Friday, January 7, 2011
a note on theurgy
I'm writing my paper the way I am because I noticed that theurgy is a
problem. Before Copenhaver there were two camps. Craven says "no hint of
theurgy" can be found in any of Pico's Kabbalist conclusions. On the other
hand the "theurgic interpretation" holds that Pico was giving emphasis to
"The theurgic" or implying some kind of angel summoning magic. But nobody
making these claims has done much writing to establish what they mean by
theurgy, they just make the accusation. Far as I've read...
Copenhaver has advanced the problem of theurgy, but he uses the term
inconsistently. On the one hand he speaks of theurgy positively as it
applies to Pico by saying Pico recognized some kind of theurgy he was
looking for in Kabbalah and Neoplatonism. But Copenhaver also argues (in
Number, Shape...) that Pico is trying to do an angel talisman "without being
guilty of theurgy." So is there an "Angel Magic" in Pico that doesn't
include the kind of conjuring that Pico himself emphatically rejected? Does
the term theurgy help us establish this?
I'm looking at a number of definitions of theurgy in my discussion of the
term as it may apply to Pico. I don't think he's doing pagan Neoplatonic
theurgy in the sense of invoking polytheist gods. But on the other hand when
properly understood NP theurgy is a mystical philosophy much like the
Dionysian mystical theology (and we know that now because we understand how
NP theurgy influenced Dionysius)... Dionysian theurgy is the next place to
look. I've found in my study of Pico's use of Dionysius+NP that while Pico
is strongly interested in the metaphysics of angels in Dionysius and
Proclus/Iamblichus but he doesn't talk about the specifically "Theurgic"
dimensions of pagan or Christian NP. Pico has little interest in ritual or
liturgy, which is where Dionysian theurgy happens. (See Wear/Dillon and Perl
on the relationship of Dionysius to NP), Pico doesn't mean theurgy by magic.
There's also the medieval and late renaissance meanings of theurgy as
grimoire conjuring magic. Pico rules this out in Oration and Apology.
After Pico we see what some scholars are calling "Christological Theurgy"
in Reuchlin, but I don't think that's a good description of what Pico's doing.
Pico of course never uses the term theurgy, but he never quotes Dionysius
who used the term dozens of times in various ways. Pico follows Dionysius
on scriptural interpretation, but he doesn't say we "become theurgic" when
we read scripture, or that we're finding "theurgic lights" in there. But maybe
this Dionysian notion of "becoming theurgic" can help us understand what
Pico means by "becoming theurgic" -- which Dougherty has argued is Pico's
original solution to the problem of Deification.
My point about philosophy being the model for understanding what Pico is
doing, rather than magic, is that we can learn things about Pico's motivations
in studying Neoplatonism and Kabbalah by looking at the Thomistic and
Dionysian background to Pico's angelology. Rather than going to NP+KBL
for magic he's clearly going there to develop the Christian NP angelology.
Since the influence of Proclus+Iamblichus on Aquinas (via Dionysius) is
so much better understood, I want to show that we can use this new view
of Aquinas+Platonism to work on Pico and solve problems understanding him.
Overall I think using the term theurgy to describe Pico is a bad move b/c
we already have better terms like "mystical ascent" "mystical theology"