here’s another page out of the neoplatonist playbook:
in the works of Proclus, and psuedo-Dionysus, who was evidently a student of proclus, (and did us all the favor of injecting platonism into early christianity, thus preventing the collapse of christian metaphysics into incoherent gibberish for about a thousand years) there’s a lot of concern with correct naming.
What kind of naming? Divine naming. The names one ascribes to god. Both proclus and dionysus give a tremendous amount of effort to making sure that people know how to correctly name and conceive of the creator.
Now, at first glance, it’s hard to imagine why this might be important. Especially for jaded post-moderns like us who instinctively recoil from arbitrary labeling and controlling of definitions on the part of ‘authorities’. But there’s more to this than one might realise.
Now let’s remember that in the platonic schema, intelligibility is the bridge between soul and god. That reason and intellect in the highest sense is how the individual personality can come to know true being. So having incorrect, incoherent, or contradictory ideas can be a real problem. And the higher the station that these incorrect ideas occupy, the worse the problem gets.
For that reason, according to plato, in the republic, the worst possible thing that a person can do is hold false ideas about god. Because when you’re talking about god, you’re talking about the nature of ultimate reality, and thus whatever ideas happen to occupy this position will influence all the others. If you have an idea of god as cruel, capricious, arbitrary, as having contradictory qualities, as embodying principles that diminish the good, or the one, this can only reverberate down through one’s whole being.
In a lesser way, having incomplete or inaccurate notions of the one ( the preferred platonic term for god) can also cause confusion. So proclus and dionsysus both describe a descending chain of titles and attributes, down from the most perfect one-in-itself, to the transcendent maker, the logos, the holy trinity and whatnot. Each of these has appropriate uses and implications that follow from those uses, and all subordinate in their correct order to the one-in-itself. Treating them as interchangeable, or worse, identical, is asking for trouble. Just like any other sophisiticated technical field, theology requires a precise language and terminology and that terminology has to be used in the correct way. Just as scientific jargon cannot be thrown around arbitrarily, so too with theology. If, that is, you want to get the correct result.
Not doing so can only result in the kind of muddled mess that we experience now where you have every kind of half baked theology and wrong headed conception of ultimate reality imaginable. What do you suppose the implications are for all these fundamentalist christians, who think of their god as an immanent, vengeful all knowing father figure who observes and judges them at all times, and is gearing up to scourge the world with fire? Or daft neo-pagans, who somehow equate spirit with nature, which even real old time ‘pagans’ didn’t do, so far as we know. If that’s your understanding of ultimate reality, or the highest creative principle, then how does that affect your self image, your sense or purpose or responsibility, your use of reason, your emotional and spiritual maturity? It’s serious. This is the kind of sickness proclus and dionysus in particular, saw latent in religion, and hoped to avert. Neo-platonic notions of god were adopted by the early christian church, judaism/ kabbalah, and down through islam, bahaism, and even the more exotic branches of esoterism like hermeticism, which all together spawned what we think of as the western occult traditions. In one form or another they’ve all adopted the idea of god as the infinite unmanifest principle that provides for all existence, in the same manner as the platonic good.
You can find the analogous theological principle in buddhism, which has the noble eightfold path, as the road to liberation. What’s the first one…? Skillful views. Holding correct beliefs, because what you believe will determine everything you do, or think that you can do. So again, what you believe are the highest truths of reality, or not, make all the difference.