Angels in Medieval Philosophical Inquiry
195 It is mainly in order to justify such an apotheosis or angelification of the philosopher that the angel is needed. For, as Pico claims, "it is not freedom from a body, but its spiritual intelligence, which makes the angel." (O 8 n.39) Instead of discussing possible ways of accommodating angels to the sphere of corporeal human beings the idea is, quite to the contrary, to invest man with an angelic mode of being.
Copenhaver Cabalistic Conclusions
Lower theology may apply to S4-10, the lower Sephiroth, while formal metaphysics may be the corresponding metaphysics of the Sephiroth, the "exact metaphysics of intelligible and angelic forms" of Pico's Oration. If practical Cabala is the application of this theological and metaphysical theory, the magical method of names (shemot) reaches as high as the sephirot, in keeping with the theurgy that Pico knew from the later Neoplatonists and pseudo-Dionysius. Wirszubski also notes that the positive and negative theologies of Dionysius--the former discussed in his work On Divine NAmes, which treats God as cause of the forms regarded as his attributes--match the distinction between the lower and higher Sephiroth as more and less knowable.
Idel Kabbalah and Hermeticism...Page 75
Pico did not intend to marry or conjoin the two (magic and kabbalah) but rather to subjugate both to Christianity... it is less the consonance between Cabala and Magia that counts, but their independent confirmations of Christianity
I would caution against presenting Pico's main innovation as the yoking of Kabbalah and magic, but see this link as one of many others, which should not be privileged in the general economy of Pico's thought.
87 The Christian version of Kabbalah is, therefore, not so much a way of experiencing reality and explaining the meaning of human action (as, in my opinion, Jewish Kabbalah was), but much more a kind of gnosis -- a collection of concepts explaining the map of the divine world. Thus, according to the Christian Kabbalists, an accomplished Kabbalist may be considered as an arch-philosopher more important than Plato or Hermes; but in principle this knowledge does not provide a guide to mystical experience in the present.
88 The view of Pico as the instigator of another tradition, of the thinker who married mysticism and magic and created an alternative cultural trend, seems to me to be a misapprehension. Pico himself conceived his activity as consonant with Christianity... his writings contain sufficient statements to evoke a picture of Pico as rather critical toward Kabbalah, intolerant toward the Jews, and quite conservative toward magic. He brought about the marriage between Magic and Kabbalah not because he strongly believed that they constituted an alternative intellectual current to the Catholic faith, but precisely because he was certain that his intellectual enterprise did indeed strengthen the latter.
Blum in Dougherty Pico:New Essays
50 In his Apology, Pico defends Kabbalah together with magic, because it had been his thesis that both help confirm the divinity of Christ. As to magic, he downgrades it to a merely natural science that does not interfere with revelation. Cabala, however, is no such discipline; it is defined as a second way of divine revelation.
53 Even though it is not quite clear what "formal" means with reference to metaphysics, "inferior theology" can easily be understood as that part of theology that deals with the conduct of life (equivalent to Part II of Aquinas's Summa Theologiae).
It should also be noted that the question, whether theology is a speculative or practical discipline, was part of any standard textbook. Formal metaphysics, then, might be that part of philosophy that serves as an interface with physics and the philosophy of nature. Evidently, both disciplines as included in practical Cabala need to be referred to speculative Cabala...
116 the theme of deification unifies the seemingly disparate subjects of the [Oration]
135 Pico uses traditional scholastic philosophical terms to contend that human beings lack the basic intrinsic limiting principle usually understood to be present in all creatures... the absence of a metaphysical principle of determination is the cause for human superiority in the order of creation.
144 this goal of becoming "one spirit with God" is premised on Pico's prior claim that human beings are devoid of an intrinsic limiting metaphysical principle or form. By including divinity in the range of actualizations open to multipotential human beings, Pico appears to escape a particularly thorny metaphysical problem vexing to some medieval thinkers, namely, how the intrinsic limitations of nature are to be overcome in the divinization or deification of human beings in becoming one with God.
solution to this medieval problem... a nature that does not exist does not need to be overcome
Pico protects the gratuity or free character of deification on the part of God
145 Pico explains that with the advent of theology, "we shall no longer be ourselves, but the very One who made us" the advent of theology... is to be identified with deification
150 this reading allows us to take seriously Pico's concession in the Oratio that the discipline of philosophy cannot bring ultimate peace, although philosophy is a necessary component of his account of ultimate deification... Pico's highly original solution to a significant medieval problem concerning the possibility of ultimate human deification
Rabin in Dougherty
152[astrology and magic were] mainstream subjects in natural philosophy...Pico had a solid theoretical knowledge...but he was not a practitioner
153 both Albert and Thomas had written about magic
157 Idel KNP 179"an archmagician, the theurgical Kabbalist does not need external help or grace; his way of operating -- namely, the Torah -- enables him to be independent; he looks not so much for salvation by the intervention of God as for God's redemption by human intervention." The Kabbalist was an active operator in improving the world.
165 Against the astrological claim that the heavenly bodies were agents of the deity, Pico posited angels as those agents
Still in Dougherty
182 While the Latin scholastics recognized that the rational soul contained within it the power of purely intellectual thought associated with the angels, Pico follows the Platonists, for whom there is an "intellectual and angelic part" of the human soul above the rational soul. This appeal to intellect and reason as distinct parts of the soul and not merely powers of the same part serves Pico's purpose of sewing together Platonic and Aristotelian accounts of the soul while also illustrating the distinction of levels in the human being, from the bestial (corresponding to the senses) to the human (reason) to the angelic (intellect). The inclusion of a power in the soul above the human level per se also sets the stage for the cognitive ascent featured in Pico's celebrated Oration
183 As poised between the senses and intellect, reason apparently has no resting place in its own right but is continually pulled up to the angelic level or, more frequently, down to the bestial level. As a central exhortation of the philosophical life is for the human creature to climb to the heights of its intellectual capacities, understanding the relationship of reason to intellect is crucial to the fulfillment of that imperative. On this theme, Pico appeals to the Platonic analogy of sight to intellectual vision and at the same time employs Aristotle's dictum that intellect is related to soul as sight is to the body. Yet when we readily rely on sight which takes the lead in our perception of corporeal objects, the power of pure intellectual vision is difficult of access and unknown by the majority. Pico accounts for this disanalogy by appealing to the Platonic claim that our souls are so ensconced in their bodies that, unlike heavenly souls, they cannot use both their sensible and intellectual vision at the same time.
n.20 Pico devotes Commento II.14-22 (Jayne 107-20) to an extensive interpretation of Plato's Symposium 203B-c ( the birth of love from the union of Plenty and Poverty) in terms of the growth of the Platonic Ideas in the Angelic Mind from an inchoate state (chaos) to a perfected one by means of love.... it contains much of interest for Pico's theory of knowledge and provides a glimpse of what his intended commentary on the Symposium might have looked like. 186 Oration--Pico strikingly illustrates the soul's powers in terms of their tendencies to transform human nature into infrahuman or suprahuman modalities.
"if you come upon a pure contemplator... he more superbly is a divinity clothed with human flesh
187 Nor is there any completion of the noetic process until reason gives way to contemplation.
The distinction of intellect from reason as powers and not merely activities of the intellectual soul naturally raises the question of the relation between the two. Where the scholastics had largely thought that the rational soul was subsistent and separable from the mortal body, does Pico hold that only of intellect? And what is the relation of the human intellect to the higher intellect mentioned in the Heptaplus? Against the grain of scholastic theologians like Aquinas as well as contemporary Florentine Platonists like Ficino, Pico apparently entertained the Averroistic doctrine of the univity of intellect -- that there is only one intellect for all human beings, and it is separate from all individuals... Unlike Averroes, Pico maintained that univity of intellect was compatible with personal immortality, as when he proposed that "it is possible, upholding the unity of the intellect, that my soul, so particularly mine that it is not shared by me with all, remains after death." A closer inspection of these theses shows that Pico speaks both ways about the rational soul being immortal or not, without providing any cogent reconciliation of these two contrary positions.
Borghesis in Dougherty
209 Alemanno: The soul experiences seven stages of ascent to God: the first three are part of a purification process by means of which the soul is cleansed. The fourth introduces the Cabala through mental and vocal prayer capable of capturing celestial virtues... In the sixth, Alemanno develops the theme of the soul's need to influence heavenly assistance through the medium of prayer.
All these stages prepare the soul to raise itself to a higher sphere since it is ignited by God's love. As in other cases, one can observe that it is always love which is the principle energy.
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.
Language is the gateway to wisdom, the elements of language are letters and numbers, and these signs proliferate in secret codes. Pico's genius and ambition, which the Church would see as impudence, attracted him to this provocative theology of the hidden word, whose enigmas and ambiguities encouraged his fascination with the esoteric.
27 Pico’s Cabala, in fact, was more original than his Disputations. His cabalist conclusions reveal—or rather conceal—a remarkable effort to find new tools for understanding nature seen as God’s creation.
40 Power of speech without signification. Cratylus, stoics and Origen in Aplogy—another defense of use of names in natural magic… The point of disconnecting certain signs from ordinary signification becomes clearer in light of Pico’s adaptation of Cabalist techniques to Christian purposes, which depended on his exploration of the Hebrew language in its written form.
41 theory: Pico wanted his seventy-two conclusions to form an angelic talisman…without actually expressing any names of angels… without making himself guilty of theurgy. 33 dense description of magic whose aphoristic form masks its coherence
Copenhaver “Astrology and Magic” in Natural Philosophy
268 Pico knew that pagan and Christian philosophers had conceded the efficacy and legitimacy of a natural magic distinct from the demonic magic ‘in use among the moderns, which the church rightly banishes…’ the manipulation of natural, material objects becomes a magical technique, but on the basis of ‘a more secret philosophy’ Pico was forced to admit that certain artificial objects, ‘characters and figures, have more power in an act of magic than any material quality.’ Pico wished to enhance natural powers not only through human artifice but also through the verbal and angelic magic that he discovered in cabala…. Since Pico understood cabala to be ‘an exact metaphysics of intelligible and angelic forms,’ as well as ‘a very solid philosophy of natural things’, it seems clear that his audacious programme for natural magic had celestial ambitions.
270 …the most consistent and most original element in his approach to magic and astrology was his abiding ethical interest: magic enlarges man’s powers; astrology cannot limit man’s freedom.
Copenhaver “Who wrote Pico’s Oration?” p.7
p.8 Magic is always already there in nature. Magicians cannot cause magical effects, though they know where to find them and how to exploit them for good or ill.
8-9 Copenhaver’s summary of theurgy] For Plotinus philosophy was the only way to ascend, and for Porphyry it was still primary, but Iamblichus lost confidence in philosophy. The contemplation that philosophy can sustain by itself will not lead to union, he concluded; it is necessary for the ascent but not sufficient, and it is less effective than theurgic ritual, which touches the higher soul. Theurgy—literally, ‘god-working’—is the work of gods who reach down through actions and objects that transmit divine energy on their own: they are always linked to the gods by the force of amity that higher beings project through lower things. Amity from on high also causes the sympathy that operates in nature. Some rituals are merely a lower theurgy that excites this sympathy but cannot lead the soul up to union. Only higher theurgy empowered by divine amity can make the final leap. But amity also causes the sympathy that mortals perceive as natural magic, which is like lower theurgy, and both these lesser practices may be steps toward higher theurgy and eventual union.
9 To make his case for natural magic, Pico cites Porphyry but not Iamblichus, and Plotinus gets most of his overt attention.
10 Pico’s account of natural magic so far is Plotinian, but then he makes a Christian point. By uncovering the world’s marvels, natural magic “excites man to that wonderment at God’s works of which faith, hope and a ready love are sure and certain effects.” Thus, while the old pagan magic had introduced the four natural virtues, the three theological virtues are within reach of a new Christian magic which “by a constant contemplation of God’s wonders” will move us to a love so ardent that “we cannot hold back the song, “Full are the heavens, full is the whole earth with the greatness of your glory.”” This hymn that natural magic compels us to sing is the music of the Seraphim, part of their triple song of blessing in Isaiah. Magic – the good natural magic that Pico defends – drives us up to join these highest angels in their chant of fiery and self-consuming love. Natural magic thus plays the same role as natural philosophy in Pico’s angelic curriculum, preparing us for theology and ultimately for union. This is what Pico means when he says that magic is “the final realization of natural philosophy.” This exalted role for magic as the gateway to theology breaches the boundary set for it by Plotinus—the limit of the lower soul—and makes Pico’s final conception of magic in the Oration more like that of Iamblichus or Proclus. Reflecting the aims of these later Neoplatonists, his goal is not to control the world of nature but to escape and rise about it. Cabala, the Jewish wisdom that reinforces Pico’s Greek and Chaldean magic, has the same world-escaping purpose.
Copenhaver The Secret of Pico’s Oration
59 Ascending sequences of three, four, or five steps. Pico introduces this motif in a passage about vegetal, sensual, rational, and intellectual faculties of the soul, perhaps taking it from the Protrepticus of Iamblichus, part of that philosopher’s exposition of the Pythagorean life.
[another style comment, similar sequences can be identified in Iamblichus DM, Proclus and PD]
60 For the Greek side (there is also a Hebrew side) of the project promoted by the Oration, Pico took his primary inspiration from Dionysius and the Neoplatonists. His moralist is ascetic, his novel practices are magical (or theurgic), and his aim is mystical, what Dionysius and his predecessors called perfection (teleiosis), contemplation (theoria), or unification (henosis). Because this project requires a curriculum as well as a regimen, philosophy is part of it—but as a means, not an end, a way of purifying the soul and enlightening it before it sinks into the divine abyss at the peak of its spiritual progress. The Christian Dionysius still thought of the soul’s perfection or teleiosis as the climax of a rite of initiation, like the old pagan cult of Eleusis. The blessing earned by the Eleusinian initiate was to gaze on (theorein) a sacred sight, foreshadowing the beatific vision of Christian bliss. For pagan theurgy and Christian mystic alike, the ultimate reward was a loss of self, absorption into the divine by becoming one (henosis) with God.
66 Having made the mystical theology of Dionysius the basis of his angelic regimen, Pico derives it again from three Bible heroes—Jacob, Job, and Moses. His exposition of their familiar stories links the patriarchs with ancient gentile sages but also with the later speculations of the Cabalists, which were completely unknown to Christians in Pico’s day and may seem obscure even now.
67 The later Neoplatonists who influenced Dionysius had described the mystical ascent as “a bridge or ladder.” Pico’s account of Jacob’s ladder grounds this metaphor in familiar biblical imagery but also attaches to it strange Cabalist ideas.
68 Pico knew Gikatilla on Jacob’s dream of angels
70 Like Pico, [Alemanno] saw philosophy as preliminary to a curriculum whose advanced stage is theurgy, and he believed that theurgy enables the mystic to unite with divinity itself.
79 To become Metatron in Abulafia’s Cabala is a type of mystic union and thus an eradication of the self.
80 Man’s angelic potential was a great prize to Pico, but it was also a great peril, for Cabalist (and earlier) speculation on Metatron not only confirmed Pico’s fear of demonic magic and ratified his confidence in angelic theurgy but also reached into regions that good Christians must reserve for orthodox theology and the spirituality sanctioned by the Church.
80 The safer consequence of Pico’s Cabala, the Christianized Jewish mysticism sketched so faintly in his great speech, is that using secret names of God in Abulafia’s ecstatic method is another application of the moral theory of the Oration, where the best choice is to choose the Cherubic life in order to die the best kind of death.
34 His own magic, by contrast, is lawful. He calls it "natural magic" or the "practical part of natural knowledge," claiming for it both theoretical foundations and pragmatic results. It works by uniting and thereby activating forces otherwise dispersed through heaven and earth, and God's grace is its ultimate origin."
34 Pico links his magic to Cabala, another source of the wonders whose first author is God, but he takes pains to distinguish the miracles of Christ from the effects of magic and Cabala both. Christ's miracles prove his divinity not because unusual things happened but because they were made to happen in a certain way Having asserted this difference between a wondrous event and its divine agency, Pico reached one of the conclusions condemned by the Church; "no knowledge gives us more certainty of Christ's divinity than magic and Cabala." Moreover, no magic works without Cabala, whose effects reach beyond magic if its use is pure and direct. Pico also claims that language is magically effective because "it is the speech of God through which nature first works magic." The divine words that spoke nature into being are the primal text behind any righteous language whose effect is magical. Recognizing God's speech as the basis of magical language, Pico then makes the odd claim that "speech that does not signify can do more in magic than speech that signifies." [Jam] ... "characters and figures" as well as names, words, and sounds have magical power. In fact, "characters and figures can do more in a work of magic than any material quality." Characters do for the magus what numbers do for the Cabalist. Pico also mentions a "magical arithmetic" and suggests that numbers have a role in magic..
98 At the end of the Commento, Pico referred to Kabblah, praising it as "a very great foundation of our faith". What he meant by this is made clear in the Oratio. He does his best to communicate some of his own excitement at what he had found. "...I saw in them a religion not so much Mosaic as Christian" "There I read the same things... which we read daily in Paul and Dionysius, in Jerome and in Augustine"
...Whatever Pico's accuracy as a Kabbalist, his intentions are clear
...The key words in Pico's account are eadem legi, "I read the same things." He thought he had found Christian doctrines, doctrines already familiar to the Church. All that could be done by means of Kabbalah was to bring confirmation from an unexpected source. In this sense it was an apologetical foundation for the Christian faith... it would be meaningless to him to talk of combining Kabbalistic and Christian doctrines
124 there is no suggestion that Kabbalah was to be used for any reductionist purpose... What Pico himself claims to have discovered is "A religion not so much Mosaic as Christian" ... Pico does not, therefore, propose Kabbalah as a general hermeneutic for application to any religious doctrine.
125 Pico did not propose Kabbalah as a general hermeneutic, but only for the interpretation of the Mosaic books. He did not in fact use it to find philosophy in them. When he did unvocer natural philosophy in them, by means of allegory, it was not the kind of philosophy which would have clashed with the literal sense. Finally, the fact that he found a hidden philosophical meaning did not mean that the literal meaning was not also true. Kabbalah was not, for him, a reductive method for reconciling religious truths with philosophy.
127 Frances Yates also seems to have missed the force of Pico's distinction between the strict and applied senses of Kabbalah... Hints of theurgy are not warranted.
128 Yates' conclusion that pure Kabbalah goes immediately to God himself is based on a very obscure thesis, the last of the series on magic... the texts are so obscure one can be sure of very little at all.
128 None of the evidence brought forward to justify the suspicion of gnosticism survives closer examination. The nearest Pico came to a gnostic tendency was in his devotion to esoteric knowledge, and this was hardly more than a kind of intellectual elitism. The idea that he confused religion and philosophy is another false expectation. Moreover, the emphasis on his rationalism or gnosticism obscures that other, contrary tendency in his writings, which recognizes quite explicitly the limitations of human knowledge in the religious sphere.
102 There is a tendency to attribute to Kabbalah ideas which were equally available from more familiar sources.
103 the Ancient Theology is mentioned only rarely
104 ...the Christian religion is not just the subject of occasional pious references in the Heptaplus; it is the keystone of the entire plan.
121 "I have never philosophized for any other reason than for the sake of philosophizing..." Pico is contrasting his own disinterestedness with the avarice and ambition of contemporary so-called philoosphers.
Craven on Pico's Angel
142 the context is a discussion of things which seem to exceed man's power's. In fact, Pico goes on to explain them by invoking the angels, who are God's intermediaries for dealing with man, while the heavens are his instrument for the earth. What is denied to the heavens is given not to man but to the angels. There follows an exhortation against presumptuously passing judgement on the mysterious ways of God
153 In the few brief passages where the influence of the stars on human affairs is considered, the argument is that the ordinary events of human life are beneath the notice of the universal cause, while extraordinary phenomena pertaining to the soul are attributed to God, acting through the angels. The picture of man is, in fact, far from the optimism of the Oratio; the emphasis is on the moral weakness of man and the insignificance of his doings.
Michael Allen in Pico:New Essays
87 he was committed to poetic theologizing on the assumption that the ancient poets and their tales of the gods were a veiled, cryptic unfolding of the fundamentals of religious belief
91 The soul's intellectual vision, which is transcendent love of God, is not reciprocated by God... because such a love in God "would be an imperfection" in him. This is a challenging statement that runs counter to the long tradition in both Platonism and Christianity of denominating God's providential care for his creation the highest kind of love.
92 Pico takes the further step of denying that our love for God is Platonically definable as "a desire for beauty" on the basis of the arresting argument that "there is no beauty in God, according to the Platonists, because of his infinite simplicity," beauty having been previously defined as an ordering of parts into a whole. Rather, says Pico, we can only love God "in Himself" and not "as the author of ideal beauty." All this suggests that Pico has not yet arrived at a coherent theory of the relationship of God to Beauty and of the soul's transition from sensible love to divine love, defined as the splendor or radiance of the Ideas seen collectively as the outpouring of Goodness. This is another way of questioning whether Pico has mastered the complex problem, which he inherited from the scholastics, of integrating Beauty into the three other traditional transcendental attributes of God: Goodness, Truth, and Unity.
93 One of Pico's most interesting contributions in the Commento is... his account of the three hypostases, particularly of the second, which the ancient Neoplatonists had identified with Mind but which he identifies with Angel or Angelic Mind.
94 In his terminology, he is certainly drawing on Iamblichian and Proclian distinctions between the Ideas (the pure intelligibles) and the highest spiritual beings contemplating them, who are in turn midway between the intelligibles and the host of intellectual beings below them.
... those Pico twice calls the "more perfect Platonists" ... had maintained that between the first and third hypostases there is only one Mind, not many minds, and they had even referred to it as the "son" of the father. This view, he says, is also closer to the opinion of Aristotle, and he prefers it because it enables him to explore the ground common to both Platonists and Aristotelians.
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.
99 Though mind is the first creature to love beauty, this beauty is the beauty of the Ideas as they are causally in God, who is without composition and without Ideas. Pico therefore adapts his argument. For desire could never arise in Mind if the Ideas were not there in it, since Mind's desire would not know what to desire, or if they were in it completely, in which case Mind would no longer desire but already possess the ideas. Thus love is born when Porus (Plenty), meaning the multitude of the Ideas in Mind, is united with Penia (Need), meaning, not the essence per se of Mind, but the unformed, deficient, or imperfect state, the Jovian state, of that essence... The birth moment is the uniting of act with potency, the planting of the Ideas in the garden of Mind, a planting that gives rise to Paradise, or rather to Mind as paradise.
Pico stumbles, however, when he goes on to declare that the desire was born from a union between the perfect state of the Ideas, signified by Porus, the son of Counsel, that is, of God, and the Ideas' defective or imperfect state in the incomplete, unformed substance, signified by Penia. Love could only be born after idea Beauty had been born in Mind; thus it was born on Venus's birthday, later defined as the day "when the beauty of the Ideas first descended into Angelic Mind."
100 the mystery of the violence involved in the hypostatic succession
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.
109 The Heptaplus is in effect a triumph of Platonically inspired analysis.
111 The vision of man as "a great miracle" ... flows inevitably into a Christology... If Mosaic man is angelic only in an allegorical sense... then Christ as man, as the "newest Adam," is more eminent than the first angel: indeed he perfects the angels. In turn, he enables us to become more than the angels--to become, as Paul exults in Hebrews 1:4, not just the image and likeness but the sons of God.
112-113 Pico's contribution, however, is interesting for different reasons [than Ficino]. He has given us a rich, if not an internally consistent, set of speculations concerning the principles of the emanative process itself: the principles that underlie the birth of thought, of the world, of beauty, of love, of humanity, of Adam, of ourselves as particular beings, of ourselves in Christ as the Son of Man, and of God. Many of the problems that he encountered and that prevented him from arriving at consistency are demonstrably intrinsic to Neoplatonism itself and to Plotinus's iterated attempts to probe not so much into the genesis moment as into the emanative moment
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 them 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.
(Idel KBL+Hermeticism in Dame Frances A. Yates's Renaissance" in Esoterisme, gnoses et imaginaire symbolique, ed. Richard Caron et al. (Leuven: Peeters, 2001) 71-90 esp 74-6
78 it seems that Yates conceived the intellectual synthesis as much more important than the confirmation of Christian theology, thus obfuscating a religious complexity that is immanent in Pico
2 The parallels between Pico and Pseudo-Dionysius lead to a consideration of epistemology, specifically related to the idea of intellectual ascent or ‘anagogy’… the Hepaplus should be viewed as an expression of the role of the intellect in man’s progress to felicitas.
3 Pico’s engagement with this matter was influenced by the Jewish tradition, not so much in the details of his epistemology as in his manner of applying it to hermeneutics.
27 "angelic metaphysics" of Pseudo-Dionysius
28 First day -- fundamental process of becoming common to all sublunar entities.
36 He had initially intended to provide two expositions of the angelic world, one based on the teachings of the Jews, the other on Pseudo-Dionysius, but for reasons of space and time has decided to concentrate on the latteralone.
37 An angel is imperfect intwo aspects. Regarding “essence”, it is not “being itself”, but only “an essence to which being comes by participation, so that it may be”. Regarding cognition, it is not, in itself, intellectio, but “it happens to it that it understands.”
37 Pico’s reading of the first day, spread over chapters one and two, concerns the drama of the angel overcoming this double imperfection. Chapter one deals with the question of its essence. Earth refers to the angel’s “rough and unformed essence, deprived of life and being”. Heaven is the “acting of its essence and the participation of unity in multiplicity”, in other words, its connection to ipsum esse. Chapter two turns to cognition. The angel has an intellectual capacity but needs to be given intelligible forms to fulfil its function of contemplation. The absence of such forms is expressed by the shadows on the face of the abyss—the abyss being the angel’s intellect. These intelligible forms are represented by light; they are accidents of the angel’s intellect and do not pertain to its essence. Nonetheless, the bond which links these forms to the angelic intellect is stronger than the equivalent bond between forms and the human intellect.
38 Pico follows PD by dividing the angelic hierarchy into three groups
123 PD – esotericism
127 It is necessary to summarize this defense in order to understand precisely what Pico thought kabbalah was. He begins by noting that Jewish and Christian doctores attest that two traditions were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai: one is the written law, that is, the Pentateuch, and the other is the “true exposition” of the Pentateuch, that is, an explanation of the mysteries which lie hidden underneath the surface of its words… almost everything in them confirms the truth of Christianity.
129-131 how kabbalah got bad reputation
139 Abulafia: Our law is caled holy, and our langauge holy, because in it all the aforementioned names are hidden, and these make it so that divine comprehensions are understood and are in the heart and mind of the intelligent; and especially because things are profound, and the more profound they are, the more they should be hidden from the multitude of the people and the ignorant… Because Moses our master was at the height of perfection and was the chief father in the law and chief and father in prophecy, a higher power flowed into him, in which he was joined to receive the law from God (holy and blessed) similarly in two ways. One is the way of knowing the law according to the understanding of it in a literal sense, according to its mysteries and its precepts received and handed down together with the exposition composed from these things; and this is what we call Talmud, completely according to itself and whatever imitates its modes of proceeding, which are said to be of its kind. The second is the way of knowing the law according to the understandings of it together with its secrets and the things hidden in the mystery, that is, of the secrets of the divine names contained in it and in the reason of its precept which is handed down from mouth to mouth. These are called the secrets of the law.
140 sefirotic exegesis… essentially, the sefirot are ten hierarchical emanations of divine power which connect the inmost aspect of God to the created universe.
141 Mithridates: In this way, the work of Genesis is both universal and particular. It shows the being of the world, and the procession of the sefirot and the drawing of them from potentiality to actuality. They indicate everything in both a universal and a particular way. –Mysterium operis Geneseos
141 n.187 a treatise explaining the different identifications was translated for Pico by Mithridates: Expositio decem numerationes
142 Many of the Conclusiones exhibit… sefirotic kabbalah. Though prominent in the texts available to Pico, and also in the Conclusiones, it is striking that this type of exegesis has no place in the Heptaplus. The sefirot, as a metaphysical system, are entirely absense. The exegesis relating to them correspondingly fails to appear.
148-9 three worlds
153 the hypostases of Plotinus… do not correspond well to the three worlds
155 the model of the Heptaplus is in accordance with the ontology proposed by Aristotle at the beginning of Metaphysics XII
175 similarities and differences
176 anagogy intellectual ascent
179 Aristotelian cognitive ascent 183 Thomas
189 Pico’s worked marked by strong interest in the idea of progression to felicitas
193 Commento expresses Pico’s vision of the functions of the intellect and the ascent to felicitas in more particular terms. … he sketches a taxonomy of the soul contradicting common scholastic opinion…
200 distinction two levels of felicitas
205 active role overshadowed by passive acceptance of the supernatural felicitas which transcended it
174 Both Pico and PD "advocate a model of reading based on an understanding of the correspondences inherent in the universe, and both link this model to the distinction between angelic and human cognition.
[metaphysical system behind Pico's understanding of cognition will be developed in Bu/Ch3]
"The Platonists divide all created things intro three levels, of which there are two extremes. Under one are included all corporeal and visible things, such as the heavens, the elements, plants, animals and everything composed of the elements. Under the other is understood everything which is invisible, and not only incorporeal, but entirely free and separate from any body. This is properly called intellectual nature, and by our theologians is called angelic nature. In between the two extremes is a median nature which, although imcorporeal, and invisible and immortal, is nonetheless a mover of bodies and is tied to this function. This is called the rational soul, which comes after the angelic and before the corporeal, and is subject to the former and in charge of the latter." Commento I.2 Garin, 463
153 Generally, the role of Platonism and Neoplatonism in Pico's cosmic model requires some clarification. It is, I shall argue, of the greatest significance as a context for his ideas of correspondence and hierarchy. It does not, however, sit happily with the threefold cosmic division. The hypostases of Plotinus---One, Mind, Soul--do not correspond well with the three worlds. On the one hand, Pico must correlate Mind with the angelic or intellectual world; but he has placed God, or the One, here as well.
(see Black 151 n.10 God and nine ranks of angels in the first world, empyrean and heavenly spheres in the second; prime matter and nine categories of corruptible forms in the third)
The distinction between the first two hypostases is thereform blurred.
154 evolution of the model between 1486 and 1489
155 shift from psychological model of Commento to ontological model of Heptaplus... latter in accordance with the ontology proposed by Aristotle MP12
164-165 mutual containment in Proclus + Liber de Causis ETprop103
[Black emphasizes principle of mutual containment, goes into detail, I will just mention it]
167 Dionysius and Thopmas
172 Bible depictions of angels and CH end
CH: Come, now, let us rest, if we may, the intellectual eye from the exertion which concerns the contemplation of simple and lofty things, fir for angels. Let us descend to the divisible and manifold plane of the many and various forms of the shapes which angels take. Then, let us return from them, as from images, by retracing, to the simplicity of heavenly minds. (CH 328A)
173 Dionysius method of uplifting … the exegete is not tied to his human plane, but, through the biblical symbols, is able to rise to a higher cognitive level
“The word of God used poetic imagery to represent the formless intelligences [i.e. angels], not according to the rules of art, but rather, as I have already said, having considered our own mind and provided a method of uplifting which is suitable for and of congruent quality to it, and having modelled uplifting sacred symbols for it. (CH 137B)
174 Both authors advocate a model of reading based on an understanding of the correspondences inherent in the universe, and both link this model to the distinction between angelic and human cognition.
175 comparison PD vs. Heptaplus similarities and differences
175 PD letter9
It is not only transcendent lights, intellectual things and absolutely divine things which are variously adorned with symbolic forms--as the word "fire" means the transcendent God and the word "enflamed"
refers to the intellectual scriptures of God. It is also the case that the Godlike forms and ranks of angels, intelligible and intelligent beings, are represented by diverse shapes, including formations of fire. It is necessary to understand the same image of fire in different ways when it refers to God who is above conception, or to his intelligible providence, or to angels. It is one thing as a cause, another thing as a substance, another thing as participation, and other things in other ways, as the contemplation and wise arrangement of these things requires.
176 Pico used the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius to develop a theory of scriptural exegesis which was anagogical in the Dionysian sense—which led the reader upwards toward God.
177 In several of his works, Pico argued that felicitas was the culmination of an intellectual ascent. His ‘anagogical’ hermeneutics… should be seen as an expression of this idea.
235 his theory derives from the connection between epistemology and ontology encountered in the writings of Proclus and PD. This connection means that the process of creation—the procession from God of a hierarchical chain of entities, from simplicity to multiplicity,by way of emanation—is matched by a process of intellection—the reversion along the same chain by way of knowledge, culminating in union with God.
Given the constraints imposed on the human intellect, its general dependence on sense impressions and matter, and the difficulty it has in comprehending intelligibles, knowledge of the ‘simple’ conceptions at the top of the chain is extremely difficult for mankind to attain; it is, in fact, the type of knowledge associated with angels. Although this idea has its basis in Neoplatonic texts, it nonetheless resonates in a number of ways with the Aristotelian tradition. Commentators on Aristotle in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, while generally affirming the dependence of the rational soul on sense data and therefore on matter, grappled with ways in which the human intellect could rise to a comprehension of immaterial, ‘separate’ substances—and thus to felicitas. If it succeeds, they argued, it becomes equivalent to the angelic intellect, and (in some accounts) is gifted with prohecy.
237 In choosing to derive a theory of allegory from ideas of epistemological and ontological hierarchy, Pico was pursuing one of his principle interests: intellectual ascent. This is the thread that binds the Heptaplus to his previous works. I have tried to show that despite various differences in expression there is a coherent conception of the intellect and its operation underlying his works from the Commento to the Heptaplus. In outline, this conception is of a soul with two different intellectual faculties: a rational faculty for sense-based discursive reasoning and a faculty of intelligentia for direct and non-discursive contemplation of intelligibles. Although the former is the typical mode of thought for the human soul while attached to the body, the latter represents a possible goeal and as such leads man to his natural felicitas, that is, union with the first mind. Aboce this there is a higher and essentially inexpressible level of felicitas which is union with God. The specific contribution of the Heptaplus to this overall theme is to reformulate it in relation to biblical interpretation.
Crofton Black on Kabbalah in Commento
In the Commento, Pico introduces kabbalah as just one among many examples of the esoteric transmission of doctrines.
Toussaint in Blum Page 72
he read the Cabbalists, newly discovered Hebrew philosophers such as Levi ben Gershom, Maimonides, Nachmanides and others, Plotinus, Hermes Trismegistus, the Chaldaean Oracles, Simplicius, Themistius, Philostratus, Iamblichus, Averroes, Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Henry of Ghent, among others, and the number of Conclusiones grew from seven hundred to nine hundred. In this short space of time, Pico not only composed the Conclusiones, but also the Commento, in which he developed an independent theory of the nature of the beatiful in Plate, and the celebrated Oratio, which is regarded as the manifesto of the new Renaissance thinking.
Page 76 Pico remains faithful to his new cabbalistic hermeneutic and to the "poetic theology" of the pagan myths which he had begun to elaborate in the Commento, and concentrates in the Heptaplus on the hidden meaning of the words of Moses, in which he finds esoteric links to other metaphysical traditions about the nature of the divine creation of the cosmos and of the human being. This work is closely related to the cosmological treatises of Eriugena, the school of Chartres, and Alain of Lille.
Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition
The double magic of Pico brought magic quite inevitably within the sphere of religion...
by harnessing natural magic to Cabala, he took magic right up into the supercelestial world of divine and angelic powers.
In the Heptaplus it is said that, in order to unite ourselves with the higher natures, we must follow the cult of religion with hymns, prayers, and supplications, and in the Orphic conclusions, the "hymns of David," that is the Psalms, are spoken of as incantations as powerful for the work of Cabala, as the hymns of Orpheus are of value for natural magic. Thus a practical Cabalist singing a psalm is performing a rite similar to the natural magician intoning and Orphic hymn--similar, but more powerful..."
Pico found no difficulty linking this concept (kbl 3 worlds) with Neoplatonism and with the Christian or Pseudo-Dionysian mysticism... by identifying (as Ficino had also done) the angelic world with what the philosophers call the intelligible world... Particularly in the third book of the Heptaplus Pico devotes himself to assimilating the doctrines of the "ancient Hebrews" to those of Dionysius. Here he repeats the Thomistic definitions of the functions of the hierarchies and relates their three triadic groups to the three worlds, as follows,
"We read (that is in Cabalistic commentary on Genesis) that the firmament is placed in the midst of the waters; and here is indicated to us the three hierarchies of angels... the first and the last (of the hierarchies) is indicated by the waters, those which are above the firmament and those which are below it, the intermediate zone between the two being the firmament. And if we ponder these things we find that they accord perfectly with the doctrine of Dionysius: the supreme hierarchy which, as he says, is given over to contemplation, is figured in the waters above the firmament which are above all action, whether celestial or terrestrial, and praise God with a perpetual music. (...)" 121-122
by assigning the three hierarchies to the three worlds "Pico 'astrologises' the celestial hierarchies even more strictly than Ficino, by allowing them these special influences in the three zones. There is no trace of this astrologizing tendency in Pseudo-Dionysius himself, for whom the nine hierarchies represent the Trinity and are solely devoted, in their several degrees, to the praise of the Trinity. 122
The difference between Ficino and Pico within the angelic plus cosmological framework is that Pico, through practical Cabala, has a means of reaching and operating with the angelic world which was denied to Pico." 123
Yates sees the comparison of Ensof to Orphic Night to be correlating En Sof with neoplatonic negative theology. "It would be a short step, in Pico's mind, from the Orphic nox to the Dionysian darkness." Farmer follows a similar logic when he argues that Pico intended to correlate the sefirot and Proclan henads, because the sefirot are compared to the Orphic "Guardians"
"It is the only clue to Pico's synthesis that he makes it on a mystical level, the many Names which he collects from all philosophies and religions being at bottom all one in the No Name. And the great Christian authority on the via negative was Pseudo-Dionysius. 126
In the PDian celestial hierarchies there is a current running between them all which he calls Eros and compares to a perpetual circle arising from the Good and returning to the Good... Ficino has deformed this erotic current, giving it a sense quite absent in PD where it is a gift of pure grave, and he sees in this deformation "the magical theme of universal sympathy." (intra-neoplatonic differences on philia and sympatheia)
"there is a kind of continuity between the operative love of the Magus and the divine love circulating amongst the celestial hierarchies." 127
"transition is made from mystical magic to magical mysticism"
128-129 Cabala is an optimist gnosis, "Dionysius is surely the supreme type of a Neoplatonist illuminated
by Christian optimism" if gnosis applicable to Pico as "seeking knowledge by religious methods"127