Born in 1463 in Mirandola castle, near Modena, Italy, Pico, the Count of Mirandola, was one of those precocious young geniuses who were gifted with a precise memory, a facility for language, and a talent for philosophy, mathematics, and theology. Early in his studies, Mirandola came to believe that the future could be predicted through a practiced interpretation of dreams, communication with benevolent spirits, and a careful analysis of the intestines of birds. He took a great deal of inspiration from the ancient Chaldean oracles and the old mystery schools of Orpheus and Eleusis, and he was greatly influenced by the teachings of the Kabbalah. For centuries, the Kabbalah had remained a mysterious esoteric philosophy that had been developed within the larger framework of the Jewish religion. Jealously guarded by various rabbis, the teachings of the Kabbalah remained largely unknown by medieval Christians until such magicians/scholars as Pico Mirandola brought the ancient mystery within the reach of European alchemists and magi by translating the Hebrew into Latin.
When he was 24, Mirandola became confident that he could prove the divinity of Christ through certain doctrines of the Kabbalah and esoteric magic, and armed with 900 theses for public debate on the matter, he set out for Rome. The young magician's proofs were not accepted warmly by the church, however, relying as they did upon such elements as nature spirits, pagan gods, and Jewish mysticism. Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492), ever on the alert for the presence of witches in whatever disguise they may present themselves, appointed a commission to examine
Count Mirandola's theses for any taint of heresy. Although his percentage of acceptable theses was quite high, the papal commission managed to discover four of Mirandola's arguments to be greatly heretical and another nine to be less so, but erroneous in their concepts.
In 1487, Pico Mirandola offered a defense of those 13 theses that had been judged heretical and accused those in the papal commission who had condemned them as being themselves heretics. They could hardly be considered worthy of judging him, he derided them, for they were essentially ignorant men who couldn't even speak or write acceptable Latin, the official language of the church.
Mirandola's intellectual snobbery was illadvised, for he had offended bishops with power, two of whom had influence with the Inquisition. Mirandola fled Italy, but he was arrested in France and placed in a dungeon to await his trial for heresy. It was only through the intervention of such substantial members of the artistocracy as Lorenzo de Medici that he was allowed to return to Florence and be spared the certain tortures and likely death sentence at the hands of the inquisitors.
Innocent VIII remained unforgiving; but in 1493, one year before Pico Mirandola's death at the age of 31, Alexander VI (1431–1503) accepted his apology and removed at last the threat from the Inquisition that had pursued the young count for six years.