Friday, February 4, 2011

The Angel Comparison in Pico's Oration

Pico begins his Oration with a few key Biblical references on angels. According to David, man is only a little lower than the angels. This is an especially effective quotation because it sets up the paradox that Pico is exploring in so few words. Man is connected to the angels—having a rational soul he is part of the angelic continuum of spiritual/intellectual substances—although he is at the bottom rung of the hierarchy. The distance between man and angels must be preserved, but man has such an exalted position in the cosmos that he is only “a little lower” and almost seems to threaten the status of the angels. Pico will be concerned consistently with this comparison, explaining in detail the Christian story about what man shares with angels, how he differs from them, and in some of his more controversial moments what advantages man has over angels. Man can choose his own destiny, but angels being messengers of the divine without self-determination cannot.

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