- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Symbol of His Age: Modern Interpretations of a Renaissance Philosopher by William G. Craven (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 48, Number 4, October 1984
- pp. 696-698
- View Citation
- Additional Information
696 BOOK REVIEWS neither an end nor an absolute-and that, as McCawley says more than once, their correspondence proves to be inexact, especially as to the nuances of the one and their absence in the other. To expect anything else is unrealistic. D. c. KANE, O.P. Providence College Providence, Rhode Island Giovanni Pieo della Mirandola, Symbol of His .Age: Modern Interpretations of a Renaissance Philosopher. (Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance CLXXXV). By WILLIAM G. CRAVEN. Geneve: Librairie Droz, 1981. Pp. 174. It is nearly impossible to approach the figure of Pico della Mirandola, the famous Florentine philosopher and theologian of the Renaissance, without considering the many different interpretations of his life and work. For this reason it is perfectly understandable why Craven conceived the idea of using historiography itself as the principal axis of his book. Scholars of the history of thought have tried to penetrate the intellectual world of this thinker, and their approaches have centered on three themes : his vision of man and the place assigned to him in the universe; his theological and religious outlook; and (not without relation to the first two themes) his attack on astrology, an attack seen as an assertion of human liberty in such a manner (according to certain authors) as to favor the development of scientific thought. In 1937 the great Italian historian, Eugenio Garin, emphasized the desire for harmony and synthesis as the predominant element in Pico's reflection . Avery Dulles reminds us by the title of his work, Princeps Concordia &, that Pico bore the title, " Count of Mirandola and Prince of Concord." And this title may very well have been a premonition. For in his De Ente et Uno did not Pico wish to reconcile Plato and Aristotle? In this perspective the Cabbala is seen as playing the role of the unifying factor of thought and knowledge. Craven, however, judges that this would be overestimating its importance. Another author of the same period, Eugenio Anagnine, also underscored the role of the Cabbala in Pico's thought but gave it an entirely neoplatonic meaning. On the other hand, Avery Dulles in 1941 pointed out the affinities of the doctrine of Pico with scholastic teaching, while Ernst Cassirer discovered in the Oratio de' hominis dignitate a manifestation of symbolic thought-not in the sense that the universe is seen as a system of signs after the manner of the astrologers, but from the viewpoint of the process of human freedom deciphering the universe, BOOK REVIEWS 697 In successive interpretations Pico della Mirandola was portrayed in various ways. According to Giuseppe Saitta he became a forerunner of idealism, revolting against his own era. He was a humanist-critic and subversive according to Engelbert Monnerjahn. Yet Giovanni di Napoli, relying heavily on the Heptaplus, saw him as faithful to the Church's teaching, and Henri de Lubac in the most recent contribution to the subject sees him as faithful to patristic doctrine. It is comprehensible therefore that such a diversity of interpretations led the author in search of a clarification. It is true that these approaches, though at times complementary, are more often dialectically opposed. The authors support their interpretations by refuting others, and affirm their own in rejecting others. Yet, despite the many trends, the overall image which is currently accepted by historians of all views appears to be so shaped by Garin and Cassirer that all the authors, for example, take it for granted without reviewing the reasons that the assertion of human dignity, made from the time of the Oratio, is central in Pico's thought. It is precisely this "given" that Craven challenges in his second chapter. Did Pico della Mirandola really present a new vision of man' Relying on the historiographical studies already mentioned and on other more specialized studies, e.g., the highly respected works of Kristeller, the author sets out to prove that the reclaiming of man's .dignity is neither primordial nor essential in Pico's thought. This dignitas hominis, which is incidentally a post mortem subtitle added by Pico's nephew, GianFrancesco , is much more an assertion of moral philosophy, somewhat rhetorical at that, than a specifically metaphysical thesis. What must be recognized...