From the time of Plato until the repression of pagan philosophy under Justinian, a period of nearly one thousand years, Platonic metaphysics was one of the dominant views on the nature of reality. It was to have a significant impact on Christian, Islamic and Jewish theology. In its later stages, Platonism is often referred to as Neoplatonism, and this is taken to imply a fall from purely rational speculation into a philosophic and theurgic mysticism, as epitomised by Plotinus and Iamblichus respectively.

Several aspects of Kabbalah have a superficial similarity to Neoplatonism. It has even been characterised as Jewish Neoplatonism. This is too glib, but at a superficial level there are many similarities.

Probably the most important and influential summation of Platonic philosophy comes from Plotinus. A paraphrase of the Enneads of Plotinus (incorrectly titled The Theology of Aristotle) was influential in Arab philosophy, and both directly and indirectly, in Jewish and Christian philosophy. According to Plotinus, reality is an emanation of a single creative principle he calls the One. The One has no qualities accessible to cognition. The One emanates a realm of archetypal  ideas or forms, which provides the organisional patterns for souls. Souls in turn imprint, structure and organise matter, but are separate from it.

The One is the source of all life and all being. Matter is the polar opposite, in that it is pure, formless alienation from the One.  The ontological status of Matter in Platonism is quite perplexing: as it is utterly formless, it is as cognitively void as the One, and although Plotinus wrestles with the inherent duality of his system, this duality is not resolved.

Each person has a soul which is a part of the World Soul, and whose nature comes ultimately from the One. The nature of the soul is another problem in Platonism that is not resolved in a satisfactory way. Although the soul informs and animates matter, it shares no quality with matter. Attempts were made to chop the soul up into parts - for example, a higher soul and a lower soul - in order to bridge the unbridgeable gap between Soul and Matter. One finds reasoning of this kind in Kabbalah, where the soul can have several parts.

The highest level of cognition in the Soul is nous, the intellectual ability to apprehend that which is eternally true in the real of archetypal forms. This view was probably derived from the study of pure mathematics, and connects the Platonic tradition back to Pythagoras. Although Plotinus views the world as a beautiful creature, a tradition that goes back to Plato, his views are fundamentally ascetic. The world of Matter ensnares the Soul, which loses sight of its true nature. Only by cultivating the intellectual faculty can the Soul recover true knowledge of the source of all being.

This view of the Soul was modified by Iamblichus, who saw the Soul as so embedded in Matter that for most people it cannot free itself by pure intellection alone. He saw traditional pagan cultic practices and theurgic ritual as a way to awaken the soul to the ruling powers of the cosmos. This combination of philosophy and tradition presented a powerful challenge to a nascent Christianity, and was squashed, although it has survived  in Hermetic practices to this day. Iamblichus's invigoration of ancient practices is also similar to the way in which medieval Kabbalistic theosophy reinterpreted and gave a mystical significance to traditional forms of Jewish worship.

The world of Platonism was a locative cosmos: that is a hierarchy of emanation deriving from a single source in which everything had its place in a great chain of being. The principle of plenitude maintained that every possibility of being within the One was expressed. The overall unity within the system meant that nothing (apart from matter) was truely alienated, and any two principles that appeared to be opposed could in fact be reconciled by a third principle. This idea is often called "the principle of the mean term".

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Neoplatonism in shaping the philosophical worldview of Christianity and Islam. There is much in Kabbalah that reflects the Neoplatonism that formed a pervasive cultural background throughout its history, but over time it diverged in several important senses. The most important was the growing sense of dislocation that found its full expression in the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria. The harmonious great chain of being of Neoplatonism was fractured, shattered, and replaced by a perception that cataclysmic events had created a realm of evil and impurity. In Neoplatonism, human beings simply had to restore a true perception of reality to recover their place in the great scheme. In the Kabbalah of Luria, human beings were an essential component in the repair and restoration of a damaged cosmos.

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