FROM Anaxagoras down to the Stoics the main principle of Greek philosophy was Dualism, the opposition of the One and the many, of God and the universe of objects perceived by the senses.

Thus in an often quoted passage of the Republic Plato says “The ideal Good” (which in the Timœus he calls God) “is not existence (ousia), but is beyond existence”.

Next in the descending scale he placed the “Intelligible World” of Ideas or archetypes, conceived by intuitive reason (Nous). Then came the “Sensible World” of phenomena, which were only copies of the divine arche­types reproduced in matter.* This matter was of itself non-existent (mē on); in fact, a mere potentiality of taking the imprints of the archetypes.

With the Stoics monism made its appearance, and took the place of the previous dualism. For Plato's “Ideas” they substituted Logoi, thoughts, forms, or forces immanent in the universe. And these Logoi were often spoken of as all summed up in one Logos, or divine thought realized in the universe. Most Stoics, like Chrysippus, Cleanthes (quoted by St. Paul), and Marcus Aurelius, were theistic Monists, holding—Jupiter est quodcunque vides, quo-cunque moveris. Others were materialistic Monists, holding matter to be the one real substance, and the Logoi only functions of matter.

Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, who lived at the same time as St. Paul, managed to combine this Logos doctrine with the Hebrew Scriptures.* By allegorical interpre­tation he identified the Stoic Logoi with the angels mentioned in the Scriptures, and at the same time he reduced the personal Yahveh of the Scriptures to the abstract Being of Greek philosophy. The Hebrew prophets had almost personified the “Word of the Lord” and “Wisdom”; and Logos, with its double meaning of thought and word (ratio and oratio), was easily identified with “Word” and “Wisdom”. As Dr. Hirschfeld has pointed out, Amr and Kalima underwent a similar process in the Koran.* The Logos, having been thus personified, plays a very important part in Philo's system. It becomes the Demiurge or Architect of the world. The metaphor of generation is employed to picture the mode of its operation. Sometimes it is figured as masculine, sometimes as a female agent (epistēmē), but in either case it is one of the parents of the world of phenomena.* On the whole it may be said that Philo's leading principles were, first, to remove the Deity far away from any con­tact with matter, and, secondly, to explain the existence of the world by the hypothesis of intermediate and subordinate agencies through whom the Deity worked, so as not to touch matter Himself.

Hence Philo's system was dualism. And this dualistic tendency was fostered by the growing influence of Manicheism. Manes, who formulated this old Persian dualism, did not live till the third century A.D., but many of the Gnostic sects of the second century A.D. held what were in fact Manichean opinions. And this led some, like Basileides, to emphasize the separation of the Deity from the evil material world. Basileides, for instance, though he firmly believed in God, declared in hyperbolical language that He was ouk ōn, “without existence,” in the sense of the phenomenal existence known to man.* Others, like Valentinus, imagined a series of Æons or intermediate Intelligences, so as to remove the tran­scendental God as far as possible from contact with matter. These Æons were possibly the prototypes of the Ṣūfī Ten Intelligences and of the Celestial Hierarchies of Dionysius, which supplied the frame of Dante's Paradise.

Plotinus, who lived in the third century A.D., was a mystic who busied himself with philosophy only to seek corroboration of his mystical beliefs. He started with the conviction that the One was all in all, and that all phenomena had no existence apart from it. He tried to reach a conception of the transcendental One by abstracting or stripping off all limitations and conditions incident to phenomenal existence, and by assuming that the residuum was the One. But as this residuum was void of all positive contents, it could not be conceived by common reason, and could be described only in negative terms, as “Unconditional”, “Infinite”, “Incomprehensible” (immensus), and the like. Reason could not say what it was, but only what it was not. His position thus seems to be precisely that of agnosticism, as expounded in H. Spencer's First Principles. But here the resemblance ceases. Plotinus held that the impotence of reason to conceive the Absolute proved that ordinary reason must be entirely discarded in these matters, so as to give free play to the superior faculty of spiritual intuition or intuitive reason (Nous), which alone is competent to deal with them.* This faculty discerns the One to be no mere negation, but a supreme energy of self-manifestation.* Without any diminution or decrease of itself the One ever pours forth or rays out effluences. Hence arises an image or reflection of the One in Nous or Reason, the First Emanation, comprehending all being and all thought. From this proceeded in like manner the Second Emanation, called the “World-soul”* (Psychē), which acted as the mediator between the supra-sensible and the sensible worlds. This, again, generated the particular souls, human, animal, and vegetive, and, lastly, all inorganic substances. The substratum of all these manifestations of the One in the sensible world was matter, which was non-existent of itself (mē on) and yet the basis of each sensible object (bathos ekastou);* in other words it was a mere potentiality of receiving the imprint of the Divine effluences.

The One, the Reason, and the World-soul constitute the so-called Plotinian Trinity, which is one, not of equality but of subordination. Plotinus says Reason (Nous) is the Logos of the One and Soul (Psychē) the Logos of the Reason.*

So much for the theory. As regards practice Plotinus held that man's duty was to return to the One.* The motive for this return was the love of the divine spark in his soul for its source, and its consequent craving to be reunited therewith. The One was itself unmoved, but attracted its effluents through being the object of their love and desire. The return was to be effected by retracing the downward course into the realm of matter. By what Dionysius later called the “negative way”, the mystic aspirant must abstract and strip off all the material and sensuous accretions which had overlaid his real essence. This was to be effected,* first, by practising civic virtues, next the purifying virtues of ascetism and self-mortifica­tion, and finally the deifying virtue of contemplation.* At last he would transcend all the barriers separating him from the One, and would be absorbed and reunited with the One. Of this blessed state he could only hope to gain transient glimpses during life, but when the body perished he would abide for ever one with the One. Plotinus sums up by saying this is “the flight of the Alone to the Alone”.

As Dr. Bigg points out, this mystical ascent of the soul is described by Augustine almost in the words of Plotinus:* “Thus as we talked and yearned after the eternal life, we touched it for an instant with the whole force of our hearts. We said, then, if the tumult of the flesh were hushed; hushed these shadows of earth, sea, and sky; hushed the heavens and the soul itself, so that it should pass beyond itself and not think of itself: if all dreams were hushed and all sensuous revelations, and every tongue and every symbol; if all that comes and goes were hushed—they all proclaim to him that hath an ear: ‘We made not ourselves; He made us who abideth for ever.’— But suppose that, having delivered their message, they held their peace, turning their ear to Him who made them, and that He alone spoke, not by them, but for Himself, and that we heard His word, not by any fleshly tongue, nor by an angel's voice, nor in the thunder, nor in any similitude, but His voice, whom we love in these His creatures—suppose we heard Him without any intermediary at all—just now we reached out, and with one flash of thought touched the Eternal Wisdom that abides above all. Suppose this endured, and all other inferior modes of vision were taken away, and this alone were to ravish the beholder, and absorb him and plunge him in mystic joy, might not eternal life be like this moment of comprehension?”

This is an admirable statement of the Plotinian “return” to the One.* It also well illustrates the main character­istic of the system—viz., its ultimate dependence on emotion rather than on intellect. Philosophy is only the handmaid of theology, only used to support and justify pre-existing beliefs. When his reason lands him in contradictions, as it must do when it tries to transcend its limits and outsoar the very atmosphere that bears it up, Plotinus straightway falls back on feeling and the inner light. Love and faith are a mighty spell, as Jalāl-ud-dīn Rūmī says,* and with Plotinus love and faith are always at hand to supplement the deficiencies of pure intellect.

The best accounts of Plotinus are those of Harnack in his History of Dogma, English translation, i, 247; of Caird in his Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers, ii, 210; and of Whittaker in his Neoplatonists. Opinions differ as to whether he is to be classed as a Monist or as a Dualist. This would depend on whether his “not-being” is to be regarded as nothing or as something. Be this as it may, no one can read his impassioned outpourings with­out seeing that his theological reasoned statements by no means give the full measure of his beliefs. What he did believe in with a very passion of conviction was a Deity endued in some sense with the principal attributes of a personal God.