JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

3. Neo-Platonism. Introductory Remarks.

§ 51.

1. It has already been made clear that ancient philosophy in the first centuries of our era had altogether ceased to receive original development. Nothing new was added. The great conceptions of earlier times were discussed and modified with, perhaps, more erudition than insight. This was the whole work of the philosophers of the time.

2. One system only could claim to form an exception to this rule -- the system of Neo-Platonism. It might have seemed that the brilliant epoch of Greek philosophy was to be revived in Neo-Platonism. But it was only an appearance; for at bottom Neo-Platonism was no more than a system in which the religious notions of the East were blended with the conceptions and doctrines of the older Greek philosophers, though it differed from the other eclectic systems in this -- that the fusion was more intimate and complete. For this reason Neo-Platonism could not maintain its position against the rising sun of Christianity. It combated Christianity, but in so doing it was working its own overthrow. Neo-Platonism was merely the last violent flickering of the light of ancient philosophy which immediately preceded total extinction.

Neo-Platonism, described by its fundamental characteristic, may be called a theory of emanation. This notion of emanation is essentially an Oriental concept. We find no trace of it in the history of Greek philosophy. There is no room, therefore, to doubt that Neo-Platonism borrowed it from the East. But the scientific form in which this notion was put forward was drawn from the Greek systems, esspecially the Platonic. They furnished the scientific principles which helped out in detailed development the system of emanation. In this respect Neo-Platonism is the most remarkable representation of that union of Eastern and Greek thought, which is the characteristic of this period of ancient philosophy.

4. A further characteristic feature of Neo-Platonism, and one which stands in close relation to the former, is its mysticism -- a mysticism of the extreme type. This again is of Oriental origin. Its combination with Greek philosophy was made all the more easy by the fact that Plato's writings had already given evidence of a mystical tendency. In Neo-Platonism mysticism was pushed to the extreme limit. A consequence of this exaggerated mysticism was that the superstitions of theurgy; magic, and necromancy found their way into the system, and were there established and justified by scientific methods.

5. Neo-Platonism has three representative schools -- the Alexandrino-Roman, to which the system owes its origin and thorough development; the Syrian, which was chiefly occupied with a fantastic theurgy, and lastly, the Athenian, which returned again to saner methods. With the last-named school we may associate the Neo-Platonist commentators of later times. We proceed to take a survey of these three schools in order.

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