Saturday, February 5, 2011

Neoplatonic theurgy and Dionysian theurgy.

While Copenhaver sees Pico's "angelic regimen" as somehow involving both an attraction to theurgy in one sense, and avoidance of theurgy in another sense, both senses apparently in reference to Neoplatonic and Kabbalistic varieties of theurgy, he does not consider Dionysian theurgy as an influence on Pico. Pico did not use the term theurgy, which he must have been aware of from reading Augustine against theurgy, as well as the Greek texts of Iamblichus and Dionysius. But Dionysius was quite fond of the term, which he appropriated from Neoplatonists and adapted for his own purposes--inventing new forms of the word just as he invented the term "hierarchy"--although he did not use theurgy to describe magical practices. Rather, Dionysian theurgy is a description of the saving work of God and via the Celestial Hierarchy, with Jesus as head angel. Theurgy is available to man via the Scriptures, which contains a revealed knowledge handed down from angels. Reading scripture is a theurgic practice in the sense that it allows us to participate in the theurgic illumination of the angels; we find "theurgic lights" in the Biblical text. Dionysius scholars do not consider theurgy a superstitious magic, but sacramental theology. Recent scholarship on Dionysius has studied in detail the similarities and differences between Dionysian and Neoplatonic theurgy--some see Dionysius as working strenuously to adapt Neoplatonism to his Christian system in order to avoid the problems Christians see in pagan theology, but others have insisted that Dionysian theurgy is essential the same as Neoplatonic.

But Pico seems to be no more interested in Dionysian theurgy than he is in Neoplatonic theurgy. He does not get into the details of sacramental theology or liturgy. His mysticism like that of Dionysius is comparable to the theurgic mystical systems of Dionysius, and perhaps the Neoplatonists (if we can consider them mystics--see Bussanich for a recent rigorous inquiry into the notion of Neoplatonism as "mystical theology"), but since he does not use the language of theurgy and favors other modes of explanation, it is hard to see why we should need the term theurgy to explain what Pico is doing. Crofton Black's recent study of Pico emphasizes the Proclan and Dionysian influences but does not describe Pico as doing theurgy, preferring Pico's own terms. Black describes Pico as consistently treating the theme of intellectual ascent, which is not a magical program but a philosophical account of the progression to Christian felicitas. This model of Pico's concern with felicitas, which Black traces through Pico's major texts, provides us with an alternative explanation to the magical and theurgic, or occultist interpretations of Pico's "angel regimen." Perhaps Pico doesn't offer a practical system of magic at all, but merely an idiosyncratic philosophical account of mystical theology and the metaphysics of angels, which he sees as keys to Christian spirituality rather than magical power.

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