All but four of the 31 papers deal with the various forms of Neoplatonism in late antiquity. It is striking that only three of them focus exclusively on Plotinus. At any rate, that clearly signals a growing interest in the developments of post-Plotinian Neoplatonism.
Robert Sharples (1-23) argues that Alexander of Aphrodisias marks the end of a distinctively Aristotelian theology. Alexander’s notion of God as self-thinking thought raises the problem of whether God has any knowledge of the world. Alexander discussed it in two of his works that survived only in Arabic. As a cause, God must be aware of his effects. This raises further questions; one of them is how God can think of a plurality of objects simultaneously. The issue was taken up by Themistius who argued that the supreme intellect knows all things together and as a unity. Thus the supreme intellect is not only aware of all things but is so simultaneously.1 Alexander’s theory of providence originated as a response to the criticism by Atticus, who accused Aristotle of confining divine foreknowledge to the supralunar world. Alexander wanted to show that the divine is also responsible for our sublunar world as well. He made some connections between natural theology and a more spiritual approach, though the latter was not developed in his extant writings.
An issue of more spiritual moment, now in Plotinus, is taken up by Frederic M. Schroeder (23-39). On his view, Plotinus considered Plato’s passages as a special kind of oracles. The unity of the intelligible world is unrolled in Plato’s works. The dialogues have a certain standing in the realm of the Intellect, though not the particular texts we have in our hands. Thus we have to decipher the true meaning of the written text, and this decipherment resembles the way we explain the oracles. As Schroeder points out, Plato was not the only philosopher whose texts Plotinus approached in such a way; his attitude towards Heraclitus was much the same (see, e.g., IV 8.1.11-23). In addition, he leaves open the possibility that in regarding the dialogues as oracular texts Plotinus was in fact engaged in an allegorical interpretation.2
John Bussanich argues for a revision of the view that, by turning frequently to theurgy, Iamblichus represents, and perhaps introduces, a non-rationalistic phase in the development of Neoplatonism (39-63). He argues convincingly that the sharp opposition between Plotinus’ intellectualism and Iamblichus’ non-rationalistic tendencies is untenable. Iamblichus’ concept of the gods owes much to Plotinus’ description of the One as God. These gods operate in the context of natural theology insofar as they are the efficient causes of the generation and preservation of the cosmos. In the wake of the Timaeus -exegesis Iamblichus describes them in terms used by earlier Platonists to characterize the ideas.3 In sum, the similar characters of gods and ideas may entitle us to admit that Iamblichus’ position concerning theurgy does not involve a blatant rejection of the noetic theory of Plotinus.
Thomas Leinkauf compares the various concepts of first principle in Marius Victorinus, in Boethius and in the anonymous commentary on the Parmenides, sometimes attributed to Porphyry (63-99). They all faced the problem of how to relate the One to Being. In saying that the One is
The metaphysics of Victorinus is also examined by Matthias Baltes (99-121) who stresses that the application of Neoplatonic doctrines in Christian theology was not without difficulties. The relationship between the Father and the Son cannot be described as a relation between model and image. Image is inferior to the model but Son and Father are consubstantiales. Similarly, they cannot be the same in substance if the Father is beyond Being while the Son is the first entity comprising everything that exists. Finally, the Father cannot be the cause that turns up in the Son for the cause is always superior to the effect. It is also important to realize that Victorinus is not only much indebted to Porphyry, but might also have taken over Iamblichean doctrines.5 In sum, while respecting the old thesis that resembles the doctrine to be found in the anonymous commentary on the Parmenides, Baltes is able to point to considerable differences as well.
Werner Beierwaltes focuses on Plotinus’ concept of the role the One plays in ethical considerations (121-153). He shows that preoccupation with the life of the mind does not lead to a neutral attitude towards the outside world. Still less does it imply an escape from the bustle we encounter out there but rather a radical change in the mind and a re-evaluation of all those values that are tied to our pre-philosophical stance. Plotinus firmly anchors moral action in his concept of the One, though at this point one might say that the ethical standard gained in such a way is fairly formal. How should one make sense of the dictum that “the One is the norm of life”? In addition to its religious aspect, Beierwaltes lists a few motives that may give it some content. These are the inward tendency, purification of our soul, recovery of our true self, discovery of the traces of the One in us, which is connected to Plato’s urge to become like god ( Theaetetus 176B).6
The relationship between Platonism and Christianity receives much attention. Jean Pépin examines the doctrine of conversion, using texts from Porphyry and Augustine (153-167). He places the problem in the context of the doctrine on the degrees of being. In De musica VI 13, 40, by using terms such as intumescere and inanescere Augustine refers to a view that stresses the importance of turning inwards. The moral he draws is in line with the Pauline theology of
Carlos Steel asks what kind of knowledge was prohibited to man by God in the Garden, and why this knowledge of the good and bad is tied to sin (167-193). In responding to these questions he connects them to the Neoplatonic explanations of the fall of the soul. The emphasis is on Augustine’s views on the origin of evil. In De Genesi ad litteram we are told that the purpose of the prohibition is to show that Adam is the servant of his God. There is no other reason for God to order Adam not to eat those fruits than to make it clear that He is the Lord of the man. The prohibition enables Adam to distinguish between the good, which is to observe God’s order, and the bad.7 The other explanation reflects Plotinian ideas ( Ennead V 1). In De trinitate XII Augustine attributes the fall of the soul to her superbia apostatica whereby she gets separated and cares for the body. Steel also surveys the approaches to this kind of knowledge in Hegel, Kierkegaard and Maimonides, and concludes that before committing the original sin Adam did possess a genuine knowledge, but that it centered on the notions of truth and falsity and did not pertain to values.
Gretchen Reydams-Schils argues (193-213) that in his commentary on the Timaeus Calcidius employs an interpretive technique that enables him to revisit and transform the preliminary stances as he moves along in the text. She also shows that Calcidius does not talk about three aspects of an allegedly single divine agency, which means that he does not adhere to those monotheistic tendencies that may have characterized many pagan Platonists in the late imperial period. This is particularly obvious if we compare the commentary to Boethius’ Consolation. An anti-dualistic motive can also be discovered in the discussion of matter and evil. Calcidius admits that there is a lower world soul but denies that it and its movement are intrinsic to primordial matter. Instead, it is intrinsically connected to matter. Although it is one of the principles, matter is purely passive and thus not intrinsically flawed. As for the creed of the commentator, Reydams-Schils refers us to many instances of a critical attitude towards interpretations based on the Bible.8
Claudio Moreschini uses Boethius’ minor theological treatises to examine the relationship between pagan philosophy and Christian theology (213-239). The novelty in Boethius’ approach was to re-examine Christological formulae on the basis of Platonic and Aristotelian doctrines. In the Contra Eutychen et Nestorium he discusses the concept of divine person and substance by making a comparison between God and matter. Both are to be conceived of as a kind of privation. The discussion owes much to Marius Victorinus, who attempted to explain the
Theo Kobusch shows that Christian theology cannot be considered as an attempt to eliminate pagan intellectual achievements (239-261) but is much better understood as a completion of pagan philosophy. The criticism of pagan theories was meant to purify this philosophy, not to abolish it. In the wake of Pierre Hadot’s assumption he emphasizes that the primary aim of this philosophy was practical, which is especially well documented for the classical and Hellenistic periods.9 That aim was downgraded in late pagan Platonism, but Christian authors laid much emphasis on the practical side of their philosophy.10 Discussed in the commentaries on the Song of Songs, metaphysics was regarded as a kind of mystagogy, as can be well observed in the commentary by Gregory of Nyssa. Taken in this way, metaphysics was intimately tied to a philosophy of how to live.
The relation of Neoplatonic ethics to religion and metaphysics is examined by Christian Wildberg (261-278). The metaphysical and religious assumptions on which ethics was grounded are partly hidden from us. We do not know much about the personal experience of the philosophers, to which they refer so many times (though some clues are given by John Dillon in the subsequent paper). For Porphyry, civic virtues moderate the soul, though this moderation is nothing but a low level duplication of the function of the purificatory virtues.11 Wildberg also asks about the role the virtue can play in the life of a mystic who has already reached the primary goal of a temporary union with the One. He contrasts Plotinus’ remarks in Enn. 1.4 and 1.2 with Stoic moral theories that resemble them to some extent.
John Dillon discusses the two ways in which prayer was conceived (279-295). Plotinus seems to emphasize the importance of the images, not the words, in coming into contact with the intelligible realm. This kind of concentration provokes the presence of god. Iamblichus modified the picture by distinguishing three layers. The first acquaints us with the divine, the second produces a union of sympathetic minds, while the third signals the ineffable unification of our souls with the gods, thus establishing all authority in them.
Andrew Smith starts by asking whether we can find a philosophy of religion in antiquity (297-308) and answers affirmatively. In the De mysteriis we find a theory that focuses on the operations of the divine itself in human affairs (see especially II 11.95.15-98.11). This theory also acknowledges the spiritual effect of religious rites in the context of a relationship between man and god in which gods are not merely passive objects of the attention of religious observers but are themselves actively engaged. The ritual actions and words have direct causal force, and demonstrative arguments can be used to hint at the nature of a higher realm, which shows the importance of philosophical discourse and distinctions in such matters.12
Therese Fuhrer examines the relation between philosophia and religio in Augustine’s early dialogues (309-322). In Augustine’s view, Christian writers, unlike pagan philosophers, always regarded God as the object of both honour and knowledge. This idea must have been manifested in the various communities Augustine belonged to, and the author examines one of them, the circle in Cassiciacum, as described in the Contra Academicos, De beata vita and De ordine. It is important to realize that the role of philosophy in these texts is not subservient to religious intuition.
Ilsetraut Hadot examines a similar connection in her discussion of Simplicius’ attitude towards religion and theurgy in the commentary on Epictetus’ Manual (323-342). She surveys the theories in Hierocles, Proclus and Damascius which relate to the subject and stresses that Simplicius relied on the Chaldaean Oracles and Iamblichus’ views on theurgy. The commentary is thus firmly set in the tradition according to which philosophy with all its rational grasp of metaphysical themes is posterior to theurgy and magic as far as the ascent of the human soul is concerned. That may well be true. An important question is why Simplicius chose Epictetus’ work to make this point, for the Manual itself does not contain such references.
Dominic O’Meara argues that the origin of al-Farabi’s views on religion as an imitation of philosophy is to be sought in Neoplatonic doctrines (343-353). The main passage is in Proclus’ Theol. Plat. I 4 with a fourfold distinction of the ways of teaching. Education through symbols fits the need and ability of most people while philosophical training is reserved for the leaders to come. Al-Farabi transforms the scheme into a relation between revealed religion and philosophy.
Many of the papers shed light on the various ways in which Plato’s texts were interpreted. At times, commentators disregard the dialectical character of the dialogues and, as Andreas Graeser shows (355-364), do not notice that Plato did not always speak in propria persona but hints at others’ doctrines. In the second part of the Parmenides Plato refers to Speusippus’ doctrine according to which supreme principle of being is not a transcendent entity but rather an immanent source of everything else. Neoplatonists interpreted it as a minimum. By contrast, Plato showed that Speusippus would be forced to the conception of not-being out of which nothing can come to be. Another example is the status of the idea of the good ( Rep. 509B). Many commentators err in saying that it is beyond being. Plato claims that it is the brightest being (518B9) and to be grasped as a kind of intelligible entity (532B-C).13 It may be better to say with William James only that the knowledge of the good must be the condition of our knowledge in general.
Lloyd P. Gerson starts by emphasizing that for Plato the first principle of the universe is impersonal and surveys the related views in Plotinus, Iamblichus and Proclus, concluding that in Platonism the metaphysical presence of the divine is separated from the religious absence (365-386). Central to the issue is the distinction between a Form as a separate entity and the nature its name names. This distinction can be detected in Phaedo 102D6-8, and is referred to in Aristotle’s Topics 137b6-8. Thus the nature of a Form can be present to its images without the Form itself being present. On the other hand, the simplicity of the first principle means that the principle comes to be devoid of any features of personhood. This development is clearly seen in Plotinus (III 9.9), who also employs the notion of instrumental causality by the first principle of all. Proclus uses these schemes to reconcile divine providence and transcendence ( Theol. Plat. I 15, p. 76.10-18) and thus to integrate metaphysics and religion
He reaches his aim not only by denying any personhood to the One but also by weakening the personal aspects of the lesser gods. Michael Erler examines the connection of Plato’s Socrates to theology in late antiquity (387-413). Iamblichus and the Neoplatonists at Athens attribute to Socrates a religious role as a paradigm of self-knowledge. As Hermeias of Alexandria says, Socrates was sent down to us and reached everybody’s hand ( in Phaedr. 1.1 ff.). He is one of those pure souls that did not fall into the corporeal world by their own nature. To use the language of the simile of the cave, the role of such souls is to enable us to turn away from the world of shadowy figures to that of the true beings. Erler also shows that Plato himself alluded to this role of Socrates (e.g., Apology 31
Iamblichus tells us that Plato relied heavily on Pythagorean and Orphic theologies, and Luc Brisson demonstrates that the Aglaophamus in Iamblichus’ tale of the connection between Plato and Pythagoras is the invention of Iamblichus (415-427).14 For Iamblichus, Pythagorean philosophy, consisting primarily of the four mathematical disciplines, is nothing but a preparation for Plato’s doctrines. To make the link stronger, he also emphasized the religious aspects of Pythagoreanism. Proclus followed the same track and both he and Iamblichus may have been relying on the passage in the Phaedrus on divine folly (265A-B).
Lela Alexidze discusses the relationship between pagan and Christian elements in the commentary on Proclus’ Elements of Theology by Ioane Petritsi, the 12th century Georgian theologian and philosopher (429-452). The commentary itself is based on Proclus’ texts, while the epilogue is dominated by Christian elements. That may show that for Petritsi the two traditions were not easily reconcilable.
Giovanni Reale suggests a new reading of the Enneads (453-475), in which ’emanation’ is not the right term to characterize the relationship between the different realms of being. Instead, it may be better to qualify it with the triadic scheme of ‘rest-procession-return’. Furthermore, Plotinus’ philosophy is not pantheistic and, consequently, it is not monistic either. It cannot be interpreted as a kind of ontology in Aristotelian terms (in VI 9.2,16-29 Plotinus rejects Aristotle’s suggestion in Metaph. IV 2, 1003b21-32 that
Discussing the other edge of the Plotinian universe, Jean-Marc Narbonne examines the implications of the tenet that the Good is inconceivable (477-490). He stresses that the discontinuity between being and the One (which is beyond being in a sense) entails discontinuity in the order of knowledge (V 5,6,7 ff.). The consequence is that philosophy has a new role. Ascent to the One implies that knowledge must be left behind in that process. Thus philosophy becomes servant of a certain divine vision.
Dirk Cürsgen asks how a philosophical theory based on the Parmenides is to be squared with the religious revelations in texts such as the Orphic Hymns and Chaldaean Oracles (491-516). The link is provided by the theory of henads. On Cürsgen’s interpretation, they penetrate the whole realm of being, give it a relational structure and appear as monads. But monads and henads are sometimes conflated.16 When it comes to an intellectual approach to the first principle, which is absolute, our thought must try to bridge the gap between the absolute and what is derived from it. This seems to diverge from Narbonne’s results in the previous paper.
Cristina D’Ancona Costa interprets Plotinus’ last words, found in Porphyry’s VP 2,26-27 (517-565). Of the various readings and possible translations she considers the following the most plausible: ‘Let us try to bring back the divine in us to the divine in the all’.17 Her aim is to show that ‘the divine in us’ is the part of our soul which has not descended. It does not lose individuality when coming to be united with the Intellect and so raises the question of individual Forms, which must be both intelligible and individual. Plotinus posited intelligible counterparts to the individuals in the physical realm. His reason was, the author argues, to account for the fact that one and the same individual is capable of both grasping the intelligible realities and making proper reasonings (559). There is no Form that would be the intelligible principle of the individuality to be grasped only by the senses. She ties the assumption to the Plotinian doctrine of the undescended part of the human soul.
The last group of papers is given over to the relation of literature to religion. Padraig O’Cleirigh discusses the role literary elements play in Origen’s Commentary on John Book I (567-579). Distinguishing different meanings of important terms is an important device in the text, which serves to determine the exact meaning of the term in that particular passage.18 The discussion is accompanied by an assessment of metaphors and similes.
Irmgard Männlein-Robert examines Porphyry’s Vita Plotini as an example of biography, hagiography and autobiography (581-609). He seems to stress certain biographical data to underline philosophical doctrines, thereby showing that in Plotinus philosophical teaching and practical conduct are in harmony. The idealizing patterns were taken over by Marinus whose aim was to portray Proclus in such a way as to surpass Plotinus both in wisdom and beauty.
Karla Pollmann compares the concept of holiness in two hagiographical poems, those by Paulinus of Périgueux and Venantius Fortunatus who both paraphrased the Vita Sancti Martini and the Dialogi of Sulpicius Severus (611-638). As for the theologico-metaphysical background of these works, it seems that in Paulinus God works through Martin, while in Fortunatus it is the other way round. This reversal is connected to their different views on the martyrs. Paulinus stressed God’s primacy in their acts and role, whereas Fortunatus divinised them.
Anne Sheppard continues exploring the importance of image, analogy and phantasia in the metaphysics and aesthetics of the later Neoplatonists Proclus, Olympiodorus and the Anonymous Prolegomena (639-647). Analogy is the relation of the model to its copy. In works of art, beauty depends on the metaphysical status of the model, while likeness or unlikeness of the copy to the paradigm is the responsibility of the artist. Myth can also be called false account, though it must be clear that here the emphasis is on the notion of
The volume closes with an overview by Andreas Speer surveying the contact between metaphysics, religion and theology in the Middle Ages (649-672). He argues that the bond between wisdom and happiness, that is, the concept of philosophy as a kind of form of life, was never abandoned in that period. Although bishop Tempiers’ verdict in 1277 was a tough blow to such efforts, authors like Meister Eckhart and Berthold of Moosburg maintained an intimate link between biblical and philosophical truth, with the practical consequence that acquiring these marks leads to perfection. The one who has acquired both will be a homo divinus. All this served to overcome the dichotomy between theory and life, that is between reason and revelation. Both authors could find support in earlier thinkers, particularly in Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.
All in all, this is a well edited collection of papers. Some studies are especially rewarding, and the overall quality is also good. The volume is rounded off with thorough indices (of passages, names and subjects).
1. Sharples mentions (p.9, n.41) that in 32.14 Themistius’ illustration is obscure. The obscurity may be due to the Latin translation. The Arabic version, not published in the CAG volume, may be more intelligible; it says that you cannot play every kind of melody on the harp at the same time. See, Thémistius. Paraphrase de la Métaphysique d’Aristote (livre lambda). Traduit de l’hébreu et de l’arabe, introduction, notes et indices par Rémi Brague. Paris: Vrin, 1999, p.112, with notes on p.148.
2. The term
3. At this point one might say that Iamblichus does not seem to have established a unity of gods and forms as in earlier discussions of the creation myth of the Timaeus, according to which the Demiurge is the active aspect of the ideas; this has been discussed by J. Dillon, ‘The riddle of the Timaeus : Is Plato sowing clues?’, in: M. Joyal (ed.), Studies in Plato and the Platonic Tradition. Essays Presented to John Whittaker. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997, 25-42. It may also be important to note that there is no trace of such an assumption in the testimonies of Iamblichus’ commentary on the Timaeus either.
4. One could argue, however, that the triad can be derived from Aristotelian assumptions as well. Furthermore, more evidence might be needed to show that this kind of triadic scheme was prominent in late Neoplatonism.
5. Baltes points out that the discussion of the triadic scheme esse – vivere – intelligere in Victorinus might have been derived from Iamblichus. Traces of that same triad can be depicted in Plotinus as well, see the analysis by P. Hadot, ‘Etre, vie, pensée chez Plotin et avant Plotin’, in: Les sources de Plotin. Vandoeuvres-Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1960, 107-157.
6. The essay also makes it clear that in Plotinus’ ethics there is small room for other-concern, on which see more recently J. M. Dillon, ‘An ethic for the late antique sage’, in L. P. Gerson (ed.), Plotinus. Cambridge: CUP, 1996, 315-336. The emphasis on
7. At this point we must be clear that in Augustine’s view in The City of God this kind of knowledge, or any knowledge whatsoever, cannot be the efficient cause of evil, for the evil will has no efficient cause (XII 6).
8. This kind of ‘minimal’ dualism (p. 204), along with the conception that the world soul ‘could never fall into such great defect of matter’ (Calcidius, 180.10-11), may imply, however, that there is no global evil in the actual state of the world.
9. Of Hadot’s works two are especially informative in this respect: Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique. Paris: Les Études Augustiniennes, 1981, and Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique? Paris: Gallimard, 1995.
10. On the whole, the claim may be true, although one must note that practical issues were always present in pagan Platonism as well, witnessed by such texts as, e.g., Iamblichus’ Vita Pythagorica and Simplicius’ Commentary on the Manual by Epictetus, and discussed more recently in numerous works.
11. It might be possible to treat Porphyry’s grades of virtues as a sequence, not a duplication at different levels. At least, Porphyry says in Sent. 32 that civic virtues are
12. Philosophy may be the most relevant for the souls called intermediate: noetic souls may not need discursive powers (e.g., 226.9-23) and material souls are unable to use them (see Protrepticus 12, 89.22-25).
13. Matthias Baltes has already shown convincingly that the idea of the good must be a being, not an
14. The reference is to Iamblichus’ Vita Pythagorica, sections 145-147. Brisson develops the findings of Chr. A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, sive de Theologiae mysticae grecorum causis. Vol.
15. One possible answer to the latter query has been given by D. O’Brien, Théodicée plotinienne, théodicée gnostique. Leiden: Brill, 1993, 48-49 who stresses the causal role of matter insofar as it is the cause of sin in the soul. One could add that it does not necessarily mean efficient causality.
16. The distinction between henad and monad as between god and divine is not explicit in Theol. Plat. I 26-27. We are told, in I 27, p.119.8-14 S.-W., only that the first henad participating by being (
17. Compare the very different interpretation by G. W. Most, ‘Plotinus’ last words’, CQ 53 (2003), 576-588.
18. One could of course raise the question whether singling out of different senses of an important term is peculiar to literary criticism. A counterexample may be Aristotle’s procedure with the