Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Survey of Angels in Pico's main texts
Pico's texts show consistent interest in angel as figure for Christian inspiration, model for unity and contemplation, not a sorcery partner. Copenhaver has demonstrated how Pico's "Becoming Angelic" makes sense in the tradition of Dionysian mysticism. Future research on Pico's angelology should seek to understand how he sees himself as working within Dionysian tradition. Current scholarship on Dionysius has given detailed picture of how Dionysius himself worked with the Neoplatonic traditions that he employed in order to create Christian Angelology. My suggestion is that we can learn something from Dionysius' handling of Neoplatonic materials that can be applied to understanding what Pico is doing as a Christian Neoplatonist.
Disputations: Pico demonstrates his "angel bias" indicating that we should think of ourselves as influenced by superior angels not inferior bodies like planets. Pico wants to open himself up to higher cognitive possibilities, not get tied down in power relationships to the world.
De Ente--Angel does not have a perfect life, intelligence, or being. Pico points to a moment in Dionysian metaphysics crucial to Aquinas. Fran O'Rourke shows in his book Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas that St. Thomas used the metaphysical innovations on Neoplatonism pioneered by Dionysius to come to his own scholastic breakthrough on God as absolute being, "ipsum esse subsistens." Pico demonstrates his acceptance of these Thomistic metaphysical developments in his discussion of Dionysian negative theology in Chapter 5. Did he intend in his 900 Theses to reread the late neoplatonists in the light of Aquinas' developments in Dionysian metaphysics?
Heptaplus: Angel as Number involves high neoplatonic ontology of 900 Theses-Celestial Hierarchy mechanics-but not mathemagical implications? Pico does not explicitly discuss magic or Kabbalah in Heptaplus, although he is still doing "Angel Comparison" and using philosophical angelology to exhort reader to do religious contemplative behaviors in imitation, rivaling, even becoming or going beyond angels. This is explicitly a Dionysian project, and as in the Oration there is no need to bring magic into it in order to explain Pico's use of angels.
Pico in Heptaplus divides authorities on angels into two categories: Christian and Jewish, but says he only has space to deal with Christian authority, who is Dionysius. We don't know what Jewish angelology he might have brought into play. Does he hint at Kabbalistic angel magic or did he merely intend to refer to Jewish angelology as another set of theological doctrines basically compatible with Dionysian ideas? In any case the ancient Hebrew metaphysics he discovers in Genesis turns out in his reading to correlate precisely with the metaphysics of Dionysius (even those metaphysical ideas of Dionysius that didn't occur until Aquinas). Some silent use is made of Jewish hermeneutics in the Heptaplus (according to Crofton Black) but Pico does not use kabbalah to do hermeneutics. He does discuss the angel as Number, which brings into play some of the high neoplatonic ontology that he dealt with in the 900 Theses on the mechanics of the Celestial Hierarchy.
Commento: Intelligible being is angelic being. Neoplatonic mythical allegory and poetic theology can be used to explore the "intelligible world" of the Angelic Mind, which humans participate in at the lowest level. While he usually follows Dionysius, in this text Pico takes a Plotinian position on the unity and simplicity of the angelic mind, which he says is contrary to the Proclan or Dionysian approach of thinking of the gods/angels as a multiplicity. Just as Pico disagrees on some points with Thomas Aquinas, he has a bone to pick with Dionysius when looking at the Angelic Mind from a certain point of view, and feels that his original take on the problems concerning Angelic Mind are a useful contribution to Christian Neoplatonism.
Oration: We know about angelic life from the revealed scriptures, as well as theological authorities like Dionysius and St. Thomas. In order to be inspired with the kind of wonder that motivates the best philosophy, we should imitate the life and functions of the angels. Pico explains that these angelic "burning" behaviors at the celestial level correspond at the human level to the higher cognitive functions of contemplation, which he theorizes in dangerously Platonist terms as having an intellectual/angelic part. Pico may be hinting at Dionysian theurgy--the angels are part of celestial hierarchy (and thus the higher analogy to priests in the church) which is what accomplishes the theurgic work of Jesus: angels communicate what can be known of the transcendent God via theurgic illuminations.
I will look at Pico's theme of the angels as inspiration to humans in the Oration. I will show that Pico is using the angels as part of a Dionysian mysticism firmly rooted in Christian Neoplatonic tradition, rather than as a theurgic conjuring project. Since the attempt to resolve Pico's "imitating/becoming angel" project with his magic and kabbalah later in the Oration (and especially in the 900 Theses) has led to much confusion, and moreover because the angelology of Pico's later texts does not seem to depend in any way on his magical ideas, I will argue that we should look at his angelology separate from the magic and kabbalah problem. I will refer to arguments that have ruled out many of the more lurid theurgic possibilities in Pico, and make my own argument that even Dionysian theurgy is not the best term for Pico's mysticism. I don't want to rule theurgy out entirely as I do see some problems remaining with Pico's more explicit uses of magic and Kabbalah in the 900 theses, but these traces or hints of theurgy are not enough to contaminate Pico's entire angelology with sorcery! In the next section I will look at angels in the 900 Theses which the Oration introduced--rather than emphasizing the magical parts I will look at what I'm calling the "Proclan conclusions" -- around 100 theses taken from texts of Proclus dealing with ideas from late platonism. It is here that we can see