1 In accordance with the scheme laid out by Pseudo-Dionysius (cf. ¶ 73 of the Oratio) and confirmed by St. Thomas (Summa I, q. 108, art. 6) and St. Gregory (In evang. II hom. 34), Pico represents here the three divisions of the highest order of angels: the Seraphim, the Cherubim and the Thrones. These should not be confused, however, with the three types discussed in Heptaplus 3.3 since the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are all members of the highest division, that which enjoys the leisure of contemplation and which is distinguished by a superabundance of goodness. The fact that Pico specifically calls the Cherubim contemplators does not mean that the Seraphim and Thrones are not. See St. Thomas, Summa I, q. 108, art. 5, rep. 5. Man's task is the emulation of the highest angels (action, contemplation, communion with God) and dialectic is the necessary intermediate stage in this mystic process (Bori 1996, 557).
2 This unusual phrase, in which God «broods», is glossed by Pico himself in Heptaplus 2.3: «Super hunc (i.e. the crystalline heaven of the upper waters) ferebatur, aut ut veritas habet hebraica, et Syrus Effren transtulit, incubabat huic Spiritus Domini, idest proxime adhaerens spiritalis Olympus, sedes Spirituum Domini, fovebat eum sua luce vivifica, et recte est factum, ut qui attinens est principio lucis toto corpore et tota mole lucem combiberet, propterea nobis invisibilem quia corpulentia solidiore non terminatur». (See also Pico's Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, book 1, ch. 10.) Interestingly, the gloss of St. Ephrem here in question (Commentary on Genesis, 1.7) explicitly states that it was the wind and not the Spirit of the Lord that hovered or brooded above the waters. On this, see T. Kronholm, Motifs from Genesis I-II in the Genuine Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, Coniectanea Biblica, vol. 11 (Lund: Gleerup, 1978) pp. 43-44. Pico, however, most likely had another text in mind when he wrote the passage mentioned above from the Heptaplus: Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram, 1.18.36 in which the generative interpretation is held to be valid: «Nam et illud quod per graecam et latinam linguam dictum est de Spiritu Dei, quod superferebatur super aquas, secundum syrae linguae intellectum, quae vicina est hebraeae, (nam hoc a quodam docto christiano syro fertur expositum) non superferebatur, sed fovebat potius intelligi perhibetur. Nec sicut foventur tumores aut vulnera in corpore aquis vel frigidis vel calore congruo temperatis; sed sicut ova foventur ab alitibus, ubi calor ille materni corporis etiam formandis pullis quodammodo adminiculatur, per quemdam in suo genere dilectionis affectum». Cf. also Basil, Homilia II in Hexaëron. Later in the Heptaplus (6.5), Pico returns to this same image («Nam et docet nos prima dies tunc primum aquis, depulsa nocte, obtortam lucem cum Spiritus Domini eis incubit»), citing James 1:17.
3 Pico here alludes, as he elaborates in the Heptaplus, to the «separation of the waters» in the Book of Genesis (1:7-9) into the upper and the lower waters (cf. Ex. 20:4 and Ps. 148:4). The upper, as he explains in the Heptaplus (see esp. 7.3), are associated with the Cherubim (Proem II), the Seraphim and the Thrones (3.3). In the Old Testament (cf. Jer. 10:2) they are compared to the Jews (7.2) whereas the lower come to represent the gentiles (7.2) and more generally the earthy world from which Christians are freed, as if from a yoke (7.3). Furthermore, Pico attributes to Moses the notion that the firmament, i.e. the sphere of the fixed stars, was placed by God between the two waters (2.3). The waters under the firmament were originally the seven planets which were collected together and became the seas and the ocean whence, as the Chaldeans held, in turn came the nutritive elements that give rise to growth and regeneration in plant and animal life (2.3, 3.4 et al.). Metaphorically, they also come to stand for the sensual and sensory characteristics of man (4.3). The waters over which the "Spirit of the Lord" flies here are the upper. This «Spiritus Domini» is in the Heptaplus synonymous with the Spirit of Love (3.2) and with God's illumination of our intellect (4.2, 5.1 and 6.2) as well as creator of form (1.2). In the Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni (2.17a), Pico mentions that the upper waters are the living fountain which slakes man's thirst forever. Cf. John 4:13-15.