Sunday, July 11, 2010
The Influence of Neo-Platonic Conceptions of God in Early Christian Theology
Frederick Copleston described Neo-Platonism as “the intellectualist reply to the ... yearning for personal salvation”. Produced during the Crisis of the Third Century (235-284AD), this late mystical and soteriological development within the tradition of Platonic philosophy reflects upon both a shifting intellectual milieu as well as the swiftly transforming Mediterranean world system of the Late Roman Empire. With the assassination of Alexander Severus (208-235AD), the formerly pacific Roman Empire was catapulted into fifty years of political instability, famine, rebellion, and invasion in which the Empire was briefly divided in three parts and more than twenty pretenders would aspire to the title of Caesar. At the close of the third century, the herculean efforts of the Emperor Diocletian (244-311AD) would once again restore political order. The conversion of Constantine (b.272 r.306-337AD) would afterwards imbue the Empire with a vibrant new Christian character. A variety of social, economic, and political trends would emerge during this century which would later come to characterize the ‘Middle Ages’ . Yet despite these changes, there nevertheless remained broad continuities of intellectual thought. Prominent among these was the philosophical tradition of Platonism which began with the founding of the Academy of Athens (387BC) shortly after the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War (431-404BC). After six centuries of development, Late Platonism or Neo-Platonism was produced with the posthumous compilation and publication of Plotinus’s (204-270AD) six Enneads by his disciple Porphyry (234-305AD). In their lengthy metaphysical writings, Plotinus and his successors made explicit the metaphysical system which they believed to be implicit within the Platonic philosophical corpus. Although Plotinus was heavily indebted to previous Middle Platonists and Neo-Pythagoreans, the Neo-Platonic system which he and his successors created is nonetheless principally distinguished by its conception of the One - the ineffable first principle transcending being from which all reality is emanated and continuously sustained. The Neo-Platonic conception of the One is widely believed to have had a formative influence on the development of Christian conceptions of God during Late Antiquity- an influence which would continue throughout the theological tradition of Christianity.
Posted by Ryan at 9:14 PM