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  • Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods by Crystal Addey
  • Robert M. Berchman
Crystal Addey. Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods. Ashgate Studies in Philosophy and Theology in Late Antiquity. Farnham UK and Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. xiii + 335.

To study divination, theurgy, and oracles in Neoplatonism is to risk telling in one’s own words a story that has been excellently told before. Hillary Armstrong and John Dillon brought the attention of historians of ancient philosophy to Neoplatonic divination and theurgy. In recent studies, Gregory Shaw, Luc Brisson, John Bussanich, and John Finamore have increased and clarified what we know of the varieties and interactions among theurgicmantic Platonists in late antiquity. What is plain from their studies is that a new academic scale is required for the study of later Platonic divination and theurgy. Addey’s Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods meets just this required sense of scale. This is a Stimmung that ties in a bundle an era of traditional historical-literary-critical studies in Neoplatonic divination, theurgy, and ritual, while suggesting a need for a new beginning in such studies as well.

The “Addey thesis” can be succinctly summarized. She argues that the Neoplatonic divination and theurgy has been too easily misinterpreted as irrational, and that both the rationality and suprarationality of Neoplatonic religious praxis require reexamination. The reasons for this are complex for Addey, but plain enough. They rest in misrepresentations of rationality and ritual in respect to its objective: union with the divine, if not the ultimate simplicity that grounds any Neoplatonic reality (171–213). Thus the structure of reality understood by Porphyry and Iamblichus rests on the assumption that being is as thought and practice must apprehend it. Since this vision takes as its starting point the intelligibility of being, it follows that to be is to be intelligible, which, instrumentally, theurgy allows a practitioner to be. Within this context, divination and oracles offer the human mind a suprarational intelligibility, but only when practiced in theurgy. The point made by Addey is that being, and access to simplicity beyond being, offers not only an intelligible ritual, but also a ritual intelligibility. Without both, union with the divine is impossible.

Central to Addey’s thesis is the claim that Neoplatonic ritual is not only [End Page 129] heir to centuries-old Greco-Roman philosophical (1–42) and esoteric traditions (43–82), but continues and contributes to them with debates on the nature of oracles with Christians in late antiquity (83–126) and Neoplatonic controversies between Porphyry and Iamblichus (127–70). The book of Pythagorean philosophy that Apollonius received from the Oracle of Trophonius, the books given to Sosipatra by the Chaldean prophets, and Porphyry’s oracle on Plotinus and his Philosophy from Oracles where he characterizes oracles as “symbols” commensurate with allegorical exegesis, are testimony to the first and second claims, while pagan-Christian religious debates evidenced in Eusebius’s Praeparatio Evangelica, which engages and argues against Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles, and Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo and Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis in light of the late antique Hermetica, evince the third claim.

Then in a series of carefully researched historical-literary studies, Addey ups the ante by specifically examining two things. First she looks at the different types of Neoplatonic divination offered by Iamblichus (inductive and inspired types) by analyzing his culling of traditional Greek conceptions of divination derived from divine inspiration and evidenced by the operation of the oracles at Delphi, Didyma, and Claros, where dream and inductive types of divination were practiced (215–38). Second, she explores Iamblichus’s perspectives on the role of inspired divination within theurgic ritual, where she proposes that the centrality of divination within Neoplatonic theurgy stems from Iamblichus’s theory of divination as a suprarational phenomenon that offers a stage on the way to, if not a sign of, union with the divine (239–83). Here Addey is well aware of the importance of the Neoplatonic view of God as beyond being and intelligibility for an understanding of being as intelligible in Porphyry and Iamblichus. On this insight, she traces the doctrine “oracles as symbola...


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