The Life of Pico Della Mirandola
J. M. Rigg
IOVANNI PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA, "the Phoenix of the wits," is one of those writers whose personality will always count for a great deal more than their works. His extreme, almost feminine beauty, high rank, and chivalrous character, his immense energy and versatility, his insatiable thirst for knowledge, his passion for theorizing, his rare combination of intellectual hardihood with genuine devoutness of spirit, his extraordinary precocity, and his premature death, make up a personality so engaging that his name at any rate, and the record of his brief life, must always excite the interest and enlist the sympathy of mankind, though none but those, few in any generation, who love to loiter curiously in the bypaths of literature and philosophy, will ever care to follow his eager spirit through the labyrinths of recondite speculation which it once thrilled with such high and generous hope. For us, indeed, of the latter end of the nineteenth century, trained in the exact methods, guided by the steady light of modern philosophy and criticism, it is no easy matter to enter sympathetically into the thoughts of men who lived while as yet these were not, men who spent their strength in errant efforts, in blind gropings in the dark, on abortive half-solutions or no-solutions of problems too difficult for them, mere ignes fatui, it would seem, or at best mere brilliant meteor stars illuminating the intellectual firmament with a transitory trail of light, and then vanishing to leave the darkness more visible, yet without whose mistakes and failures and apparently futile waste of power philosophy and criticism would not have come into being.
Among such wandering meteoric apparitions not the least brilliant was Pico della Mirandola. Born in 1463, he grew to manhood in time to witness and participate in the effectual revival of Greek learning in Italy; yet his earliest bias was scholastic, and a schoolman in grain he remained to the day of his death. How strongly he had felt the influence of the schoolmen, how little disposed he was to follow the humanistic hue and cry of indiscriminate condemnation, may be judged from the eloquent apology for them which, in the shape of a letter to his friend Ermolao Barbaro, he published in 1485. It was the fashion to stigmatize the schoolmen as barbarians because they knew no Greek and could not write classical Latin. That was the head and front of their offending in the eyes of men who had no idea of a better method of philosophizing than theirs, nor indeed any interest in philosophy, mere rhetoricians, grammarians, and pedagogues, while at any rate the schoolmen, however rude their style, were serious thinkers, who in grappling with the deepest problems of science human and divine displayed the rarest patience, sagacity, subtlety and ingenuity. Such is the gist of Pico's plea on behalf of the "barbarians," in urging which he exhausts the resources of rhetoric, and the ingenuity of the advocate; nor is there reason to doubt that it represents at least the embers of a very genuine enthusiasm. That challenge, also, which he issued at Rome, and in every university in Italy in the winter of 1486-7, summoning as if by clarion call every intellectual knight-errant in the peninsula to try conclusions with him in public disputation in the eternal city after the feast of Epiphany, does it not recall the celebrated exploit of Duns Scotus at Paris, when, according to the tradition, he won the title of Doctor Subtilis by refuting two hundred objections to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in a single day? Only, as befitted "a great lord of Italy," Pico's tournament is to be on a grander scale. Duns had but one thesis to defend; Pico offers to maintain nine hundred, and lest poverty should reduce the number of his antagonists he offers to pay their travelling expenses. Moreover, to Duns, Aquinas, and other of the schoolmen, Pico is beholden for not a few of his theses; of the rest, some are drawn direct from Plato, others from Neo-Pythagorean, Neo-Platonic and syncretist writers, while a certain number appear to be original. Pico, however, was not so fortunate as Duns: the church smelt heresy in his propositions, and Pope Innocent VIII., though he had at first authorised, was induced to prohibit their discussion. (Bull dated 4th August, 1487). Thirteen were selected for examination by a special commission and were pronounced heretical. Pico, however, so far from bowing to its decision, wrote in hot haste an elaborate "Apologia" or defence of his orthodoxy, which, had it not been more ingenious than conclusive, might perhaps have been accepted; as it was, it only brought him into further trouble.
This Apology "elucubrated," as he tells, "properante stilo" in twenty nights, Pico dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici, modestly describing it as "exiguum sane munus, sed fidei meæ, sed observantiæ profecto in omne tempus erga te maxime non leve testimonium," "a trifling gift indeed, but as far as possible from being a slight token of my loyalty, nay, of my devotion to you." Hasty though its composition was, it certainly displays no lack of either ingenuity, subtlety, acuteness, learning, or style. Evidently written out of a full mind, it represents Pico's mature judgment upon the abstruse topics which it handles, and is a veritable masterpiece of scholastic argumentation. After a brief prologue detailing the circumstances which gave occasion to the work Pico proceeds to discuss seriatim the thirteen "damnatæ conclusiones," and the several objections which had been made to them. The tone throughout is severe and dry and singularly free from heat or asperity. Some of the theses are treated at considerable length, others dismissed in a page or two, or even less. Altogether, when the rapidity of its composition is borne in mind, the treatise appears little less a prodigy.
The obnoxious theses were as follows:-- (1) That Christ did not truly and in real presence, but only quoad effectum, descend into hell; (2) that a mortal sin of finite duration is not deserving of eternal but only of temporal punishment; (3) that neither the cross of Christ, nor any image, ought to be adored in the way of worship; (4) that God cannot assume a nature of any kind whatsoever, but only a rational nature; (5) that no science affords a better assurance of the divinity of Christ than magical and cabalistic science; (6) that assuming the truth of the ordinary doctrine that God can take upon himself the nature of any creature whatsoever, it is possible for the body of Christ to be present on the altar without the conversion of the substance of the bread or the annihilation of "paneity;" (7) that it is more rational to believe that Origen is saved than that he is damned; (8) that as no one's opinions are just such as he wills them to be, so no one's beliefs are just such as he wills them to be; (9) that the inseparability of subject and accident may be maintained consistently with the doctrine of transubstantiation; (10) that the words "hoc est corpus" pronounced during the consecration of the bread are to be taken "materialiter" (i.e., as a mere recital) and not "significative" (i.e., as denoting an actual fact); (11) that the miracles of Christ are a most certain proof of his divinity, by reason not of the works themselves, but of his manner of doing them; (12) that it is more improper to say of God that he is intelligent, or intellect, than of an angel that it is a rational soul; (13) that the soul knows nothing in act and distinctly but itself.
It is undeniable that some of these propositions smack somewhat rankly of heresy, and Pico's ingenuity is taxed to the uttermost to give them even a semblance of congruity with the doctrines of the Church. The following, however, is the gist of his defence. Christ, he argues, did actually descend into hell, but only in spirit, not in bodily presence; eternal punishment is inflicted on the finally impenitent sinner not for his sins done in the flesh, which are finite, but for his impenitence, which is necessarily infinite; the cross is to be adored, but only as a symbol, not in and for itself, for which he cites Scotus, admitting that St. Thomas is against him. The thesis that God cannot take upon himself a nature of any kind whatsoever, but only a rational nature, must be understood without prejudice to the omnipotence of God, which is not in question; God cannot assume the nature of any irrational creature, because by the very act of so doing he necessarily raises it to himself, endows it with a rational nature. The thesis that no science gives us better assurance of the divinity of Christ than magical and cabalistic science referred to such sciences only as do not rest on revelation, and among them to the science of natural magic, which treats of the virtues and activities of natural agents and their relations inter se, and that branch only of cabalistic science which is concerned with the virtues of celestial bodies; which of all natural sciences furnish the most convincing proof of the divinity of Christ, because they show that his miracles could not have been performed by natural agencies. The sixth thesis must not be understood as if Pico maintained that the bread was not converted into the body of Christ, but only that it is possible that the bread and the body may be mysteriously linked together without the one being converted into the other, which would be quite consistent with the words of St. Paul, I Cor. x. 16: "The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" if interpreted figuratively. With regard to the salvation of Origen, Pico plunges with evident zest into the old controversy as to the authenticity of the heretical passages in that writer's works, and urges that his damnation can at most be no more than a pious opinion. In justification of the position that belief is not a mere matter of will he cites the authority of Aristotle and St. Augustine, adding a brief summary of the evidences of the Christian faith, to wit, prophecy, the harmony of the Scriptures, the authority of their authors, the reasonableness of their contents, the unreasonableness of their contents, the unreasonableness of particular heresies, the stability of the Church, the miracles. As to transubstantiation, Pico professes himself to hold the doctrine of the Church, merely adding thereto the pious opinion that the Thomist distinction between real existence and essence is consistent with the theory that the bread itself remains in spite of the transmutation of its substance, and thus with the doctrine of the inseparability of subject and accident; as for the words "hoc est corpus," it appears from their context and their place in the office that they are not to be taken literally, for the priest, when in consecrating the bread he says, "Take, eat," does not suit the action to the word by offering the bread to the communicants, but takes it himself, and so when in consecrating the wine he says, "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur," it is not to be supposed, as if the words were to be taken literally it must be supposed, that he means that the blood of Christ actually will be shed, or that he does not mean to claim the benefit of it for himself as well as the congregation, and the "many." That the value of Christ's miracles as evidences of his divinity lies rather in the way in which they were wrought than in the works themselves, is supported by Christ's own words in St. John xiv. 12: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to my Father;" which are quite inconsistent with the idea that the works are themselves evidence of his divinity. In support of the proposition that intellect or intelligence cannot properly be ascribed to God, Pico invokes the authority of Dionysius the Areopagite, who holds the same doctrine, but does not on that account deny to God an altogether superior faculty of cognition, even farther removed from angelic intelligence than that is from human reason. The last proposition, viz., that the soul knows nothing in act and distinctly but itself, being extremely subtle and profound, Pico forbears to enlarge upon it, pointing out, however, that it has the authority of St. Augustine in its favour. The reference is to the De Trinitate, x. 14.[See Note *]. The doctrine itself is of peculiar interest, for in it lay the germ of the Cartesian philosophy.
*Note: Utrum emin æris sit vis vivendi, reminiscendi, volendi, cogitandi, sciendi, judicandi; an ignis, an cerebri, an sanguinis, an atomorum, an præter usitata quatuor elementa quinti nescio cujus corporis, an ipsius carnis nostrae compago vel temperamentum hæc efficere valeat, dubitaverunt homines: et alius hoc, alius aliud affirmare conatus est. Vivere se tamen et meminisse, et intelligere, et velle, et cogitare, et scire, et judicare quis dubitet? Quandoquidem etiam si dubitat, vivit: si dubitat unde dubitet, meminit; si dubitat, dubitare se intelligit; si dubitat, certus esse vult; si dubitat, cogitat; si dubitat, scit se nescire; si dubitat, judicat non se temere consentire oportere. Quisquis igitur aliunde dubitat, de his omnibus dubitare non debet: quae si non essent de ulla re dubitare non posset.
Pico concludes the "Apologia" with an eloquent appeal to his critics to judge him fairly, which was so little heeded that some of them saw fit to impugn its good faith, and raised such a clamour about it that Pico, who in the meantime had gone to France, was peremptorily recalled to Rome by the Pope. He complied, but through the influence of Lorenzo was permitted to reside in the Benedictine monastery at Fiesole, while the new charge was under investigation. Meanwhile Garsias, Bishop of Ussel, published (1489) an elaborate examination of the "Apologia," nor did Pico hear the last of the affair until shortly before his death, when Alexander VI., by a Bull dated 18th June, 1493, acquitted him of heresy and assured him of immunity from further annoyance.
An oration on man and his place in nature -- with which Pico had designed to introduce his theses to the learned audience which he had hoped to gather about him to listen to the discussion -- was not published until after his death. The theme is the familiar one of the dignity of man as the only terrestrial creature endowed with free will, and thus capable of developing into an angel and even becoming one with God, or declining into a brute or even a vegetable. On this Pico descants at some length and with much eloquence, and a great display of erudition -- Schoolman and Neo-Platonist, Cabalist and Pythagorean, Moses and Plato, Job, Seneca, Cicero, and the Peripatetics jostling one another in his pages in the most bizarre fashion. With Pico, as with Dante, theology is the queen of the sciences, and the true end of man is so to purify the soul by the practice of virtue and the study of philosophy -- moral and natural -- as that it may be capable of the knowledge and the love of God. His own theological speculations are contained in three works, viz.: (1) a commentary on the first twenty-six verses of the first chapter of Genesis, published in 1489, under the title of "Heptaplus," and dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici; (2) an essay towards the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle, entitled "De Ente et Uno," published in 1491; (3) a commentary on Girolamo Benivieni's "Canzone dello Amore Celeste e Divino," the date of which has not been precisely fixed.
This curious trilogy is a signal example of the insane extravagances into which an acute and subtle intellect may be led by philosophical and theological arrière pensée. Pico's problem is essentially the same with that on which the most powerful and ingenious minds of the Middle Ages had spent their strength in vain, to wit -- how to reconcile theology and philosophy. The difference is that, whereas the older thinkers had but little knowledge of any other philosopher than Aristotle, and knew him but imperfectly, Pico in the full tide of the Renaissance has to grapple with the gigantic task of reconciling Catholic doctrine not merely with Aristotle, but with Plato, the Neo-Platonists, Neo-Pythagoreans, the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the Orphic and Hermetic theosophies, and indeed with whatever of recondite, obscure, and mysterious in that kind the Pagan world had given birth to. The result is what might be expected -- the wildest possible jumble of incompatible ideas, which not even the most dexterous legerdemain can twist into the remotest semblance of congruity.
In the dedicatory letter prefixed to the "Heptaplus" Pico explains to Lorenzo the scheme of the work, and the motives which induced him to undertake it. Besides the inestimable advantage which he derived from being the immediate recipient of divine revelation, Moses, it appears, was the greatest of all philosophers. Was he not versed in all the science of the Egyptians, and was not Egypt the source whence the Greeks drew their inspiration? Was not Plato rightly called by Numenius? Μωσης Αττιχιζων? [See Note *] True it is that Moses has not the least of the appearance of a philosopher, but even in the account of the creation seems only to be telling a very plain and simple story, but that must not be allowed to detract from his claims. Doubtless he veiled a profound meaning under this superficial show of simplicity, and spoke in enigmas, or allegories, even as Plato and Jesus Christ were wont to do, in order that they might not be understood except by those to whom it was given to understand mysteries.
*Note. Numenius of Apameia in Syria, a syncretistic philosopher, supposed to have lived in the age of the Antonines. For the phrase see Mullach, Frag. Phil. Graec. iii. 167.
In all true wisdom there should be an element of mystery; it would not be right that everyone should be able to understand it. The task of interpreting the Mosaic account of the creation has been taken in hand by a host of writers, who have struggled mightily with three cardinal difficulties, which, it would seem, they have one and all failed to surmount. These difficulties are (1) to avoid attributing to Moses commonplace or inadequate ideas; (2) to make the interpretation consecutive and consistent from beginning to end; (3) to bring him into harmony with subsequent thinkers. Where his predecessors have failed Pico hopes to succeed.
The interpretation is worthy of the proem. In the threefold division of the Tabernacle Pico finds a type of the three spheres -- angelic or intelligible, celestial, and sublunary -- which, with man, the microcosm, make up the universe; and thus has no difficulty in understanding why the veil of the Temple was rent when Christ opened a way for man into the super-celestial sphere. These four worlds are all one, not only because all have the same first principle and the same final cause, and are linked together by certain general harmonies and affinities, but also because whatever is found in the sublunary sphere has its counterpart in the other two, but of a nobler character (meliore nota). Thus to terrestrial fire corresponds in the celestial sphere the sun; in the super-celestial, seraphic intelligence. Similarly, what is water on earth is in the heavens the moon, and in the super-celestial region cherubic intelligence. "The elementary fire burns, the celestial vivifies, the super-celestial loves." What cherubic intelligence does Pico forgets to say; but fire and water being opposed, it is clear that it ought to hate.
In the intelligible world God, surrounded by nine orders of angels, unmoved Himself, draws all to Himself; to whom in the celestial world corresponds the stable empyrean with its nine revolving spheres; in the sublunary world the first matter with its three elementary forms, earth, water, and fire, the three orders of vegetable life, herbs, plants, and trees, and the three sorts of "sensual souls," zoophytic, brutish, human, making together "nine spheres of corruptible forms."
Man, the microcosm, unites all three spheres; having a body mixed of the elements, a vegetal soul, and the senses of the brute, reason or spirit, which holds of the celestial sphere, and an angelic intellect, in virtue of which he is the very image of God.
Now it is true that Moses in his account of the creation appears to ignore all this, but it is not for us on that account to impute to him ignorance of it. On the contrary, we must suppose that his cosmogony is equally true of each of the four worlds which make up the universe, and must accordingly give it a fourfold interpretation. A fifth chapter will be rendered necessary by the difference between the four worlds, and a sixth by their affinities and community.
We have thus six chapters corresponding with the six days of creation. A seventh is devoted to expounding the meaning of the Sabbath rest; and to indicate this sevenfold division of the work Pico entitles it "Heptaplus."
The plural method of interpreting Scripture, it must be observed, was by no means peculiar to Pico, indeed was in common use in his day. As a rule, however, commentators were content with three senses, which they distinguished as mystical, anagogical, and allegorical. To Pico's philosophic mind this, no doubt, seemed a pitiful empiricism. For what was the ground of the triple method? Why these three senses and no more? He scorned such grovelling economy and rule of thumb, and determined to place the interpretation of the Mosaic cosmogony once for all on a firm and philosophic basis. Digging, accordingly, deep into the nature of things for the root, as he calls it, of his exegesis, he comes upon the Ptolemaic system with its central earth surrounded by its nine concentric revolving spheres, the nearest that of the moon, the most remote that of the fixed stars, in the interspace the solar and other planetary spheres, and beyond all the stable empyrean. To this he joins the Platonic theory of an intelligible world behind the phenomenal, and the Christian idea of heaven, borrows from the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite his nine orders of angels to correspond with the nine celestial spheres, discerns in the stable empyrean the type of the immutability of God, in matter as the promise and potency of all things, the evidence of His infinite power and fullness, throws in the Neo-Platonic doctrine of the microcosm and macrocosm, and lo! the work is done, and a cosmology constructed, which to elicit from Genesis may well demand a sevenfold method of interpretation. The minor details of this curious mosaic, to wit, the correspondence between the nine spheres of corruptible forms and the nine planets, between seraphic intelligence and the sun, between cherubic intelligence and the moon, seem, for what they are worth, to be all Pico's own.
Having thus found, as he thinks, a philosophic basis for his exegetical method, Pico proceeds to apply it to the Mosaic text with the utmost rigour and vigour. It would be tedious to follow him through all the minutiae of his elaborate and extraordinary interpretation. A few examples of his art will amply suffice; and we cannot do better than begin at the beginning. What, then, did Moses mean by "In the beginning"? The solution of this weighty problem Pico plainly regards as his greatest triumph, and accordingly reserves it for the closing chapter, when he introduces it with a mighty flourish of trumpets. These pregnant words, "In the beginning," contain, it appears, the following mystic sentence: "Pater in Filio et per Filium, principium et finem, sive quietem, creavit caput, ignem, et fundamentum magni hominis fdere bono," which is elicited from them by various dexterous permutations and combinations of the letters which make up their Hebrew equivalent. The key to the interpretation of the sentence is found in the idea of the microcosm.
Man being the microcosm, the macrocosm, or universe, may be called "magnus homo," whose "caput," or head, is the supercelestial or intelligible world, while his "ignis," fire, or heart, is the celestial world or empyrean, and his "fundamentum," or base, the sublunary sphere, all which are bound together "fdere bono," by ties of kinship and congruity. In plain English, then, the initial words of the first chapter of Genesis mean, according to Pico:--"The Father in the Son, and by the Son, who is the beginning and the end, or rest, created the head, the heart, and the lower parts of the great man fitly joined together;" and thus contain an implicit prophecy of the Christian dispensation.
After this splendid tour de force, everything else in Pico's exposition will seem tame and trivial. We may observe, however, that four being a square number, he finds in the fourth day an adumbration of the fullness of time in which Christ came to earth; in the sun, moon, and stars types of Christ, His Church, and His Apostles; in the waters under the firmament, which on the third day were gathered together unto one place, a type of the Gentiles; in the earth, a type of the Israelites; and in the fact that before the creation of the sun the waters produced nothing, and the earth little that was good, while after the sun had shone upon them they became fruitful abundantly of moving creatures, birds, and fishes, a prophecy of the spiritual revolution wrought by Christianity -- were not the Apostles fishers of men? and a plain, unmistakable proof that his exposition is no mere fancy, but solid truth. It is absurd to criticize such folly seriously, but it may be worth while to note in passing that Christ being according to Christian theology co-eternal with the Father, the creation of the sun serves but ill as a type of His advent.
Pico, however, is so little disturbed by this consideration, that he finds another type of Christ in another created object -- to wit, the firmament -- which, while separating the waters above it from those below, nevertheless unites them as every mean unites its extremes, and thus enables the former to fecundate the latter, as Christ enables the divine grace to descend upon man. At the same time, however, he is careful to affirm the orthodox position that Christ is the first begotten of every creature.
Such are some of the meanings which Pico finds in the Mosaic text when interpreting it of the creation of the intelligible or super-celestial sphere. The same terms have, of course, quite different imports when applied to the creation of the other spheres. Thus, in relation to the sublunary sphere, "heaven" means efficient cause, "the earth" matter, and "the waters" on the face of which the Spirit of God moved, the accidents of matter.
But the reader has probably had already far too much of these absurdities, which, however, when due allowance has been made for the differences of the times, are perhaps hardly grosser than some of the ingenious attempts by which more recent writers have sought to reconcile Genesis with modern science.
It is time, however, to take a glance at the treatise "De Ente et Uno." This little tractate purports to be an essay towards the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle -- an essentially hopeless undertaking, on which Porphyry had long before spent his strength for nought. We may therefore spare ourselves the trouble of even asking how far Pico is successful. The interest of the treatise consists in the insight which it affords into Pico's own views of the nature of God and His relation to the world. It is, in fact, a chapter, and by no means an unimportant chapter, in the long dialectic on the nature of universals and their relation to particulars, which formed the staple of mediæval thought. All cultivated people have heard of this great debate, but few have any clear idea of the issues involved in it, and why so many subtle and ingenious thinkers spent their best energies upon it. Nay, it is sometimes contemptuously dismissed by those who should know better as mere piece of frivolous logomachy. In truth, however, this apparently barren controversy was big with the most momentous of all the problems with which the human mind can concern itself -- first, "Utrum sit Deus"-- whether God exist? second, if He exist, in what way His relation to the universe is to be understood -- whether in the way of a transcendent cause or an immanent principle, or in both ways at once?
Saturated as mediaeval theology was with ideas derived from Plato and Aristotle, and but imperfectly understood, it was inevitable that when men attempted to philosophize about God, they should conceive Him -- or at any rate tend to conceive Him -- rather as a universal principle, or archetypal source of ideas, than as a concrete personality. Hence nominalism, with its frank denial of the existence of universals, conceptualism with its reduction of them to figments of abstraction, seemed equally to involve atheism; even realism of the more moderate type, which, while asserting the objective existence of the universal, denied its existence ante rem -- i.e., apart from the particular -- was viewed with suspicion as tending to merge God in the cosmos; while realism of the high Platonic order, by its assertion of the existence of a world of pure universals -- archetypes of the particulars revealed to sense -- found favour in the eyes of men in whom the philosophic interest was always strictly subordinated to the theological.
In the treatise "De Ente et Uno" the question as between the transcendence and the immanence of God comes to the surface with remarkable abruptness. Is "the One," i.e. God, to be regarded as "Being" or as "above Being?" Aristotle is supposed to maintain the former position, Plato undoubtedly holds the latter. To the Platonic doctrine Pico gives in his unqualified adhesion, and attempts to constrain Aristotle to do so likewise. His Platonism is of the most uncompromising type, the idealism of the Parmenides with the Parmenidean doubts and difficulties left out. Abstract terms such as "whiteness "or "humanity" signify, he asserts dogmatically, and apparently without a shadow of doubt as to the truth of the doctrine, real existences which are what they are in their own right and not by derivation from or participation in anything else, while their corresponding concretes denote existences of an inferior order which are what they are by virtue of their participation in the abstract or archetypal ideas. Upon this theory he proceeds deliberately to base his theology. As whiteness in itself is not white, but the archetypal cause of that particular appearance in objects, and in the same way heat in itself is not hot, but the cause of the particular sensation which we call heat; so God is not "Being" though, or rather because, He is the "fullness," i.e. the archetypal cause, of "Being." As thus the one primal fountain of "Being" He is properly described as "the One." "God is all things and most eminently and most perfectly all things; which cannot be, unless He so comprehends the perfections of all things in Himself as to exclude whatever imperfection is in them. Now, things are imperfect either (1) in virtue of some defect in themselves, whereby they fall short of the normal standard proper to them, or (2) in virtue of the very limitations which constitute them particular objects. It follows that God being perfect has in Him neither any defect nor any particularity, but is the abstract universal unity of all things in their perfection. It is, therefore, not correct to say that He comprehends all things in Himself; for in that case neither would He be perfectly simple in nature, nor would they be infinite which are in Him, but He would be an infinite unity composed of many things infinite, indeed, in number, but finite in respect of perfection; which to speak or think of God is profanity." In other words, in order to get a true idea of God we must abstract from all plurality, all particularity whatever, and then we have as the residue the notion of a most perfect, infinite, perfectly simple being. God may, then, be called Being itself, the One itself, the Good itself, the True itself; but it is better to describe Him as that which is "above Being, above truth, above unity, above goodness, since His Being is truth itself, unity itself, goodness itself," better still to say of Him that He is "intelligibly and ineffably above all that we can most perfectly say or conceive of Him," and with Dionysius the Areopagite to define him by negatives. And so he quotes with approval part of the closing sentence of the treatise "De Mystica Theologia" in which agnosticism seems to exhaust itself in the exuberant detail of its negations. "It" (i.e. the First Cause) "is neither truth, nor dominion, nor wisdom, nor the One, nor unity, nor Deity, nor goodness, nor spirit, as far as we can know; nor sonship nor fatherhood, nor aught else of things known to us or any other creature; neither is it aught of things that are not nor of things that are; nor is it known to any as it is itself nor knows them itself as they are; whose is neither speech, nor name, nor knowledge, nor darkness, nor light, nor error, nor truth, nor any affirmation or negation." And then, to give a colour of orthodoxy to his doctrine he quotes the authority of St. Augustine to the effect that "the wisdom of God is no more wisdom than justice, His justice no more justice than wisdom, His life no more life than cognition, His cognition no more cognition than life; for all these qualities are united in God not in the way of confusion or combination or by the interpenetration as it were of things in themselves distinct, but by way of a perfectly simple ineffable fontal unity": a summary statement of some passages in the sixth book of the treatise "De Trinitate," which is of course misleading apart from the context in which they occur.
Such is Pico's theory of the Godhead -- a theory which in fact reduces it to the mere abstraction of perfect simplicity and universality, a theory wholly irreconcilable with the Christian faith, wholly unfit to form the basis of religion. Nor was its author insensible, rather he would seem to have been only too painfully conscious of the barrenness of the results to which so much toil and trouble had brought him; for he has no sooner enunciated it than he turns, as if with a sigh, to Politian, and addresses him thus:--"But see, my Angelo, what madness possesses us. Love God while we are in the body we rather may than either define or know Him. By loving Him we more profit ourselves, have less trouble, please Him better. Yet had we rather ever seeking Him by the way of speculation never find Him than by loving Him possess that which without loving were in vain found"-- words that since Pico's day must have found an echo in the heart of many a thinker weary with the vain effort to gain by philosophical methods a clear insight into the divine nature.
The treatise involved Pico in an amicable controversy with his friend Antonio da Faenza (Antonius Faventinus or Cittadinus), who criticised it in some detail, and to whom Pico replied with no less detail. The correspondence was protracted during his life, and was continued after his death by his nephew, but it sheds little additional light on Pico's views. How far he seriously held them, and whether he had some esoteric method of reconciling them with the orthodox faith, are questions which we have no means of answering. It is curious, however, in reference to this matter, to compare the opening chapters of his commentary on Girolamo Benivieni's canzone on "Celestial Love." Benivieni also was a Platonist, and having saturated himself with the Symposium and the Phaedrus, the fifth book of the third Ennead of Plotinus, and Ficino's commentaries, thought himself qualified to write a canzone on ideal love which should put Guinicelli and Cavalcanti to shame. The result was that he produced a canzone which has a certain undeniable elevation of style, but is so obscure that even with the help of Pico's detailed commentary it takes some hard study to elicit its meaning. The theme, however, is the purifying influence of love in raising the soul through various stages of refinement from the preoccupation with sensuous beauty to the contemplation of the ideal type of the beautiful, and thence to the knowledge of God, who, though, as Pico is careful to explain, He is not beautiful Himself, since beauty implies an element of variety repugnant to His nature, is nevertheless the source of the beautiful no less than of the true and the good.
The commentary consists of two parts; the first a philosophical dissertation on love in general, its nature, origin, and place in the universal scheme of things; the second a detailed analysis and exposition of the poem, stanza by stanza, almost line by line. Both parts, in spite of the good Italian in which they are written, are unspeakably tedious, being mostly made up of bald rationalizations of Greek myths. The first few chapters, however, are theological or theosophical; and here we find God described consistently with the doctrine of the "De Ente et Uno" as "ineffably elevated above all intellect and cognition," while beneath Him, and between the intelligible and the sensible worlds is placed "a creature of nature as perfect as it is possible for a creature to be," whom God creates from eternity, whom alone He immediately creates, and who "by Plato and likewise by the ancient philosophers, Mercury Trismegistus and Zoroaster is called now the Son of God, now Mind, now Wisdom, now Divine Reason." Here we have a fusion and confusion of the "self-sufficing and most perfect God" created by the Demiurge of Plato's Timaeus to be the archetype of the world, the Son of God of Philo and later theosophists, and the Νους [Greek: Noys] of Plotinus, the first emanation of the Godhead. This Son of God, however, Pico bids us observe, is not to be confounded with the Son of God of Christian theology, who is Creator and not creature, but may be regarded as "the first and most noble angel created by God."
This is virtually Pico's last word on theology or theosophy, and it leaves the question of his orthodoxy an insoluble enigma. Did he really believe in the Son of God of Christian theology, or had he not rather dethroned Him in favour of the syncretistic abstraction which he calls the first and most noble angel created by God, though he was too timid to avow the fact. We have seen that he did not scruple to find types of Christ in created things, such as the firmament and the sun. Little stress can be laid on this, and if it stood alone it might be dismissed as a piece of sheer inadvertence, but read in connection with the pregnant passage from the commentary on Benivieni's poem, it certainly makes in favour of the idea that in the passion for unity which evidently possessed him Pico had abandoned his trinitarianism, and that the treatise "De Ente et Uno" contains his most mature and profound theological convictions. If so, the caution against confusing the two Sons of God must be interpreted as a mere device to save appearances.
However this may be, it is undeniable that Pico was, even in the conventional Christian sense, a sincerely religious man. The letter to his nephew, Giovanni Francesco, on the spiritual life, translated by More, has in it the ring of genuine simple Christian godliness, and though Savonarola saw fit to consign him to the purgatorial fire for his refusal to devote himself entirely to the religious life, he did so probably rather in sorrow than in anger, on the principle that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, regarding Pico as one who had in him the making of a saint, but who by a gran rifiuto failed of attaining unto the prize of his high calling.
That Pico should have found a theology which reduces God to a caput mortuum of which nothing can be said but that it is above all things, and Christ to a "great angel," the first of created beings, compatible with the simple and ardent piety of a Catholic saint would indeed be a notable phenomenon, but, at the same time, one which sound criticism would accept without attempting to account for it, much less to explain it away. No exercise of ingenuity would ever succeed in harmonising his theology with the Catholic or any form of the Christian faith, and it is equally impossible to dispute the sincerity of his piety. It is all part and parcel of the peculiar, unique idiosyncrasy of the man's nature, a nature compounded of mysticism and rationalism, credulity and scepticism, in about equal proportions.
He finds strange hidden meanings in the simple words of Moses, he believes in natural magic, and holds that it testifies more clearly of Christ than any other science, yet he cannot credit the story of Christ's descent into hell, or the doctrine of transubstantiation, or the eternity of punishment, and writes an elaborate treatise in twelve books against the pretensions of astrology. A map of immense and varied learning, not merely classical but oriental, he yet permitted himself to be imposed on by a Sicilian Jew, to whom he gave an immense sum for some worthless cabalistic treatises, under the impression that they were the lost works of Ezra.
Perhaps it is unfair to take seriously what may have been merely a compliment less sincere than gracious; but it certainly does not tend to raise one's impression of his critical powers to find Pico, in a letter to Lorenzo de' Medici, setting Lorenzo's insipid verses above anything that Dante or Petrarch ever wrote.
With all this it is more easy to do injustice than justice to Pico. It is impossible to study him attentively without seeing at last that amidst all his vagaries, absurdities, perversities, there was real faculty in him, and faculty of an order which, matured by a severer discipline than his age could afford, would have won for him a place, though perhaps no very exalted one, among philosophers. The philosophic instinct, without doubt, he had, and in high measure, a veritable passion not merely for truth but for a consistent, harmonious body of truth. The high originative faculty which discovers a method was denied him. Hence he remained a mere syncretist forlornly struggling to weave the discordant utterances of rival schools into a coherent system. His importance for the student of philosophy is that he made this attempt, made it with wider knowledge and more passionate zeal than any of his predecessors, and failed, and that with his failure scholasticism as a movement came to an end. Individual thinkers indeed there have been, such as Leibniz and Coleridge, in whom something of Pico's spirit has survived, whose laudable anxiety to justify the ways of God to man has led them to attempt the reconciliation of the irreconcilable, of atomism, e.g., with idealism, of transcendentalism with the Christian faith, and such men are in effect schoolmen born out of due time. Nevertheless that which in the specific sense we call scholasticism made in Pico its final effort, was beaten by the sheer intractability of its problem, which the new learning made ever more apparent, and died out.
Schoolman, however, though Pico was, it must not be forgotten that he was also a humanist. His style, even where, as in the "Apologia," he is at his driest and most formal, and in the attempt to reconcile his heresies with Catholic doctrine, becomes, in the fineness of his distinctions, almost more scholastic than the subtlest doctor that ever spun intellectual cobwebs in Oxford or Paris, effectually distinguishes him from "the barbarians," and proclaims him a child of the renaissance; and long and justly celebrated were the "golden letters "in which, in all the luxuriance of Ciceronic periods, he praises Politian's translation of the Enchiridion of Epictetus or Lorenzo's verses, discusses the rival claims of the old and new learning with Ermolao Barbaro, descants on the regal dignity of philosophy and philosophers to Andrea Corneo, exhorts his nephew to the practice of the Christian life, or expatiates to Ficino on his new-born zeal for oriental studies.
In none of these does he appear to better advantage than in one of the earliest, written in reply to a flattering letter from Politian, which in effect admitted him to the confraternity of learned men.
"I am as much beholden to you," he writes, "for the high praise you give me in your last letter as I am far from deserving it. For one is beholden to another for what he gives, not for what he pays. Wherefore, indeed, I am beholden to you for all that you write of me, since in me there is nothing of the kind, for you in no way owed it to me, but it all came of your courtesy and singular graciousness towards me. For the rest, if you examine me, you will find nothing in me that is not slight, humble, strictly limited. I am a novice, a tyro, and have advanced but a step, no more, from the darkness of ignorance. It is a compliment to place me in the rank of a student. Something more is meant by a man of learning, a title appropriate only to you and your likes, too grand for me; since of those matters which in letters are most important I have as yet obtained no thorough knowledge, scarcely more indeed than, as it were, a peep through a lattice window. I will endeavour indeed, and that I now do, to become some time or another such as you say and either really think, or at any rate would fain think, that I am. Meantime I will follow your example, Angelo, who excuse yourself to the Greeks by the fact that you are a Latin, to the Latins on the ground that you Graecize. I too will have recourse to a similar subterfuge, and claim the indulgence of the poets and rhetoricians because I am said to philosophize, of the philosophers because I play the rhetorician and cultivate the Muses; though my case is very different from yours. For in sooth while I desire to sit, as they say, on two chairs, I fall between them, and it turns out at last (to be brief) that I am neither a poet, nor a rhetorician, nor a philosopher." How strictly these gloomy forebodings were realised in the matter of philosophy we have already seen. From attempting to decide how far his cultivation of the Muses was rewarded we are precluded by Pico's own act, the destruction of his early love poems. Of these the following sonnet alone has been preserved:--
Da poi che i duo belli occhi che mi fanno
Cantar del mio Signor sì nuovamente,
Avvamparo la mia gelata mente,
Già volge in lieta sorte il second' anno.
Felice giorno, ch'a sì dolce affanno
Fu bel principio; onde nel cor si sente
Una fiamma girar sì dolcemente,
Che men beati son que' che 'n ciel stanno.
L'ombra, it pensier, la negligenza, e'l letto
M'avean ridotto, ove la maggior part
Giace ad ogn' or del vulgo errante e vile.
Scorsemi Amore a più gradito oggetto:
E se cosa di grato oggi a 'l mio stile,
Madonna affina in me l'ingegno e l'arte.
Since first the light of those twin stars, thine eyes,
That me to hymn my Lord thus newly move,
Kindled my frost-bound soul with fires of love,
Years twain their course have run in happy wise.
O blessed day, of such sweet heaviness
Such fair beginning! Since when to and fro
Within my heart a gentle flame doth go,
That not in heaven is found such happiness.
Recluse I lived, in musing lost, nor care,
Nor action knew, well-nigh become a part
Of the vile herd of errant men and base.
Love roused my soul to seek an end more fair:
And if my style to-day has aught of grace
My lady 'tis refines my mind and art.
If this somewhat insipid sonnet is a fair sample of Pico's amatory effusions, one can more readily understand why he burned them than the regret which their destruction caused Politian, and which drew from him the following epigram:--
Πολλακι τοξευθεις φλεχθεις θ' υτο Πιχος ερωτων
Ουχ ετλη προτερω, παντα δ'αφειλεθ οπλα,
Τοξα, βελη, φαρετρας, και νηησας τα γε παντα
Ηψεν ομου σορον λαμπασι ληιδιοις.
Συν δ'αυτους μαρψας αμενηνα χερυδρια,
Ταις νευραις, μεσσν δ'εμβαλε πυρκαια δνσεν
Και πυρι φλεξε το πυρ' τι δ ω αφρονες αυτον ερωτες
Τον Πικον μουσων ειςεποτασθε προμον;
Ficino took a different view from Politian. "Somewhat of love," he wrote after Pico's death, "he had written in the heat of his youth, which in his riper judgment he condemned and determined altogether to destroy, nor could it have been published without damage to his reputation." This, however, probably refers not so much to the literary merit of the poems as to their moral tone. His nephew, Giovanni Francesco Pico distinctly states that they were destroyed "religionis causa." It is evident also from the way in which Politian refers to them that they were such as a less severe moralist than Ficino might have censured. "I hear," he wrote, "that you have burned the little love poems which you made in the past, fearing perhaps lest they should injure your fair name or the morals of others. For I cannot think that you have destroyed them, as Plato is said to have destroyed his, because they were not worthy of publication. For as far as I remember nothing could be more terse, more sweet or more polished." Pico was wont to solace himself with Propertius, and had wantoned with other ladies than the Muses, so that in all likelihood his love poetry was decidedly more ardent than chaste. More (infra) is inaccurate in stating that the "five books" thus destroyed were in the vulgar tongue. They were written, as we learn from Giovanni Francesco Pico "elegiaco carmine," i.e. in Latin elegies, probably modelled on Propertius. The Italian poems, however, were destroyed at the same time. Of Pico's Latin elegiacs two specimens survive: (1) a hymn to God written probably after his conversion; (2) an encomiastic poem on his friend Girolamo Benivieni. For the first no high merit can be claimed. The attempt to give poetical expression to the mysteries of Christian theology is nearly always unsuccessful, and Pico's "Deprecatoria "forms no exception to the rule. The most that can be said for it is that it is tolerable Latin. Such as it is, however, it is here printed for comparison with More's translation, which will be found below.
JOANNIS PICI MIRANDULÆ DEPRECATORIA AD DEUM.
Alme Deus! summa qui majestate verendus,
Vere unum in triplici numine numen habes:
Cui super excelsi flammantia mnia mundi
Angelici servit turba beata chori
Cujus et immensum hoc oculis spectabile nostris
Omnipotens quondam dextra creavit opus:
Æthera qui torques, qui nutu dirigis orbem,
Cujus ab imperio fulmina missa cadunt:
Parce, precor, miseris, nostras, precor, ablue sordes,
Ne nos justa tui pna furoris agat.
Quod si nostra pari pensentur debita lance
Et sit judicii norma severa tui,
Quis queat horrendum viventis far flagellum
Vindicis, et plagas sustinuisse graves?
Non ipsa iratæ restabit Machina dextræ,
Machina supremo non peritura die.
Quæ mens non primæ damnata ab origine culpæ,
Aut quæ non proprio crimine facta nocens?
Aut certe ille ipse es proprium cui parcere semper,
Justitiamque pari qui pietate tenes:
Præmia qui ut meritis longe maiora rependis,
Supplicia admissis sic leviora malis.
Namque tua est nostris major dementia culpis,
Et dare non dignis res mage digna Deo est.
Quamquam sat digni, si quos, dignatur amare
Qui quos non dignos invenit ipse facit.
Ergo tuos placido miserans, precor, aspice vultu,
Seu servos mavis, seu magis esse reos:
Nempe reos, nostra si spectes crimina vitæ,
Ingratæ nimium crimina mentis opus:
At tua si potius in nobis munera cernas,
Munera præcipuis nobilitata bonis,
Nos sumus ipsa olim tibi quos natura ministros
Mox fecit natos gratia sancta tuos.
Sed premit heu! miseros tantæ indulgentia sortis,
Quos fecit natos gratia, culpa reos.
Culpa reos fecit, sed vincat gratia culpam,
Ut tuus in nostro crimine crescat honor.
Nam tua sive aliter sapientia, sive potestas,
Nota suas mundo prodere possit opes,
Major in erratis bonitatis gloria nostris,
Illeque præ cunctis fulget amandus amor,
Qui potuit clo Dominum deducere ab alto,
Inque crucem summi tollere membra Dei:
Ut male contractas patrio de semine sordes
Ablueret lateris sanguis et unda tui:
Sic amor et pietas tua, Rex mitissime, tantis
Dat mala materiem suppeditare bonis.
O amor! O pietas nostris bene provida rebus!
O bonitas servi facta ministra tui!
O amor! O pietas nostris male cognita sæclis!
O bonitas nostris nunc prope victa malis!
Da, precor, huic tanto qui semper fervet amori
Ardorem in nostris cordibus esse parem:
Da Sathanæ imperium, cui tot servisse per annos
Poenitet excusso deposuisse jugo:
Da, precor, extingui vesanæ incendia mentis,
Et tuus in nostro pectore vivat amor:
Ut cum mortalis perfunctus munere vitæ
Ductus erit Dominum spiritus ante suum,
Promissi regni felici sorte potitus
Non Dominum sed Te sentiat esse Patrem.
The poem on Benivieni is in a happier vein:-
Lætor, io, Tyrrhena, tibi, Florentia, lætor!
Clamet, io Pæn, quisquis amicus adest!
Quale decus, qua fama, tibi, qua gloria surgit!
Tolle caput, Libycas tolle superba jubas!
Ille tuos agros intra et tua moenia natus,
Atque Arni liquidas inter adultus aquas,
Cui cum divinum sit sacro in pectore numen
Quam bene de sacro nomine nomen habet!
Ille, inquam, plausu jam cpit ubique frequenti,
Jam cpit multo non sine honore legi.
Sicelis Ausonias illius Musa per urbes
Fert celebrem magna candida laude pedem.
Auctorem patriæ quisquis legit invidet illi,
Atque optat patriæ nomina tanta sum.
Gaude, gaude iterum tanto insignita decore,
Et vati adplaudas terra beata tuo.
Cinge coronatos vernanti flore capillos,
Conveniunt titulo Florida serta tuo.
Undique Achæmenio spargantur compita costo,
Et per odoratas lilia multa vias.
En! stirps in nostras Benivenia protulit auras
Etruscum docto qui gerat ore senem!
Ponite Avernales jam gens Etrusca cupressus,
Quas rapta immiti funere Laura dedit.
Pellantur queruli fletus; en! Laura revixit;
Spirat; et argutum novit, ut ante, loqui.
Quin solito nitet illa magis, majorque priore
Nescio quæ cultu gratia ab ore venit.
Reddidit hanc nobis laus nostra Hieronimus urbis,
Et dedit infernos posse iterare lacus:
At certe (procul hinc O Livor inique facessas)
Nunc graviore sonat grandius illa chely.
Di Superi! sublime ales modulatur, ut aqua
Sit jam Romano Tusca loquela sono.
Nec tamen ille Euros frondosus jactat inanes:
Plus quam promittit fronte recessus habet.
Quid referam, quam lenis erat? quam carmina piano
In numeros currunt ordine juncta suos:
Sic memini me sæpe sacros vidisse liquores
Profluere, imbriferi vis ubi nulla Noti.
Sed quis miretur meditato in carmine tantum
Cultus, cum pariter non meditata canat?
Quis non hunc juret Phoebum, modo pendeat arcus?
Cornua sint, Bromium quis neget esse Deum?
Audivi hunc quoties cithara cantare recurva,
Abduxit sensus protinus ille meos.
Et quid non possent digiti mulcere loquentis?
Sisteret his rapidi flumina magna Padi:
Phoebeos medio firmaret in æthere currus:
Lunares pictos sisteret axe boves.
Terribilem sævis Martem revocaret ab armis:
Leniret Ditem, falciferumque senem:
Et quas non potuit quondam Rhodopeius Orpheus
Flectere Strymonias flecteret ille nurus.
The poem was apparently written after the death of Lorenzo, whose successor Pico hails in Benivieni. The epithet "Sicelis," applied to Benivieni's muse, refers to his bucolics; one of which (in praise of poetry) is entitled "Lauro," after Lorenzo; in another, which bears the name of "Pico," Lorenzo and Pico converse in ambean strains. "Laura" stands apparently for Lorenzo's muse. "Etruscum qui gerat ore senem," is an uncouth and somewhat obscure phrase. "Nec tamen ille Euros frondosus jactat inanes" is plainly corrupt, but it is not easy to suggest a satisfactory emendation. "Quid referam, quam lenis erat?" is too bad Latin to have been written by Pico. Perhaps the true reading is "quam lene sonet." The verses are undeniably spirited, though somewhat too rhetorical for true poetry.
It is, indeed, only as a rhetorician that Pico can claim to have succeeded. The letter to Ermolao Barbaro in defence of the schoolmen, and that to Lorenzo in praise of his verses are admirable examples of the rhetorical exercise pure and simple -- for as such they must primarily be regarded -- a little too elaborate, perhaps, too artificial, too declamatory, but still decidedly meritorious in their kind. The air of sincerity they certainly have not -- indeed the scholastics of Padua were so far from taking Pico's eloquent panegyric of their predecessors seriously that they were inclined to suspect him of laughing at them in his sleeve. Nor is it easy to believe that Pico was really sincere in the exaggerated encomium which he passed on the verses of Lorenzo, one of the most insipid writers which even that age of learned insipidity produced. The real man, however, undoubtedly speaks in the letters on the philosophic and Christian life, the latter written, it must be remembered, when Pico was solemnized by the recent death of Lorenzo. The minor letters exhibit Pico in the pleasant light of the scholar writing to his friends to give or solicit information on various literary questions. One closes them, however, with a sigh of regret that the scholar should predominate so much over the man.
How thankful we should have been for a few easy gossiping letters in the vulgar tongue revealing Pico to us as he was in his moments of complete abandon. Perhaps, however, he knew none such, and there was nothing to reveal that he has not revealed. Sense of humour he seems certainly to have lacked; I have not found in him the least suggestion that he had any faculty of hearty laughing in him at all. If he ever had it, severe study must have crushed it out of him. Probably the basis of his nature was a deep religious melancholy, not at all lightened by the fact that learning had impaired his hold on the faith.
As his short life drew towards its close Pico's preoccupation with religion became more intense and exclusive. Besides the "Rules" of a Christian Life, and the "Interpretation" of Psalm XVI, translated by More, he wrote an Exposition of the Lord's Prayer, and projected, but did not live to execute a Commentary on the New Testament, for which he prepared himself by diligent collation of such MSS. as he could come by; also a defence of the Vulgate and of the Septuagint version of the Psalms against the criticisms of the Jewish scholars, and an elaborate apology for Christianity against seven classes of opponents; to wit (1) atheists, (2) idolaters, (3) Jews, (4) Mahometans, (5) Christians who reject a portion of the faith, (6) Christians who adulterate the faith with profane superstitions, (7) orthodox Christians who live unholy lives. Some idea of the scale of this vast undertaking may be gathered from the fact that the treatise "Adversus Astrologos," which occupies 240 closely printed folio pages formed only a small fragment of it.
But while thus zealous for the defence of the faith, Pico seems never to have seriously contemplated entering the Church, though often urged to do so not only by Savonarola but by other of his friends, who thought he might reasonably aspire to the dignity of cardinal. Their solicitude for his advancement he rebuked with a haughty "Non sunt cogitationes meæ cogitationes vestræ." Probably he considered that he could render religion truer service in the character of lay advocate than if he were trammelled by clerical offices.
Short as his life was, he survived his three most intimate friends, Lorenzo de' Medici, Ermolao Barbaro, and Politian, all of whom died within the two years 1492-4. Probably the grief caused by this succession of misfortunes had much to do with inducing or aggravating the fever of which he died hardly two months after Politian, on 17th Nov. 1494. The corpse, invested by Savonarola's own hands with the habit of the order of the Frati Predicanti, in which he had ardently desired to enrol Pico during his life, was buried in the church of S. Marco. The tomb was inscribed with the epitaph:
"Joannes jacet hic Mirandola: cætera norunt
Et Tagus, et Ganges, forsan et Antipodes."
Ficino, who had been to him "in years as a father, in intimacy as a brother, in affection as a second self," wrote another epitaph, which was not, however, placed upon the tomb: "Antistites secretiora mysteria raro admodum concedunt oculis, statimque recondunt. Ita Deus mortalibus divinum philosophum Joannem Pieum Mirandolam trigesimo (sic) anno maturum."
The generous enthusiasm which prompted Politian to confer upon his friend the high-sounding title of "Phoenix of the wits" (Fenice degli ingegni) has not been justified by events. Once sunk in his ashes the Phoenix never rose again.
The pious care of Giovanni Francesco Pico, who published his uncle's life and works at Venice in 1498, did much, indeed, to avert the oblivion which ultimately fell upon him. This edition, however, was imperfect, the Theses and the Commentary on Benivieni's poem, with some minor matters being omitted. These were added in the Basel edition of 1601. The "Golden Letters" have passed through many editions, the last that of Cellario in 1682. The Commentary on Celestial and Divine Love was reprinted as late as 1731.
Pico figures in a dim and ever dimmer way in the older histories of philosophy from Stanley, who gives a rude and imperfect translation of the "Commentary" to Hegel, who dismisses him and his works in a few lines. More recently, however, one of Hegel's laborious fellow-countrymen, Georg Dreydorff, discovered a system in Pico and expounded it.*
*[Note: "Das System des Johann Pico Grafen von Mirandola and Concordiat" Marburg, 1858.]
But most Englishmen probably owe such interest as he excites in them to Mr. Pater's charming sketch in his dainty volume of studies entitled "The Renaissance," [see above] or the slighter notices in Mr. J. A. Symonds' "Renaissance in Italy," or Mr. Seebohm's "Oxford Reformers."
The chronicles of Mirandola, edited for the municipality in 1872, under the title "Memorie Storiche della Città e dell' Antico Ducato della Mirandola," are an authority of capital importance for the history of the Pico family and its connexions. The notes to Riccardo Bartoli's "Elogio al Principe Pico" (1791) also contain some valuable original matter. The critical judgment of the last century on Pico's services to the cause of the revival of learning is given by Christoph Meiners in "Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Manner der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften." Some of Pico's letters translated, into the ponderous English of the period, connected by a thread of biography, and illustrated by erudite notes, will be found in W. Parr Greswell's "Memoirs of Angelus Politianus," etc. 1805. The best modern Italian biography is that by F. Calori Cesis, entitled "Giovanni Pico della Mirandola detto La Fenice degli Ingegni" (2nd edn. 1872).