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December 2012 | pp.


Marsilio Ficino on the Maker of the Universe

This essay analyzes Marsilio Ficinos account on the maker of the universe in his early Commentary on Platos Symposium and with further elements Ficino adds to this theory in his Platonic Theology, On Christian Religion, and Commentary on the Timaeus. What emerges is a difference Ficino makes between the common doctrine of the ancient Platonists on the one hand and its specifically Christian variant on the other. While in his Commentary on Platos Symposium Ficino puts forward the former, in the Platonic Theology and On the Christian Religion he elaborates on issues essential to the latter. In the Commentary on the Timaeus, he confronts both of them. The difference lies mainly in the interpretation of the divine mind or intellect: whereas for most of the ancient Platonists it was a god different from the highest God (the One or the Good), for the Christian Platonists it is God the Son, who, though different in person, is of one substance with God the Father. Accordingly, while the ancient Platonists distribute different demiurgic functions between different gods, Christian Platonists insist that there is only one maker of the universe in different persons.

1. T  he Commentary on Platos Symposium : The Pattern of Creation

One of the most interesting accounts of the creation of the universe by God in Marsilio Ficino is found in his 1469 Commentary on Platos Symposium on Love (Commentarium in Conuiuium Platonis, de amore, hereafter In Con.). In the first speech of this imitation of Platos dialogue, Ficino puts into the mouth of Giovanni Cavalcanti an account of the creation of three worlds out of a threefold chaos.1 The elements of this theological account, as he

Ficino, In Con. I.3.3v6r.

2012 by the Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University

vol. 3, no. 2

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says, are contained in Orphic and Hermetic writings, in Hesiodus and Parmenides and in Platos Timaeus.2 The three worlds created by God are the angelic mind, the world soul, and the body of the world. The creation of each of these worlds is a process of formation of an unformed matter. Correspondingly, there are three kinds of unformed matter, each of which is called a chaos: a first chaos will be formed into the angelic mind, a second chaos into the world soul, and a third chaos into the world body. How exactly the process of formation of the unformed matter unfolds is explained in more detail in the case of the creation of the first world, the angelic mind. In a first stage, God generates a substance (substantia) or essence (essentia) that is originally unformed and obscure, i.e., that lacks any form and any light. This formless substance, the first chaos, is the intelligible matter of the Neoplatonists that, by a process of formation, becomes intellect, or angelic mind in Ficinos terminology.3 The process of formation, according to Ficino, is initiated by an innate desire (ingenitus appetitus ) of the formless substance to return to God from whom it originates. Excited by this desire, the obscure substance accomplishes a movement of conversion toward God. At the height of this conversion, it becomes illuminated by a ray of light issuing directly from God. This ray of light sets aflame the innate desire of the obscure substance. The burning desire (accensus appetitus) then adheres completely to God. As a result of this adherence, the formless substance becomes informed: God inscribes in it the forms of all things that he will create afterward.4 The whole process of creation of the angelic mind thus runs through following stages, as Ficinos speaker Cavalcanti sums them up: the formless essence (informis essentia); the conversion of desire (appetitus conversio); the infusion of the ray of light (infusio radii); the fire of desire (appetitus incendium); the adherence to God (ad deum appropinquatio); and the conception of forms (idearum conceptio).5 Both the other two worlds are formed in a similar way.6 The world
2 3 4 5 6

Cf. Plotinus, Enneades II.4 (12).15. Ficino, In Con. I.3.4v5r. Ficino, In Con. I.3.4v.

Ficino, In Con. I.3.3v.

Ficino, In Con. I.3.6r, VI.7.71v.

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soul, too, is generated by God originally as a formless chaos, and it returns to its creator by an innate desire. It does not, however, return to him directly but through the angelic mind. This is why it does not become informed immediately by God, but through the agency of the angelic mind. The same scheme applies to the formation of the body of the world: it, too, is originally created as a formless matter, and it becomes informed through the agency of the world soul in accomplishing a movement of conversion by an innate desire. Thus Ficinos doctrine of the creation of the universe implies that, at each of its levels (the world of minds, the world of souls, and the world of bodies), there are three movements leading to the constitution of each of them. The first one is the creation of an unformed substance carried out each time immediately by God. The second one is the return of these substances to God due to a natural instinct or innate desire. The third one is the formation of these substances, operated once again immediately by God in the case of the angelic mind, but by the angelic mind in the case of the world soul and by the world soul in the case of the worlds body. The first and the second movements constitute a circle of procession and return. This circle, however, becomes closed only insofar as the movement of return is met by a movement of formation that is conceived of as an illumination. The movement of formation complementing those of procession and of return goes across all levels of the creation. In the second speech of the Commentary on Platos Symposiumin discussing a fivefold scheme of different levels of the universeFicinos speaker Cavalcanti describes the movement of formation as a unique ray of light radiating from God as the center, and painting in four circles around this centerthose of mind, of soul, of nature, and of bodyall appearances of all things (omnes rerum omnium speties).7 These appearances endow each level of the universe with forms, which are different in kind for each of them. In the angelic mind, they are intelligible forms (idee); in the world soul, they are rational principles (rationes); in nature, they are seeds or seminal
Ficino, In Con. II.3.13v, II.5.16r. On the five levels of reality in Ficino, see Allen, Ficinos Theory. Allen suggests that Ficino conceived of this fivefold scheme under the impact of the Neoplatonic interpretation of Platos Parmenides, known to him from Proclus. But he may have borrowed it, on a smoother path, from Porphyrys Sentences 10 and 12; cf. Karfk, Pojem natura ve filosofii Marsilia Ficina.

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principles (semina); and in matter, they are corporeal forms (forme).8 The ray of the divine light that perfects the process of formation falls on each further level through the previous one, as if through a screen, and there it paints each time a less distinct image of the forms that are displayed on the previous level. Nevertheless, throughout this chain of images the identity of each form remains preserved. This is why the whole process can also be described as a transmission of the same forms from higher to lower levels of creation. God infuses them into the angelic mind as intelligible forms; from the angelic mind they pass as rational principles to the world soul; the world soul transmits them as seminal principles to nature; and nature imprints them as corporeal forms onto bodies.9 In the first two and especially in the sixth speech of the Commentary on Platos Symposium, Ficino explains in more detail what happens when the ray of the divine light falls upon the level of the angelic mind, and how the forms that are born in the angelic mind out of this illumination are transmitted further down to the levels of the soul and body of the universe.10 Both of Ficinos speakers in these passages, Cavalcanti and Benci, distinguish three aspects of the angelic mind: its being (esse), its life (vivere), and its thought (intelligere).11 Ficino thus applies to it the triadic pattern that he borrows from his Neoplatonic sources.12 It is in Bencis speech that we learn more about these aspects. While the angelic mind receives its being and its life from God in the very first moment of its creation, it is not endowed right from the beginning with thought.13 Instead, it possesses a potency of thought (intelligendi potentia). This potency is an unformed and obscure nature14the first chaos, in terms of Cavalcantis theology. To this potency a natural instinct (naturalis instinctus) for returning to God is inborn, and it is this instinct that becomes perfected by the ray of the divine light (divinus radius).15 The ray of lightcalled
8 9

Cf. Porphyry, Sentences 10.

10 11 12

Ficino, In Con. II.4.14r14v, V.4.46v. Ficino, In Con. II.7.17v, VI.7.69v: est / vivit / intelligit; essentia / vita / intelligentia. Ficino, In Con. VI.7.69v72r.


For the genealogy of this triad in Neoplatonism, see Hadot, tre, vie, pense chez Plotin et avant Plotin. Principio angelus per deum est et vivit (Ficino, In Con. VI.7.70r). Ibid. Ibid.

14 15

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by Benci also the spark of the highest God16contains the principles of all things, which are included in it like in a seed.17 In absorbing this ray of light, the natural instinct is set aflame (accensus instinctus), and its fire makes the potency of thinking adhere to God.18 The adherence to God is a complete illumination (plenissimus fulgor) in which the principles of all things, enfolded in a confused way in the ray of light, unfold as distinct intelligible forms.19 The world soul, too, has three aspects: thought, movement, and procreation (intelligere, movere, generare).20 Movement is its proper function. It is a movement of discursive reasoning taking place in time, unlike the thought of the angelic mind, which is timeless. The world soul, however, also shares in the timeless thought of the angelic mind in imitating it. In so doing, it swings up, so to speak, to the level of the angelic mind, so that its thought actually takes place in the angelic mind.21 This is why this aspect of the world soul, as Benci puts it, is not properly speaking its own but is an imitation of the angelic mind.22 In contrast, the third aspect of the world soul, the procreation, is its own,23 but it differs from the rational motion in operating not only in time but also in place. It is its power to impose form upon matter and thus to procreate bodies. This scheme aims at explaining how the world soul transmits the forms that it receives from the angelic mind downward to corporeal matter. In imitating the angelic mind, the world soul actually accomplishes the same process of formation as the potency of thought of the angelic mind. It thus shares in the knowledge of the intelligible forms of all things.24 Then it transmits (traducit) these forms
16 17

18 19

In quo veluti semine quodam rationes rerum omnium includuntur (Ficino, In Con. VI.7.70r). rerumque rationes ille confuse, que in radio . . . ante fuerant implicate, explicantur iam in potentia illa (Ficino, In Con. 71r71v). Ficino, In Con. VI.7.70r71r.

summi dei scintilla (Ficino, In Con. VI.7.69v).



Ficino, In Con. II.7.17v: intelligit / movet / generat; VI.7.69v: cognitio / agitatio / vis generandi; VI.7.71v: cognoscit / cogitat / movet / generat. intelligentia illa quam in mente angelica posuimus (Ficino, In Con. II.7.18r).



illa quidem non est anime propria, sed contemplationis angelice imitatio (Ficino, In Con. VI.7.71v). ipsius anime propria (ibid.). Hinc formis rerum omnium exornata (ibid.).


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from the level of the angelic mind to the level its own rational movement, in transposing them into rational principles, and further down to the level of its procreative power, in transposing the rational principles into seminal principles.25 While the highest part of the world soul (the thought) shares in the contemplation of the intelligible forms, its middle part (the rational movement) sets and keeps in motion the heavens, and its lowest part (the procreative power)26 transfuses the seminal principles into corporeal matter, where they become corporeal forms.27 Thus it is the world soul which, having access to the angelic mind on the one hand and acting upon matter on the other, assures the transposition of intelligible forms into corporeal forms via rational and seminal principles. If we survey the whole process of creation, we see that it supposes, on the one hand, a series of three unformed and obscure substances (that of mind, that of soul, and that of matter) created immediately by God and endowed with an innate desire to return to their creator and, on the other hand, an originally unique ray of divine light that penetrates successively through all these substances but that becomes diffracted by each of them into a spectrum of forms specific to each level.28 On the whole, Ficinos conception of the creator and the creation in his Commentary on Platos Symposium constitutes a sort of compromise between Neoplatonic and Christian views. Unlike in the writings of Neoplatonic authors, God is the immediate creator of the formless substance at all levels of the universe. As in these writings, God is the ultimate cause of the formation of this substance, but unlike in these, for levels lower than that of the angelic mind, he is not the immediate cause of formation. A part of the demiurgic work is thus delegated to agents lower than God himself. As far as the formation of the world soul depends on the contemplation of the angelic mind and the formation of the world body on the movement of the world soul, the angelic mind and the world soul take over a part of demiurgic functions.

25 26


celestia movet (Ibid. II.7.17v); celestium corporum agitatio (Ibid. VI.7.69v); celos movet (Ibid. VI.7.71v). in materiam mundi transfundit (Ibid. II.7.18r); similes illis formas in elementorum materia generat (Ibid. VI.7.71v). Ficino, In Con. V.4.46r46v.

Ficino, In Con. II.7.18r.


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2. The Platonic Theology : The Angels Mind and Gods Mind

Ficinos Commentary on Platos Symposium from 1469 istogether with the first version of his Commentary on the Philebus (Commentarii in Philebum, hereafter In Phileb.) dating from the same year29the earliest largescale account of his interpretation of the Platonic philosophy that has come down to us The systematic lines of this interpretation, however, are subordinated to the complex exegetical needs and high literary aims of this imitation of Platos dialogue. In his major systematic work, the Platonic Theology on the Immortality of Souls (Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animorum, hereafter Plat. Theol.) in eighteen books,30 written between 1469 and 1474, Ficino does not deal in detail with the philosophical account of creation along the lines of the Commentary on Platos Symposium, though he does address some important questions not discussed therein. He does this primarily in the second book of the Platonic Theology, where he deals with God. The Commentary on Platos Symposium gives the impression that in speaking about the highest levels of realityGod and the angelic mindFicino follows Plotinus. As a matter of fact, he defines God as the One which is absolutely simple,31 and the angelic mind as the intellect which thinks itself.32 Moreover, it is at the level of the angelic mind that intelligible formsthe Platonic Ideasappear: the angelic mind contains within itself the totality of intelligible forms as distinct one from another.33 This is why the angelic mind is a variegated plurality, whereas God is a
29 Cf. Kristeller, Supplementum Ficinianum, I.XLI and CXXII; Allen, Ficinos Lecture on the Good?, 168; and Allen, Introduction. 30

The Platonic Theology is not Ficinos first systematic account of Platonic philosophy. Much earlier, in 1456, before he learned Greek, Ficino had written four books of the Teachings on Platonic Doctrine (Institutiones ad Platonicam disciplinam), based only on Latin sources, particularly on the extant Latin translation of Platos Timaeus. Although, according to Ficinos own testimony, he later reworked this book in the light of Greek sources and sent it to Filippo Valori as late as in 1491, unfortunately this work has not come down to us; cf. Kristeller, Supplementum Ficinianum, I.CLXIIICLXIV. unus penitus simplex, unitas simplicissima (Ficino, In Con. II.3.11v12r); unum ipsum, purum, simplex (Ibid. VI.15.94r).
31 32 33

Habet uero in se idearum omnium multitudinem. Cernis quanta sit, quam uaria in angelo multitudo atque compositio (Ficino, In Con. VI.15.94r).

secundum se totam intelligentia; intelligit se ipsam (Ficino, In Con. VI.15.93r93v).

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pure unity.34 In the Platonic Theology (as well as in the Commentary on the Philebus), however, we learn that God, while being one and simple, also has a mind,35 i.e., an intellect by which he thinks himself,36 and that, being the cause of everything, he also contains the forms, rational principles, or Ideas of all things.37 We could ask, then, what the difference is between Gods mind and the angelic mind, since both are intellects thinking themselves and both contain within themselves the forms of all things. Ficino meets this question by pointing out that in Gods mind, being (esse or essentia) is the same as thinking (intellegere or intellegentia), so that in God the activity (operatio) of thinking does not occur in something different.38 There is no real difference between being and thinking in Gods mind. If this is a doctrine that Ficino borrows from Aquinas,39 then Ficinos conception of the angelic mind is not in line with that of Thomas, since the angelic mind, according to Ficino, does imply such a difference. Its being, as we know from the Commentary on the Symposium, is a potency of thinking. The angel, as Ficino tells us in his Platonic Theology, is composed of act and potency.40 This is why its creation splits into two different momentsthe production of an unformed matter, and the formation of it:
The potency of angel is in its essence, which is in a way brought into being by God prior to receiving form from him, for at the first moment of its creation, angel only exists (est solummodo). In the next moment, it is illuminated by its creator, so that it becomes thinking (intellegens) and takes on form (formatur). So its essence is in a way formless in the beginning, exposed like a passive substrate to receive the act of thinking (actum
34 35

Cum vero deus sit omnium causa, necessarium est in eo omnium formas esse (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.1); omnium rationes, ideae (Ibid. II.11.8); cf. Omnium itaque notiones in ea mente consistunt quas ideas vocamus (Ficino, In Phileb. I.21, II.1327).
37 38

36 Propria igitur intellegentia dei est ut seipsum intellegat (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.3); cf. Haec utique mens multo magis seipsam intelligit quam ratio nostra seipsam (In Phileb. I.21.259r).

Deus igitur habet mente (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.2); cf. In mundi ordinatore . . . mens omni mente uenerabilior (Ficino, In Phileb. I.21.359r).



idem est ibi penitus esse et intellegere, ne si aliud esse sit, aliud intellegere, cogamur intellegentiam illam in alio, id est, in essentia collocare (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.2).

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles (hereafter CG) I.45.

Quapropter angelus quoque ex actu componitur et potentia (Ficino, Plat. Theol. III.1.6).

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intellegendi) and the ornament of the forms and ideas (formarum idearumque ornatum).41

Thus in the angelic mind, being is a potency of the activity of thinking, whereas in Gods mind, being is identical with this activity. In other words, there is no matter to be formed in Gods mind. The activity of thinking is a perfection of the agent, rather than of matter.42 This makes the difference between Gods mind and the angelic mind. There is no process of formation of a formless matter in God, and hence no creation in him. Still, we have to ask how Gods mind can be one if it contains all forms of things. Ficinos answer to this question is his theory of the unity of all ideas in God as their exemplary cause. As he puts it himself, if the forms of all things in God were distinct by their nature, and if God operated through such distinct forms, then God would be far more manifold and more compounded than any other cause.43 If, on the contrary, God is the simplest of all causes,44 then the forms of all things in him cannot be distinct by nature.45 He must, then, be absolutely uniform (uniformem),46 and must stand above the level of the forms differentiated by nature.47 However, as a cause of all of them, he must also in a way be omniform (omniformem).48 Ficino holds, once again in borrowing from Aquinas, that it is Gods intellectual naturehis being a thinking mindthat enables God to cause all the differentiated forms while being himself one single form. As a matter of fact, God is a form that in contemplating itself conceives of itself as rational principle proper to all forms: For it sees in itself whatever is
41 42

cum in dei idem sit essentia et operatio, consequens est ut eius operatio ex earum genere sit quae in externam materiam non transeunt, sed in agente manent, tamquam ipsius perfectiones potius quam materiae (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.2). Cf. Thomas Aquinas, CG I.48.8.

Ficino, Plat. Theol. III.1.8; translation after Allen.


Sed numquid hae formae in deo distinctae sunt secundum quendam naturae modum . . . ? Nequaquam. . . . Deus cum omnia faciat, si per formas huiusmodi operatur, multo magis multiplex compositusque erit quam quaevis alia causa (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.12). Oportet tamen illum esse omnium simplicissimum (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.2).

sunt igitur in deo rerum formae secundum modum naturae distinctae (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.3).
45 46 47 48

super omnium formas existit (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.7). Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.7.

Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.7.

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proper to each form when it discerns to what degree something can imitate the divine form and to what degree fall short of it.49 This is to say that Gods mind contemplates itself as a unique form, but that in so doing it also contemplates all the ways in which it can be imitated, i.e., participated in, by anything else. Thus it not only knows itself as a unique form but also knows everything else of which it can be a cause. In expounding this theory, Ficino gives two examples. He describes how, in the divine mind, the ideas of plants and of animals come about: For instance, when it thinks its own form as imitable in the mode of life but not of knowledge . . . , then it is conceiving of the form and idea of plants; but when as imitable in the mode of knowledge but not of thinking, then it is conceiving of the idea proper to the animal.50 Thus, while in Gods mind life, knowledge, and thinking are but one form, God conceives also of what is an imitation of this form, an imitation that falls short of its model in catching only one or several aspects of it. In this way, as Ficino puts it, under one idea many things are known and are brought into being.51 In God himself, however, these aspectsFicino calls them respectusare not real, i.e., do not constitute essences distinct by nature. Their unique essence is God himself. They are aspects of Gods thinking insofar as it contemplates its own essence and compares it to things other than itself.52 In this way God as a unique form is a simple exemplary causea model (exemplar)of forms or ideas that in his own mind still remain one essence.53 Ficino presents this account of the origin of the ideas in Gods mind as the true meaning of the Platonic doctrine: Although some dogs may bark to a different tune, these are most certainly the views of our beloved Plato
49 Videt enim in se quicquid est cuique proprium, dum cernit quo gradu divinam formam quodlibet imitari queat quove deficere (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.7). Cf. Thomas Aquinas, CG I.45.6. 50

dum intellegit formam suam per modum vitae, non autem cognitionis . . . imitabilem, concipit formam ideamque plantarum; dum vero imitabilem per modum cognitionis quidem, sed non intellegenitiae, propriam animalis ideam (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.7); translation after Allen. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, CG I.45.6.

Neque dicitur idea divina essentia prout simpliciter est essentia, sed quantum huius speciei vel illius est exemplar. Quocirca quatenus rationes ex una essentia plures intelleguntur, eatenus plures dicuntur ideae, respectusque huiusmodi quibus multiplicantur ideae non a rebus ipsis efficiuntur, immo ab intllectu divino suam ad res essentiam comparante. Neque sunt . . . reales respectus huiusmodi . . . sed potius intellecti (ibid.).
52 53

Sub una idea multa et cognoscuntur et fiunt (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.8).


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and the Platonists.54 In our context it is worth noticing that Ficino pushes the implications of his conception of Gods mind as exemplary cause even much further than this. Not only do the ideas, in the sense of the Platonic forms, have their cause in Gods thinking, but in the same way everything else, down the whole chain of beingincluding individual objectsalso has its cause in Gods mind. As a cause of everything, God also knows everything, up to the least of things.55 In seeing his own power, he also sees how it extends through individual objects, and in seeing his own essence and goodness, God also sees in how many ways they communicate themselves to everything and become properties even of individual things.56 Ficino is eager to prove, through a series of arguments, that Gods mind thinks not only genera and species but also individuals,57 so that it encompasses, by a single cognitive power and without any mediating representation, everythinguniversals as well as individualsas its own essence.58

Haec autem est, etsi canes quidam aliter latrant, certissima Platonis nostri Platonicorumque sententia (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.11.9). Cf. Thomas Aquinas, CG I.54.9: In quo etiam aliqualiter salvatur Platonis opinio ponentis ideas, secundum quas formarentur omnia quae in rebus materialibus existunt.

Nam si seipsum perfecte cognoscit, totam suam potentiam comprehendit. Potentia sua per singula dilatatur. Cognoscit itaque singula. Item, dum videt essentiam suam et bonitatem rebus comunicandam, videt quot modis sua illa bonitas possit rebus communicari. Res autem tam variae in natura fiunt, quam variis modis divina essentia bonitasque communicantur. Igitur per distinctam bonitatis suae cognitionem distinctas rerum singularum videt proprietates (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.5).
56 57

Ergo minimas res omnes deus intellegit, eo maxime quod, quisquis rerum minimarum causas omnes cognoscit, res intellegit minimas. Deus autem nulla ignorat; cognoscit quippe seipsum; ipse est omnium causa. Ergo primam et summam causarum et rerum omnium causam noscens, noscit omnes (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.4). Cf. Thomas Aquinas, CG I.65.

Ita deus unica virtute cognoscit quicquid nos tribus virtutibus, id est, sensibis, phantasia et intellectu cognoscimus. Ergo et universalia intuetur et singula. . . . Deus einim res non in seipsis sed in seipso, non per earum imagines sed per suam essentiam intuetur (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.9.67).

Quapropter non solum intellegentiam deus habet generum specierumque, ut alii voluerunt, sed rerum etiam singularum (ibid.).

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3. O  n the Christian Religion : Gods Inner and Gods External Progeny

In his treatise On the Christian Religion (De Christiana religione, hereafter De Chr. rel.), written after the Platonic Theology in 1474,59 Ficino included a chapter dealing with the generation of the Son in God.60 We can read it as an elaboration of a mention made earlier in the Platonic Theology, according to which mind proceeds from God like a word.61 Indeed, in On the Christian Religion, Ficino applies the concept of Gods mind to the Christian doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son in God. He explains this doctrine in terms of a general rule according to which every life gives birth to its progeny first in itself before it does so outside, and the more excellent a life it is, the more interior a progeny it produces.62 This rule applies to the successive levels of vegetative, sensitive, rational, angelic, and divine life. For instance, at the level of vegetative life, a plant first produces a seed (semen) within itself before it releases it and gives birth to another plant outside itself. A plants seed, however, is less interior to its producer than are a representation and an intention (simulachrum intentioque) produced by the imagination in the sensitive soul, and these are less interior to their producer than is a rational knowledge (ratio) produced in the rational soul. At its highest levels, in the angel and in God, life produces notions (notiones), and it does so by the activity of thinking (intelligendo). Thus, in the angel, there are notions of himself and of things (notiones sui ipsius et rerum), whereas in God, there is a complete notion of himself and of all things (perfecta totius sui et omnium notio). Since Gods life surpasses that of the angel, the notion that it produces must be more interior to him than must the notions produced by the life of the angel.63 And, indeed, it is so, since in God the notion that he has of himself and of all things is by its
59 60 61 62

Cf. Kristeller, Supplementum Ficinianum, I.LXXVII.

Oportet autem huiusmodi prolem multo magis intimam, ut ita dixerim, esse Deo, quam angeli notionem illam angelicae menti (ibid.).

Omnis uita prolem suam penes se ipsa prius generat quam seorsum, et quo praestantior uita est, eo interiorem sibimet generat prolem (Ficino, De Chr. rel. XIII; Op. omn. I.18).

mens . . . prodit . . . ex deo tamquam verbum (Ficino, Plat. Theol. II.6.10).

Ficino, De Chr. rel. XIII; Opera omnia (hereafter Op. omn.) I.18.

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essence (essentia) identical with himself as its producer, whereas in the angel there is no such identity.64 The highest degree of the interiority of progeny to its generator thus turns out to be the identity of essence despite the difference of persons. On this basis Ficino interprets the Christian doctrine of God as one nature in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.65 God eternally thinks himself, and in so doing he gives birth to the notion of himself which is an exact image of him.66 This notion is God the Son. Through him God the Father eternally knows himself as infinite goodness, and in so doing he breathes an infinite love for himself.67 This love is God the Holy Spirit. This Christian element in Ficinos interpretation of Platos and the Platonists metaphysics is important for his doctrine of creation. As he tells us in Chapter XIII of On the Christian Religion, before producing the whole of the external world, God generates in himself a progeny (proles) perfectly similar to himself, an image (imago) equal to himself which is a model (exemplar) of the universe.68 This model of the universe is identical in essence, though not in person, with the creator himself. Although the difference of persons who are identical by nature or essence is a mystery surpassing the capacity of human knowledge,69 the eternal generation of God the Son by God the Father has been known to mankind since the oldest times, thanks to prophets inspired by God:
64 In angelo quippe cum sit esse aliud quam intelligere, notio, quae generatur intelligendo, aliud est quam angeli ipsius essentia. In Deo autem, quia esse et intelligere idem sunt, notio, quam Deus semper intelligendo seipsum gignit, semper tanquam exactissimam sui ipsius imaginem, idem essentia est, atque ipse qui generat, quamvis mira quadam relatione tanquam genita distinguatur a generante (ibid.). 65 66 67

On Ficino and the Christian dogma of the Trinity, see Allen, Marsilio Ficino on Plato. Ficino, De Chr. rel. XIII; Op. omn. I.18.

Deus denique per aeternam huiusmodi notionem cognoscens ab aevo seipsum infinitum bonum, per eandem ab aevo infinitum in se ad seipsum spirat amorem. Pater ergo et filius, et spiritus amatorius, tres a theologis personae uocantur: natura quidem diuina inter se conuenientes omnino, ita ut unicus, et simplex Deus sit, sed relatione quadam incogitabili differentes (ibid.).


Quamobrem diuina uita, quia eminentissima est, et foecundissima omnium, multo magis prolem sui simillimam quam reliqua generat, ac eam in se generat, priusquam pariat, extra generat, inquam, intelligendo, prout perfecte Deus intelligendo seipsum et in seipso omnia, perfectam totius sui, et omnium notionem concipit in se ipse, quae quidem aequalis, plenaque Dei imago est et exemplar mundi superplenum (ibid.). relatione quadam incogitabili differentes (ibid.).

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Orpheus called [this notion] Pallas born only out of Zeus head, Plato named it Son of God the Father in his Letter to Hermias, and he termed it logos, i.e., reason and word, in his Epinomis, in saying, The most divine logos decorated this visible universe. Hermes Trismegistus often mentions the Word, the Son of God, and even the Spirit. And Zoroaster, too, attributes to God a thinking progeny. All these people said what they could, but even this was only with Gods help. For God alone understands this and those to whom he wished to reveal it.70

If we want fully understand Ficinos doctrine of the creation of the universe, we must bear in mind this Christian supplement to his Platonic theology: before he creates the universe, God eternally generates in himself a model of it, the Word, his Son, in whom he knows and loves himself.

4. The Commentary on the Timaeus : The Intermediate World

Ficino interpreted Platos Timaeus as early as in 1456, in his lost Teachings on Platonic Doctrine.71 The extant Commentary on the Timaeus, called also the Compendium (Compendium in Timaeum, hereafter In Tim.), dates from a much later period, posterior both to his Platonic Theology and to his On the Christian Religion. In its first form it accompanied Ficinos Latin translation of this dialogue, and was published together with it in the first printed edition of Ficinos complete translation of Platos works in 1484. Later on, Ficino enlarged it and published it in the 1496 edition of his Commentaries on Plato.72 The main lines of Ficinos interpretation of the Timaean account of creation do not differ dramatically from what we have learned from his earlier writings. The Commentary on the Timaeus, however, has some peculiarities that are interesting in our context: Ficino discusses here
70 Hanc Palladem appellavit Orpheus, solo Iovis capite natam, hunc Dei patris filium Plato in Epistola ad Hermiam nominauit, in Epinomide nuncupauit logon, id est, rationem ac uerbum dicens: Logos omnium diuinissimus mundum hunc uisibilem exornauit. Mercurius trismegistus de uerbo, et filio Dei, ac etiam de spiritu saepe mentionem facit. Zoroaster quoque intellectualem Deo prolem attribuit. Dixerunt isti quidem, quod potuerunt, et id quidem adiuuante Deo. Deus autem hoc solus intellegit, et cui Deus uoluerit reuelare (ibid.). 71

Cf. Kristeller, Supplementum Ficinianum , I.CXXCXXI. A seminal study on this commentary is Allen, Marsilio Ficinos Interpretation of Platos Timaeus.

Cf. note 30 above.

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different interpretations of Platos account, Christian and Platonic;73 he distinguishes between what are the conjectures of interpreters and what is a firm knowledge of Platos doctrine;74 and he compares the doctrines of Plato and ancient Platonists with what he calls the Christian and Mosaic truth.75 One of the points Ficino discusses in this way is the question of the creation and formation of matter.76 He first states that, according to Platos Parmenides and Sophist, Plato deduces all levels of beings, including matter, from the One and Good. Then Ficino points out that, in the Timaeus, the architect of the universe finds the matter as if it was already generated. The question thus arises whether God who organizes the universe is the same as the producer of matter.77 There are two different answers to this question, as Ficino tells us. One of them is that of Ammonius and Origen.78 They will say that, according to Plato, this god is the same, and they will argue that Plato deals with the production of matter in his Parmenides, while in his Timaeus he no longer needs to describe how matter came into being but explains how it was made good in addition to its being. The common opinion of the Platonic school, however, as Ficino writes, is that the god who produces matter and the god who forms it as the proximate cause (proxime) are not the same. Whereas matter comes into being from the highest Good, the proximate cause of its formation is, according to the common opinion of the Platonists, the intellect, and the proximate cause of its motion is the soul. Even if the mainstream of the Platonic school will, no doubt, concede that, ultimately, all formation originates from the first cause, the Platonists will stress that, at each lower level, the forming action of the immediately preceding level is to be taken into account, so that a part of the demiurgic work is delegated to the intellect and to the world soul. We remember that it was precisely on these lines, i.e., in accordance with the common opinion of the ancient Platonists, that Ficino explained the creation of the universe out of a triple chaos in his Commentary on Platos Symposium.
73 74 75 76 77 78

Ficino, In Tim. IX; Op. omn. II.1441.

Ficino, In Tim. IXX; Op. omn. II.144142. Sed numquid Deus mundi author idem et materiae est effector? (ibid.). Ficino, In Tim. IX; Op. omn. II.1441. Cf. Origen, De Principiis II.1.45. Ficino, In Tim. XIIII; Op. omn. II.1443.

Ficino, In Tim. XIIII; Op. omn. II.1443.

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Ficino endorses the common opinion of the Platonic school also for the sake of the interpretation of the Timaeus. But he does so in a different way than was the case when he interpreted the Symposium. The difference reflects the lessons of his Platonic Theology and of his treatise On the Christian Religion. The Platonists who thinks that the Good itself, i.e., the highest God, while producing matter does not himself organize it but delegates the work of its formation to the intellect and to the world soul argue for the necessity of an intermediate world (mundus medius) between the maximal unity and maximal goodness of God, on the one hand, and the shortcomings of the visible world, on the other.79 This intermediate world is the divine intellect (divinus intellectus) encompassing the models (exemplaria) of all things that come into being in the visible world.80 They call this intellect the best son of the Good (optimus boni filus).81 Although it is not the common opinion of Platos interpreters, Ficino stresses, we can conceive of this divine intellect as being of one substance with the Good. If we do so, there will be an agreement between Plato and Christian theology.82 Ficino does not claim that this is what Plato says, nor does he conceal that it is not the opinion of the ancient Platonists. But he presents this interpretation as a legitimate Christian key to the Platonists view that there must be an intermediate world between the Good and the visible world. In the Christian interpretation, the intermediary world is not a second god entrusted with secondary demiurgic functions but God in his second person. In Chapter X of his Commentary on the Timaeus, Ficino turns back to what can be taken as Platosand Pythagorasopinion, namely, that there is an intelligible world between the visible world and the Good itself. This intelligible world is an image of the Good and the model of the corporeal world. It hangs from the Good like an external light radiating out of the internal light of the Sun. Ficino expands on the metaphor of


80 81

intelligibilem mundum inter uisibilem atque ipsum bonum esse medium, imaginem quidem boni exemplar uero corporei mundi (Ficino, In Tim. IXX; Op. omn. II.144142). Ficino, In Tim. IX; Op. omn. II.1442. Ficino, In Tim. IX; Op. omn. II.144142.


Quem [SC. mundum] si unius cum primo [sc. mundo] substantiae esse intelligamus, Platonem Christianae theologiae magis conciliabimus, sed caeteri Platonis interpretes reclamabunt (ibid.).

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the double light produced by the substance of the Sun.83 This enables him to distinguish between (1) Gods unity, which is like the substance of the Sun, (2) its goodness, which is like its substantial and inner light (lux substantialis et intima), and (3) the divine mind, which is like the external light emanating from the inner light (lumen inde manans). Between the unity and the goodness there is no real difference, only a conceptual one. They are the same deity (eadem divinitas). The divine mind comes as a third gradus on a sixfold scale of reality. It radiates from the inner light of Gods goodness as an external light (quasi lumen de luce manans). This mind gives birth, within itself, to manifold ideas. It is, Ficino says, like when a unique light refracts into manifold rays of light.84 This mind not only encompasses the ideas of things but is also a leader (dux) of legions of minds that proceed from it.85 It thus has two aspects: the leading mind itself is an intelligible world (intelligibilis mundus), and the minds that follow it constitute an intelligent world (intellectualis mundus). What is more, the leading mind has two aspects in its turn: insofar as it encompasses the ideas of things, it is intelligible, and insofar as it inspects them in their differences, it is an intellect. All of thisthe leading mind in both its aspects and the minds that proceed from it, follow it, and return to itconstitutes the upper world (mundus superior), which is called also the archetypal world (archetypus mundus).86 Upon this intermediate world there follows, as the fourth gradus of reality, the world soul, which is like a radiance that spreads from the light of the upper world. It is called the rational world (mundus rationalis), and it proceeds from the intellectual world, i.e., from the world of minds.
On the use of the metaphor of light in Ficinos metaphysics, see Scheuermann-Peilicke, Licht und Liebe; on its use in the context of Ficinos teaching on Trinity and on creation, see esp. 69168.

84 multiformes, ut ita loquar, ideas in se concipiens duplici quodam supernae lucis, ideaeque unius diuinae fomento: non aliter, quam lumine multi iam radii ex uni lucis radio derivantur (ibid.).

Totum uero id genus mundus superior moninatur: sed quantum ad mentes spectat sequentes, intellectualis mundus: quantum uero ad ducem, intelligibilis. Sed ipsa quoque mens dux mentium, partim quidem intellectus, partim intelligibile nominatur. Intellectus quidem, qua rationibus rerum discernendis incumbit. Intelligibile uero, qua rationes eiusmodi suis continentur ideis (ibid.).

Non solum uero in hac mente rerum comprehenduntur ideae quasi fonte: sed ad hanc multi mentionum reducuntur exercitus quasi ducem: ab eadem uidelicet diuina luce a qua et ipsa aeque prosilientes (ibid.).

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The fifth gradus is that of nature, the seminal world (mundus seminarius), proceeding from the rational world like the heat from the radiance. The last, sixth gradus is the corporeal world (mundus corporeus) generated by the seminal world as by heat. As we see, the upper world is a structured whole, with intelligible forms and one leading mind that thinks them at its higher level, and with an array of minds following the first one at its lower level. It resembles much more the angelic mind encompassing the hierarchies of angels than the mind of God as presented in the Platonic Theology and as interpreted in terms of the Christian doctrine of the eternal generation of God the Son by God the Father in the treatise On the Christian Religion. In the Chapter XI of the Commentary on the Timaeus, Ficino recalls why the Platonists think that the god who is the architect of the visible world (mundi visibilis architectus) is not the same as the supreme Good. Interpreting Platos Philebus, Ficino sets up a following scheme: The Good brings forth the infinity and the limit. The infinity is matter, a potency to receive form. The limit is the form.87 Out of these two, God first produces the intelligible world as a mixture of them. The visible world is produced in a similar way, out of matter and form, but while matter comes directly from the supreme Good, it is the intelligible world, the intellect, that imposes the forms on it. This is why Platos interpreters say that the architect of the visible world is the intellect brought about by the Good.88 In interpreting Platos Timaeus Ficino himself adopts this pattern, already known to us from his Commentary on Platos Symposium. God as the One and the Good is the maker of matter and the immediate cause of the formation of the intelligible world. But it is the intelligible worldthe world of the angelic mind and of the minds of soulsthat is the proximate
87 Sed quam nunc uoco materiam, Plato in Philebo latiori nomine infinitudinem nuncupat, dicens ipsum bonum proxime infinitudinem ac terminum peperisse, statimque inuicem miscuisse, atque ex hac mixtione cuncta composuisse, id est, ex potentia quadam formabili et accedente forma. Potentiam enim formabilem, quasi ex se nondum definitam, nec perfectam uocat infinitudinem. Formam uero huic adhibitam nominat terminum: quod uidelicet indefinitam potentiam definiat, et in specie iam optata perficiat (ibid.).

88 Ex his ergo duobus et intelligibilem mundum proxime a Deo uolunt esse conflatum: et sensibilem deinde intelligibili ex eisdem, uel similibus constitutum. Ita ut intellectus ille proximus mundi uisibilis architectus, materiam acceperit ab ipso bono spiritalem . . . : sed per idearum ordinem ab eodem bono susceptum, formaverit eam, redegeritque in ordinem (Ficino, In Tim. X; Op. omn. II.144243).

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cause of the formation of the visible world. The supreme God is, therefore, the world-maker (faber mundi) only insofar as regards the creation of matter and the formation of the intelligible world.89 As for the visible world, he produces only its matter. The god who imposes form on it, the architect of the visible world (mundi uisibilis architectus), is the intelligible world, assisted by the world soul that it produces and bestows upon matter as the principle of an ordered motion.90 In contrast to the Commentary on Platos Symposium, however, in the Commentary on the Timaeus Ficino takes pains to distinguish this interpretation of Plato from its Christian variant.

5. Conclusion
As a conclusion, let me make two more general remarks concerning Ficinos account of the creation of the universe and its maker. In formulating his version of the Platonic theology susceptible of a Christian interpretation, Ficino faced, inter alia, two problems. One was the question of the origin of matter. His answer to this question was basically the same as in Origen and in other Christian authors: a theory according to which matter is produced by God. A particularly Platonic version of this theory, however, is that while God produces unformed matter for all levels of the created universenoetic, psychic, and corporealhe is the immediate principle of forming it only for the first (i.e., noetic) world. The second, and by far the biggest, problem for Ficino was how to interpret the Plotinian divine intellect. Apparently, Ficino hesitated between two options: either he could conceive of it as created and interpret it as the world of the angels, the angelic mind, or he could think of it as uncreated and see in it the mind of God himself, coeternal and consubstantial to him. As we saw, his solution eventually was to embrace both horns of the dilemma. He thus doubled, as it were, the Plotinian divine intellect, in transforming it into the world of angels, on the one hand, and into the mind of God, on the other. In so doing he emphasized the unified plurality of the former and the all-encompassing unity of the latter.
89 90


Ficino, In Tim. XII; Op. omn. II.1443.

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For a further description of the angelic minda topic we have not discussed in detail91Ficino had recourse to more complex explicative patterns developed by later Neoplatonists, and in particular to the celestial hierarchies of Dionysius the Areopagite, but he also interpreted it in terms of the theory of a multiplicity of angelic intellects as unmoved movers, borrowed from the Islamic interpreters of Aristotles Metaphysics .92 In contrast, in explaining Gods mind he used theological and metaphysical patterns elaborated by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other Christian theologians of the Latin West.93 This complexand somewhat eclectic strategy enabled him to make use of different aspects of his theory in different exegetical contexts, and, occasionally, to distinguish between different degrees or facets of what, in his eyes, was a gradual revelation of one immemorial truth through a series of inspired prophets, both Pagan and Christian.
University of Fribourg, Fribourg

KEYWORDS | Ficino, philosophy, theology, Platonism, creation, God, Demiurge

Allen, M. J. B. The Absent Angel in Ficinos Philosophy. Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975): 21940. . Ficinos Lecture on the Good? Renaissance Quarterly 30 (1977): 16071. . Ficinos Theory of the Five Substances and the Neoplatonist Parmenides. Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 12 (1982): 1944. . Introduction. In Marsilio Ficino: The Philebus Commentary, edited and translated by M. J. B. Allen, 158. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2000. . Marsilio Ficino on Plato, the Neoplatonists and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. Renaissance Quarterly 37 (1984): 55584. . Marsilio Ficinos Interpretation of Platos Timaeus and Its Myth of the
91 92 93

On the angel in Ficino, see Allen, The Absent Angel. Ficino, Plat. Theol. I.5.

On Ficino and Thomas Aquinas, see Gilson, Marsile Ficin; Fabro, Influenze tomistiche; Collins, The Secular Is Sacred.

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Demiurge. In Supplementum Festivum: Studies in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller, edited by J. Hankins et al., 399439. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1987. . Platos Third Eye: Studies in Marsilio Ficinos Metaphysics and Its Sources. Aldershot: Variorum, 1995. Collins, Ardis B. The Secular Is Sacred: Platonism and Thomism in Marsilio Ficinos Platonic Theology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974. Fabro, Cornelio. Influenze tomistiche nella filosofia del Ficino. Studia Patavina 3 (1959): 396413. Ficino, Marsilio. Commentarium in Conuiuium Platonis, de amore. Edited by Pierre Laurens. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2002. . Opera Omnia. Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1576. . The Philebus Commentary. Edited by M. J. B. Allen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. . Platonic Theology. Edited and translated by J. Hankins and M. J. B. Allen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. Gilson, Etienne. Marsile Ficin et le Contra gentiles. Archives dhistoire doctrinale et littraire du Moyen Age 32 (1957): 10113. Hadot, Pierre. tre, vie, pense chez Plotin et avant Plotin. In Les sources de Plotin, 107-141. Vandoeuvre, Genve: Foundation Hardt, 1960. Karfk, Filip. Pojem natura ve filosofii Marsilia Ficina [The concept of nature in Marsilio Ficino]. In Pirozenost ve filosofii minulosti a souasnosti, edited by L. Chvtal and V. Huek, 17689. Brno: CDK, 2008. Kristeller, Paul Oskar, ed. Supplementum Ficinianum. 2 vols. Firenze: L. S. Olschki, 193745. Origen. De principiis. Edited by H. Crouzel and M. Simonetti. Paris: Les ditions du Cerf, 1978. Scheuermann-Peilicke, W. Licht und Liebe: Lichtmetapher und Metaphysik bei Marsilio Ficino. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2000.