Continued from part one.

A page of the first edition of Ficino’s Della Religione Christiana (c. 1474)

Circa 1474, Marsilio Ficino published his treatise on Christian religion, written in Italian: the Della Religione Christiana. In the fourth chapter, the image of God striking down with lightning those who rebel against Him is expressed very clearly:

Nothing displeases God more than being despised. Nothing pleases Him more than being worshipped. That is why He punishes lightly humans who in any manner break His law; but He strikes with lightning those who, by ungratefulness and nastiness and pride, rebel against His power.[1]

For Ficino, the uniqueness of man is religiousness, i.e., man’s desire to unite with God. Unique among all creatures, the human species shows this faculty, expressed in many ways, depending on places, peoples, and periods. In Chapter 4 of Della Religione Christiana, Ficino conveys the idea that each and every religion has something good in it, as long as it is turned toward God, the creator of everything. Then he strives to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity, especially when compared with its monotheist rivals: Islam and Judaism. In Chapters 26-28, Ficino tries to demonstrate that Christianity expresses the truest evolution of Abraham’s religion. He relies, for that purpose, on texts from the Old Testament, especially on the words of the prophets who had, according to him, announced Christ’s advent and the development of His Church. Ficino compares the terrestrial Jerusalem of the Jews to Christianity’s heavenly Jerusalem, around which all nations of the world are called upon to unite. Quoting the prophet Haggai, he names it “the latter house”:

For thus says the Lord of Hosts: Once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all the nations, and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Hosts. […] The glory of this latter house will be greater than the former, says the Lord of Hosts.[2]

Later, referring to Prophet Zechariah’s fourth vision, he affirms that these words apply to Jesus, who will be the judge of the divine house.[3] A few pages later, the “house” of God theme reappears in a quotation from the Book of Kings, in which the Lord says to Solomon:

But if you and your sons turn in any way from following Me and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel out of the land which I have given them, and I will cast this house, which I have consecrated for My name, out of My sight, and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people. And everyone who passes by this high house will be astonished and will hiss, and they shall say, ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land, and to this house?’ And they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and took hold of other gods and have worshipped and served them. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster upon them.’ [4]

Here, the house is the Temple of Jerusalem, which Solomon had built, a temple made of stone, meaning only disaster for those who do not worship God.

However, the first house of God, the terrestrial Jerusalem will be redeemed by another, spriritual one. Ficino quotes Prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, and even Origen, to show how the Apostles, after they had been endowed with the Holy Spirit, spread to the four corners of the world to preach the good news to all the nations and in all languages.[5] In this way, Pentecost appears as the remedy provided by God himself for the punishment inflicted on Babel, which, with the confusion of the tongues, had led to the scattering of Nations. The idea of contrasting Babel’s terrestrial construction with the spiritual house of God probably originates from Origen, who developed this theme in his Against Celsus. [6]

In Chapter 28 of Della Christiana Religione, Ficino comes back to the house of God, quoting Prophet Isaiah: “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”[7] However, he adds to it an interpretation borrowed from a 12th century collection of Jewish midrashim, the Yalkut Shimoni:

About this, some Jews are out of their minds, saying that at the advent of the Messiah, God will carry Mount Thabor and Mount Sinai and Mount Carmel to Jerusalem, and on top of those, he will put Mount Zion.[8]

This narrative echoes the story, told by Landino (see part 1), of the three mountains – Ossa, Pelion, and Olympus – that the Giants stacked up, then were struck down by Jupiter with lightning. Ficino considers this interpretation to be that of slow-minded little men who attribute to corporeal bodies the incorporeal work of God. He prefers another Hebraic reading, which he deems more correct — the one proposed by Rabbi Solomon, who had said that Mount Zion was greater than the other mountains not because of its size, but because of its great miracles. [9] Indeed, as Ficino points out, Mount Zion is the place where Jesus sent from the heavens the Holy Spirit to his Disciples. Ficino then adds that Prophet Isaiah said “all Nations shall flow towards the Lord.”[10]

Thus, Ficino clearly distinguishes two different and opposing ways of understanding the Lord’s house: Those who consider it as having a physical reality are insane, while those who understand it as an incorporeal reality having universal value are correct. A few pages further, Ficino appeals to the authority of the Jewish commentator Rabbi Moses the Egyptian[11] to confirm this interpretation:

Rabbi Moses the Egyptian said, about the Book of Deuteronomy, that in the Sacred Letters, the spiritual and divine good is named in multiple ways: Mount of God, Holy Place or Real Place of the Sanctuary, Holy Way, Hall of the Lord, Temple of the Lord, House of the Lord and Door of the Lord.[12]

Ficino then quotes Rabbi Solomon again and Rabbi Abba[13], who had posed the idea that the construction of the temple described by Ezekiel applied to the heavenly Jerusalem, and, concluding on this point, he affirms that those who hope that the Messiah will build a visible temple are hopeless. Then, commenting on a sentence by Prophet Zechariah, he asks whether Jews are really waiting for Christ to build a very tall structure with dead stones. He then answers that Jesus built a heavenly temple made with the living stones of souls. The very tall construction of dead stones is naturally evocative of the Tower of Babel.[14] Then again, Ficino cites Prophet Nathan, who had predicted to David that one of his descendants would reinstate his reign and build a house for God. Ficino affirms that this text is the announcement of the Messiah — eternal king, not temporal. Ficino says this kingdom is said to be eternal because it consists of spiritual goods, not corporeal ones.[15]

One of the last Prophets quoted by Ficino in Chapter 28 of Della Christiana Religione is not biblical. Ficino considers that Muslims understood better than Jews the true nature of Christ’s eternal reign because it is said in the Quran that the Verb of God, Jesus Christ, son of Mary, was sent by the Creator of the world to be the face of all nations in this century and in the future. Concluding from all that precedes that the reign of Jesus was like the prophets had said, Ficino leaves the last word to Christ himself: “He said the greatest truth: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”[16]

The Babel/Pentecost conflict thereby constitutes the underlying thrust of Chapters 26-28 of Della Christiana Religione, expressed by several contradictory notions: terrestrial vs. heavenly kingdom; confusion of tongues vs. gift of tongues; dispersion of nations vs. universal reunification; and construction of men vs. house of God.

The 16th trump of the Tarot of Marseille illustrates the terrestrial aspects in relation to the story of Babel: The structure rises toward the heavens, the image of human pride trying to establish a terrestrial kingdom, then divine lightning, representing divine wrath, strikes the summit that is in the shape of a crown, representing the usurped kingdom. The characters then fall off the structure, punished for their pride, one in front of the tower, the other behind, probably to show the division that results from their punishment.

Nicolas Conver, House of God, 1760.

However, some details require a supplemental investigation, such as the presence in the air of multicolored spheres. What is the nature of this phenomenon, and what does it mean?

To be continued in part three.

[1] Ficino, Della Religione Christiana, Florence, Giunti, 1568, p. 16.

[2] Idem, Della Religione, cit., p. 124. Haggai, 2 6-9 (Modern English Version).

[3] Idem, Della Religione, cit., p. 153. Zechariah, 3 1-7.

[4] Idem, Della Religione, cit., p. 163. 1 Kings, 9 6-9 (Modern English Version).

[5] Idem, Della Religione, cit., p. 172.

[6] Origen, Contre Celse, IV, 1, ed. Marcel Borret, Paris, Cerf, 1968, II, p. 186-189 ; Idem, Contre Celse, v, 29-33, ed. Marcel Borret, Paris, Cerf, 1969, III, p. 85-101.

[7] Isaiah, 2 2.

[8] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 173-174. Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 391.

[9] Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105). On the identification of the sources quoted by Ficino in Della christiana religione, see Cesare Vasoli, Per le fonti del De christiana religione di Marsilio Ficino, «Rinascimento»,  28, 1988, p. 135-233.

[10] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 174.

[11] Maimonides (c. 1135-1204).

[12] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 177.

[13] Astruc Abba Mari ben Moses ben Joseph, also known as Abba Mari (c. 1300).

[14] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 178. Zechariah, 1 16.

[15] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 185-186. 2 Sam, 7 5-13.

[16] Ficino, Della Religione, cit., p. 186. Surah 4 171-172. John, 18 36.

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