Welcome to this week’s Friday Philosophy post! Today we’ll be looking at the thought of Plotinus, an ancient Roman philosopher who had some interesting views about how divinity relates to the human person.
Who Was He?
Plotinus lived from 205-270 CE at a time when the Roman Empire was coming to an end, fracturing as it was into the Eastern and Western empires. He is remembered chiefly for revisiting and reworking the philosophy of Plato (and is therefore referred to as a Neoplatonist) although he was also influenced by Aristotle and the Roman Stoics.
What’s the Big Idea?
The work of Plotinus combined practical philosophy with mysticism, and went on to have a lasting effect on Christian theology. He believed that one could achieve unity with the divine via a process of contemplation. Following Plato’s idea of ‘the good’, Plotinus had a concept of ‘the One’; the ineffable source of reality. The intellect, for Plotinus, is the way in which God contemplates Himself, and he also believed in the soul, which he divided into higher and lower aspects.
Plotinus’s philosophy of union with God is interesting, and reminds me of some of the key concepts found in Eastern mysticism, where union with the divine is a key focus. Perhaps rather confusingly, Plotinus believed God is totally transcendent and was not responsible for creating the world; a key distinction between his thought and the majority of Christian theology.
While his thoughts about creation may have conflicted with Christian thinking, the idea that God is in one sense transcendent, and in another sense available to be experienced, is one with which theologians from a diverse range of mystical traditions, both Eastern and Western, have found affinity.
If you’ve been following my philosophy series, thank you so much! It’s been a lot of fun. I’m going to be taking a break from my blogging schedule, but I may resurrect this series in the future. Thank you for reading!