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selections from Pico's angelology - most revealing of neoplatonic encounter


Angelology in Pico's 900 Theses
3>49 It is more improperly said that God is intellect or that which has intellect, than that the rational soul is an angel.

3>43. The act by which the angelic and rational nature is bestowed with
the greatest happiness is an act neither of the intellect nor of the will, but
is the union of the unity that exists in the otherness of the soul with the
unity that exists without otherness.

3>63. Although in the soul there exists in act an intellectual nature, through
which it convenes with the angel, just as a rational nature exists in it, through
which it is distinguished from that, there is nothing intrinsic in it through
which it is able, without the appropriate image, to understand something dis-
tinct from itself.

5>13. If we follow the theology of Syrianus, it is rational [to claim] that priests
in the ecclesiastical hierarchy correspond to the analogous powers in the celes-
tial hierarchy.

5>21. When Plato says that Love was bom from the union of Poverty and
Plenty in the garden of Jove, on the birthday of Venus while the gods feasted,
he means only this, that then the first love, that is, the desire of beauty, was
bom in the angelic mind when in it the splendor of ideas, though imperfecdy,
began to shine.

5>17. If we follow the doctrine of Syrianus, it is appropriate after the unity of
total intellection, which is also divided triply into substantial, potential, and
operative intellection, to posit another triad of intellection, namely, partial,
participated, and imagerial.

20.7. Man's greatest happiness exists when our particular intellect is fully
conjoined to the first and total intellect.

19.2. I believe that the active intellect that is illuminating only in Themistius
is the same as Metatron in the Cabala.

11>10. That which among the Cabalists is called Metatron
is without doubt that which is called Pallas by Orpheus, the paternal mind
by Zoroaster, the son of God by Mercury, wisdom by Pythagoras, the
intelligible sphere by Parmenides.

6.7. A superior angel illuminates an inferior not because it presents to it a
luminous object, or because it particularizes and divides for the other what is
united in itself, but because it strengthens and fortifies the intellect of the
inferior.

25.2. In participated numbers some are images of numbers, others the unions
of images.

26.5. The intelligible order does not subsist within the intellectual order, as
Ahmose the Egyptian said, but over the whole intellectual hierarchy, unparti-
cipatively hidden in the abyss of the first unity, and under the cloud of the
first darkness.

10>9. Guardians in Orpheus and powers in Dionysius are the same.

10>13. Typhon in Orpheus and Samael in the Cabala are the same.

2.18. Aeviturnity exists subjectively in more beatified angels.

2.21. No multiplicity of angels exists in the same species.



limits of man vs. angels in Pico's Heptaplus
129 top Following Thomas, in his Heptaplus Pico discusses angels as a “composition of act and potency

134 It is a difficult question why man has this privilege of being in the image of God. If we reject the folly of Melito, who represented God in human form, and revert to the nature of reason and mind, which like God is intelligent, invisible and incorporeal, we shall prove that man is like God, especially in that part of his soul which displays the image of the Trinity. But let us recognize that as in the angels these same things are much stronger and less mixed with the opposite nature than in us, the angels have more likeness and affinity with the divine nature.

134 Let us recognize that as in the angels these same things are much stronger and less mixed with the opposite nature than in us, the angels have more likeness and affinity with the divine nature.

135 We seek something peculiar to man in which we may ascertain both the dignity proper to him and the image of the divine substance which he shares with no other creature. What can it be but the substance of man which (as some Greek commentators intimate) encompasses by its very essence the substances of all natures and the fullness of the whole universe? I say by its very essence, moreover, because not only the angels, but any intelligent creatures whatever include all things in themselves in some degree when, filled with their forms and reasons, they know them.

135 The difference between God and man is that God contains all things in Himself in their origin, and man contains all things in himself as their center.



Man and Angels in Pico's Oration
little lower than the angels

God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. Whichever of these a man shall cultivate, the same will mature and bear fruit in him...if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God.

even the esoteric theology of the Hebrews at times transforms the holy Enoch into that angel of divinity which is sometimes called malakh-ha-shekhinah and at other times transforms other personages into divinities of other names

Moses loved the Lord Whom he saw and, as a judge, he administered to the people the things that he earlier saw on the mountain as a contemplator.
Hence the Cherub, located in the middle position, prepares us for the Seraphic fire and likewise illuminates us for the judgment of the Thrones.
This is the bond of the First Minds, the order of Pallas, the guardian of contemplative philosophy. First we must emulate him, thirst after him and to the same degree understand him in order that we may be raised to the heights of love and descend well taught and prepared to the duties of action.
And so it is valuable, if our life is to be modeled on the example of the Cherubs' life, to have before our eyes an idea of what their life is and what it is like, what their actions are and what works are theirs.
Because we, who are flesh and know only earthly things, are not permitted to follow their model of our own accord, let us consult the ancient Fathers for they, to whom these things were common and well known, can provide us with certain and abundant evidence of its nature.


Let us ask the Apostle Paul, that vessel of election, in what activity he saw the armies of the Cherubim engaged when he was rapt into the third heaven. He will answer, according to the interpretation of Dionysius, that he saw them first being purified, then illuminated, and finally made perfect. We, therefore, imitating the life of the Cherubim here on earth, by refraining the impulses of our passions through moral science, by dissipating the darkness of reason by dialectic --- thus washing away, so to speak, the filth of ignorance and vice --- may likewise purify our souls, so that the passions may never run rampant, nor reason, lacking restraint, range beyond its natural limits. Then may we suffuse our purified souls with the light of natural philosophy, bringing it to final perfection by the knowledge of divine things.

Let us also cite Moses himself, who is but little removed from the living well-spring of the most holy and ineffable understanding by whose nectar the angels are inebriated.

If, by moral philosophy, the power of our passions shall have been restrained ... raised to the most eminent height of theology, ... we shall become the winged lovers of theology... smitten by the ineffable love as by a sting, and, like the Seraphim, filled with the godhead, we shall be, no longer ourselves, but the very One who made us.

Once we, inspired by the Cherubic spirit, have reached this point through the art of speaking or of reasoning, that is, philosophizing according to the grades of Nature, penetrating the whole from the center to the center, we will then descend, dashing the one into many with Titanic force like Osiris, and ascend, drawing together with Apollonian force the many into one like Osiris' limbs6 until at last, resting in the bosom of the Father Who is at the top of the ladder, we will be made perfect in theological bliss.

For we, raised to her most eminent height... roused by ineffable love as if by a sting, and borne outside ourselves like burning Seraphim, filled with the godhead, we shall be no longer ourselves, but He Himself Who made us.
...

These are the books of cabalistic wisdom. In these books, as Esdras unmistakably states, resides the springs of understanding, that is, the ineffable theology of the supersubstantial deity; the fountain of wisdom, that is, the precise metaphysical doctrine concerning intelligible and angelic forms; and the stream of wisdom, that is, the best established philosophy concerning nature.


Man elevated above the angels in Pico's Heptaplus

115 Finally Moses mentions man - not because he is an angel, but because he is end and terminus of the angelic world, just as when discussing corruptible nature he presents man not as part of that nature, but as its beginning and head. From this it comes that the discussion of man pertains to the three worlds, to that which is proper to him and to both extremes, the incorporeal and the elementary, between which he is placed so that he is the end of one and the beginning of the other. But I see a trap prepared for our interpretation, since it may be pointed out that man is set over the fish of the sea, the birds, and the beasts. If these signify the angelic natures, how can what is written be true, that over them is set man, who, the philosophers know and the Prophet testifies, is lower than the angels? Let Him who also ground Satan under our feet, Jesus Christ, the first-born of all creatures, aid us and destroy the trap. He surely destroys the trap and loosens and bursts every knot, not only because in Him, in Whom all divinity dwelt corporeally, human nature is so elevated that Christ as a man, so far as He is man, teaches, enlightens, and perfects the angels, if we believe Dionysius (CH IV), being made according to Paul much better than the angels, (Hebrews 1:4), as He inherited a more excellent name than they but also because all of us, to whom the power is given to become sons of God through the grace whose giver is Christ, can be raised to an honor above that of the angels.



Pico's Heptaplus on Angel as number

107 God alone, who is derived from nothing and from whom all things are derived, is a wholly simple and individual essence… Therefore an angel is not unity itself, or else he would be God, or there would be many gods, which cannot even be conceived. For what will be one if not a unity? It is left for an angel to be a number. But if it is, it is a number in one aspect and a multiplicity in another. Every number, however, is imperfect insofar as it is a multiplicity, but perfect so far as it is one. Therefore, whatever is imperfect in an angel let us ascribe to the angels’ multiplicity, which it has from being a number, that is, a creature; and whatever is perfect to its participation in unity, which it has from being associated with God.

In an angel we find a double imperfection: the one, that it is not being itself but only an essence to which being comes by participation, so that it may be; the other, that it is not intelligence itself but only happens to understand, since by its nature it is an intellect capable of understanding. The second imperfection, however, depends on the first, since what does not exist of itself, certainly does not understand by itself, since there can be nothing where being itself is not. Therefore both of these imperfections befall an angel insofar as it is a multiplicity. It remains for its perfection and completion to be produced by unity coming from above. God is the unity from which angels draw their being, their life, and all their perfection.

Any number, after unity, is perfected and completed by unity. Unity along, completely simple, perfected by itself, does not go beyond itself but in its individual and solitary simplicity is composed of itself, since it is self-sufficient, in want of nothing, and full of its own riches. Since number by its nature is manifold, it is simple--so for as it is capable of simplicity--only by virtue of unity; and although every number falls into ever greater multiplicity the further it is removed from unity, and the more diversity, the more parts, and the more compoundness there is in it; nevertheless, none is so close to unity as not to be a multiple, having only an accidental unity and being one not by nature but by composition.

Let us apply these notions to divine things, after the Pythagorean custom. God alone, who is derived from nothing and from whom all things are derived, is a wholly simple and individual essence. Whatever he has, he has from himself. For the same reason that he exists, he knows, wills, and is good and just. We cannot understand any reason why he exists except that he is being itself. Other things are not being itself, but exist by means of it.
-108

109 An angel, from what we have said, has perfectly realized his own nature and intellectual qualities. Nevertheless, he does not have a way to fulfill his functions of understanding and contemplation unless he is first surrounded by God with intelligible forms. For this reason the darkness has hitherto been upon the face of the deep.



excerpts from Pico's Commento on the Angelic Level of Being (Jayne translation)
77 The Platonists hold as a fundamental postulate that every created thing has three kinds of being. The three are given different names by different Platonists, but they all mean the same thing. For present purposes we can use the following terms for them: causal being, formal being, and participated being.

77 The sun, according to philosophers, is not itself hot, for heat is an earthly property and not a heavenly one, but the sun is nonetheless the cause and source of all heat. Fire is hot, both by virtue of its level of being and by virtue of its own form. A piece of wood is not hot of itself, but it certainly can be heated by fire, in which case it participates the aforementioned property from the fire. Thus this thing called heat has causal being in the sun, formal being in fire, and participated being in wood or other such material.

77 Of these three kinds of being, the highest and most perfect causal being. Accordingly the Platonists believe that all of the powers which are commonly attributed to God exist in Him only in the causal mode of being. Thus they say that God is not Himself being but the cause of all being, and similarly that God is not Himself intellect. Statements such as these can give a modern Platonist a good deal of trouble if he does not understand the principle behind them. I remember that a great Platonist once told me that he was amazed by a passage in which Plotinus says that God understands nothing and knows nothing. It is perhaps even more amazing that my Platonist did not understand in what sense Plotinus means that God does not understand: Plotinus simply means that the attribute of understanding exists in God in its causal being rather than in its formal being. Plotinus is not denying that God understands; he is only attributing to him understanding of a higher and more perfect kind. That this is the case can be clearly understood from the following. Dionysius the Areopagite, the prince of the Christian theologians, says in one place that God knows not only Himself but also every smallest particular thing; but elsewhere Dionysius uses the same manner of speaking that Plotinus uses, saying that God is not an intellectual or intelligent creature, but is ineffably exalted above all intellect and cognition.

78 This distinction among three kinds of being should be noted carefully, for it sheds much light on the understanding of Platonic philosophy, and we shall refer to it often. [end first chapter]

78 [Second Chapter] That every creature falls into one of three classes. The Platonists divide all creatures into three classes. Two of these classes are extremes. In one class is included every creature which is corporeal and visible, such as the sky, the elements, the plants, and everything which is composed of the elements. In the other class is included every creature which is invidible and not only incorporeal but also entirely free and separate from any body. This latter class is properly called the intellectual level of being, and our theologians call it the Angelic level of being.

Between these two extremes there is an intermediate level of being which, although it is itself incorporeal, invisible, and immortal, is nevertheless burdened with the function of giving motion to the corporeal world. This intermediate level of being is called the Rational Soul; it is lower than Angelic being, but higher than corporeal. It is subject to the former, but mistress over the latter.

Above these three hypostases is God Himself, the author and cause of every creature. The Attribute of divinity has its causal being in God, its original source. Proceeding directly from Him, divinity has its second or formal being in the Angelic hypostasis

79 Finally, divinity appears again in the Rational Soul, participated there from the Angelic hypostases. Thus the Platonists say that divinity is limited to three hypostases, namely, God, the Angelic Mind, and the Rational Soul) the first, God, cannot be multiplied, and that one God alone is the source and cause of every other kind of divinity.

81 The Platonists and the ancient philosophers Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster call this first creature sometimes “son of God,” sometimes “Wisdom,” sometimes “Mind,” and sometimes “Divine Reason,” which some even interpret as “the word.” But everyone should be careful not to suppose that this “word” is the “Word” that our theologians call the “Son of God.” For what we mean by “the Son” is of one and the same essence as the Father, is equal to him in everything, and, lastly, is a creator and a creature; whereas what the Platonists call “the son of God” must be identified with the first and noblest angel created by God.
[interesting to compare Zosimos on “Hermes and Zoroaster” in his discussion on the letter Omega]

81-82 In order to understand what follows, it is necessary to know that every cause which produces a certain effect, whether through art or through intellect, first contains within itself the form of the thing which it wishes to produce, just as an architect has within himself, in his mind, the form of the building which he wants to build, and following that form as his model, designs and contructs his work in imitation of it. This kind of form the Platonists call an Idea or exemplar, and they say the form of the building which the builder has in his mind must be truer and more perfect than that of the building subsequently constructed by him in the appropriate material, such as stone or wood or the like. The first form of being they call ideal or intelligible being; the other they call material or sensible being. Thus if a builder builds a house, the Platonists would say that there are two houses; one intelligible, the one which the builder has in his mind, and the other sensible, the one which he has constructed out of marble or stone, expressing as fully as he can in that material the form which he has conceived within himself.

82 Now the Platonists say that although God created only one creature, the First Mind, nevertheless in effect He created all creatures, for in that First Mind, He created the Ideas or Forms of all things. For in that Mind is the Idea of the sun, the Idea of the moon, of men, of all the animals, of the plants, of the stones, of the elements, and of everything in the world. And since the Idea of the sun is a truer sun than the visible sun is, and so on with all of the other things in world, it follows not only that God created all things, but also that he created them in the truest and most perfect kind of being they can have, that is, in true, ideal, and intelligible being. For this reason the Platonists call the First Mind the intelligible world.

84 Because the contemplative life is concerned with beings which are superior to the one who does the contemplating, whereas the active life is concerned with beings which are inferior to, and ruled or governed by, the one who is superior to them, any being resembles the active life to the extent that it turns in some way towards beings inferior to itself. Now that we have explained these three names, we have only to analyze the various functions of each of the three hypostases and it will be clear which name is applicable to each function of each hypostasis, and for what reason.

85 In the case of the first hypostasis, it cannot be supposed that He contemplates, because this is the property of the First Mind, of which God is the source and cause; God thereby cannot be called Saturn. The only one of these functions that can be attributed to God is that he is the beginning of everything; but in this attribution are included two properties. The first is pre-eminence and superiority, and for this attribute He can be called Uranus. The second is the fact that he produces creatures. In this creation there is implied a turning toward things which are inferior to Him while He is creating them. Such turning, we said above, is like the active life, and for this reason in some sense the name Jupiter does apply to God, especially with the addition of the other attribute of pre-eminence, as in saying, “Jupiter, Optimus Maximus.”

85 To the First or Angelic Mind, more names apply, because it is less simple than God, and it has more functions. First, one must remember that every creature consists of two components, one of which, the inferior part, is called its potency, the other, the superior part, is called its act. In the Philebus, Plato calls the first component infinity, and the second, boundary or limit; Avicebron and many others call the two components respectively matter and form. There is a difference of opinion among philosophers as to whether the matter component is the same in all creatures… Nevertheless all authorities agree on this, that everything which falls between God and prime matter in the scale of being is composed of potency and act.

86 The Mind is thought to carry out these three functions in the following way: it turns itself toward its father by means of that part in it called its act; it stoops to the making of inferior things by means of its other part, called its potency; and it stays within itself by using both parts together. By virtue of its first two functions it may be called Saturn, because both of these functions are forms of contemplation. By virtue of its third function it may be called Jupiter. Since the function of creating the physical world has been assigned to the Mind on account of the part called its “potency,” it is chiefly that part in it which is called Jupiter.

87 …therefore the elements have their causal being in the heavens, as Plato says, but not their formal being, as Aristotle rightly denies.

106 [The Ideas] are simply ideal forms of the natures of things. Every mind is provided with them, and understands by means of them. In the Liber de Causis it is said of them that every mind is full of forms… these forms, called Ideas, exist causally in God; they exist formally in the Angelic Mind, in which they are first created by God; and finally they exist participatively in the Rational Soul, which, in participating the substance of the First Mind, also participates in the Ideas, and consequently, their beauty.

107 The form which God gives to the Angelic Mind consists of the Ideas, which, as I have said, constitute the highest form of Beauty. Thus the Ideas descend from God to the Angelic Mind. Since everything becomes imperfect as they move away from its cause and source and mixes with other kinds of things, so the Ideas necessarily become imperfect as they move away from God, their source and cause, and mix with the unformed substance of the Mind, which had theretofore been completely untouched by the form-giving power of the Ideas. At that stage, the Angelic Mind contains the beauty of the Ideas within itself, but that beauty is imperfect and is obscured by the opacity of the Mind’s own substance. Hence a desire inevitably arises in the Angelic Mind to possess the Ideas in their perfect form.

108 the ancients called the Angelic Mind, adorned with the Ideas, paradise… they referred to people as being “in Paradise” if they lived a completely non-physical intellectual life, and, having already risen above human nature and become like angels, lived in contemplation alone.



De Ente one passage on angel

God is all things, and is all things most eminently and most perfectly. This would not be unless he so included the perfections of all things in himself that he excluded from himself whatever pertains to imperfections in things. We can, however, define what is imperfect in the things that are.
...
That human knowledge which is called rational is, in turn, imperfect knowledge because it is vague, uncertain, shifting, and laborious. Add the intellectual knowledge of divine minds, which the theologians call angels. Even that is imperfect knowledge, at least because it seeks outside itself what it does not possess fully within itself, i.e., the light of truth which it lacks, and by which is is perfected.
...
the life of the angels is not perfect. Unless the vivifying ray of divine light constantly warmed it, it would all fall into nothingness. The same is true of other things. Therefore, when you say that God is knowing and living, notice first that the life and cognition which are ascribed to him are understood as free from all these imperfections, but this is not enough. There remains another imperfection.
...
God is infinite perfection of every sort, but not merely in that he includes all such particular and infinite perfections in himself. In that case he would not be most simple, nor would those things which are in him be infinite. He would be one infinite compounded from many things infinite in number but finite in perfection. To say or think this of God is impious.
...
since God is he who is all things when all imperfection is removed, surely when you have taken away from all things both the imperfection which is under their genus and also the particularity of their genus, what remains is God. Consequently, God is being itself, the one itself, the good itself, and likewise truth itself.
We have now advanced two steps, ascending to the darkness which God inhabits, purging from the divine names all blemish that is from the imperfection of the thing signified.

Disputations

Those forces interceding between God and man should be superior to man, just as they are inferior to God. And it is not proper that what is accomplished by reason and counsel, as our affairs should, be arranged by the first author through the agency of non-rational beings. But just as he rules and regulates the elementary mass, inasmuch as it is inferior, through the agency of the sky, which is superior, so it is proper that human affairs be governed by the mystery not of bodies but of angels, who by nature and dignite mediate between us and God. So when you descend from God to the earth, you descend by means of the sky; when you descend from God to man, you descend by means of angels.
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