Mirandula, Giovanni Pico Della
Mirandula, Giovanni Pico della an Italian philosopher and theologian, one of the writers of the days of the Renaissance, noted for his attempt to reconcile Christianity with the ideas of paganism, was one of the greatest lights of the 15th centurs. He was born February 24, 1463. Even as a youth, the prince of Mirandula was noted for his preciousness, and remarkable for his memory and intelligence. He challenged disputations on abstruse subjects with the learned of his day, as if one of their number. In 1477 he entered the University of Bologna, to study canonical law, besides which he devoted himself especially to the study of philosophy and theology. After this he visited the other universities of note on the Continent, and everywhere attracted attention by his learning and the facility with which he acquired knowledge. Besides a mastery of Greek and Latin, he could claim acquaintance with the Hebrew. Chaldee, and Arabic. He was also well acquainted with the various philosophical systems of antiquity, and with those of the scholastics and of Raymond Lully. But vain of his knowledge, he came to consider himself qualified to solve the problem of reconciling philosophy and theology, and even to conciliate the philosophical systems of Plato and Aristotle. This would have required a critical knowledge more profound than was to be found in the 15th century, as well as an originality of mind which Mirandula did not possess. He has, indeed, in his writings, rendered great service to theology in pointing out the aid it may derive from the knowledge of Oriental languages, but we vainly seek in them a single new metaphysical idea.
After many wanderings, "wanderings of the intellect as well as physical journey," says Parr, "Pico came to rest at Florence." But his stay at the different universities had made him only the more sanguine of carrying out the plan formed of reconciling the philosophers with each other, and all alike with the Church. To Rome, the centre of the Church, he therefore now directed his steps, satisfied that there he should first disclose to the world his great project, and there he should promptly receive the honors of the clergy. Mirandula arrived at Rome in 1487. Innocent VIII was then reigning. Like some knight-errant, the young man of only twenty-three summers now, published, to the astonishment of the learned world, nine hundred propositions on subjects of dialectics, morals, natural philosophy, mathematics, theology, natural magic, and cabalism, taken not only from Greek and Latin, but also from Hebrew and Arabic writers, and declared himself ready to defend these propositions openly against any one. For that object, he invited all the savans of Europe to come to argue against him at Rome, offering to defray the expenses of such as would have to travel a great distance. These famous theses, De omni re scibili, as Mirandula called them (et de quibusdam aliis; adds Voltaire, thus making the best criticism on Mirandula's pretensions), were posted all over Rome, and awakened great curiosity as well as jealousy. Parties envious of Mirandula's reputation succeeded in awakening the doubts of the papal court as to the orthodoxy of some of the propositions, and Mirandula not only struggled in vain for over a year at Rome simply to obtain leave to publish his theses, but even the reading of the book containing them was forbidden by the pope. Disgusted with this treatment, Mirandula finally quitted Rome for. Florence. Made restless by the opposition he had encountered, he remained here but a short time, went to France, and did not return to Italy till several years later. Shortly after Alexander VI had ascended, the papal throne (1492) the case of Mirandula was reconsidered, and, June 18, 1493, Pico was finally absolved from all heresy by a brief of the pontifical court. Mirandula by this time had, however, given up all profane sciences, to devote himself exclusively to theology. The remainder of his life was spent in attempts to refute Judaism, Mohammedanism, and judicial astrology. He died at Florence, Nov. 17, 1494, the day when Charles VIII, who had received him at Paris, entered the city. He was interred in the cemetery of St. Mark, in the habit of a Jacobin, having taken a resolution, just before his death, to enter into that order; and upon his tomb was inscribed this epitaph:
"Joannes jacet hic Mirandula: caetera norunt Et Tagus, et Ganges; forsan et Antipodes." The greater part of his immense fortune he gave over in his last days to his friend, the mystical poet Benivieili, to be spent by him in works of charity, chiefly in the sweet charity of providing marriage-dowries for the peasant girls of Florence.
Short as his life was, Mirandula composed a great number of works, which have often been printed separately and together. They have been printed together Bologna (1496), at Venice (1498), at Strasburg (1504), and at Basle (1557, 1573,1601) — all in folio. The principal works in the collection are, Heptaplus, id est de Dei creatoris opere sex dierum libri septem (Strasburg, 1574, fol.; translated into French by Nicolas le Fevre de la Boderi, under the title L'Heptaple, ou en sept facons et autant de livres est exposee l'historie des sept jours de la creation du monde [Florence, about 1480; Paris, 1578, fol.]). "Pico de la Mirandula," says Matter, "convinced that the books of Moses, interpreted with the aid of the Cabala and of Neo-Platonism, would appear as the source of all speculative science, wrote an exposition of Genesis according to the seven meanings given to it by some of the exegetes of that period. But this work, rather short for such a subject and such a purpose, is really but a weak imitation, even in regard to its title, of the works of some of the fathers. Here is a specimen of his manner of interpretation. The words 'God created the heavens and the earth,' are made by him to signify that God created the soul and the body, which can very well be considered as represented by heavens and earth. The waters under the heavens are our sensitive faculties, and their being gathered together in one place indicates the gathering of our senses in a common sensorium. This allegorical manner, borrowed from Origen, or rather from Philo, is probably anterior even to the latter; and it is evident that this could not afford the means of reconciling philosophy and theology. Generally speaking, Mirandula, whose genius was so precocious, so brilliant, and so comprehensive, wrote too young and too fast, and with too much confidence in secondhand learning, while his imagination was too vivid not to prevent his giving full satisfaction to the claims of reason. All his works bear the marks of that general kind of knowledge one possesses in leaving the schools, but nowhere do they evince that depth and originality which are the fruits of meditation and of patient research. He was a prodigy of memory, of elocution, of dialectics; he was neither a writer nor a thinker." The reader may do well to compare with this estimate of Mirandula, Pater's enthusiastic tribute to the author of the "Heptaplus:" — Conclusiones
philosophicae cabalisticae et theologicae (Rome, 1486, fol.); these are the famous theses which made such a sensation at the time, but are now looked upon only as curiosities: — Apologia J. Pici Mirandulani, Concordiae comitis (1489, fol., very scarce); it is Mirandula's defence against the charge of heresy; the writer corrects some singular instances of ignorance on the part of his accusers: one of them, for instance, took Cabala for the name of a man, and asserted that it was a scoundrel who had written against Christ: — Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricens libri 12 (Bologna, 1495, fol.): — Aureae ad familiares epistolae (Paris, 1499, 4to; Venice, 1529, 8vo; reprinted by Cellarius, 1682, 8vo): — Elegia. deprecatoria ad Deum (Paris, 1620, 4to): — De Ente et Uno opus, in quo plurimi loci in Aloise, in Platone et Aristotele explicantur; De hominis dignitate (Basle, 1580, 8vo): — Commento del signor Giovanni Pico sopra una canzone de amore, composta da Girolamo Benivieni, cittadino Fiorentino, secundo la mente ed opinione dei Platonici (Florence, 1519, 8vo; Venice, 1522, 8vo), a commentary in the manner of Plato's Banquet, and very readable. "With an ambitious array of every sort of learning, and a profusion of imagery borrowed indifferently from the astrologers, the Cabala, Homer, Scripture, and Dionysius the Areopagite, he attempts to define the stages by which the soul passes from the earthly to the unseen beatitudes." It has been well said that the Renaissance of the 15th century was in many things great rather by what it designed than by what it achieved. The same may be appropriately applied to Mirandula's efforts "He had sought knowledge, and passed from system to system, and hazarded much; but less for the sake of positive knowledge than because he believed there was a spirit of order and beauty in knowledge, which would come down and unite what man's ignorance had divided, and renew what time had made dim. And so while his actual work has passed away, yet his own qualities are still active, and he himself remains, as one alive in the grave, 'caesiis et vigilibus oculis,' as his biographer describes him, and with that sanguine clear skin, 'decenti rubore interspersa,' as with the light of morning upon it; and he has a true place in that group of great Italians who fill the end of the 15th century with their names" (Pater). See Paul Jove, Elogia; Sir Thos. More, Pico, Earl of Mirandula, and a great Lord of Italy (from the Italian of Francis della Mirandula); Niceron, Memoires, volume 34; Tiraboschi, Storia della litteratura Italiana, 6:323; Ginguene d Hist. liteaire d'Italie, volume 3; Matter, Dict. des sciences philosophiques; Meiners, Lebensbeschreibungen berihimter Manner, etc., volume 2; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 40:43; Sigwart, Ulrich Zwingle,
der Charakter seiner Theologie, mit besonderer Rucksicht auf Picus von Mirandula (Stuttg. 1855), page 14 sq.; Dreydorft (Georg), Das System des John Picus Graf von Mirandula (Marburg, 1858); Pater. Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Lond. and N.Y. Macmillan, 1873,12mo), chapter 2.