Neoplatonism and Christianity
The limits and possibilities of human mind to assess dialectically
the entirety, the primary term, and the individual notions.
the Phenomenology of Being
Translation from German into English
by Henry A. Clymer
Plotinus’ Neoplatonism (continues)
The teaching of Plotinus is the greatest gnostic system, which human race has established in its written history, both intellectually and factually. Up to its inability to interpret the whole in the meaning of energy and to represent mathematically the phenomenology of being, inclusively all the interactions of the astral realms with the three-dimensional world of materiality, in terms of U-sets, the Neoplatonism of Plotinus can be included in the new Gnosis of the Universal Law without trade-offs. This underlines the unbroken continuity of western philosophy since its beginnings in ancient Greece to the present day.
This is so far very important, because the knowledge of the importance and validity of Neoplatonism, as synthesis and culmination of Greek philosophy, has been, apart from some dusty philologists, wiped out from the collective memory of humanity in this present age. That was not always so.
Already the titles of the individual treatises in the Enneads can be read like a basic catalogue of each Gnosis. They include all conceivable esoteric and eschatological issues, which have fully preserved their validity until today and are the main focus of attention not only in philosophy, but also in all religions. No thinker or school has ever resolved them with a comparable brilliance or sovereignty to that of the Neoplatonist Plotinus.
Here is an abbreviated list of the most important treatises of Plotinus: ‘The Essence of the Soul, The Immortality of the Soul, The Descent of the Soul Into the Physical World, The Primary and the Next, The Beautiful, the Good (the One), The Unity of Individual Souls, The Three Original Beings (builds the Gnostic and semantic basis of Christian Trinity), Creation and Order of Things According to the Primary, the Two Matters (compare with “natura naturans” and “natura naturata” of Spinoza in volume IV), the Fate, Justified Suicide, the Virtues, Whether There are Also Ideas about the Individual Objects, Dialectics (or about what the Christian doctrine is entirely missing until today), etc.
Until the rise of positivism and empiricism in the 2nd half of the 19th century1, there were no philosophical currents in the Western civilization that were not deeply influenced by Neoplatonism and have not made the above topics to the main object of their philosophical discourses.
Plotinus’ language is unsurpassed in its conciseness and clarity to this day and should be read only in the original. Each secondary depiction is a dilution and an adulteration of Neoplatonism. I will illustrate this preference of Plotinus by quoting his second treatise “On the Essence of the Soul” full-width. I know of no other gnostic, philosophical or esoteric text that comes even closer to the compression-of-information, clarity of language and absolute correctness of the gnostic content of this essay:
“In the Intellectual Cosmos dwells Authentic Essence, with the Intellectual-Principle [Divine Mind] as the noblest of its content, but containing also souls, since every soul in this lower sphere has come thence: that is the world of unembodied spirits while to our world belong those that have entered body and undergone bodily division. There the Intellectual-Principle is a concentrated All – nothing of it distinguished or divided – and in that Cosmos of unity all souls are concentrated also, with no spatial discrimination. But there is a difference: The Intellectual-Principle is for ever repugnant to distinction and to partition. Soul, there without distinction and partition, has yet a nature lending itself to divisional existence: its division is secession, entry into body. In view of this seceding and the ensuing partition we may legitimately speak of it as a particle thing. But if so, how can it still be described as indivisible? In that the secession is not of the soul entire; something of it holds its ground, that in it which recoils from separate existence. The entity, therefore, described as “consisting of the undivided soul and of the soul divided among bodies,” contains a soul which is at once above and below, attached to the Supreme and yet reaching down to this sphere, like a radius from a centre. Thus it is that, entering this realm, it possesses still the vision inherent to that superior phase in virtue of which it unchangingly maintains its integral nature. Even here it is not exclusively the particle soul: it is still the impartibly as well: what in it knows partition is parted without partibility; undivided as giving itself to the entire body, a whole to a whole, it is divided as being effective in every part.”2
Spirit is the best in the soul worlds. Thus, Plotinus says that there is only Spirit as organized energy in the wider sense. The souls are fragmentation of Spirit, which also have emotional energies at a lower frequency than that of Spirit. They not only build the mental structure of the incarnated personality, but also that of the soul. Because of this, Plotinus distinguishes very carefully between Spirit and souls.
Spirit is understood as the comprehensive identity and semantically equated to the Logos – Spirit is manifested as Logos, as the Universal Law. Although Plotinus did not know the concept of energy, he, nonetheless, understood Spirit in the broadest sense as organized energy. Randomness or chance, this erroneous grand concept of modern science, which has materialised in such ridiculous sciences as statistics and probability theory, was unthinkable for Plotinus.
The souls are energy units, which have spiritual as well as emotional energy. In his other essays Plotinus describes how the soul descends into matter and how the psyche is dominated by the low-frequency, extremely polarizing emotional energies.
Note: The ancient Greeks referred to the soul as “Psyche” – for them the psyche was the outer emanation of the soul. In Greek philosophy the emotional energies of the psyche were known as “Daimone” (demons). Therefore, the demons dominate the human psyche. They were considered by the Greeks as gods of lower levels (see Plotinus’ essay, “The Daimon, Who Redeemed Us”). When the soul falls further down in matter, she is subjected to the world of demons. When she frees herself step by step from their influence, then she rises again to the true existential level of Spirit – of Being. This is the eternal cycle of souls.
Since the Greeks knew no doctrine of the psyche in the sense of modern psychology, their terminology remains in this respect somewhat blurry and unclear. Some ancient thinkers consider for instance the Eros as a daemon, however the most prominent and noble among equals.
Here tends the Greek philosophy to popular interpretation, which amounts to a hierarchical structure of the soul realms (hypostases). Under the dominant influence of the Athener Proclus, the last great Neoplatonist (410-485), this part of Neoplatonism was plagiarised by the Bishop of Athens, Dionysios Pseudo-Aeropagita in a very mediocre and extremely distorted manner as to suit the narrow Christian doctrine and thus became the foundation of many popular views about angels (also known as Christian teaching of emanation or the teaching about celestial hierarchies).
Dionysius Pseudo-Aeropagita is regarded as the father of medieval, speculative mysticism. For a long time it was believed mistakenly that he was a contemporary of the four evangelists and was worshipped accordingly. Along this weird path, the mediocre dionysisian interpretation of Neoplatonism reached Western Europe in the 5th century and decisively influenced Augustine, Scotus Eriugena (his translator), the Mystic School of the Victoriners, the school of Chartres, Meister Ekkehard, Thomas Aquinas, and last but not least Nikolaus von Kues, who, however, enjoyed the historic advantage to have studied the works of the Neoplatonists in the original Greek and stood out intellectually above the primitive, medieval interpretation of the divine, the mystical3. He was a good mathematician and recognized the role of numbers in the symbolic representation of the Divine. For this reason some scientists believe, exaggeratedly, that he was one of the fathers of modern mathematics.
The teaching of Dionysius Pseudo-Aeropagita became the starting point of a mystical, facing-God lifestyle of monasticism. Knowing the sober rationality which characterizes the works of Proclus, this Christian interpretation of his Neoplatonian teachings is but more than adventurous.
It is a matter of course for all Platonists, that the soul is a self-sufficient creator of the lower, material “world of becoming”, regardless of to what extent the incarnated personality has access to the predefined plan of the soul; the latter manifests in the eyes of ancient people mostly as an inevitable fate (heirmarmene, fatum).
While the Neoplatonists considered the soul to be the ultimate creative authority, they also fully understood that the eschatological meaning and purpose of any earthly existence lies solely in the purity and perfection of Spirit, although in the later phase of this doctrine one can clearly perceive echoes of the Stoic attitude. This stoic tendency has been usurped by the early Christian plagiarists, especially by Paul, from the very beginning for themselves and their martyrs. In this respect, Neoplatonism is exactly the opposite of Christianity, which sees and preaches the salvation of every believer in his full subordination before God’s perfectly unforsaken Will, as illustrated by the following quotation from Proclus:
“But nobody is as powerful as to take away the things that are in us, even if he would possess all the power of this world. Because if we were prudent, we will stay prudent, even if all external goods disappear, and when we contemplate with pleasure the real things, no one can take this attitude away from us, but we will continue doing this, even when we experience, as you say, the most powerful wounds of fate, and we will praise us as those who are masters of the universe and can be asked about the causes of all events. Hence we should not revile the soul based on her last activities, because she stands under the burden of fate; but praise her excellence from the first activities of the soul, “which is not subordinate to any lord” (Plato). Because if we think so, none of this, under which we suffer here (in the realm of becoming), will confuse us; instead if we believe that we have to endure something bad, when the body is confused by passions, then we are the ones who say this, but “it is only an expression of our lust” (quote from Plotinus). To this belongs namely the lust of the body and, from that place, also the sadness.”4
Given the already unfolding world economic crisis (2007), which will bring in the coming years sudden financial and material strokes of “outrageous fortune” to most people in the Western industrialized countries (the people in the Third World live daily under such difficult conditions), one should take to heart this recommendation and spiritual countenance of the last great Neoplatonist in the Antiquity, Proclos, in order to survive the great Evolutionary Leap of Mankind.
2. This text is from Stephan MacKenna and B.S. Page, who translated the Enneads between 1917 and 1930. This English edition of the Enneads can be found on the Internet under the link: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/plotenn/index.htm . The other original quotations of Plotinus in this book are from the German translation of the Enneads by Richard Harder, Bd 1, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg. Harder’s listing of the Enneads differs from the original order of Porphyry and that of MacKenna. In the present English translation all quotations of Plotinus will refer to the Harder’s order of the Enneads, the way it has been used by the author in the original German text.