Friday, January 7, 2011
Pico and Dionysian theurgy
Pico's main angelology source is Pseudo Dionysius, whom Pico cites or makes silent use of with nearly every breath when discussing angels. The only conclusion accused of heresy dealing with angels is a Pico effort to speak in something like the mode of Dionysius. Pico recognizes in Kabbalah and Neoplatonism not a conjuring magic but a mystical theology. Pico refers to Dionysius along with Aquinas as "the glory of our
theology" and all of his researches into magic+Kabbalah should be seen in this light. Pico saw magic and Kabbalah not as novel practices outside of Christian orthodoxy to be exploited for power gain, but as useful tools for confirming Christian metaphysics. He claimed to be able to reconcile metaphysical differences of opinion between medieval scholastic angel theorists like Aquinas and Duns Scotus, but never got the opportunity to demonstrate what he said he knew how to do. In his later texts he abandons his dangerous ideas about magic, post-Averroistic play with Agent Intellect and Metatron lore, and focuses on the Thomistic-Dionysius themes of angelology. I will look at Pico's encounters with Neoplatonism and Kabbalah in the 900 Conclusions from this angle, seeking to demonstrate that an understanding of the influence of Neoplatonists like Proclus and Iamblichus (via Dionysius) on Aquinas can help use understand Pico's own encounter with Neoplatonism. I am not attempting to evaluate Pico's orthodoxy, but I want to build on the growing scholarly consensus that Pico was earnest, pious, and philosophically serious by arguing further that Pico's angelology deserves a fresh reading in the light of recent Dionysius and Aquinas scholarship. The beauty, subtlety, and originality of Pico's angelology has been obscured by the glamorous but ill-founded rumors of his sorcerous, radically antinomian/gnostic/pantheist/intellectualist/crypto-Origenist/theurgical "magic." This is not to say that I mean to reject these occultist/theurgic magical Pico's before further research has clarified the many unknowns--what I am arguing is that we need to understand the philosophical angelology of Pico first before we can move on to speculate about his possible "angel magic." Rather than completely rule out any "hint of theurgy" as Craven does I am interested in following developments of Copenhaver's positive and negative uses of "theurgy."