You are on page 1of 11

The Object of Love in Ficino's Philosophy

Author(s): James A. Devereux, S.J.


Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1969), pp. 161-170
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2708430 .
Accessed: 22/06/2014 13:40

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Journal of the History of Ideas.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
THE OBJECT OF LOVE IN FICINO'S PHILOSOPHY

BY JAMES A. DEVEREUX,S.J.

The most influential writer of the Renaissance on the subject of


love was Marsilio Ficino, whose Commentary on the Symposium of
Plato began a long tradition of speculation about love, in Italy and
in Europe generally.' Hardly less influential in our own century
among those who still read treatises on love has been Anders Ny-
gren's book, Agape and Eros, an important chapter of which is de-
voted to Ficino's teaching.2 My contention is that Bishop Nygren
has misrepresentedhis earlier counterpart and that others are fol-
lowing his lead. For example, in a recent book on The Nature of
Love: Plato to Luther Irving Singer accepts Nygren's view of Ficino
without question,even to the point of attributing to Ficino by direct
quotation words which he never wrote but which are rather Nygren's
interpretation-and that debatable-of a passage in Ficino.3 To be
sure, Ficino has not lacked champions.Some years ago Paul 0. Kris-
teller in his The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino took exception to
Nygren's view, but the nature of his own study ruled out any ex-
tended debate of the issue. It is just such a reexamination that I
would like to undertake.
What is the issue? Nygren says 5 that according to Ficino:
All love, whetherGod's love or man's love, is at bottom self-love.... When
God loves us men, it is becausewe are His work; in us also, God loves noth-
ing but Himself.... So also ... [in] the human spirit ... self-love is the
all-determiningforce.... Only on this basis can we speak of loving another
1 I have used the edition of RaymondMarcel, CommentaireSur Le Banquet De
Platon (Paris, 1956); English translationby Sears R. Jayne, Universityof Missouri
Studies, XIX, 1 (Columbia,Mo., 1944).
2 Trans.
Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia,1953), 667-80.
8 New
York, 1966. Singer writes (358): "FollowingPlato (really Aristotle), the
RenaissancephilosopherMarsilio Ficino interprets the precept ["Thou shalt love
thy neighboras thyself"] in just that way: 'In the fellow-manwhom we love, we
recognizeourselvesand love in him nothing other than ourselves.'" As a source he
cites Nygren's Agape and Eros, 679. There the passage appears as Nygren's inter-
pretationof Ficino.To support his own view, Nygren quotes from Book I of Ficino's
Epistolae,655a, in note six on page 679 of Agape and Eros: "Idcircocum in amante
se amatus agnoscat, amare illum compellitur."It should be clear that Nygren's
crucial phrase, "nothingother than," goes beyond what Ficino says, and that the
passagein Nygren'sbook cannot be considereda translation,or, for that matter, a
faithful interpretationof what Ficino said.
4 New
York, 1943, 278n., 280n. 5 Agape and Eros, 678-80.
161

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
162 JAMES A. DEVEREUX

person.For in the fellow-manwhomwe love, we recognizeourselvesand love


in him nothing other than ourselves. Indeed, Ficino does not even shrink
from reducing our love for God wholly to self-love. Love of God is the
means, self-love the end-Ficino announces this unequivocally. . . . No-
where else has human self-love been preachedin this sense and with such
unprejudicedcandourand naive self-conceit. Why do we love God? Ficino
answers: "Ut nos ipsos prae ceteris amplectamur." All other things we are
to love in God, but in God we love ultimately only ourselves.
Nygren's position is nothing if not clear. But is Ficino's so un-
equivocal as he would have it? Since the De Amore, as the Commen-
tary on the Symposium of Plato is usually called, is Ficino's principal
work on the subject, our examination will begin there. The De Amore
is a free and personal commentary, itself in dialogue form, on Plato's
celebrated dialogue. It was printed along with Ficino's translation
of the Symposium in his Latin Plato of 1484. Its structure and con-
tent have been described before. I shall be concerned here only with
the question whether in it, as Nygren claims, Ficino characterizes
all love as self-love.
In the first discourse of the De Amore love's origins are explained
in this way:
The first world made by God was the angelic mind; the second was the
soul of the world; and the third was this whole visible universe. In these
three worlds one may distinguish three forms of chaos. In the beginning
God created the substance of the angelic mind, which we also call essence.
This substance, in the first moment of its creation, is formless and dark.
But because it was born of God, it turns toward God, its source, with a
certain innate desire. Turned toward God, it is illumined by the radiance
of God himself. In the glow of his radiance its own appetite is set ablaze.
With its appetite enkindled,it cleaves to God, and in cleaving to him as-
sumes form.6
Love began, then, when the angelic mind which was born of God
turned to him as to its principle, drawn by an innate longing-"in-
genito quodam appetitu."7 This initial tendency is not explained
6 This English versionis my
own, made with an eye on Jayne's translation,127.
The Latin in Marcel'sedition, 139, is: "Mens angelica primus mundus est a deo
factus. Secundus,universicorporisanima.Tertius,tota hec quam cernimusmachina.
In his utique mundistribus, tria et chaos considerantur.Principiodeus mentis illius
creat substantiam,quam etiam essentiamnominamus.Hec in primo illo creationis
sue momento informisest et obscura.Quoniamvero a deo nata est, ad deum sui
principiumingenito quodam appetitu convertitur.Conversain deum, ipsius radio
illustratur.Radii illius fulgoreille suus appetitus accenditur.Accensusappetitus deo
totus inheret.Inherendoformatur."
7 Cf. Plotinus, The
Enneads,III, 5, tr. Stephen MacKenna,2nd ed. (New York,
1956), especially: "Love-'born at the banquet of the gods'-has of necessity been
eternallyin existence,for it springsfrom the intentionof the Soul towardsits Best,
towardsthe Good" (200).

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
OBJECT OF LOVE IN FICINO 163

further; one is left to infer that it arises from the natural bond be-
tween creature and creator. Later, at the beginning of the Third
Discourse, Ficino enunciates the principle from which this might be
derived: that all effects seek their causes as principles of their con-
servation.8 However, he soon introduces a new element into the
argument of the First Discourse, and that is beauty. The turning of
the angelic mind to its source results in the bestowal of the ideas,
which themselves constitute an order or cosmos. The charm of this
order is beauty. Seeing its own beauty the angelic mind is drawn
to it, and this tendency to beauty is called love. Love's origin had
first been assigned to an initial turning of the angelic mind toward
God; now love is said to possess the property or conditio of drawing
toward beauty.9
Thus far we have been speaking of how love had its origin in
the creation of the mens angelica. The creation of the world soul and
of the visible universe follows the same pattern:
So it was with the matter of this world. At the beginningit lay a formless
chaos without the ornamentof the forms; but, attracted by innate love, it
turned toward the soul of the world and offered itself submissively to its
influence.And thus by the mediation of this love, it received from the soul
the ornamentof all the forms which are to be seen in this world. And so
out of chaos it became a world.10
In the following chapter the tendency toward beauty is called
not simply a property of love but is said to constitute its essence.
Here Ficino accepts "the authority of all the philosophers" in de-
fining love as the desire for beauty, or more precisely the desire to
enjoy beauty-"fruende pulchritudinis desiderium."n To be sure,
love is limited to the enjoyment of that beauty which is apprehended
by the mind, sight, and hearing; but it is clearly defined in terms of
acquisition and enjoyment. It generates a circle which begins and
ends with God: the manifestation of his beauty in the world evokes
in creatures a desire which is finally satisfied in the possession of God.
What was God's motive for beginning such a cycle? In the Second
Discourse goodness is said to be of the very essence of God, and
beauty a ray which shines from him through all things.l2 This would
imply a connection between the goodness of God and his creation,
since beauty is the manifestation in creatures of God's goodness.
But it does not necessarily imply that God created the world out of
8 Marcel ed., 160. 9 Ibid., 140.
10Ibid., 141.The Latin reads: "Non aliter et
mundihuiusmateria,cum principio
sine formarumornamentoinformechaosiaceret,illico amoresibi
ingenitoin animam
se direxit seque illi obedientem prebuit, atque hoc amore
conciliante, ab anima
formarumomnium que in mundo videntur, nacta ornamentummundus ex chaos
effecta est." 11 142. 12 152.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
164 JAMES A. DEVEREUX

disinterestedgoodness,and this Ficino does not say.


In the same discoursewe encounter the first suggestion of reci-
procity in human love. It is said that the lover often wishes to trans-
form himself into the personof the beloved.13However,the very next
sentence must give us pause about the selflessness of this desire.
"This is really quite reasonable,"says Ficino, "for he is trying to
become a God instead of man. And who would not exchange the
human condition for the divine?"14 But one must not draw hasty
conclusions.Soon afterwardin the same Second Discourse comes a
long and detailed explanation of the reciprocity of human love.l'
To begin with, love is a voluntary death. In turning his thoughts
to the beloved the lover loses consciousnessof himself. "But one who
does not think of himself, certainly does not think in himself," says
Ficino.lSAnd since thought is the function of the soul and function
is an extension of existence, the lover, because he does not think in
himself, no longer exists in himself. He exists, to be sure, in the
other, having died to himself.
You may find the argument a bit facile, but this is what Ficino
says, and by saying it he places self-giving at the center of human
love. Such self-giving love must, of course,be mutual, since the soul
which loses itself must find some receptive soul wherein to take up
existence. Thus, in contrast to Shakespeare,who wrote that love
should not alter "whenit alterationfinds,"1 Ficino implies that love
cannot help but alter, and in fact ceases to exist when it is no longer
reciprocated.
But this mutual self-abandonmentposes a problem to our phi-
losopher. How can B receive and take possession of A when B has
himself surrenderedhis identity to A? The man who no longer pos-
sesses himself can hardly possess another as well. Ficino explains
that in fact the lover possesses both himself and the other. He pos-
sesses the other thanks to the other's free gift of himself. He pos-
sesses himself becausehe discoversthe self he had lost present in the
mind of the other. Hence the very notion of mutual self-giving im-
plies an element of possession-both of the other and of the self.18
But this possession is perfectly reciprocal; self-surrenderis not a
means or an intermediatestage which leads to possession.
Having discoveredin Ficino something other than eros-acquisi-
tive love-among human subjects, one is straightaway faced with
18 153.
14153. "Nee immerito,deus namque pro homine fieri cupit atque conatur. Quis
autem pro deo hominemnon commutet?" 15156ff.
1 156. "Si de se non
cogitat, in se certe non cogitat."
'7 Sonnet CXVI, line 3. 18De Amore,156-157.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
OBJECT OF LOVE IN FICINO 165

a description of God's love for creatures which certainly suggests


eros and nothing else. At the beginningof the Third DiscourseFicino
lays down the principlethat all causes love their own effects as parts
and images of themselves.9 Thus, God was moved by the knowledge
of his own perfection to generate the angelic mind, and ultimately
the visible world. Whence all of creation is the result of divine self-
complacency.To be sure, God acts "benevolentiaquaedam."20But he
is himself the object of his own benevolence.Conversely,when in the
Fourth Discoursethe happinessof the blessed in heaven is discussed,
it is entirely in terms of possessionand enjoyment,and not of ecstatic
love or even mutual admiration.Whatevertheir place at the heavenly
table, all men enjoy all of God: "Toto autem deo fruunturomnes."21
The theocentric element of the vision of God may not be excluded,
but it is certainly not discussed.
In the Sixth Discourse of the De Amore we encounter the cele-
brated ladder of Diotima, the pattern of the soul's ascent from the
sight of corporealbeauty to the possession of God. The process is
familiar to us from Book IV of Castiglione'sCourtierand need not
be reviewed here. One may ask, though, how this vertical ascent to
God is to be reconciledwith the accountof mutual human love given
earlier in the Second Discourse. How can love of another be self-
giving if it is followed by a step-by-step withdrawalfrom the con-
crete individuality of the other into the world of universalideas and
eventually to the One? Doesn't the other become a rung on the way
to spiritual self-fulfillment?At first Ficino seems to answer by ex-
cluding human love altogether.He goes beyond Diotima and exhorts
us not only to love God without limit but God alone: "If we love
bodies, souls, or angels, we do not really love these, but God in
them."2 What, then, is to become of all the other objects of our
love, includingourselves?Ficino is aware of the problem,because he
continues in the same passage:
So in the presentwe shall love Godin everything,so that finallywe may
love everythingin God. For by living in this way we shall cometo see
bothGodand all thingsin God,and to love bothhim and all thingsthat
are in him. And whoeverin this presenttime devoteshimselflovinglyto
God,will at last findhimselfagainin God.For he will returnto his own
ideathroughwhichhe was created.... To this idea divinelove will lead
us. Whereashere we are dividedand mutilated,there, reunitedby love
to our own idea, we shall be wholemen oncemore.Thus it will be clear
that we have first lovedGodin [created]things,in such a way as after-
wardsto love themin him; and that we reverencethingsin God,so as to
recoverourselvesin him beforeall otherthings;and thus in loving God,
9
1160. 20160. 21 176. 22239.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
166 JAMES A. DEVEREUX

it will be clear that we have loved ourselves.23


That mutual love which he rhapsodizedin the Second Discourse
is possible, then, to those who first love God. He does not, however,
explain how love of God must provide the ontologicalbasis for love
of others. And even this tentative synthesis seems to be shaken by
the order of the last sentence in the passage quoted above, which
suggests that both these loves, love of God and love of others, are
subordinatedafter all to love of self. This is precisely how Nygren
reads the sentence. Let me quote again from his commentary:"Why
do we love God? Ficino answers: "ut nos ipsos prae ceteris amplec-
tamur."24 Nygren gives the casual reader the impression that this
last is a purpose clause, as it would have to be if it answered the
question "Why?"But in Ficino's text it does not answer that ques-
tion. This clause, together with the other two in parallel, express
more result than conscious purpose, as the double use of videamur
makes clear. If we love creaturesand God in orderto love ourselves,
we would be consciousof this, since orderedpurpose implies aware-
ness. In that case Ficino would not say that "it will be clear" that
we have first loved God, etc. The Italian version which Ficino him-
self made helps to show this:
In modoche apparira,che noi abbiamoprimaamatoDio nelle cose, per
amarepoi le cose in lui: Et che noi onoriamole cose in Dio, per ricom-
perarenoi soprattutto:Et amandoDio, abbiamoamatonoi medesimi.25
He is simply saying that by loving God in all things we cannot help
but love ourselves. One may complain that self-love gets the last
word in the paragraph,but this is due to the inadequaciesof lan-
guage and not to any conscious subordinationof God to man.
What can we conclude, then, about the alleged ascendency of
eros in Ficino's De Amore?First, it would indeed appear that God's
motive in creating the world is ultimately the love of his own per-
fection. Secondly,man's reasonfor loving God is the radicaltendency
of all creaturesto return to their source. This tendency, called love,
23239. The complete text is: "Ita deum ad
presens in omnibus diligimusut in
deo tandem omnia diligamus.Nam ita viventes eo proficiscemurut et deum et in
deo omnia videamusamemusqueet ipsum et que in ipso sunt omnia. Et quisquis
hoc in tempore sese deo caritate devoverit, se denique recuperabitin deo. Nempe
ad suam, per quam creatus est, redibit ideam.... Ad eam divinus amor pietasque
perducet.Cumquehic discerptisimus et mutilati,idee tunc nostre amandoconiuncti,
integrihominesevademus,ut deum primoin rebuscoluissevideamur,quo res deinde
in deo colamus,resquein deo ideo venerari,ut nos ipsos in eo pre ceteris
amplecta-
mur, et amandodeum, nos ipsos videamuramasse."
24Agape and
Eros, 680. See the fuller quotationof footnote 5 above.
25
Sopra lo Amore ovver' Convito di Platone (Firenze, 1544), 204.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
OBJECT OF LOVE IN FICINO 167

can be expressedas the desire to enjoy God's beauty. Pursuing it,


man will in that very act accomplish his own perfection. Finally,
Ficino clearly teaches a doctrine of interpersonalrelationshipsbased
on mutual self-giving. He also shows, though sketchily, that such
friendshipmust be based on love of God.
To concludeall this is not to say that in the De AmoreFicino did
in fact succeed in harmonizingPlatonic love with the agape of the
New Testament at every point. One looks in vain for the notion of
gratuitous love on God's part. But the De Amore was not his only
word on the subject of love and certainly not his last. The letters,
published in 1495 and widely read even in his own lifetime, return
to the subject constantly, and must be studied if we are to do justice
to Ficino's thought and his historicalposition.
The letters add several important ideas to the imperfect syn-
thesis of the De Amore. First of all, a letter to Filippo Carducci
states quite clearly that God created men out of love-"Ego enim
amore vos meo creavi"-and that God's love was prior to man's.26
It does not howevercall God'slove gratuitous.In fact it suggests the
opposite, as one may gather from the conclusion of the letter. God
is speaking to men and says:
Realizethen how greatlove is. With my love I createdyou, and with
yourownlove-love of me-you shallrecreateyourselvesin me.Outof love
I madeyou spiritualbeings;you, for love of Godshall remakeyourselves
into gods.On that day I shall say: You too are gods and all sons of the
mosthigh.27
Secondly,the letters make doubly clear the importancewhich Ficino
attributedto mutual self-giving between friends. The idea that who-
ever loves another somehow leaves himself and gives himself to the
other is repeated constantly.28What is more, in an important letter
to Giovanni Cavalcanti,one of his closest friends,Ficino attempts to
explain what he had only assertedin the De Amore,that the love of
friendsmust be based on their mutual love of God.2?In brief, he ar-
gues that friendship involves the common pursuit of a single goal
which is the friend's common good. But this common good is in the
last analysis God. Hence friendship must be based on mutual love
of God. In stressingthis aspect of love, Ficino goes so far as to define
humanity itself in terms of mutual love. In a letter to Matthaeus
26OperaOmnia
(Torino, 1959), 863.
27 863.
"Agnosciteigitur quanti sit amor, ego enim amore meo vos creavi, vos
quoque amore vestro, amore, inquam,mei, vos ipsos in me recreabitis.Ego amore
feci vos mentes, vos aute [lege: autem] amore Dei vos quandoqueDeos reficietis.
Tune ego dicam. Vos quoque dii estis et filii excelsi omnes."The last line of this
passageis a quotationof Psalm 82 (81), verse 6.
28 For
example,OperaOmnia,638, 672, 754, 843, and 859. 2 633-634.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
168 JAMES A. DEVEREUX

Forlivensis he concludes that the man who is most inclined to love


other men comes closest of all to the idea of human nature conceived
by the divine artist.30 A similar thought is expressed in a letter to
Tommaso Minerbetti.31
Finally, one long letter to Ermolao Barbaro in the third book of
the Epistolae adds significantly to the position of the De Amore on
the quality of man's love of God. There we discovered an unmistak-
able emphasis on the possession and enjoyment of God. In this letter
Ficino seems almost to be answering the objections which we raised
at that point. This is what he writes:
The human will can be disposed toward God chiefly in two ways. It
desires either to receive from him or to give. The first instinct is common
and natural to all, for we all desire many things from God, but we do not
love God or man on this account. ... It is only the man who gives him-
self back to God, that is to say who turns every thought and action to
Him, who truly loves God for God's sake alone and other things because
of God.... Such spirits are moved with an ineffable love to God and
to each other. To him they give themselves spontaneously as to their
Father; to others most gladly as to their brothers.Whatever else goes by
the name of friendshipamong men is nothing but robbery. True charity,
as Paul the Apostle says, seeks not its own good but that of the other.82
As for self-love, Ficino adds that the true lover loves God in all
things "in such a way that he does not even love himself except in
God who alone makes him worthy of love." 83
so 861.
31634."Obhancut arbitror
rationem,sapientessolamillamex omnivirtutum
numero hominis ipsius nomine, id est, humanitatem appellaverunt, quae omnes
homines quodammodoceu fratres ex uno quodam patre longo ordine natos diligit
atque curat."
32777-78: "Humana voluntas erga Deum quobus [lege: duobus]
praecipue
modis, quantumad propositumspectat affici potest. Aut enim accipere cupit inde,
aut dare. Primus quidem instinctus communisnaturalisqueest omnibus, siquidem
omnes a Deo, quam plurima exoptamuset petimus, sed non ob hoc ipsum Deum
hominesvediligimus.Instinctusalter non aeque cuiuslibetesse videtur, nempe pauci
admodum reperiuntur,qui Deo seipsos secumque omnia dedant, imo ut rectius
loquar, Deo reddant.Nihil enim quod non ab eo acceperimusvel sumus, vel possi-
demus. Quisquisse ipsum Deo reddit, id est, omnem cogitationisaffectum,actionis
nixum effectumqueconvertit in eum, hic solius ipsius gratia Deum amat, ac caetera
diligit propter Deum. .. . Quam ob rem eiusmodi mentes inextimabili quadam
amorisflagrantiaet dulcedine,et ad Deum, et se invicemprorsusafficiuntur,dum se
turn illi sponte reddunt tamquam patri, turn sibi mutuo libentissimededunt tam-
quam fratribus. Caeterae quae inter homines amicitiae nuncupantur,nihil sunt
aliud quam rapinae. Vera charitas, sicut Paulus, inquit, Apostolus, non
quae sua
sunt, sed quae alterius quaerit."
33778: "Ita ut neque ipsemet sibi sit dilectus,nisi in eo per quem hoc habet ut
sit diligendus."

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
OBJECT OF LOVE IN FICINO 169

The citation from the First Epistle to the Corinthiansleaves no


doubt that here Ficino is talking about agape and not eros.34I cannot
say that he writes with this emphasison every page. Even the letter
to Giovanni Cavalcanti,which Professor Kristeller groups with this
one as especially revelatoryof Ficino's doctrine of love, continues to
accentuate the cultivation of the self.35But the present text proves
that Ficino could speak with another accent entirely.
Before having done, I would like to forestall two possible objec-
tions. The first is that Ficino held that the intellect, which is the more
acquisitive and self-seekingpower of the soul, is superiorto the will,
whichby naturegoes out of itself to its object. A recentstudy by Sears
Jayne concludesthat this was Ficino'sfinal position on this much de-
bated issue.36If this is true, then man's dominantfaculty is one which
turns by its very nature towardself aggrandizement.To this I would
reply that there are many passagesboth in the De Amore and in the
letters which call the will the superiorfaculty. ProfessorJayne ac-
counts for these by saying that in those places will is really parallel
with and reducibleto intellect.7 But this is hard to reconcilewith the
clear disjunctionmade between the faculties which one finds so often,
and not only in the Epistolae.88Ficino'sfinal stand on this questionis
by no means clear. However, even if one were able to show that he
consideredthe will the superior faculty, the question at issue here
wouldnot be solved. To be sure,the will tends towardits object rather
than drawingits object toward itself, as the intellect does. But the
will's purpose in this can as easily be eventual possession as self-
surrender.
A second,more serious,objectionis that I have expectedof Ficino
answers to questions which he himself never asked. The agape-eros
problemis a moderninvention. My answeris that Ficino's own writ-
ings show that he was well aware of the need to reconcile the self-
giving and self-seeking tendencies in human friendship; they also
show that he saw the apparentconflict between love of neighborand

84Chapter 13, verse 5. John Charles Nelson in his valuable book, Renaissance
Theoryof Love (New York, 1958), is speakingof the De Amore when he says that
"for all Ficino'sdesire to reconcilePlatonism with Christianity,his
concept of love
is basicallyplatonic"(p. 83). Howevertrue this is of that treatise,I do not think it
can be said of the letters.
8SThe Philosophyof MarailioFicino, 279-280.
6John Colet and MarsilioFicino
(Oxford,1963), 56-76.
8759.
8s E.g., a passage in the TheologiaPlatonica in Opera Omnia,p. 324: "In hac
vita humanusamor in Deum humanae praestat cognitioni,quia Deum nemo vere
cognoscit.Vere autem amant illi Deum quoquomodo cognitum,qui spernuntomnia
propter ipsum."

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
170 JAMES A. DEVEREUX

love of God and articulateda solution to the problemin the letter to


Giovanni Cavalcanti.Finally, he was aware of the need to reconcile
the self-seeking and the generous aspects of man's love of God. He
had, after all, read Aquinas,who debates the issue in several places in
his works.89
The one modern objection to his teaching which may not have
occurredto Ficino is that he fails to say that God'slove of men is dis-
interested. It is a fact that this aspect of the New Testament notion
of love is not to be found in his works.At least I have not found it.
But it is also a fact that many other elements of that notion are.
Ficino cannot, then, be made a spokesmanfor "Renaissanceegocen-
trism"without doingviolence to both truth and charity.Judgedin the
light of his own announcedpurpose,which was to furtherreligionand
bring men back to the Christianfaith through Platonic philosophy,40
his teachingon love is less than adequate.There is a shift of emphasis,
and some things are left unsaid which, from the viewpoint of ortho-
doxy, ought to have been said. His position is anthropocentricrather
than theocentric. But it is hardly one of "naive self-conceit," as
Nygren claims.
It has been suggestedbefore that the followersof Ficino-all ex-
cept Leone Ebreo-modified his teaching about the relationship of
heavenly and earthly love.41It is possible that a study of Pico della
Mirandola,Pietro Bembo, Diacceto, and others would reveal a similar
change from the position on selfish and unselfishlove which we have
discoveredhere. But to pursuethis would lead us beyond the limits of
this study. One would also like to know more of the originsof Ficino's
theory of love. Although he can justly be placed at the head of a new
school, he is certainly indebted to Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Dante,
the Dolce Stil Nuovo poets, and Petrarch.To know how and to what
extent would certainlyadd to our appreciationof his own thought, but
this study, too, must await anotheroccasion.Meanwhile,one can ad-
mire the ideal of human friendshipwhich Ficino offers us. It is cer-
tainly Christian,and, I think, authenticallyhuman. I might add that
the many Ficinianechoes one hearsin the worksof Martin Buber and
Gabriel Marcel suggest that his thought might find a sympathetic
hearingeven in our own un-Platonic age.
The University of North Carolina.
89E.g., Summa
Theologiae,II-II, Q. 26.
40
Kristeller, 27-29.
41EdouardF. Meylan, "L'Evolutionde la Notion d'Amour
Platonique,"Human-
isme et Renaissance,5 (1938), 418-42.

This content downloaded from 62.122.72.199 on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 13:40:43 PM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions