Neo-Platonism is a modern concept used to refer to the age of Platonic philosophy starting with the knowledge and practice of Plato and ending with the concluding of the Platonic Academy by the Emperor Justinian in 529 C.E. This variety of Platonism is usually labeled as mystical or spiritual in nature and it was established outside the conventional of Academic Platonism. The roots of Neoplatonism can be found in the age of Hellenistic syncretism, which exhibited these schools of thought. Some of these schools of thought include as Hermetic and Gnosticism. Neoplatonism is a key element in syncretism, which had a huge impact and influence on the development of Platonic principles. It was a primer of the Jewish Scriptures and Greek academic spheres through the translation called the Septuagint. The narration of creation in Genesis as well as the cosmology of Plato’s Timaeus gave way to an elongated tradition of cosmological hypothesizing that lastly climaxed in the grand ‘schema’ of Plotinus’ Enneads. Plotinus’ two key ‘heirs,’ Iamblichus and Porphyry developed their own way. Neoplatonist concepts are more unequivocally spiritual than those of Plato, and they established mainly to oppose the dualistic versions of Plato’s ideas (Armstrong, 10). For instance, Neoplatonism aim was to overcome the Platonic cleavage between reality and thought or form and ideal. Platonism is recognized by its technique of conceptualizing the finite world of forms such as humans, objects and animals from the infinite realm of the ideal. In its broadest sense, Neoplatonism seeks to locate God in Christian Neoplatonism in the finite sphere (Robb, 1).
Most scholars, especially during Renaissance used Plotinus’ works to understand Plato’s writings. Plotinus was an ancient theorist and philosopher who had lived centuries after Plato. Plotinus advanced Neoplatonism, which built on the concepts of the famed Plato. A form of Neoplatonism distinctive to the Renaissance period arose with the works of the Greek teacher George Gemistus, who changed his name to Pletho to connect his ideas to those of Plato and Plotinus. Pletho imagined of enlivening Neoplatonism as a kind of theology and even wrote songs to Platonic philosophies like goodness and light. His detractors indicted him of trying to swap Christianity with a pagan, a faith associated with Plato. Nevertheless, Pletho had a great impact many Christian scholars through his works. His conception that Plato’s thinking was greater to that of Aristotle ignited a lively discussion among theorists (Dio, 27).
One of Pletho’s ardent supporters was the Greek philosopher and humanist Bessarion. Bessarion, in his defense of Plato, demonstrated that Plato’s rational ideas were consistent with Christian doctrines. He also contended that the notions of Plato and Aristotle were similar. One of the areas that were focus of Neoplatonism is Nature vs. Reality. Renaissance scholars took were very keen on Plato’s notion of a perfect and eternal reality beyond the physical world. Even though Plato had long lived in his pagan world, Renaissance philosophers studied his works through Christian lens. Ficino, for instance, tried to demonstrate that there was no friction between Plato’s beliefs and the basic concepts of Christianity. Ficino contended that the belief systems of the olden Romans and Greeks like Plato were comparable to those of the early Hebrews and had emerged from the same origin. Ficino and others like Pico expected to utilize Plato’s philosophies to patch the age-old division between philosophy and religion (Watts 12).
Renaissance philosophers invigorated the Neoplatonist concept that “all of nature has a soul.” In researching this notion, they drew on philosophies handed down from the Middle Ages and from Arabian intellectuals. Nonetheless, their objective was not to control nature, as conjurers vexed to do, but to establish a link between the soul and a greater ‘World-Soul.’ They pursued this link through such diverse spheres such as number symbolism, music and astrology. Opponents of this interpretation asserted that it connected human souls to evil spirits. Plato’s followers were fixated on the notion of human beings as the image of God. They believed that every human soul yearned to come together with the universal soul of nature (Gersh 33). Other lesser known philosopher like Ficino and Pico assumed that human beings can, via will and intellect, reach a divine state and attain union with God and the universe. Philosophers also looked into Plato’s concepts about love, which they interpreted as the desire for beauty. The Neoplatonists’ tenets about desire and love had a profound impact on other fields like literature and literature. They ignited the talent in Italian painters Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sandro Botticelli, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei as well as the English poet Edmund Spenser (Gersh 33).
By and large, Plotinus was solely responsible for the magnificent fusion of progressive Christian and Gnostic notions with the ancient Platonic philosophy. Plotinus provided an answer to the problem of accounting for the emergence of an ostensibly substandard and inconsistent universe from the ‘perfect mind’ of the divinity by stating explicitly that all objective existence is the external self-expression of the deity One (to hen) or Good (ta kalon). Plotinus likens the manifestation of the greater ‘godhead’ with the self-expression of the human soul. All these proceed from the perfect notion of a Form (eidos). According to Plotinus, the Cosmos is not a created order that was spearheaded by a deity because Cosmos is a creation of the Soul. In addition, the Cosmos, ought to be to be construed as the concrete consequence of the Soul’s knowledge of its individual Mind (nous) (Armstrong, 7). Idyllically, this concrete expression would serve the Soul as a reference point for its own self-conscious being. Conversely, the Soul easily falls into the mistake of appreciating the expression rather than the principle (arkhê), an examination of the divine Forms. This mistake leads to evil, which is a virtuously subjective relation of the Soul to numerous forms of expressive actions.
The most important assumptions that the Neoplatonism enthusiast shared with the many philosophers of the ancient world, comprising of pre-Socratic philosophers and Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and their admirers, is that ‘mindful consciousness’ (nous). Nous is usually translated as intellect, thought and intelligence and they are extremely important sense ontologically preceding the physical world naturally viewed from ultimate reality: that is, the Mind over Matter. There occurred an argument between Plato and Aristotle whether or not the objects of ‘mindful consciousness’ is also ontologically prior. Nevertheless, the Neoplatonists considered this fact as an issue of unimportant detail. Consequently, following an esteemed and long-lasting custom of Mind over Matter, Neoplatonism inexorably gradually transformed to be an idealist kind of philosophy (Gersh 30).
The second assumption that the Neoplatonists shared with other philosophers was that reality, in all its cognitive as well as physical appearances, was contingent on an uppermost principle, which is singular. Neoplatonic viewpoint is a stringent form of principle of monism that understands everything on the basis of a single cause that they regarded as divine and arbitrarily denoted to as ‘the First,’ ‘the One,’ or ‘the Good.’ Since it is realistic to accept that any well-organized cause is ontologically prior to and thus real than its effect, then, in the pecking order of being, the initial principle cannot be less ‘real’ than the sensations it is supposed to describe. Given the truth of the first assumption it means that at once the initial principle must be a principle of consciousness. In value, the vital task all Neoplatonists struggled to answer was fundamentally “How are we to understand and describe the emergence of the universe, with all its diverse phenomena, as the effect of a singular principle of consciousness? In particular—and in this regard Neoplatonism shares certain concerns with modern cosmology—how is it possible to understand the emergence of the physical, material universe from a singularity that is in every sense unlike this universe?” (‘Stanford’). The response to this query was totally novel and went far beyond any past cosmic etiology including Plato’s Timaeus in style and erudition.
Porphyry, Plotinus student, recorded the last words of Plotinus to his students: ‘Strive to bring back the god in yourselves to the God in the All’ (Windley-Daoust, 35). After stating these words, Plotinus passed away. The plainness of this last statement appears to be at crossroads with the rational exactitudes of Plotinus’ discourses. Many of these discourses challenge and vanquish virtually every major philosophical opinion of that age. However, this is only if scholars take this comment in an ecstatic spiritual sense. Plotinus needed the highest level of intellectual precision in dealing with the issue of human’s correlation with the highest principle of existence. Struggling or craving for redemption was not, at least according to Plotinus, an excuse for abandoning oneself to faith, prayer or (un)reflective religious ceremonies; instead, redemption was to be realized through the practice of philosophical inquiry, which is essentially dialectic. The point that Plotinus, towards the end of his life, had reached at this conclusion, serves to reveal that his dialectical pursuit was fruitful. In Plotinus’ last exposition was ‘On the Primal Good’ and he was able to proclaim categorically that both life and death are good. Plotinus says this because life is the instant in which the soul articulates itself and revelries in the independence of the ingenious act. Nonetheless, since life is pigeon-holed by acts, ultimately leads to fatigue, and the longing, not for independent acts. Death is the respite of this fatigue and the return to a state of meditative repose. Some philosophers contend that is a synthesis of actuality and potentiality: the instant at which the soul is both divine and human and one and many. This will establish Plotinian salvation, which is the fulfillment of the appeal of the vanishing sage.
Plotinus achieved a lot and led to establishment of Neoplatonism. The most important and inspiring achievement of Plotinus is the means by which he fused the pure, ‘semi-mythical’ manifestation of Plato with the rational exactitudes of the Stoic and Peripatetic schools. In addition, he never lost sight of philosophy’s most vital mission, of rendering the human experience in comprehensible language. Durant writes,
neo-Platonism was still a power in religion and philosophy. Those doctrines which Plotinus had given a shadowy form- of a triune spirit binding all reality, of a Logos or intermediary deity who had done the work of creation, of soul as divine and matter as flesh and evil, of spheres of existence along whose invisible stairs the soul had fallen from God to man and might extend from man to God-these mystic ideas left their mark on the apostles John and Paul (p.9).
That Plotinus’ idea had to take the detour through mystic and speculative tracks like Gnosticism and Christian salvation theology. This is a proof of his clear sightedness, meticulousness and estimable humanism. For all of his dialectical complications and circuits, Plotinus’ lone fear was with the goodness of the human soul. This is, of course, to be construed as a logical, as opposed to a simply physical and responsive well-being.
There is no doubt that Neoplatonism strongly believed in human perfection and contentment were realistic in the world without having to wait for a hereafter life. Happiness and perfection, perceived as synonymous, could be realized through philosophical thought. This, however, was against Christian doctrines, which repudiated both Jewish Law and philosophy. Neoplatonism supporters never believed in a free existence of evil (Finan and Vincent 17). They likened it to nightfall, which does not exist in exclusivity, rather only as the nonexistence of light. Consequently, evil is merely the nonexistence of good and things are good insofar as they happen. Some scholars view these ideas to have many Eastern impacts. It is also a keystone of Neoplatonism to clarify that all individuals return to the Source. In the book of John, the Gnostic Jesus asserts that all people become ‘Sons of God,’ the Source, ‘Absolute’ or ‘the One.’ This is thus where all things spring from, and as a super consciousness, this is where all these things go back. It can be stated that all consciousness is cleaned and reverted to a blank slate (tabula rasa) when going back to the source.
This aspect of Neoplatonism, evil as the nonexistence of good, aided Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo and prompted him to stop dualistic Manichaeism and change to Christianity. St. Augustine was a theorist whose pioneering philosophy permeated Christian doctrines with Neoplatonism (Matthews, 51). He is well-known for being a unique Catholic theologian as well as for his contribution to Western philosophy. He contends that cynics have no basis for claiming to know that knowledge does not exist. Neoplatonic metaphysics had a huge effect on Augustine himself and on his philosophical development. After reading a few neoplatonic writings, he was literally rescued from skeptical misery and Manichaean delusion thus giving him a metaphysical system that empowered him to know the truths that he was unable to perceive. Augustine in his, On Christian Doctrines essay, contends, “If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it” (Geary, 38). This was one of Augustine’s best dogmas, that truth was a consequence of God’s all-purpose revelation to all of humankind. Additionally, Christians have a right to use logic, sense and truth than any other early philosopher. Augustine notes “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” This has taken classical thought and rhetoric dimension. This has been considered as pure brilliance of Augustine and revealed the world the reason why Christianity was essentially winning it over (Matthews, 56).
Neoplatonism also had connections with the belief systems called Gnosticism. Plotinus, nevertheless, reprimanded Gnosticism stating, “Against Those That Affirm The Creator of The Kosmos and The Kosmos Itself to Be Evil” (Plotinus 27) in general cited as against the Gnostics. Working under platonic philosophy, the neoplatonists constantly precluded the gnostic disparagement of Plato’s demiurge, a divinity deliberated in Timaeus. However, Gnostics and Neoplatonism shared certain principles. The word ‘Gnostic’ is derived from Platonism, even though not in anything similar to its later religious connotation. Instead, it proposed knowledge in the sense of talents or abilities. Over time, however, Christians espoused it for their own drives. Moreover, from Platonism is the notion of the Demiurge. Even though Gnosticism accepted the notion, its matter transformed fundamentally. In the Platonic custom, the Demiurge was a benevolent creature looking to make the best possible world. Gnostics perceived Demiurge as a defective being accountable for an imperfect material formation.
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