The Christian Origin of Neo-Platonism


The founder of Neo-Platonism was Plotinus. Many of the Church Fathers (e.g. Augustine) are accused of mixing Neo-Platonic philosophy with Christianity. However, consider this fact. Plotinus trained under a Christian philosopher: Ammonius Saccas in Alexandria, Egypt (died in the 240s). Sometimes Ammonius is listed as a co-founder of Neo-Platonism. His two most famous disciples were Plotinus and Origen.

Porphyry wished to claim the revered Ammonius for the pagan side and wrote that Ammonius had been raised by Christian parents but abandoned the rustic faith of his childhood when he discovered “true philosophy”. Jerome contests this account of Porphyry and maintains that Ammonius remained true to Christ till his dying day:

Porphyry falsely accused him [Ammonius] of having become a heathen again, after being a Christian, but it is certain that he continued a Christian until the very end of his life. (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 55)

The point of all this is that “Neo-Platonism” may very well be the Christian invention of Ammonius and not something swiped by later Christian interpreters.

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