Sunday, January 9, 2011
Angelology in Pico's Heptaplus and later texts
Pico's Heptaplus contains his original theory of esoteric hermeneutics. In one section, he uses this allegorical reading method to discover the angel metaphysics of Dionysius in Genesis. His version of Dionysius betrays the influence of Aquinas--especially his discussions of active and passive potency, concrete vs. abstract being, and participation metaphysics. Pico discovers many of the scholastic ideas about angels using clever allegorical moves inherited from Proclus and Dionysius (see Crofton Black's book), but we also see him applying his original approaches from Commento and Oration/900 Conclusions. There may be a mystical-magical Pythagorean significance to Pico's discussion of the angel as Number, but it also makes sense in terms of the Neoplatonic ontology of Number in Proclus. It seems that rather than some magical-numerological motivation, Pico compares the angel to Number in order to make a metaphysical point about the theological concept of perfection. Heptaplus consistently develops Pico's theme of "becoming angelic," but here placing more emphasis on the limitations of man based on his position in the hierarchy. But he ends Heptaplus with a mystical goal beyond that of becoming angelic--the Imitatio Christi.
This is his practice of Poetic Theology. It is not a mere excuse to infuse the cosmos with angelic power for magical purposes aimed at self-aggrandizement.
In Pico's brilliant little treatise De Ente et Uno or "On Being and the One" he only brings up the angel to contrast it to God's perfection. Building on his model from Heptaplus and Commento of the angel as the highest and most perfect created thing, Pico proceeds to contrast this perfection to that of God using negative theology. In Chapter 5 Pico explains the negative theology of Dionysius, taking into account the Thomistic developments in Christian medieval scholastic philosophy (but not bringing in his Thomistic criticisms from the 900 Conclusions) in order to shed more light on the difficult doctrines of Dionysius. He ends the De Ente with an explanation of how these metaphysical solutions help us in the project of imitating the divine, but here he has proceeded from angels and Christ to the imitation of God. Here it is clear that he follows the Thomistic caution, in interpreting Dionysius, to make clear that although one is "becoming one with God" in a mystical sense, this does not violate man's position in the hierarchy.
In the Disputations against Astrology, Pico's most clearly anti-occult and non-magical text, Pico mentions angels to insist that we should see the Angelic Hierarchy, which is above man, as the source of the important influences, rather than planetary bodies which should not be seen as influencing souls.