Archive Eric Parker Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Duped Disciples? Ficino’s De Christiana Religione (VII)

In chapters six and seven of his De Christiana Religione, Ficino continues his argument that Christ’s disciples did not attempt to deceive anyone in their preaching and writings concerning Christ and that they were also not deceived by anyone. Chapter six is mostly made up of quotations from the New Testament writers in which they demonstrate their devotion to the message of the Gospel. Ficino quotes these passage in order to show “quo animo discipuli”, that is, what state of mind the disciples were in when they wrote their accounts of Christ’s life and teachings. As he argued in the last installment, the disciples of Christ could not have been deceived, not only because they believed what they wrote but because they were devoted to the teachings of the Hebrew prophets who had foretold of the events which the disciples exprienced and recorded. In chapter seven Ficino argues that Paul and many other early Christians were highly educated and knew how to make rational choices regarding the prophesied messiah, and that they had reason to put their trust in that “illiterate … carpenter” only after witnessing his extraordinary works and miracles. In the coming chapters Ficino will explain why it is necessary to introduce miracles into this discourse which he refers to as “philosophy.”

Translation: Chapters 6 & 7


Regarding the state of mind in which the disciples of Christ labored.

Paul declares in his Epistle to the Romans [8:35-39] in what state of mind the disciples of Christ labored: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” […] And later [2 Tim. 1:7-8]: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. […] Also, John the Apostle says: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God [1 John 4:18]. […] Paul again [1 Tim. 4:10; 1:15]: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” From these [passages] one may see that the Apostles did not seek their own advantage or honor but only the glory of Christ. Therefore, if anyone suspects that the Apostles made up [these] stories either he has not read [what is written above] or [their other accounts] or he is deranged.


The disciples of Christ were not deceived by anyone.

The disciples of Christ and their followers saw far greater and more visible miracles than we have. Although we were born and educated into this religion, nevertheless, we do not labor for that which we are accustomed to as much as they labored for [that which] is new as if by a strange power [monstruosa], if I may speak this way. [God] desired that these [miracles] might appear more strange [monstruosior] that, by means of so many clear signs and wonders, he might be believed from the beginning. For who can believe without difficulty that a certain illiterate adolescent, son of a carpenter (as he was assumed [to be]), a beggar, publically killed by a shameful punishment, is the Divine Mind itself which is always in God, through whom everything comes into being and is always guided? As Luke the Evangelist writes, when Paul argued with king Agrippa and Portius Festus (the governor of the Jews) concerning these things, which should never be believed about any other [man], Festus exclaimed: “Oh Paul, you are out of your mind! Much learning has driven you crazy!” 2 One should believe, then, that the defenders [of Christianity] and those who put their faith in these apologists saw public miracles meriting [their] faith in God.

Paul confirms, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men” [1 Cor. 1:22-25]. Paul, a powerful, exceptionally wise and courageous man of noble class was persuaded [adduci] by a miracle of the Sun, and the most evident one at that, with the result that the most bitter enemy of the Christians suddenly became [their] most vigorous defender, and he voluntarily subjected himself to so many misfortunes for the love of Christ alone that no one can count [them].  For, God truly predicted in Luke’s writing, “he is a chosen vessel of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” [Acts 9:15-16].

Therefore, no one should trust any endorsement [of the idea] that the messengers [præcones] of Christ were deceived by some sort of trick. The writings and deeds of the disciples of Christ as well as of those who in that time received the teachings [regarding Christ] without hesitation and with the greatest danger, bear witness to men of sound mind that the first Christians were such that they neither wanted to deceive, nor were they able, by any means, to be deceived. What was the reason that many Jews and Gentiles, [who had] the highest education in every discipline and many [who were] wealthy, after having discarded their possessions and delights, chose rather to die in agony [crudeliter] with those rustic and beggarly disciples of Christ, than to live in the safety of the world? If, in addition, I wanted to enumerate the thousands of teachings of men everywhere, especially the philosophy of the virtuous men who were the disciples of Christ’s disciples and their successors, and [who] in a lengthy series until the time of the Emperor Julian, defended Christ amidst swords and fire through purity, speech, books, extensive labors, danger, and death, I would be forced to produce a lengthy [account] while passing over in silence the work of the orators and philosophers of the Greeks, Barbarians, and Latins after Julian who finished their most complete and sanctified life in Christian service [Christiano opere].3

  1. I have significantly reduced the number of Ficino’s biblical quotations in this chapter in order to point the reader directly to his central message.
  2. The Basil (1561) edition of Ficino’s Opera includes two extended quotations from Tertullian and Origen here. I have omitted these quotations because they are not included in the earliest text available to me (Plut.21.09 in the Laurentian Library). Also, the inclusion of these quotations from church fathers actually renders Ficino’s argument both ambiguous and redundant because they shift the argument regarding miracles onto a lengthy discussion of the disciples’ sufferings, which he had already discussed in previous chapters.
  3. Ficino, Opera, vol. 1, (Basil: 1561), 5-8.

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.