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L. Castle


After establishing the First-Kinds of being, the Dialectic rests....

This thesis, stated by Plotinus can often be found in works on Neoplatonism. The sense of it seems to be clear: rational procedures can not be sufficient enough to understand God. This is why from the certain moment rational thinking has to stop, giving the way to mystic ecstasy, unifying us with One, as Plotinus says - "the passing of solitary to solitary". But to understand what Plotinus would like to tell us here, one has to realize that behind this statement there is his certain world outlook

Despite of some contradictions that took place between Neoplatonics and Christians, from my point of view, both - Neoplatonism and Christianity have the same vision of very important moments in the picture of Universe. Their ideas, particularly about the place of Reason in the picture of Universe I would like to discuss in my report.

As well known, history in some sense doesn't exist for Neoplatonics. They are not interested in historiosophy or in the discussions about the destiny of mankind. In their creations we see rather a great admiration with which they contemplate at the beauty of the Universe as a whole. It doesn't mean for them that evil, imperfection and the very matter don't have place in the Universe, but they are only dark, mixed colors that make the whole picture even more bright and impressive.

Neoplatonism has been developed during the time of dramatic political and spiritual changes in the world. This is why to an intellectual, ideas of Neoplatonism seem to revolt against too grandiose changes. Neoplatinics defended the perpetuity and the beauty of the Universe in spite of everything. Even against their painful vision of sins filling the world.

If everything that has been said here is true, than the only thing Neoplatonics could be praised for is their stubborn unwillingness to recognize the truth.

But that so?

Creating the Universe and placing our sinful ancestors into the world, God created both: material substance of our bodies and rational qualities of our souls. Thanks to the first - material substance, we have been incarnated in space and time; we received our "skin cover of the bodies" (unpenetratable border), separating us from each other and from the Heavenly Skies. And Skies became for us from now on one of many other places in the Universe. "Being brought from nonexistence into existence", as Origen said, we have lost our image of God and are condemned to live with painful filling of being broken with God. We are those who exist because of God's Blessing - But we act (and must act this way) as we would be the cause of ourselves, and were created by ourselves. God gave us the freedom of choice - the possibility to return to paradise. He also gave us Reason-the "instrument" helping us to make the right choice. He gave us Reason, as a ("dar" in Russian means "darom", "for free").

This is why we shouldn't praise ourselves for being clever, smart or reasonable, (or even for being philosophers) - we've this gift, not created it; the only feeling that we should have is appreciation to God for awarding us with this undeserved gift.

What is the role of Reason then, why has God given this powerful gift to us?

Reason (rational capabilities of the soul) is supposed to help us find the way, in the world where source and cause of everything seems to cease to exist, they have been lost for us because of Original sin. Reason is trying to find out the "rules of the game" following them with necessity, thinking sometimes that it establishes this rules by itself.

The earthly mortal flesh is temptation for our soul. Reason, which most of the Fathers of Church think to be the image of God, is an assistant and guide for us. But Reason becomes temptation for the soul by itself, when the soul "forgets" that the Reason is only an image of the Absolute, but not the Absolute by itself.

For Christianity real History exist in two hypostacis.

The first history is universal. It is the history of Creation, Original sin, Revelation and Salvation. In this history we see spiritual revelations, fires of sacred gnosis, given to only a few chosen ones. But descending to the Rational and then to Material world this fires give birth to enormous consequences. On level we see the appearance of theoretical systems, philosophical and scientific concepts, flourishing of literature and arts. Consequently, the social and economic life is changing, and the achievements of spirit and reason are fixed in material objects and institutions.

After this, there is a time for the new act of revelation, for the new emanation of Gnosis, which embraces everything the world has created before. Clement of Alexandria wrote in his "Stromates", that the history of mankind consists of three Testaments. The Old Testament was given when God opened Himself to the people of Israel. Hellens among whom the second Testament appeared - Philosophy knew this Revelation. According to Clement philosophy has been teaching about the same God as the Five books of Moses. Only the language of this Testament was and consequently understandable for other nations. Philosophy became a Testament for many pre Christian tribes and nations, not only for Hellens, this way becoming their justification before God.

Christianity has replaced Judaic Testament and philosophy - as the Testament unifying everything that has been created and achieved before. Old Testament and philosophy were necessary for the world to prepare the world for the coming of Christ - this is the main idea of Clement on the history of mankind. But the Old Testament and Philosophy of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were really ingenious break through from temporary to eternal. They influenced culture on all levels and demanded the new step.

Neoplatonism doesn't really tell us about this history, it still seemed to exist in the beautiful present of classic Athens.

But Cristianity knows the other history - the history of human soul. And here Christianity unusually harmonies with Neoplatonism. Let's recollect the "Confession" of Blessed Augustine. The author constantly appeals to God, confesses before God, and converse with Him.

The feeling of miracle presence of Eternal God near Augustine penetrates every word. Because of this spirit of his writing the reader of Augustine's words is embraced with the same feeling of the presence of God. And Neoplatonism tells us many times about the same- paradoxical presence of the First Principle in everything existing and in our souls in the first place. Here is Plotinus' description of this moment: "Is then this "center" of our souls the Principle for which we are seeking? We must look yet further: we must admit a Principle in which all these centers coincide. It will be a center by analogy with the center of the circle we know. The soul is not a circle in the sense of geometric figure but in that its primal nature wholeness is within it and about it, that it owes its origin to what is whole, and that it will be still more entire when severed from the body" (Enneades, V1.9.8 "On the Good and on the One").

Neoplatonism regards life in the first place in its moral aspect, as permanent conversation with ranks of Celestial Hierarchy, which are helping man to achieve real knowledge. When man realizes this, he begins his enormously difficult, long but the only one possible way to Goodness. And when this rise has been completed, the amazing feeling of being unified with God, being in God. To describe this feeling is possible only with the help of metaphors: "And one that shell know this vision - with what passion of love shell be seized, with what pang of desire, what longing to be molten into one with This, what wonderful delight! If he that has never seen this Being, must hunger for It as for all his Welfare, he that has known must love and reveranse It as the very Beauty.

He will be flooded with awe and gladness, stricken by a salutary terror; he loves with a variable love, with shape desire. All other lovers than this he must despise and disdain, all that once seemed fair" (Enneades.1.6.7 "On the Beauty").

And this, second history, is a real history, that exists because of the Will of God. All the rest - are only external conditions, outward impulse, lesson forcing us to address ourselves and reveal in ourselves the whole Universe and the Creator of all existing things. Famous German medieval mystic Meister Ekhart stated that the birth of Christ - is the event, eternally happening in human soul. Our goal is to leave the periphery of ordinary everyday existence and to come to Celestial abyss of our pre-existence ("ungrund"), in which we are oneness with God Himself.

But the birth of Christ in each one of us is nothing but creation of Godmanhood. It means that Creation is not connected with the order of Times. Time doesn't exist for God and for God-man in us. Creation is not only the event from which the Universe its existence (including the existence of Time), but also it is the event taking place in that is also in "now", in this very moment ("Present" is the only modus of time that carries in itself the eternity).

In some sense we have not been created yet, we do not exist, we are only witnesses and "coworkers" of our own creation. And whether we will be created or not is unknown, it depends on us. We can move toward God (becoming this way more and more created) or to "dust" depending on the choice our reason would make. Doing good, creating immortal music or comprehending it with all our heart, doing a great dead, we "allow" God to work in us, to us not as mortal beings but eternal ones.

Leaving the temporary (and time is the element, which is permanently wending, vanishing from our world), we receive eternity. The "breathing into the man of the spirit of life" is repeating again and again. By this reproducing of the act of creation, opening ourselves for God to act in us we restore our own "Adam's" nature. And going through changes the Reason by itself is becoming "wiser", his choice is more moral, more beautiful until the moment of his disappearance as a separate unit, when its Truth is molting with Goodness and Beauty which are disappeared as separate units, also.

And here we would like to return to Plotinus' thesis, from which we began our report. This is the full quotation of his idea: " Dialectic employs the Platonic division to the discernment of the Ideas, of the Authentic Existence, and of the First-Kinds. It establishes, in the light of Intellection the affiliations of all that issues from the First, until it has traversed the entire Intellectual Realm. Then, by means of analysis, it takes the opposite path and returns once more to the Being in that sphere, it is no longer busy about many things. It has arrived at Unity and it contemplates..."

Here, as we see, Plotinus gives us perfect description of Reason in its high dialectic sense. Obviously he talks here about division of forms, about synthesis of intelligible categories (First-Kinds), and about analysis of this categories, revealing their synthetic nature; as a result he forms apophatic type of definitions of the Beginning.

Important moment, that the key word in Antiquity in understanding of the nature of Reason is not the term nous (reason, mind)` but the term logos. Start from Heraclitus this term establishes in Greek philosophy. It hardly could be translated in the single way, and covers the broad semantic field. Logos of Heraclitus is logos-divider and logos-collector at once. Logos divides the natural opposites, separates things at the moment of their birth and put the limit of their existence. And at the same time logos reconcile the opposites, forces them to run in a circle, replacing each other.

Logos is the one given to us temporary, for the time we need to go over the consequences of the Original sin to keep everything together, preserves the existence of the world from ultimate atomization, from moving into the "dust".

In the philosophy of Philone of Alexandria` and then in Christian tradition Logos is becoming the name of the creative nature of God. Nous of Plotinus also has creative nature (it creates the soul and all the simple things). And Plotinus also names it the "Logos of the One". His logos is the dialectic as the highest form of intellect. The dialectic defines what should be the subject of philosophical speculation, the form and the class this subject belongs to. The dialectic analysis the category of being revealing itself in this subject, and at last questions about the transcendent behind the visible.

So, logos-reason according to Plotinus' description is responsible for two spheres of perception of Universe. From one side it supervises and leads knowledge of the outer world. At the same time it shows the insufficiency of pure scientific information. Reason shows that cosmos is not the cause of itself, that everything created has its eternal Creator. From this statement it ascents dialectically toward the highest categories of being , that is toward the definitions through which we can talk about everything known to us. And the next level of its activity is has negative apophatic character. Reason can only point at what is the beginning and can't tell us what it.

The drama of Reason is in the fact, that it is impossible for it not to indicate the existence of God. But it can't go further then the recognition of God's presence. To understand God is impossible for reason due to its dividing, differentiating nature. The most fundamental separation is that of subject (researcher himself) and the object of research. It is necessary to permanently preserve this demarcation in the method of reasoning and thinking for the very possibility of the act of knowledge. God is necessary for Reason. But it can stop only at the door of God's mystical dwelling. And the reality of religious feeling has to be subjected to skepticism of reason.

In great knowledge is a great sadness... The "Enneades" of Plotinus can be regarded a demonstration of this dramatic statement of reason. I t is not accidentally that the founder of Neoplatonism is talking about suffering, through which, only, could soul ascend to One. In spite of many common features with Buddhism, the idea of "suffering of gnosis" is fundamentally distinguishes it from the great eastern religion.

Unfortunately European, "intellectual" orientation of knowledge has forgotten about the real nature of reason, about the dramatic absence of its self-sufficiency, that can be resolved only in the wholeness of man's existence as triad: spirit, reasonable soul, body ;( it was well known also in the Middle Ages). Reason gradually tried to find the basis in itself (Decartus, Leibnits, Hegel). It started to play unusual role. For example we see how the great idea of love to mankind gradually has been substituted with not too bad idea of humanism and then with the idea of comfort of life as the index of its quality, goodness. Tragic philosophy of life, which was close to feeling of God, has been replaced with tendency to hide our human weaknesses behind the industrial walls of civilization.

But XIX-XX centuries shows us that philosophy is "tired" of "intellectual" ("aristotelian") program. Modern thought prefer to destroy the limitation in itself, it destroys the ideas of substance, subject, history, etc. This is why Neoplatonic vision of Reason is one of the precious stones in the treasure of the world culture.

Lilia Castle - Director of Center of Global Affairs Ass. professor of history and philosohy Chaminade University (Honolulu)

©СМУ, 2003 г.