I just revisited this wonderful insight from Rainscape this evening, and, being an admirer of Pico della Mirandola thought it worth posting, especially with regards to the patrimony of Thomas More.

This (The Life of John Picus) delights and instructs, and is moreover good! I've had the feeling that this is important for while, but finally have read it and selected some notable passages for you, my friends. More translated/wrote this life of Pico della Mirandola, one of his earliest works, while discerning his vocation, studying and praying in a small cell within the Carthusian "Charterhouse". He chose Pico as a model man of recent times, and what a choice! Even though More chose a different path in life than the eccentric Mirandola, his endorsement of Pico represents something he adopted to his temper and certainly never let go of.

PIECES OF THE LIFE OF PICUS
Earl of Mirandula, a great lord of Italy, an excellent cunning man in all sciences, and virtuous of living ; with divers epistles and other works of the said John Picus, full of great science, virtue, and wisdom : whose life and works be worthy and digne to be read and often to be had in memory.

Translated out of Latin into English by Master Thomas More.
Selected by Scrivener Adam Cooper.

He was of feature and shape seemly and beauteous, of stature goodly and high, of flesh tender and soft, his visage lovely and fair, his colour white intermingled with comely reds, his eyes grey and quick of look, his teeth white and even, his hair yellow and not too picked.
. . .
Under the rule and governance of his mother he was set to masters and to learning, where with so ardent mind he laboured the studies of humanity that within short while he was (and not without a cause) accounted among the chief orators and poets of that time, in learning marvellous swift and of so ready a wit that the verses which he heard once read he would again both forward and backward to the great wonder of the hearers rehearse, and over that would hold it in sure remembrance; which in other folks wont commonly to happen contrary, for they that are swift in taking be oftentimes slow in remembering, and they that with more labour and difficulty receive it, more fast and surely hold it.
. . .
He was of cheer always merry and of so benign nature that he was never troubled with anger, and he said once to his nephew that whatsoever should happen (fell there never so great misadventure) he could never, as him thought, be moved to wrath, but if his chests perished in which his books lay that he had with great travail and watch compiled. But forasmuch as he considered that he laboured only for the love of God and profit of His Church, and that he had dedicated unto Him all his works, his studies and his doings, and since he saw that, since God is almighty, they could not miscarry but if it were either by His commandment or by His sufferance, he verily trusted, since God is all good, that He would not suffer him to have that occasion of heaviness.
. . .
Some man hath shone in eloquence, but ignorance of natural things hath dishonested him; some man hath flowered in the knowledge of divers strange languages, but he hath wanted all the cognition of philosophy; some man hath read the inventions of the old philosophers, but he hath not been exercised in the new schools; some man hath sought cunning, as well philosophy as divinity, for praise and vainglory and not for any profit or increase of Christ's Church. But Picus all these things with equal study hath so received that they might seem by heaps as a plenteous stream to have flowed into him. For he was not of the condition of some folk (which to be excellent in one thing set all other aside) but he in all sciences profited so excellently that which of them soever ye had considered in him, ye would have thought that he had taken that one for his only study. And all these things were in him so much the more marvellous in that he came thereto by himself with the strength of his own wit, for the love of God and profit of His Church, without masters; so that we may say of him that Epicurus the philosopher said of himself, that he was his own master.
. . .
And oftentimes in communication he would admonish his familiar friends how greatly these mortal things bow and draw to an end, how slipper and how falling it is that we live in now; how firm, how stable it shall be that we shall hereafter live in, whether we be thrown down into hell or lifted up into heaven. Wherefore he exhorted them to turn up their minds to love God, which was a thing far excelling all the cunning that is possible for us in this life to obtain.
. . .
"But now behold, 0 my well-beloved Angel [his friend], what madness holdeth us. Love God (while we be in this body) we rather may, than either know Him or by speech utter Him. In loving Him also we more profit ourselves, we labour less and serve Him more ; and yet had we liefer, always by knowledge never find that thing that we seek, than by love to possess that thing which also, without love, were in vain found."
. . .
Liberality only in him passed measure : for so far was he from the giving of any diligence to earthly things that he seemed somewhat besprent with the freckle of negligence. His friends oftentimes admonished him that he should not all utterly despise riches, showing him that it was his dishonesty and rebuke when it was reported (were it true or false) that his negligence and setting naught by money gave his servants occasion of deceit and robbery. Nevertheless, that mind of his (which evermore on high cleaved first in contemplation and in the ensearching of nature's counsel) could never let down itself to the consideration and overseeing of these base, abject, and vile earthly trifles.
. . .
His lovers and friends with great benignity and courtesy he entreated, whom he used in all secret communing virtuously to exhort to Godward, whose godly words so effectually wrought in the hearers that where a cunning man (but not so good as cunning) came to him on a day for the great fame of his learning to commune with him, as they fell in talking of virtue he was with two words of Picus so throughly pierced that forthwithal he forsook his accustomed vice and reformed his conditions. The words that he said unto him were these : "If we had evermore before our eyes the painful death of Christ which He suffered for the love of us, and then if we would again think upon our death, we should well beware of sin."
. . .
Wedding and worldly business he fled almost alike. Notwithstanding, when he was asked once in sport whether of those two burdens seemed lighter and which he would choose if he should of necessity be driven to that one, and at his election; which he sticked thereat a while, but at the last he shook his head and a little smiling he answered that he had liefer take him to marriage, as that thing in which was less servitude and not so much jeopardy. Liberty above all he loved, to which both his own natural affection and the study of philosophy inclined him; and for that he was always wandering and flitting and would never take himself to any certain dwelling.
. . .
“Nephew;" said he, “ this will I show thee, I warn thee keep it secret ; the substance that I have left, after certain books of mine finished, I intend to give out to poor folk, and fencing myself with the crucifix, barefoot walking about the world in every town and castle I purpose to preach of Christ."
. . .
In the year of our Redemption, 1494, when he had fulfilled the thirty-second year of his age and abode at Florence, he was suddenly taken with a fervent access which so far forth crept into the interior parts of his body, that it despised all medicines and overcame all remedy, and compelled him within three days to satisfy nature and repay her the life which he received of her.
. . .
After that he had received the holy Body of our Saviour, when they offered unto him the crucifix (that is the image of Christ's ineffable passion suffered for our sake, that he might ere he gave up the ghost receive his full draught of love and compassion in the beholding of that pitiful figure as a strong defence against all adversity and a sure portcullis against wicked spirits) the priest demanded him whether he firmly believed that crucifix to be the image of Him that was very God and very man: which in His Godhead was before all time begotten of His Father, to Whom He is also equal in all things, and Which of the Holy Ghost, God also, of Him and of the Father coeternally going forth (which three Persons be one God) was in the chaste womb of our lady, a perpetual virgin, conceived in time; Which suffered hunger, thirst, heat, cold, labour, travail, and watch; and Which at the last for washing of our spotty sin contracted and drawn unto us in the sin of Adam, for the sovereign love that He had to mankind, in the altar of the cross willingly and gadly shed out His most precious blood :-when the priest inquired of him these things and such other as they be wont to inquire of folk in such case, Picus answered him that he not only believed it but also certainly knew it.
. . .
He showed also to the above-named Albertus and many other credible persons that the Queen of heaven came to him that night with a marvellous fragrant odour, refreshing all his members that were bruised and frushed with that fever, and promised him that he should not utterly die.
. . .
Now since it is so that he is adjudged to that fire from which he shall undoubtedly depart unto glory, and no man is sure how long it shall be first, and maybe the shorter time for our intercessions, let every Christian body show their charity upon him to help to speed him thither where, after the long habitation with the inhabitants of this dark world (to whom his goodly conversation gave great light) and after the dark fire of purgatory (in which venial sins be cleansed) he may shortly (if he be not already) enter the inaccessible and infinite light of heaven, where he may in the presence of the sovereign Godhead so pray for us that we may the rather by his intercession be partners of that unspeakable joy which we have prayed to bring him speedily to. Amen.
Here endeth the life of John Picus, Earl of Mirandula.

HERE FOLLOWETH IN PART AN EPISTLE OF THE SAID JOHN PICUS

But here ye will say to me thus: “I am content ye study, but I would have you outwardly occupied also. And I desire you not so to embrace Martha that ye should utterly forsake Mary. Love them and use them both, as well study as worldly occupation." Truly, my well-beloved friend, in this point I gainsay you not; they that so do I find no fault in nor I blame them not, but certainly it is not all one to say we do well if we do so, and to say we do evil but if we do so . . . Shall a man then be rebuked because that he desireth and ensueth virtue only for itself, because he studieth the mysteries of God, because he ensearcheth the counsel of nature, because he useth continually this pleasant ease and rest, seeking none outward thing, despising all other thing, since those things are able sufficiently to satisfy the desire of their followers? By this reckoning it is a thing either servile, or at the leastwise not princely, to make the study of wisdom other than mercenary. Who may well hear this, who may suffer it? Certainly he never studied for wisdom which so studied therefor that in time to come either he might not or would not study therefor. This man rather exercised the study of merchandise than of wisdom. Ye write unto me that it is time for me now to put myself in household with some of the great princes of Italy, but I see well that as yet ye have not known the opinion that philsosophers have of themselves, which (as Horace saith) repute themselves kings of kings; they love liberty; they cannot bear the proud manners of estates; they cannot serve. They dwell with themselves and be content with the tranquillity of their own mind; they suffice themselves and more; they seek nothing out of themselves; the things that are had in honour among the common people, among them be not held honourable. All that ever the voluptuous desire of men thirsteth for, or ambition seeketh for, they set at naught and despise. Which while it belongeth to all men, yet undoubtedly it pertaineth most properly to them whom fortune hath so liberally favoured that they may live not only well and plenteously, but also nobly. These great fortunes lift up a man high and set him out to the show, but oftentimes as a fierce and a skittish horse they cast off their master. Certainly always they grieve and vex him and rather tear him than bear him. The golden mediocrity, the mean estate, is to be desired, which shall bear us as it were in hands a more easily, which shall obey us and not master us. I therefore, abiding firmly in this opinion, set more by my little house, my study, the pleasure of my books, the rest and peace of my mind, than by all your kings palaces, all your common business, all your glory, all the advantage that ye hawk after, and all the favour of the court. Nor I look not for worldly business, but that I may once bring forth the children that I travail on; that I may give out some books of mine own to the common profit which may somewhat savour if not of cunning yet at the leastwise of wit and diligence. And because ye shall not think that my travail and diligence in study is anything remitted or slackened, I give you knowledge that after great fervent labour with much watch and indefatigable travail I have learned both the Hebrew language and the Chaldee, and now have I set hand to overcome the great difficulty of the Arabic tongue. These, my dear friend, be things which do appertain to a noble prince, I have ever thought and yet think. Fare ye well.

Pieces of Picus

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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