Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Philosophical Prayer in Proclus's Commentary on Plato's Timaeus

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Philosophical Prayer in Proclus's Commentary on Plato's Timaeus

Article excerpt

Since the Pre-Socratics, philosophers have famously lambasted traditional portraits of the divine, decrying anthropomorphic and mercurial depictions of the gods, who need to be appeased with burnt offerings or swayed by flattery. Nevertheless, while transforming the common depiction of the divine into intelligible, absolute, and incorporeal realities, philosophers from the opening of the Academy to its close heralded the philosophical value of prayer. Primarily, Plato often depicts Socrates as one who prays in the Phaedo, Symposium, and the Phaedrus, while in the Theaetetus he insists that the philosopher should make hymns to the gods as this activity helps him "become like a god as far as possible." (1) Furthermore, in the Timaeus the suspected Pythagorean notably affirms the value of prayer just before narrating his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], insisting that the temperate invoke the gods before all endeavors. (2) Even the Athenian Stranger claims that prayer is beneficial to the virtuous because these individuals become like the object of veneration. By contrast, prayer is pointless for the wicked since such individuals, due to their ignorance, have little chance of successfully petitioning the gods for truly good things. (3)

In the Neoplatonic tradition many philosophers defended and elaborated upon the Platonic doctrine of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its connection to the metaphysical value of prayer. For Plotinus, prayer is the reaching of the soul toward God, an activity which transforms one's inner being into a sanctuary for the divine, enabling individuals to become collected, self-gathered, and tranquil. (4) His student, Porphyry, as recorded by Proclus, believes that prayer is especially appropriate for the virtuous, as "like loves being connected to like" and in this way the "virtuous person is most like the gods." (5) In later Neoplatonism, Iamblichus further argues that prayer leads human souls to the highest levels of consciousness of which we are capable. We read:

   Extended practice of prayer nurtures our intellect, enlarges very
   greatly our soul's receptivity to the gods, reveals to men the life
   of the gods, accustoms their eyes to the brightness of divine
   light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our
   faculties for contact with the gods, until it leads us up to the
   highest level of consciousness (of which we are capable); ... in a
   word, it renders those who employ prayers, if we may express it,
   the familiar consorts of the gods. (6)

Ultimately, the "highest level of consciousness" for Iamblichus is not knowledge per se, that is, knowledge of a discursive or reflective type. As Iamblichus argues, "[k]nowledge, after all, is separated (from its object) by some degree of otherness" so it can never engender the "unitary connection with the gods that is natural."? Attempting to distance himself from Plotinus and Porphyry, Iamblichus believed that beyond the rationalistic work of the philosopher, who simply contemplates the divine in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and thereby remains separated from the object of his veneration, true prayer is a type of theurgy or godwork that divinizes the soul or makes it like the divine and thereby generates the activity of union with the gods. (8)

Following upon Iamblichus and responding to Timaeus's invocation of the gods at Timaeus 27c1-d4, Proclus discusses at length in his commentary on Timaeus the metaphysical value of prayer? Heralding the fact that prayer marks the soul's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or return to its causative principle, Proclus proceeds to exonerate individuals who "... observe the power of providence penetrating the whole of reality." (10) He further declares that individuals with even a modicum of "good sense" or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], defined here not as self-control but as "an inspired activity of the soul," will invoke and pray to the gods. …

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