thus created substances are: the completely bodily substance, the substance that is a compound of body and spirit, and the completely spiritual substance. Completely spiritual substances are called angels.

Angels and man share the status of being spiritual substances, but man is not a completely spiritual substances like angels, and thus exist on a lower grade. Men and angels both participate in being, but they do not participate to the same degree. This is a difference that Aquinas is keen to enforce, but because Pico in the Oration argues that man can become or go beyond angels, some have seen Pico as blurring the distinction. However, we will see everywhere else in Pico's texts how much the hierarchy matters, ruling out the possibility that Pico wants to escape the hierarchy. Indeed, it is the hierarchy that makes Pico's progression to felicity possible.

Crofton Black's model of Progression to Felicity as an alternative to Copenhaver's “Angel Regimen”

Angel Comparison in 900 Conclusions

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.

Angelic Mind in 900 Conclusions

Pico puts his Angelic Mind theory into the words of Plato “5>21. When Plato says that Love was bom from the union of Poverty and Plenty in the garden of Jove, on the birthday of Venus while the gods feasted, he means only this, that then the first love, that is, the desire of beauty, was born in the angelic mind when in it the splendor of ideas, though imperfectly, began to shine.”


Pico draws for his angelology not only from the Late Neoplatonists who theorized about angels and henads, Iamblichus and Proclus, but also from Plotinus who inaugurated the Neoplatonic tradition and theorized about the Intelligible World which Pico equates with Angelic Mind. (for the influence of Plotinus on Dionysius see Perl, Theophany, chapter one)

Pico criticizes Ficino's reading of Plotinus most clearly in the Commento. Here we see the groundwork of his Plotinian take on Angelic Mind. The decisions Pico made in selecting these few conclusions from a philosopher he respected so greatly deserve our attention as an important moment in his philosophical development. The Enneads are a huge text, and while Pico draws a large number of conclusions from Proclus he draws a relatively smaller number from Plotinus. Allen criticizes Pico's understanding of Ficino's Plotinian errors, but allows that rather than misunderstanding or deliberately misrepresenting Plotinus, Pico may be “radically simplifying” him. In his more mature “On Being and Unity” we will see Pico taking a Thomistic-Aristotelian position on Dionysius against Ficino's Proclan position on Dionysius—is this the way Pico understands the “Plotinian theology” of that important phrase “God is not Intellect?” That is to say, is Pico criticizing Ficino for not making the same ontological decisions about Neoplatonism as Aquinas, who found that Dionysius everywhere follows Aristotle? Pico sees the Christian meaning of Plotinus, at any rate, as expressible in a much simpler form than the many ontological principles of Proclus. He uses an idealized Plotinus to build his own Christian Platonist model of Angelic Mind in the thought experiment of Commento and angelic exegesis of Heptaplus. Just as philosophers today might admire Dionysius for his own resonances with the Plotinian rather than the Proclan take on mystical unity, so does Pico have a special admiration for the simplicity of Plotinus.


Syrianus was the most important follower of Iamblichus' developments in theology before Proclus, who was a student of Syrianus, and made his own specific contributions to Neoplatonism that were accepted by Proclus and are important in Dionysius. Pico is sensitive to Syrianus' role, describing his work as a “theology” containing an Ecclesiastical and Celestial Hierarchy just as Dionysius' does.

Reading the Conclusions

Dougherty on scholastic forms. Crofton Black vs. reading as a whole (variation on Craven vs. reading Pico for overriding themes)

Proclan Conclusions

a number of Pico's Proclan conclusions follow the same format as the “ontological preoccupation” of the Commento (fire in PD letter nine) explaining how a concept can apply differently at each level. Especially resonant with his Dionysian concern is his treatment of Proclus on the name of God,

“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.”

this same structure applies to Pico's Proclan conclusion on what should be sought from the various ontological levels

24.55. Just as a perfect understanding should be sought firom intelligibles, so
the power that leads upwards should be sought firom 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.

This passage is reminiscent of Iamblichus in On the Mysteries distinguishing between the gifts of different supernatural entities based on their ontological levels. Here Pico sees the Proclan system as revealing a model of angelic knoweledge something similar to Dionysius, the angelic level being defined as a level having to do with expression of the divine. (as in Dionysius, Proclan angels not being gods are not divine)

Kabbalah in 900 Conclusions

Frances Yates built her theory of Pico's angel magic on the notion that he was summoning Cabalistic angels in order to make his magical operations sage. But although this connection between angels and magic seemed clear to Yates, an inspection of his writings on Kabbalah yields very little material concerning angels. The most interesting references to Kabbalistic traditions of angels deal with the same philosophical themes that interest Pico throughout his works. No magical implications are immediately obvious, and Craven has argued that “hints of theurgy are not warranted. Passing over what hints may yet remain for interpreters of Pico's “angel magic,” I will look briefly at the Kabbalistic Conclusions that deal with angels and their philosophical implications.

Pico's used the tradition of Enoch becoming Metatron in the Oration as a general example of the possibility of men becoming angels. Here in the Conclusions, Pico correlates Metatron with the Agent Intellect of much scholastic debate. This identification of Metatron with a scholastic philosophical term

Pico takes the notion of Metatron as the highest angel, closest to God, to correlate him with his notion of the Angelic Mind seen as a single whole.

Dougherty: failure to recognize scholastic forms Pico uses leads to misunderstandings, especially on his view of Man.

Allen next to last page of BDAY on Pico's man/Christ

Participation in the 900 Conclusions

Pico selects a number of Conclusions from Neoplatonists that deal with the concept of participation, which is an important theme in the study of Aquinas and Platonism but has received comparably little attention in Pico studies. Craven pointed to participation in his historiographical study of mistaken interpretations of Pico. Since Pico in “On Being and Unity” uses participation in a way closely following the usage of Dionysius (_____) and Aquinas (Fran. Wippel again? Delp? Boland?), he demonstrates that he is just as concerned with avoiding problems like pantheism as Aquinas was when the scholastic philosopher repeatedly warned against pantheist interpretations of Dionysius (Boland)

23.3. Corporeal nature exists in the intellect immovably, in the first soul
through itself movably, in the animal soul through itself movably participa-
tively, in heaven through another movably in an orderly way, below the
moon through another movably in a disorderly way.

Participation is a key to Pico's neopythagorean theory of number, which is important not only for its magical and numerological resonances, but also relevant to the Neoplatonic high ontology that is so important to Dionysian angelology. Pico will go on in Heptaplus to discuss angel as Number, in comparison to the Unity of God (drawing inspiration from the Neoplatonic explanation of the One, which is not a number in the same ways as numbers that share in the unity of the One). Pico's use of Number in the Conclusions needs to be studied more carefully in the light of the Neoplatonic Ontology and Theology of Number. It is also worth looking at Pico's theory of number in the light of the relevance of number to the theurgy of the late Neoplatonists Proclus and Iamblichus. (Shaw “theurgy of number” and Proclus Euclid commentary)

25.2. In participated numbers some are images of numbers, others the unions
of images.

23.9. unparticipated soul

26.5. The intelligible order does not subsist within the intellectual order, as Ahmose the Egyptian said, but over the whole intellectual hierarchy, unparticipatively hidden in the abyss of the first unity, and under the cloud of the first darkness.

Pico will go on to consistently apply the terminology of participation in his later texts Commento and Heptaplus. Craven has argued that a failure to account for Pico's use of the participation terminology is responsible for misreadings such as the idea that Pico was a pantheist. (Craven ___ )

In the Commento Pico will distinguish the “participated being” at the level of soul from “formal being” in the Angelic Mind. But in “On Being and Unity” Pico notes that angels and humans share the imperfection of needing to participate in being. Having the Angelic Mind as the realm of created Forms allows Pico to describe Angelic Mind as playing a crucial role in the process of the Soul's participation of the Forms.

everything has three kinds of being: causal, formal, and participated. The same principle necessarily applies to the Ideas, which have their causal being in God, their formal being in the Angelic Mind, and their participated being in the Rational Soul. That is to say, the Ideas are not themselves present in God, according to the Platonists; rather, He is the cause and source of all the Ideas. He produces them initially in the Angelic Mind (as is clearly stated, in fact, in the Chaldean Oracles), and the Angelic Mind then makes the Rational Soul a participant in them. (Pico, Commento, 92-93)

The idea that God produces ideas in the Angelic Mind is surprising in terms of Pico's debt to Aquinas, who accepted Platonic Forms only in the Mind of God. According to the summary of Doolan,

Thomas notes that a solution must be found that (1) does not introduce a multiplicity into the divine essence, (2) does not add anything accidental to God, or (3) does not posit ideas subsisting outside of the divine mind” (Doolan, Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes)

The meaning of Pico's choice to place forms in the Angelic Mind rather than following Aquinas and placing them in the divine mind has not been explored in scholarship on Pico's angelology, although it is an important philosophical moment and seems to distinguish Pico's strategy of reconciling Plato and Aristotle from that of Aquinas.

In Heptaplus Pico will use this language of participation to explain why the term “gods” applies to the choirs of angels, who participate in divinity.

97 We call the nine choirs of angels gods because they participate in divinity, from which comes the expression “God of gods,” but when we say God in an absolute sense we do not understand one of them but the indivisible Trinity presiding over them… (Pico, Heptaplus p.97)

Aquinas on Illumination and Participation

It is necessary to say that the human soul cognizes all things in the eternal reasons, through participating in which we cognize all things. For the intellectual light that is in us is nothing other than a certain likeness of the uncreated light, obtained through participation, in which the eternal reasons are contained. Thus it is said in Psalm 4, Many say, Who shows us good things? To this question the Psalmist replies, saying The light of your face, Lord, is imprinted upon us. This is as if to say, through that seal of the divine light on us, all things are shown to us (Summa theol. 1a 84.5c).

Here is the account of Aquinas on Agent Intellect

The soul forms in itself likenesses of things inasmuch as, through the light of agent intellect, forms abstracted from sensible objects are made actually intelligible, so as to be received in the possible intellect. And so, in a way, all knowledge is imparted to us at the start, in the light of agent intellect, mediated by the universal concepts that are cognized at once by the light of agent intellect. Through these concepts, as through universal principles, we make judgments about other things, and in these universal concepts we have a prior cognition of those others. In this connection there is truth in the view that the things we learn, we already had knowledge of (De veritate 10.6c).

Pico is not far from Aquinas when he uses terms like Agent Intellect and participation to work out his theory of angelic intellect.

Light of agent intellect described as "a certain likeness of the uncreated light, obtained through participation" (1a 84.5c)

SEP The light of agent intellect, a likeness of the divine ideas, is the essential starting point for all knowledge. … Although in a sense Thomas Aquinas defends a version of divine illumination, he in another sense clearly weakens the theory by giving it the status of an innate gift rather than ongoing patronage. In making for the agent intellect a central place in his theory of cognition, Aquinas has less room for illumination.

900 Conclusions – conclusion


While “angel magic” interpretations of Pico tend not to take into account the angelology of his later texts, the Commento is central to Crofton Black's account of progression to felicitas, the theme that he sees unifying Pico's works up to the Heptaplus. In the Commento we see detailed and coherent arguments on Pico's philosophical themes that develop a position in a way that the scattered and sometimes contradictory conclusions do not. However, Pico makes clear that he is exploring a philosophical possibility that does not agree with his favorite theologian Dionysius' approach, so it is questionable how far we should take the Commento as representing a view that Pico is professing. In Crofton Black's analysis the Commento represents a consistent exploration of the same themes of ascent to felicitas that Pico treats in Oration and Heptaplus, but this is not to say that the Commento is not a fascinatingly problematic work like any major text of Pico.

Michael Allen's recent study on Pico's “Birth Day of Venus” as an attempt at Neoplatonic style “poetic theology” emphasizes the problems that Pico encounters in advancing an original interpretation of philosophical angelology. Allen considers Pico to be a success as a Platonic exegete, having made an interesting and original contribution to Platonic philosophy with the theory of “poetic theology” he advances in Commento and Heptaplus. But Allen questions whether Pico at the point that he wrote Commento really understands the Neoplatonism that he is criticizing. Pico argues that Ficino misunderstands Plotinus, but Allen thinks Pico has misunderstood Ficino's reading of Plotinus. As we saw in the discussion of Pico's Plotinus Conclusions, Allen rejects the possibility that Pico deliberately misrepresents Plotinus in his polemic against Ficino, favoring the alternative explanation that Pico is radically simplifying Plotinus. Whereas Ficino was willing to follow the Neoplatonists “beyond being,” Pico sides with Aquinas in interpreting Dionysius as giving a metaphysics of God as Being Itself, not God Beyond Being. We see in Commento that Pico is still concerned with explaining the notion that “God is not Intellect” that got him in trouble as an accused Conclusion (although “in the mode of Dionysius), but with the interesting complication that Pico is explicitly exploring a philosophical alternative to Dionysius.

Michael Allen lengthy explanation of Pico's angelology in Commento

95 Pico's grounds are twofold: there is the familiar theological definition that the son is of one essence with, is consubstantial with, the Father, and there is the less familiar argument that the Christian Son is a creator whereas the second Platonic hypostasis is a creature and must therefore be identified with the first and noblest angel created by God. God, in short, created Mind as Angelic Being, as Angel.

For the Neoplatonists, if not Plato himself, the first progression or emanation from the One (it is not a "creation" per se) is not the creation of the world but the emergence of thought and of thinking, defined as intelligible being. But since God has created the Ideas or Forms of all things in that first Mind, where they have their formal being, he has created in it the intelligible world, and our sensible world, governed in its entirety by the World Soul, is an image and likeness of this Idea world. This seems clear enough, but Pico proceeds to introduce several complicating factors.

97 Pico is led to confront some of the key problems associated with the Platonic Mind, which he identifies as the first and "noblest" angel and as the intelligible world within it, that is, as the Ideas or Forms of all things that will be created subsequent to it. Since it has been created, and created solely by God, it is a creature "as perfect as it is possible for a created thing to be." It is the "perfect effect" of a perfect cause and is unique as God is unique; and yet it consists for Pico, who is thinking here in an Aristotelian way, of potency and act, the former being inferior to the latter. Potency he hastens to equate with "the unlimited" in the famous passage in the Philebus, and act he equates with "the limit," and then suggests that in some sense at least the former is a kind of matter and that the latter is form. In regard to this being, Angel or Mind is compounded of two contrary principles, like every other created thing existing between the two uncompounded extremes of God and prime matter. But Pico moves into difficult terrain when he assumes that the potency of Mind is in some senses its imperfection, though he formulates this as follows: whatever imperfection Mind possesses is the result of its potency, and whatever perfection it has is the result of its act.

97 Only God is without contrariety or discord, whereas Angel and Beauty alike are composed of potency and act, of discord and concord.

98 In 2.13, he asserts that after God Himself, there trailed "an unformed substance" that must originally have been prime matter; but when it was given form by God, it became Angel-Mind, the form consisting of the Ideas that emerge from God as their source and that collectively constitute Beauty. But all things, he goes on, become imperfect as they move away from God and mix with the unformed substance of Mind, which till now had been completely untouched by the form-giving power of the Ideas... it underscores a real and enduring problem in the Neoplatonic emanatory system: Mind without the Ideas must have been not only unformed but also, in a way, in potency, unlimited, in a state of imperfection, of what Pico here calls an "opacity." Consequently, it must have been a quasi-matter.

103 Pico treads a tightrope across the chasm, on the one hand, of inherited mythological contradictions and, on the other, of various Neoplatonic attempts to distinguish the stages in the emanation, not only of becoming, but of being itself, however envisioned and defined.

113 This fascination with the origins of existence, with the origin of the very thought of what does not yet exist in thought, constitutes for Pico and Ficino, I would argue, the fundamental allure of Plotinian Platonism. In particular, it accounts for Pico's most enduring and interesting contributions as a speculative philosopher and as one of the age's subtlest exegetes of what he invariably sees as the Platonic and Mosaic mysteries enveloped in the veils of ancient myth, divine hymn, and poetic invocation. In this important regard at least, we should continue to think of him as Ficino's fellow Neoplatonist, however Aristotelian or eclectic he may have been in other respects, certainly he joined his oldest friend, however contentiously, in celebrating philosophically the birthday of Venus.

Pico's philosophical account of Angelic Mind ostensibly explores a Neoplatonist approach, but he is just as clear as Dionysius and Aquinas were in their own respective encounters with Platonism, concerned to block off the door to many gods (Boland). Thinking of the Angelic Mind as a single, simple creature rather than a henadic manifold or plurality of angelic intelligences allows him to make this Christian point clearly, but in a surprising new way. Pico still holds that God does not create the universe in an indirect way through intermediaries—the intermediaries being necessary for another reason than demiurgically taking over for God in the work of creation—but he puts the Forms of all things into the Angelic Mind. This is a different approach from Aquinas, who puts the forms in the divine mind. Understanding what Pico is doing with Forms, Angelic Mind, seemingly in response to theories like that of Aquinas on Divine Mind, is beyond the scope of this small paper but should be pursued in future scholarship.

Wippel "the plurality of divine ideas joins with the ontological unity of the divine essence to form two essential parts of Thomas' effort to account for the derivation of many (creatures) from the one (their divine source) Divine Ideas 19-20

82 Now the Platonists say that although God created only one creature, the First Mind, nevertheless in effect He created all creatures, for in that First Mind, He created the Ideas or Forms of all things. For in that Mind is the Idea of the sun, the Idea of the moon, of men, of all the animals, of the plants, of the stones, of the elements, and of everything in the world. And since the Idea of the sun is a truer sun than the visible sun is, and so on with all of the other things in world, it follows not only that God created all things, but also that he created them in the truest and most perfect kind of being they can have, that is, in true, ideal, and intelligible being. For this reason the Platonists call the First Mind the intelligible world.

84 Because the contemplative life is concerned with beings which are superior to the one who does the contemplating, whereas the active life is concerned with beings which are inferior to, and ruled or governed by, the one who is superior to them, any being resembles the active life to the extent that it turns in some way towards beings inferior to itself. Now that we have explained these three names, we have only to analyze the various functions of each of the three hypostases and it will be clear which name is applicable to each function of each hypostasis, and for what reason.

Pico correlates the Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysics of act and potency with the Platonic pairing of limit and infinity

85 To the First or Angelic Mind, more names apply, because it is less simple than God, and it has more functions. First, one must remember that every creature consists of two components, one of which, the inferior part, is called its potency, the other, the superior part, is called its act. In the Philebus, Plato calls the first component infinity, and the second, boundary or limit; Avicebron and many others call the two components respectively matter and form. There is a difference of opinion among philosophers as to whether the matter component is the same in all creatures… Nevertheless all authorities agree on this, that everything which falls between God and prime matter in the scale of being is composed of potency and act.

Angelic Mind and Platonic Ideas

106 [The Ideas] are simply ideal forms of the natures of things. Every mind is provided with them, and understands by means of them. In the Liber de Causis it is said of them that every mind is full of forms… these forms, called Ideas, exist causally in God; they exist formally in the Angelic Mind, in which they are first created by God; and finally they exist participatively in the Rational Soul, which, in participating the substance of the First Mind, also participates in the Ideas, and consequently, their beauty.

107 The form which God gives to the Angelic Mind consists of the Ideas, which, as I have said, constitute the highest form of Beauty. Thus the Ideas descend from God to the Angelic Mind. Since everything becomes imperfect as they move away from its cause and source and mixes with other kinds of things, so the Ideas necessarily become imperfect as they move away from God, their source and cause, and mix with the unformed substance of the Mind, which had theretofore been completely untouched by the form-giving power of the Ideas. At that stage, the Angelic Mind contains the beauty of the Ideas within itself, but that beauty is imperfect and is obscured by the opacity of the Mind’s own substance. Hence a desire inevitably arises in the Angelic Mind to possess the Ideas in their perfect form.

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.

Pico's Heptaplus is a treasure trove of information about his angelology. It is surprising that surveys of angelology in the Renaissance have passed over it. Heptaplus is a serious effort to interpret the text of Genesis in terms of the allegorical principles Pico learned from Proclus and Dionysius. As we have seen in the Oration, Commento, and Conclusions, Pico uses the method he has been practicing of interpreting on multiple ontological levels, one of which is the angelic.

Antiquity imagined three worlds. Highest of all is that ultramundane one which theologians call the angelic and philosophers the intelligible, and of which, Plato says in the Phaedrus, no one has worthily sung. (Pico, Heptaplus, p,75)

While some scholars, still seeing the Heptaplus in a negative light due to Pico's magical reputation, see the angelology of the Heptaplus as problematic, the multiple level allegory a mere excuse for expositing an angelized, magical cosmos. But in Heptaplus even more so than Oration, Pico emphasizes the passive role of man in the mystical process. Here it is clear that Neoplatonism supports his Christian mysticism rather than some mystical project. Michael Allen has argued that “The Heptaplus is in effect a triumph of Platonically inspired analysis.” (Allen in Dougherty 109)

The angelic level of being is central to Pico's interpretive method. He instructs his reader that, “in the first place, whatever is written there we interpret in relation to the angelic and invisible world.” (Heptaplus p.80) Pico even relates an angelological insight from Dionysius and Aquinas to his interpretive method. According to the Proclan principle that higher entities are simpler, the mind of the angels is characterized by having fewer forms and being simpler. Since the words of Moses in Genesis are considered to be a conduit of angelic wisdom, Pico describes the text of Genesis as exhibiting these qualities.

This is the model, this is the pattern for perfection in a writer. Not only, as we showed above, does this kind of writing copy and emulate nature, but also, among the Scriptures, that is greatest and holds the apex of all perfection which in the fewest words both fittingly and deeply encompasses all things as well as single things. Similarly among angelic minds, according to the authority of Dionysius and St. Thomas, the glory of our theology, that is highest which by its intelligence understands with the fewest concepts and forms what lower minds understand with many and varied ones. (Heptaplus, p.95)

92 Just as man is the absolute perfection of all lower things, so Christ is the absolute perfection of all men.

103 Moses uses man as an allegory, not the frail and earthly creature which we see, but the one by which, as Platinus says, the visible man is governed… The Holy Scriptures, in which all angelic and rational natures are often represented by man, agree with our interpretation.

106 Since much about the angelic and invisible nature has been handed down by the ancient Hebrews and also by Dionysius, it was my plan to expound the words of Moses according to the teachings of both schools.

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.

Book Three Chapter One
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.

109 God said “Be light made,” and light was made in the angel, the light of intelligible forms

109 What will the Spirit of the Lord be other than the spirit of love? We cannot with propriety say that the spirit of knowledge is the Spirit of the Lord, because knowledge sometimes leads away from God. Love, however, always leads us to God. If it is not borne upon the deep, light will not be made, since just as the eye is not filled with the spiritual light unless turned toward God. This turning movement is not, and can not be, anything in the angelic nature but the motion of love. There fore it was the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of love, that was borne upon the deep, that is, upon the angelic intellect (for love follows understanding). Driven and excited by it, the mind of the angel turns toward God. God said, “Be light made,” and light was made in the angel, the light of intelligible forms; and the evening and the morning were one day since, as Averroes shows, from the intellect and the intelligible is made a greater unity than from matter and form, because, as the same author affirms and as Moses the Egyptian also writes, truth is grasped far better by angels than by men. To pass over those writers, let this reason be enough for us—that intelligible species are united to angelic minds by eternal links and an indivisible bond, not a vague and customary one as happens with the human intellect.

110 intelligible species are united to angelic minds by eternal links and an indivisible bond, not a vague and customary one as happens with the human intellect.

110 We have seen the nature of angels created by God, turned to God by the spirit of love, and then enlightened by him and perfected by the light of intelligible forms.

110 all this, if we consider the nature and duties of the three hierarchies, could not be more in accord with the teaching of Dionysius

110 We have seen the nature of the angels created by God, turned to God by the spirit of love, and then enlightened by him and perfected by the light of intelligible forms. Let us now see into what ranks the angelic armies are divided. We read that the firmament was placed in the midst of the waters, by which are indicated to us the three hierarchies of angels…. All this, if we consider the nature and duties of the three hierarchies, could not be more in accord with the teaching of Dionysius. Since, as he writes (CH VII), the highest hierarchy has leisure only for contemplation, it is properly symbolized by the waters that are placed above the heavens, that is, above all action in regard to worldly things, whether heavenly or earthly, and they praise God unceasingly with everlasting sound. Since the middle rank is assigned to the work of the heavens, it could not be more fittingly symbolized than by the firmament, that is, by the sky. The final hierarchy, although by nature it is above everybody and above the heavens, nevertheless has charge of things under the heavens. Since it is divided into principalities, archangels, and angels, all the activity of these is concerned only with what is under the moon; that of the principalities with states and kings and princes, as we learn from Daniel, (Daniel 7) that of the archangels with mysteries and holy ceremonies; the angels are busy with private affairs and are assigned to men individually.

111 these sub celestial waters, that is, the angelic armies, have been assembled into one place to look after the good and salvation of man alone. For this they are sent to us and appear to us in different forms and places and times…

112 Augustine also asserted, as Gregory later confirmed, that there is no visible thing among s over which an angelic power does not preside.

113 see how aptly this agrees with the myseries of Dionysius… the angelic powers which govern the sun and moon

114 For since, as Dionysius says (CH XI), there are three angelic activities, purification, illumination, and perfection, they are so distributed that the lowest order purifies, the highest perfects, and the middle one, which we are now discussing, illuminates.

115 Finally Moses mentions man - not because he is an angel, but because he is end and terminus of the angelic world, just as when discussing corruptible nature he presents man not as part of that nature, but as its beginning and head. From this it comes that the discussion of man pertains to the three worlds, to that which is proper to him and to both extremes, the incorporeal and the elementary, between which he is placed so that he is the end of one and the beginning of the other. But I see a trap prepared for our interpretation, since it may be pointed out that man is set over the fish of the sea, the birds, and the beasts. If these signify the angelic natures, how can what is written be true, that over them is set man, who, the philosophers know and the Prophet testifies, is lower than the angels? Let Him who also ground Satan under our feet, Jesus Christ, the first-born of all creatures, aid us and destroy the trap. He surely destroys the trap and loosens and bursts every knot, not only because in Him, in Whom all divinity dwelt corporeally, human nature is so elevated that Christ as a man, so far as He is man, teaches, enlightens, and perfects the angels, if we believe Dionysius (CH IV), being made according to Paul much better than the angels, (Hebrews 1:4), as He inherited a more excellent name than they but also because all of us, to whom the power is given to become sons of God through the grace whose giver is Christ, can be raised to an honor above that of the angels.

115-116 human nature is so elevated that Christ as a man, so far as He is man, teaches, enlightens, and perfects the angels, if we believe Dionysius, being made according to Paul much better than the angels, as He inherited a more excellent name than they; but also because all of us, to whom the power is given to become sons of God through the grace whose giver is Christ, can be raised to an honor above that of the angels.

120 John: “our fellowship is with the angels”

128 angelic nature eye metaphor

129 top Following Thomas, in his Heptaplus Pico discusses angels as a “composition of act and potency

134 It is a difficult question why man has this privilege of being in the image of God. If we reject the folly of Melito, who represented God in human form, and revert to the nature of reason and mind, which like God is intelligent, invisible and incorporeal, we shall prove that man is like God, especially in that part of his soul which displays the image of the Trinity. But let us recognize that as in the angels these same things are much stronger and less mixed with the opposite nature than in us, the angels have more likeness and affinity with the divine nature.

134 Let us recognize that as in the angels these same things are much stronger and less mixed with the opposite nature than in us, the angels have more likeness and affinity with the divine nature.

135 We seek something peculiar to man in which we may ascertain both the dignity proper to him and the image of the divine substance which he shares with no other creature. What can it be but the substance of man which (as some Greek commentators intimate) encompasses by its very essence the substances of all natures and the fullness of the whole universe? I say by its very essence, moreover, because not only the angels, but any intelligent creatures whatever include all things in themselves in some degree when, filled with their forms and reasons, they know them.

135 The difference between God and man is that God contains all things in Himself in their origin, and man contains all things in himself as their center.

136 the angelic minds look after its salvation and beatitude, if what Paul writes is true, that all ministering spirits are sent to minister to those who are destined for salvation as their inheritance.

149 Highest among creatures is the angelic mind, because of the nobility of its substance and its attainment of its end, in which it participates in the highest degree because it is close to it and joined to it. But indeed, as we said above, through this felicity neither plants nor animals nor men nor angels attain God, which is the highest good, in God Himself, but only in themselves.
Therefore the degree of felicity gradually changes according to the capacities of difference natures. For this reason the philosophers who have spoken only of this felicity have placed that of each thing in the best working of its own nature. In fact, even to the angels, whom they call minds and intellects, and whose supreme perfection they acknowledge because the angels understand God, they ascribe no further knowledge of God than that by which angels know themselves, so that angels understand God only so far as His nature is made manifest in their own substance.

151 only men and angels are made for that felicity which is the true felicity

151 These rays, this divine power, this influence, we call grace, since it makes men and angels pleasing to God.

152 It is no different for us and the angels. Our nature is such that we cannot go in a circle and come back upon ourselves, but we can be moved in a circle and brought back to God by the motive power of grace.

154 Compared to the angels, human nature was void from the very beginning, because it sinned at the very beginning.

De ente long quote from p.47 trimmed into manageable excerpts

God is all things, and is all things most eminently and most perfectly. This would not be unless he so included the perfections of all things in himself that he excluded from himself whatever pertains to imperfections in things. We can, however, define what is imperfect in the things that are.
That human knowledge which is called rational is, in turn, imperfect knowledge because it is vague, uncertain, shifting, and laborious. Add the intellectual knowledge of divine minds, which the theologians call angels. Even that is imperfect knowledge, at least because it seeks outside itself what it does not possess fully within itself, i.e., the light of truth which it lacks, and by which is is perfected.
the life of the angels is not perfect. Unless the vivifying ray of divine light constantly warmed it, it would all fall into nothingness. The same is true of other things. Therefore, when you say that God is knowing and living, notice first that the life and cognition which are ascribed to him are understood as free from all these imperfections, but this is not enough. There remains another imperfection.
God is infinite perfection of every sort, but not merely in that he includes all such particular and infinite perfections in himself. In that case he would not be most simple, nor would those things which are in him be infinite. He would be one infinite compounded from many things infinite in number but finite in perfection. To say or think this of God is impious.
since God is he who is all things when all imperfection is removed, surely when you have taken away from all things both the imperfection which is under their genus and also the particularity of their genus, what remains is God. Consequently, God is being itself, the one itself, the good itself, and likewise truth itself.
We have now advanced two steps, ascending to the darkness which God inhabits, purging from the divine names all blemish that is from the imperfection of the thing signified.

Ch5 48 God is infinite perfection of every sort, but not merely in that he includes all such particular and infinite perfections in himself. In that case he would not be most simple, nor would those things which are in him be infinite. He would be one infinite compounded from many things infinite in number but finite in perfection. To say or think this of God is impious.

Ch5 48 Let us therefore remove from life not only that which makes it imperfect life but also that which makes it merely life, and likewise from knowledge and from the other names we give to God; and then what shall be left over from all these will necessarily be such as we wish God to be understood, that is, one, most perfect, inifinite, most simple.

Ch5 49 God is being itself, the one itself, the good itself, and likewise truth itself.

Ch5 50 Let us rise to the fourth step and enter the light of ignorance, and, blinded by the darkness of divine splendor let us cry out with the Prophet, “I have become weak in the courts, O Lord,” finally saying only this about God, that he is unintelligibly and ineffably above everything most perfect which we can either speak or conceive of him. Then we place God most eminently above even unity, goodness, truth, and existence, which we conceive. Dionysius the Areopagite saw this… he spoke as he could about God in a very holy way, as if he were already in the cloud. After some other things on the subject, he cried out, “He is not truth, not kingdom, nor wisdom, nor one, nor unity, nor deity, nor goodness, nor spirit, so far as we can know him… neither is there any affirmation or negation of it.” [long quote from Dionysius]

Ch5 51 Dionysius and the Platonists deny that life and intellect and wisdom and things similar to these are in God. God himself, by his unique perfection, which is his infinity, his diety, which he himself is, unites and collects all the perfection of these things, which in them is many and divided. God does not unite these perfections as one from among many, but as one prior to these many. Consequently, some other thinkers, and especially the Peripatetics, whom the Parisian theologians follow in almost all matters as far as is allowed, grant that all these perfections are in God. When we say and believe this we not only say and believe rightly, but we do this in agreement with those who deny these perfections.

Ch5 52 [on calling God intellect] Even Dionysius, although he says the same thing as Plato, also does not deny with Aristotle that God is not ignorant of himself and other things. Consequently, if he knows himself, he is intellect and intelligible… if we understand these perfections as individual, or if, when we say intellect, we signify the nature that tends outside itself to the intelligible as to another thing, then Aristotle, no less than the Platonists, will most steadily deny that God is also intellect and intelligible. [900 heretical conclusion, defended in Apology, here further explained]
See Boland on Divine Ideas for Dionysian-Proclan roots of Aquinas on God’s Mind

Ch5 52 In the third step, the nearer we approach the darkness the clearer it becomes to us that we should not only imagine with impious thought that God is some imperfect and, as it were, deficient being, as he would be if he were said to be either body or the soul of a body… Let us not make him by human wisdom some particular genus, even the most perfect genus. For example, we should not call him life or mind or reason. But we should know that he is better than even what universal names indivate, such as one, true, being, and good.

Ch5 53 In the fourth step we know that he is not only above such perfections, but above every name that can be formed, above every notion that can be conceived by us. Then for the first time we know him in some way when we are altogether ignorant of him.

Ch5 53 solution “opens a great window of legitimate understanding upon the books of Dionysius… in these books we must be careful not to understand what he wrote, since it is sublime. Nor, when we judge all that we understand to be little, should we invent for ourselves dreams and inextricable fictions.

Scholars do not usually speak of Pico's “On Being and Unity” as part of his “mystical system” but he ends this texts with an explanation of how all this difficult metaphysics relates to his mysticism. Learning about the divine attributes of Being, Unity, Goodness tells man what he is made out of, and how to imitate the divine.

if we wish to be blessed,we must imitate the most blessed of all things, God, possessing in ourselves unity,truth+goodness (Pico, On Being and Unity, p.61)

we who strive for the exemplar will finally be joined to it through goodness... when we are not these three, we absolutely are not” (Pico, On Being and Unity, p.62)

On Being and Unity” has been described as Pico's metaphysical treatise, but at the end he shows that he is still doing poetic theology, still working on his project of explaining how to attain theological happiness:

Mind wanders here as a stranger, and approaches happiness insofar as it raises itself more and burns for divine things, having put aside concern with earthly things. The present disputation seems above all to warn us that if we wish to be blessed, we must imitate the most blessed of all things, God, possessing in ourselves unity, truth, and goodness. (Pico, On Being and Unity, p.61))

In Pico's final text, the Disputations against Astrology, Pico still sees the influence of angels as central. Here as much as any of his texts, Pico is taking a stand against magic. Angels are the alternative to magical or astrological influences.

Those forces interceding between God and man should be superior to man, just as they are inferior to God. And it is not proper that what is accomplished by reason and counsel, as our affairs should, be arranged by the first author through the agency of non-rational beings. But just as he rules and regulates the elementary mass, inasmuch as it is inferior, through the agency of the sky, which is superior, so it is proper that human affairs be governed by the mystery not of bodies but of angels, who by nature and dignite mediate between us and God. So when you descend from God to the earth, you descend by means of the sky; when you descend from God to man, you descend by means of angels.” (Pico, Disputations, quoted by Rabin in Dougherty p.__)


We have seen a consistent interest in philosophical angelology throughout Pico's texts. His initially shocking and apparently provocative rhetoric of “Angel comparison” in the Oration, although it has been misinterpreted and exaggerated in “angel magic” interpretations, turns out not to represent a new and radical approach to angelology. Rather the Oration is consistent with the rest of Pico's major texts in presenting a mystical philosophy rooted in the Christian Neoplatonic tradition. Although it does present a bold view of man making the choice to become angelic and even godlike, this view is Pico's rhetorical celebration of the Biblical and medieval picture of man's relationship to angels. It is not some heretical or proto-modern view, although it is admittedly unique and highly original. This originality has yet to be fully appreciated in philosophical study of Pico, and it is my hope that this paper makes a contribution to a view of Pico as seriously interested in the angelology he studies, rather than merely speculating about Neoplatonic metaphysics as an excuse to infuse human life with a magical angelic being.

Future study of the meaning of Pico's angelology should pay more attention to his debts to, and departure from, not only the Neoplatonic philosophy he encounters but also the Christian Neoplatonism of Dionysius and Aquinas that forms his theological commitments. His metaphysical speculations, however tentative and obscure, can best be understood as an original contribution to this philosophical tradition, rather than a resort to magic.

I have emphasized the centrality of Dionysius, who has received some attention in recent studies establishing his role as a significant influence on Pico. But the study of the influence of Dionysius in specifically angelological and metaphysical terms still remains to be done. Brian Copenhaver's study of Dionysius as an influence on Pico's mystical “angel regimen” and Crofton Black's study of the role of angels in Pico's Heptaplus, as Michael Allen's analysis of the Platonic exegesis of the Commento, have provided a solid foundation, but we await a full study of the philosophical influence of Dionysius on Pico's unique approach to harmonizing the Aristotelian and Platonic traditions he is working with.

I have also emphasized the influence of the medieval scholastic interpretation of Dionysius on Pico, specically in terms of the influence of Aquinas. Recent scholarship on the topic of Aquinas and Platonism has brought to light a great deal of information about the encounter with Neoplatonism that Aquinas experienced in his efforts to systematize the theological and angelological insights of Dionysius. These insights depend on a complicated interaction with the Neoplatonic response to Aristotle that represents the background to Pico's own project of resolving differences between Aristotelian Platonic schools. Aquinas' understanding of Aristotelian and Platonic approaches was shaped by his reading of Dionysius as well as Proclus, and forms a significant part of the ground of Pico's own encounter with Neoplatonism. Future study of Pico should take into account the role of Aquinas in shaping the Christian Neoplatonic interpretation of Dionysius which Pico inherits. It is this inheritance that is the source of Pico's most important and interesting philosophical problems, rather than magic.