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
Neoplatonism and Christianity in the Historical Perspective
In the fall of 2006 during his visit to Bavaria, the Pope deeply regretted in his hapless Regensburg lecture the “three waves of “De-Hellenisation” of the Christian religion”’. Unfortunately this central concern of the Church was completely neglected in the superficial indignation and controversary in the mass media about the inappropriate quote from the head of the Church regarding the bloodthirstiness of Islam. The former German Professor Ratzinger believed to have finally found in this alleged “De-Hellenisation of the Church” the primary cause for the current intellectual crisis of meaning of Christianity.
And this, notwithstanding the fact, that there is no other institution, not even communism, which was notorious for his historical misrepresentation, that has contributed so much to the distortion, falsification, vulgarisation and dogmatic stigmatisation of the ancient heritage of philosophical ideas like the church itself, although, or because, this institution would have been unthinkable without the intellectual achievements of the ancient thinkers.
A classic example of the falsification of history by the Church was delivered by Pope Ratzinger himself in his lecture on Johannes Chrysostomos (Goldmund) on September 19, 2007 before thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. He paid homage to his resistance against the Arians “against the opponents of the divine nature of Jesus Christ” as he referred them. But with no words did he mention that Chrysostomos, as Patriarch of Constantinople and a sympathizer of the Origenic monks, was deposed from his post by the emperor, who succumbed to the pressure coming from the opponents of Origen, first and foremost from Hieronymus, on the ‘Synod of the Oak’  and was sent into exile, where he died abandoned. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the saints and martyrs of the Church prove, upon closer inspection of the historical facts, to be victims of just this church. So much for the Christian hypocrisy, which is an all too human feature.
The conscious tendency of the Western mind to drift away from the Hellenistic heritage of thought began not first with the Renaissance, as the Pope wants us to believe in his Regensburg speech, against our better knowledge about the intellectual source of this pioneering period, but already in the second and third century, when the first Gnostic and New Testament books were published.
The emerging Christianity bounced with enormous force on Neoplatonism, whose flowering also unfolded in the 3. century and cultivated through Middle-Neoplatonism an unbroken tradition to the classical philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Neoplatonism reached its pinnacle with the two disciples of the founder of this teaching, Ammonius Saccas (died in 242), who lived in Alexandria.and where he held his platonic lectures: with Origen, the father of Christian exegesis, who was by far the most important thinker and scholar of not only ancient, early Christianity, but perhaps of the entire history of the Church, and the actual founder of Neoplatonism, Plotinus, The latter spent his later years in Italy, in the vicinity of Rome, and exerted a decisive influence not only on the philosophy of the late Roman Epoch, but also on the entire Western thought. He accomplished the perfect synthesis of the two major philosophical schools of antiquity, which already countless Platonists and Peripatetics had set themselves as a goal to be achieve throughout several centuries.
It is no wonder that Plotinus was viewed in his lifetime as the incarnation of Plato, even though he was also very closely affiliated to the teachings of Aristotle, in particular to his Metaphysics, when one scrutinizes his writings. For example, his closest disciple and later editor of the famous Plotinus’ “Enneads“, Porphyry has written at the same time the best ‘Introduction to the Categories‘ of Aristotle, which has been handed over to us from that time.
Plotinus observed the dilettante and careless handling of the intellectual heritage of the ancient philosophers by the uneducated early Christians with a critical eye. In his famous work “Against the Gnostics” Plotinus turns in reality against all Christians and considers Chirstianity to be a barbaric distortion of all Platonic ideas.
His pupil, Porphyry, was also a passionate opponent of the Christians and expressed his view in a book, “often so hard to refute, that it was burnt by all subsequent Christian Emperors. In a rigorous research work, he put together all the contradictions of the gospels; he discovered that the book of Daniel was a forgery from the time of Antiochus IV. Epiphanes and criticized the poorness of the Christian evidence of divination. He accused the Christians, to have stolen from Greek myth and philosophy without admitting it, found fault with their ethos, and especially the collecting of money from rich women. In Jesus he saw a weak political conspiracy man of suppressed minority groups and in Paul a contradictory sophist.”1
At this point, I must eliminate a fundamental conceptual misunderstanding, that runs like a thread through the entire history of philosophy and the Christian doctrine and has resulted in countless confusions. The term ‘Gnosis‘ is interpreted today, under the influence of Christianity, extremely narrow and with a noticeable negative undertone. In the broadest sense, Gnosis means ‘knowledge‘ or ‘epistemology‘, as it was understood by the ancient philosophers, whereby the major part of human knowledge should be in compliance with the invisible, transcendental, parental worlds of the soul. Only from this level of awareness can humans begin to comprehend and shape the visible and very imperfect lower world of the finite material forms, that has emerged in a secondary manner from the higher realms.
For this reason all ancient philosophers distinguish very carefully between the sublime transcendental ideas of philosophy, the looking up to the ‘One‘ (Nous), the Beautiful, the Perfect, the Divine, which uplifts in the material substance arrested, fallen-down soul, and the ordinary opinions and beliefs of mortal, spiritually uneducated people, which are the opposite of philosophy.
It is though a serious mistake of modern man to believe that all Platonists and Neoplatonists have been idle, introverted thinkers, who have run away from the unpleasant reality and have only dedicated themselves to the inner world of their thoughts, as for example B. Russell claims in his ‘History of Western Civilization,’ with respect to Plotinus.
Plotinus was not only a transcendental thinker, but also a teacher, well-known throughout the ancient world, under whose influence many Roman politicians stood. In addition, he developed very specific, advanced plans to build a new town, called Platonopolis, in southern Italy, in which the citizens were to live under pure philosophical principles.
The fact that this project could not be realized in the chaotic times, which accompanied the downfall of the Roman Empire should not be taken as evidence that the Hellenistic philosophers observed their spiritual practices in a passive and powerless manner, far from any reality, They were fully immersed in life and did what is still the main task and employment of all intellectuals: to participate in the current theoretical debates and to take a stance, whereby the social importance of Gnostic discussions was much greater in the Hellenistic and late Roman period as in today’s agnostic and anti-philosophical ages. Gnosis was uninterruptedly the basis on any theory of the State (see footnote 54) since ancient times until the fall of Constantinople.
As the neoplatonists, the true Gnostics and inheritors of the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, became witnesses how the uneducated early Christians abused their philosophical heritage and held themselves in extreme over-estimation to be the true ‘Gnostics’, they felt compelled to take a stand against these Christian escapades at a very low intellectual level and to write ‘against the Gnostics’ in order to distance themselves from the early Christians.
Only at a later stage, when the canonization of the New Testament was completed and most Gnostic Writings of early Christianity were put on the Index, did the first orthodox Christians, who were deeply embedded in the earthly density and for whom even the simple metaphysics of the early Christian Gnostic was too much to swallow, began to use the word ‘Gnostic’ as a disparaging statement. The term ‘Gnosis’ has retained this negative connotation up to the present day. The many prejudices, which adhere to the concept, are at the same time an expression of the collective rejection of the transcendental dimension of all earthly existence, against which even the so prominent an opponent of Christianity2 and neopositivist B. Russell is not immune:
“The Christianity of the Synoptic Gospels is almost innocent of Metaphysics. The Christianity of modern America, in this respect, is like primitive Christianity. Platonism is alien in popular thought and feeling in the United States, and most American Christians are much more concerned with duties here on earth, and with social progress in the everyday world, than with the transcendental hopes that consoled men when everything terrestrial inspired despair”3
Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to claim that the modern spirit of the Renaissance, in essence, the spirit of the Neoplatonic Florentine Academy, the Enlightenment, and the newer anti-clerical exegesis of the German philosophical school of the 19th and 20th centuries had contributed to the demise of the Christian doctrine, as the current Pope suggests. The Fathers of the Church have already accomplished this mischief at a much earlier historical point in time.
“Papa” Ratzinger, who has recently made to his duty to bring the origins of Christian doctrine closer to the agnostic believers of our time in a string of dusty professorial speeches, lectured before thousands of pilgrims on Saint Peter’s Square also about Origen. While he raved about the intellectual brilliance in the numerous writings of this martyr on Christian exegesis, he did not mention with a single word that the greatest scholar of ancient Christianity, from which all later theologians, himself included, have hugely profited, was expelled from the Church as a heretic in the year 399, during the long-lasting and very cruel dogmatic battles concerning the dogma of the Trinity (see Trinitarian controvery from 324 to 451 below). So it holds twice better, this sentence was finally confirmed in the year 543.
In this way, the current Pope slipped voluntarily in the footsteps of unsavory Hieronymus (Jerome), a further Church Father and forger of Origen, about whom Carl Schneider wrote as follows:
“The real tragedy was caused by the intervention of the unprincipled Old-Christian Church teacher, the Dalmatian Hieronymus (320 to 420). He was first an Origenist and learnt from the Cappadocians4, and has not only translated Origen into Latin, at a time, which was not very sensitive in matters of plagiarism, but has also published his writing under his own name in a very detestable manner.
Maybe it was his shame about this crime or the fair recognition of this ambitious and vain man to be inferior to Origen, why he suddenly broke in 397 with the Origenists, especially with Didymos, Rufin and John. He then proceeded in a violent attack against his old friends, which remained unsurpassed in its barbaric tone in the old church. He denounced especially Rufin5 with an unprecedented hatred, persecuted and denounced him. He felt that he was not up to the Origenists in the East and in the West, where Augustine outshined him. So he took side on behalf of the uneducated monks and wrote, instead of his previous scholarly translations and comments, the weirdest monk legends at the lowest level”6
So much about the Founding Fathers of the Church, of whose patristics the current Pope is so proud that he wants to make it the basis for a Christian renewal. One can physically feel the perplexity of the church shortly before the Parousia and the conspicuousness of the Evolutionary Leap of Mankind, for which I have been chosen to be the promoter. But this is, as the early Christian prophets vaguely knew, part of the ‘Divine Plan’ for this planet. Only for the world religions will this unprecedented renewal of mankind become the ‘Final Judgment’, the “Apocalypse” (Revelation) of their Gnostic failure, as this study will concretely prove on the basis of Christianity. For the majority of the world’s population this event will lead instead to an unimaginable mental liberation.
4. The “three great Cappadocians” were the early Church Fathers and saints, Basileios, his brother Gregor ofNyssa and the friend of both, Gregor of Nazianz, whose role in the establishment of the early church was emphasized by the Pope, during his recent visit to Turkey. Obviously this last Pope is coquetting with the idea of a Christian Renaissance in the Old World, at least in a symbolic manner, as to counter-balance the progressive decline of the church authority in the West. During his timid, academic rescue attempt he, however, readily overlooks that in today’s Turkey the early Christian tradition does not exist even as an historical, folklore epiphenomenon for tourists.
All three Cappadocians were convinced Origenists and looked back upon a long family tradition, even though they could not measure up to the great master Origen. All three were true representatives of neoplatonic epistemology. I mention this fact at this place as to sharpen the attention of the reader for the unbroken tradition of Neoplatonism in all ages of Christianity, especially in the time prior to Constantine, the Great. This tradition is not only unknown to all present-day Christians, who look back with pure heart to a long history of complete mental ignorance, but also to all philosophers of our time to whom Neoplatonism is an alien concept.
5. Rufins censored translation of Origen ‘Peri archon tomoi Δ (De principiis libri IV)’ is the only existing copy of this important work (around 400). He wanted to protect his master from the attacks of the Church and removed all dangerous places or simply rewrote them. This applies in particular to the valuable neoplatonic passages, which were dealing with the immortality of the soul and the nature of the soul realms (Nous). The German edition of Herwig Gurgemanns and Heinrich Karpp from the year 1976 (Wiss. Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt), which I use here, includes Rufins translation, as well as the plagiarisms by Jerome