Other Free Encyclopedias » Science Encyclopedia » Science & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide » Neoplatonism - Terminology, Before Neoplatonism, Plotinus, Later Neoplatonists, Ancient Christian Neoplatonism, Medieval Neoplatonism, Neoplatonism In The Latin West

Neoplatonism - Medieval Neoplatonism

neoplatonic god texts greek

The reception of Neoplatonism during the thousand years of the Middle Ages is an immensely intricate subject, complicated by the mediated nature of the transmission (largely through theological assimilations) and by the division of the Mediterranean world into rival cultural spheres. Hence Neoplatonic adaptation developed differently among Greek and Latin Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

In each culture, enthusiasts tried to reconcile Neoplatonism with their religion. Most extraordinary was the Christianization of Proclus's philosophy circa 500 by a Byzantine using the pen name of Dionysius the Areopagite, the first-century convert of St. Paul (Acts 17:34). This assumed name lent his writings an air of authority that was undeserved yet guaranteed their dissemination. The texts provided instruction in the "affirmative" and "negative" theologies—methodologies for achieving mystical union with God through the use and suppression of symbolic language. The affirmative theology describes what God is by way of analogy, but since God is ultimately unlike anything that exists (for God is beyond being), the alternative theology is required to transcend the limitations of language by negating the analogy. This contemplative process of description and denial prepares the soul for ecstatic union by correcting its misapprehensions about God. The Pseudo-Dionysian texts were translated into Latin and studied in western Europe, where they inspired the ninth-century Neoplatonic system of John Scotus Eriugena (c. 800–c. 877).

Greek Christians were the only group able to read the Neo-platonic texts in the original language, yet this direct access actually increased the difficulty of using the old pagan philosophy in the theologically charged atmosphere of the Byzantine Empire. Philosophers who attempted to further the patristic effort at assimilation sometimes endured accusations of heterodoxy—as did Michael Psellos (1018?–1096?) and John Italos (c. 1023–1085). Arabic culture was at times more tolerant. Muslim thinkers were impressed with Greek philosophy and tended to equate it with its final, Neoplatonic form. Even Aristotle seemed a Neoplatonist, perhaps due to Neoplatonic commentaries that minimized his differences with Plato but also due to the misattribution of certain Neoplatonic texts, such as the Theology of Aristotle (extracts from Plotinus) and the Book of Causes (extracts from Proclus). The most prominent Muslim Neoplatonist was Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037), whose works were favorably received before Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) wrote a critique that prompted a phase of intolerance. Jewish thinkers were also impressed with the Greek heritage, most notably Ibn Gabirol (Avicebron, c. 1021–c. 1058), whose Fountain of Life featured Neoplatonic doctrines. Neoplatonism was the main philosophical influence on the Kabbalah of thirteenth-century Provence.

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