Plotinus was the last great Hellenic philosopher active during the rise of Christianity just as Christianity was just beginning to supersede the pagan Hellenic world. It remains to be known how much engagement he had with Christianity, though it is undeniably the case that latter Christians were familiar with his work. His only surviving work, The Enneads, was composed by his student Porphyry—himself radically anti-Christian—and was influential on Christian figures, the most important being Saint Augustine.
There remains an outstanding question as to the significant influence that Plotinus had over Augustine. In his famous work, St. Augustine’s Confessions: The Odyssey of Soul, Robert J O’Connell writes that Augustine’s account of the “Fall of Man” and the journey of man’s soul after the Fall, “is more faithfully Neo-Platonic and more specifically Plotinian than heretofore commonly acknowledged.” O’Connell’s work sparked a fury of new Augustinian scholarship to address this question. Going back to Bertrand Russell, or even to the Renaissance Catholic humanists, there has always been an acknowledged debt from Plotinus to Augustine to Catholic theological anthropology. In fact, this is one of the other major bones of contention between the Latin West and Greek East in Christian theology. However, O’Connell was the first scholar (himself a Jesuit priest) to assert the essentiality of Plotinianism to understanding Augustine, that is, without Plotinus there would be no Augustine, or without Plotinus, we cannot understand Augustine.
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