Marsilio Ficino is a figure upon whom various modernist pre-occupations are sometimes projected, including faintly ridiculous attempts to misrepresent him as a proto-New Age psychotherapist, as a rebellious neo-pagan revivalist or even as a mere worker of sorcery - consigning such absurdities and instead going 'Ad Fontes' this collection of letters by the Florentine master, in a crisp English translation prepared by the Language Department of the School of Economic Science, provides the reader with a real insight into Ficino's true spiritual and esoteric mindset: for Ficino's vision represents the last great efflorescence of Platonist sapiential tradition in the West, exemplifying the higher unity of synthesis which characterises the Christendom of the late Middle Ages - Ficino as a great Catholic expositor of the Platonist-Pythagorean-Orphic tradition in fact stands as a kind of counterveiling influence to the rising distempers of the Renaissance, in the face of the emergence of that 'humanism' which through its profane homocentricity displaces the transcendent God-centred universe of integral spiritual Tradition, and which has rightly been seen as the precursor-progenitor of the rationalistic 'enlightenment' and of contemporary secular-atheistic modernism.
The Renaissance in this sense represents as Frithjof Schuon has acutely observed the 'posthumous revenge of classical antiquity' or more precisely of the senescent and chaotic decadence, tendencies to deviation and humanistic 'Caesarism' of late classical antiquity which have their malign parallels in our own age.(Just as Ananda K. Coomaraswamy pinpoints the the most decadent epochs of history as those of the late classical world and our modern age.) Certainly after the glories of International Gothic in the High Middle Ages the Renaissance does seem to signal the beginning of grave ongoing decline in the Western arts...
The Platonic Academy of Florence and the graceful philosophy of aspiration to direct realisation of the Good, the Beautiful and the True expressed in Ficino's elegant, urbane and mellifluous epistolary style represent perhaps a last sublime flowering of the spiritual Tradition of the West in the face of this gathering gloom before the displacement of the Sacred by the merely human(and in our own age by the infra-human - as Brian Keeble has said the direction of humanism eventually and inevitably tends downward toward the sub-human). But following Ficino we may aim to know and realise the state of the Divine Man, the Heavenly Man as the primordial norm of our original and unfallen nature. Ficino thus stands as successor to the Divine Plato, Plotinus and to the timeless wisdom of Hermes Thrice Great. As Paul Oskar Kristeller notes in the preface, Ficino's esoteric vision is firmly rooted in the twofold foundation of Western civilization, Judaeo-Christian spirituality and Greek philosophy.
Ficino's letters, as replete with intimate counsels and sound advice as with numinous unveilings of spiritual truths, present his essential Platonist doctrine as a true guide for life, illuminating the path which leads beyond all illusions and appearances to God, the Real, the authentic Existent and on this quest as Ficino taught 'knowledge and reverence of oneself are best of all' when seperating the soul from the body in purification and through self-knowledge as gnostic apprehension of the uncreated substance of the Divine Intellect 'you will revere yourself as an eternal ray of the divine sun.'. In this sense Ficino's Platonist esoterism, a living and vital philo-sophia, in the mode of gnosis-contemplation, is a manifestation of the perennial wisdom which elsewhere finds expression in classical Tasawwuf and in Vedanta and the letters reflect that same luminous kernel of gnosis of which the schools of Christian hermetism in the Middle Ages were repositories.
Although he was famed for his graceful therapeutic applications of traditional cosmological arts as part of his medicine he doesn't elaborate on these beyond the odd minor reference and says little concerning matters astrological in these letters but instead concentrates on unfolding the salient points of his teaching as regards the interior life of the Spirit and to expounding esoteric instruction as to the path of knowledge, regarding the attainment of true happiness, the bases of law and justice, statecraft, theology, medicine and the arts, the ethics governing human conduct, consideration of the principles which guide the initiate deeper into Platonist metaphysics and to the knowledge of God which delivers man from delusion, the divine 'furor' and the mystery of Love which draws man in ascent to the Divine. Ficino exhorts us to transcend the temporal and to apprehend the eternal - 'But now let us leave the heavenly bodies...and let us come to something beyond the heavens.'
Finally these letters represent, as we witness in Dante also and in many other manifestations of the medieval artistic sensibility, the flawless assimilation of the higher symbolism and lore of the classical world within the orthodox spiritual context of medieval Christianity - for informing all Ficino's profound perspectives as a Platonist philosophos and therapeutic practitioner of sacred sciences, we see the underpinning of traditional Christianity, when he tells us that 'Christ alone by His example has been of greater profit to more people in leading them towards a noble and holy life than all the...philosophers with their words', a Platonist sage and a Catholic priest fully engaged in the Christian spiritual life with a special reverence for the Virgin Mary. Ficino's poetic and inspired transmission of the perennial wisdom, alive with compassion and numinous knowledge, is deeply enlightening. At the heart of the Florentine priest-philosopher's teaching shines the luminous simplicity and mystery of perpetual contemplation and knowledge of the Principle: