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Modern Platonism
by [?]

Erasmus, in his Age of Religious Revolution, expressed an alarm, which in some shape has been since realized. He strangely, yet acutely observes, that “literature began to make a great and happy progress; but,” he adds, “I fear two things–that the study of Hebrew will promote Judaism, and the study of philology will revive PAGANISM.” He speaks to the same purpose in the Adages, c. 189, as Jortin observes. Blackwell, in his curious Life of Homer, after showing that the ancient oracles were the fountains of knowledge, and that the votaries of the god of Delphi had their faith confirmed by the oracle’s perfect acquaintance with the country, parentage, and fortunes of the suppliant, and many predictions verified; that besides all this, the oracles that have reached us discover a wide knowledge of everything relating to Greece;–this learned writer is at a loss to account for a knowledge that he thinks has something divine in it: it was a knowledge to be found nowhere in Greece but among the Oracles. He would account for this phenomenon by supposing there existed a succession of learned men devoted to this purpose. He says, “Either we must admit the knowledge of the priests, or turn converts to the ancients, and believe in the omniscience of Apollo, which in this age I know nobody in hazard of.” Yet, to the astonishment of this writer, were he now living, he would have witnessed this incredible fact! Even Erasmus himself might have wondered.

We discover the origin of MODERN PLATONISM, as it may be distinguished, among the Italians. About the middle of the fifteenth century, some time before the Turks had become masters of Constantinople, a great number of philosophers flourished. Gemisthus Pletho was one distinguished by his genius, his erudition, and his fervent passion for platonism. Mr. Roscoe notices Pletho: “His discourses had so powerful an effect upon Cosmo de’ Medici, who was his constant auditor, that he established an academy at Florence, for the sole purpose of cultivating this new and more elevated species of philosophy.” The learned Marsilio Ficino translated Plotinus, that great archimage of platonic mysticism. Such were Pletho’s eminent abilities, that in his old age those whom his novel system had greatly irritated either feared or respected him. He had scarcely breathed his last when they began to abuse Plato and our Pletho. The following account is written by George of Trebizond.

“Lately has risen amongst us a second Mahomet: and this second, if we do not take care, will exceed in greatness the first, by the dreadful consequences of his wicked doctrine, as the first has exceeded Plato. A disciple and rival of this philosopher in philosophy, in eloquence, and in science, he had fixed his residence in the Peloponnese. His common name was Gemisthus, but he assumed that of Pletho. Perhaps Gemisthus, to make us believe more easily that he was descended from heaven, and to engage us to receive more readily his doctrine and his new law, wished to change his name, according to the manner of the ancient patriarchs, of whom it is said, that at the time the name was changed they were called to the greatest things. He has written with no vulgar art, and with no common elegance. He has given new rules for the conduct of life, and for the regulation of human affairs; and at the same time has vomited forth a great number of blasphemies against the Catholic religion. He was so zealous a platonist that he entertained no other sentiments than those of Plato, concerning the nature of the gods, souls, sacrifices, etc. I have heard him myself, when we were together at Florence, say, that in a few years all men on the face of the earth would embrace with one common consent, and with one mind, a single and simple religion, at the first instructions which should be given by a single preaching. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ, or that of Mahomet? he answered, ‘Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from paganism.’ These words I heard with so much indignation, that since that time I have always hated him: I look upon him as a dangerous viper; and I cannot think of him without abhorrence.”