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A. H. Armstrong writes in the introduction to his translation of the Enneads of Plotinus the following (Plotinus George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1953, p. 27):

We may sum up the general philosophical and religious situation in the age of Plotinus in the words of G. Quispel, [Gnosis als Welt-Religion, ch. 3, p. 26] Late antiquity appears to our mind's eye as a land of three rivers, traversed by canals and with bridges which make traffic possible ; but all the same three great streams appear distinctly, Gnosis, Neo-Platonism, and Christianity. There are innumerable interconnexions, but the three streams remain distinct, springing from different sources and flowing in different directions. And even when Christianity, after drawing into its stream a great deal of water from the other two rivers, flows on by itself, the result is not a mere syncretism or fusion. Christianity assimilates what it takes from the other two but remains itself.

Are there any critical references that would clarify the differences between these "three great streams"?

Perhaps these streams are a misunderstanding and the situation is not the way Armstrong describes it. Showing that would also be an answer.

  • very beautifully poetry but sounds like a die-hard Christian's view. Why would he see Gnosticism as from a different source?? At the time of his writing (1953) little was known of Gnosticism. The Gnostic Gospels had only been discovered a few years before and there were no publications on them until the 1970s. See Elaine Pagel's book. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 18 '18 at 10:46
  • @SwamiVishwananda It may be that Quispel and Armstrong are wrong about these "three great streams". I will edit the question to not assume that there actually are these three streams. – Frank Hubeny Jun 18 '18 at 11:43
  • The idea that Christianity assimilated Gnosticism and the view expressed in the Enneads seems absurd to me. These idea are heretical even today for most Christians. The Roman church went to strenuous efforts to banish these ideas, burning books and executing dissidents. Not just Gnosticism but even the (lower-case) gnosticism of the early Christian practitioners was outlawed on completion of the Roman Bible. I do not recognise Armstrong's 'three great streams. This seems to be an attempt to revise history to save the blushes of the Emperor's new religion. . . – user20253 Jun 18 '18 at 12:03
  • @PeterJ I think Armstrong is saying that Christianity took ideas from both Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, but it did not form a fusion with them. The same could be said for the other two "streams". Perhaps what I am asking is too broad. – Frank Hubeny Jun 18 '18 at 12:42
  • For some details, see Gnosticism : "a loosely organized religious and philosophical movement that flourished in the first and second centuries CE. The exact origin(s) of this school of thought cannot be traced, although it is possible to locate influences or sources as far back as the second and first centuries BCE, such as the early treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Jewish Apocalyptic writings, and especially Platonic philosophy and the Hebrew Scriptures themselves." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 19 '18 at 8:07

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