One of the most eloquent descriptions of the Renaissance image of human beings comes from the Italian humanist Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). In his Oration on the Dignity of Man (ca. 1986), Pico describes humans as free to become whatever they choose.
The best of artisans [God] ordained that the creature [man] to whom He had been able to give nothing proper to himself should have joint possession of whatever had been peculiar to each of the different kinds of being. He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus:
“Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar thyself have We given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgment thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire.
“We have set thee at the world’s center that thou mayest … more easily observe whatever is in the world.
“We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and honor… thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgment, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.” O supreme generosity of God the Father, O highest and most marvelous felicity of man! To him is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.
What choices, according to Pico della Mirandola, is man given?
Do they differ from what the Church taught life’s possibilities were?
Is the concept of freedom in this passage a modern one?