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Plotinus and Neo-Platonism’s Influence on Augustine

Plotinus (205 - 270)

Plotinus (205 – 270)

Before we delve into Confessions, we will start exploring the development of Augustine’s philosophy and theology.

For a while, Augustine had been influenced by Manichaeism, a Persian adaptation of Christianity, which added in Zoroastrianism, speculative philosophy and superstition.  Augustine was a Manichee for nine years.  Then during a trip to Rome in 383, due to his education in the liberal arts, he began to question Manichaeism when he saw that its understanding of the universe owed more to astrology than astronomy.

The next year, he met the formidable figure of Ambrose, bishop of Milan.  His great intellect and fiery sermons left a deep impression on Augustine.  In Ambrose, Augustine found someone who could communicate at his own intellectual level, further confirming his rejection of the Manichees and opening the way for his return to the Christian faith.

Ambrose and others in his circle were strongly influenced by the writings of Plotinus (205 – 270) (link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), an Egyptian born pagan Greek philosopher who had been influenced by Christian ideas who initiated the philosophical tradition of Neoplatonism which would have a great influence on Christianity for many generations to come.

Porphyry of Tyre (234 - 305)

Porphyry of Tyre (234 – 305)

So before we even get to Augustine, we must get a good picture of Plotinus and Neo-Platonism.  Almost all we know about Plotinus comes from his disciple Porphyry of Tyre (234 – 305), who gathered, edited, shaped and published Plotinus’ many long and complex discourses into a collection known as The Enneads.

Here is a video on a general introduction to Neo-Platonism and Plotinus:

And here is an introduction on Plotinus’ influence on Christian philosophy:

For our next meeting, please read the first two sections of the First Ennead titled “The Animate and the Man” and “On Virtue” where we will get a good understanding of Plotinus’ philosophy on the soul, which will be a heavy influence on Augustine’s theology and philosophy of the soul.


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