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Early Christian and Medieval Neoplatonism

Central tenets of Neoplatonism, such as the absence of good being the source of evil, and that this absence of good comes from human sin, served as a philosophical interim for the Christian theologian St. Augustine of Hippo on his journey from dualistic Manichaeism to Christianity. When writing his treatise 'On True Religion' several years after his 387 baptism, Augustine's Christianity was still tempered by Neoplatonism, but he eventually decided to abandon Neoplatonism altogether in favor of a Christianity based on his own reading of Scripture.

Many other Christians were influenced by Neoplatonism, especially in their identifying the Neoplatonic monad or One as God. The most influential of these would be Origen, the pupil of Ammonius Saccas and the fifth-century author known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, (whose works were translated by John Scotus in the 9th century for the west) and proved significant for both the Eastern Orthodox and Western branches of Christianity. Neoplatonism also had links with Gnosticism, which Plotinus rebuked in his ninth tractate of the second Enneads: "Against Those That Affirm The Creator of The Kosmos and The Kosmos Itself to Be Evil" (generally known as "Against The Gnostics").

Due to their belief being grounded in Platonic thought, the Neoplatonists rejected gnosticism's vilification of Plato's demiurge, the creator of the material world or cosmos discussed in the Timaeus. Although Neoplatonism has been referred to as orthodox Platonic philosophy by scholars like Professor John D. Turner, this reference may be due in part to Plotinus' attempt to refute certain interpretations of Platonic philosophy, through his Enneads. Plotinus believed the followers of gnosticism had corrupted the original teachings of Plato.

Despite the influence this 'pagan' philosophy had on Christianity, Justinian I would hurt later Neoplatonism by ordering the closure of the refounded School of Athens. In the Middle Ages, Neoplatonist ideas influenced Jewish thinkers, such as the Kabbalist Isaac the Blind, and the Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol, who modified it in the light of their own monotheism. Neoplatonist ideas also influenced Islamic and Sufi thinkers such as al Farabi and Avicenna. Neoplatonism survived in the Eastern Christian Church as an independent tradition and was reintroduced to the west by Plethon. From Wiki.

From (extract): Neoplatonism, collective designation for the philosophical and religious doctrines of a heterogeneous school of speculative thinkers who sought to develop and synthesize the metaphysical ideas of Plato. Such synthesis occurred especially in Alexandria and included Hellenistic Judaism, as exemplified by the Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, as well as other outlooks. The doctrine kept its essentially Greek character, however.

While Philo followed a farm called Middle Platonism, he was a big influence on Christianity and perhaps Neoplatonism. The introduction to John could be credited directly to Philo's influence. Note the terms "Word" and "Logos" are the same. His doctrine of free will be at odds with Christianity, which claims only in Christ can one obtain salvation. This extract is from :

The work of Philo of Alexandria (also called Philo Judaeus) is the most prominent and philosophically accomplished example of the Jewish-Hellenistic syncretism that flourished at Alexandria beginning at least as early as the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint), during the reign of Ptolemy II Philedelphus (285-247 B.C.). We already detect the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Jewish thought in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, and the later apocryphal work Wisdom of Sirach (ca. 30 B.C.) displays Platonic and Pythagorean affinities.

So it is clear that by Philo's time Jewish thinkers of the Diaspora were quite comfortable with Greek philosophy. In the work of Philo himself there is an attempt to square Old Testament theology with the Greek philosophical tradition, leading Philo to posit Moses as the first sage and teacher of the venerable ancients of the Greek tradition. The work of Philo was to have an immense influence on emerging Christian philosophy, especially in the work of Origen.

According to Philo, God transcends all first principles, including the Monad, is incorporeal and cannot even be said to occupy a space or place; He is eternal, changeless, self-sufficient and free from all constraint or necessity (cf. Tripolitis 1978, pp. 5-6 ff.). God freely willed the creation of the cosmos, first in a purely intellectual manner, and then, through the agency of His Logos (Philo's philosophical term for the Wisdom figure of Proverbs 8:22)

He brought forth the physical cosmos. Philo describes the Logos in a two-fold manner, first as the sum total of the thoughts of God, and then as a hypostatization of those thoughts for the purpose of physical creation. Thus we see Philo linking the cosmos to the intellectual realm by way of a mediating figure rather like the Platonic World-Soul. Borrowing a term from Stoic philosophy, Philo calls the thoughts of the Logos "rational seeds" (logoi spermatikoi), and describes them as having a role in the production of the cosmos which, he insists, was brought into being out of non-being by the agency of God.

Philo adhered to standard Platonism when he declared that the cosmos is a copy of the purely intellectual realm. However, he taught, following biblical doctrine, that the cosmos was created in time, but went on to state that, although having a temporal creation, the cosmos will exist eternally, since it is the result of God's outpouring of love.

The rational beings dwelling in the cosmos are divided by Philo into three types: the purely intellectual souls (created first by God), all animals (created second), and finally man (last of all rational creation, combining the attributes of the first two). Of the purely intellectual and incorporeal souls, Philo recognized varying degrees of perfection; some of the souls aid humanity, for example, providing guidance and giving signs, while other fell into vice themselves, and aim to lead man astray. These are the beings called angels by the Jews and daemons by the Greeks.

Philo's ethical doctrine emphasized the free will of human beings. According to Philo, the meaning of the biblical statement that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God is that although sometimes constrained by external forces, all human souls are capable of overcoming these constraints and attaining freedom. He further adds, in a formulation that was to have a profound influence on Origen, that God aids souls in their quest for freedom in proportion to their love and devotion for Him and for their fellows.

St. Augustine:

In his thirty-first year he was strongly attracted to Neoplatonism by the logic of his development. The idealistic character of this philosophy awoke unbounded enthusiasm, and he was attracted to it also by its exposition of pure intellectual being and of the origin of evil. These doctrines brought him closer to the Church, though he did not yet grasp the full significance of its central doctrine of the personality of Jesus Christ.

In his earlier writings he names this acquaintance with the Neoplatonic teaching and its relation to Christianity as the turning-point of his life, though in the Confessiones it appears only as a statue on the long, road of error.

The truth, as it may be established by a careful comparison of his earlier and later writings, is that his idealism had been distinctly strengthened by Neoplatonism, which had at the same time revealed his own, will, and not a natura altera in him, as the subject of his baser desires.

This made the conflict between ideal and actual in his life more unbearable than ever. Yet his sensual desires were still so strong that it seemed impossible for him to break away from them. See Augustine IEP

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