Saturday, September 1, 2012

Turner on the Platonic Contribution to Sethian Gnosticism

Finally, during the late first and throughout the second and third centuries, Neopythagorean and Platonic metaphysics made a strong impact on Sethianism. They served to structure its world of transcendent beings by means of ontological distinctions, and to explain how the plenitude of the divine world might emerge from a sole high deity by emanation, radiation, unfolding, and mental self-reflection. Neopythagorean arithmology helped to flesh out the various triadic, tetradic, pentadic, and ogdoadic groupings of the transcendental beings. Besides metaphysics, there was also at home in Platonism a by-now-traditional technique of self-performable contemplative mystical ascent toward and beyond the realm of pure being, which had its roots in Plato's Symposium (cf. 210A-212A). Interest in this technique shows itself in such figures as Philo, Numenius, the author(s) of the Chaldean Oracles, and in Plotinus. This technique not only supplemented earlier apocalyptic notions of ecstatic visionary ascent (perhaps associated with the spiritualized Sethian baptismal ritual as in Trimorphic Protennoia, Gospel of the Egyptians, Zostrianos, and perhaps in Marsanes), but it also created new forms apparently independent of such a baptismal context as in Allogenes and Three Steles of Seth. Most importantly, though, the older pattern of enlightenment through gnosis "knowledge," conferred by a descending redeemer figure, could be replaced by a self-performable act of enlightenment through contemplative or visionary ascent, whether for individuals (Allogenes and Marsanes) or for a community (Three Steles of Seth). 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Syrianus on the Timaeus + Parmenides

Among the fragments, we may distinguish In Tim. fr. 3 as it discusses the particular function of grades of daemons and also shows the relationship between the grades, correcting his predecessors on the matter and In Tim. fr. 6, which discusses the place of the Demiurge in Syrianus’ structure of the cosmos, as well as how the placement of the Demiurge corresponds to his function. In Tim fr. 11 is also important, as it gives evidence of Syrianus’ explanation of Platonic arithmetic and geometry in terms of ontology. The connection between geometry and hierarchical metaphysics is also to be found in Syrianus’ In Met. 85.38-86.2, but his thought becomes clearer through Proclus’ elaboration, as Wear rightly points out. In Parm. fr. 5 is also of key importance, as it shows how Syrianus develops the system of Platonic principles, in which reality is the result of the conjunction of Limit (Monad in the In Metaphysica) and Unlimitedness (Dyad in the In Metaphysica).;jsessionid=25abdgrqj8vgx.x-brill-live-01

Friday, June 22, 2012

Clement on "Gnostic" Prayer

"And his whole life is a holy festival. His sacrifices are prayers, and praises, and readings in the Scriptures before meals, and psalms and hymns during meals and before bed, and prayers also again during night. By these he unites himself to the divine choir, from continual recollection, engaged in contemplation which has everlasting remembrance.  "And what? Does he not also know the other kind of sacrifice, which consists in the giving both of doctrines and of money to those who need? Assuredly. But he does not use wordy prayer by his mouth; having learned to ask of the Lord what is requisite. In every place, therefore, but not ostensibly and visibly to the multitude, he will pray. But while engaged in walking, in conversation, while in silence, while engaged in reading and in works according to reason, he in every mood prays. If he but form the thought in the secret chamber of his soul, and call on the Father "with unspoken groanings," He is near, and is at his side, while yet speaking. Inasmuch as there are but three ends of all action, he does everything for its excellence and utility; but doing aught for the sake of pleasure, he leaves to those who pursue the common life." (Strom. 7.7)
stolen from

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

theurgy section in revised SEP article on Proclus

3.6 Theurgy

Relying on Plato, Theaetetus 176a-b late Platonists saw the assimilation to god (homoiôsis theôi) as the goal (telos) of philosophy. Proclus was faithful to this ideal, as is attested by his biographer Marinus (Life of Proclus § 25). There was a fundamental discussion in late Neoplatonism on how this assimilation to the divine was possible for humans. Damascius (In Phaed. I § 172 Westerink) distinguishes two tendencies: Plotinus and Porphyry preferred philosophy, which makes us understand the divine principles of reality through rational explication, while others like Iamblichus and his followers, Syrianus, and Proclus, gave priority to hieratic practice or theurgy (theourgia, hieratikê [sc. technê]). Their different evaluation of respectively theory and theurgy as means of salvation may be explained by their different views on the human soul and its possibilities of ascent to the divine realm. While Plotinus and Porphyry claimed that the superior part of the human soul always remains within the intelligible realm, in touch with the divine principles, and never completely descends into the body, Iamblichus, followed by Proclus, criticised such a view. The soul does indeed wholly descend into the body (Steel 1976, 34–51). Hence the importance of theurgic rites established by the gods themselves, to make it possible for the human soul to overcome the distance between the mortal and the divine, which cannot be done through increasing philosophical understanding. In Theol. Plat. I 25, Proclus expresses his great admiration for the power of theurgy, which surpasses all human knowledge.
Allegedly, Neoplatonic theurgy originated with Julian the theurgist, who lived in the time of emperor Marcus Aurelius. At first sight, theurgy seems to share many characteristics with magic (theory of cosmic sympathy, invocations, animation of statues of gods and demons), but it is, as far as we can judge from the extant sources, clearly different from it. In his De Mysteriis Iamblichus developed a theology of the hieratic rituals from Platonic principles, which clearly sets them apart from the vulgar magical practices. While magic assumes that the gods can be rendered subservient to the magicians, Platonic philosophers consider this impossible. According to Plato's principles of theology (Republic II and Laws X), the gods are immutable, unchangeable, and cannot be bribed by means of sacrifices. Proclus' views on theurgy (of which only some fragments belonging to his treatise On Hieratic Art [i.e., theurgy] survived) are fully in line with these fundamental Platonic axioms. But how, then, does theurgy work? The theurgists take up an old belief, shared also by many philosophers, namely the natural and cosmic ‘sympathy’ (sumpatheia) pervading all reality. As with an organism, all parts of reality are somehow linked together as one. Another way of expressing this idea is in the Neoplatonic principle, going back at least to Iamblichus, that everything is in everything (panta en pasin). According to Proclus, all reality, including its most inferior level, matter, is directed upwards towards the origin from which it proceeds. To say it in the words of Theodorus of Asine, whom Proclus quotes in his Commentary on the Timaeus (I 213.2–3): “All things pray except the First.”
As stated before (cf. 3.3), the human soul contains the principles (logoi) of all reality within itself. The soul carries, however, also sumbola or sunthêmata which correspond to the divine principles of reality. The same symbols also establish the secret correspondences between sensible things (stones, plants, and animals) and celestial and divine realities. Thanks to these symbols, things on different levels (stones, plants, animals, souls) are linked in a ‘chain’ (seira) to the divine principle on which they depend, as the chain of the sun and the many solar beings, or the chain of the moon. Of great importance in the rituals was also the evocation of the secret divine names. In his Commentary on the Cratylus, Proclus compares divine names to statues of the gods used in theurgy (In Crat. § 46), pointing to the fact that also language is an important means in the ascent to the divine.
Proclus evokes the Platonic background of his theurgical beliefs, namely his theory of love (erôs) as expressed in the Symposium and the Phaedrus, in his treatise On Hieratic Art:
Just as lovers move on from the beauty perceived by the senses until they reach the sole cause of all beautiful and intelligible beings, so too, the theurgists (hieratikoi), starting with the sympathy connecting visible things both to one another and to the invisible powers, and having understood that all things are to be found in all things, established the hieratic science. (trans. Ronan, modified)
In the wake of an article of Anne Sheppard (1982), scholars usually distinguish between three kinds of theurgy in Proclus. The first kind, as described in the above quoted treatise On Hieratic Art, was mainly concerned with animating statues (in order to obtain oracles or to evoke divine apparitions) or, in general, with activities related to physical phenomena or human affairs (influencing the weather, healing illnesses etc.) (see Life of Proclus § 28–29). As emerges from our sources, it is this kind of theurgy that involved much ritualistic practice, including hymns and prayers. The second kind of theurgy makes the soul capable of ascending up to the level of the hypercosmic gods and the divine intellect. This second kind too operates by means of prayers and invocations and it seems especially characteristic of Proclus' Hymns. And finally, the third kind of theurgy establishes unity with the first principles, that is the One itself. This third kind corresponds to the level of the highest virtues (i.e., ‘theurgic virtues’) in the scale of virtues. It is not clear whether some form of ritual is involved here at all. For this last stage of the Platonic homoiôsis theôi the following elements are of major importance: negative theology (culminating in the negation of the negation), mystic silence and the intriguing notion of faith (pistis), which thus enters with a non-Platonic meaning - though even for the latter notion Proclus will search for confirmation in the Platonic dialogues.
Those who hasten to be conjoined with the Good, do no longer need knowledge and activity, but need to be established and a stable state and quietness. What then is it which unites us to the Good? What is it which causes in us a cessation of activity and motion? What is it which establishes all divine natures in the first and ineffable unity of goodness? […] It is, in short, the faith (pistis) of the Gods, which ineffably unites all the classes of Gods, of daemons, and of blessed souls to the Good. For we should investigate the Good not through knowledge (gnôstikôs) and in an imperfect manner, but giving ourselves up to the divine light, and closing the eyes, to become thus established in the unknown and occult unity of beings. For such a kind of faith is more venerable than cognitive activity, not in us only, but with the Gods themselves. (Proclus, Platonic Theology, I 25, trans. Th. Taylor, modified).
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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Deleuze vs. Hegel on Spinoza

In Hegel’s reproach to Spinoza - that he ignored the negative and its power - lies the glory and innocence of Spinoza, his own discovery. In a world consumed by the negative, he has enough confidence in life, in the power of life, to challenge death, the murderous appetites of men, the rules of good and evil, of the just and unjust. Enough confidence in life to denounce all the phantoms of the negative….In Spinoza’s thought, life is not an idea, a matter of theory. It is a way of being. It is only from this perspective that his geometrical method is fully comprehensible. In the Ethics, it is opposition to everything that takes pleasure in the powerlessness and distress of men, everything that feeds on accusations, on malice, on belittlement, on low interpretations, everything that breaks men’s spirits. The geometrical method ceases to be a method of intellectual exposition but it is rather a mode of invention…Spinoza did not believe in hope or even in courage; he believed only in joy, and in vision. He let others live provided they let him live. He wanted only to inspire, to waken, to reveal.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Quotes from Church Fathers on Divinization

St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself."
St. Clement of Alexandria says that "he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh."
St. Athanasius wrote that "God became man so that men might become gods."
St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we "are called 'temples of God' and indeed 'gods', and so we are."
St. Basil the Great stated that "becoming a god" is the highest goal of all.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus implores us to "become gods for (God's) sake, since (God) became man for our sake."

thanks wikipedia!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Call for Papers - Reason and Myth in Platonism

The seventh annual Prometheus Trust Conference has been arranged for
June 29-July 1, 2012 - Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

Logos, Mythos, Sophos: Reason and Myth in the Search for Wisdom

The Platonic tradition has always embraced both reason and myth in its
cultivation of wisdom -- but what is their relationship? Are they in
opposition or complementary? How should we understand Socrates' views on
Homer and his fellow poets as stated in the second and third books of
the Republic, and Proclus' response in his Scholia on that dialogue? As
philosophers within our own time and culture, are we still able to
balance the two approaches and take from each the insights available to
those of ancient times? What kinds of reasoning and what kinds of myths
contribute to our own cultivation of wisdom? This conference invites
papers on these and other related questions. The Prometheus Trust'seeks
to build on previous conferences, in which contributors from diverse
backgrounds -- professional and amateur -- pooled their insights in
pursuit of wisdom.

The Trust is delighted that John F Finamore (who needs no introduction
here, I'm sure) has agreed to give the keynote address.

Further details, including deadlines for submission of abstracts, fees,
etc, can be found on the Prometheus Trust website at

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Proclus Conference in Amsterdam this February


Date 1-4 February 2012
Location Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
The Trippenhuis, Kloveniersburgwal 29, Amsterdam (routing)

This colloquium will bring together leading scholars and young researchers
from all over the globe in celebration of the 1600th anniversary of the Neoplatonist Proclus (412-485 A.D.). They will gather in
Amsterdam to establish an inventory of the status quo of Proclean
studies today and to discuss possible lines of future research on the
various aspects of Proclus’ thought. The colloquium will result in the publication of a comprehensive volume on Proclus’
philosophy, to be published with Oxford University Press.

The colloquium is sponsored and hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of
Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and is co-funded by the C.J. de Vogel Foundation, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific
Research (NWO), the De Wulf - Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval and
Renaissance Philosophy and the K.U.Leuven Research Fund.

Since places are limited, we recommend you to register at your earliest
convenience and in any case not later than 15 January, by filling in theregistration form.

Conference fee
For registration without conference dinner the fee is € 100, which gets
you all conference materials, lunches, coffee and tea, a reception on
Wednesday, and a visit with guided tour of the Allard Pierson Museum on
Friday. For registration including the conference
dinner on Friday the fee is € 150. If you wish to attend part of the
colloquium, please contact the organisers.

More information
* Program (pdf)
* List of participants (pdf)
* Colloquium's webpage
Or contact the organisers, Pieter d’Hoine ( or Marije Martijn ( for information on the conference program.

C.J. de Vogel Foundation