NEOPLATONISM


NEOPLATONISM
NEOPLATONISM, the system elaborated by Plotinus and his pupil Porphyry on the basis of antecedent Middle Platonic and neo-Pythagorean developments. The system was modified by their successors, the main post-Plotinian currents and schools of late antiquity being (according to K. Praechter): the Syrian school founded by Iamblichus; the school of Pergamum (Sallust, Julian); the school of Athens (Plutarch, Syrianus, Proclus, Damascius); the school of Alexandria (Hierocles, Hermias, Ammonius and his followers: the pagans, Asclepius and Olympiodorus, and the Christians, Philoponus, Elias, David, and Stephanus); and the Neoplatonists of the West (Macrobius, Chalcidius, Boethius). In the Middle Ages Neoplatonism survived in the Latin West (Johannes Scotus Erigena) and the Byzantine East (Michael Psellus) and within the Arabo-Hebraic cultural sphere, and it underwent a revival during the Renaissance (Gemistos Plethon in the Byzantine East; Marsilio Ficino, pico della mirandola , and Giordano Bruno in the West). Neoplatonism postulates the derivation by a process of emanation of a hierarchically ordered series of spheres of being, leading from an ineffable and unqualified first principle (the One) to the material world. The "descent" is associated with increasing determination and multiplicity (imperfection). Although matter at the lowest rank in the scale of being is the principle of evil, the material world, as a reflection of the intelligible, possesses goodness and beauty (cf. gnosticism ), and by contemplation of it the human soul ascends to the spiritual world. The human soul, being spiritual and self-subsistent, is independent of the body and having descended from the supernal world, reverts to its source by means of ethical and intellectual purification (or by theurgy; e.g., Iamblichus). The stages of ascent were commonly designated (after Proclus) the via purgativa (purification), via illuminativa (illumination), and via unitiva (union), the highest stage, a kind of unio mystica (mystical union) and apotheosis, being the sole means by which the One is apprehended. Individuation and investiture of the soul with a body is devalorized; release from the fetters of the body in ecstasy or in death is equivalent to salvation, this philosophical soteriology tending toward combination with a doctrine of metempsychosis. Neoplatonism is thus seen to be a religious movement and a doctrine of salvation as well as a philosophical system. As such, it was potentially an antagonist and an ally of the monotheistic faiths. Ancient Neoplatonism (excluding the school of Alexandria) was hostile to Christianity: Porphyry and Julian wrote refutations of Christianity; Iamblichus, Proclus, and Damascius were implacable opponents of Christianity. Indeed, Neoplatonism as a philosophical interpretation of pagan mythology (e.g., Iablichus and Proclus) represents the dying gasp of ancient paganism. The fundamental postulates of Neoplatonism conflict with those of the monotheistic faiths: an impersonal first principle, rejection of creation and revelation, the conception of man as essentially soul, and the attendant soteriology-eschatology (including metempsychosis) involving submergence of the individual soul in the universal soul. Nevertheless, for monotheistic philosophers the contradictions were not insurmountable. In fact, the method of figurative interpretation cultivated by ancient Neoplatonists (after the Pythagoreans and Stoics) in order to identify pagan mythological themes with philosophical ideas (Proclus, for example, identified the henads of his system with the traditional gods) was employed by monotheistic philosophers in order to read their neoplatonic doctrines into the text of Scripture. The ladder of Jacob's dream was thus interpreted as a symbol of the soul's ascent (e.g., by Ibn Gabirol; see A. Altman , Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (1969), 54–55; and A. Nygren, Agape and Eros (19532), 230, 375, 441). Creation became a metaphor for eternal procession. Revelation and prophecy were discussed in terms reminiscent of the unio mystica. This identification was not without some basis in ancient Neoplatonism either, if one considers the aspect of grace or divine initiative implicit in Enneads 5:3, 17 and 5:5, 8, or the use of the Chaldean Oracles and Orphic Hymns by Porphyry and Iamblichus. Assimilation to the divine, the goal of philosophy according to the neoplatonic introductions to Aristotle of the Alexandria school, resonated with similar ideals of the monotheistic traditions. The deep spirituality of Neoplatonism promoted the kind of synthesis with religious feeling that finds moving expression in Ibn Gabirol's poem, Keter Malkhut. In order to grasp the character of Neoplatonism as it was transmitted to the medieval world of Judaism and Islam, it is necessary to understand that it was closely bound with much of the religious and pseudo-scientific heritage of late antiquity (alchemy), Hermetism (see hermetic writings ), magic, theurgy. Also, Neoplatonism was not simply an amplification of plato . Plotinus admitted into his system those aspects of Aristotelianism (also Pythagoreanism and stoicism ) which met its requirements. Porphyry went even further and initiated the reception of aristotle 's lecture courses into the Neoplatonic curriculum. The school of Alexandria devoted much of its labors to commentaries upon Aristotle. The thesis that the views of Plato and Aristotle coincided, if properly understood, a theme traceable to Ammonius Saccas, the teacher of Plotinus, was embraced by Porphyry and influenced the course of Neoplatonism and its absorption within the Arabo-Hebraic milieu (cf. al-Fārābī 's On the Harmony of the Opinions of the Two Sages, the Divine Plato and Aristotle). While reception of Neoplatonism in the medieval Latin West was mainly confined to Proclus and Pseudo-Dionysius, the Arabo-Hebraic milieu was saturated by numerous currents. Plotinus was conveyed in the guise of the Theology of Aristotle (a paraphrase of parts of Books 4–6 of the Enneads), through other paraphrases ascribed to "the Greek Sage," and a work entitled The Divine Science (J. van Ess, in bibl., 334ff.). The Theology of Aristotle is extant in a shorter (vulgate) and longer version, the latter preserved in an Arabic manuscript in Hebrew characters (in Leningrad). This longer version was translated (on the basis of a Damascus manuscript) into Hebrew and Italian by a Cypriot Jewish physician, Moses Arovas, who was also instrumental in having it rendered into Latin (S.M. Stern, in bibl., 59 n. 4, 79 n. 1). Underlying the longer version of the Theology of Aristotle is another Aristotle pseudograph discovered by S.M. Stern and called by him "Ibn Ḥasdāy's Neoplatonist" (it was incorporated by Ibn Ḥasdai in his ben ha-melekh ve-ha-nazir ; see altmann and Stern, in bibl., 95 ff.; Stern, in bibl.). (On knowledge of Porphyry's work in the medieval world of Islam, see J. van Ess, in bibl., 338; R. Walzer in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2 (1965), 948–50.) Proclus' Elements of Theology was transmitted in the guise of the Arabic Kitāb al-ḥayr al-maḥḍ ("Book of the Pure Good"), known in the West as Liber de causis and generally understood to be a work by Aristotle, and three propositions of the Elements of Theology have been recovered in Arabic. Proclus' work On the Eternity of the Universe was also known. (For the transmission of works by Proclus, see J. van Ess, in bibl., 339ff.; H.D. Saffrey, in Miscellanea Mediaevalia, 2 (1963), 267ff.; and R. Walzer in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1 (1960), 1340.) Another pseudo-Aristotelian work of neoplatonic character was the Liber de pomo, which was extremely popular and available in Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew (see J. Kraemer, in Studi orentalistici in onore di Giorgio Levi della Vida, 1 (1956), 484–506). Neoplatonic ideas are also associated with pre-Socratics (particularly Pythagoras and Empedocles) in Arabic doxographic and gnomological collections (e.g., Ṣāʿid al-Andalusi's Ṭabaqāt al-umam and al-Shahrastānī's al-Milal wa al-niḥal). empedocles in neoplatonic dress is also preserved in The Book of Five Substances, of which a Hebrew translation from Arabic is extant (D. Kaufmann, Studien ueber Salomon ibn Gabirol (1899), 16ff.). Teachings of the school of Alexandria were transmitted mainly by Syriac-speaking Christians. The accommodation of Christian beliefs in that school (e.g., by Ammonius; see Westerink, in bibl. xii–xxv) may have served as a model for adjustment to religious belief on the part of Islamic and Jewish philosophers. Medieval Islamic and Jewish Neoplatonism is not confined to philosophers. In both Judaism and Islam Neoplatonism entered the mystical stream. One finds such influence, for example, in the later Sufi works of al-Ghazáli (the end of his Mishkāt al-anwār); it permeated Jewish kabbalistic circles in Spain and Provence, transforming an earlier gnostic tradition, and had an impact upon the German pietists (Scholem, Mysticism, 117). Israeli's Chapter on the Elements ("The Mantua Text"), largely based upon "Ibn Ḥasdāy's Neoplatonist," was studied by the Gerona kabbalists, attracted by the similarity between its emanationist scheme and their own system of Sefirot, and it was commented upon by azriel of gerona (Perush ha-Aggadot; see altman and stern , in bibl., 130–2; Stern in bibl., 61). isaac israeli is the fountainhead of Jewish Neoplatonism. He defines philosophy, following the neoplatonic introductions to Aristotle, as assimilation to God according to human capacity (from Plato's Theatetus 176b; see altmann and stern , in bibl., 28ff., 197). Ascent of the human soul to the divine is described according to Proclus' three stages (ibid., 185ff.), the ultimate stage depicted as becoming angelic or divine, an experience to which he applies the term devekut, thus anticipating its employment by later Jewish philosophers and mystics (Altmann and Stern, in bibl., 190). The famous Plotinus passage on his own ecstatic union with the One (Enneads, 4:8, 1) may have inspired Israeli; quoted in the Theology of Aristotle and in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Safāʾ ("Epistles of the brethren of sincerity "), it is also referred to by moses ibn ezra , ibn gabirol , and shem tov ibn falaquera (Altmann and Stern, in bibl., 191–2). The neoplatonic doctrine concerning the unknowability of the first principle is expressed in Israeli's thesis that only God's existence (or quoddity: anniyya, ḥaliyya) is knowable, and not his essence (quiddity: mahiyya), a distinction perpetuated by Baḥya ibn Paquda , Joseph ben Ẓaddik , judah halevi , and abraham ibn daud (Altmann and Stern, in bibl., 21–23). The transplantation of Jewish thought to Andalusia is marked by an initial neoplatonic direction inaugurated by Ibn Gabirol. His Mekor Ḥayyim is unique in that it sets forth a philosophical system of neoplatonic tincture without any admixture of Jewish teaching. Significantly, the only authority named is Plato. Characteristically, the goal of human existence is the conjunction (ittiṣāl, applicatio) of the human soul with the supernal world through knowledge and action, i.e., intellectual and ethical purification (1:2; Arabic fragments published by S. Pines in Tarbiz, 27 (1958), 225–6). The fruit of the study of philosophy is said to be liberation from death and conjunction with the source of life (5:43). In the neoplatonic manner, knowledge of the First Essence is precluded because it transcends everything and is incommensurable with the intellect (1:5; Pines, ibid., 224–5). Like Plotinus, Ibn Gabirol tends to rely upon concrete imagery from the world of senses in order to explain suprasensous phenomena. But the insertion of will (irāda, voluntas) after the First Essence and his universal hylomorphism set his system apart from that of Plotinus. Though the impact of the Mekor Ḥayyim was greater upon Christian scholastic philosophy than it was in the Jewish philosophical tradition, it did exert some influence in Jewish circles. Moses ibn Ezra quoted it in his Arugat ha-Bosem and a Hebrew epitome was made by Falaquera. Also, Ibn Gabirol's views are quoted by abraham ibn ezra in his commentaries, from which it can be seen how Ibn Gabirol bridged between his Neoplatonism and Judaism through figurative biblical interpretation. Ibn Gabirol's successors do not evince his depth or originality. Baḥya ibn Paquda combines commonplace neoplatonic themes (e.g., God's absolute unity as distinct from the relative unity of this world) with his mystical pietism. The anonymous (pseudo-bahya ) Kitāb Maʿānī al-Nafs treats its main theme of psychology in a neoplatonic manner. The soul is a spiritual substance whose home is the supernal world. In its descent it assimilates impressions from the celestial spheres and the zones of the elements (a gnostic-Hermetic notion), and it reascends by means of ethical and intellectual purification, whereas evil souls may be confined to the region beneath   the heavens (cf. Altmann and Stern, in bibl., 114). There are also neoplatonic elements in Abraham b. Ḥiyya 's writings (his theory of emanation and doctrine of metempsychosis), and Joseph ibn Ẓaddik makes a common neoplatonic motif–that man is a microcosm–the theme of his work (Ha-Olam ha-Katan); but no one, aside from Ibn Gabirol, is as deeply committed to a neoplatonic world view as is Abraham ibn Ezra, even as regards such sensitive subjects as creation and prophecy. Also to be considered is Judah Halevi, whose notion of "the divine influence" (al-Amr al-Ilāhi/ha-inyan ha-Elohi) may be of neoplatonic origin and whose idea of the God of Abraham is said to have been "conceived metaphysically in terms of the neoplatonic idea of God" (Guttmann, Philosophies, 133). The Aristotelian reaction in the Islamic world (averroes ) is paralleled on the Jewish side, where in the middle of the 12th century Aristotelianism begins to displace Neoplatonism as the regnant system. However, despite Ibn Daud's strictures against Ibn Gabirol and the authoritative opinion of maimonides in his disesteem for Israeli, neglect of Ibn Gabirol, and contempt for popular neoplatonic works, Neoplatonism did not entirely lose its appeal for Jewish thinkers. In fact, Ibn Ḥasdai respected Israeli, as did Falaquera. Furthermore, Aristotelianism was itself thoroughly suffused with neoplatonic themes. Maimonides was far from untouched by neoplatonic influence. Words for emanation occur approximately 90 times in the first two parts of the Guide (D.H. Haneth, in Tarbiz, 23 (1952), 178). Neoplatonic traces are also discernible in his description of knowledge in terms of light and lightning metaphors (from avicenna or avempace : Pines, Guide of the Perplexed, civ–cv), his insistence upon denying positive attributes of God, his placing limitations upon human knowledge, and perhaps the idea of assimilation to the divine at the end of the Guide (3:54). The last work in the tradition of Jewish Neoplatonism is judah abrabanel 's Dialoghi di amore, written in the atmosphere of the Renaissance revival of Neoplatonism in the manner of contemporary discussions of the Symposium and love treatises (see J.C. Nelson, Renaissance Theory of Love (1958), passim). Love is a universal unifying force. The neoplatonic One and the theory of emanation are ascribed to Plato. Divine intellect (wisdom) emanates from God as light emanates from the sun, and this intellect is the creator of the world (cf. Enneads, 5:9, 3), containing all essences or forms in a simple and unified way (S. Caramella (ed.), Dialoghi d'amore (1929), 348). Judah Abrabanel was clearly influenced by Ibn Gabirol, whom he mentions by name along with his work (ibid., 246). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index; A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (1958); J. van Ess, in: K. Flasch (ed.), Parusia (1965); P. Merlan, Monopsychism, Mysticism and Metaconsciousness (1963); idem, From Platonism to Neoplatonism (19602); R. Klibansky, The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition (19532); L.G. Westerink, Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy (1962); A. Altmann, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1958), 501–7; S.M. Stern, in: Oriens, 13–14 (1961), 58–120; A.H. Armstrong, The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1967); G. Scholem, in: Eranos-Jahrbuch 1964, 33 (1965), 9–50; K. Praechter, Richtungen und Schulen im Neuplatonismus (1910); J. Schlanger, La philosophie de Salomon ibn Gabirol (1968). (Joel Kraemer)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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