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Higgins
02-03-2009, 07:39 PM
Though the date on the webpage says 3909 (AD, I assume), this may have some Neoplatonic echoes for those of us still living in the past or 2009 whichever comes first. Note the big impact of Neoplatonism on the Renaisance (partly because Christianity was heavily Neoplatonized already). It seems to me that Neoplatonism still defines the concept of the divine and this causes difficulties in talking about divinity and the cosmos and other abstractions.


http://hercules.gcsu.edu/~dvess/micel.htm

ColoradoGuy
02-04-2009, 08:31 AM
. . .(partly because Christianity was heavily Neoplatonized already). . .
My theology is a little rusty, but that's not what I was taught at all. Plato did have a steady thread of adherents from St. Augustine through St. Anselm to St. Bonaventure and some other lesser figures, but by the high Middle Ages Aristotle really had won out, in the persons of theologians like Duns Scotus and the great Aquinas.

I suppose you might say Plato ultimately had a hand in the Reformation and all that followed, since Augustine was crucial to Luther's thought.

In modern times I believe Paul Tillich (for the mainstream Protestants) was a Platonist, but it's always struck me that modern Catholic theology leans more heavily toward Aristotle. Perhaps there's a lapsed seminarian out there somewhere who can chime in. I long ago gave away all my theology texts.

Higgins
02-04-2009, 06:26 PM
My theology is a little rusty, but that's not what I was taught at all. Plato did have a steady thread of adherents from St. Augustine through St. Anselm to St. Bonaventure and some other lesser figures, but by the high Middle Ages Aristotle really had won out, in the persons of theologians like Duns Scotus and the great Aquinas.

I suppose you might say Plato ultimately had a hand in the Reformation and all that followed, since Augustine was crucial to Luther's thought.

In modern times I believe Paul Tillich (for the mainstream Protestants) was a Platonist, but it's always struck me that modern Catholic theology leans more heavily toward Aristotle. Perhaps there's a lapsed seminarian out there somewhere who can chime in. I long ago gave away all my theology texts.

Neoplatonism is an entirely separate thing from the rest of Greek philosophy. Its elaborate super-cosmic heirarchies of the divine bear more resemblance to extreme forms of Gnosticism than they do to the cosmos as imagined in Plato or Aristotle. Neoplatonism had a kind of symbiotic relationship with Greco-Latin Christianity so that it is generally impossible to tell where Christianity begins and Neoplatonism ends and vis-versa.

For example with Dionysius the Pseudo-Aeropagite:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Dionysius_the_Areopagite

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05013a.htm

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/

ColoradoGuy
02-04-2009, 07:23 PM
Neoplatonism is an entirely separate thing from the rest of Greek philosophy.
I know that. The early Christians railed against it and thought Plotinus evil (and a huge threat). I don't think you'll find much evidence of neoplatonism in standard Christian dogma. (If you've got such evidence, lay it out.) True, people read and discussed the Pseudo-Areopagite, and he had some influence. There is a mystical tradition stretching from the Desert Fathers, through the mystics of late medieval times on to St. John of the Cross and beyond, but mainstream Christianity is not neoplatonic. After all, Plotinus's notions about the mystery and ultimate unknowability of God are very, very different from Christian certainties, at least maybe until modern times. So I think you're way off-base on this one.

Higgins
02-04-2009, 08:00 PM
I know that. The early Christians railed against it and thought Plotinus evil (and a huge threat). I don't think you'll find much evidence of neoplatonism in standard Christian dogma. (If you've got such evidence, lay it out.) True, people read and discussed the Pseudo-Areopagite, and he had some influence. There is a mystical tradition stretching from the Desert Fathers, through the mystics of late medieval times on to St. John of the Cross and beyond, but mainstream Christianity is not neoplatonic. After all, Plotinus's notions about the mystery and ultimate unknowability of God are very, very different from Christian certainties, at least maybe until modern times. So I think you're way off-base on this one.

In respect of Neoplatonism what seems modern is actually quite ancient. For Orthodox, Nicene Christianity (which the Christian subforum oddly enough given its low emphasis on the authority of the Church fathers considers the only form of Christianity to the extent that posts citing Arius or pre-Nicene beliefs will often just get deleted) Neoplatonism is a kind of methodology for working out how the Divine is to be seen as working and how it is to be described.

A crude version of this relationship is given here:

http://www.sullivan-county.com/id3/neoplatonism.htm

ColoradoGuy
02-04-2009, 08:20 PM
It's been 35 years since I studied Church history seriously, but I once did so very deeply. I just think you're wrong. Orthodox Christian doctrine is not neoplatonic, unless you smear the meaning of neoplatonism so widely that it includes pretty much all varieties of mystical thought about the nature of the Divine. But I don't have the proper chops anymore, and I don't think this is a question we can answer with Wiki quotes and links to summary articles. It takes somebody with a deeper background in Patristic theology than at least I have these days. Perhaps someone like that will show up and help out.

Ruv Draba
02-05-2009, 01:24 AM
I'm nothing like qualified or informed enough to comment on this question in particular, but I have noticed that critics of 'isms' sometimes confuse a school of thought with trends that emerge more fundamentally from human psychology.

Plato was an aesthete, an idealist and a mystic and one of the most intelligent and eloquent examples of these in ancient European history. He was likely what Myers-Briggs would call an 'intuitive feeling perceiving' type. That's a type which is often strongly attracted to religion, which means that in certain periods of religious history (any religious history), we may see a swing toward aesthetics, idealism and increased mysticism, depending on the influences of the day.

This contrasts with 'intuitive thinking' approaches to religion, which may be more disciplined and clinical ('Aristotelian' in character), or 'sensate judging' approaches which may be more traditionalist, or 'sensate perceiving' approaches which may be more hedonistic and entrepreneurial. We can see examples of these in many different Christian and non-Christian faiths today (and indeed in many secular philosophies too).

What's not clear to me though is that every such swing toward aestheticism, mysticism and idealism is imitating Plato -- especially since some religions may not have even heard of Plato. Moreover I'm suspicious when choices are presented in binary: Plato vs Aristotle say -- it feels like oversimplification.

Could this just be something as simple as variation in the personalities of influential leaders?

ColoradoGuy
02-05-2009, 02:35 AM
Ruv, your points are well taken. Putting things in little mental boxes generally leads to misconceptions and oversimplifications. Even so, the Catholic Church has been for a very long time quite legalistic and text-oriented in how it approaches theological questions -- the works of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Scholastic of them all, run to many volumes. So they gloried in little mental boxes, in a way.

I'm not sure what Higgins is getting at, actually, but I was responding to his offhand assertion that Christian doctrine was "heavily Neoplatonized." It's not. And, since he used a capital N, I assumed he was referencing the founder of Neoplatonism, who was Plotinus. Early Christians were particularly leery of him.

I think all humans have tendencies toward mysticism. It's just the way we are. After all, I'm a Quaker, which is probably the most mystical branch of the Christian tree. But I'm no neoplatonist (or Neoplatonist, either).

If Higgins wants to discuss various mystical traditions within Christianity, there are many of those, ranging over the millennia from the Desert Fathers to Thomas Merton and lots more in between (including George Fox, the first Quaker).

Ruv Draba
02-05-2009, 07:34 AM
I think all humans have tendencies toward mysticism.I think that all humans have tendencies toward superstition. There's evidence that human heuristics and prior bias create beliefs to explain consequence without understanding cause. Anomalies in our appreciation of probability are examples of this. (I can't show that all superstition can be explained this way, but surely some can.)

I'm fairly sure though that some humans seek demystification as a sort of innate tendency, just as some humans seek mysticism. It may be that the architectures of human minds assimilate the same information differently, such that what seems 'obvious' to one mind by way of explanation seems 'impossible' to another.

What's the difference between superstition and mysticism? They're related I think, but different. Mysticism seeks cause and meaning and possibility via aesthetics and symbolism. Superstition doesn't necessarily create meaning or use aesthetics or symbols -- it just tries to explain and predict.

AMCrenshaw
02-05-2009, 07:44 AM
Meister Eckhart is a well-known mystic and Neoplatonist. What Ruv (maybe Ruv) almost gets at, and what I think Higgins is discussing is the slippery nature of any communication concerning divinity, or the One. Eckhart in particular was a negative theologian-- his methodology of contemplating God-- which might make sense on an individual level, but communicating negatively to another can be difficult. Neoplatonized divinity resists direct communication, common logic, and thus conceptualizing it becomes a real problem. For example, how can "something" "be" beyond conceptions of "being" and "not-being"? What the hell does that even mean? Next to nothing really. And that's half the point. How can that sort of verbiage interact with other modes of seeking truth? I don't know.

Besides that, in Christianity, Jesus is still logos (Gospel of John), the mode by which the divine enters the material world, while retaining an existence transcendent of that same world. Once we have separated, philosophically or otherwise, ourselves (imperfection) from God (perfection), this is bound to happen. In Hinduism, there is maya ("illusion") in opposition to Brahman, the origin of all being and all being itself. What we see now is imperfect. But we can train ourselves to see the truth, supposedly.

I'm not so sure about how this applies to Judaic/Muslim conceptions of divinity, but I tried to add to the conversation.



AMC

Ruv Draba
02-05-2009, 08:08 AM
If Higgins wants to discuss various mystical traditions within Christianity, there are many of those, ranging over the millennia from the Desert Fathers to Thomas Merton and lots more in between (including George Fox, the first Quaker)....and the whole of Eastern Orthodoxy, which Western writers sometimes overlook.

ColoradoGuy
02-05-2009, 08:27 AM
As a boring historian by inclination (and long-ago training) it's interesting to me to observe that Eckhart appeared at such a spiritually trying time in European history. It was the time of the Great Papal Schism (and great anger at the worsening venality of the Church), the Black Death, and the Hundred Years War. People were donning sackcloth and whipping themselves from town to town. Sadly, they were persecuting Jews, too.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Eckhart had great influence among the laity, although the Church actually put him on trial for heresy. People no longer believed the established Church could provide a personal connection with God. (Eckhart also had colleagues in mysticism, such as Walter Hilton.)

Ruv Draba
02-05-2009, 10:15 AM
What Ruv almost gets at, and what I think Higgins is discussing is the slippery nature of any communication concerning divinity, or the One.I doubt that I'll ever dream of trying to make that point -- but feel free to construe it as a special application of my general comments to your own beliefs. ;)

In my mind I have a hierarchy of human lore that runs thus:

anecdotes and conjectures "stories and ideas" contains
fiction "stories that entertain"; which contains
myth "stories that inspire"; which contains
superstition "lore through intuition"; which contains
mysticism "lore through symbolism".That's not to say that all the anecdotes and conjectures making up a layer are necessarily false. Fiction contains many anecdotes that are at least true in substance, for instance, and many conjectures that seem to be true in principle. That's part of its charm.

Mysticism seems very slippery to me because symbolism breeds rapidly, and being symbols, their meaning can never be precisely contained. I long ago abandoned mysticism as an impractical and deceptive way to try and understand the world -- though it's still a great source of fiction to me. These days I largely content myself with science (a bleached but robustly interlocking set of carefully verified anecdotes and measured conjectures, bound by some clever theory) and myth.

(That doesn't make me Neoaristotelian though, I trust?)

AMCrenshaw
02-05-2009, 06:54 PM
I doubt that I'll ever dream of trying to make that point -- but feel free to construe it as a special application of my general comments to your own beliefs.



Mysticism seems very slippery to me because symbolism breeds rapidly, and being symbols, their meaning can never be precisely contained.

Point made. If you don't see the connection between mysticism and divinity, I don't know what else to say! :)


AMC

Higgins
02-05-2009, 07:22 PM
I know that. The early Christians railed against it and thought Plotinus evil (and a huge threat). I don't think you'll find much evidence of neoplatonism in standard Christian dogma. (If you've got such evidence, lay it out.) True, people read and discussed the Pseudo-Areopagite, and he had some influence. There is a mystical tradition stretching from the Desert Fathers, through the mystics of late medieval times on to St. John of the Cross and beyond, but mainstream Christianity is not neoplatonic. After all, Plotinus's notions about the mystery and ultimate unknowability of God are very, very different from Christian certainties, at least maybe until modern times. So I think you're way off-base on this one.

Here's an article about a very early Christian Neoplatonist who also wrote the first defense of the Nicene definition of the Trinity in Latin. Note that he invented the term "individual" (at least as it is applied to individuals and not atoms).

http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/pdf/victorinus_bruce.pdf

ColoradoGuy
02-05-2009, 09:05 PM
Here's an article about a very early Christian Neoplatonist who also wrote the first defense of the Nicene definition of the Trinity in Latin. Note that he invented the term "individual" (at least as it is applied to individuals and not atoms).

http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/pdf/victorinus_bruce.pdf
Higgins, you're just not going to get me to buy it. Neoplatonism was seen as a heresy, although I grant that the orthodoxy selectively poached a few of its notions here and there. But in spite of that, mature Catholic doctrine was not neoplatonic, if the term neoplatonic is to mean anything useful. I spent several years sitting at the feet of some very learned theologians and Church historians, and I'm quite sure your notion would make them apoplectic. I know that's not real evidence, but there it is. Besides, your link is to very early Christianity during the conciliar period. Things were very much in flux then.

Higgins
02-05-2009, 09:31 PM
Higgins, you're just not going to get me to buy it. Neoplatonism was seen as a heresy, although I grant that the orthodoxy selectively poached a few of its notions here and there. But in spite of that, mature Catholic doctrine was not neoplatonic, if the term neoplatonic is to mean anything useful. I spent several years sitting at the feet of some very learned theologians and Church historians, and I'm quite sure your notion would make them apoplectic. I know that's not real evidence, but there it is. Besides, your link is to very early Christianity during the conciliar period. Things were very much in flux then.

The relation of orthodox (and in the early Byzantine period this includes the Latin west) christianity and neoplatonism is far more complex than simply that of some stray heresy to some monolithic orthodoxy as the research on the following website suggests:

http://www.theandros.com/emoore/

AMCrenshaw
02-05-2009, 09:31 PM
In my opinion, though, if you compare Gnostic Christianity-- to Mystical (or even inner) Catholic traditions you find a lot of similarities.

From wikipedia: "Likewise, it may not have been unusual for even Christian Gnostics to consider a variety of important pre-Christian figures as among their early leaders. Irenaeus claims that followers of Carpocrates honored images of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle along with images of Jesus Christ. Philo of Alexandria, Zoroaster, and Hermes Trismegistus may have occupied similar roles among other early Christian gnostics."

The Gnostic idea of a demiurge coupled with imperfect matter is not exactly foreign to Catholicism. Gnostics often believed that the bestial (lower) aspect of man should be completely abandoned for (higher) spiritual development. The ultimate contact high, of course, is in the contemplation of the divine. The spiraling, evolutionary steps of Neoplatonism (the method from imperfect to perfect, with logos/Christ as the key to the kingdom) are Gnostic, sure, but they are also mystic in nature. Take for example the esoteric tradition (http://www.amazon.com/Inner-Christianity-Guide-Esoteric-Tradition/dp/1570628106/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1233854992&sr=8-2).

Higgins
02-05-2009, 09:35 PM
Higgins, you're just not going to get me to buy it. Neoplatonism was seen as a heresy, although I grant that the orthodoxy selectively poached a few of its notions here and there. But in spite of that, mature Catholic doctrine was not neoplatonic, if the term neoplatonic is to mean anything useful. I spent several years sitting at the feet of some very learned theologians and Church historians, and I'm quite sure your notion would make them apoplectic. I know that's not real evidence, but there it is. Besides, your link is to very early Christianity during the conciliar period. Things were very much in flux then.

Anyway...what do you think you are "buying into"? After all when one tradition (Neoplatonism) supplies another (Christianity) with its theological language and logic it is far to late to wonder who is buying into what. It's a bit late to declare Neoplatonism a heresy after you've adopted its refutation of Gnosticism and its language and its logic. It's like saying "Science is wrong because it looks like there were major laval flows 541 million years ago and not 540 million years ago." You have to assume too much in the language of the "other" (eg. neoplatonism, science) to suddenly declare it to be heretical and hope that clears things up.

Higgins
02-05-2009, 10:26 PM
Anyway...what do you think you are "buying into"? After all when one tradition (Neoplatonism) supplies another (Christianity) with its theological language and logic it is far to late to wonder who is buying into what. It's a bit late to declare Neoplatonism a heresy after you've adopted its refutation of Gnosticism and its language and its logic. It's like saying "Science is wrong because it looks like there were major laval flows 541 million years ago and not 540 million years ago." You have to assume too much in the language of the "other" (eg. neoplatonism, science) to suddenly declare it to be heretical and hope that clears things up.

Odds and ends:

http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%204/doull4.pdf

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/porphyry/

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2004/2004-06-43.html


http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/home/conferences/human/papers/Hendrix.pdf

http://classics.dal.ca/Files/Recurrens_in_te_unum_for_Seton_Hall.pdf

ColoradoGuy
02-06-2009, 12:06 AM
Higgins, I suppose this is a question of distinctions -- which ones I think are important, which ones you think are unimportant. There is no doubt Plotinus and his followers had some influence on Christian doctrine. Some say, for example, that the Triad of Plotinus influenced the doctrine of the Trinity. At any rate, most theologians, I think, would say that what neoplatonic notions made it into the canonical Christian worldview came via Saint Augustine. He was a profound thinker who lived about a century after Plotinus. Augustine converted to Christianity in adulthood after establishing himself as a brilliant philosopher already before that. He described all this in his Confessions, which I read long ago.

In the Confessions, Augustine explicitly discusses Plotinus. He even quotes exact phrases from Enneads, Plotinus's major work. This should not surprise us. After Plotinus left Egypt and came to Rome, he was the philosophical superstar of that time and place. I think the fairest statement is to say that Augustine read Plotinus (or Porphyry, his main intellectual heir) and used these texts, among others, to guide his musings and frame his argument.

There is a fundamental gulf between these two thinkers. Plotinus taught that one can meditate on the Divine (or the One, as he called it) and through this process alone achieve ultimate wisdom. Augustine looked at that and recoiled. In his view, such wisdom (or grace) was a gift from God that was undeserved by humans, and which they could do nothing to achieve, save open their minds and hope and pray for it. This issue is a huge part of his grappling with the problem of free will. This is not a trivial, nit-picking point -- it is central to understanding Augustine (and later to Luther and the Reformation).

What I'm saying, I suppose, is that specifics matter. As Ruv and AM have pointed out, any of us who ponder the meaning of things, and particularly if we turn our gaze inward, become mystics of a sort (or superstitious, in Ruv's formulation). The vocabulary of mystical experience, to the extent that there can be one, is inevitably shared. Late antiquity was a swirling mix of Eastern mystery cults -- Isis, etc. A majority of Romans saw Christianity this way. Christianity was far from the only game in town. The figure I recall is that only 7-8% of the entire empire was Christian at the time of the conversion of Constantine earlier in the 4th century, and these folks were all urban.

So of course concepts and even specific language was shared, but there are fundamental, crucial distinctions between Christian doctrine and Neoplatonic teaching, things best seen in the writings of Augustine, the Church figure otherwise most self-consciously aware of Neoplatonism. These distinctions -- free will and the nature of how enlightenment (or grace) can be achieved -- can't be dismissed by hand-waving.

And, although links are fine, I might be more persuaded by how you read, process, and formulate the gist of what these links say and mean.

Higgins
02-06-2009, 12:24 AM
So of course concepts and even specific language was shared, but there are fundamental, crucial distinctions between Christian doctrine and Neoplatonic teaching, things best seen in the writings of Augustine, the Church figure otherwise most self-consciously aware of Neoplatonism. These distinctions -- free will and the nature of how enlightenment (or grace) can be achieved -- can't be dismissed by hand-waving.

And, although links are fine, I might be more persuaded by how you read, process, and formulate the gist of what these links say and mean.

I've only indicated the links to show that Neoplatonism and Christianity have had a very long and very intimate relationship. I don't think they tell they whole story, they just suggest that there is a story. Perhaps the story of a religion that needed to sound plausible to a Greco-Latin elite around 300 AD, and perhaps a lot more than that.
I'm actually wondering about the multiple ghostly influences of Neoplatonism in the present. For example in the Matrix movies at least initially we are presented with the idea that a Gnostic procedure (a pill in fact) will show you that plain old reality is equivalent to living inert in a bathtub underground. I can't think of a more condensed Neoplatonic set of images than that. And of course they resonate because some of that sense of waking up to a rather nasty reality is still embedded in the imagery of the West and/or Orthodox/Latin Christianity...now of the imagery resonates through the raw sources of ancient philosophy...but a lot more of resonance comes though echoes in and of Western/Orthodox/Latin Christianity.

Ruv Draba
02-06-2009, 12:50 AM
Point made. If you don't see the connection between mysticism and divinity, I don't know what else to say!The thing you call divinity seems to span all my layers of human lore -- so much that I can't locate it as a single concept. It's a conjecture, a fiction, a myth, a superstition and a mystical experience depending on whom you talk to and what day you talk on. My obsession with the grey, interlocking dry-stone wall of science insists that an idea must come from just one place (and therefore be one idea, not many) before I'll work with it.

For you, I realise that divinity is mystical and for Plato too, I think. But it wouldn't be hard for me to walk out into the street and collar a half-dozen faithful for whom divinity is not mystical, but is superstitious in my liberal sense of that term. A divinity that is the Master Celestial Mechanic or Cosmic Judge but which does not talk to man through symbols and does not write its will upon the petals of roses would be an example of this. I suspect too that if they took Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, we'd see a lot of SJ personalities represented there, just as we'd see a lot of NFP personalities among the mystics. And if you polled the atheistic rationalists I believe that you'd find a lot more NTP and NTJ personalities represented.

I realise that it's not as simple as all that. Our personalities alone don't choose our beliefs and our personalities aren't just one of sixteen things anyway. Einstein and Newton were both NTP personalities and strongly mystical too.

Part of what complicates this is that cultures trade stories, conjectures and the tools to play with them. It's possible to use Aristotelian logic on mysticism and superstition for instance. What you get is a very pretty lichened wall that looks almost like the dry-stone wall of science until you pull the lichen off and find the mortar and chisel-marks. The work of Aquinas and the Scholastics looks to be of this sort.

If you borrow Plato's values in your selection of anecdotes and conjecture, but Aristotle's forms of argument does that make you Neoplatonic or Neoaristotelian? Or if you do as I do and happily use myth, superstition and mysticism to just map the human mind but ignore its possible applications to the objective world, does that make you Neoaristotelian or Neojungian? And if a rationalist materialist like me is Neoaristotelian then what is an analytic mystic like your good self, AMC?

I don't mind boxes in general but I can't yet see the analytic value in this particular scheme. It seems to barely function as a classification, and I'm not sure that it explains anything about direction. My mind likes hard edges, and there's too much fuzz here for me. I'm reminded of some data-mining work I did with clusters and centroids. Data mining has been used in fields as diverse as astronomy, archaeology and tax-fraud. You can cluster the same data-sets in many different ways, depending on what features you cluster on. This gives you a smaller number of fuzzy objects about which you can try and make illuminating generalisations (e.g. there's a black hole in the sky here, or these pots are more like each other than other pots, or this group of taxpayers shows statistically unusual behaviour). But if the clusters aren't well-separated in their centroids (the 'typical' star or pot or taxpayer for the cluster) then it's evidence that you've chosen the wrong features to cluster on.

ColoradoGuy
02-06-2009, 01:10 AM
I've only indicated the links to show that Neoplatonism and Christianity have had a very long and very intimate relationship. I don't think they tell they whole story, they just suggest that there is a story. Perhaps the story of a religion that needed to sound plausible to a Greco-Latin elite around 300 AD, and perhaps a lot more than that.
I'm actually wondering about the multiple ghostly influences of Neoplatonism in the present. For example in the Matrix movies at least initially we are presented with the idea that a Gnostic procedure (a pill in fact) will show you that plain old reality is equivalent to living inert in a bathtub underground. I can't think of a more condensed Neoplatonic set of images than that. And of course they resonate because some of that sense of waking up to a rather nasty reality is still embedded in the imagery of the West and/or Orthodox/Latin Christianity...now of the imagery resonates through the raw sources of ancient philosophy...but a lot more of resonance comes though echoes in and of Western/Orthodox/Latin Christianity.
I'll buy that formulation. Here's a personal anecdote that is relevant, I think. One of my teachers did his doctorate in religion in the 1960s at the University of Chicago, then and now one of the strongest departments of religious studies. The story, which he swore is true, goes like this. Mircea Eliade, one of the grand theorists of religious experience, was attending some sort of stage show with several others, one of whom was Paul Tillich, a towering theological thinker of the era and author of The Courage to Be, among other books (both were professors at Chicago).

Anyway, at one point the show involved a long chorus line of women dancing on the stage. Eliade remarked how amazing it was that all those women were fundamentally the same. Tillich replied that, to him, it was fascinating how, even though they were all dressed alike, all the women were quite distinct and different. It seems to me that you're arguing as Eliade, I'm arguing as Tillich.

AMCrenshaw
02-06-2009, 01:15 AM
that divinity is mystical and for Plato

In my education, mysticism refers generally refers to concepts of "one" or "oneness" or coming in direct contact with the divine. Yes, indeed, for Plato, too.



If you borrow Plato's values in your selection of anecdotes and conjecture, but Aristotle's forms of argument does that make you Neoplatonic or Neoaristotelian? Or if you do as I do and happily use myth, superstition and mysticism to just map the human mind but ignore its possible applications to the objective world, does that make you Neojungian?


Well I'm not naming any thing strictly Neoplatonic either. It's not a matter of equation, but about relationship. Besides that, definitions are often a matter of popularity, aren't they? The atheistic definition of divinity, for example...what is that again? And if there is an atheistic definition of divinity, I imagine it's not represented by the majority of people who define it. Maybe it is (I have no way of knowing). If there is no, for example, atheistic definition of divinity, we have to stick to clear concepts of what others have defined as "divinity". All obvious. So in analyzing whether or not Neoplatonism still defines the concept of divinity, it's really necessary to look at the "story", as Higgins calls it. What is believed now? What shaped those beliefs? If Augustine is our most significant Lutheran philosopher, we might really wonder how much Neoplatonism has to do with modern definition of "divinity".

Anyway. What I merely meant earlier is that certain conceptions of divinity are so uncommunicative (...) they can hardly be called concepts anymore. How can you discuss them? By labeling the concepts themselves I think it becomes slightly easier to analyze their effects, standing, etc. If you can distinguish one blurry mess from another, that is. And it's hard, but I think possible.

AMC

Ruv Draba
02-06-2009, 01:19 AM
Eliade remarked how amazing it was that all those women were fundamentally the same. Tillich replied that, to him, it was fascinating how, even though they were all dressed alike, all the women were quite distinct and different. It seems to me that you're arguing as Eliade, I'm arguing as Tillich.I had a similar conversation with a Greek Orthodox friend some 25 years ago. I remarked how similar everyone's faces looked; she said that she was always astounded by the diversity.

I pondered and pondered that, thought about just how many dimensions of difference a human face had (different kinds of eyes etc..). I decided that other than small variations in placement there wasn't a huge range of diversity on the human face. Geneticists I've discovered, agree with me -- we're more alike to one another genetically than fruit-flies are and anatomically, our faces reflect this. However, apparently we have a lot of processing power dedicated to facial recognition, so we notice minor differences in faces more readily than in other parts of the body.

However, that was a quarter-century ago. Now I look at peoples' faces and see enormous diversity. But the way I'm looking has changed. These days I look at the the people behind the faces; what the faces say about the minds that animate them. The subject remains the same, but my mind has clearly changed in its architecture.

ColoradoGuy
02-06-2009, 01:34 AM
Back to lumpers and splitters for just one more moment (then I'll leave it -- promise): the money quote from Plotinus could be his famous formulation that achieving the ultimate mystical experience is the "flight of the alone to the Alone." No even remotely orthodox Christian of any stripe would say that.

Ruv Draba
02-06-2009, 01:42 AM
Back to lumpers and splitters for just one more moment (then I'll leave it -- promise): the money quote from Plotinus could be his famous formulation that achieving the ultimate mystical experience is the "flight of the alone to the Alone." No even remotely orthodox Christian of any stripe would say that.Except all the Hesychasts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychast)of Eastern Orthodoxy, who apparently had strong Platonic influence.

ColoradoGuy
02-06-2009, 03:10 AM
Except all the Hesychasts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychast)of Eastern Orthodoxy, who apparently had strong Platonic influence.
I know I've been just talking about the West, but since Higgins started with a reference to the Renaissance, I stayed with Western Christianity. Interestingly, although I don't know as much as I should about Hinduism, I believe the phrase "flight of the alone to the alone" also appears in the Upanishads.

Ruv Draba
02-06-2009, 06:54 AM
I believe the phrase "flight of the alone to the alone" also appears in the Upanishads.Not in any translation I could find, though the Kaivalya Upanishad (http://www.hinduwebsite.com/kaivalya.asp)has a lot to say about the liberation of solitude; the name kaivalya derives from a word meaning 'alone'. Several Hindu-influenced mystics from both the East and West have made the connection though (Ken Wilbur among them).

Higgins
02-07-2009, 11:59 PM
I'll buy that formulation. Here's a personal anecdote that is relevant, I think. One of my teachers did his doctorate in religion in the 1960s at the University of Chicago, then and now one of the strongest departments of religious studies. The story, which he swore is true, goes like this. Mircea Eliade, one of the grand theorists of religious experience, was attending some sort of stage show with several others, one of whom was Paul Tillich, a towering theological thinker of the era and author of The Courage to Be, among other books (both were professors at Chicago).

Anyway, at one point the show involved a long chorus line of women dancing on the stage. Eliade remarked how amazing it was that all those women were fundamentally the same. Tillich replied that, to him, it was fascinating how, even though they were all dressed alike, all the women were quite distinct and different. It seems to me that you're arguing as Eliade, I'm arguing as Tillich.

This excessive similarity of truly dissimilar chorus girls must be one of the reasons Prudentius grew tired of administering Roman Law and turned to writing christian allegories at exactly the same time as Neoplatonism an Christianity began to converge on the same line of allegorical gals.

But first the ever-popular:

Corde natus ex parentis
Ante mundi exordium
A et O cognominatus,
ipse fons et clausula
Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt,
quaeque post futura sunt.
Saeculorum saeculis.

Ipse iussit et creata,
dixit ipse et facta sunt,
Terra, caelum, fossa ponti,
trina rerum machina,
Quaeque in his vigent sub alto
solis et lunae globo.
Saeculorum saeculis.

ie:

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

which we find in:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_the_Father%27s_Love_Begotten



Here from the Psychmachia the pagan chorus girl is decapitated:

Behold who dares head out to harass her
with matching might, to strike first and fiercest –
TheOldGodsWorship. Her hostile head,
Decked with ribbons and medals of honor,
Is made to wobble, then rises higher –
Till her besmeared mouth, sated on sheep’s blood,
Is thrown down to earth and lands underfoot.
Her baleful breath was stopped up and broken,
her trafficking stuffed down her gullet to throttle
her weary and obstinate long dying sigh.


http://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/the-psychomachia-is-so-darned-cool/

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/480834/Prudentius

Medievalist
03-14-2009, 05:12 AM
Higgins, go get a copy of Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry by Isabell Rivers. I'd suggest actually ingesting the pages; they're more likely to stick.

Rivers is ostensibly providing a series of cheat notes in the form of extracts from primary sources followed by corresponding annotated bits of poetry for English undergrads. But it's a quick way to get the differences between Platonism, Classical Neo Platonism, and Renaissance Neo Platonism sorted out.

Which would be really lovely in terms of framing a coherent philosophical discussion.

GeorgeK
03-16-2009, 04:06 AM
Maybe it's the sleep deprivation Higgins, but Plato died roughly 300 years before Christ who died roughly 300 years before anything resembling an organized established Christian Church. Plato was never a Christian, could never have been a Christian and although there are some vague similarities in his writings to early Christian theologians he can not be considered a proponent of Christianity.

ColoradoGuy
03-16-2009, 06:01 AM
Hi George. Higgins is talking about Neoplatonism, which is a whole other thing. Plotinus, the first Neoplatonist, basically took Plato in a new direction. Plotinus dates from the mid-third century CE. Early Christians took Neoplatonism very seriously -- it was a major competitor.

Higgins
03-16-2009, 08:15 PM
Higgins, go get a copy of Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry by Isabell Rivers. I'd suggest actually ingesting the pages; they're more likely to stick.

Rivers is ostensibly providing a series of cheat notes in the form of extracts from primary sources followed by corresponding annotated bits of poetry for English undergrads. But it's a quick way to get the differences between Platonism, Classical Neo Platonism, and Renaissance Neo Platonism sorted out.

Which would be really lovely in terms of framing a coherent philosophical discussion.

Of course these things are not easy to sort out. I blame Marsilio Ficino and Pseudo-Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (PDPA). Frankly you'd think the existence of PDPA would be enough to suggest the Christian take-over of Neoplatonism was no minor aspect of the development of Christianity...but no. Not to mention (and I have mentioned) such people as Victorinus and Prudentius. I think the Christian appropriation of Neoplatonism is pretty thorough and that is why it is "unclear"...ie it is unclear because it happens over a very long time (over and over in different ways) and it covers a very broad spectrum of arguments and images and supernatural schemata.

Medievalist
03-16-2009, 08:20 PM
For Ficino, and his influence, just read everything on him Michael J. B. Allen wrote. It helps if you can read Italian, but even Allen's English notes and introductions are helpful.

Allen concentrates on Ficino's influence on poetry and religion, particularly the mingling of magic and mysticism into Christian theology via Ficino.

Higgins
03-16-2009, 08:28 PM
Anyway. What I merely meant earlier is that certain conceptions of divinity are so uncommunicative (...) they can hardly be called concepts anymore. How can you discuss them? By labeling the concepts themselves I think it becomes slightly easier to analyze their effects, standing, etc. If you can distinguish one blurry mess from another, that is. And it's hard, but I think possible.

AMC

Well..part of my point about the mingling of Christianity and Neoplatonism is that the modern Christian idea of God is very heavily Neoplatonized especially as compared to whatever Jesus Christ was talking about when He referred to Himself and His Father. I don't see any way around the circumstance that the idea of the Lord in the Second Temple period is very different from that defined by Christianity after say 300 AD.