*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 17th of November 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You might remember, a few months ago, on the weekend edition, I told the story of the Medici family in Florence during the Renaissance- you may remember or know that they were a colorful family- patrons of the arts and sciences and for a time overthrown by the would-be biblical utopian ideas of the preacher Savonarola. Today I am going to tell you the story of a man whose life intersects those stories and is possibly even more flamboyant and extreme.
It was on this, the 17th of November in 1494 that Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola died- likely poisoned at the age of only 31. One of the more famous and infamous characters of the Italian Renaissance.
He was born to Italian nobility- the count of Mirandola and Concordia just north of Tuscany. He was, by all accounts, a brilliant, if not erratic, child. He would travel to Florence as a young man coming into contact with the Medicis and a young Savonarola. From here, he would move to Bologna, where he would study Canon Law, and then to Padua, where he would study under a Jewish and Averroist philosopher. Averroism came from the Arab philosopher Averroes- a Spanish Muslim philosopher who helped reintroduce Aristotle to the West. While there, he would become pen pals with Lorenzo De Medici- a similarly flamboyant character who would take the name “the magnificent.”
Pico moved to Paris in 1485, where he studied Aristotle, learned Hebrew and Arabic and became the first to introduce Kabbalah into Christianity. Kabbalah, if you remember it from that time when a bunch of celebrities was into it- is an ancient Jewish tradition from the 1st century. It is a mystical take on Judaism which, as an oral tradition, attempts to learn and apply the “unspoken Torah,” that is, the teaching of Yahweh directly to Moses that was too sacred to write down. This would, obviously, mark him as suspect to some.
He would meet Marsilio Ficino back in Florence, the founder of the Academy that sought to emulate the ancient Greek school founded by Plato. Mirandola would attempt to synthesize the thought of Aristotle and Plato- it is rumored that he was the inspiration for Raphael’s famous painting- the school of Athens, which features the two philosophers in the center.
It was here that Pico would run off with (or some say abduct) the wife of Giulliano De Medici- Lorenzo’s brother. For this, he would be arrested but eventually pardoned on account of his friendship with Lorenzo.
Back in Paris in 1486, he began what he believed would be his masterpiece- 900 Theses integrating all philosophies into a coherent whole. He planned to have a symposium the following year in which he would invite and pay for anyone to attend to debate him. He composed an oration to give at the event- his “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” one of the seminal works of the Renaissance and one of the foundational texts of Renaissance Humanism.
Upon hearing of this project, the Pope had the 900 Theses collected and a full theological review of them. When 13 were found to be in error, Pico tried to defend himself- he was denounced by the Pope and arrested. His old friend Lorenzo came to the rescue again, and Pico was freed to live in Florence under Medici's protection.
But it was perhaps his guilty conscience that led him to fall under the spell of the increasingly popular Savonarola- his friend from his youth and now the court preacher for Florence. Pico would begin giving away his money inherited from the family estate and would destroy many of his works- of which we are only told about- possibly more on Christian Kabbalah and perhaps poetry he now deemed inappropriate. When Charles VIII of France was planning to enter Florence, and the Florentines kicked the Medicis out, Pico threw his lot in with Savonarola and the doomed godly utopia. Perhaps on account of this, Giovani Pico Della Mirandola was found dead, likely poisoned, and died at the age of 31 on this, the 17th of November in 1494.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Hebrews 9:
But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of November 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man also trained in Cannon Law from Bologna but involves a large gun and lunch meat- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite pico needs red onion, Serranos, and lots of cilantro. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.