Imágenes de páginas

more strongly in succeeding writers; for example, Lucius Apuleius the Numidian, and Numenius : the

Numenius in. latter embracing the opinion that had now clines to a become almost universal—that all Greek philo- trin tarian

puilosophy. sophy was originally brought from the East. In " his doctrine a trinity is assumed, the first person of which is reason; the second the principle of becoming. which is a dual existence, and so gives rise to a third person, these three persons constituting, howe er, only one God. Having indicated the occurrence of this idea, it is not necessary for us to inquire more particularly into its details. As philosophical conceptions, none of the trinities of the Greeks will bear comparison with those of ancient Egypt, Amun, Maut, and Khonso, Osiris, Isis, and Horus; nor with those of India, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, or, the Past, the Present, and the Future of the Buddhists.

The doctrines of Numenius led directly to those of NeoPlatonism, of which, however, the origin is commonly imputed to Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria,

Ammonius toward the close of the second century after Saccas founds Christ. The views of this philosopher do not Neo-Platoappear to have been committed to writing. They are known to us through his disciples Longinus and Plotinus chiefly. Neo-i latonism, assuming the aspect of a philosophical religion, is distinguished for the conflict it maintained with the rising power of Christianity. Alexandria was the scene of this contest. The school which there arose lasted for about 300 years. Its history is not only interesting to us from its antagonism to that new power which soon was to conquer the Western world, but also because it was the expiring effort of Grecian philosophy.

Plotinus, an Egyptian, was born abont A.D. 204. He studied at Alexandria, and is said to have spent

rlotirns, a eleven years under Ammonius Saccas. He ac- Mo companied the expedition of the Emperor Reunion with

God. Gordian to Persia and India, and, escaping de from its disasters, opened a philosophical school in Rome. In that city he was held in the highest esteem by the Emperor Gallienus; the Empress Salonina intended to

[ocr errors]

build a city, in which Plotinus might inaugurate the celebrated Republic of l'lato. The plan was not, however, carried out. With the best intention for promoting the happiness of man, Plotinus is to be charged with no little obscurity and mysticism. Eunapius says truly that the heavenly elevation of his mind and his perplexed stylo make him very tiresome and unpleasant. His repulsiveness is, perhaps, in a measure due to his want of skill in the art of composition, for he did not learn to write till he was fifty years old. He professed a contempt for the advantages of life and for its pursuits. He disparaged patriotism. An ascetic in his habits, eating no flesh and but little bread, he held his body in utter contempt, saying that it was only a phantom and a cloy to his soul. He refused to remember his birthday. As has frequently been the case with those who have submitted to prolonged fasting and meditation, he believed that he had been privileged to see God with his bodily eye, and on six different occasions had been reunited to him. In such a mental condition, it may well be supposed that his writings are mysterious, inconsequent and diffuse. An air of Platonism mingled with many Oriental ideas and ancient Egyptian recollections, pervades his works.

Like many of his predecessors, Plotinus recognized a difference between the mental necessities of the educated and the vulgar, justifying mythology on the ground that it was very useful to those who were not yet emancipated from the sensible. Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, referring to mythology and the gods in human form, had remarked, “Much has been mythically added for tho persuasion of the multitude, and also on account of the laws and for other useful ends.” But Plotinns also held that the gods are not to be moved by prayer, and that both they and the dæmons Occasionally manifest themselves visibly; that incantations may be lawfully practised, and are not repugnant to philosophy. In the body he discerns a penitential mechanism for the soul. He believes that the external world is a mere phantom-a dream-and the indications of the senses altogether deceptive. The union with the divinity of which he speaks he describes as an intoxication of the soul which, forgetting all external things, becomes lost in the contemplation of the One.” The doctrinal philosophy of Plotinus presents a trinity in accordance with the Platonic idea. (1.) The One, or Prime essence. (2.) The Reason. (3.) The Soul. Of the first he declares that it is impossibe to speak The trimity of fully, and in what he says on this point there Plotinus. are many apparent contradictions, as when he denies oneness to the one. His ideas of the trinity are essentially based on the theory of emanation. He describes how the second principle issues by emanation out of the first, and the third out of the second. The mechanism of this process may be illustrated by recalling how from the body of the sun issues forth light, and from light emerges heat. In the procession of the third from the second principle it is really Thought arising from Reason ; but Thought is the Soul. The mundane soul he considers as united to nothing; but on these details he falls into much mysticism, and it is often difficult to see clearly his precise meaning, as when he says that Reason is surrounded by Eternity, but the Soul is surrounded by Time. He carries Idealism to its last extreme, and, as has been said, looks upon the visible world as a semblance only, deducing from his doctrine moral reflections to be a comfort in the trials of life. Thus he says that “sensuous life is a mere stage-play; all the misery in it is only imaginary, all grief a mere cheat of the players.” “ The soul is not in the game; it looks on, while nothing more than the external phantom weeps and laments.” “Passive affections and misery light only on the outward shadow of man.” The great end of existence is to draw the soul from external things and fasten it in contemplation on God. Such considerations teach us a contempt for virtue as well as for vice : “ Once united with God, man leaves the virtues, as on entering the sanctuary he leaves the images of the gods in the ante-temple behind.” Hence we should struggle to free ourselves from everything low and mean: to cultivate truth, and devote life to intimate communion with God, divesting our- nunion with selves of all personality, and passing into the the invisible. condition of ecstasy, in which the soul is loosened from its material prison, separated from individual consciousness,

Ecstasy: com

and absorbed in the infinite intelligence from which it emanated. “In ecstasy it contemplates real existence; it identifies itself with that which it contemplates." Our reminiscence passes into intuition. In all these views of Plotinus the tincture of Orientalism predominates; the principles and practices are altogether Indian. The Supreme Being of the system is the unus qui est omnia ;" the intention of the theory of emanation is to find a philosophical connexion between him and the soul of man; the process for passing into ecstacy by sitting long in an invariable posture, by looking stedfastly at the tip of the nose, or by observing for a long time an unusual or definite manner of breathing, had been familiar to the Eastern devotees, as they are now to the impostors of our own times; the result is not celestial, but physiological. The pious Hindus were, however, assured that, as water will not wet the lotus, so, though sin may touch, it can never defile the soul after a full intuition of God.

The opinions of l’lotinus were strengthened and diffused by his celebrated pupil Porphyry, who was born at Tyre A.D. 233.

After the death of Plotinus he established a school in Rome, attaining great celebrity in astronomy, music, geography, and other sciences. His treatise against Christianity was answered by Eusebius, St. Jerome, and others; the Emperor Theodosius the Great, however, Porphyry

silenced it more effectually by causing all the his writings

copies to be burned. Porphyry asserts his own destruy d;

unworthiness when compared with his master, saying that he had been united to God but once in eighty six years, whereas Plotinus had been so united six times in sixty years.

In him is to be seen all the mysticism, and, it may be added, all the piety of Plotinus. He speaks of dæmons shapeless, and therefore invisible; requiring food, and not immortal ; some of which rule the air, and may be propitated or restrained by magic: he admits also the use

of necromancy. It is scarcely possible to deter magic and

mine how much this inclination of the Neo

l latonists to the unlawful art is to be regarded as a concession to the popular sentiment of the times, foi elsewhere Porphyry does not hesitate to condemn sooth saying and divination, and to dwell upon the folly of

rrgurts to

n cromancy.


invoking the gods in making bargains, marriages, and suchlike trifles. He strenously enjoins a holy life in view of the fact that man has fallen both from his ancient purity and knowledge. He recommends a worship in silence and pure thought, the public worship being of very secondary importance. He also insists on an abstinence from animal food.

The cultivation of magic and the necromantic art was fully carried out in Iamblicus, a Colo-Syrian, who died in the reign of Constantine the Great. It is scarcely necessary to relate the miracles and a wonderprodigies he performed, though they received worker. full credence in those superstitious times; how, by the intensity of his prayers, he raised himself unsupported nine feet above the ground; how he could make rays of a blinding effulgence play round his head; how, before the bodily eyes of his pupils, he evoked two visible dæmonish imps. Nor is it necessary to mention the opinions of Ædesius, Chrysanthus, or Maximus.

For a moment, however, we may turn to Proclus, who was born in Constantinople A.D. 412. When Vitalian laid siege to Constantinople, Proclus is said to have burned his ships with a polished brass mirror. it is scarcely possible for us to determine how much truth. there is in this, since similar authority affirms emanation that he could produce rain and earthquakes. with mystioHis theurgic propensities are therefore quite --distinct. Yet, notwithstanding these superhuman powers, together with special favours displayed to him by Apollo, Athene, and other divinities, he found it expedient to cultivate his rites in secret, in terror of persecution by the Christians, whose attention he had drawn upon himself by writing a work in opposition to them. Eventually they succeeded in expelling him from Athens, thereby teaching him a new intrepretation of the moral maxim he had adopted, “ Live concealed.” It was the aim of Proclus to construct a complete theology, which should include the theory of emanation, and be duly embellished with mysticism. The Orphic poems and Chaldæan oracles were the basis upon which he commenced ; his character may be understood from the dignity he assumed as “high priest of

Proclus unites


« AnteriorContinuar »