New Platonism -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 002:8 (Nov 1845)
Article: New Platonism
Author: Anonymous


New Platonism

A translation of the 15th Book of Constant Du Polythéisme Romain

The last sect of which the history of ancient Philosophy makes mention, sought to satisfy the desire of the human mind for unity, without rejecting the reminiscences of Polytheism. It was the last effort of the human mind not to reject all that it had believed, while it attained at the same time what it had need of believing. This sect has been unfairly judged by the most opposite parties. The Christians have decried them as the defenders of Polytheism; while the unbelievers of modern times, seeing in them enthusiasts and fanatics, have taken occasion from them to declaim against enthusiasm and fanaticism. We agree with Christians, that the New Platonists had the misfortune to defend some of the forms of a religion, not susceptible of being defended; and with unbelievers, that they threw themselves into a system of exaltation and ecstasy which made them visionaries. But neither of the above parties has sufficiently examined how far the mistakes and excesses of this sect were the natural result of their situation and an inevitable error of the human mind, at a time when the absence of all belief had abandoned it to the agitation and pain of a religious sentiment condemned to vagueness, and blindly seeking a form in which it might rest. Both parties, who have judged it, have constantly considered this sect with reference to what existed before it, and not as the effect of a universal tendency towards something which was about to exist. It has been reproached with obstinately maintaining, by

means of unintelligible abstractions, a fallen religion, without its being considered that the progress of knowledge had pushed it upon the extreme frontier of this religion, where it met enemies, who agreeing with it, without knowing it, in more than one point, would not understand it, and it was forced to combat with the arms it had in hand.

II. A complete exposition of the New Platonism is not within the plan of our work, any more than that of the preceding philosophers. And it would be peculiarly difficult; for the partisans of this system, founded upon the most abstract metaphysics, and nevertheless, having for an end to bring back man to the most exalted religious enthusiasm, were obliged, in order to reach this end, by so unsuitable a method, to fall into frequent sophisms, too near to excessive subtleties, and to change, without giving any warning of it, the expressions always equivocal, which they employed. To follow out all these things would lead us to subtleties which few persons of the present day would be disposed to go into, even for the purpose of refuting them.

We shall then only relate those hypotheses of the New P...

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