This article was written on 14/07/2020 and is an archived post from Fashevik Truths for Esoteric Youths.
Several edits have been made to better clarify some of my points and some small amounts of extra information have been added to complement them. It was posted originally in three parts, so hence the divisions.
Part 1 of 3: Slander
It is with constant pester that the pseudointellectual dullards of duct tape and glue paganism attack Neoplatonism as a corrupt and contemptable subversion of European religion, accusing it (and consequently Plato) of all kinds of slander, and ultimately conclude it damages authentic European tradition.
Combined with this charge is most often a creative mix bag of fabrications stemming either from a complete misunderstanding of Neoplatonism or from the innate tendency these people seem to often have towards embracing convenient yet ahistorical and unsubstantiated assertions that affirm their preconceived opinions.
One I’ve heard is that Neoplatonism was a heresy invented by Socrates, for which he was put to death by the Athenians. The accusation of Socrates’ heresy and his related conviction of ‘corrupting the youth’ is not rooted in any substantial criticism of his philosophy, but is instead crudely lifted from his trial. This is always asserted in ignorance to the political context within which he was indicted of these charges.
Socrates was very friendly with a number of the so-called “Thirty Tyrants” who overthrew Athenian democracy for a short time and replaced it with a pro-Spartan oligarchy. It is generally understood Socrates had no actual role in the plot or government, but regardless he was condemned due to his long-time openly anti-democratic views, his social closeness with the oligarchic conspirators, and the fact he was not exiled during the oligarchy’s expulsion of all political opposition which impressed among Athenians a belief he was complicit. Yet even within this context, Plato recounts that the margin of the jury’s vote was very slim, indicating it was not an overwhelming view of the Athenian public, but only just enough of the assembly.
In a similar vein, I’ve heard other accusations levied against Socrates and Plato and thus their successors that they were ‘heretical’ and fundamentally altering the religion to be alien. Some go as far as to say that he was influenced by Near East Semitics or that even Plato himself was Jewish and that his philosophy was a Yahwist device used against the Greeks to convert them to monotheism.
I will immediately dismiss the accusations that Plato is Jewish as this claim is never coupled with any evidence whatsoever and is self-evidently pure nonsense to the level-headed and sound of mind. Also without evidence is the accusation that he was influenced by Near East Semitics into producing his allegedly monotheistic philosophy. While this too should be dismissed out of hand, it is worth clarifying as it is propagated by the mentally challenged who extrapolated Plato’s alleged rank Semitism from the scholarly mention of ‘eastern influences’ within Hellenic philosophy.
Firstly, when scholars mention an eastern influence upon Hellenistic philosophers, they do so in the sense that they believe that the mystery religions, such as the Eleusinian Mysteries or Orphism, to be sole products of the East – and by the East, they do not mean Palestine, but they mean primarily from India. They also have said the same of Pythagoras and that his philosophy (which could be said to be the progenitor to Socrates’ and particularly Plato’s philosophies) was of an ‘eastern character’ which they presume to consequently be influenced by ancient Indian schools of thought.
Scholars make this assumption not on a basis of evidence they’ve collected indicating this eastern transmission to Greece, or because they can connect some explicitly adopted cognates, but because they are incapable of accepting that two completely separated civilisations would produce philosophical and theological traditions that carry very similar or the same conclusions. More specifically, the Hindu school Advaita Vedanta and Plotinian Platonism have a significant amount in common. It has led to speculation that Plotinus’ tutor, Ammonius Saccas, was an Indian philosopher from this school. This speculation is merely that: there is no evidence to support Ammonius’ origin in India, instead spending his career in Alexandria.
I’d also note, though this is not a claim I have seen argued by anti-Platonists they will no doubt one day find and attempted to use it if they decide to read more than a few words at a time, there are two Alexandrians named Ammonius: there is the polytheist Ammonius, the one who tutors Plotinus, and there is the Christian Ammonius, the one who has written religious texts. Christians have argued that there is only one Ammonius, but this simply cannot be the case, for it makes little sense for Plotinus to be polytheist in light of his principal tutor being Christian, and also that the Christian Ammonius wrote works, despite it being said by other authors that the polytheist Ammonius wrote no works. It is far more logical to conclude that there are two, ergo Plotinus was not taught by a Christian tutor.
Part 2 of 3: In reply to common criticisms of Neoplatonism
Having dealt with at least some of the baseless slander heaped upon Neoplatonism in the first part (unfortunately there is no end to the lies of the deceivers), we shall proceed to deal with the more theological concerns raised regarding Neoplatonism, namely the most common rebut birthed from a lacking of understanding and reading – the accusation of monotheism.
From what I’ve seen, this accusation has never come against Neoplatonism in any sophisticated dialectical manner and is most often, if not always, launched from a poor understanding of monism and the terminology and dialectics that accompany it.
Admittedly, Neoplatonism’s monism and accompanying cosmology is not the easiest to grasp and fully understand; there are very few laymen (that is to say, those who have not learned Neoplatonism through formal education) who fully grasp its complexities and can rearticulate it entirely by themselves. It is also one thing to know how to parrot the words in the philosophy, another to actually apprehend their essential meaning and their ramifications for how we understand the world.
I cannot fault anybody nor call anyone an idiot simply because they have found it challenging to understand Neoplatonism and its cosmology, there is no shame in this.
However, what is shameful is the band of self-certain fools who think themselves educated and well-learned theologians of Indo-European religion and belief who, when having failed to comprehend the complexities of Neoplatonism, elect to not admit their misunderstanding, but instead purport to have gained a full comprehension. Then, from the swampy shallows of their pseudointellectualism, they launch their misguided and incoherent offensives against Neoplatonism. For this we are right to dub them dullards and imbeciles for their hubris and deceptiveness, weapons they use not merely against Neoplatonism, but also against their own followers who rely upon their honesty and have trust in their wisdom.
I have yet to meet any critic of Neoplatonism that has a true grasp of its philosophy, instead relying upon lazy interpretations and third parties to fill in the gaps of their worthless criticism. But enough insulting the critics, let us address the concern: is Neoplatonism monotheist or polytheist?
Simply, it is necessarily polytheist.
What then, we often hear, are we to think of Christianity’s adoption of Neoplatonism? Does this not indicate that Neoplatonism is not polytheist owing to its compatibility with monotheism? That its polytheistic monism is a simplification of the gods and goddesses that is tantamount to a kind of ‘gateway drug’ into monotheism?
It is almost if not completely universally known among those who have taken even the most shallowest of dives into the history of European religion that a significant amount of the rituals, festivals or holidays, and practices observed by Christianity have their origin in pre-Christian European traditions. This much should surely be known by every follower of the European faiths.
Why then do these same individuals who know and often complain about Christianity’s significant appropriation of European tradition and belief fail to realise that Neoplatonism has suffered the same fate? Why has this double-standard been applied, where Neoplatonism is accused of having some innate tendency towards monotheism due to its adoption, but all the other traditions appropriated were authentically polytheist and the post-Christian adaption merely a shadow of its true self?
Christian Neoplatonism comes in two flavours: the koshered Neoplatonism and the not-koshered Neoplatonism with Judean characteristics. Both are lamentable, but knowing that these two categories exist will help understand Christian Neoplatonism as it truly is.
Koshered Neoplatonism is the Neoplatonism that is canonically acceptable in the eyes of the Catholic Church (and Eastern Orthodox sort of, though their sporadic theology church to church makes declaring any conclusive view on this difficult), and we best name this koshered form to be a lobotomised Platonism, as its acceptance and integration into the theology of the churches was achieved through the surgical removal or bastardisation of many elements that were considered heretical and unacceptable in the eyes of Christianity by the aptly named ‘Doctors of the Church’.
These aggressive and liberal incisions into the wisdom of Neoplatonism makes its Christian iteration nil but a self-contradicting husk when compared to its complete and unaltered form still alive in the writing of its polytheist philosophers. Owing either to the stupidity or the insidiousness of the Christians, they paid no care to the fact Neoplatonism’s dialectics are reliant upon the holistic integrity of the philosophy. Christian Neoplatonism is equivalent to cutting large wedges out of a ball here and there, and then expecting it to roll just as if it were still a whole sphere. Of course, it does not roll.
It supplements the wedges it cuts out, these parts of the sphere that are necessary for the completion of the dialectic, with biblical passages and the novel Christian traditions that have not been deduced by guidance of reason but instead embraced by mere faith.
So long you can surrender your soul’s reasoning faculties and place your faith in the well-reputed trustworthiness of the Judean people, then by a self-imposed schizophrenia you may believe this ball representing the Frankenstein’s monster of philosophy can roll swimmingly. But for those who are not so generous with their trust and are desirous of conclusive wisdom, they will see the hacked ball for what it is.
And then we have the second kind of Christian Neoplatonism, one not accepted by the apostolic churches and has near always been persecuted as heresy when the churches had power to do so, and that is the not-koshered Neoplatonism with Judean Characteristics.
I needn’t explain much here: the authors that fall into this category are no more than perjures who have altered little to none of the wisdom taught by the non-Christian Neoplatonists but gave it a Jewish mythological coating, giving some of the concepts and spiritual beings new terms to coincide with biblical mythos, changing little of the substance. These violate the actual Christian faith by their contradiction of standard interpretations of the Bible and, as I mentioned, were and still are considered heretical by Christendom.
I’ve made clear then that from the Christian perspective, Neoplatonism is not truly compatible, for if it were, it would be needless for these many modifications to be made. All versions too true to Neoplatonism were heresies incongruent with “actual Christianity”. Hence we can see there was no innate cross-compatibility between Neoplatonism and Christianity, it was just one of the many insulting appropriations of European tradition.
Part 3 of 3: In reply to common criticisms of Neoplatonism
It is often accused that within Neoplatonic cosmogony our pantheon of gods are “squished” into a single one, that we create out of them just one god which contains the other gods as mere aspects or traits, and so make out of polytheism a monotheist religion. This understanding of Neoplatonic monism is popular among both ‘hard polytheists’ and Christians, the former wishing to reject Plato and the latter wishing to embrace him.
I believe the point of confusion stems from Neoplatonism’s saying that the gods all participate in one divine essence derived from ‘the One’, ‘the Supreme’, or ‘the Good’, sometimes simply called God (θεός/Theos). Neoplatonists insist upon the innate unity of the gods and their intrinsic union with the Supreme, so some are misled to believing that this suggests every god in a pantheon is not their own distinct being. It would seem this is not a new misunderstanding as the 18th and 19th century Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor felt need to address it in the footnotes of his translation of Sallust. In truth, the misunderstanding is quite old, and is owed to the Christian desire to claim Plato as their own and to strip from him any pagan implications. Thus they endeavoured to impress that Plato was distanced from the common beliefs of his time, instead contradicting them as a monotheist.
It is true to say that the gods all participate in the same single divine, eternal essence, and so too to say that they are united with the One. However, this cannot conclude in monotheism. We insist foremost on the simplicity of the One. We insist on the One’s simplicity because for the One to be the progenitor of all being, it must necessarily be beyond all things and capable of producing all things, but never like anything, for if it were like anything, its likeness would constrain its infinity and power, as to be like something forces conformity to that likeness, constraining its capacity to be progenitor of all beings. Consequently, it must be simple.
We cannot allow then any idea about the One that makes it multifaceted or possessing different traits or internal archetypes; the One is pure simplicity and exists beyond-being. Who then are the gods? As the One’s pure simplicity is not only self-sufficing, but is also by its infinity that which “flows itself outwards” without depletion by what could be labelled an intrinsic generosity of goodness, the One by its nature produces the very first being in manner of order, the divine mind or nous.
This first being and second god stands as the king of the gods (as the One stands as the god of gods), and then flowing through him is the essence of the One which gives life and imperium to the other gods. This is shown in myth as the ambrosia the Olympians consume, imbuing the gods with their immortality. In this sense then, both in preserving the simplicity of the One, and also in preserving the hierarchy of being, we find that although the gods participate in a divinity, there still exists authentically distinct gods. The gods make their distinction by first the rank of their class, and second by their unique act – and by act we mean that over which they uniquely exercise imperium, e.g. Neptune, god of the seas, and are the causative principle.
So we show not only is the Neoplatonic system polytheist, but that it is necessarily so. It precludes the monotheist Christian use of Neoplatonism which attempts to justify their compatability on fact of it demanding the simplicity of the Supreme God.
In reality, contrasting their claims, Christian theologians do not give simplicity to the Supreme, and instead make out of him a multiplicity by their identifying in him a multitude of modes such as love and justice, as well as suggesting him to come to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. They say simplicity is retained, but it is not so, for their expression of these attributes actualise them as idea-forms which have a consequence of consciousness owing to the conscious nature of intellect, therefore the attributes of God needs become conscious beings, and these we call gods. Thus to not make them gods, it must be placed wholly in the Supreme God, but this is impossible to argue metaphysically for they contradict simplicity.