Christianity and the Renaissance: Image and Religious Imagination in the Quattrocento

By Timothy Verdon; John Henderson | Go to book overview

Skeptic current of thought. Sextus in particular had been studied and used by Politian, with typical profundity, to give a theoretical basis to that new encyclopedia of the sciences which Politian had in mind and which was to have replaced the medieval encyclopedia. 15 But Gian Francesco's way of using this writer was singularly fruitful: Sextus Empiricus, as is well known, examined critically the premises and procedures of the various disciplines in a theoretical discussion that was both subtle and merciless. Gian Francesco Pico, using the same method, summoned before the tribunal of critical reason the entire system of knowledge: all philosophies, all sciences, all doctrines, every tool of knowledge. Certain parts of his analysis of Aristotle Physics, drawing upon medieval Jewish thinkers as important as they are unknown, are of extraordinary interest. It is true that he does all this in order to juxtapose with the weakness of man's senses and intellect the strength of faith; yet the astuteness of Gian Francesco's reasoning makes his systematic Pyrrhonism a precious resource for the creation of a new encyclopedia of the sciences.

The reawakened interest in Sextus Empiricus in sixteenth-century European culture is well known and need not be dwelt upon here -- even if, notwithstanding Charles Schmitt's excellent contributions, more could be said of Gian Francesco Pico. The point of the foregoing discussion is rather to underline that singular paradox by which Fra Girolamo Savonarola's ardent faith was responsible for putting back into circulation the most corrosive heritage of ancient rationalism, with all the radical consequences that Pyrrhonism would have, from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth.


NOTES
1.
In addition to the works indicated in the following notes, this essay draws upon my earlier writings on Savonarola, especially in E. Garin, La cultura filosofica del rinascimento italiano, 2d ed. ( Florence: Sansoni, 1979), and on the reprints of the 1572 Basel editions of the works of both Giovanni and Gian Francesco Pico della Mirandola ( Opm omnia lohannis Pico, 2 vols., intro. E. Garin [ Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1971]; Opm omnia Iohanni Froncisci Pico [ Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1972]). I intend to develop several of the ideas presented here in a longer article. The present short essay was translated from Italian by Timothy Verdon.
2.
An English edition is available in Pico della Mirandola, Heptapius, or Discourse on the Sewn Daw of Creation, trans. Jessie Brewer McGraw ( New York: Philosophical Library, 1977).

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