Sunday, January 9, 2011

Angelology and Kabbalistic Angels in 900 Conclusions

The Angelology of Pico for the most part is drawn from scholastic problems. In the 900 Conclusions Pico brings together a number of ideas from the angelology of Aquinas, as well as criticisms of Aquinas from other scholastics. He claims to be able to reconcile the differences between Aquinas and Scotus in the light of his new philosophical discoveries, including "philosophizing with numbers." He doesn't claim to be solving these scholastic problems using magic. We never find out what Pico means in many of these cases. All we have is the Conclusion, not the explanation, since Pico was accused, his 900 Conclusions banned, his discussion never held. Pico doesn't return to many of the most interesting mysteries he left in the 900 Conclusions when he writes his more systematic and Dionysian-Thomistic style treatises Heptaplus and De Ente.

Pico's more clear and arguably more significant contributions to angelology are to be found in what I'm calling his Proclan Conclusions. 55 of these are the Conclusions based on Proclus, but Pico also draws material on Plato, Synesius, and Iamblichus (to name the three most relevant to my angelology argument) from texts of Proclus, as well as plenty of Orphic magic. Farmer has written a useful study on the 900 Conclusions that goes into the Neoplatonic influences, but misunderstands Pico's motivations in looking into Neoplatonism. I will argue in the paper that Pico's Encounter with Neoplatonic Angelology is motivated by philosophy rather than magic. He seeks to confirm the Dionysian and Thomistic metaphysics of Celestial Hierarchy by looking at their counterparts in Proclus, Iamblichus, Synesius, and Plato himself.

Pico's Kabbalistic angelology is more problematic, and it is less clear how he intended to contribute to Christian angelology by discussing Kabbalistic angel lore. This is the place where the most extreme theurgic interpretations find grist for the mill. We have seen that in Oration Pico considered Enoch becoming Metatron. Here Metatron is correlated with the vexed issue of the Agent Intellect, to which Pico brings an original perspective having incorporated his post-Averroistic Renaissance Jewish and Augustinian scholastic influences. Farmer argued that Pico intended to correlate the sefirot with the Neoplatonic Henads, which may be a hasty reading, but whether or not he is correct in this speculation it is clear that Pico considers the Kabbalistic sefirot a species of metaphysical speculation similar to the Neoplatonic mystical philosophy.

But there is not much Kabbalistic angel magic to be found here. Craven argued that there is "no hint of theurgy" even in these strange Kabbalistic ideas(which even experts in Jewish Mysticism have trouble distinguishing from magic). Pico does theorize the power of divine language, but it is not so clear that he is dabbling in some kind of linguistic magic. Copenhaver has suggested that Pico may be attempting to create an angelic talisman in the literary structure of his 900 Conclusions, but "without being guilty of theurgy" according to his new theories of Magic and Kabbalah. This is still an open problem, but nothing has been established conclusively that calls into question Pico's seriousness in defending himself as not doing demonic magic.

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