Proclus's Elements of Theology in the Monotheist Context

Course Status: 
CEU code: 
MEDS 5364
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
20 Sep 2011 - 15 Dec 2011
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of Philosophy
Non-degree Specialization: 
EMS—Advanced Certificate in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
István Perczel
Prof. Levan Gigineishvili
Prof. Carlos Steel
Required Readings Link: 
Proclus, The Elements of Theology: A revised text with translation, introduction and commentary by E. R. Dodds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963)
L. Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science (Edinburgh: University Press, 1996)
L. Gigineishvili, The Platonic Theology of Ioanne Petritsi (Piscataway N. J.: Gorgias Press, 2007)
I. Perczel, “Pseudo-Dionysius and the Platonic Theology,” in: Proclus et la Théologie Platonicienne.ed. A. Ph. Segonds and C. Steel (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2000), pp. 491-532.
Adriaan Pattin, Le Liber de Causis. Edition établie a l'aide de 90 manuscrits avec introduction et notes, in Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 28 (1966) pp. 90–203
Learning Outcomes: 
The students will become acquainted with one of the most influential philosophical works of Late Antiquity and with its medieval reception. They will acquire some basic concepts of Neoplatonist philosophy and will gain an insight into the "transformation of the Classical heritage" from the polytheist to the monotheist context in the fields of philosophy and theology.
Assessment : 
The students will be asked to write short (1 page only) seminar papers three times during the course (50%). Participation in the discussions will be essential (50%).

Proclus Diadochus (412-485) was the head of the Neoplatonist school of Athens. He systematised the pagan gods into a complicated metaphysical system and gave this system the name of Platonic Theology, which was also the title of one of his main works. He has constructed a metaphysical universe, in which every pagan god plays a functional role, mediating causality from the First Cause, the transcendent One, to the entire hierarchy of being, down to the material universe, while the farthest element of this hierarchical universe, namely matter, is directly caused by the First Cause, the One, without intermediaries. The gods are arranged in syzygies, that is, couples, the male gods playing the role of definition, limit (peras), while the female gods playing the role of power (dynamis), in(de)finity (apeiria). The Elements of Theology seems to be a compendium of the Platonic Theology, written in the literary genre of Euclidian geometrical treatise, so to say “constructing” the entire (conceptual) universe from its simplest elements, the gods. In this treatise the metaphysical structures dominate and the gods lose their individual characters, even their traditional names are omitted.

Oddly enough, this latter treatise has become a main starting point for the elaboration of monotheist (Christian and Muslim) philosophies. It was used by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the late fifth century, then, perhaps in the eighth century, 32 out of its 211 propositions formed an Arabic philosophical work published under Aristotle's name, the Book of Aristotle’s Explanation on the Pure Good. From this paraphrase the many “gods” have disappeared, the Supreme God has become Being, causality was described as creation, but the universal chain of causality, characteristic of Proclus’s system, has remained. This latter work was translated into Latin in the twelfth century and was considered by the Schoolmen as the fundamental metaphysical work of Aristotle until Thomas Aquinas discovered its Proclusian origin. The Elements of Theology was also translated into Georgian in the twelfth century by Ioanne Petritsi, who wrote a full commentary on it, being a unique example of self-standing and coherent Christian Neoplatonist philosophy. In Petritsi’s translation the “gods” of Proclus have become “gods by participation” in order to maintain the unity of the One God and, in the commentary, the metaphysical principles acquired additional theological meanings, so that the One was identified with the Father, Limit with the Logos, Infinity with the Holy Spirit and Being/Intellect with Christ’s eternal Intellect.

The course aims at introducing the students to the metaphysics of Proclus as represented by the Elements of Theology and also at following the transformation of Proclus’s ideas in the monotheist contexts. The course tries to answer the question how the transformation of a metaphysics aiming at defending polytheism, into one underpinning monotheism, took place.


After a brief introduction (1st week), the course will proceed through a close reading of parallel texts - in English translation. First a given proposition of the Elements will be read and, then, its parallel text either in Pseudo-Dionysius, or in the Liber de Causis, or in Petritsi. The instructors will provide the readings with explanations.