Oration on the Dignity of Man
Most esteemed Fathers, I have read in the ancient writings of the Arabians that Abdala
the Saracen on being asked what, on this stage, so to say, of the world, seemed to him most
evocative of wonder, replied that there was nothing to be seen more marvelous than man. And
that celebrated exclamation of Hermes Trismegistus, ``What a great miracle is man, Asclepius''
confirms this opinion.
And still, as I reflected upon the basis assigned for these estimations, I was not fully
persuaded by the diverse reasons advanced for the pre-eminence of human nature; that man is the
intermediary between creatures, that he is the familiar of the gods above him as he is the lord of
the beings beneath him; that, by the acuteness of his senses, the inquiry of his reason and the
light of his intelligence, he is the interpreter of nature, set midway between the timeless
unchanging and the flux of time; the living union (as the Persians say), the very marriage hymn
of the world, and, by David's testimony but little lower than the angels. These reasons are all,
without question, of great weight; nevertheless, they do not touch the principal reasons, those,
that is to say, which justify man's unique right for such unbounded admiration. Why, I asked,
should we not admire the angels themselves and the beatific choirs more? At long last, however,
I feel that I have come to some understanding of why man is the most fortunate of living things
and, consequently, deserving of all admiration; of what may be the condition in the hierarchy of
beings assigned to him, which draws upon him the envy, not of the brutes alone, but of the astral
beings and of the very intelligences which dwell beyond the confines of the world. A thing
surpassing belief and smiting the soul with wonder. Still, how could it be otherwise? For it is on
this ground that man is, with complete justice, considered and called a great miracle and a being
worthy of all admiration.