Some links to start off your week

8 08 2010

David B. Hart continues a series of interesting of reflections over at First Things, this time regarding Julian the Apostate. I reproduce my comment here:

Excellent article. It reminds me a lot of Pierre Chuvin’s Chronicle of the Last Pagans. One must remember that, by this point, many pagan philosophers such as Plotinus and, more closely to Julian, Iamblichus of Chalcis, had already instituted a sort of Neoplatonic reformation of paganism, just in time to see everything disappear before their eyes. As was pointed out, Julian wanted the pagans to adopt greater levels of compassion and mercy to compete with the Christians, though with obviously little success. Reading late Neoplatonism up to Proclus is thus a fascinating exercise, as they by that point had become essentially monotheists, seeing the ancient myths and symbolism as reflections of a hierarchy of intelligences flowing down from an ineffable One.

Of course, all of this was transmitted to Christianity through the mysterious figure called “Pseudo-Dionysius”, who replaced the idea that “all things are full of the gods” with “all things are full of the angels “, (though Origen may have already stated this). From that vision of the celestial hierarchies came the cathedrals of Europe, our pomp and ceremonial, our most exalted works of literature, and so forth… all the way up to modernity. It is arguable then that the reason that we are becoming less Christian is that we have become less “pagan”: we have ceased to see our culture and religion as a tradition based on the eternal harmony of the music of the spheres and more as an absurd leap of faith amongst a lot of dead rocks. We tend to try to build our faith without culture, and it is no wonder that we fail.
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Notes on historic Neoplatonism

29 07 2010

Just jotting some stuff down…

It seems to me that the birth of modern religiosity in the West was born out of two condemnations: one of Meister Eckhart’s mystical premises, and the other of Pico della Mirandola’s magical theses. In the former, we have various ideas that reflect the monistic mysticism of Plotinus, such as “one sees God with the same eye by which God sees him”, or something like that. In the condemnation of Pico della Mirandola, you have the condemnation of the last vestiges of theurgy in the West; the idea that supernatural intervention could penetrate the human reality outside of the direct supervision of the Church. This premise was particularly problematic for those pious ears:

There is no science that assures us more of the divinity of Christ than magic and Cabala.

Since then, we have had a particularly dualistic view of these phenomena. While it is true that such a purifying tendency has always existed in the Christian religious consciousness, it is in these two condemnations that one side of the argument got the upper hand. From there we are led to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the birth of modern science, and the rest. The paranoia is that if Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, look like anything else in the history of the world, they would be false and pagan. “Natural revelation”, “natural contemplation”, and “natural magic” were thus topics that had to be taken off the table.





Pico della Mirandola video

8 09 2009




From the Magical Conclusions

19 08 2009

Voices and words have efficacy in a magical work, because in that work in which nature first exercises magic, the voice is God’s.

Every voice has power in magic insofar as it is shaped by the voice of God.

Voices that mean nothing are more poweful in magic than voices that mean something. And one who is profound can understand the reason for this conclusion from the preceding conclusion.

-Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, from the 900 Theses





The Soul as Sphere

14 09 2008

Christian Platonic Tiptoeing Around the Transmigration of Souls

One issue that most concerns any person who is both an advocate of Platonic doctrines and a Christian is the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. The most famous crystallization of this idea comes in the Phaedrus myth, where the soul falls into matter and takes 10,000 years to ascend back to the heavens. This doctrine, shared with the divines of the East, was first formulated explicitly in the West many years before Plato in the doctrine of the Pythagoreans. When the fullness of Platonic writings were recovered by many intellectuals in Renaissance Florence in the fifteenth century, these scholars had to invent ingenious if at times inaccurate explanations to reconcile this heretical doctrine with Christian cosmic principles. Their solutions, however, always affirmed the dignity of man as made in the image and likeness of God, having a nobility and mutability that can create, encompass, and rule all things.
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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola on Genesis

11 08 2008

Like many great religious thinkers, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola saw the end of all things in the beginning. Having retired to a villa near Fiesole in Italy around 1489, Pico della Mirandola began to write about many controversial topics that were on his mind. Here he wrote works that among other things refuted the use of astrology and tried to reconcile the differences between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Here as well he wrote a re-conciliatory meditation on the account of creation told in the Book of Genesis known as the Heptaplus. As in all works, it was Pico’s ambition to reconcile various seemingly divergent strands of human thought to harmonize them in a Neoplatonic synthesis. In Pico’s reading, as in many ancient authors, symbolism and the spiritual senses of Scripture are used to draw out the metaphysical richness of the Hebrew text. For Pico as with many Christian authors, Genesis does not just re-tell the beginning of history, but reveals its meaning and its end as well.
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Pico’s 900 Theses

14 06 2008


Part II- Banging on the Gates of the Apocalypse

Did Pico believe that his Vatican debate would end with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse crashing through the Roman skies, now that mankind- dressed “in garments of gold like a wedding gown, wrapped in a manifold variety of sciences” – was prepared at last for its marriage to Christ?

-Steven A. Farmer, Syncretism in the West: Pico’s 900 Theses (1486)
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Pico’s 900 Theses

1 06 2008

Image credit: “Circles within circles” by Nicolas LeFevre illustrating Pico della Mirandola’s cosmology

Part I: Steven Farmer’s Analysis of the Emergence of Religious Complexity

In the introduction to his book, Syncretism in the West: Pico’s 900 Theses (1486), the scholar Steven Farmer analyses the convergence of various written traditions in order to harmonize their ideas into a cohesive whole within religious thought. For Farmer, the emergence of written religious texts coming out of oral traditions forced practitioners to create syncretic systems that could square away the inconsistencies in religious doctrine that occured over time. The best paradigm to analyze this phenomenon came through the aborted fifteenth century debate proposed by the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola to synthesize all of the religious traditions known at that time under 900 individual theses. By this, Mirandola hoped to prove that all known faiths had the same basic defining principles, and that all things were in each other according to their appropriate manner.
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