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DOUGLAS BURTON-CHRISTIE

The Pagan Philosopher's Quest for Holiness: Plotinus and his Circle

From Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert, Oxford University Press 1993, pp. 49-54


PLATO

ARISTOTLE

THE GREEK OLD TESTAMENT (SEPTUAGINT)

THE NEW TESTAMENT

PLOTINUS

DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE

MAXIMUS CONFESSOR

SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN

More...


Time and Creation in Gregory of Nyssa and Meister Eckhart
Time and Creation
In Gregory of Nyssa and
Meister Eckhart

Page 2

The pagan philosopher's positive appraisal of culture and learning linked him inextricably to a particular social milieu and to a particular understanding of his vocation within that milieu. Generally, the pagan holy man lived in an urban setting and operated largely among the educated classes.[8] In the case of Plotinus, we know that, upon leaving Ammonius, he came to settle in Rome,[9] where he gathered a certain number of zelotai, or disciples, around himself.[10] The economic requirements to be a disciple were, like the educational requirements, quite high. To become one of the zelotai "required not just dedication, but leisure and financial security ... [M]ost holy men do seem to have come from prosperous backgrounds."[11] The social, economic, and educational profile of the pagan philosopher made it fairly easy for him to move within circles of power and influence in the Roman world. There is evidence to suggest that at least some pagan philosophers eschewed these circles of influence for a more marginal position in society, "one of essential non-involvement."[12] However, for Plotinus and many others, their position in society was an important part of their currency, which through wise trading, enabled them to exert considerable influence within their culture. Among the wider circle surrounding Plotinus were senators and noble women, and Plotinus is said to have acted as a guardian to children of "men and women of position."[13] Further, Porphyry describes Plotinus's familiarity with the emperor, who enlisted Plotinus's support for a proposed "platonopolis" or city of philosophers.[14] Plotinus's role as an "arbiter in many differences"[15] further attests to the influence that a pagan philosopher often played within his culture. It suggests that Plotinus should not be thought of as a marginal figure, an unknown and modest Alexandrian, but as someone who was known , and admired by many of the most important and influential members of his society.

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Cf. Plotinus, The soul's movement will be about its source, Music leads to the absolute beauty
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