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The Nature of Creation: Christian Neoplatonism

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  • mikebispham@cs.com
    Hello all. Just bringing my enquiry into the medieval conception of the nature of creation/matter up to date. I m looking into this since its a clearly
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2000
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      Hello all.

      Just bringing my enquiry into the medieval conception of the nature of
      creation/matter up to date. I'm looking into this since its a clearly
      documented (if obscure) area, in whose framework the medieval concepts of the
      nature of matter seems to be embedded.

      First though, (Part One) a copy of some thoughts I've been exchanging
      privately with other listmembers, about the role naturally occurring minerals
      must surely have played in the recognition of geometric form.

      __________________________

      I've been trying to give myself a flavour of the atomism debate, as it
      relates to religious/spiritual standpoints. This debate was very important,
      and very problematic, and the details throw a good deal of light on the
      sequence of developing understanding as Greek philosophy was turned into
      Christian theology (the 'unmanifest/manifest issue'.) This short outline
      describes a broad picture of how the two main accounts of the geometric form
      of nature came to be.

      This is my speculation of an order of events that makes sense of all the
      evidence. However, this proposition involves turning one piece of scholarly
      orthodoxy on its head. Instead of relying on the idea that the ancients
      discerned their natural philosophy mathematically/intellectually, my outline
      is based on the idea that atomism (and competing philosophies) were created
      ***in order to explain the observation of geometry in matter.***

      Facts:
      1) The Greeks understood that minerals 'grow' in the ground. This is
      documented, and is a record of their observations that reveals that they'd
      recognised minerals as special forms of matter, and developed a theory to
      account for mineral presence. They also knew how to distinguish between
      different minerals, and that some minerals could be reduced to metals. (In
      Alchemy, the minerals are matter 'not yet fully formed', and the Alchemist
      brings them to their proper form.)

      2) Minerals are geometric in their structure. Couldn't be missed, it seems
      unlikely it would have been disregarded.

      1) and 2) together both require an explanation, and *have the potential to
      reveal the nature of creation.* Together they mean 'minerals grow (in the
      earth) in geometric shapes'. The next set of questions will have have to
      address why this is so. Two explanations developed:

      A) Atomism. Particles of pure substance come together in arrays. I don't
      know how far Democritian/Epicurian atomism had come in terms of arrays, but
      it was very well recorded as an explanation of matter, and developed by
      Epicurius into a well defined philosophy.

      B) A Divinely emmanated prima materia is given order, and manifests in the
      form 'thought' by the Diety, according to the divine forms. These may be
      inspired by the geometry of the regular solids. This explanation requires the
      metaphysical concept of Divine Forms; and the geometry exhibited in nature,
      according to this way of thinking, is evidence of a Creator, and says
      something about the nature of the Creator's methods.

      OK, now

      A) is not compatible with contempory spiritual Creation/religious models or
      imperatives. It provides an explanation that can exclude the Diety
      altogether, and is thus atheistic. It is therefore rejected, and during the
      Religious Era remains anathema (along with the rest of Epicurianism).

      B) becomes in later times, in combination with the Hebrew Tetragrammaton
      *Orthodoxy*. Christian Orthodoxy, that is the official standpoint of the
      Catholic Church, both East and West, (until Thomas Aquinus threw out the
      'Reality of Forms' in the 13th C., changing forever Western
      theology/philosophy) This is the orthodox concept of Creation from the 3rd
      and 4th centuries until the 13th. When combined with the Assyrian Tree of
      Life, it is the basis of Qabbala, much used by Neoplatonists. Both draw on
      Greek Divine number theory, (One, Monad, Point, Two, Dyad, Line etc) (Please
      tell me if I've got this wrong qabbalists, or anybody!)

      B) then is the non-atomic resolution to the problem of geometric minerals.
      It also neatly resolves the other major philosophical question, that of
      species. Form, whether geometric in minerals and flowers, or symetrical, as
      in other forms of life, reveals the thoughts of God. God eternally
      geometricises; the mechanism of creation is thus explaned.

      This model subsequently develops to become, together with the other
      explanation of Reality, the Hierarchy of Being, the orthodox concept of
      Creation from the 3rd and 4th centuries until the 13th.

      Atomism, on the other hand, continues to be regarded as antithetical to
      spiritual realities. It tends toward atheism. In Christianity it is
      disparaged and eventually becomes heretical. This remains the case until
      (18th C.?) Gassendi makes a good case for an atomism in which God creates the
      atoms (traditionally, atoms had been ever-extant according to Epicurius?) By
      then, the church had to give way, as chemists and others were making it
      obvious that a new kind of atomism was a reality.

      Plato tried to synthesise the two in Timeaus. How well this synthesis
      survived in Christian philosophy I don't know. But the atomic element of
      Timeaus wouldn't have been popular in the Christian world.

      Gothic Architecture then drew on the orthodox explanation of Creation, what
      Kepler (later) calls the 'formatrix'. This is both Eastern and Western
      Orthodoxy, and in keeping with qabbala and hermeticism. Matter is given form
      by the ideas of God, and the cathedrals, for various reasons, mimic this
      structure.

      The forms that explain geometric matter in a non atomic way, are, naturally,
      forms that imitate atomic arrays and the geometry of the regular solids
      (sometimes) precisely.

      _______________________________________

      Part Two
      Building on Cat's recent post containing an account of the origins and
      interests of Freemasonry, here's an account from Neoplatonism and Christian
      Thought by Dominic J. O'Meara, actually a paper by W. Norris Clarke called
      'The Problem of the Reality and Multiplicity of Divine Ideas in Christian
      Neoplatonism.' I'm looking at this stuff to see what was around,
      nature-of-matter wise *before* the new learning (inc. quabbala) that
      Freemasonry leans on started to flood in from Spain and Byzantium from the
      11th C.onward.

      Skipping a few pages on Plato and Plotinus, Norris Clarke comes to The Early
      Christain Fathers.

      "When the first philosophically minded and trained Christian thinkers took
      over the Neoplatonic philosophical framework to use in the intellectual
      explication of their faith, during the third and fourth centuries, they had
      to make two drastic changes in the matter which concerns us

      First, the subordinationist hierarchy of divine hypostases in Plotinus had to
      be condensed into a single supreme divine principle, in which the three
      Persons within the divine nature were perfectly coequal in perfection of
      being, distinguished only by internal relations of origin, not by differing
      levels of perfection. Thus the Word or Logos, the Second Person,
      corresponding analogously to Plotinus' Nous, was declared perfectly coequal
      with the Father (corresponding analogously to Plotinus' One) sharing the
      identical divine nature and perfection. Secondly, the single supreme God of
      the Christians was identically creator of the universe through knowledge and
      free act of love, and exercised personal providence over each and every
      individual creature. This required that the one divine Mind, the same for all
      three Persons but attributed by special aptness to the Word or Logos, contain
      the distinct knowledge of every creature ***as well as the universal
      archetypal ideal patterns guiding the creation of the world according to
      reason***.

      The old Platonic and Neoplatonic world of ideas, enriched with the distinct
      knowledge of individuals, is now incorporated directly into the one supreme
      divine nature itself. Christian thinkers simply had to do this ' to do
      justice to their own revelation, and they had no hesitation, but rather took
      pride, in doing so."

      Norris Clarke continues with some details of the problems that arose from
      this synthesis, then outlines the contributions made by John Scottus Erugina
      and the School of Chartres - Thierry of Chartres, a notorious atomist being
      at the forefront. He then comes to the end; St Thomas Aquinus and Scholastic
      Aristotlianism finally demolish the entire construct of the 'Ideas of God',
      or 'The Reality of Universals'. (Universal Ideas = Forms).

      "The crucial decision is finally made: the Platonic realism of ideas must
      once and for all be given up...

      ...(The) single stroke of distinguishing the subjective being of ideas, which
      is nothing but the act of the mind that thinks them, from their objective
      content, their intentional meaning and reference which can be multiple and
      distinct, opened the way at last to a metaphysically coherent assimilation of
      the whole Eriugenian doctrine of the presence of the divine ideas in the
      Word in a single, simple act prior to any plurality. The latter was indeed a
      brilliant insight of Christian Neoplatonism, but one that could not make
      sense unless the doctrine that accompanied it in Eriugena-that of the ideas
      as true being in themselves-was jettisoned. The divorce was painful, but
      inevitable. But this move also entailed the dropping of another cherished
      theme of classical Neoplatonism, namely, that the passage from the divine
      ideas, or realm of true being, to their unfolded exemplifications in the
      contingent world of matter is a passage to a lower mode of being a
      degradation or diminution in being. (The Hiearchy of Being - M) Creation
      now becomes, on the contrary, a positive expansion from the merely mental
      being of the world of divine ideas to a new dimension of true being "outside"
      the divine Mind (extra causas), as an enrichment of the universe through a
      gracious free sharing of its own real perfection; for this real perfection is
      always in the line of actual esse, and this was not yet accomplished in the
      realm of the divine ideas by themselves.

      The same move also forced, if not the total giving up, at least the drastic
      toning down and reinterpretation of another closely linked theme long
      cherished by Christian Neoplatonists in the pre-Scholastic period following
      the lead of Augustine himself. This is the notion that all creatures exist
      in a higher, more perfect state in the exemplary idea of each of them in the
      mind of God than in their own created being-especially so, but not
      exclusively, in the case of material beings. This theme still keeps recurring
      in the spiritual writings of Christian Neoplatonists, used as a potent
      motivation and intellectual model for spiritual growth. But its literal
      metaphysical force is now toned down."

      This event signals the beginning of the end for Platonism, and begins to open
      the door to the new approaches to natural philosophy (reason based on
      observation) that will eventually create enormous difficulties for the
      Church, leading it to outlaw much 'philosophical speculation', and pave the
      way for the scientific revolution.

      Mike
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