Re-Writing the Creation Story: How Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man Influenced the Renaissance and Man’s Perception of Himself
In the time before the Renaissance, there were two commonly accepted stories of the world’s Creation: those expressed in the first chapters of Genesis. These stories captured the work of God as he brought about the universe, the plants, the animals, and the humans, and they chronicled the fall of Adam and Eve, who used the free will that God had given them in such a way that it brought about their downfall. However, just as the Humanist movement was beginning at the forefront of the Renaissance, a brilliant young writer, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, published his Oration on the Dignity of Man, a work that put forth another version of the creation story. In a time when great thinkers were beginning to speculate on human dignity and rationality, Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man provided a refreshing change from the pessimistic Biblical story of the Creation. His portrayal of God, his ideas about the Creation of man, and his description of free will come together in a way that empowers mankind, as he paves the way for future humanist thinkers with his comments and style of writing.
The creation story presented in Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man is fundamentally different from the creation story of Genesis for many reasons. The first large difference between the two works lies in their portrayal of God. In Genesis, it is stated that “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27). This idea that humans were created in the image and likeness of God is a major part of the Christian faith; however, in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, Mirandola appears to claim the opposite. His word choice paints a picture of God as a man, referring to him as “the supreme Architect,” and the “Supreme Artisan” (Mirandola, 244), placing the Father in occupations created and filled by man. While contradicting the story of Genesis, by describing the Father in this way, Mirandola begins to elevate man’s status in God’s world. Continuing in Mirandola’s document, the next difference between the Oration on the Dignity of Man and the book of Genesis lies in God’s plan for the universe. In the book of Genesis, the birth of Adam and Eve is a part of God’s plan. God brings them forth on Earth on the same day as the animals, and only rests after man has been created and placed in charge of the Earth. In the Oration on the Dignity of Man, Mirandola claims that God “had already built this cosmic home…in accordance with the laws of a mysterious wisdom,” (Mirandola, 244) before he created man. The thought of creating man did not occur to the Maker until he sat back to contemplate his work, as though they were just a sudden thought in the Father’s mind. Mirandola’s description of the moment that God decided to create man supports this idea, as he claims, “when everything was completed…He finally took thought of creating man,” (Mirandola, 244). Mankind was not something planned in advance, or an immediate and important element of God’s plan. Upon reading this, those familiar with the story of Genesis may have felt slighted or diminished by the idea that mankind was an afterthought to God’s creation; however, after reading further into Mirandola’s Oration, it becomes clear that this is, in fact, to their advantage.
According to the Oration, unlike the animals created before them, humankind was created with a specific purpose for God. In both the stories of Genesis and the Oration on the Dignity of Man, man is created and blessed by God. In Genesis, this occurs as part of God’s plan. According to Mirandola’s Oration, however, mankind was not a part of God’s plan, but after God had created the world without man, he still felt that it was lacking something. He wished for “someone who could examine the plan of...
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