Oration on the Dignity of Man Background

Oration on the Dignity of Man Background

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man was composed in 1483, but not published until after his death in 1486. Considering the temper of the times, the amazing thing is that it got published at all. The oration itself actually consists only of the opening to a longer document that is a formulation of Mirandola’s 900 theses on wide and disparate group of topics. The theses are primarily composed of subjects which had become the source of disputes with many other Roman scholars at the time.

Mirandola’s propositions to be forwarded as arguments in debate had been developed over the course of a seven years of education in the classics at colleges and universities spread across the continent. Among some of the philosophers which had informed his view on the subjects he debated were many whose ideas would come to be the foundation for Humanism. Though not a Humanist in the definitive sense of rejecting Aristotelian scholasticism, to the Catholic Church he was even worse: a philosopher whose writings were heavily influenced by ancient Jewish and pagan texts and even more recent Muslim writings as well. When the Church deemed the writings heretical, he was forced to flee to France and abandon all hope for a chance to debate.

History has taken the opening oration to those theses as the primary philosophical contribution of Mirandola. Oration on the Dignity of Man is a revolutionary medieval text precisely due to its heretical affirmation that the wisdom of the world was drawn from only three sources, with the Bible being just one of them. The collection of ancient philosophical texts and the Jewish Kabbalah comprise the other two sources. One of the concepts that Mirandola introduces in Oration on the Dignity of Man which is further developed through his theses would eventually come to be--arguably--his single greatest contribution: the creation of the Christian Kabbalah.

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