A. J.. Szabranski.

Bibliotheca sacra and theological review online

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ter. Ammonias taught a philosophy composed of Greek opin-
ions and Jewish, Oriental and Egyptian dogmas. He claimed
supernatural inspiration. Ecstasy seized him in the midst of his
lessons, and the respect and confidence of his auditors were with-
out bounds.

It is no matter what judgment we pass upon Ammonias.
Whether he was a knave or enthusiast is indiffisrc^nt, bat it is re-
markable that philosophy, which had labored with so mnch zeal
to destroy religion, and which was so pioudly applauded for hav-
ing succeeded, was reduced to put on the appearances of a reli-
gion in order to be heard.

After having attended the lessons of Ammonius for eleven
years, Plotinus resolved to go into the East, to contemplate fimr
himself that wisdom and those prodigies of the Magi and the
Brahmins of which his master boasted to his auditors.

The further particulars of his life do not concern us. It is {we-
tended that, on his return from these lands, which were interrupt-
ed by the bad success of the army of Gordian, (in whose train
he had gone), he obtained of the emperor Gallienus, a mined city
of Campania, on which to found a republic upon the model c^
Rate's, but that the ministers of the prince were fVightened at
this apparent resurrection of republican forms, and put obstacles
in his way. They might have been reassured ; the time when
such projects are formed is never the time in which they can suc-
ceed. All the talent of Plato could not have given a real life to
a State, whose members wanted the two elements necessary to
its existence, individual energy and political liberty. Despotism
had nothing to fear from a republic permitted by a successor of
Caligula and Domitian !

The works of Plotinus are fonned of his responses to the
questions of his disciples. Hence result numerous gaps, Se-
quent repetitions and much incoherence.

These defects and the exaltation of this f^osophy, have
made him fall into a great discredit with the modems, ^t these
very errors which we shall do enough to set forth, seem to us of
a vivid interest, when we consider them under their true point of
view, that is to say, as the proofs of a rehgious sentiment reborn
of its ashes, by the necessity of our nature. Plotinus Imd stud-
ied the works of all the ancient philosophers. He transformed
some fragments into a regular whole, and whatever is our opinion
of his starting point, of his route, or of his end, we cannot, when
we study him, refuse to acknowledge in him, thai of which in



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1846.] 7%« Uniiy of I^ew FkUamm. 655

troth most of those who have judged him are de8titate,^viz., a
great force of meditation, many original thoughts and an extreme
subtilty of view.

VIL No philosophy was more strongly imprinted with the idea
of Unity than the New Flatonism. Flotinus not only recogni-
zed but one furst principle, but he would grant to no being an in-
dividual and separate existence, different from this unity.

What he called the primitive intelligence was an emanation of
the first principle ; but this emanation made only one and the
same being with that from which it emanated. In this primitive
intelligence were contained the forms of all things ; forms produ-
ced by the action of this intelligence upon itself; but these dif-
ferent forms were so connected with each other, and all with the
primitive intelligence, that no sepamtion could in reality have
place. This intelUgence was the image of the universe, the pro-
totype of all species, of all kinds, of all individuals. Particular
souls, races, generations, forces of nature, were only forms of it,
and as the primitive intelligence, in emanating from the first prin-
ciple, was not separated from it, so the forms which emanated
from this intelligence did not really go out of it, or take an exis-
tence apart This intelligence contained all forms, as a soul pos-
sesses multiphed acquirements, without being itself a multiple
being.

The idea that all particular souls emanated from the supreme
intelligence, or from the soul of the world, was already received
in Stoicism and the Old Flatonism. But Flotinus pushed it much
further than those sects had done. They recognized a multipli-
city and numerical difference of souls. Flotinus declares all
multiplicity, all numerical difference, irreconcilable with the indi-
visible nature of the soul of the world ; and across much logoma-
chy and unintelligible subtilty, he wishes to prove, and he con-
cludes, that all particular souls make one with the great soul, not
only as its parts, (tMs word implying a division which cannot
take place,) but as the same substance, the same being, the same
nature. He returns upon himself in a thousand ways. The
multiplicity of beings which exist in the universal intelligence
imply no point of separation, he says, but a simple difference in
the qualities. These beings form only one like so many thoughts,
which exist together, without ii\juring the unity of the thinking
being ; as the force employed to carry a burden, although the bur-
den is composed of objects of different kinds, is only one and the
same force ; as a luminous body, which spreads its light upon a



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6M New ItcsUmum. [Not.

thousand other bodies, without this Ught ceasing to be one and
the same ; as a sound heard by many, an object perceived by
many, without the sound or the object being multiplied ; as a seal
and many impressions, a race and many individuals. We de*
signedly repeat all these comparisons, which are all defective, be-
cause their multitude and their very defects (vices) prove the
desire of unity that tormented Plato, the characteristic desire of
the age of the New Platonists.

VIIL To this necessity of unity, was joined that of an exces-
sive abstraction, the heritage of eight centuries of argumentation
and sophisms. Minds were given up to the practice of magic ; but
they were accustomed to philosophical formulas in theory. Pro-
digies were necessary to persuade them, but subtleties, if they
began to reason. Plotinus himself said that the soul was united
to God by dialectics, and one of his successors pretended to
demonstrate theology by mathematics.

The New Platonists therefore did homage to the taste of their
age, in going back to the first principle of all things, and in en-
deavoring to conceive it in as abstract a manner as possible.

The cause of the universe, said Plotinus, must be perfectly
simple. To discover its nature it is sufficient to take from all
beings all the qualities which distinguish them, and to see what
remains when this is done. Animals, although mutually at war,
have this in common, that they are all comprised in the category
of animate beings. It is the same of inanimate beings, which,
however diverse, are united in the opposite category. In con-
tinuing this operation, the mind comes to a single point, — ^in
which all beings resemble each other. This point is existence ;
existence is then the first being, the first principle !

We feel, without indicating it, the fundamental viciousness of
this reasoning. It is not true that in taking away all the differ-
ences which exist among partial beings, we arrive at a real no-
tion. This point, in which all beings resemble each other, is not
the first being, but only the quaUty, the common condition of
all beings. The personification of this quality, of this condition,
is cm arbitrary act of the understanding, a creation which it per-
mits itself without being authorized to do so, in order to have
some personages that it can make move at its wilL

The human mind, when it meditates, loves abstraction. Ab-
straction delivers it from the chaos which results from the con-
fusion of appearances and the variety of phenomena ; it classes
its notions according to a regular symmetiy, an ideal order, and



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1845.] JPlotmus'sideaofGad, 667

it often takes the sattsfiiction which this order inspires, for the
feeling of the reality of its conceptions. Thus some of the more
ancient philosophers made first principles of space, emptiness,
the anknown. The same gratuitous personifications are found
at the beginning and at the end of the Greek philosophy ; but it
is no less an error for being eight centuries old. Plotinus is also
obliged, in order to arrive at his result, imperceptibly to falsify
his terminology. He first went up towards a simple and general
notion, that of existence. In substitnting for the word existence
the denomination being, he had given to this notion a reality.
By calling the first being principle^ he had transformed a fact
into a cause ; he at last personified this cause, by designating it
as God.

IX The same necessity of abstraction which obliged Plotinus
to make an abstract notion of his God, or of his first principle, to
which he could give an apparent existence only by successively
denaturalizing each one of the expressions that he employed,
pursues him in his ulterior definition of this first being.

No quality, said he, can be attributed to God, without his be-
coming a mere combination of qualities. He has no substance,
nor life, nor movement, nor activity, nor feeling, nor knowledge,
nor thought^ He is above all these things, because they all
imply duplicity. In activity there is the active subject and the
passive object ; in feeling, the subject which feels and the object
which is felt ; in knowledge, the subject which knows and the
object known ; in thought, the subject which thinks and the ob-
ject upon which thought is exercised. The first principle gives to
beings emanating from it, all these qualities, without having them.

He is eternal, for if he had begun, the cause which produced
him would have existed before him, and then this cause would
have been the first principle. He is immutable, for he could
change only from existence to nothingness. He is perfect, for
the perfection of a being is to unite all that constitutes him what
he is ; he has no faculty, every faculty supposing in a being a
tendency to become what he is not, a tendency incompatible
with the simplicity and immutability of the first principle.

^ Elsewhere, the neoeesity of putting his god into animated relations with
men, dictates to him the contrary assertion. From the general perfection of
the first principle, results, he says, that he must possess all particular perfec-
tions. His life is one with it, then he must be endowed with it, (Ennead. 111.
7. 2. But if we would unrarel all the contradictions of Plotinus we should
fiU oiA^y Tohunes.

65*



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658 New Hatomtm. [Nov

This definition recalls, on the one hand, the Supreme Divinity
of the sacerdotal religions, that Divinity without notion, apathet*
ic, without qualities, without affections ; their nothingness (n^ant)
placed in a cloud at the summit of their celestial hierarchy ; on
the other hand, it recalls the first cause of many Greek philoso-
phers, no less despoiled of every attribute and composed of accu-
mulated negations. The first principle of Plotinus reminds us of
the two sources whence it was drawn. — It is si once the God of
Aristotle, the unknown of Anaximander, the Zervan Akerene of
the Persians, and the primitive night of the Egyptian priesthood.

X. Most of the philosophers after Anaxagoras and before Plo-
tinus, had recognized two substances. Those who had denied
this division, had declared for matter. Plato had attributed to
matter a real existence, since he had accused it of all the vices
which the Divine wisdom could not correct And AlcinoCis, a
New Platonist, preceding Plotinus, considered it a mass without
form, existing by itself But the necessity of spirituality had
increased in proportion as the materialistic doctrines had become
more gross and revolting, and man experienced more repugnance
for the degradation that they had wished to make him undergo.

Plotinus then found himself placed between the hypotheses
necessary to his system of emanation, with its further supposi-
tions, and this necessity of spirituality.

At first, he appeared to recognize matter as a substance. Bo-
dies, said he, are formed of a first matter; for when the fire be-
came air, if there had not been a first matter, upon which this
transformation was exercised, the fire would have commenced by
annihilating itself, and the air would afterwards be produced
from nothing. But there is only a change of forms, the subject
remains the same ; matter is this subject, which form can only
modify. It is clear that in this definition, borrowed firom Aristo-
tle, matter is something real

But, after having recognized it for such, Plotinus annihilates it
anew. Form is, according to him, the true substance, the verita-
ble force, the veritable being. Bodies, without form, do not real-
ly exist ; form creates and fashions them. Souls are no longer
in bodies ; bodies are in souls. Matter has no quality, nor ex-
tent, nor thickness, nor wamth, nor cold, nor lightness, nor heavi-
ness. If it had a quality, form would be obliged to submit to it,
and thus find itself dependent upon it Matter then is nothing
by itself, but it has the faculty of becoming something, and this
faculty exists not as somethix^ which is, but as something which



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1845.] Chntroidict&ry vietcs ofFbtxnm, 659

can be. Sucli a fkcnlty, attributed to a matter defined in this
way, is a contradiction in terms ; and it is by the aid of this con-
tradiction that Flotinas believes that he arrives at spiritualizing
matter, merely in preserving a denomination which is useful to
him, whenever he would treat the phenomena and appearances
which strike our senses.

It is not the object here to unravel the errors of a defective and
almost forgotten metaphysics ; the labor would be useless or pue-
rile ; but it is curious to show with what force human nature re-
acts against philosophers who would place the soul of man in the
number of the fortuitous and transient phenomena of the physi-
cal world. Epicurus seemed to have triumphed over all the tiie-
ories of spirituality and immateriality, and behold we see minds
of great force and profound sagacity accumulate subtleties to re-
suscitate these theories.

When we see men remain obstinately attached to certain opin-
ions, it does not follow, that because they defend these opinions
by sophisms, they ought to be disdained. On the oontrary,,it fol-
lows, that they have need of these opinions, and that they defend
them as they can, because they do not know how to defend them
better.

XIL One would have supposed that after having annihilated
matter a second time, Hotinus would not have known how to
continue his romance upon the intellectual, celestial, and sensible
union of different souls with bodies ; but the sacrifice that he had
made of matter to spirituality is, so to say, by parerUhesiSf he loses
sight of what he has just affirmed and pursues his career.

Ffeurticular souls are contained in the soul of the universe ; but
they conceive the desire of becoming independent and separating
firom it This desire itself separates them, and this separation
corrupts them. They seek an exterior object; this object is mat-
ter, and thus they precipitate themselves iuto bodies.

Nothing is more contradictory than this series of suppositions,
(which was drawn from the mysteries, and which also recalls the
Indian metaphysics,) to all assertions of those that preceded Plo-
tinns, but in order to advance, this philosophy was necessarily
obliged to abandon its first basis.

We remark here that this hypothesis of the fall of souls had al-
ready appeared in the philosophy of Plato ; but this age of the
disciple of Socrates had not the same religious wants as the age
of Rotinus. A positive worship still existed, which could men-
ace and persecute. Nothing which tended to bring philosophy



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«60 Neui IleiaiiAm. [Nor.

and religioa together oould be adopted then ; on the eontxaqr> ftt
the epoch of the new Flatonists, the world thirsted for a religion,
and hypotheses which Fiato's successors had hardly deigned to
consider, were seized on with enthusiasm.

XIII Having once arrived at the fall of souls, Plotinus found
it easy to deliver himself to that pmckaml for the marvellous,
which chamclerized his age and himself. Souls, fallen into bo-
dies, sought to rise from this falL It is manifest that the imagi-
nation, launched upon this stream, would refine forever upon the
means of reunion.

Souls, said Plotinus, approach the Divinity by contemplation
and ecstasy. He himself had succeeded, four times in his Hfe, to
identify himself with the Supreme Being by this mysterious con-
templation, which delivers man, he adds, from all ideas, all no-
tions, all sensations foreign to the object which he contemplates.
He feels himself transported into an atmosphere of light, because
God is nothing else than the purest light He is plunged into a
profound repose and enjoys a boundless fehcity.

It is not necessary for us to pause to discuss this theory of the
reiinion of the soul with the Divinity, because it is literally the
same as that we have already remarked upon among the sacerdo-
tal religions, specially of India.

But it is curious and necessary to remark upon the prodigious
growth of the marvellous thus introduced into the new Flatonism.
Our readers will recall the fact, that up to the epoch when Poly-
theism was totally discredited, we have seen the marvellous con-
stantly diminishing ; we shall now trace it continually increasing in
this new philosophy,— a proof that the human mind was return-
ing upon its steps and forcing itself to remount the heights that
it had taken so much pains and pleasure in descending.

Mazimus of Tyre, anterior to Plotinus, had positively declared
that man upon the earth could not come to the contemplation of
the Divinity. Plotinus pretended to attain to it by ecstasy, but
he understood by this word only a mysterious seLf-recoUection,
an efibrt of the soul to elevate itself, by a progressive simplifica-
tion of ail its ideas, to the most abstract notion that it could con-
ceive. He had probably borrowed this subtlety from Aiistotie,
who said man could become like God hy specuiakofu The disci-
I^es of Plotinus left their master very far behind them. Ecstasy
was, with them, no longer an interior state of the soul, but a
means of subjecting it to exterior forces, of corresponding with in-
visible beings^ and of resting on their protection. Porphyry and



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1845.] Denumology of the NIbw FlcUanigts. 661

especially Jamblichus, combined with the retam of sotils towaids
the Divinity from which they are separated, the demonology of
which we have already spoken in treating the sacerdotal religions,
bat to which we must now return, to indicate the use the New
Platonists made of it

XIV. Hato, transporting oriental ideas into Greek philosophy,
had reoi^anized invisible beings whom he had named demons.
He places them in the stars, whose courses he supposed they di-
rected ; men, he said, owed homage to them as superior beings.
He also peopled the air with demons who presided over subluna-
ry things, who were the tutelary geniuses of men, and to whom
was confided the administration of the terrestrial world. But
Plato did not admit any possibility of establishing, by rites, invo-
cations, or prayers, a communication, at once habitual and mim-
culous, between these demons and the human race.

AlcinoiJs had added to the hypothesis of Plato some details up*
on the number of these supematuml essences. Instead of mere-
ly filling the air with them, he had introduced them into all the
elements, nor could he believe, he said, that any part of the uni-
verse was desert Instead of considering them as withdmwing
themselves necessarily firom the regards of mortals, he had sup-
posed that they were visible, or at least that they were able to
manifest themselves visibly. Finally, he had admitted commu-
nications between them and man, not yet individual and particu-
lar, but general and regulated by fixed laws.

IMbximus of Tyre had gone fiirther. He composed a hierarchy
of these demons, which descended by a graduated scale, firom
heaven to the earth, and since it was fldways necessary that rea-
soning should come to the support of marvellous hypotheses, he
founded his upon analogy. He said there was no break in the
chain of beings. From man to inanimate beings, the interval
would be immense ; animals served as intermedial From man
to God the interval must be still greater, and it was filled up with
demons.

Finally, Plotinus determined of what substance these demons
were formed, in what they dilSered from the Divinity, and in what
they difiTered firom men. More material than the first, more im-
material than the second, they participated equally of the divine
and the mortal nature. Each man had a demon for protector, for
tutelary genius ; but there was not, in any of these suppositions,
a motive for worship, or a road opened into the invisible world.

Porphyry first overleaped the barrier, within which his predeces-



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Wt Hew FbUmtm. [Mot.

(Knt had remaiaed. After haying added new developments to
the celestial Ueiaichy, by more positive distinctioDS between the
different classes of invisible beings, he divided them into good
and bad. The first warned men by dreams, prophecies, appari-
tions ; the second sought to make themselves pass for gods, in
Older to obtain adomtions and offerings. They prepared philters ;
Ikey ptocoxed power and honors ; bat their benefits were decep-
tive and short ; and some were pleased with bloody sacrifices, be-
cause they were^ nourished wiUi the steam <^ the blood of the
victims!

We here see deariy the germ of the religion that the NewPla-
(onism was going presently to teach. However, Porphyry still
hesitated. Bestnuned by Uie example of his master, he indicat-
ed no other or more positive means of communicating with divine
natures, than the ecstasy already recommended by Flotinus. BvA
we see that he is carried beyond this boundary, and his hesitation
dictates to him the most contradictory propositions. Now the
rites of magic (thftnrgie) seem to him fatal and sacrilegioas ; now
he recognizes in them a utility which he nevertheless bounds to
the relations of man with the objects which surround him in this
wcNrld ; and he believed them efficacious only to procure terres-
trial and transient good.

The last step was made by Jamblichus ; he transferred to be-
«eficenkbeing8 what Porphyry had said of bad geniL He tanght
that, by words, sacrifices, and other ceremonies, they were to be
engaged and evm constrained to appear to us and fulfil our wish-
es. Dating fimn Jamblichus, magic (thfeurgie) became a regular
worship and the New Platomsm a positive religioB. The pro-
gress of the thing ii manifest Hotinus does not speak of theur-
gy. Porphyry eacpresses himself on the subject with diffidence
and nncertaiiuty. Jamblichas professes it openly. By the aid of
this theurgy, he elevates himself into the air, his vestments
change color at his will, he invokes invisible spirits, and makes
them appear under forms which he prescribes to them ! Sopater
enchained the winds ! Sosistratus appeared at the same hour in
many places at once ! Synesius interpreted dreams with such
certainty, that every man thirty years old, who did not compre-
hend their significance seemed to him plunged in stupidity and
ignorance ! FhMslus dissipated or raised storms, made it rain, ar-
rested earthquakes, commanded the infernal gods! Minerva
called him to Athens ; Apollo conducted him ; .£seulapius em-
braced his knees and cured him of a malady. He delivered At-



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tiea fiom the pestilence ; he appeared in the midst of his disci-
ples with his head enciicled with a brilliant halo ; and whenever
a questiKMi embarrassed him, he consulted the divine wisdom,
"vidiioh presided, unperceived, over his teaching, and dictated to
him lessons.

Here we shall again demand what could have plunged the hu*
man race into this excess of credulity and blindness ? The men
who gave tiiemsdves up to these extmvagant theories, and 8a«
peistitious practices, and put boundless faith in these pretended
prodigies, consumed their days in reading the wisest and most
profound sages of antiquity. One of their oiacles was Aristotle,
whotie severe reason seemed to have armed logic against all the
wanderings of an unregulated imagination. They studied at-



Online LibraryA. J.. SzabranskiBibliotheca sacra and theological review → online text (page 74 of 88)