ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

81. Neo-Pythagorism and Pythagorean Platonism. -- At a time when ancient doctrines of a philosophico-religious character were being revived Pythagorism was sure to attract the attention of philosophers. In the last century of the pagan era the Pythagorean philosophy reappeared (5), not indeed in the purity of its archaic form, but modified by compromises with other systems.

There were those, however, who would fain restore the Pythagorean doctrine just as it had been delivered by the philosopher of Samos: these were the Neo-Pythagoreans. But their Neo-Pythagorism is in reality an eclectic system, founded on Platonism and Aristotelianism, supplemented by fragments of Stoicism; its only Pythagorean attributes being its marked fondness for mathematics, for the symbolism of numbers, and for the mystic phenomena of religious asceticism. Indeed, its ascetical theories constitute the most original part of Neo-Pythagorism. Inferior gods and the daemons serve as intermediaries between man and the Supreme Divinity. God is so far above us that we could not know His wishes if He had not revealed them to us Himself: the mantic art puts man in communion with God; purificatory practices prepare him for commerce with the Divinity.

On the other hand, a group of eclectic Platonists (73) produced a remarkable medley of Platonic, Stoic, and Peripatetic doctrines, mingled with theurgic and religious speculations. PLUTARCH OF CHAERONEA is responsible for this complex philosophy. In metaphysics he supports the Platonic dualism of God and the world-soul, but between these two opposing principles he interposes a whole legion of daemons as emissaries of Divine providence. He believes in the immortality and transmigration of souls (Plato); he teaches that the immediate intercourse of man, detached from himself, with God, makes up for the inadequacy of reason; he lays stress on religious practices (Pythagoras). MAXIMUS, APULEIUS OF MADAURA, ALBINUS whose lessons Galen had followed at Smyrna in 151-2, develop still more the role of those daemon-beings, intermediaries between God and matter. On this conception CELSUS bases a justification of polytheism. NUMENIUS (about 160) borrows from the Magi, the Egyptians, the Brahmins and Moses. Combined with Egyptian theories, we find again the same body of Platonico-Pythagorean doctrine in a series of works dated from the end of the third century, and transmitted to posterity under the name of HERMES TRISMEGISTUS. They contain a remarkable apology for national -- especially Egyptian -- polytheism, in which there is evidence of a vigorous though disheartened defence of paganism against triumphant Christianity. The writings of this Pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus figure largely in the Middle Ages.

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