ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


(From the third to the sixth century A.D.)

84. General Features. Division. -- The most striking feature of Neo-Platonism is religious mysticism. Man must conquer his sense-feelings by struggling against them; he must draw near to God by a series of steps or stages, and unite himself to the Infinite by employing aids of a religious nature.

Dependently on this mystic conception a whole system of metaphysics is developed: a system which is the expression of the most absolute pantheistic monism. Although the opposition between the Infinite and the finite is emphatically and even extremely stated, yet God is the living force whence all finite substances proceed by emanation, matter included. It might be said that Neo-Platonism consists in a strictly systematic description of the development or processus of the Divine being into the universe, and of the return of the soul to God.

Neo-Platonism is an original syncretism or mixture of the different systems of Grecian philosophy, because it interprets all previous theories in a mystico-religious sense. It reflects the Graeco-Judaism of Philo, as well as the Neo-Pythagorism and the Platonism of the Alexandrian period; it also bears the impress of Stoicism; and it betrays the influence of Aristotle to whom it is indebted for its method. But it owes its character principally to Plato who supplied it with important metaphysical elements, -- and whose doctrines it claims to restore in their ancient purity. However, we need only compare its fundamental theses with those of the head of the Academy in order to convince ourselves that Neo-Platonism mistakes the true spirit of the Platonic system.

We can discern three periods in the development of Neo-Platonism, according to the forms which it successively assumed: (1) the philosophic and scientific period (third century A.D.); (2) the religious period (fourth and fifth centuries A.D.); (3) the encyclopedic period (fifth and sixth centuries A.D.).

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