Sunday, January 23, 2011

Farmer on Pico's Encounter with Neoplatonic Angelology, Magic

"Pico's eye for these connections was no less acute than those of modem scholars who eventually stripped Dionysius totally of his authority"

"In the relatively simple pattern presented in Pico's "paradoxical dogmatizing conclusions," God created only the first hypostasis, which Pico indifferently labeled the "intellect," "intellectual nature," "angelic mind," "angel," or ..."

"All but a handful of these theses were drawn from Proclus's massive syncretic masterpiece, his Platonic Theology."

In the Oration and Apology Pico provides us with a long list of magicians who might be reasonably viewed as the sources of this side of his thought."

Pico also backtracked in the Apology (Opera, 229ff.) on his view that accidents cannot be separated from their ..."

Farmer's contribution to Pico studies is significant but problematic. He did groundbreaking work with his study of Pico's involvement with his Neoplatonic sources, but his interpretations are not always reliable. (Lehrich p.156 "Farmer's far more speculative and problematic analysis")

argued that Pico intended to correlate the sefirot with the Neoplatonic henads. It is not clear from his book on Pico's "Syncretism" exactly how this is supposed to work. Just as archaeologists without a clue will say an artifact has "obvious ritual significance," Farmer argues that Pico's use of Neoplatonic metaphysics has obvious magical uses concerning cosmic sympathy. I don't see what magical use Pico may have intended, but he seems to me far from articulating any cosmic magic, although following Dionysius and Aquinas as well as Augustine, Pico is very much tuned in to the role angels play in the cosmos. Critics of the Heptaplus who say that his angelology is too cosmic are mistaken. He has not spun angels in quite that way, and these superficial criticisms fail to take into account the subtlety and complexity of Pico's angel.

Farmer jumps to the conclusion that Pico meant concept of henads by Orphic guardians. Do we have enough to go on?Did Pico understand henads?

Interesting as this speculation is, the evidence that amulets (or talismans) are nowhere mentioned in the nine hundred theses, the fact that Pico attacks their use in the Heptaplus (p. 119 n. 55 above), and the fact that the Apology ...

Heptaplus 2.7, in Opera, 22; Garin, Scritti vari, 244. Pico writes: "Therefore let us not
form images of stars in metals, but images of him, that is, the Word of God, in our souls.
Let us not seek from the heavens goods of the body or fortune, which they will not give;
but from the Lord of heaven, the Lord of all goods, to whom is given every power in
heaven and on earth, let us seek both present goods — insofar as they are good — and the
true happiness of eternal life." It should be noted that the views that Pico endorses here,
which were written while he was trying to repair his relations with the church, are in no
way incompatible with the magic discussed in the nine hundred theses, which (Yates's
claims aside) did not involve astrological talismans. On the latter point, see my commentary
to theses 9>24-25.

^* See above, pp. 123-26. Francis Yates's association of Pico with talismanic magic was
based on misreadings of the Latin in several key magical theses; see theses 9>24-25 and

9>24. In the Apology {Opera, 172, 175), Pico tells us that "characters" and "figures" refer to
words and numbers (not to figures on astrological talismans, as Yates [1964: 88] argued; cf. also
opening note to theses ll>l-72). We also find that the "more secret philosophy" refers to Py-
thagorean mathematics, as is also suggested in the previous thesis. Pico's association of Pythago-
rean "formal numbers" with the creative powen of the intellectual nature — making thena su-
perior to the "material quahties" of Aristotelian physics — is further suggested in 3>25— 26.
Thomas Aquinas and the authors of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, which was published
shortly before Pico's text, explicidy associated magic using "characters" and "figures" with de-
monic magic, as Pico was surely aware. I suspect that no matter how innocent his underlying
meaning, Pico intentionally chose his language for its provocative eflfect.

9>25. Here again characters = magical words in general, not words on astrological talismans,
as Yates argued. Pico's point is simply that magical words can be translated into numbers, and
numbers into magical words, apparendy through the word/ number equations ofgematria. As in
the previous two theses, the "works" Pico has in mind here are evidendy those of contempla-
tive or prophetic magic.

In the Apology {Opera, 172-75), Pico tells us that his use of the terms
"figures" and "characters" (which Professor Copenhaver, like Yates earher, associates with sym-
Cabalistic Conclusions Confirming
THE Christian Religion

(Pico on amulets) refer to numbers read out symbolically and to ordinary words; it is conceivable
that Pico is being deceptive, but the long list of examples that he gives us in the Apology per-
fectly matches what he says in his mathematical theses about the symbolic meanings of "formal
numbers," which he identifies in that section (e.g., 7>9) with speculative prophecy and later
labels "magical arithmetic" {9>23). The only theses that mention "characters" and "figures" in
Pico's text also clearly suggest that they are not talismanic symbols but words and numbers
translated back and forth via the word/ number equations of gematria (see 9>24— 25 and notes).
When we look at Pico's only reference anywhere to God's "name of seventy-two letters"
(theses ll>56-57), we find that name again linked to secrets revealed through word/ number
equations — associated with Pythagorean numerology and "formal arithmetic" — ^but not to anything remotely resembling talismanic magic. Finally, the claim that any part of Pico's text was intended as an "angelic amulet" to draw down the intellectual nature would conflict with Pico's religious views, which emphasized that philosophical studies were needed in any mystical ascent to that nature; this idea, in fact, lay at the center of the elaborate formal defense of philosophy that constitutes the main theme of Pico's famous Oration (above, pp. 33, 39ff.).

As we have seen earlier, the tendency to confuse Pico's thought with medieval kabbalism —
usually with the most spectacular parts of that tradition — has distorted a great deal of Pico
schobrship in the past five centuries. As we find in the following section, £31 firom passively
abandoning himself to medieval kabbalism, Pico radically transformed it by extensively correla-
ting it with pagan and Christian ideas — finding in this syncretic fusion the ultimate Christian
tool needed "to pierce the Jews with their own weapons" (see note 11>72).

2.21. Cf. 2>44 and note. Since Thomas insisted on the total immateriality of angels, and since
matter in his system provided the pnnciple of individuation (thesis 2.26), each angel was neces-
sarily a unique species unto itself. Pico rejected these views on the grounds of cosmic corre-
spondence, arguing that matter existed in the angelic ruture no less than in lower natures. In
the Commento (Garin, Scritti vari, 472) he postponed discussion of the question of whether mat-
ter was the same on every level of reality; in the nine hundred theses he planned to setde the
issue in his usual "modal" fashion, as we find in 2>68. In 7a>48 he intended to argue the same
question proportionally through his "way of numben." Cf also 8.3, 14.1, and 11>67 on the
nature of the matter in the caelum. Pico's Basel editors emended plurificatio in 2.21 to the more
classically sounding purificatio, making it impossible to reconstruct Pico's views in this series.

Farmer 126
Chapter Three

4. Yates misread Pico's views of magic and Cabala. Yates oversimplified other
important parts of Pico's magical thought, including his views of "practical Ca-
bala," or what Yates labeled "Cabalistic magic" (a phrase not used by Pico hims^
Starting from the assumption that Pico's magia naturalis was celestial magic Hke
Ficino's, Yates argued that his practical Cabala "attempted to tap the higher spi-
ritual powers, beyond the natural powers of the universe," invoking for magical
ends angels, archangels, and the powers of "God himself."^^

Pico did distinguish the powers of Cabala from those of natural magic, but that
distinction did not involve a simple identification of magia naturalis with astrologi-
cal powers or Cabala with higher ones. Instead, as we would expect from his syn-
cretic system, Pico acknowledged many different types of natural magic and Cabala
that possessed complex and overlapping roles. Thus while Pico hints that one kind
of Cabala invoked intellectual or angelic powers,^^ as Yates tells us, he also dis-
cusses at length another part "that concerns the powers of celestial bodies." He
also tells us that one side of his magia naturalis involved "the powers and activities
of natural agents" — that is, sublunary forces — suggesting again that his natural magic
did not deal solely with the celestial or astral realm.^-' Moreover, Pico went to
extraordinary lengths — ^for obvious reasons, given the location of his planned debate
at the Vatican — ^to deny that the magus had direct access to God's power, except in
the general sense that God was the ultimate source of all magic.'''*

No comments:

Post a Comment