“Generative of all, The Unity is none of all; neither thing nor quantity nor quality nor intellect nor soul: not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not in time; it is the self-defined unique in form or, better, formless, existing before Form was, or Movement, or Rest, all of which are attachments of Being and make Being the manifold it is.” – Plotinus, Enneads (VI, 9, 3)1
So far we have seen that concepts of ultimate reality developed during Western antiquity include: (1) Pre-Socratic – the one existing intelligible world governed by logos and pervaded by energy, thought, and opposites; (2) Plato – the supremely Good, plus mind, and the Forms; (3) Aristotle – “Being” as substance plus change as motion and actualization of potentiality, a final cause or essence for all things, and the timeless first mover; and (4) Stoic – Providence, Fate, an infinitely cycling material world, and the shared divinity of all rational creatures. We come now to Plotinus, “the last of the great philosophers of antiquity,”2 who is also generally regarded as the father of Western mysticism.
Plotinus (204-270 C.E.) appears to have been a Hellenized Egyptian who turned to philosophy at age 28, studied for 11 years under Ammonius Saccas (no writings exist, but he was also the teacher of Origen). After a misadventure with the army of Emperor Godianus in Persia, he ended up in Rome where he founded a school of philosophy known as Neo-Platonism. His written teachings come to us through his pupil, Porphyry, who arranged the works of the master into six sections called enneads meaning “nine” as there are nine treatises in each section.3
Scholars believe Plotinus was influenced most by Plato, particularly the Phaedo, Book IV of The Republic, and his discussion on love in Symposium.4 Porphyry tells us that “by meditation and the method that Plato teaches in the Banquet,” Plotinus “lifted himself…to the first and all-transcendent divinity.”5 However Plotinus was familiar with much of the ancient Western philosophic tradition and is thought to have been influenced to a lesser extent by Parmenides, Aristotle, the Stoics, and possibly even Philo and some lesser known figures such as Albinus and Numenius. He also was aware of the Gnostics with whom he disagrees vigorously in some of his writing.
(continued next post)
1Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, page 355
2Russell, Bertrand, A History of Western Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1972. ISBN-13 978-1-4165-5477-6, page 284.
3Citations from the enneads are numbered with a Roman numeral to designate the number of the ennead followed by an Arabic number reflecting the treatise number, followed by a bracketed number based on Porphyry’s chronology (which may or may not be accurate). Sometimes these are followed by a fourth number for the chapter within the treatise and a fifth number to designate the line in the chapter quoted. (See Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 6, page 352).
4Ibid., p. 288.
5O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus.The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 16.