26 – THE AMBIGUOUS GOD – PART 5

Continued from part 4.

Before the De Vita (1489) and the Compendium in Timaeum (1484-1485), Ficino already mentioned the spirit of the world, but he gave it another name. In his treatise on love, the De Amore, written in 1469, he evokes the love god in terms very near to those he uses in the De Vita (see part 3) to qualify the spirit of the world:

But why do we think that Love is a magician? Because the whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain affinity of nature. But the parts of this world, like the parts of a single animal, all deriving from a single author, are joined to each other by the communion of a single nature. Therefore, just as in us the brain, lungs, heart, liver, and the rest of the parts draw something from each other, and help each other, and sympathize with any one of them when it suffers, so the parts of this great animal, that is all the bodies of the world, similarly joined together, borrow and lend natures to and from each other. From this common relationship is born a common love; from love, a common attraction. And this is the true magic. Thus, fire is drawn upward by the concavity of the sphere of the moon, because of a congruity of nature; air, by the concavity of fire; earth is drawn downward by the center of the world; water is also drawn by its region.[1]

Here, as later in the De Vita, Ficino describes a power of the world, which he qualifies as true magic, and which, being a power of attraction, makes the unity of the world. Here, he calls it “love.” In the De Vita, it is the spirit of the world (see part 3). Moreover, it should be noted that Ficino uses the same images in both passages (attraction from the concavity of the moon’s sphere, attraction from the world’s center). How should we interpret the discrepancy between these two passages? Has Ficino changed his mind about the nature of this power of attraction, or is he writing about the same power with different names? The conclusion of the De Amore provides the answer: For Ficino, the love god is none other than the Holy Spirit.

O the wonderful magnificence of this god! O the incomparable beneficence of god! For other gods finally reveal themselves with difficulty, for a short time, after you have sought them for a long time. Love runs to meet us even before we start looking. Therefore, men acknowledge that they owe much more to him than to the others. There are some who often dare to curse the divine Power as the punisher of our crimes. Some also hate the divine Wisdom as the exposer of all our shames. But the divine Love, the giver of all goods, we are not able not to love.[2]

In the margin of his manuscript, Ficino wrote “Pater. Filius. Spiritus.” Pater, the father, is the divine Power that punishes; Filius, the son, is the divine Wisdom that exposes; and Spiritus, the Holy Spirit of the Christian Trinity, is the divine Love, giver of all goods.

Thus, for Ficino, the power that unites the world is the third person of the Christian Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who is the mutual Love between Father and Son. Ficino identifies this Spirit with the ancient gods from the creation of the world: Phanes, Zeus, Eros. Like them, the Spirit  must be both male and female.

To assimilate the Christian God with the hermaphrodite gods of Antiquity, Ficino also was inspired by another source, as we can see in a passage from his commentary to Plotinus’ Enneads, in which the pagan philosopher deals with the simultaneous presence, within nature, of both male and female powers: “So, Orpheus calls nature and the Jupiter of the world ‘male and female’; likewise Mercury.” [3] Here, Mercury is none other than Hermes Trismegistus. At the request of Cosimo de’ Medici, Ficino had translated in his youth a whole corpus of texts attributed to this mythical author, even before completing his translation of Plato’s dialogues. Now the male and female god appears in the Hermetic texts, a spirit god who engenders a demiurge creator of the world:

The mind who is god, being androgyne and existing as life and light, by speaking gave birth to a second mind, a craftsman, who, as god of fire and spirit, crafted seven governors; they encompass the sensible world in circles, and their government is called fate. [4]

Also among the writings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus was the Asclepius, a Latin translation of which circulated since Antiquity. In this text, the hermaphrodite god is the principle of universal Love.

God, the only and the all, completely full of the fertility of both sexes and ever pregnant with his own will, always begets whatever he wishes to procreate. […]
– Do you say that god is of both sexes, Trismegistus?
– Not only god, Asclepius, but all the things ensouled and soulless, for it is impossible for any of the things that are to be infertile. Take away fertility from all the things that now exist, and it will be impossible for them to be forever. I say that sensation and growth are also in the nature of things, that the world contains growth within it and preserves all that have come to be. For each sex is full of fecundity, and the linking of the two or, more accurately, their union is incomprehensible. If you call it Cupid or Venus, you will be correct. Grasp this in your mind as truer and plainer than anything else: that god, this master of the whole of nature, devised and granted to all things this mystery of procreation unto eternity, in which arose the greatest affection, pleasure, gaiety, desire and love divine.[5]

Ficino considered Hermes one of the wise theologians of Antiquity who, before the advent of Christ, revealed the divine mysteries to humans.[6]

Hermes Trismegistus represented as a mage in a drawing attributed to Maso Finiguerra (c. 1470).

In all likelihood, the Hermetic writings, in conjunction with the Orphic poems, inspired Ficino’s creation of an ambisexual spirit of the world.

Thus, Ficino’s spirit of the world possesses the following characteristics:

– It is the link between the soul and the body of the world

– Through it, the world-soul created the four elements of the world: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth

– It is composed of four parts corresponding to these elements

– It is, in itself, a fifth essence

– It is both male and female

– It is identified with Eros and Jupiter

– It has a divine nature

– It is Love

By its structure and by many characteristics, Ficino’s spirit of the world corresponds well to the figure of the World in the Tarot of Marseille. There is reason to believe that this image is its representation.

Nicolas Conver, The World, 1760.

[1] Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, VI, 10, translation Sears Jayne, Dallas, Spring Publications, 1956, p. 127.

[2] Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, VII, 17, cit., p. 174.

[3] Plotinus, Opera, translated and with a commentary by Marsilio Ficino, Florence, Antonio Miscomini, 1492, f. 271r.: Sic Orpheus naturam mundanumque Iovem marem appellat et foeminam; similiter Mercurius. Cf. Enneads, IV, 4, 27.

[4] Corpus Hermeticum, I, 9, translation by Brian Copenhaver, Hermetica, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 2.

[5] Asclepius, 20-21, translation by Brian Copenhaver, Hermetica, cit., pp. 78-79.

[6] We now know that these texts were not written before the Christian era. Ficino thought they predated Moses.

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