I've been reading some topics about the influence of Neoplatonism in Christianity.

Some topics I read said that, although Neoplatonic ideas influenced Christianity a lot, there are some divergence points between the beliefs of the Catholic Church and the Neoplatonic ideas.

Since St. Augustine of Hippo abandoned some Neoplatonist concepts, I want to know which concepts he abandoned when converted into Christianity.

Could you, please, state which points do neo-platonic ideas and the beliefs from christianity diverge from each other?

  • 3
    Emanation differs from creation ( = production ex nihilo). – user37859 May 5 '20 at 14:45
  • Great point.. Emanationism differs from Creationism. – Matheus Cirillo May 5 '20 at 16:10
  • In addition to the fact that emanationism doesn't involve the world being brought forth from nothingness (creation ex nihilo), there's also the issue that it tends to be seen as a metaphysically necessary outflowing of the One's own nature rather than the One making a free-willed choice to create. I also found this article which argues that Plotinus didn't think of moral evil in voluntarist terms (i.e. free will), but just in terms of inherent weaknesses in individual souls resulting from their lower levels in the emanationist hierarchy. – Hypnosifl Sep 3 '20 at 4:11

One of the biggest differences is that Neoplatonism, at least in its early forms, does not personify the divine. We may identify God the Father with the Neoplatonic "One," but in doing so, we either have to attribute a persona to the abstract singularity that is "the One," or we have to deny the personified descriptions of God the Father as described in the Bible. Similarly, we can conceptualize Christ as an emanation of the One, but that is substantially different from what is taught in (small "o") orthodox Christianity.

Again, Augustine's doctrine of original sin may have some resonance with the Neoplatonist idea of the world as debased and distanced from its divine source, but the idea of seeing this in the actions of Adam is a departure. Ideas such as confession and substitutionary atonement would likewise be alien to the abstract and depersonalized metaphysics of Plotinus.

Perhaps the best way to conceptualize it is that Augustine and others used Neoplatonism as a lens through which to understand and interpret aspects of the Christian scriptures and traditions. If you have an abstract, universalist, and metaphorical understanding of Christian religious philosophy, you can still see it as aligned with Neoplatonism, but the more concrete, literal, and specific you get, the less the two philosophies are compatible.


"The most fundamental of these assumptions, which the Neoplatonists shared with the majority of intellectuals of the ancient world, including most pre-Socratic thinkers as well as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their followers, is that mindful consciousness (nous, often translated as thought, intelligence, or intellect) is in an important sense ontologically prior to the physical realm typically taken for ultimate reality (Mind over Matter)." (SEP)

This would not be an heretical idea for all Christians, but the Catholic Church has a fierce dislike of this sort of (lower-case) gnosticism. Even Meister Eckhart only just got away with it.

Given the wide variation in views among Christians and philosophers who have been branded neo-Platonists the answer will depend on who you ask.

  • Wasn't the fact that the Gnosticism presents the distinction between the creator (Demiurge to be evil in the gnosticism concept) and the God himself, the reason why Catholic Church dislike the Gnosticism? The Neoplatonism itself disagree within the Gnostic concept of Demiurge. Also, Neoplatonism disagree with the conception from Gnostics that in 'every human there's a spark of God already' – Matheus Cirillo May 5 '20 at 16:33
  • 1
    @MatheusCirillo - A misunderstanding. I used 'gnosticism' with a small 'c', as the term would be used to describe Classical Christianity, For a lower-case gnostic the 'Demiurge' would be Maya, a power of consciousness by which 'God' creates His playground. I'll make an edit to clear up the ambiguity. – user20253 May 5 '20 at 16:50
  • Understood.. Maybe one divergence between neoplatonism and christanity is the fact that Neoplatonism ideas present the consciousness (maybe can be interpreted as the soul) as existing before the body, whereas the Christianity believe that the soul is created by god and infused in the body by the time of its conception. Please, correct me if i'm wrong – Matheus Cirillo May 5 '20 at 18:22
  • @MatheusCirillo - I don't know about this since what is authentic Christian doctrine is often a matter of opinion. I'm sure what you say is correct for some Christians. . . – user20253 May 6 '20 at 15:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.