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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Ficino, Marsilio


1) Platonic Theology. Vol. I: Books I-IV. Engl. Translation by M. B. Allen with J. Warden. Lat. Text ed. by J. Hankins with W. Bowen.

2) Vol. II: Books V-VIII. Engl. Translation by M. B. Allen with J. Warden. Lat. Text ed. by J. Hankins with W. Bowen.


1) Cambridge-London: Harvard University Press 2001. XVII, 342 S. 8 = The I Tatti Renaissance Library, 2. Lw. £ 19.95. ISBN 0-674-00345-4.

2) Cambridge-London: Harvard University Press 2002. 416 S. gr.8. Lw. £19,95. ISBN 0-674-00764-6.


Douglas Hedley

Michael Allen and James Hankins are both scholars of great distinction and these two volumes constitute a fitting testimony to their craft, and a beautifully accessible and reliable resource for scholars. With these two volumes we have eight of the eighteen books of Marsilio Ficino's theoretical opus maximum, probably composed between 1469 and 1473 and published in 1482. Allen and Hankins are developing the pioneering scholarship of Paul Oscar Kristeller and Raymond Marcel with their own distinction.

F. (1433-1499) is known as the leading scholar-philosopher-theologian in Quattrocento Florence, especially after 1462 when his theology enjoyed the official patronage of Cosimo de' Medici and villa Careggi seemed to be a revival of the platonic Academy. The age of Lorenzo The Magnificent (1469-1492) was a remarkable period of literary and artustic flowering of the Renaissance in Medicean Florence: Botticelli, Poliziano, Landino, Michelangelo, but also the spiritual excitement and turmoil that one associates with the life, ministry and death of Savonarola. It was F.'s development of the doctrine of Platonic love in his commentary on Plato's symposium which was the source of the trattati d'amore which were pervasive in European courts in the 16th century.

No one doubts the importance of F. Yet the excellent work of Francis Yates and D. P. Walker on the hermetic-magical dimension of Florentine Platonism has perhaps led to some misleading impressions - especially perhaps among theologians. The importance of this strand may lead us to overlook the theological importance of F. F. was a canon of the Duomo and presents himself within a continuous theological tradition. Allen notes that the Lateran Council's promulgation of the immortality of the soul in 1512 was probably influenced by F.'s theology. The publication of this edition of the Platonic Theology with its strong debts to Thomas Aquinas (especially Summa Contra Gentiles book II) helps to correct any misapprehension that F. was a subterranean Gnostic rather than a philosopher. Though not emulating the Euclidian model of Proclus, it is presented as a rigorously argued philosophical theology. Like Proclus's Elements of Theology, it serves as a more lucid introduction to Neo-Platonic doctrine than the eliptic and meandering Enneads of Plotinus. Notwithstanding the genius and originality of Plotinus, he is hard to grasp in detail. F.'s systematic presentation of a basically Plotinian metaphysics is no mean feat.

Platonic Theology is an important title because it is, as Allen notes in his Introduction to the first volume, ambivalent. The title reveals both F.'s Platonism and his apologetic trajectory. Athenian Neoplatonism was a powerful source of pagan critique of Christianity and Proclus represents a powerful expression of that pagan polemic in late Antiquity. Medieval Christianity received many Neoplatonic tenets in a Christianised form, while in the Renaissance - by way of contrast - the hostility of ancient pagans towards the Christian Church was quite evident. F. felt compelled to produce a synthesis which would both show the affinity of Christianity and Platonism while rejecting anti-Christian tenets.

F.'s Platonic Theology is about the ascent of the immortal soul to its transcendent source. One can envisage how this posed a threat both to the anthropological pessimism of much of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions and to the sacramental machinery, doctrinal rigour and hierarchical order of post Tridentine Catholicism. Indeed, behind the contemplative tranquillity of the Platonic Theology is a virtually Promethean doctrine of human capability - a strident version of the ancient doctrine of deification. One hundred years on, Bruno was perhaps less politic than F. But his theological radicalism has its obvious precursor mutatis mutandis in F.

Giordano Bruno dedicated his most Ficinian work De gli eroici furori to that great star of the Elizabethan court Sir Philip Sidney; within fifty years the Cambridge Platonists were fusing Platonic theology and atomistic science, and two hundred years later F. W. J. Schelling produces a dialogue entitled Bruno in which the influence of the Italian Renaissance is evident.

F.'s achievement, though much contested, was to provide a legacy of a Christian Platonic synthesis which was to extend enormous influence in those universities (such as Cambridge and Tübingen) where Christian humanism could flourish and where there existed a modicum of institutional freedom from either the excessive zeal of the Reformers or the grip of the Counter Reformation. This reviewer considers Cassirer justified in seeing a transmission of a virtually promethean vision of man from Florence, via the Cambridge Platonists to Kant and German Idealism. Yet even if that is to claim too much, Allen and Hankins have opened up one of the forgers of the modern mind. For that we should be grateful.