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Plotinus’ Mystical Teaching of Henosis

An Interpretation in the Light of the Metaphysics of the One

Pao-Shen Ho

Plotinus’ mysticism of henosis, unification with the One, is a highly controversial topic in Plotinian scholarship. This book presents a careful reading of the Enneads and suggests that Plotinus’ mysticism be understood as mystical teaching that offers practical guidance concerning henosis. It is further argued that a rational interpretation thereof should be based on Plotinus’ metaphysics, according to which the One transcends all beings but is immanent in them. The main thesis of this book is that Plotinus’ mystical teaching does not help man attain henosis on his own, but serves to remind man that he fails to attain henosis because it already pertains to his original condition. Plotinus’ mysticism seeks to change man’s misconception about henosis, rather than his finite nature.
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Chapter 3 The Practice of Negative Theology


For Plotinus, the philosopher desires to know the One but only ends up reducing It to an intelligible being. This problem is overcome when the philosopher realizes that the One is far more original and desirable than the intelligible beings which he is able to know. Enflamed by the more intense desire to know the One insofar as It is beyond all beings, the philosopher will be transformed into a “dialectician” or negative theologian. Such is the background from which Plotinus’ practice of negative theology (henceforth negative theology in short unless otherwise noted) comes into play, which can be roughly characterized as the intellectual inquiry into the One insofar as It is beyond all beings.

This sketch of negative theology helps to bring to light one of its distinctive features to be studied in this chapter. Like philosophy, negative theology is an intellectual inquiry and rests upon the experience of desire to know the One, which is itself unknowable. Therefore, although negative theology does not reduce the One into an intelligible being but rather seeks to know It insofar as It transcends all beings, it fails to realize that the One, in reality, must also transcend the confinement of negative theology. For this reason, negative theology runs into the same problem just like philosophy does, namely reducing the One into an object of knowledge. However, negative theology stands out because its solution is radically different from that of philosophy. Philosophy, let us recall, is overcome and...

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