Marsilio Ficino offering comfort to the bereaved

“Tell me, Bernado, what is it you mourn in a friend’s death? Is it death? Or is it the person who is dead? If it is death, mourn your own, Bernardo. For as surely as he is dead will you too die; or rather, you are dying;for from moment to moment your past life is dying. If it is the dead person you mourn, is it because he was bad, or because he was good? If he was bad, you are well rid of such a companion; and you should not grieve over your blessings. If he was good, which I prefer to think since he is loved by a good and prudent man, surely for him it is good to live removed from the continuous death of the body. It is not right to grudge a friend such great blessings. Perhaps you grieve because you no longer see him anywhere as you used to. However, was not this man your friend in that he loved you? Now what was it that loved you? Was it not the soul itself, the soul which also knew you? But you saw his soul no differently then than now; and you see it now no less than then.

You will perhaps complain of his abscence. But, as souls do not fill space, they become present not in any particular place but in thought. When you do not consider him you cannot be sad. But when you do consider him, which you do as you please, you at once recall his prescence. You should never complain about his abscence then, unless perhaps you object that it is not the way of the free soul to commune with the one imprisoned in your body. Seperate the mind from the body, Bernado, if you can, and, believe me your souls will quickly meet. But if you cannot do this, do not doubt they will meet a little later whether you will or no. For if we compare our life to our will, it is exceedingly brief; if we compare it to the age of the world, it is but an instant; and, compared to the age of God, even less than an instant.

Farewell, and live in God, since He alone is eternal life. He alone drives death and the sorrow of death far from his worshippers.”

From “The Letters of Marsilio Ficino volume 1” translation by the language department of the London School of Economics 1975.

What fascinates me so much about this, and other passages in Ficino’s letters is the fact that although his position could (and has been) seen as bordering on the Gnostic and Monist, he was actually a pretty well respected member of the clergy in Florence. His main contribution to Christian theology being to assert the Platonic idea of the soul’s immortality (as opposed to the then current Aristotelian position that the soul was temporal) and to define its position in relation to human consciousness. His ideas, ridiculed at first by the mainstream, were pretty soon assimilated and absorbed by the church.

I find it fascinating also to note throughout his letters the complete abscence of what could be termed the conventional theological formulae (salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, the place of baptism, heaven and hell et al). Rather, there is much evidence of a LIVED faith, a man who has found peace with the divine and sees the divine in the people around him. He frequently states that it is not the person he loves for themselves but the light of God he sees reflecting through them and that the physical body is what prevents and frustrates unity of the spirit between individuals themselves and individuals and the divine.

Union with the divine is not something that will happen at some future date through the grace of some externalised series of circumstances, it is open to all who devote their lives to silence and contemplation and seek to overcome the more egoistic portions of their being.

I will come back to this idea under a different heading.


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