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Iamblichus denied that philosophy or thought alone (the mystical philosophical contemplation of Plotinus) is unable to unite the philosopher with the gods.  There is need also of the appropriate ritual magical actions; or Theurgy, the power conferred by  divine grace on the rituals and the symbolic objects they employ [1].

The term theurgy means not only "divine work" but also perhaps "god-making" or "making gods of men", and was intended as a contrast to theology, which merely talks about the gods, and theoria, the purely philosophical intuitive contemplation advocated by Plotinus [2] .  It was actually a form of ritual magic, with the aim of incarnating a divine force either in a material object like a statue or, more plausibly in a human being, producing a state of visionary trance.

The difference between Neoplatonic theurgy and the contemporary Christian and Gnostic sacramentalism was that the former saw itself as employing forces that were part of the natural world-order, the latter forces that were the result of supernatural divine intervention over and above that world-order [3].  Of course, the forces in both case are the same; the difference lies in where you draw the line between "natural" and "supernatural".  What the Christians and Gnostics - being of a dualistic persuasion (the Divine as something over and above the cosmos) - considered "supernatural", the Neoplatonists, being emanationist or monistic-emanationist orientated, saw as "natural".

Iamblichus admitted the possibility of the soul being able to ascend to a higher rank, but unlike Plotinus saw this as coming about not through the soul's own powers or possession of Logoi, but through association (by means of theurgy) with the soul's transcendent causes, the gods.  Here we see the substitution of Magic for Mysticism.  This does not mean that the gods are constrained by the theurgist, for the lower cannot com-mand the higher.  But the rituals invoke the gods only through a voluntary bestowal of divine power; "the god's good will and the illumination imparted from them", as Iamblichus puts it.  And so, Iamblichus says, rather than the gods being drawn down into material world, they purify their worshippers and so raise them into the Intelligible or Divine world [4].


[1] R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, p.121

[2] R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, p.107 & footnote

[3] R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, p.108, 121

[4] R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, pp.120-1.

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page uploaded 12 November 1998, last modified 27 April 2004