|SECTION II: THE MIDDLE AGES
Co-ordinator: W.J. Hankey
We owe the notion of “Middle Ages” or “Dark Ages” to the Renaissance which established itself by representing the preceding centuries as a barren period characterized by darkness and ignorance, in comparison with the earlier glories of Greece and Rome. The hybristic spirits of the Renaissance supposed themselves to have recaptured and even surpassed the Ancient birth of humanism. The thousand years from 500 to 1500 A.D. between these two moments of humane light and glory thus became the dark middle period. This view of European history as having a negatively characterised middle was reinforced by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. They set the Bible against Christian tradition and sought to recover the purity and simplicity of primitive (or “Patristic”) Christianity behind all the supposed accretions of a thousand years of ecclesiastical mediation. “Gothic” became a term of opprobrium, more or less equivalent to “barbaric.”
The Romantic movement of the 19th century brought a new appreciation of medieval culture. Poets, artists and religious thinkers, oppressed by the bleakness of their own time, nostalgically looked back behind modernity to what they thought of as an age of faith and cultural unity, a time of richness of imagination, of warmth, light, and colour. Medieval styles (Romanesque and Gothic) were widely revived and emulated in architecture and other arts, especially for religious buildings, so that even Protestant churches built in other styles acquired windows with pointed Gothic arches many Nova Scotian churches were treated to this radical redecoration. A great impetus was given to the study of medieval history and thought. In our own time, some “Post-Modern” writers take up positions built on this anti-Modern stance and return to Antiquity and the Middle Ages against Modernity.
In opposition to both of these attitudes, the first negative, the second enthusiastic, and despite its pejorative origins, the notion of a “middle” age can serve us in characterising this period. In general, medievals are related to the ancients through the mediating “middle” of the religions and philosophical schools of Late Antiquity. The character of philosophy in the Middle Ages is indicative.
The Hellenistic period (Antiquity after Alexander the Great) involved the development of philosophical schools: Stoic, Epicurean, Skeptic, Platonist (the last of the ancient Platonist schools, we call “Neoplatonic”), Aristotelian (called “Peripatetic”), to name the chief ones. Two of these traditions, the Neoplatonic and the Peripatetic, continue into the new period and these schools of interpretation mediate the great Hellenic philosophers (especially Plato and Aristotle) to the medieval thinkers. For example, two of the greatest mediaeval thinkers, John Scottus Eriugena and Anselm, acquired their knowledge of philosophy almost entirely from the ideas embedded in the texts of Augustine and other Christian Platonists. Thomas Aquinas knew and wrote a great deal about Hellenistic Platonism, but he probably never read a dialogue written by Plato. His knowledge of Aristotle was by means of translations and through the medium of Peripatetic and Neoplatonic commentators, first of all Arabic commentators who continued these school (“scholastic”) traditions. It was not until the great rush of Greek scholars to the West, which was a consequence of the fall of Christian Constantinople to the Islamic Turks in 1453, and the subsequent renaissance in the knowledge of Greek, that the old Greek texts became generally known to philosophers. Because the chief of these mediating traditions for our period was the Neoplatonic one—the Peripatetic tradition tended to become assimilated towards it—our treatment of this period begins with a consideration of Neoplatonism.
Neoplatonism dominates in the Middle Ages on account of another principle feature of the period: the refashioning of culture by a new bringing together of the Hellenic inheritance and “the religions of the Book.” During the time of the Ancient Roman Empire, Christianity and Judaism established their identities both with respect to one another and to the “pagan” world. They formally closed their sacred Scriptures to further addition (in technical language, the “Canon” was “fixed”), and developed the institutions by which they would continue. In the case of Jews this required learning to live outside their homeland and worshipping with the permanent destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the case of Christianity it involved assimilation to the Roman Empire when Christianity became its official religion with the refounding of the Empire by the Emperor Constantine as a Christian Empire having a new capital, Constantinople (founded 330). In the 7th century these religions of the Book were joined by Islam whose Koran had an explicit and often positive relation to the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. The Middle Ages is the period in which the several Biblical religions developed their cultures through a new or different relation to the civilization of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Neoplatonism is at the heart of this not only because it is a synthesis of the philosophy and spirituality of the ancient world, but also because in it religion and philosophy discovered and worked out their need for one another.
In general, the philosophies of the Middle Ages are developed for religious purposes, i.e., for the understanding and defence of faith or for the contemplation of God. This is why Neoplatonism and medieval philosophy are rarely studied in the normative universities of the Protestant Anglo-American world (Oxbridge and the Protestant Ivy League) where such a unification of reason and religion transgresses what Protestant secularity defines as “Philosophy.” The synthetic character of the Neoplatonic systems and medieval summae also offends the empiricist and positivist spirit of Anglo-American reason. In consequence, the millennium and a half of Neoplatonism and medieval philosophy and their contemporary continuations are largely missing from the consciousness and reason which dominate our world and are studied either in provincial, “red brick”, or Catholic universities, in marginal localities (like Ireland and Canada), or as outside our tradition (so are treated in Departments of Islamic Studies, for example).
The coming together of “the religions of the Book” and of the antique Greek and Roman intellectual culture mediated through Neoplatonism and the Peripatetic tradition takes very diverse forms. In part this is because “the Book” has so many forms. Besides the Torah and the Koran, each major Christian tradition has a different version of the Bible. These differences derived from language differences: the Oriental (or Orthodox) Churches had Bibles in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, etc., whereas the Western (or Roman) Church had a Latin Bible, the Vulgate. These Bibles varied in content as well as language because the several communities of “the Book” placed different books in their Bibles. The remote origin of this second difference lies in the difference between the language and contents of the Jewish Torah as translated or composed in Greek in Alexandria (the Septuagint), and used there by its very large and influential Jewish community, and the language and contents of the smaller Hebrew collection as used in Palestinian Judaism. At the Reformation the Catholic Church continued with its larger canon and with the Latin Bible. In contrast, the Protestants assisted the rise of nationalism by translations into the modern languages, and increased difference by fixing a smaller number of books as authoritative.
The study of medieval culture is particularly difficult, because its relation to the sources of western civilization is mediated through Late Ancient forms and traditions. Nothing from the sources ever passes through the mediating traditions unchanged. What results is never just as we expect it to be. For example, having learned to contrast Plato and Aristotle, we discover that the medievals come to them through a tradition which reconciles their differences. Or, again, having learned to distinguish Biblical revelation from Greek reason, we discover that the medievals read the sacred texts through a hermeneutic (method of interpretation) in which they made their Bible conform to Greek reason. The mediating traditions transform opposites into one another: Neoplatonism is as much Aristotelian as it is Platonic, the Peripatetic (Aristotelian) tradition has been profoundly Platonized, Scepticism becomes a step on the way to the contemplation of God, etc. There are rewards, however, for mastering these difficulties. Contemporary postmodern approaches to the past are through and through hermeneutical. We are conscious that we cannot step outside the traditions and structures through which we know the past to “the facts themselves.” It could be said that our contemporary relation to the past is medieval, but modified by historical self-consciousness.
Our aim in this Section will be to trace the main features of the new union of Latin Christianity with Greco-Roman culture while trying to remember that other unifications of that culture with the Book in its different forms are also taking place. We need to keep in mind that these are “Middle Ages” only for the Latin West. It is the period of the “Christian Empire” for the Roman Empire in the east (what we call the “Byzantine Empire”), and for Islam it is the period of its first encounter with Hellenism.
After introducing the Section by way of looking at Neoplatonism and how it mediates Ancient philosophy and religion, we shall consider two Christian authors, one Greek and the other Latin, who had an unsurpassed influence in the Middle Ages. Dionysius the (pseudo) Areopagite wrote in Greek, although he probably came from Syria; his writings were as authoritative for Latins like Thomas Aquinas as were the writings of Aristotle or Augustine, and he is the pre-eminent guide of Christian mystics. Augustine is far and away the most important figure for determining the character of the Latin Christian assimilation of Hellenic culture and we shall devote a week to his Confessions. The Song of Roland shows us the other as antipode, in the way Islam is depicted in the narrowly Augustinian Latin West, when, at the beginning of the Crusades, the West starts to encounter external non-Christian cultures. We will note how the other is represented as perverse inversion. Anselm shows the creativity of a deep Augustinian meditation which took place within monastic walls and reminds us of the religious origins of modern Western philosophy.
Escaping from those limits, we make a small endeavour to consider the Islamic and Jewish mediations of the philosophical tradition. We look at what Jewish and Islamic philosophers and theologians conveyed to the Latins whose knowledge of the philosophical tradition was, until the 13th century, far inferior to that in Moorish Spain and the Near East. The Arabic mediation of Hellenic culture transformed the West. We shall look at writings of al-Fârâbî and Moses Maimonides who helped bring Aristotle and a new account of all reality, as well as Peripatetic and Platonic texts and traditions, to the northern barbarians. Arabic philosophy (Moses Maimonides wrote in Arabic) continued the practice developed in Byzantium of passing on Neoplatonism by way of commentaries on Aristotle’s texts. Aquinas was one of the greatest of the recipients of those sciences, texts, and hermeneutical traditions. We shall concentrate on how the new sciences and systems forced and enabled him to open Latin Christianity to the natural world in a radically new way and how his interpretation of Aristotle set the West on the path towards its secular rationality, humanism, and individualism.
Dante’s Divine Comedy is the focal point of our study of the Middle Ages. This great work was the supreme poetic expression of medieval culture, just as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid were of their own cultures. An attentive reading of Dante should give us insights into every aspect of medieval life: political, social, religious, artistic, etc. Dante comes towards the end of our period (14th century) and Christine de Pisan belongs to the next century. These two will also point us to the waning of the Middle Ages which broke up in a new darkness of decimating plagues, unresolvable divisions—religious, institutional and national—terrifying wars and oppressions.
The Middle Ages may be regarded as a kind of nursery in which the new civilization of Europe came to birth, was nurtured and finally came to its maturity in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century it definitively reversed the march of Islam, burst out of its European cradle, and spread triumphant over the entire globe. The origins of what is unique in western civilization, that by which it is distinguished from all other cultures, are here. If we are, then, to understand where we are, and what we are, it is necessary for us to look at that thousand years of our own history both appreciatively and critically, in all its complexity, with attention both to its achievements and its unresolved conflicts. The lectures, readings, etc., in this part of the course are an attempt to make a beginning at this task.
INTRODUCTIONS TO READINGS AND LECTURES
Neoplatonism And Philosophy In This Section Generally
(Monday, October 6)
An Evolving and Diverse Synthesis
Neoplatonism is the systematized synthesis of the philosophies and the religions of Greco-Roman antiquity initiated by the pagan Plotinus (d. 270) and dominating Western philosophy and theology until the 16th and 17th centuries. The union between philosophy and religion it developed provided the controlling forms for philosophy in the Middle Ages when the pagan religions were replaced by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the 15th century Renaissance, the recovery of the ancient Greek texts together with the more general ability to read them stimulated the creation of new systems within this movement. Until the 17th century, ancient philosophy was largely mediated to us through Neoplatonic systems, treatises, and commentaries. The modernity of 17th century was defined by a new beginning for philosophy with Descartes, Hobbes, etc., who set themselves against the mediating synthetic traditions. Nonetheless, the modern period was also a rich time for Neoplatonism, which was revived yet again in the 19th and 20th centuries and is an important aspect in the philosophical, literary, and religious life of our time.
The diversity of this spiritual and intellectual movement is indicated by what has attracted thinkers to it in recent times. In the 19th century, Neoplatonism was largely associated with the great systems of German Idealism for which Proclus (d. 485) and his followers provided models. By contrast, in our own time, the strongest interest comes from postmodern thinkers who are reacting against the totalizing rationalism and intellectualism of Modernity and Idealism and who find in the Neoplatonic elevation of Plato’s First Principle as the Good above both thought and being (Republic VI, 509b 10) a way to openness to what is irreducibly Other.
A beginning from the Human Self
Neoplatonism is a retrieval of the intellectual content of the thought of Plato and Aristotle lost in the dogmatic and sceptical philosophies of individual salvation which succeeded them. These successors were the philosophical schools of the Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics and Sceptics of the Hellenistic world. [For an account of these schools and their relations to Platonism, see the Appendix at the end of this Introduction “Plato and the Platonisms.”] What we call Neoplatonism begins from within the individualism and concern for personal salvation which characterizes these Hellenistic philosophies. The Neoplatonic return to Pythagoras, Plato, and even to Aristotle (despite the name, “neo-Platonism,” invented in the 18th century and intended to designate it as decadent) from within the presuppositions of the continuing search for individual salvation, makes Neoplatonism the preferred intellectual and spiritual framework for the revival of pagan religion in Late Antiquity.
The kind of individuality which Neoplatonism assumes requires that it begin from the simple One above all division multiplicity and division because the human self is reflected and founded in this unity. Neoplatonism gives a hierarchical priority to the simple, the unknowable, the ineffable, and the immaterial. The One is the first cause of everything else. The descent toward multiplicity, intelligibility, and corporeality takes place in stages. With Plotinus, there are three primary spiritual subsistences: the One, Mind (or NOUS) which comes immediately after the One, and Soul (or PSYCHE) which images Mind and stands between the incorporeal and the corporeal worlds. The three Hypostases or subsistences of incorporeal reality—the One, Mind, and Soul—correspond roughly to the “Persons” of the Christian Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Plotinus a very strong division is made between the whole incorporeal world (the three initial Hypostases) and the realm of the sensible and change. In the descent from the One, each step is a diminution; for Neoplatonists every cause is superior to its effects.
The Victory of the Conquered
The founders of this movement aimed to unite the warring philosophic sects of Hellenism, and even to bridge the gap between these and the wisdom of the “barbarians”, in order to preserve Hellenic culture. More and more the Neoplatonic reconciliation of the intellectual and religious elements of Hellenism was undertaken to save it from Christianity. Nonetheless, in 529 the Christian Emperor Justinian abolished the chairs of philosophy which his pagan predecessors had established in the Empire and closed the Academy which Plato had founded in Athens. By this time, the Academy had passed from being the center of Skepticism to becoming the greatest center of Platonism as a systematic teaching conveying a way of life fundamentally religious. The Christians imitated their pagan predecessors, who had regulated religion and had tried to suppress Christianity, by using penal laws to eliminate the cults of the old gods, and they exterminated the Neoplatonic schools, burning the books of those philosophers who had been the most effective critics of the new religion. Ironically, however, from this time onwards, Christian theology, already thoroughly Neoplatonised, became the principal bearer of Neoplatonic thought and spiritual forms.
One example, which we will explore at length, is Augustine’s Confessions. It reiterates the Plotinian journey through Stoicism, Scepticism, and other positions resembling those of the major Hellenistic schools, in order to arrive at a Neoplatonic understanding of the self and God. Augustine (d. 430) testifies that the Platonic understanding of God, the human self, and the cosmos enabled him to become a Christian. His Christianity was so completely assimilated to Neoplatonic forms that Augustine became the most important bearer of them to the Latin West. What Augustine did for Latin Christianity was reiterated in different ways by other Christian, Jewish and Islamic theologians and philosophers thus creating the intellectual and spiritual cultures of the Middle Ages. Dionysius the (pseudo) Areopagite did for Greek Christianity what Augustine effected among Latins. He was a crucial figure for the transmission of Neoplatonic forms first within the Greek Christian Empire and then within the Latin West. Islamic reworkings of Neoplatonic texts were essential to the transmission of Aristotle to the Latin Middle Ages and to how Aristotle was understood by the Latin Mediaeval theologians. In this Section, we shall look at texts from al-Fârâbî (died 950) and Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), who were among the greatest of those writing in Arabic determining how the Latins understood and reacted to philosophy.
Neoplatonism has endured as a philosophical movement for so long partly because of its openness to religion and the assimilation to it of the religions of the Mediterranean world. Another reason for its endurance is its internal diversity. This interior multiplicity includes at least the difference between Plato and Aristotle as well as the difference between them and their Stoic and Sceptic successors. Moreover, after Plotinus, two traditions emerge, each developing a different side of his thought. On the one hand, there is the interpretation of Plotinus by his immediate disciple Porphyry (d. 303), who taught after him in Rome. This tradition, transmitted by Victorinus, a pagan philosopher who became Christian, determined what Augustine (d. 430) thought Plato taught. This Plotinian tradition has its strongest influence in the Latin West. On the other hand, there is a tradition emerging from Iamblichus (d. 325, who lived in present day Syria), part of whose criticism of Porphyry we shall read. This tradition was transmitted and developed by the heads of the Academy in Athens (Syrianus, Proclus, d. 485, and Damascius, who taught there until exiled in 529). This is primarily a Greek tradition but, in fact, both traditions meet in Western culture and their meeting is profoundly creative. During the Middle Ages the most authoritative transmitter of the second tradition to the Latin West is Dionysius the (pseudo) Areopagite (6th century, perhaps the Bishop of Athens).
Neoplatonism continues to develop substantially among its mediaeval Christian heirs. Notable are John Scottus Eriugena (9th century, the translator of the Pseudo-Dionysius and the author of the first completely formalized Christian Neoplatonic system), Anselm (d. 1109, largely dependent on Augustine), Aquinas (d. 1274), Bonaventure (d. 1274), Duns Scotus (d. 1308). The later of these were dependent upon Arab Peripatetics and Neoplatonists for their texts and understanding not only of Proclus but also of Aristotle, who was often actually identified with Proclus! Important are the author of the Liber de Causis (c. 850, thought until 1268 to be “the theology of Aristotle,” it turned out to be mostly Proclus with additions from Plotinus), Avicenna (d.1037) and Averroes (d. 1198). A result is that Aquinas, who cites the Pseudo-Dionysius as often as he cites Augustine and Aristotle, discerns a common way of thinking between the Pseudo-Dionysius, Proclus, and Aristotle.
Neoplatonism enjoys a great revival and important development in the Renaissance (Nicholas of Cusa, d.1464, Pico della Mirandola, d. 1494, Marsilio Ficino, d. 1499). Among the Renaissance Christian Neoplatonists, the later Athenian Academy and the Pseudo-Dionysius were strongly influential. This influence included the theurgic side of Iamblichan Neoplatonism and its interest in a secret wisdom communicated by the divine to the ancient Near Eastern “barbarians”: e.g. the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and, the Hebrews. (“Theurgy” is the co-operative religious activity in which the gods act toward and in us and we humans act towards and by them. There are various levels of theurgy, the lowest of them require material means. Owing to the character of the human soul, theurgy using material objects is necessary for humans. Augustine recognised that theurgy was equivalent to Christian sacraments, e.g. the Mass and Baptism.)
Neoplatonism is not only a movement within Western Latin culture. It endures, or has enduring effects, within the culture of the Greek and Slavic Orthodox churches, Judaism and Islam. We cannot follow the developments there at any length. In the West there is a dynamic history because the two principal traditions oppose one another, change each other, and combine. The Porphyrian tradition, whose main conduit is Augustine, and the Iamblichan-Proclean tradition, whose main conduit in the Middle Ages is the Pseudo-Dionysius, are drawn together in Latin culture.
The Augustine tradition at the foundations of Modernity
In the Porphyrian and Augustinian tradition there is a drawing together of the One, Mind (NOUS) and Soul so that the One and the triad of Remaining, Going out (Exitus) and Return (Reditus), which constitutes the structure of everything below the One, also come together in a trinitarian First Principle. The First Principle includes trinitarian self-division and self-return. As opposed to what Plotinus explicitly taught—but developed from his teaching that the One is free activity—the Neoplatonic First Principle becomes like the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle. God is the highest activity of being and thinking, and is accessible to humans when they are elevated to rationality and freedom. The Plotinian One, Mind, and Soul become moments of one activity. For Augustine the divine and the human are both trinities constituted by the self-related activity of Memory (or Being), Knowing (or Word) and Loving (or Will). The divine and the human meet in mind, and human knowing depends in a Platonic way upon immediate access to the divine mind (or Word).
The results of this understanding of spiritual reality are: (1) a knowable God who founds human knowing, who is the first of beings and the Beingness of beings, and with whom we can become united intellectually. (2) The rest of reality is subsumed within the divine-human exchange. Ultimately, in Western Modernity, the two sides are equalized so that the human becomes the divinity and the divinity becomes the progress of humanity (Feuerbach, who theologically underlies Marx). (3) There is a prioritization of being and of thinking, and of the movement away from the body and the senses into self, so that interiority gives access to true being, knowledge, and freedom. We shall see these results in Anselm. (4) Non-being, irrationality, feeling, the sensible world, and the body are subordinated or at worst suppressed. In the current postmodern revival of the alternative tradition, i.e. that of Iamblichus, Proclus and Dionysius, the Porphyrian - Augustinian Neoplatonism is represented as identified with Western psychological interiority, humanism, objectifying rationalism, and as triumphing in Modernity through Protestantism, Cartesian philosophy and Hegelian Idealism.
Iamblichus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Postmodern Otherness
In the Augustinian tradition as we shall look at it in Anselm, everything depends upon the inclusion of otherness within the divine and human thinking. For the alternative tradition which developed out of Iamblichus’ response to Porphyry, the First Principle is elevated beyond being and thought. It is an Other, which, although active at the interior of all which is, itself remains above all knowing, naming and predication. It is no thing. It is better understood through Non-being than through Being, and it cannot be represented as an object of thought. The human soul for Iamblichus and his successors, both pagan and Christian, is essentially in the sensible world. The individual soul has descended into the changing world of sensible objects and has no direct access to the Ideas in NOUS. Humans must therefore turn towards sensible substances for knowledge and for historically and sacramentally (theurgically) mediated salvation. Humans need divine revelation and grace working for them in the material world. So, the material world is understood as the place of the manifestation and action of the First Principle itself (see on this Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.1.9, noting the use of the authority of the Pseudo-Dionysius). The transcendent First cannot be attained by intellectual interiority and is approached through religious rites involving material reality ordained by the gods, i.e. through theurgy. Iamblichus, (De Mysteriis, II.11) writes: “Theurgic union is attained only by the perfective operation of unspeakable acts correctly performed, acts which are beyond all understanding; and by the power of the unutterable symbols which are intelligible only to the gods.” Within this tradition the material and sensible, because they are the means of return toward the Good, are elevated. The tendency is toward breaking down the division between the intellectual and the sensible worlds.
Aristotle, because he broke down the Platonic division of these worlds, and turned the soul to the sensible, is regarded very positively in this tradition. The later Neoplatonists reconciled Aristotle with Plato, and commentary on Aristotle’s works becomes an essential task of teachers of philosophy. The Arabic Neoplatonic and Peripatetic philosophers continue this tradition of reconciling commentary. When in the 13th century, Aristotle’s sciences are accepted as the rational account of reality, so that he is “The Master of those who know” (The Divine Comedy, Inferno, IV. 131), thinkers like Aquinas prize these Neoplatonic commentaries on his texts. The Arabic commentaries of Averroes are so valued that he is called “The Commentator” (Ibid., IV. 144). Following the Pseudo-Dionysius, Aquinas writes of God: “we cannot know what he is but rather what he is not” (Summa Theologiae I.3. prologue). St. Thomas draws together a sacramental and hierarchical theology which brings us into union with this unknown God and Aristotle’s teachings (1) that individual sensible substances are primary, (2) that human knowing must begin with sense, and (3) that what we know other than the sensible we know only abstractly.
You will also meet the Unknowable Other who encounters us in ritual, the occult, and the sensible with Pico della Mirandola in the Section III. Such an understanding of the absolute source is a permanent legacy of this Iamblichan and Dionysian Neoplatonism in Western culture. This Other re-emerges for us in the Postmodern reaction against a totalizing and objectifying rationalism, represented as the result of Modern secularized Augustinianism.
Between the Modern and the Postmodern
Before leaving the general history of Neoplatonism, we must note that Neoplatonism does not cease to be culturally powerful with the arrival of Modern philosophy in the 17th century. In figures like the Cardinal de Bérulle in Counter Reformation France and the Cambridge Platonists in England, it even enjoys a modern revival. The Cardinal de Bérulle constructs a revolutionary Catholic approach to Modernity by an astonishingly creative new unification of Dionysius and Augustine. Moreover, the philosophical revolutions of Classical Modernity are carried out both positively and negatively in relation to the Neoplatonic tradition. Nowhere is this clearer than in natural philosophy. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo are only comprehensible in relation to Renaissance Neoplatonism. Something similar is increasingly being said of Isaac Newton.
The 18th century is a low point for Platonism, but the German Idealism of the 19th takes up the great Neoplatonic tradition of systematic and synthetic philosophy again. For example, Hegel, even if his absolutizing of NOUS is Augustinian, says of himself that he wished to be a Christian Proclus. The 19th century begins a new kind of historical study of philosophy which sets Plato and Aristotle against each other. The first half of the 20th century, despite its philosophic reactions against Idealism, was rich in poetry and literature with a Neoplatonic inspiration (T. S. Eliot is an example). At present, both philosophy and religion have joined art to find again in Neoplatonism the priority of the generous superabundant ground of Being, the inadequacy of both thought and language to what is fundamental, and the old quest for union with the whole, a union ultimately beyond thought.
Ennead V.1 of Plotinus (d. 270)
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