Christian Platonism

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Philo on Heavenly Inspirations

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Manna, Maciejowski Bible (13th C.)

PHILO here, in one of his most famous passages, gives us insight into the personal experiential basis of his exegesis of the patriarchs.  First he presents Abraham as the type of man who directs his mind away from thoughts associated with worldly and carnal concerns (Egypt) to the “father’s land” of Wisdom from which heavenly inspirations flow.  This orientation gives birth to a new disposition of mind, Isaac — whom, Philo elsewhere explains, symbolizes spiritual Joy. He then describes the nature of his own experiences, noting with regret intervening periods of aridity. (FIRST DRAFT)

(28) … Nay, thou must change thine abode and betake thee to thy father’s land, the land of the Word that is holy and in some sense father of those who submit to training: and that land is Wisdom, abode most choice of virtue-loving souls.

(29) In this country there awaiteth thee the nature which is its own pupil, its own teacher, that needs not to be fed on milk as children are fed, that has been stayed by a Divine oracle from going down into Egypt (Gen. 26:2) and from meeting with the ensnaring pleasures of the flesh. That nature is entitled Isaac.

(30) When thou hast entered upon his inheritance, thou canst not but lay aside thy toil; for the perpetual abundance of good things ever ready to the hand gives freedom from toil. And the fountain from which the good things are poured forth is the companionship of the bountiful God. He shews this to be so when to set His seal upon the flow of His kindnesses, He says “I will be with thee.”

VII. (31) What  fair thing, then, could fail when there was present God the Perfecter, with gifts of grace, His virgin daughters, whom the Father that begat them rears up uncorrupted and undefiled? Then are all forms of studying, toiling, practising at rest; and without come forth all things in one outburst charged with benefit for all.

(32) And the harvest of spontaneous good things is called “Release,” [άφεσις; aphesis] inasmuch as the Mind [νους; nous] is released from the working out of its own projects, and is, we may say, emancipated from self-chosen tasks, by reason of the abundance of the rain and ceaseless shower of blessings.

(33) And these are of a most marvellous nature and passing fair. For the offspring of the soul’s own travail are for the most part poor abortions, things untimely born; but those which God waters with the snows of heaven come to the birth perfect, complete and peerless.

(34) I feel no shame in recording my own  experience, a thing I know from its having happened to me a thousand times. On some occasions, after making up my mind to follow the usual course of writing on philosophical tenets, and knowing definitely the substance of what I was to set down, I have found my understanding (διάνοιαν; dianoia) incapable of giving birth to a single idea, and have given it up without accomplishing anything, reviling my understanding for its self-conceit, and filled with amazement at the might of Him that is to Whom is due the opening and closing of the soul-wombs.

(35) On other  occasions, I have approached my work empty and suddenly become full, the ideas falling in a shower from above and being sown invisibly, so that under the influence of the Divine possession I have been filled with corybantic frenzy and been unconscious of anything, place, persons present, myself, words spoken, lines written. For I obtained language, ideas, an enjoyment of light, keenest vision, pellucid distinctness of objects, such as might be received through the eyes as the result of clearest shewing.

Source: Philo, On the Migration of Abraham 6.28−7.35 (tr. Colson & Whitaker, pp. 149−153)

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Philo – On Melchizedek

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Melchizedek Blesses Abram - The Bible and its Story (1909)

Melchizedek Blesses Abram - The Bible and its Story (1909)

Abram (Abraham) and Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–20)

[18] And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
[19] And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
[20] And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

Philo, Allegorical Interpretation (Legum Allegoriarum) 3.7982

(79) Moreover, God made Melchisedek, the king of peace, that is of Salem, for that is the interpretation of this name, “his own high priest” [Gen 14:18], without having previously mentioned any particular action of his, but merely because he had made him a king, and a lover of peace, and especially worthy of his priesthood. For he is called a just king, and a king is the opposite of a tyrant, because the one is the interpreter of law, and the other of lawlessness.

(80) Therefore the tyrannical mind imposes violent and mischievous commands on both soul and body, and such as have a tendency to cause violent suffering, being commands to act according to vice, and to indulge the passions with enjoyment. But the other, the kingly mind, in the first place, does not command, but rather persuades, since it gives recommendations of such a character, that if guided by them, life, like a vessel, will enjoy a fair voyage through life, being directed in its course by a good governor and pilot; and this good pilot is right reason.

(81) We may therefore call the tyrannical mind the ruler of war, and the kingly mind the guide to peace, that is Salem. And this kingly mind shall bring forth food full of cheerfulness and joy; for “he brought forth bread and wine,” which the Ammonites and Moabites were not willing to give to the beholder, that is Israel; by reason of such unwillingness they are shut out from the companionship and assembly of God. For the Ammonites being they who are sprung from the outward sense of the mother, and the Moabites, who originate in the mind of the father, are two different dispositions, which look upon the mind and the outward sense as the efficient causes of all existing things, but take no notice of God. Therefore “they shall not come,” says Moses, “into the assembly of the Lord, because they did not come to meet you with bread and water when you came out of Egypt” [Deut 23:4], that is, out of the passions.

(82) But Melchisedek shall bring forward wine instead of water, and shall give your souls to drink, and shall cheer them with unmixed wine, in order that they may be wholly occupied with a divine intoxication, more sober than sobriety itself. For reason is a priest, having, as its inheritance the true God, and entertaining lofty and sublime and magnificent ideas about him, “for he is the priest of the most high God.” [Gen 14:18] Not that there is any other God who is not the most high; for God being one, is in the heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and there is no other besides Him.” [Deut 4:39] But he sets in motion the notion of the Most High, from his conceiving of God not in a low and grovelling spirit, but in one of exceeding greatness, and exceeding sublimity, apart from any conceptions of matter.

Source: Yonge, Charles Duke.  The Works of Philo. Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. David M. Scholer, editor. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0943575931.

Written by John Uebersax

March 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm