JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Athenian School of Neo-Platonism. Proclus.

§ 54.

1. The efforts of the Neo-Platonists to reform the religion of Paganism and to hold in check the growth of Christianity, had not the effect which was expected. The pagan religion had had its day, it could not be upheld, it fell before the Divine power of the Christian faith which was everywhere extending its sway. Its hour was come. Even the Neo-Platonists were at last forced to recognise this. Having failed to effect their aims against Christianity by material methods, and having failed to revive the old worship and the old beliefs, the representatives of Neo-Platonism addressed themselves with renewed zeal to scientific expedients, among which the study and exposition of the writings of Plato and Aristotle were of chief importance. This plan was followed in a marked way by the Athenian School. To this school belong Plutarch, son of Nestorius (died A.D. 433); his pupil, Syrianus, who expounded the writings of Plato and Aristotle; Hierocles of Alexandria, who devoted himself to the exposition of the Pythagorean writings; his pupil, Syrianus, of Alexandria; and, most remarkable of all, Proclus (A.D. 411-485), the pupil of Olympiodorus (the elder), of Plutarch, and of Syrianus. He was the most renowned of the later Neo-Platonists -- the "scholastic of the Greek philosophers." He collected and arranged and gave dialectical form to the philosophy which had come down from the past, adding to it from his own resources, and reducing the whole to a kind of system which presented the appearance of strictly scientific method. He taught at Athens. Among his writings are found: -- Procli in Plat. Timoeum Comment., Bas: 1534; In theologiam Platonis libri sex una cum Marini vita Procli et Procli instit. theolog., Hamb. 1618; Excerpta ex Procli Scholiis in Plat. Cratyl., Lips. 1820; In Plat. Alcib. ed. Creuzer, Francof. 1820-1825; In Plat. Parmenidem. ed. Stallbaum, Lips. 1839. Opp. omnia. Ed. Cousin, Paris 1820-25.

2. According to Proclus, the One is the absolute first principle. From this everything comes forth, and to this everything is striving to return. The thing produced is at once like the producing cause and unlike it. In virtue of its likeness it remains in its cause, in virtue of its unlikeness it is separated from it. By establishing in itself a resemblance with its first principle, the separated product returns to that principle again, and the return has the same number of stages as the preceding evolution. The One is also the Ineffable; it is above all affirmation and negation. Even the notion of Oneness describes it inadequately, for it is higher than this notion also. But everything coming forth from this one principle is differentiated in a series of successive triads. The oftener this process is repeated the more differentiated and imperfect is the result -- that is to say, the farther things recede from the first principle, the more complicated in their structure and restricted in their sphere of action do they become.

3. The first emanation from the Primal One are the Henades (henades). The absolutely first being has no relation with the world, but the Henades -- their number is not definitely fixed by Proclus -- exercise an influence upon the world; they are the gods in the highest sense of the term; to them belong the functions of Providence. They are elevated above being, life, reason, and knowledge, but among themselves they have a certain order of rank, some being nearer the primal entity, some further removed.

4. Next in order after the Henades comes the Trias of intelligible, intelligible-intellectual, and intellectual being (to noêton, to noêton hama kai noeron, to noeron). The noêton is represented by the notion Being (ousia), the noêton hama kai noeron, by the notion Life (zôê), the noeron by the notion Thought (nous). The first and second of these orders of being are again divided in triadic fashion; the division of the third order, which responds to the nous is sevenfold. Proclus divides each member of this sevenfold division into seven members, and thus obtains seven intellectual Hebdomades (sevenfold orders), to the several members of which he refers a number of the divinities of the popular creed, and many of the Platonic and Neo-Platonic fictions.

5. From the Intellectual order emanates the Psychical. Every soul is, in its essence, eternal, but in its action existing in time. The world-soul is composed of divisible, indivisible, and intermediate substances, combined in harmonious proportions. There are divine and demoniacal as well as human souls. Situated midway between the sensible order and the divine order, the soul is endowed with liberty. It is responsible for its own evils. It is capable of turning again to the divine, but its contemplation can reach no higher than the nous. Every man has his special demon, and it is only through this demon that he can hold communication with the gods. Man must surrender himself blindly to the demon, in order to attain his highest end. (Cfr. Ueberweg.)

6. Among the disciples of Proclus the following deserve special mention: -- Marinus, the successor of Proclus in the presidency of the school at Athens; the physician, Asclepiodotus of Alexandria; Ammonius the son of Hermeas; Zenodotus; Isidorus, the successor of Marinus in the headship of the school; Hegias, another successor of Marinus; and Damascius, who presided over the school in Athens about A.D. 520. With him the school came to an end. It was closed by the Emperor Justinian in the year A.D. 529. This emperor forbade the teaching of the Neo-Platonic philosophy at Athens, and appointed Christian teachers to take the place of the Platonists. The Neo-Platonists betook themselves to Persia, where they hoped to find a patron for their philosophy in the king, Chosroes. But experience dispelled this hope, and after the peace between Persia and the Empire, A.D. 533, they returned home. But they were not permitted to reopen thesr schools. Neo-Platonism thus came to an end. But the commentaries on the writings of Aristotle and Plato, which at this and later periods were composed by the Neo-Platonists, enabled some of them, and notably Simplicius of Cilicia (A.D. 520) and the younger Olympiodorus, to take an important part in the work of transmitting to later generations the philosophy of Greece.

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