The term “Neoplatonism”, a 19th century neologism, is meant to convey the original synthesis of Platonic philosophy, mysticism and religion initiated in the 3rd century A.D. and developed, under various forms, into the prevalent philosophical current until the end of late antiquity (6th century A.D.). The founder of Neoplatonism is universally considered to be Plotinus (205-270). In his fully preserved work, the Enneads, we find a monistic version of Platonism which sets Plotinus’ thought apart, influences notwithstanding, from the philosophy of the so-called “middle Platonism” (1st c. B.C. - 2nd c. A.D.).

According to Plotinus, the whole of reality derives from an essentially incomprehensible and ineffable first principle (the One) which, because of its superabundant goodness, timelessly generates the Intellect, i.e. the domain of Being and of Platonic Forms. This divine Intellect, in turn, timelessly generates the Soul as a third distinct divine hypostasis. In spite of subsequent (and often very sophisticated) distinctions of inner levels, this tripartite structure of metaphysical principles is retained throughout Neoplatonism.

A continuator of Plotinus’ thought was his disciple Porphyry (234-c.305). However, the real second founder of Neoplatonism was Iamblichus (c.245-c.325) who introduced the theoretical defence as well as practical application of ritual and symbolic methods of union with the divine generally known as theurgy. Subsequent important representatives of Neoplatonism are, among others, the rather scholastic Proclus (412-485) and the more metaphysical Damascius (458-538), the last Successor of the Platonic School in Athens during its forced closing down under Justinian (529).

In Neoplatonism, philosophy was a way of life meant to provide not only theoretical knowledge but also, and primarily, mystical salvation. As a philosophical-cum-religious current of thought Neoplatonism may be regarded as the “Hellenic” response to the Judaeo-Christian challenge.

Author: Spyridon Rangos
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