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Who was Plotinus and what was Neoplatonism?

There is a growing number of Americans who identify as “spiritual” rather than with a particular established religion. Early Christians found inspiration in Plotinus and Neoplatonism, even though Plotinus himself never actually wrote about Christianity. Who was Plotinus and what was Neoplatonism? Where can the human soul find the most comfort? How might Plotinus’ ideas help modern Americans be more “spiritual” rather than “religious”?

Neoplatonism was a complex model of spiritual cosmology to describe the universe and the place of a human in it given by Plotinus, a philosopher from the age of antiquity. The foundation of this philosophy were three elements – The One, The Intellect, and The Soul. The One is singularity or unity and is indivisible and self-sufficient. The One is not a being, a source, or a cause but rather an ever-existing reality. The One overflows and emanates the intellect or the divine mind, the second fundamental component of his model. The existence of the intellect is the thought, and the thought of this is the One. The intellect is not self-sufficient and emanates into the universal soul. The location in the cosmos of every physical form is the soul. The soul is active, it can contemplate. The part of the soul that contemplates is connected with the intellect and is considered the higher part; whereas, the active part manifests as material bodies and is known as the lower part. It is in this lower part that the soul may find corruption and forget its connection with intellect and the One. Even in this corrupt form, the higher part of the soul stays connected with the intellect ensuring that it returns to its divine origin.

The human soul only finds comfort when it is connected with its higher self which in turn connects it to the one. It is only with this connection that the physical manifestation of the soul can find peace and comfort. Plotinus model emanates outwards with ‘The One’ in the center followed by intellect, soul, universe, and matter the outermost, whereas all religions equate the one with the God placing it at the outermost or topmost level. The central idea of Neoplatonism understanding is that the soul has a cause which is the intellect and an effect which is the material universe. Neoplatonism is the philosophy of the soul and does not preach the idea of any religion or deity. With an increased inclination of Americans towards a spiritual ideology that the soul is separate from the material; or the higher part of the soul is connected with the intellect as given by Neoplatonism. The survey results show that the younger population in America is more inclined towards being spiritual and not religious.



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