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.