Alex Salmond said Nelson Mandela's acts of grace, of empathy and forgiveness were the "greatest example of true statesmanship of our time".
The first minister was leading debate on a motion of condolence following the death of the former South African president who died aged 95 last Thursday.
A national memorial service for Mr Mandela took place earlier in Johannesburg.
Mr Salmond said:"The world is much poorer for his passing but much much richer for his life."
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said Mr Mandela had "fought injustice when there seemed no chance of victory but he fought, he endured and he won".
"He was the best of Africa, the best of humanity, he was the best of us all."
The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson admitted to the chamber that some Conservatives had taken the wrong approach to South Africa in the past, leaving a "stain on the party" and leaving those members on the "wrong side of history".
Ms Davidson said she could not understand how their judgement had been so wrong, as Mr Mandela "gave hope to all people".
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the former South African president had been a "champion of forgiveness and reconciliation".
Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie wondered whether without Mr Mandela's "courage to fight and the resilience to survive" he would have become the "figure of such global significance" he eventually did.