Theologia Ficiniana : Intellectual exchange and spiritual renewal in late Quattrocento Florence

PhD Thesis

Stephens, Lana Marie. (2022). Theologia Ficiniana : Intellectual exchange and spiritual renewal in late Quattrocento Florence [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University
AuthorsStephens, Lana Marie
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

The philosophical contributions of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) to the intellectual legacy of the Italian Renaissance cannot be overstated; Ficino’s name has become synonymous with Florentine Neoplatonism, and his philosophy of love and systematic defence of the immortality of individual souls has made Ficino one of the most recognised and influential thinkers of the fifteenth century. As the translator of the Platonic corpus, and many Neoplatonic authors besides, the Florentine philosopher-priest was well acquainted with, and indeed, had arguably become attracted to antique notions of the origins of the soul. Situating the doctrine of the soul’s pre-mortal existence within Ficino’s thought, particularly in relation to his understanding of spiritual renewal, this thesis aims to provide a re-evaluation of Ficino as a religious thinker and how he understood the relationship between religion and philosophy. The thesis will thereby offer a more nuanced understanding of his contributions to the religious and spiritual life of Quattrocento Florence.

Drawing on Ficino’s Platonic Theology, his commentaries of Plato and Plotinus, and his epistolary correspondence, this thesis adopts a framework which combines social, cultural and intellectual historical methods, setting out to not only establish Ficino’s doctrinal interventions, but to place them within the broader context of Renaissance theological reform. In so doing, the thesis aims to contribute to a scholarly reappraisal of how humanistic, vernacular and rhetorical theologies functioned in Florence, and how we as historians understand these theologies. Focussing in particular on the use of rhetoric, language, literary convention, and socio-intellectual networks in the dissemination of Ficinian theology, this thesis intends to provide new perspectives on intellectual exchange in the later decades of the fifteenth century, particularly in relation to the movement of ideas which advocate for religious and theological reform. With a view to examining the broader implications of the dissemination of these ideas, the thesis also reconsiders Ficino’s relationship to the Tuscan vernacular, and its role in his programme of spiritual renewal.

This thesis moreover seeks to re-contextualise thinkers in Ficino’s circle, by highlighting their critical role in the religious transformations taking place in the second half of the fifteenth century, and significantly, in the formation of a new religious subculture. Analysing a number of Latin and Tuscan works, this thesis reveals the reproduction of Ficinian ideas on the origins of the soul in connection to contemplation, conversion and mystical union, as well as nuanced modes of communication, and thereby links intellectual exchange to Florentine spiritual renewal. The thesis therefore aims to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of the intellectual world on the religious, by demonstrating how the re-emergence and incorporation of new streams of thought, as well as the methods used in that effort, came to bear upon the religious and spiritual life.

Contending that Ficinian theology fundamentally informed an intellectually driven programme of spiritual renewal and theological reform in Florence during the second half of the fifteenth century and early sixteenth century, this thesis therefore re-contextualises Ficino’s place in our understanding of the intellectual and religious history of Renaissance Florence, and brings an entirely new set of methods, ideas, and characters into this understanding.

KeywordsMarsilio Ficino; Renaissance Neoplatonism; pre-existence of the soul; vernacular theology; rhetorical theology
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Page range1-295
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online24 Jan 2023
Publication process dates
Completed13 Oct 2022
Deposited24 Jan 2023
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