Dominic O'Meara notes (page 68) that there were

religious criticisms of Plotinus in which it is claimed that the necessity whereby Plotinus' One generates things compares (unfavourably) with the free act of love whereby God creates.

I assume some of this criticism came from Augustine, perhaps others. However, I don't know where to look to get their arguments.

Hence the question: What were the theological objections to Plotinus' One?

References would be most helpful even to literature that surveys this topic.

References from comments:

  • Meijering, E. P. (1975). God Cosmos History Christian and Neo-Platonic Views On Divine Revelation. Vigiliae christianae, 28(1), 248-276. Thanks to Conifold

O'Meara, D. J. (1995). Plotinus: an introduction to the Enneads. Oxford University Press.

  • 3
    Meijering in God Cosmos History, p.249 briefly discusses mutual criticisms and gives some references:"Christians detected Gnostic pessimism also in the Neo-Platonists, since they did not believe that human life is meaningful in itself. According to the Neo-Platonists every step further away from the One is a deterioration, and human life emerges in the course of this deterioration". He also compares Plotinus's theology to Irenaeus's.
    – Conifold
    Jan 26, 2019 at 7:19
  • the religious criticisms you cite are of the nature of opinions and not an argument. Jan 26, 2019 at 11:36

1 Answer 1


As Conifold notes Irenaeus was a key figure in banishing Plotinus' view from Christianity and it might be worth reading up on his disagreement with Valentinus.

The main theological objection to Plotinus would be that his view is non-dualism, which is not theism as the later Church would define it. For Plotinus' view one would have to go back to the classical Christianity of the first three centuries prior to the banishment of not just Gnosticism but all forms of gnosticism and esotericism.

Many Christians today would endorse Plotinus so the situation is confused. Your quote shows a misunderstanding since for Plotinus it would be about right to say that creation has its source in love. If you read The Mystical Theology of the pseudo-Dionysius or A Course in Miracles you will discern Plotinus' doctrine underneath the different language, but of course these texts are rejected by the Church.

My view would be that Plotinus is in agreement with Jesus so is not in agreement with the Western Church. The theological objection would be that Plotinus does not say God exists but gives a more subtle view. So also did did classical Christianity as described by Keith Ward in his God: A Guide for the Perplexed.

David Bentley Hart, a Christian who shares Plotinus' view, has an excellent book called The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss in which there is much discussion of the exoteric idea of God that has afflicted Christianity since Irenaeus and his supporters imposed their doctrine and reveals the reasons why Plotinus is embraced by some Christians and rejected by others.

One problem for the exclusivity of Christianity is that Plotinus describes the view held by Islamic mystics and indeed mystics everywhere, and you can imagine how popular this makes Plotinus with the Bishops with their parochial one and only true religion.

Plotinus does not award Freewill or even Will to God, (why would God need a Will?) so the objection you mention in fair, but it's naive. It is the naivety of Irenaeus' view that is the pity of it all. Its adoption opened up Christianity to the ridicule of all later scientists and philosophers because, as Whitehead notes, it became a religion in search of a metaphysic. Plotinus' view would give it one but at the cost of returning to the original pre-Biblical teachings and few if any Bishops would want to see this happen.

The Idea of the One is considered heretical partly since it means that each of us is God and has direct access to the Divine. Many Christians find this idea unpalatable, as we see from their dislike of the Quakers. Even in the 20th century Schrodinger's regular publisher refused to publish the book in which he claims he is God for being too controversial.

The difficulty I have in recommending theologians who reject Plotinus is that I can't think of any who actually understand what he's saying.

  • @b a - Thanks for the edit. Apologies for the sloppy workmanship.
    – user20253
    Jan 28, 2019 at 9:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .