Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola on Genesis

At his excellent blog Reditus, Artruo Vasquez, a reader of Just Genesis, has written an informative and interesting piece on the 15th century Neo-Platonist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Here is what he has written:

Like many great religious thinkers, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola saw the end of all things in the beginning. Having retired to a villa near Fiesole in Italy around 1489, Pico della Mirandola began to write about many controversial topics that were on his mind. Here he wrote works that among other things refuted the use of astrology and tried to reconcile the differences between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Here as well he wrote a re-conciliatory meditation on the account of creation told in the Book of Genesis known as the Heptaplus. As in all works, it was Pico’s ambition to reconcile various seemingly divergent strands of human thought to harmonize them in a Neoplatonic synthesis. In Pico’s reading, as in many ancient authors, symbolism and the spiritual senses of Scripture are used to draw out the metaphysical richness of the Hebrew text. For Pico as with many Christian authors, Genesis does not just re-tell the beginning of history, but reveals its meaning and its end as well.

For Pico della Mirandola, the text of Genesis is not just historical, but also profoundly metaphysical. The order of Creation reveals the fundamental structure of the cosmos. The division of male and female, for example, represents, “two powers in the same substance, one of which is engaged in contemplation while the other rules the body”. For the phrase, “Let there be light”, Pico explains that:

…light was made in the angel, the light of intelligible forms; and the evening and the morning were one day since, as Averroes shows, from the intellect and the intelligible is made a greater unity than from matter and form, because… truth is grasped far better by angels than by men.

Dry land in Pico’s text does not just represent the earth, but matter itself. Pico’s reading then is not one of modern logical progression, but rather the pealing of various layers of meaning within the divine text.

Read it all here.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

I enjoyed reading this, Arturo. Here is what I discovered as I was doing some additional reading:

In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, he exalted humanity as being capable of rising to the level of angels through philosophical speculation (here we see the continuing influence of Plato and Aristotle). He pictured humans between beasts and angels and insisted that by allowing reason to rule our emotions, we ascend to the level of angels, and by acting against reason, we descend to the level of beasts. He asserted that only human beings could change themselves since humans alone have free will. His Oration on the Dignity of Man is considered the “Manifesto of the Renaissance.”