” The Mosaic precepts are distinguished in the works of the theologians as being of two kinds. Some pertain to natural and moral law, others to rites and the administration of justice. The first were given by God to Moses and the people;the second Moses himself ordained when divinely inspired. Again, he first are given to the whole human race to be kept for all time. The second bind the Jews alone; that is, until the coming of the Messiah himself. The first precepts of which we have mentioned are so universal that they could be known to anyone, even of little education, simply through natural understanding. For what else is contained in them other than worship of God and the leading of a lawful life?
Through either Mosaic or innate knowledge of this kind, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and other worshippers of the one God, men established in the traditions of ancient law, avoided the company of the infernal regions. But they could not merit the heavenly regions without the grace of the heavenly Christ. For this reason they were carried into a middle region, that is Limbo, where, through the prophets, who were also kept there, or through angels, they knew for certain of the coming of the Messiah. Hence Gentiles as well as Jews, first in the hope of Christ, then in the prescence of Christ, returned to those above.”
From the Letters of Marsilio Ficino Volume 4 translated by the Language Department of the London School of Economic Science.
Although I am embarking on Volume 6 of this correspondance at the moment, I felt I should have quick re-read through this particular letter as it seems to be so totally a negation of all that Ficino and the Neo-Platonic tradition he represents held to.
Having stated that union with the divine can be attained through meditation and silent contemplation, Ficino, here, seems to be saying “Aha, that will only get you as far as Limbo, however, without the grace of Christ.”
It raises an interesting theological problem and one that a merely Christocentric view cannot get around. Are we really to consign the profound religious observations and experiences of various Buddhi and Sufi sages as illusory and worthless without signing this Christ based contract? If union with the divine is not to be found in any place other than through the grace of Christ, then why bother with silent meditation and contemplation anyway as the choice is Christ’s and not yours? And should finding such a union with the divine that leads to somebody regarding the desire for the kind of salvation put forward by Orthodox Christianity as anathemic and a mere product of the ego be divinely castigated in this way? Or indeed if such contemplation leads one to such a place where life and death are inseperable in terms of experience that the whole issue is merely academic anyway?
It is rather an odd statement for Ficino to suddenly make (although I guess he would have to be wary of accusations of heresy if he didn’t) and had the effect of slamming myself hard against a brick wall when I first read it. As I said previously at no other point in the correspondance so far has either Judaic law or salvation by grace been mentioned. Having read further on into the correspondance this also continues to be the case. This particular letter seems to have been a complete one off and, possibly, a professional rather than a private one?