Portfolio 3 Oration on the Dignity of Man Pico della Mirandola I once read that Abdala the Muslim, when asked what was most worthy of awe and

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Portfolio 3 Oration on the Dignity of Man
Pico della Mirandola

I once read that Abdala the Muslim, when asked what was most worthy of awe and
wonder in this theater of the world, answered, “There is nothing to see more
wonderful than man!” Hermes Trismegistus concurs with this opinion: “A great
miracle, Asclepius, is man!” However, when I began to consider the reasons for these
opinions, all these reasons given for the magnificence of human nature failed to
convince me: that man is the intermediary between creatures, close to the gods, master
of all the lower creatures, with the sharpness of his senses, the acuity of his reason,
and the brilliance of his intelligence the interpreter of nature, the nodal point between
eternity and time, and, as the Persians say, the intimate bond or marriage song of the
world, just a little lower than angels as David tells us. I concede these are magnificent
reasons, but they do not seem to go to the heart of the matter, that is, those reasons
which truly claim admiration. For, if these are all the reasons we can come up with,
why should we not admire angels more than we do ourselves? After thinking a long
time, I have figured out why man is the most fortunate of all creatures and as a result
worthy of the highest admiration and earning his rank on the chain of being, a rank to
be envied not merely by the beasts but by the stars themselves and by the spiritual
natures beyond and above this world. This miracle goes past faith and wonder. And
why not? It is for this reason that man is rightfully named a magnificent miracle and a
wondrous creation.

What is this rank on the chain of being? God the Father, Supreme Architect of the
Universe, built this home, this universe we see all around us, a venerable temple of his
godhead, through the sublime laws of his ineffable Mind. The expanse above the
heavens he decorated with Intelligences, the spheres of heaven with living, eternal
souls. The scabrous and dirty lower worlds he filled with animals of every kind.
However, when the work was finished, the Great Artisan desired that there be some
creature to think on the plan of his great work, and love its infinite beauty, and stand
in awe at its immenseness. Therefore, when all was finished, as Moses and Timaeus
tell us, He began to think about the creation of man. But he had no Archetype from
which to fashion some new child, nor could he find in his vast treasure-houses
anything which He might give to His new son, nor did the universe contain a single
place from which the whole of creation might be surveyed. All was perfected, all
created things stood in their proper place, the highest things in the highest places, the
midmost things in the midmost places, and the lowest things in the lowest places. But
God the Father would not fail, exhausted and defeated, in this last creative act. God’s

wisdom would not falter for lack of counsel in this need. God’s love would not permit
that he whose duty it was to praise God’s creation should be forced to condemn
himself as a creation of God.

Finally, the Great Artisan mandated that this creature who would receive nothing
proper to himself shall have joint possession of whatever nature had been given to any
other creature. He made man a creature of indeterminate and indifferent nature, and,
placing him in the middle of the world, said to him “Adam, we give you no fixed
place to live, no form that is peculiar to you, nor any function that is yours alone.
According to your desires and judgement, you will have and possess whatever place
to live, whatever form, and whatever functions you yourself choose. All other things
have a limited and fixed nature prescribed and bounded by Our laws. You, with no
limit or no bound, may choose for yourself the limits and bounds of your nature. We
have placed you at the world’s center so that you may survey everything else in the
world. We have made you neither of heavenly nor of earthly stuff, neither mortal nor
immortal, so that with free choice and dignity, you may fashion yourself into
whatever form you choose. To you is granted the power of degrading yourself into the
lower forms of life, the beasts, and to you is granted the power, contained in your
intellect and judgement, to be reborn into the higher forms, the divine.”

Imagine! The great generosity of God! The happiness of man! To man it is allowed to
be whatever he chooses to be! As soon as an animal is born, it brings out of its
mother’s womb all that it will ever possess. Spiritual beings from the beginning
become what they are to be for all eternity. Man, when he entered life, the Father gave
the seeds of every kind and every way of life possible. Whatever seeds each man sows
and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit. If these seeds are vegetative,
he will be like a plant. If these seeds are sensitive, he will be like an animal. If these
seeds are intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, satisfied with no
created thing, he removes himself to the center of his own unity, his spiritual soul,
united with God, alone in the darkness of God, who is above all things, he will surpass
every created thing. Who could not help but admire this great shape-shifter? In fact,
how could one admire anything else? . . .

For the mystic philosophy of the Hebrews transforms Enoch into an angel called
“Mal’akh Adonay Shebaoth,” and sometimes transforms other humans into different
sorts of divine beings. The Pythagoreans abuse villainous men by having them reborn
as animals and, according to Empedocles, even plants. Muhammed also said
frequently, “Those who deviate from the heavenly law become animals.” Bark does
not make a plant a plant, rather its senseless and mindless nature does. The hide does
not make an animal an animal, but rather its irrational but sensitive soul. The spherical
form does not make the heavens the heavens, rather their unchanging order. It is not a
lack of body that makes an angel an angel, rather it is his spiritual intelligence. If you

see a person totally subject to his appetites, crawling miserably on the ground, you are
looking at a plant, not a man. If you see a person blinded by empty illusions and
images, and made soft by their tender beguilements, completely subject to his senses,
you are looking at an animal, not a man. If you see a philosopher judging things
through his reason, admire and follow him: he is from heaven, not the earth. If you see
a person living in deep contemplation, unaware of his body and dwelling in the inmost
reaches of his mind, he is neither from heaven or earth, he is divinity clothed in flesh.

Who would not admire man, who is called by Moses and the Gospels “all flesh” and
“every creature,” because he fashions and transforms himself into any fleshly form
and assumes the character of any creature whatsoever? For this reason, Euanthes the
Persian in his description of Chaldaean theology, writes that man has no inborn,
proper form, but that many things that humans resemble are outside and foreign to
them, from which arises the Chaldaean saying: “Hanorish tharah sharinas “: “Man is
multitudinous, varied, and ever changing.” Why do I emphasize this? Considering that
we are born with this condition, that is, that we can become whatever we choose to
become, we need to understand that we must take earnest care about this, so that it
will never be said to our disadvantage that we were born to a privileged position but
failed to realize it and became animals and senseless beasts. Instead, the saying of
Asaph the prophet should be said of us, “You are all angels of the Most High.” Above
all, we should not make that freedom of choice God gave us into something harmful,
for it was intended to be to our advantage. Let a holy ambition enter into our souls; let
us not be content with mediocrity, but rather strive after the highest and expend all our
strength in achieving it.

Let us disdain earthly things, and despise the things of heaven, and, judging little of
what is in the world, fly to the court beyond the world and next to God. In that cou rt,
as the mystic writings tell us, are the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones 1 in the
foremost places; let us not even yield place to them, the highest of the angelic orders,
and not be content with a lower place, imitate them in all their glory and dignity. If we
choose to, we will not be second to them in
anything.

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