Plotinus (204/05-270)

  • Striving for the highest principle

    Born in Egypt, Plotinus studied in Alexandria for eleven years before moving in 245 to Rome where he lived and taught until his death. His works were not only important for Christianity but also influenced Muslim and Jewish mystics.

    Plotinus adopted from Plato (428-347 BC) the distintinction between a spiritual and a sensual world as well as the idea that man as a thinking being is able to detach himself from his physical existence. In the spiritual realm humans find the path to their true selves and to blissful happiness. This happens in an ecstatic union with the One (to hen) not accessible to reason, the intrinsically good and beautiful, the divine.

    As first or highest principle, this One is beyond as well as at the origin of all being. The intellect (nous) which enables the union with the One is the second or middle principle. The soul (psyche), the third and lowest principle, strives to return to the highest principle for it only temporarily enters into a union with the body. The movement of thought which is seen as ascent is described by Plotinus in sometimes erotic language as the lustful tremor of a soul which has become a “heavenly Aphrodite” who is impregnated by God.