You're Nobody 'til Somebody Loves You
Plotinus provides an interesting example of the cross-fertilization of the world's religions, being that he not only represents the convergence of 800 years of Greek thought, but is also known to have studied the philosophies of India at some point (although details of his life remain sketchy, since he thought them unimportant). In turn, as Andrew Louth writes, from Plotinus "issues a new current destined to fertilize minds as different as those of Augustine and Boethius, Dante and Meister Eckhart, Coleridge, Bergson, and T.S. Eliot." Not to mention Toots Mondello, even if he was unaware of the coonnection. Although he obviously had a public school diploma, he was not what we would call a "learned man."
Again, it is not so much that the early Christians were neo-Platonists per se; rather, they simply knew the latter to be the pinnacle of human thought, so they naturally wanted to understand or frame their own new ideas within its context. Hadot points out that ancient philosophy was very different from contemporary philosophy, in that tradition and continuity were valued, whereas novelty and innovation were distrusted and even scorned. Therefore, one did not gain prestige by being the latest innovation, but by association with established truth. For example, Plotinus would not have considered himself a "neo-Platonist," but simply a Platonist.
But what were the earliest Christians? Obviously Christ gave us the theos, but not the -ology, so to speak. He left that for others to work out. Or, you could say he gave us O "in full," plus quite a bit of (n), but not in any systematic way. Rather, most of his comments are like sparks emanating from a central fire, as opposed to being meta-level statements on the nature of sparks, fire, and eyes (although one suspects that he did this with his inner circle, much of which is preserved in tradition).
In the case of Plotinus, he begins with three main principles, 1) the One, or the Good; 2) Intellect, or nous; and 3) Soul, or psyche. I don't think we do any violence to this formulation to say that it exactly corresponds to the symbols used in the Coonifesto, that is O, (¶), and (•), respectively. Furthermore, just as I explain in the book, each of these is an emanation from above, not "from below," which would be strictly impossible. In other words, there is simply no way that (¶) could arise from (•). Rather, (•) is like a "satellite" of (¶); where (•) is local, (¶) is nonlocal, just like the cosmos it mirrors. Or, you could day that (•) is particle while (¶) is wave, just like the quantum realm which is its inverse image in the material.
I will let you argue amongst yourselves whether O is the "end of the line," or whether it is an emanation from "beyond-being." Personally, I don't think it particularly matters, as it really comes down to the necessary distinction between nirguna brahman and saguna brahman, or Godhead and God, or apophatic and cataphatic theology. In my view, being that humans are in the image of the Creator, the law of inverse analogy tells us that the structure of our minds reveals something about the Divine Mind (and about the relationship between quantum and Newtonian reality, as hinted at above).
Being that humans have a conscious and unconscious mind (which are really one, just looked at from different angles), I speculate that the Creator has what might be called Mind and Supramind; which is to say, just like a person, there is a face we see, animated by hidden forces that we don't. But a person without a face would still be a person, just as God is still God irrespective of his public persona. I suppose you could say that there is "God for us" and "God for himself." It's just that the nature of the latter makes it almost necessary that he would wish to communicate the former; thus, you might say that human beings are the last word in the "self discovery" (so to speak) of God's creative "idiom," in the sense discussed a few posts back.
In fact, it would probably be fair to say that this is the innovation Christians brought to neo-Platonism. That is, for Plotinus, the One is indifferent to the world. It is completely static, simple, beyond the duality of knower and known (or any other duality). It is the source of everything, and yet, outside everything. Now that I think about it, this is what distinguishes Greek emanationism from Christian panentheism, in that the God of the former would never sully himself with the world, whereas in the latter view, God very much gets down and dirty; in the Christian view, every thing is God, even while God is not everything. In Plotinus' view, there is much more of a bright line between God and world, or O and Ø.
Now, as it so happens, Origen, one of the most brilliant early fathers, studied under the same teacher as Plotinus, a fellow named Ammonius Saccas. However, as Louth explains, unlike Plotinus, who studied him as a pagan, Origen studied him as a Christian. Thus, he was one of the first -- if not the first -- to regard scripture as a special language having to do with facilitating spiritual ascent, or the soul's journey through purification, illumination, and union, or from (•) to O. But instead of being a mere "emanation" from the One, we are in the image of it, which makes a huge difference, for it means that we retain -- and perfect! -- our essential humanness on the way to divinization, or theosis.
I could be wrong -- again, I never claim to be a scholar on these matters -- but I don't think Plotinus would ever have considered human beings to be in the image of the Creator, nor would it be conceivable that the Creator would ever deign to actually become one of us. In short, it would be our job to ascend to O (↑), not the place of O to coondescend to us (↓).
Indeed, as Warren pointed out yesterday, it was none other than Augustine who worked this out to its fullest. It turns out that he was also deeply -- and quite personally -- influenced by Plotinus, except that "in his hands," the "longing for God is transformed from a human restlessness [for our homeland] to our response to the incredible love and condescension of God, indeed is the movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts."
Louth says that this represents "an extraordinary break with Plotinus," in that "what for Plotinus is the culmination of the soul's experience is for Augustine only the beginning of the way." This is because of the Christ-principle, which "comes from our homeland to us in this world, who can enable us to pass from hence to there. He does this by making available a wooden vessel which can traverse the sea" between us and O. In the plotinian vision, we have to do all the work, whereas in the Christian view, God throws us the ultimate bone, if we may so express it.
You might say that Plotinus had too negative a view of matter, in that the very first sentence in Porphyry's biographical sketch says he appeared "ashamed to have a body." Obviously, some of this attitude crept into Augustine, but one wonders if this is more Greek than Christian? Or perhaps it is just a reflection of a certain archetypal reality, i.e., the beauty of the eternal vs. the corrupt and decaying world of time. I suppose it's a matter of emphasis, or inflection, for as Schuon wrote,
"For Plato, matter -- or the sensible world -- is bad [only] in so far as it is opposed to spirit, and in this respect only; and it does in fact oppose the spirit -- or the world of Ideas -- by its hardened and compressive nature, which is heavy as well as dividing, without forgetting its corruptibility in connection with life."
However, "matter is good with respect to the inherence in it of the world of Ideas: the cosmos, including its material limit, is the manifestation of the Sovereign Good, and matter demonstrates this by its quality of stability, by the purity and nobility of certain of its modes, and by its symbolist plasticity, in short by its inviolable capacity to serve as a receptacle for influences from Heaven."
So there can be a world-denying strand of Christianity, just as there can be a world-affirming strand of pagan thought. To emphasize one or the other is a "dangerous disequilibrium," and it is precisely this disequilibrium that would seem to be resolved to the fullest with the Incarnation -- or with the avatar principle, if you like: God became man so that man might become God.