Essay on “Oration On The Dignity Of Man”
1) Describe your initial thoughts and/or feelings about the work.
The author is trying to describe man’s place in the universe with the newly found rational thinking of the Renaissance era. In the first paragraph, Pico Della Mirandola sets up the framework of our creation, and mankind's intermediary place between the lower creatures and gods. His second paragraph details God’s work prior to the creation of man. It also gives the reader the first inkling as to the reason God created man. Only man can appreciate God’s creation, and praise God. The third paragraph describes our dominion over the lower order- other animals. It details our ability to degrade ourselves into a lower form (living like beasts or plants) or to use our intellect and judgment to be reborn in a higher form (the divine). The fourth through the sixth paragraph get to the heart of the author’s intent in this piece: that to distance ourselves from intellectualism and the praising of God is akin to being a plant or an animal. According to Mirandola the correct state of man is to be intellectual. We must disdain our Earthly desires that drag us down to lower states, and despise those things of heave that pull us out of the world. The greatest glory to God is using our mind for his glory.
2) Describe in Detail at least one aspect of the work that most interests you
One aspect of this work that interests me is how Mirandola weaves together faith and intellectualism. It’s clear to me that many of his ideas helped build the themes we see in the next era, the Enlightenment. He weaves a subtle hint of deism in his work while still tantalizing the reader with the more spiritual themes of the Renaissance.
B. Analyze the work
1) Describe the Historical Context of the period in which the work was written:
The Renaissance was the rise of intellectualism and the rebirth of purely intellectual pursuits. It was the era that allowed men to question theocracy, and rewarded Mirandola’s intellectual curiosity.
Pico Della Mirandola is thought of as a key figure in the Italian Renaissance:
“Pico’s Oration attempted to remap the human landscape to center all attention on human capacity and human perspective. Arriving in a place near Florence, this famous Renaissance philosopher taught the amazing capacity of human achievement. "Pico himself had a massive intellect and studied everything there was to be studied in the university curriculum of the Renaissance; the Oration in part is meant to be a preface to a massive compendium of all the intellectual achievements of humanity, a compendium that never appeared because of Pico's early death." (http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_1/pico.html)
2) Describe insights into the work can be gained from the author’s biography?
Mirandola believed the pursuit of intellectual philosopy was more noble than toil of common man. This idea that the philosopher is of higher importance in society is not one that Pico invented himself. Plato himself believed in the nobility of the philosopher to such a degree that he thought that they should rule over society. Unlike Plato though, Pico was also clearly influenced by the era of the Renaissance. Pico intertwined his Christian faith with philosophy of the classical world, and other theologies. According to the New World Encyclopedia (2015), “Pico became the first Christian scholar to use the theory of Kabbala in support of Christian thought.”
Mirandola was a thinker ahead of his time. His ideas would have been less radical during the Enlightenment, and therefore led to strife with the Catholic Church. He was challenged by the Church to recant several of his theses. Mirandola’s goal wasn’t to challenge the authority of the church but rather aspire to alter idea’s of spirituality. His intent was to try and prove that intellectual pursuits didn’t have to be at odds with Christianity- in fact they could enhance one’s faith. His ideas most likely influenced thinkers of later eras, who didn’t have to deal with a church hell bent on crushing intellect.
3) Analyze how this work explores a particular theme and/or stylistic characteristic from its period
One of the major themes of the Renaissance was the rebirth of Classicism. A primary classical theme was one of balance. In Mirandola’s work, you can see the idea of balance in the outcome of his worldview. One shouldn’t be too focused on Earthly things, as it will degrade you into a plant or an animal. Likewise, one shouldn’t be too focused on the spiritual things as you’ll be unable to relate to your fellow man. Like many other Christian philosophers of the day, Mirandola embraced classical and secular knowledge. He believed we could learn the truth from many theological and cultural origins.
There is also a deep sense of intellectualism in the piece. In order to achieve the balance he speaks of, you have to refine your intellect. At the heart of intellectualism in the “oration” is the balance one must achieve between free will and moral restraint. As Pico says in his essay; “Above all, we should not make that freedom of choice God gave us into something harmful, for it was intended to be our advantage.” (Oration On the Dignity Of Man, Pico Della Mirandola) This sense of balance was clearly from a deeply studied Christian as well. “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16, KJV New Testament)
4) Explain the relevance of this work for today’s audiences
I feel this piece is extremely relevant in today’s age as many people have abandoned the ideals of sacred spirituality and intellectual enlightenment. It’s clear many of our founders were also influenced by these eternal ideas of balance. The intellectuals that abandoned the ideals of sacred spirituality, abandoned ideals of human dignity as well. Margaret Sanger, was a great intellect, but because of her gross abandonment of that which is sacred, she promoted that some people were of better “stock” and worthy of propagating the species. (quote below)
In a 1921 article in the Birth Control Review, Sanger wrote, "The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective." Reviewers of one of her 1919 articles interpreted her objectives as "More children from the fit, less from the unfit." Again, the question of who decides fitness is important, and it was an issue that Sanger only partly addressed. "The undeniably feebleminded should indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind," she wrote.
(http://www.blackgenocide.org/sanger05.html, quoting from an article in Citizen Magazine January 20th, 1992 edition)
Unfortunately, following our hearts desire to be purely spiritual is also frought with peril. Such people, are more likely to be led astray by cults of personality. Jim Jones, the Mooney cult and others have all preyed upon our spiritual nature to control people. Without using our intellectual capacity, we easily fall prey to those who would enslave us with our spiritual nature. The idea of balance is still extremely important and relevant in today’s world. In the words of Thomas Jefferson who was clearly influenced by Pico, ”Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, 1787 - https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs)
C. Reflect on how the analysis affected your perception of the work
1) Discuss how the deeper knowledge you gained through your analysis has informed or altered your thoughts and/or feelings
It’s interesting that my initial observations and feelings about this work, were pretty close to what other philosophers and intellectuals have determined his work to represent. Reading about his struggles after writing this piece, helped me appreciate the age in which we live where someone is not imprisoned (in America) for speaking their mind. As Isaac Newton, “I stand on the shoulders of giants”. Likewise there is a clear influence of the great enlightenment thinkers, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Thomas Paine and Alexis De Tocqueville that were all clearly influenced by Pico De Mirandola’s ideals of intellectual and spiritual balance. Likewise Pico was influenced by giants. From Aristotle to Moses and from Abraham to Plato, Pico was a greatly read intellectual and understood the importance of understanding human history to achieve greater reason and faith.
Online Study guide from WSU - http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_1/pico.html Summary from book authors describes Pico’s key history in the renaissance. The web page doesn’t make it clear which author makes this assertion.
Online New World Encyclopedia - Article on Pico Della Mirandola discusses his use of extra Christian sources to expand his Christian Philosophy into something new.
Oration on the Dignity of Man, Pico Della Mirandola - Quoted relevant part of oration
1 Peter from KJV New Testament - Quoted one verse to show Mirandola’s Christian roots in his philosophy.
Quoted article from Citizen Magazine posted on blackgenocide.org, no author name posted - This block quote was to show the relevance of Pico’s classical ideas of balance.
Quoted Thomas Jefferson’s letter - Shows that Thomas Jefferson felt intellectualism was better than blind faith.