Platonism: Pagan and Christian [MEDS 6705]

Level: 
Doctoral
Course Status: 
Elective
CEU code: 
MEDS 6705
CEU credits: 
2
Module: 
II
Academic year: 
2010/2011
Semester: 
Winter
Start and end dates: 
10 Jan 2011 - 28 Mar 2011
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of Philosophy
Non-degree Specialization: 
SEMS—Specialization in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
Instructor(s): 
István Perczel
Learning Outcomes: 
By following this course the students will learn about Platonism in general, as well as about the specific research problem that constitutes the core of the present investigations. They will be taught how to read much-read texts with a fresh eye and, hopefully, the seminars will develop to their discussing and argumenting skills, too.
Assessment : 
The main criterion of assessment will be the students' active participation in the classes, their serious preparation for the readings and their oral presentations at the seminars (60%). During the term three or four small tests will be written to check the proper understanding of historical events and of basic concepts (10%). A seminar paper will also be expected on a freely chosen subject from among those treated at the classes (30%).

By the mid-third century AD, Platonism had become the single dominant philosophical trend of the Mediterranean area. It evolved through the little-studied period of the so-called Middle Platonism (80 BC to AD 220) until it reached its most intricate and breathtaking form in the early Neoplatonist school of Alexandria and, later, of Rome and Athens (ca. 240-ca. 700). The then emerging Christian thought has found a powerful ally as well as a tremendous competitor in Platonism and evolved in constant dialogue with the Platonist philosophers. Because of disciplinary borders this interaction is much less studied and known than it should be and its importance is gravely underestimated. The impact of the Platonist schools on some individual Christian thinkers has got some – still insufficient – attention, but the study of the way Christian Platonism was working, remained in dialogue with its pagan counterpart and influenced it, constituting a major challenge and a background for the latter, remains an almost entirely untrodden field. In fact, historians of philosophy are rarely, if ever, venturing into the thorny field of Christian theology, while specialists of the latter, mostly patristic scholars, feel alien to philosophy and tend to underestimate the importance of the philosophical culture of ecclesiastic authors.

The lectures and seminars of the present course will give an introduction to this complex set of problems. They will be largely based on the individual research of the instructor. After a general introduction to the question of “What is Platonism?” and to the question why this philosophical school had become so dominant in Late Antiquity, it will show how, in the Alexandrian School, Neoplatonist philosophy and systematic Christian theology were born together. It will give a general overview of the evolution of the Neoplatonist schools of Rome, Apameia, Athens and Alexandria, also treating in a cursory manner those Christian thinkers who were in contact and dialogue with the Neoplatonists, mostly Origen, the Cappadocian Fathers, Evagrius of Pontus, Marius Victorinus, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and, later, John Philopon. It will also show that a mysterious movement that, by the end of the fourth century, received the pejorative label “Origenism” and became the subject of an ecumenical condemnation in AD 553, was basically a conglomerate of diverse schools of monastic Christian philosophy, united by a common language but not by a common dogmatic set of doctrines, and trying to find answers, compatible with the biblical revelation, to the same philosophical questions that occupied the minds of the pagan Platonist philosophers.

As it is impossible to give a parallel treatment either to all the main philosophical questions that were equally treated by pagan and Christian Platonists, or to all the schools the following couple of philosophical problems will be in the focus of our attention: 1. the structure of the divine world and the levels of being, based on an interpretation of Plato’s Parmenides; 2. the question of the eternity versus the temporal creation of the world, based on an interpretation of several Platonic dialogues but most of all on that of the Timaeus.

Methodology

 The course will be divided into three thematic groups, each consisting in a lecture and and uneven number of reading seminars. First a general introduction will be given, for which appropriate secondary literature is indicated below. For the thematic philosophical classes, after the instructor’s introduction, the students will be required to read the relevant passages from Plato’s dialogues and later Platonist texts referring to these passages, as well as some specific literature on the subject. These readings will be discussed at the seminars. The texts for the reading seminars will be distributed in English but those who are capable to do this will be encouraged to read them in Greek or Latin.

Schedule

 I. Introduction and brief historical overview

Week 1. Lecture: What is Platonism and who were the Platonists? An introduction to the problem.

Week 2. Seminar: Discussion of selected pieces of general literature on Neoplatonism and of a paper by the instructor entitled “What is Platonism?”

Secondary literature:

R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1972), Chapters 1 and 2: “The Aims of Neoplatonism” and “The Sources of Neoplatonism,” 1-36

J. N. Findlay, Plato and Platonism: An Introduction (New York: Times Books, 1978), Chapter 7: “The Influence and Worth of Platonism,” 205-241

The Cambridge History of Later Greek & Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge: The University Press, 1970), Part IV. A. C. Lloyd, “Epilogue: The Philosophical Characteristics of Neoplatonism,” 322-325

I. Perczel, “What is Platonism?” – a note for this class

Week 3. Lecture and brief discussion: An overview of the history of Late Antique Platonism: Middle Platonism; the birth of the Neoplatonist school and of systematic Christian theology in Alexandria: Philo, Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen. A brief history – factual and doctrinal – of the Neoplatonist schools.

Secondary literature:

J. Dillon, TheMiddle Platonists: 80 B.C. to A.D. 220 (London: Duckworth, 19962), Chapter 1: “The Old Academy and the Themes of Middle Platonism,” Sub-chapter A: “Plato: The Unwritten Doctrines,”  1-11; Sub-chapter E: “The Dominant Themes of Middle Platonism,” 43-51

The Cambridge History of Later Greek & Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge: The University Press, 1970), Part II: H. Chadwick, “Philo and the Beginnings of Christian Thought,” 137-192; Part III: A. H. Armstrong, “Plotinus,” 195-268; Part IV: A. C. Lloyd, “The Later Neoplatonists,” 272-322.

I. Perczel, “Origen, a Christian Platonist Philosopher” – a note for this class

Week 4. Lecture and brief discussion: What is Christian Platonism and who were the Christian Platonists? A brief history – factual and doctrinal – of the Christian Platonist schools.

The Cambridge History of Later Greek & Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge: The University Press, 1970), Part V: R. A. Markus, “Marius Victorinus and Augustine,” 327-419; Part VI: I. P. Sheldon-Williams, “The Greek Christian Platonist Tradition from the Cappadocians to Maximus and Eriugena,” 425-505.

I. Perczel, “Christian Platonism: What does this term mean?” – A note for this class

II. The structure of the divine world and the levels of being, based on an interpretation of Plato’s Parmenides

Week 5. Lecture: Plato’s Parmenides and the hierarchical levels of being; The “three primary hypostases” of Plotinus and Porphyry and Christian speculations about the metaphysical structure of the Holy Trinity in Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Synesius of Cyrene and Augustine.

Week 6. Reading seminar: The first three hypotheses of Plato’s Parmenides: Parmenides 9-20, 136E-155E.

Edition and translation to be used: Plato in Twelve Volumes. IV Cratylus, Parmenides, Greater Hippias, Lesser Hippias, with an English translation by H. N. Fowler /The Loeb Classical Library/ (Cambridge MA-London: Harvard University Press-W. Heinemann, 1970), 136-155.

Week 7. Reading seminar: Plotinus on the three primary hypostases: Enneads V.1 [10].

Edition and translation to be used: Plotinus in Seven Volumes with and English translation by A. H. Armstrong. V Enneads V. 1-9 /The Loeb Classical Library/ / (Cambridge MA-London: Harvard University Press-W. Heinemann, 1984), 7-53

Week 8. Reading Seminar: Proclus: The Platonic Theology, Book I, Chapters 1-12

Edition and French translation to be used: Proclus, Théologie platonicienne, livre I. Texte établi et traduit par H. D. Saffrey et L. G. Westerink (Paris: « Les Belles Lettres », 1968)

There is also an old English translation by Thomas Taylor, the Cambridge Platonist, which is online: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Six_Books_of_Proclus,_the_Platonic_Successor,_on_the_Theology_of_Plato/Book_I

Week 9. Reading seminar: Clement of Alexandria and Origen and a certain Pseudo-Basil on the Trinity: Rug-Carpets (Stromata), IV, 25, 155-157, Origen, Contra Celsum TBD, Pseudo-Basil, On the Spirit TBD. Pseudo-Dionysius on the three first hypotheses of the Parmenides – passages from the Divine Names and the the first four Letters.

Translations to be used:

Clement of Alexandria: Stromateis, translated by Roberts-Donaldson: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-stromata-book4.html ; another translation of the passage in consideration by I. Perczel will also be distributed.

Origen, Contra Celsum translated by Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: The University Press, 1953)

Pseudo-Basil, On the Spirit, the relevant passages will be distributed in a translation by I. Perczel.

Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. Translated by Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987). However, the relevant passages will be distributed in a translation by I. Perczel.

III. The question of the eternity versus the creation in time of the world

Week 10. Lecture: The question of the eternity versus the creation in time of the world; the Middle Platonist views; Origen’s solution for the philosophical problem; Plotinus’ doctrine; Porphyry’s lost treatise on the eternity of the world; the Christian reply to Porphyry: the Cappadocian Fathers; Pseudo-Justin (Theodoret of Cyrus?); the “Origenist” solution; Proclus’ treatise on the eternity of the world; John Philopon’s reply to Proclus.

Week 11. Reading Seminar: Plato’s Timaeus 27D-39E, Plotinus’ “On eternity and time” Enneads III. 7 [45].

Editions and translations to be used:

Plato in Twelve Volumes. VII. Timaeus, Critias, Cleitophon, Menexenus, Epistles, with an English translation by R. G. Bury /The Loeb Classical Library/ (Cambridge MA-London: Harvard University Press-W. Heinemann, 19999).

Plotinus in Seven Volumes with and English translation by A. H. Armstrong. III Enneads III. 1-9 /The Loeb Classical Library/ / (Cambridge MA-London: Harvard University Press-W. Heinemann, 1980), 293-355.

Week 12. Reading seminar: The pagan-Christian Platonist debate about the eternity of the world.

Origen, Fragmenta in evangelium Ioannis in catenis, ed. E. Preuschen, Origenes Werke, vol. 4 /Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 10/ (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1903), 483ff. - translation of I. Perczel.

 Proclus, In Platonis Timaeum commentaria, ed. E. Diehl, 3 vols. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1:1903; 2:1904; 3:1906, repr. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1965), 395, 10-396, 26 = A.R. Sodano, Porphyrii in Platonis Timaeum commentariorum fragmenta (Naples: n.p., 1964), frg. 51, 110-151. - translation of I. Perczel.

 Pseudo-Justin Martyr, Christian Questions to the Pagans (Quaestiones christianorum ad gentiles, ed. by J. C. T. Otto in: Corpus apologetarum Christianorum sauculi secundi, vol. 5, 3d edn. Jena: Mauke 1881, reprint Wiesbaden: Sandig 1969), 176 B-179 B - translation of I. Perczel.

 Anathema 6 of the anti-Origenist Council of 553 A.D., ed. J. Straub in Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum IV/1, Berlin 1971, p. 248-249, here : 248 - translation of I. Perczel.