THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 2, December, 1939
(Pages 53-57; Size: 15K)
(Number 58 of a 59-part series)
FROM THE NEOPLATONISTS TO H.P.B.
THE Neoplatonic School of Alexandria was founded in 193 A.D. by Ammonius Saccas. Its object was to reconcile the religious and philosophical systems of East and West by tracing them back to their original source, thus uniting all nations on a common ethical basis. The School was divided into an exoteric and an esoteric section, with rules copied from the Orphic Mysteries. The Neoplatonic philosophy was based upon three fundamental propositions: (1) that the whole of Nature is rooted in one Supreme Essence; (2) that the soul of man, being a radiation of the Universal Soul, is immortal; and (3) that man, by self-purification, can become a god in human form. After the death of Ammonius, his work was continued by Plotinus, who founded a school in Rome; by Porphyry, who expressed the Neoplatonic principles in terms of practical life; and by Iamblichus, the Pythagorean, who re-awakened an interest in the Egyptian Mysteries.
The Christian Church was opposed to the Neoplatonic Movement from its beginning. The Christians taught a personal God, the Neoplatonists an impersonal Principle. The Christians regarded the universe as a creation of God, the Neoplatonists declared it to be an emanation of the Supreme Essence. Christianity claimed to be a unique religion; the Neoplatonists pointed to the source of all religions. Several prominent Church Fathers -- Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Athenagoras and Augustine -- were drawn into the Neoplatonic Movement, but their efforts to reconcile Neoplatonism with Christianity met with little success.
Julian, Initiate-Emperor of Rome, strove in his short reign of three years to revive Neoplatonism, but within a generation after his untimely death (363), another Emperor, Theodosius, had killed or exiled all the pagan philosophers, made churches of the temples and destroyed the last of the Mystery Schools. Hypatia, the girl-philosopher of Alexandria, was murdered by Cyril's horde of fanatical monks in 414. A little later Proclus brought new life to the Platonic Academy in Athens, but not for long. In 529 Justinian closed the School and drove the last of the Neoplatonists from Europe. It was the end of the cycle.
The destruction of the Mysteries and the Neoplatonic Movement left the Christian Church in full control. The German hordes who descended upon the Romans in the fifth and sixth centuries offered splendid material for Christian propaganda. Uncouth and uneducated barbarians, they were greatly awed by the spectacular pageantry of the Church and readily accepted its narrow dogmas. During the three centuries that followed, Greek literature entirely disappeared from the continent, although some of the writings of Plato and the Neoplatonists found their way into Ireland. In the ninth century the Irish scholar John Scotus Erigena resuscitated some of these works and inaugurated the Scholastic movement, which was a reaction against the intellectual stupor of the times. For the next three centuries the thinkers of Europe turned toward Plato for inspiration. Toward the end of the twelfth century the writings of Aristotle were introduced to the schoolmen. From then on the scholars of Europe were divided into two classes: the Realists, who followed the Platonic line, and the Nominalists, who were Aristotelians.
In the fifteenth century another reincarnation of Platonism occurred. This movement was started in Italy by a number of Greek scholars who had fled from Constantinople in fear of the Turks. In 1438 one of these scholars, Gemisthus Pletho, an ardent Greek Platonist, inspired Cosmo de Medici with the idea of founding a Platonic Academy in Florence. In preparation for this event, Cosmo gave Marsilio Ficino, the son of his physician, an education in Greek philosophy. Ficino undertook his task with enthusiasm, making excellent translations of Plato and the Neoplatonists. The Florentine Academy reached its peak under Lorenzo the Magnificent, Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, the latter being a student of Kabala as well as a Greek scholar. This period of the Renaissance witnessed the rebirth of practically all of the old Greek schools -- the Platonic and Aristotelian, the Stoic and Epicurean, the Skeptic and the Neoplatonic.
Germany also participated in this revival of Greek thought, students there repeating some of the teachings of the Mysteries. Trithemius, the teacher of Paracelsus, presented the sevenfold order of evolution. Cornelius Agrippa described the marvelous powers of the soul which has united itself with its divine source. John Reuchlin translated the inner meaning of the Pythagorean Tetraktys. Paracelsus showed his affinity with Plato by declaring that "the true philosopher sees the Reality, not merely the outward appearance," and by defining philosophy as the "true perception and understanding of Cause and Effect." Giordano Bruno openly confessed that he had derived his knowledge from Plato, Pythagoras and the Neoplatonists. He reiterated the fundamental propositions of these philosophers by declaring that nature is a living unity of living units whose evolution proceeds under the law of cause and effect, and by stating that man's progress through earth life is accomplished by means of numberless reincarnations. Against these spiritual philosophers who followed the Platonic method were ranged the followers of Aristotle, culminating in Francis Bacon, the father of modern materialism. Reversing the true order of evolution, Bacon declared that "the first Creation of God was the light of the sense; the last was the light of the reason; and His Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of the Spirit."
Jacob Boehme, the mystic-philosopher of the early seventeenth century, faithfully reflected the archaic wisdom in his writings. Boehme was a fountain of inspiration to later German schools of philosophy. Modern science and philosophy are said to have been born in this century. Any one, however, who is acquainted with the scientific and philosophical concepts of the ancient Greeks will discover that these "modern" ideas are but warmed-over dishes covered, in most cases, with a thick sauce of crass materialism. The scientific theories of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are merely repetitions and enlargements of theories presented twenty centuries before by Anaxagoras, Leucippus and Empedocles. When Galileo argued for the heliocentric system in 1632, he built upon what Pythagoras, Heracleides and Ecphantus had taught two thousand years before.
Modern philosophy is said to have started with René Descartes, whose system is based upon the concept of Self-existence. Cogito, ergo sum. In attempting to define the Self, Descartes said: "I am not this collection of members which is called the human body. I am the being who perceives." He believed that the seat of the soul is located in the pineal gland which, although linked to the brain, has an independent action, as it can be put into a swinging motion "by the animal spirits" (the currents of nerve-auric compound circulation) "which cross the cavities of the skull in every sense." Descartes also revived the theory of elemental vortices which had been taught in Greece by Anaxagoras and Leucippus, and before that by the Egyptians, the Chaldeans and the Brahmins of the esoteric school.
If the philosophical systems of Spinoza and Leibniz were reconciled and each corrected by the other, the true essence and spirit of the esoteric philosophy would appear. Spinoza recognized but one universal indivisible substance and absolute ALL, like Parabrahm. Leibniz recognized an infinitude of Beings, from and in the One. Leibniz endowed "the whole creation with mental life" as every Occultist does. In his Monadologie he came very close to some of the hidden secrets of esoteric Theogony, although these speculations did not lead beyond the lower principles of the great Cosmic Body. The "Monads" of Leibniz are the "Jivas" of Eastern philosophy, his "reduced universes," of which "there are as many as there are Monads," are the chaotic representation of the septenary system with its divisions and sub-divisions.
It is difficult to find a single speculation in Western metaphysics which has not been anticipated by archaic Eastern philosophy. From Kant to Spencer, it is all a more or less distorted echo of the Vedantic doctrines. Kant's primordial substance which "cannot be the matter which fills today the heavenly spaces" is nothing more than the Akasa. His idea of the Self and its importance in the scheme of things is an echo of Eastern psychology. His belief that there is a form of knowledge which transcends human experience is a reflection of the doctrine of the Mysteries. His statement that the truths gained by the intellect are inferior to those gained through moral insight may be found at the same source.
The German Transcendentalists, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, while borrowing profusely from Vedantism, Neoplatonism and the writings of Jacob Boehme, diverged widely from the primitive archaic concept of an Absolute Principle, and mirrored only an aspect of the basic idea of the Vedanta. Fichte distinguished Being as One, which is known only through the Manifold. According to Hegel, the "Unconscious" would never have undertaken the laborious task of evolving the Universe except in the hope of attaining Self-consciousness. A Vedantin would not accept that idea, although he would agree with Hegel that "nature is a perpetual becoming." Although Schelling and Hegel drew copiously upon Jacob Boehme's Mysterium Magnum for their inspiration, the truly occult theories of this great mystic are most faithfully mirrored in the works of the "unknown" philosopher of the eighteenth century, Louis Claude de St. Martin.
Herbert Spencer, who was a contemporary of H. P. Blavatsky, brings us still closer to ancient truths. Certain passages in his First Principles, portraying the alternate periods of universal evolution and dissolution, indicate that he was either acquainted with Hindu philosophy or that he had clear intuition. He repeats the ancient doctrine of emanation when he describes the gradual appearance of the known and heterogeneous from the unknown and homogeneous, and expresses an ancient Vedantic tenet when he asserts that the nature of the First Cause may be essentially the same as that of the consciousness which wells up within man himself.
As the tide of the Theosophical Movement moved westward, a restatement of the ancient doctrines appeared in the writings of the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He led the world straight back to Plato, and to the philosophical concepts of the ancient East. He openly declared that the Vedas contain the ethics which have influenced every great thinker since the time that they were written. He described the Bhagavad-Gita as the "first of books," calling it the "voice of an old intelligence which in another age and another climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us." He declared the Indian and Persian Scriptures to be "majestic" and pictured Buddhism as the "necessary or structural action of the human mind." Recognizing Plato as the link between the East and the West, he said that out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men. With the humility of the true disciple, he suggests the fraternity of the Masters in speaking of the "high priesthood of pure reason, the Trismegisti, the expounders of the principles of thought from age to age." Emerson was a true forerunner of H. P. Blavatsky, as his philosophy was based upon the age-old truths of the Wisdom-Religion. His prime doctrine was that of Unity in diversity. He considered the Law of Polarity as the fundamental law of the universe. He pointed to the presence of the God within every man and urged self-induced and self-devised efforts as the only means of man's salvation. Further, he considered himself merely as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and openly proclaimed the coming of a new Teacher who would bring back the ancient doctrines in all their fulness.
The new Teacher was "H.P.B." She claimed no originality for her ideas. In the first chapter of her first book she led her readers back to Plato and Pythagoras, to the Neoplatonists and to the "Brahmans and Lamaists of the Orient." In the Introductory to The Secret Doctrine she showed that all true philosophies, of whatever age, are but "fragments of a primeval revelation granted to the ancestors of the whole race of mankind." She also prophesied that in the twentieth century some other disciple may be sent by the Masters to give final and irrefutable proofs of the existence of the Gupta-Vidya, from which all philosophical systems have sprung. "Thus," she says, "the Past shall help to realize the Present, and the latter to better appreciate the Past."
THE MYSTERY OF MATTO GROSSO
(Part 59 of a 59-part series)
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