Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution

Article excerpt

A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution. By Elizabeth DePalma Digeser. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2012. Pp. xviii, 218. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-8014-4181-3.)

Developing arguments advanced in several previously published articles, Elizabeth DePalma Digeser has produced what amounts to a rewriting of Greek intellectual history in the third century of our era. According to Digeser, Ammonius Saccas was not only the teacher of both the Christian Origen and Plotinus the neo-Platonist but also the fountainhead of Greek philosophical thought in the third century. She asserts that "Lactantius, Arnobius, Eusebius, and Methodius all wrote in response to Porphyry, and all were Christians who had connections to Ammonius Saccas, either through Origen or through Porphyry himself" (p. 5). Digeser identifies the Origen of Porphyry's Life of Plotinus (who "wrote nothing except treatises On demons' and 'that the King is the sole creator'"-the latter in the reign of Gallienus-and attended Plotinus's seminars in Rome [3:30-32, 14:20-25]) with the prolific Christian writer Origen, who died at the age of almost sev- enty before Valerian and his son Gallienus became emperors. She also identi- fies the blind philosopher in Nicomedia in 303-whom Lactantius derided as rich, avaricious, and lustful; as a glutton who dined better at home than he did in the palace of Diocletian; as a man who ingratiated himself with officials to seize both the land and houses of his neighbours; and as someone who was blind and "did not know where to place his feet" one in front of the other (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5:2.2-3, 9)-as none other than Porphyry, the disciple and editor of Plotinus. Moreover, she sees both the polemic between Porphyry and Iamblichus and disagreements between Porphyry and Methodius of Olympus as representing "schism in the Ammonian community" (p. 98).

The book contains many illuminating and suggestive individual observa- tions. But is its historical reconstruction correct? Space considerations permit mention of only a few obvious problems. Digeser evaluates Porphyry's Life of Plotinus as "a bios, a genre that in antiquity, whether in the hands of Plutarch or Suetonius, presented its subject as a moral exemplar for good or for ill" (73). But Porphyry's Life is primarily an introduction to the Enneads-? …

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