Archive Authors Eric Parker Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Deceptive Disciples? Ficino’s De Christiana Religione (VI)

In chapter five of his De Christiana Religione Marsilio Ficino defends the trustworthiness of the disciples’ testimony concerning Christ. It is impossible that the disciples intended to deceive their followers, Ficino argues, because their actions demonstrate that they possessed the highest virtue. The disciples must have truly believed what they preached since they received no reward in return for their preaching but only torture and death. Ficino also begins to address a counter-argument to this claim, that is, that the disciples may have been deceived themselves. The disciples could not have been deceived because they understood what they preached and the consequences of their doing so. In chapters six and seven Ficino will introduce more biblical and rational evidence for his claim that the disciples were in their right mind and were not deceived.

Translation: Chapter V

Christ’s disciples did not deceive anyone.

If the disciples had planned to make up a story by which to charm and deceive humanity, then certainly they would have come up with an easier [means] of persuasion. Actually, they did the opposite, for they were assaulted not only because they believed in something but because they observed the most difficult of all [teachings]. See also how [they had] the most difficult plan, considering the time, the place, and the people, that is, [it was a] time [in which many were] well educated, [living] in very large cities full of every kind of teaching. They [stood] against both authorities and rulers, both the learned and the multitudes, when they were at their weakest, lacking everything, uneducated from the beginning and very few.

For Christ left twelve Apostles behind, indeed seventy-two disciples of Christ were directed by the Apostles. It is appropriate to hear what Paul says [regarding these matters] in [his first epistle] to the Corinthians [1:26-28]: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”

Therefore, we should not believe that they were lying, especially because [they maintained] the highest of good morals and concord of opinion between them. They persevered strongly to the end in the most arduous of all tasks, even though they acquired nothing, not any reward for such labors in this life, nor did they anticipate or expect one, nor were they promised [a reward] by anyone. And this is what Paul says: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” [1 Cor. 15:19].

They preached often that they would die for the Faith and that afterwards all of those who followed their teachings would suffer misfortunes from those who do not believe. To briefly mention what [sort of life] they cast away [I shall only say] that they determined to cast away whatever they possessed from the goods of this life. Neither did they whisper their teaching in corners but they proclaimed it boldly in public to the crowd. In the same manner Paul also preached publicly while his neck was bound in chains, from which he wrote to the Philippians [1:13]: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my chains are for Christ Jesus.” And elsewhere he says, “the gospel that you heard … has been preached to every creature that is under heaven,” [Col. 1:23]. Again in the Acts of the Apostles [26:26], “None of these things [regarding Christ] happened in a corner.” Christ revealed the same thing to his disciples in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light,” [Matt. 10:27].

The disciples, therefore, believed that they were preaching the truth to people, and indeed, they certainly understood what they were preaching. Hence what Peter [says in 1 Pet. 3:15], “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope and faith that is in you.” Also, Paul says [in 1 Cor. 9:26-27], “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Furthermore, everywhere that Paul and Apollos taught they publicly quoted from the writings of the [Jewish] prophets in order to explain the mysteries concerning Christ. Paul often commands his followers, [who are] priests of the highest [order], that they concentrate upon the profound understanding of the prophets.

Therefore, they believed and they understood what they were preaching, as I have said. Otherwise, they would have, by no means, so fearlessly and so freely exposed themselves to constant labor, danger, beatings, and certain death in order to defend their teaching. Paul constantly labored to bring forth [fruit] for the glory of Christ for thirty-seven years, beyond what can be entrusted [to someone], through every affliction until the end of [his] life. Peter labored for the same [amount of] time, John the Evangelist labored for sixty-eight years, and the rest through [their] whole life [to a] similar [age].1

  1. Ficino, Opera, vol. 1, (Basil: 1561), 4, 5.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.