Pico della Mirandola has long been a famous renaissance philosopher, but the exact nature of his contribution rarely accurately understood.
Pico's angel has not yet received a complete study, but deserves one.
Not only has his angelology been neglected, but often misunderstood or dismissed (from radical esoteric--stuckrad--to "angelized philosopher").
Magical readings correct in that Pico's magic needs explanation but tendency is to overread and also to allow for things Pico didn't.
We can better situate Pico in Christian Neoplatonism.
Three influences--Pseudo Dionysius, Aquinas, Proclus
Two themes--theurgy (5 kinds) and ontology (Pico's real interest).
Pico leaves behind magic after Oration+900, but remains preoccupied with ontology throughout his later texts.
Pico's original position on angeology follows from his ontological innovations, rather than any magical opinion.
Rather than magical methods to contact, Pico explores philosophical problems concerning Angels in detail to show reader what to emulate
scholasticism as influence -- should not be seen as limiting influence, but to get at Pico's originality we need to understand how he's using the scholstic formats he employs
themistius 2 Agent Intellect and Metatron
Rabin: Pico didn't practice magic (I don't want to go so far as to say that we know for sure magic was all theoretical for Pico, but I do want to emphasis the largely theoretical nature of any magical project Pico can be understood as developing)
What is Pico's angelology? Not fully systematic, but demonstrates knowledge of and engagement with scholastic model. Provides some strange Kabbalistic notions, as well as arab/neoplatonic notions on Agent Intellect and Hypercosmic Mind, but for the most part Pico is doing standard Christian angelology. His enthusiasm for Dionysian themes gets him into dangerous territory.
disagreements with Ficino, both magical and ontological
Pico uses what Aristotelian elements Aquinas recognized in Dionysius to harmonize Plato and Aristotle
footnote: on subject of influence of medieval scholastic versions of Dionysius, Albert is also important. Albert along with Thomas was one of most important commentators on Dionysius, and represents a different Platonism than that of Aquinas. See Mahoney article on Pico and Albert.
Copenhaver not hermetic magic
I suggest his hermes is more that of Albert, like Iamblichus the metaphysician we have hermes the scholastic, rather than the hernetic theosopher/theurgist
Theurgy and Ontology come together in topic of angelology. Theurgy has been misunderstood, and ontology has not yet received the study it deserves.
BPC Who Wrote? 11 implicit, silent uses of KBL 15 spiritual technique like theurgy 23 angel raphael 11 ineffable the Kabbalah Pico knew was a theurgy
BPC # 51 without making himself guilty of theurgy
BPC # 3 new tools 34 magic kbl link 48-51 angel talisman 49 Metatron as key to Pico's speculative KBL 51 talisman with no words invoking angels
BPC # 36bot stresses KBL distance from demonic
BPC dekanting 311 "pico got it right only when..."
313 FY Pico an "even mightier magus than Ficino" because of his Cabala
321 magic of nature is preliminary to the higher and supernatural magic of theurgy and the Cabala... the ritual and disciplines that make humans into angels (I think Copenhaver overemphasizes Cabala as if it were something extra-Christian that Pico imports then claims is needed--quote Craven that KBL can't be non-Christian by Pico's definition
Pico Chaldean conclusions come from Proclus and Iamblichus, about intelligible and intellectual orders
chaldean5 intelligibles unparticipated
In my interpretation Pico is more of an ontologist than a theurgist. There may be some "hints of theurgy' but there is little more. There is, however, an intense engagement with the ontology of Neoplatonism.
Ficino was also a brilliant ontologist, although he came to a much different Platonism than Pico did. Ficino's magic seems to allow for more of the "Theurgic" and magical-astrological aspects that Pico either rejected or demonstrated little interest in or approval of.
If we take Pico at his word, he's not doing any heterodox theurgy.
Don't want to miss what "real magic" is in fact there in Pico's texts, but also don't want to miss angel metaphysics by misunderstanding them as magic.
Copenhaver's account of Pico's magic sees it in line with NP as a stage in mystical ascent, not angel conjuring.
Later texts--magic drops out but seems to be developing angel emulation regimen of Oration. does he consistently develop this project? Has he said all that needs to be said about his concept of magic, or are we missing a great deal of explanation that he felt too cautious to provide. Apology as last word on magic, stressing limits of KBL.
CB - Pico's esotericism is rooted in PD, not an occultism
influence of Proclus on Aquinas only recently understood, Proclus shouldn't be mistaken as merely a magical source but rather Pico is admiring the same theology that Thomas did.
Proclus was the great architect of Neoplatonic systematic theology, and through Dionysius had a huge influence on Christian systematic theology.
Divinization book -- differences between PD theurgy and Proclus "tapping divine power"
Frances Yates saw Pico as "innocent of the power implications of Agrippa" but nevertheless involved in conjuring.
Craven claims "no hint of theurgy."
Copenhaver uses theurgy to
Agrippa's mistrust of theurgy recalls Augustine's account of theurgists as demon-deceived in City of God chX?
I will be highlighting an aspect of Pico's "Platonism" that has not received much emphasis or study: the influence of Thomas' reading of Dionysius
6 kinds of theurgy
untheorized until Iamblichus. further systematized by Proclus, Christianized by Dionysius--how far does it go and remain "theurgy"?
(roots in Babylonian and Egyptian religion/magic? orphic shamanism?) see Fowden, Lewy, Chaldean scholars for ex. of discussion
2) Neoplatonist theurgies from Iamblichus to Proclus (varied, metaphysical innovation, systematization)
(Pico aware of differences, makes them key elements of his philosophical arguments)
Bussanich: Iamblichus not so far from Plotinus, not superstitious magic but authentic mystical experience
3) Dionysian theurgy (Shaw argues for similarity, Christian scholars for difference,
(benefit of recent careful NP scholarship on differences and similarities)
Pico doesn't focus on liturgical theurgy of Dionysius, although he is huge fan of angelology, theosophy, metaphysics
4) Kabbalistic (Moshe Idel, Shaw's criticism of Idel)
5) theurgy refers to conjuring in Clerical Underworld/Grimoire traditions (see Klaasen, Fanger, Kiekhefer books)
cite Agrippa on theurgy in de vanitate
6) Christian Cabala of Reuchlin to Dee (Yates thought Pico straight line towards,
5/6 but Pico rules out conjuring)
quote for 5) Theurgic magic employed ritual and techniques to invoke and ask favours of ostensibly good spirits, like angels, or in some cases other entities from the Christian pantheon, like saints or the Holy Virgin. In a sense, theurgic work, excemplified for instance by the popular medieval Ars Notoria grimoire, existed on a continuum with prayer, representing a more ritualized (critics would say superstitious) form.
Although the distinction was one between good and evil spirits, this did certainly not mean that Agrippa and his followers approved of theurgy. Agrippa mentioned that the greatest difficulty with theurgic work is that the supposedly benevolent angels may in fact be demons in disguise, tricking the magician into giving supplications to them. In this way, theurgy was always suspect of idolatry – an accusation which was much used against it in the middle ages as well. In fact, medieval authorities seem to have found theurgic work more detestable than «goetic» ritual, precisely for this reason. At least the goetic magician knew what he was doing.
Pico's magic and kabbalah.
moving on to ontology as Pico did.
chapter One: Oration and 900 Conclusions
Copenhaver has recently argued for Pico as Dionysian mysticism
Angels in Oration
New approaches to 900 in Dougherty
Farmer's Sefirot and Henads, unreliability
Syrianus, Simplicius and Iamblichus in the 900
Celestial Hierarchy and ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Proclus in the 900
ontology of angel orders
(Farmer mistakenly thought these conclusions motivated by need to explain sympathetic magic
scholastic angels in the 900
Aquinas' views accepted or critiqued, but not in enough detail
critics of Aquinas with alternative angelologies get space too
is Pico doing angel magic in his early works?
Commento an early text but lacks magical applications.
No need to say he abandons magic merely because he doesn't talk magic in later texts.
Oration seems to be doing Dionysian mysticism.
Magic, like Neoplatonic theurgy, plays a role early in the progress of the philosopher-mystic,
but magic is not "operating on higher levels" or the catalyst of mystical union.
Magic as a Pico topic is kinda boring,
which is why we don't see many studies on it.
Not much left to say, and not much ground for speculating about whether Pico actually did magic.
I suggest he was too busy doing philosophy.
"mostly nonmagical" interpretation of the angel in Oration and 900.
Still need to account for Pico's own concept of magic, and "hints of theurgy,"
but no need to resort to mistaken views that project wrong concepts of magic onto Pico.
Even Copenhaver may be exaggerating "hints of theurgy" by suggesting Pico recognizes theurgy in Kabbalah.
Idel probably closer to the mark suggesting that Pico imports only theosophical into his Christian Cabala.
Kabbalah and "practical" dimension of philosophy not some "magical agency" but Pico's Christian Freedom.
Conclusion of Chapter One
Pico takes angelology very seriously,
leaving discussion of hints of theurgy and moving into more formal ontology
Chapter Two angelology in Pico's other texts
Commento: Angelic Mind
Michael Allen's studies
Begins with ontological preoccupation.
We will see in Heptaplus how the levels of being determine hermeneutics.
Birthday of Venus and theory of Forms -- Pico follows what he describes as a Plotinian path,
experiments with new approaches to Platonic/Aristotelian problems concerning the Forms, in poetic mode
Crofton Black's analysis -- Dionysius and Proclus
hermeneutics has been well discussed,
but angelology in Heptaplus little discussed
Angelology is a topic in chapter (four?) and explicitly indebted to Pseudo-Dionysius
Pico discovers not only angelology and metaphysics of Dionysius in Genesis, but also Thomas Aquinas' act/potency developments.
Heptaplus as cosmological text. 12th century precursors and Albert (Mahoney)
Angelology and Christian cosmology.
influence of Dionysius as tracked in Angel surveys, Rorem, Coakley, "Friar's Natural Philosophy"
development of angelic mind from commento
Metaphysics of Angels in Heptaplus
double imperfection of the angel -- lead-in to BU discussion on formal ontology behind Pico's angel
Conclusion on Heptaplus
It is well known that Pico's On Being and Unity takes an Aristotelian position against the Neoplatonists on the convertibility of being and unity.
But it is less well known that Pico comes to this conclusion following Aquinas' reading of Dionysius, which is more sympathetic to Platonism than has been thought.
While his position on being and unity is Aristotelian, Pico follows Aquinas by importing the "un-Aristotelian" concept of Participation
perfection in on being and unity
life of the angels
Dionysius and Aquinas--Pico takes into account Aquinas' modification of Dionysius
Pico's explanation of negative theology
this helps understand why Pico approaches Angelic Mind as first most perfect creature
use of angel in disputations
emphasizes angels rather than deterministic bodies as main influence on man, consistent with free will
Angels are present in each of Pico's texts to some degree,
almost all uses of angel fit traditional medieval theological style of discussing them, rather than some new theurgic approach like conjuring angels
We see Pico's contribution to Christian Neoplatonism, in which he's clearly situated, is ontological rather than theurgical.
if not conjuring, does Pico continue the kind of "supernatural magic and cabala" envisioned by Copenhaver in his later texts? Are "acts of cabala" really what Pico is claiming is necessary, or does the standard Dionysian model of angelic guidance work just fine. I think for Pico magic fits within Dionysian model, rather than stretching it. Since even NP theurgy is legitimate religious sentiment allied to philosophical contemplation, doesn't need to be radically different from NP theurgy to remain valid in terms of Christianity, unless PD is a heretic.