Monday, January 24, 2011

on Pico's Scriptural interpretation, from Life of Pico

The plural method of interpreting Scripture, it must be observed, was by no means peculiar to Pico, indeed was in common use in his day. As a rule, however, commentators were content with three senses, which they distinguished as mystical, anagogical, and allegorical. To Pico's philosophic mind this, no doubt, seemed a pitiful empiricism. For what was the ground of the triple method? Why these three senses and no more? He scorned such grovelling economy and rule of thumb, and determined to place the interpretation of the Mosaic cosmogony once for all on a firm and philosophic basis. Digging, accordingly, deep into the nature of things for the root, as he calls it, of his exegesis, he comes upon the Ptolemaic system with its central earth surrounded by its nine concentric revolving spheres, the nearest that of the moon, the most remote that of the fixed stars, in the interspace the solar and other planetary spheres, and beyond all the stable empyrean. To this he joins the Platonic theory of an intelligible world behind the phenomenal, and the Christian idea of heaven, borrows from the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite his nine orders of angels to correspond with the nine celestial spheres, discerns in the stable empyrean the type of the immutability of God, in matter as the promise and potency of all things, the evidence of His infinite power and fulness, throws in the Neo-Platonic doctrine of the microcosm and macrocosm, and lo! the work is done, and a cosmology constructed, which to elicit from Genesis may f' well demand a sevenfold method of interpretation. The minor details of this curious mosaic, to wit, the correspondence between the nine spheres of corruptible forms and the nine planets, between seraphic "intelligence and the sun, between cherubic intelligence and the moon, seem, for what they are worth, to be all Pico's own.

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