The neo – Platonism is a modern term used to designate the period of Platonic philosophy that begins with the work of Plotinus and ends with the closing of the Platonic Academy by Emperor Justinian in 529 d. The name Platonism, which is often described as being ” mystical ” or religious in nature , was developed outside of the mainstream of academic Platonism. The origins of Neoplatonism date back to the era of Hellenistic syncretism that spawned such movements and schools of thought as Gnosticism and the Hermetic tradition .


What is Neoplatonism?

It is a set of doctrines and schools of Platonic inspiration that is presented as the last great expression of ancient pagan thought based on the mystical emanation of the material world from a spiritual principle .

  • What is Neoplatonism?
  • History
  • Representatives
  • Characteristics of Neoplatonism
  • Ethics
  • Relationship with Christianity
  • Art
  • Influence
  • Examples of Neoplatonism

What is Neoplatonism?

The current consists in basing the principle of all that exists as an absolute unit , the One , or the supreme reality, and that from it all realities arise by emanation . The first being emanated from the One is the Logos , also called Word , Intelligence, which contains the ideas of possible things. Later, this Intelligence is in charge of generating the Soul , which implies the principle of movement and matter .


The One , the Intelligence and the Soul are the three hypostases that enclose the entire Neoplatonic Trinity . The being that has been begotten struggles to ascend to the perfection from which it emanates. All things come from the good and therefore tend to go towards the good. The soul must overcome thought and that, when confused with God, it loses its own consciousness.


Neoplatonism had its origin approximately in the second century , and at that time it was taught in various philosophical schools until the sixth century. It is considered as the last manifestation of ancient Platonism , and was created with the philosophical doctrines of Pythagoras , Aristotle , Zeno and mainly of Plato .

Its first representative was Philo of Alexandria , a Jew who in the first century proposed a Platonic interpretation of the biblical text. Another of its representatives was Ammonio Saccas who in turn is considered the true creator of Neoplatonism, who tried to amalgamate Platonic, Aristotelian, Christian and pagan ideas. However, Neoplatonism reached its greatest splendor with Plotinus who expounded the doctrine of Neoplatonism in his ” Enneads . 

After the year 400, the doctrine was taught in the Academy of Athens , but it stopped working by order of the Roman emperor Justinian. Later it resurfaced during the Renaissance , a time in which material beauty is combined with spiritual beauty, just like the Baroque period .


The main representatives of Neoplatonism were:

  • Plotinus : is considered the founder of Neoplatonism. For him, God was the cause of all that existed and that emanated from him the universal intellect, the soul and the sensible world.
  • Porphyry and Iamblichus : they were disciples of Plotinus and followed his ideas.
  • Proclus : he was the most systematic of the followers of the doctrine and is the main representative of the phase of philosophical thought . He was also the last great representative of the current, although his disciple Marino continued with his teachings.
  • Amono Saccas : He brought Neoplatonic doctrine to Rome and founded a school. He is the founder of the Neoplatonic school.

Characteristics of Neoplatonism

The main characteristics of Neoplatonism are the following:

  • It is a religious current with a mystical tendency of man and divinity .
  • They believed that the imperfection was in the matter.
  • They considered that when the soul of man was corrupted, it was imprisoned in the body.
  • It was an idealistic and spiritual system of philosophy that had a tendency to mysticism.
  • It arose during the pagan world of Greece and Rome .
  • It was based on the doctrines of Plato.
  • They believed that man was made up of body and soul and that was why he was similar to God.
  • The spirituality of Neoplatonism was used by Christian thinkers to defend the conception of the human soul .


With regard to Neoplatonic ethics, we find that it was marked in an important way by religion and by the mystical tendency of man to be in contact with divinity . Plotinus was in charge of developing an idealistic scheme with Platonic bases to influence Christian ascetics that still persists in some religious groups.

The ethics was based on the one , which was the basis of everything, it was total perfection, a principle of divine origin that was deployed outwards in the form of intelligence , then in the form of the soul and then as similar souls in body . They also gave special importance to intellectual life because this was the purpose of man.

Relationship with Christianity

The Christian Apostolic post believed in the Platonism and the ancient pagan philosophies that Christianity had managed to leave behind. However, Neoplatonism has characteristics that caught the attention of some intellectual Christians . Neoplatonism’s Tripartite Model of Divinity was perfectly complemented by the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity . Neoplatonism insisted on the transcendent immaterial realm as the highest good, and also called for ascetic life in Christianity.

Some Christians saw that Neoplatonism contained all the main ideas of Christianity, with the only difference that it did not recognize Christ . The reality, even if Christians denied it, was that the Trinity was Platonic in origin, in fact most of the church fathers were Platonic. The “unique” being of Platonism became the Hebrew God for Christians. Another of the few differences was that Neoplatonism did not speak of a demon , but attributed evil to the lack of goodness of man.


In this period the artists developed a new, more formal language and gave more attention to the renewal of the themes. Works with secular or mythological themes began to be created, trying to reconcile ancient philosophy with Christianity . Art was based on love as the force that moved the universe and beauty , an immaterial one associated with God and a material associated with the sensible world.


Christian thinkers found in Plato’s spiritualism the perfect weapon to defend and maintain a conception of the human soul , a concept that was rejected by pagan materialism but that the Christian church accepted decisively.

In this way, when the ideas of Plotinus began to stand out, Christian writers took advantage of the doctrine, since it said that there is a spiritual world more real than the world of matter.

Examples of Neoplatonism

An example of Neoplatonism is as follows:

  • A person who believes in Neoplatonism preaches that the purpose of man wants to find the freedom of the spiritual soul . He thinks that the soul must be freed from all sensualism in order to come cleanly before God .
  • Man becomes the son of God to obey him and do only his will of God. Man cannot reach his own destiny by his own forces, but needs the grace of God.

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