In the doctrines of the Neoplatonists, of whom Plotinus is the most important, we have the worldprocess represented after the example of Plato as a series of descending steps, each being less perfect than its predecessors, since it is further removed from the first cause.'
The six books pass in review (1) the doctrine of the soul, in which Gersonides defends the theory of impersonal reason as mediating between God and man, and explains the formation of the higher reason (or acquired intellect, as it was called) in humanity, - his view being thoroughly realist and resembling that of Avicebron; (2) prophecy; (3) and (4) God's knowledge of facts and providence, in which is advanced the curious theory that God does not know individual facts, and that, while there is general providence for all, special providence only extends to those whose reason has been enlightened; (5) celestial substances, treating of the strange spiritual hierarchy which the Jewish philosophers of the middle ages accepted from the Neoplatonists and the pseudo-Dionysius, and also giving, along with astronomical details, much of astrological theory; (6) creation and miracles, in respect to which Gerson deviates widely from the position of Maimonides.
The system culminates in a mystical act, and in the sequel, especially with Iamblichus and the Syrian Neoplatonists, mystical practice tended more and more to overshadow the theoretical groundwork.
He invented a religious system founded on the speculative mysticism of the Neoplatonists, and founded a sect, the members of which believed that the new creed would supersede all existing forms of belief.
He was a thorough Aristotelian, but by preference appears to have been drawn towards the mystical writings of the Neoplatonists and the pseudo-Dionysius.
It is true that several of the Neoplatonists professed to accept all the teaching both of Plato and of Aristotle, whereas, in fact, they arbitrarily interpreted Aristotle so as to make him agree with Plato, and Plato so as to make his teachings consistent with the Oriental doctrines which they had adopted, in the same manner as the schoolmen attempted to reconcile Aristotle with the doctrines of the church.
Erigena is really of the spiritual kindred of the Neoplatonists and Christian mystics rather than of the typical Scholastic doctors, and, in fact, the activity of Scholasticism is mainly confined within the limits of the 11th and the 14th centuries.
He had a dogma of his own - one founded, according to his German expositors, on the views of the Neoplatonists, of which a few disjointed specimens must here suffice.
He owed something to Lucretius, something to the Stoic nature-pantheism, something to Anaxagoras, to Heraclitus, to the Pythagoreans, and to the Neoplatonists, who were partially known to him; above all, he was a profound student of Nicolas of Cusa, who was indeed a speculative Copernicus.
In the same century the study of Plato was represented by Synesius of Cyrene (c. 370-c. 41 3) and by the Neoplatonists of Alexandria and of Athens.
The latter interpreted the myths and were done with them; the later Neoplatonists treated them as the proper material and the secure foundation of philosophy.
But even before his day the shrewder Neoplatonists had seen that their lofty religious philosophy could not stoop to an alliance with the despotic world-empire, because it could not come in contact with the world at all.
The earliest Christian philosophers, particularly Justin and Athenagoras, likewise prepared the way for the speculations of the Neoplatonists - partly by their attempts to connect Christianity with Stoicism and Platonism, partly by their ambition to exhibit Christianity as " hyperplatonic."
But were the oldest Neoplatonists really acquainted with the speculations of Philo, or Justin, or Valentinus, or Basilides?
Since Neoplatonism originated in Alexandria, where Oriental modes of worship were accessible to every one, and since the Jewish philosophy had also taken its place in the literary circles of Alexandria, we may safely assume that even the earliest of the Neoplatonists possessed 1 The resemblance would probably be still more apparent if we thoroughly understood the development of Christianity at Alexandria in the 2nd century; but unfortunately we have only very meagre fragments to guide us here.
The influence of Christianity - whether Gnostic or Catholic - on Neoplatonism was at no time very considerable, although individual Neoplatonists, after Amelius, used Christian texts as oracles, and put on record their admiration for Christ.
Still, as compared with the later Neoplatonists, he is comparatively free from crass superstition and wild fanaticism.
When Justinian issued the edict for the suppression of the school, Damascius along with Simplicius (the painstaking commentator on Aristotle) and five other Neoplatonists set out to make a home in Persia.
The Neoplatonists themselves characterized the theologians of the church as intruders, who had appropriated the Greek philosophy and spoiled it by the admixture of strange fables.
The doctrines of the incarnation, the resurrection of the flesh and the creation of the world in time marked the boundary line between the church's dogmatic and Neoplatonism; in every other respect, theologians and Neoplatonists drew so closely together that many of them are completely at one.
P. Hasse, Von Plotin zu Goethe (1909); Thomas Whittaker, The NeoPlatonists (1901); Petrie, Personal Religion in Egypt before Christ (1909); M.
Whittaker, The Neoplatonists (Cambridge, 1901).
Of this view the part which was not Aristotle's, the state of " universalia ante rem," was due to the Neoplatonists, who interpreted the " separate forms " of Plato to be ideas in intellect, and handed down their interpretation through St Augustine to the medieval Realists like Aquinas, who thus combined Neoplatonism with Aristotelianism.
The semi-Oriental mysticism of the Neoplatonists and the Logos doctrines of the Stoics alike influence early Christian doctrine, and the pantheistic view is found frequently in medieval theology (e.g.
DAMASCIUS, the last of the Neoplatonists, was born in Damascus about A.D.
His reputation as an enlightened ruler stood so high that when Justinian, in 529, closed the school of Athens, the last Neoplatonists bent their steps to him in hopes of finding in him the true philosopher-king.
Whittaker, The Neoplatonists (1901); A.