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Neo-platonism





The last phase of Hellenic philosophy was religious. It aimed to combine
the principles of many schools of the earlier period and to present a
metaphysical system that would at once give a theory of being and also
furnish a philosophical basis for the new religious life. This final
philosophy of the antique world was Neo-Platonism. It was thoroughly
eclectic in its treatment of earlier systems, but under Plotinus attained
no small degree of consistency. The emphasis was laid especially upon the
religious problems, and in the system it may be fairly said that the
religious aspirations of heathenism found their highest and purest
expression. Because it was in close touch with current culture and in its
metaphysical principles was closely akin to the philosophy of the Church
teachers, we find Neo-Platonism sometimes a bitter rival of Christianity,
at other times a preparation for the Christian faith, as in the case of
Augustine and Victorinus.


Additional source material: Select Works of Plotinus, translated
by Thomas Taylor, ed. G. R. S. Mead, London, 1909 (contains
bibliography of other translations of Plotinus, including those in
French and German together with a select list of works bearing on
Neo-Platonism); Select Works of Porphyry, trans. by Thomas
Taylor, London, 1823; Taylor translated much from all the
Neo-Platonists, but his other books are very scarce. Porphyry's
Epistula ad Marcellam, trans. by Alice Zimmern, London, 1896.


Porphyry, Ep. ad Marcellam, 16-19. Porphyrii philosophi Platonici

opuscula tria, rec. A. Nauck, Leipsic, 1860.


The letter is addressed to Marcella by her husband, the
philosopher Porphyry. It gives a good idea of the religious and
ethical character of Neo-Platonism. For the metaphysical aspects
see Plotinus, translated by T. Taylor. Porphyry was, after
Plotinus, the greatest of the Neo-Platonists, and brought out most
clearly those religious elements which were rivals to
Christianity. His attack upon Christianity was keen and bitter,
and he was consequently especially hated by the Christians. He
died at Rome 304.


Ch. 16. You will honor God best when you form your soul to resemble him.
This likeness is only by virtue; for only virtue draws the soul upward
toward its own kind. There is nothing greater with God than virtue; but
God is greater than virtue. But God strengthens him who does what is good;
but of evil deeds a wicked demon is the instigator. Therefore the wicked
soul flees from God and wishes that the foreknowledge of God did not
exist; and from the divine law which punishes all wickedness it shrinks
away completely. But a wise man's soul is in harmony with God, ever sees
Him, ever is with Him. But if that which rules takes pleasure in that
which is ruled, then God cares for the wise and provides for him; and
therefore is the wise man blessed, because he is under the protection of
God. It is not the discourses of the wise man which are honorable before
God, but his works; for the wise man, even when he keeps silence, honors
God, but the ignorant man, even in praying and sacrificing, dishonors the
Divinity. So the wise man alone is a priest, alone is dear to God, alone
knows how to pray.

Ch. 17. He who practises wisdom practises the knowledge of God; though not
always in prayer and sacrifice, practising piety toward God by his works.
For a man is not rendered agreeable to God by ruling himself according to
the prejudices of men and the vain declamations of the sophists. It is the
man himself who, by his own works, renders himself agreeable to God, and
is deified by the conforming of his own soul to the incorruptible blessed
One. And it is he himself who makes himself impious and displeasing to
God, not suffering evil from God, for the Divinity does only what is good.
It is the man himself who causes his evils by his false beliefs in regard
to God. The impious is not so much he who does not honor the statues of
the gods as he who mixes up with the idea of God the superstitions of the
vulgar. As for thyself, do not hold any unworthy idea of God, of his
blessedness or of his incorruptibility.

Ch. 18. The greatest fruit of piety is this--to honor the Deity according
to our fatherland; not that He has need of anything, but His holy and
happy Majesty invites us to offer Him our homage. Altars consecrated to
God do no harm, and when neglected they render no help. But he who honors
God as needing anything declares, without knowing it, that he is superior
to God. Therefore it is not angering God that harms us, but not knowing
God, for wrath is alien to God, because it is the product of the
involuntary, and there is nothing involuntary in God. Do not then dishonor
the Divinity by human false opinions, for thou wilt not thereby injure the
Being enjoying eternal blessedness, from whose incorruptible nature every
injury is repelled.

Ch. 19. But thou shouldest not think that I say these things when I exhort
to the worship of God; for he who exhorts to this would be ridiculous; as
if it were possible to doubt concerning this; and we do not worship Him
aright doing this thing or thinking that about God.(69) Neither tears nor
supplications turn God from His purpose; nor do sacrifices honor God, nor
the multitude of offerings glorify God, but the godlike mind well governed
enters into union with God. For like is of necessity joined to like. But
the victims of the senseless crowd are food for the flames, and their
offerings are the supplies for a licentious life to the plunderers of
temples. But, as I have said to thee, let the mind within thee be the
temple of God. This must be tended and adorned to become a fit dwelling
for God.





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