The Neoplatonists

Neoplatonism is a loosely connected body of idealistic philosophy, strongly tending towards mysticism, which originated in Egypt, then flourished in the pagan Greco-Roman world during the early Christian era. Its first representatives were inspired by Plato’s doctrines. Plato remains as perhaps the greatest mind to have arisen throughout the history of Western philosophical thought. His questions and speculative thinking stand on a par with the inestimable contributions made by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, to man’s progress within the religious realm of life. Both men were first class minds in a world of second- and third-raters. The dedicated mystic will read them both and find the soul’s true illumination.

“Neoplatonism, the last school of Greek philosophy, was given its definitive shape in the 3rd century CE by the one great philosophical and religious genius of the school, Plotinus. The ancient philosophers who are generally classified as Neoplatonists called themselves simple ‘Platonists,’ as did the philosophers of the Renaissance and the 17th century whose ideas derive from ancient Neoplatonism.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Hellenic schools of philosophical thought, — including Stoicism, Epicureanism, Eclecticism and even Scepticism, had tried and failed to accomplish any lasting moral or religious regeneration in the face of Christianity’s rapid growth in its incarnation as the Catholic Church of Rome. The Stoics, for example, had classed the “gods” as nothing more than personifications of natural forces. When you destroy the mystery within theology, you kill man’s faith and beliefs. However, certain pagan philosophers recognized how Plato’s idealism could unify their goals, and perhaps restore their influence as well.

“Aristotle conceived of God as outside of the world, as the final cause of all motion in Nature, as Prime Mover and Unmoved Mover of the universe. He was the crowning objective of all dynamic development in the cosmos from matter to form and from potentiality to actuality. He stood outside the Great Chain of Being yet was the source of all motion and development. Aristotle did not attribute mercy, love, sympathy and providence to God, but rather eternal self-contemplation. … there is no indication that Aristotle ever thought of the Prime Mover as an object of worship, still less as a Being to whom prayers may be profitably addressed.” – Stanley Sfekas, Aristotle’s Concept of God

Aristotle wrote of God as a principle only with no reference to a personality, or the personalization of the One into the Many to account for a divine hierarchical structure of creation. The “gods” were unimportant to his position in metaphysics. According to Madigan (BMCR 2000), “… apart from Metaphysics L 6-10 … it does not appear that Aristotle was all that interested in working out the truth about the divine, ready though he was to appeal to traditional ideas about the divine at many points in his theoretical and practical philosophy.”

Then, in 86 BC, during the Mithridatic War, the Roman General Sulla viciously and vindictively destroyed the Academy because the tyrant Aristion had offended him, and Athens lacked sufficient plunder to make him as wealthy as he desired to be.* Thus ended the Academy’s 473-year life as the foremost center of philosophical activity in the Western world. (*Sulla’s motivations per Dr. Willard Toussaint. “Rome’s Dictators.” History of the Roman Empire, December 1965, author’s lecture notes, Adrian College, Michigan.)

It was time for the reemergence of Plato’s philosophy, while making the gods an essential element in the Greek system. This was the origin of Neoplatonism, which emerged as a syncretic system drawing from many sources. While Neoplatonism may appear to have failed in the religious area, its effect on man’s thinking was profound, unmistakable, and we, the idealists among us, view it as the eternal effect of God as the Good, the True, and the Beautiful on our souls.

Details of the origins of the Neoplatonist school in Athens are uncertain, but when Proclus arrived in Athens in the early c. 430s AD, he found Plutarch and his colleague Syrianus teaching there. The Platonists of Athens called themselves “successors” (diadochoi) of Plato. The heads of the Neoplatonic Academy were Plutarch of Athens, Syrianus, Proclus, Marinus, Isidore, and finally Damascius. The Neoplatonic Academy reached its apex under Proclus (who died in 485 AD).

The last philosophers of the revived Neoplatonic Academy in the 6th Century were drawn from throughout the Hellenistic cultural world, reflecting the broad syncretism of the common culture of that time. In 529 AD the emperor Justinian ended the funding of the Neoplatonic Academy, closing its doors forever.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men


Neoplatonism, by Charles Bigg  » Read about him here »


The Neo-Platonists: A Study in the History of Hellenism,
by Thomas Whittaker  » Read about him here »


The Neoplatonists


Plutarch of Chaeronea 46 AD–after 119 AD); a Platonist » Read about him here »

Numenius of Apamea 37–68 AD (? from works cited); a Platonist
» Read about him here »

Ammonius Saccas 175 AD–242 AD » Read about him here »

Damascius» Read about him here »

Dionysius, or Pseudo-Dionysius» Read about him here »

Hermias» Read about him here »

Iamblichus» Read about him here »

Marinus» Read about him here »

Syrianus» Read about him here »

Proclus» Read about him here »

Simplicius» Read about him here »

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Preface by Linda Mihalic

References

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Neoplatonism," Encyclopedia Britannica, June 15, 2017. This article was most recently revised and updated by Matt Stefon, Assistant Editor. [Accessed September 3, 2021.]

Sfekas, Stanley. Aristotle’s Concept of God.

Madigan, Arthur. Review of Richard Bodéüs, Aristotle and the theology of the living immortals. ISBN 0791447278; A Bryn Mawr Classical Review [Accessed September 2, 2021.]


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