Tuesday, February 8, 2011


We have seen a consistent interest in philosophical angelology throughout Pico's texts. His initially shocking and apparently provocative rhetoric of “Angel comparison” in the Oration, although it has been misinterpreted and exaggerated in “angel magic” interpretations, turns out not to represent a new and radical approach to angelology. Rather the Oration is consistent with the rest of Pico's major texts in presenting a mystical philosophy rooted in the Christian Neoplatonic tradition. Although it does present a bold view of man making the choice to become angelic and even godlike, this view is Pico's rhetorical celebration of the Biblical and medieval picture of man's relationship to angels. It is not some heretical or proto-modern view, although it is admittedly unique and highly original. This originality has yet to be fully appreciated in philosophical study of Pico, and it is my hope that this paper makes a contribution to a view of Pico as seriously interested in the angelology he studies, rather than merely speculating about Neoplatonic metaphysics as an excuse to infuse human life with a magical angelic being.

Future study of the meaning of Pico's angelology should pay more attention to his debts to, and departure from, not only the Neoplatonic philosophy he encounters but also the Christian Neoplatonism of Dionysius and Aquinas that forms his theological commitments. His metaphysical speculations, however tentative and obscure, can best be understood as an original contribution to this philosophical tradition, rather than a resort to magic.

I have emphasized the centrality of Dionysius, who has received some attention in recent studies establishing his role as a significant influence on Pico. But the study of the influence of Dionysius in specifically angelological and metaphysical terms still remains to be done. Brian Copenhaver's study of Dionysius as an influence on Pico's mystical “angel regimen” and Crofton Black's study of the role of angels in Pico's Heptaplus, as Michael Allen's analysis of the Platonic exegesis of the Commento, have provided a solid foundation, but we await a full study of the philosophical influence of Dionysius on Pico's unique approach to harmonizing the Aristotelian and Platonic traditions he is working with.

I have also emphasized the influence of the medieval scholastic interpretation of Dionysius on Pico, specically in terms of the influence of Aquinas. Recent scholarship on the topic of Aquinas and Platonism has brought to light a great deal of information about the encounter with Neoplatonism that Aquinas experienced in his efforts to systematize the theological and angelological insights of Dionysius. These insights depend on a complicated interaction with the Neoplatonic response to Aristotle that represents the background to Pico's own project of resolving differences between Aristotelian Platonic schools. Aquinas' understanding of Aristotelian and Platonic approaches was shaped by his reading of Dionysius as well as Proclus, and forms a significant part of the ground of Pico's own encounter with Neoplatonism. Future study of Pico should take into account the role of Aquinas in shaping the Christian Neoplatonic interpretation of Dionysius which Pico inherits. It is this inheritance that is the source of Pico's most important and interesting philosophical problems, rather than magic.

1 comment:

  1. This is serious and important scholarship on Pico, showing a keen awareness of cutting edge debates on the reception of ancient philosophy in Medieval and Renaissance thought.

    Deeply researched and argumentatively cogent, it's well beyond the level of work I've generally seen in an MA thesis, and would be taken seriously as a proposal for a doctoral dissertation in any program concerned with the history of philosophy.

    Edward Butler