Sunday, January 23, 2011
three paragraph introduction
Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) was one of the most famous philosophers of the Renaissance, and he is perhaps unique in being the renaissance philosopher subject to the most varied and controversial interpretations. This study will focus on the problem of interpreting Pico's angelology. Since Pico wrote about "magic and Kabbalah" he has been haunted by accusations of "angel magic" or "theurgy." Counter to arguments that seek to find an occultist interpretation of Pico, other scholars find "magic and Kabbalah" to play a much more limited role in Pico's philosophy. Pico's angelology is understood in this view as being inspired by philosophical rather than magical motivations. In this study I will explore Pico's angelology and argue for the latter interpretation. Although I admit that "magic and Kabbalah" are still a problem in Pico studies, and will ultimately bracket the problem of applying the term "theurgy" to Pico's philosophy or mysticism, I feel that his angelology can be much better explained in the context of Pico's philosophical interests. As such I will emphasize Pico's commitment as a Christian to the theology and angelology of Dionysius the Areopagite (also known as Pseudo-Dionysius) and the medieval scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas. Pico spoke of these two authorities together as "the glory of our theology"and devoted a great deal of space in his texts to their philosophy of angels. It is this philosophical angelology that forms the foundation of Pico's project of writing about angels. Many of the misconceptions concerning Pico's treatment of angels can be clear up when this context is understood and taken into account.
Until recently, scholarly interpretation of Pico's angelology, and especially his "magic and Kabbalah," have neglected to take into account Pico's commitments in Christian angelology. In his writings on angels Pico looked at Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic philosophical material that he thought supported or confirmed the Christian metaphysics of angels Pico inherited from Dionysius and Aquinas. Theurgic or occultist interpretations of Pico have claimed that this metaphysical material can be explained as explorations of Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic magic of some mysterious sort. But it may be a better explanation to see Pico's encounters with Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic angelology primarily in the context of his already Christian philosophical commitments. Pico was not turning to Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic lore and metaphysics of angels in order to construct an alternative system or gain magical power, but rather to develop the ideas he found in Dionysius and Aquinas. His originality lies not in his association of magic with Kabbalah or angels, but in the original ways he approached Neoplatonic metaphysics of angels.
In my opening chapter I will review theurgic interpretations of Pico's Oration and 900 Conclusions. After discussing the passages on angels that have drawn the most significant accusations of heresy or angel magic, I will proceed to consider scholarship that takes a different view, interpreting Pico's angelology as a philosophical contribution to the Christian Neoplatonic Tradition. In my second chapter I will look at angelology in Pico's Commento and later texts Heptaplus, On Being and the One, and Disputations against Astrology. In these texts magic is no longer a question, although Pico is still developing the same themes from the Oration of imitating the angelic contemplative life by exploring angelic metaphysics.