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Ancient History
Ancient Connections to Heresy

   Possibly the earliest instance of metaphysical teaching was around the fourth century, BC, during what is generally accepted as the origin of the Roman-Hellenistic period of philosophical thought. 

   During this time in history there was an intense period of philosophical inquiry, founding the growth of philosophical academies, and philosophical speculation stimulated in large part by the theories developed in Athens by  the great Greek philosopher Socrates (c.470-399 BC).  By far, the most prominent of these "Academies of Philosophy" was that founded by Socrates' "star pupil," the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC).

   Plato's philosophical views were based in large part upon his belief that there was a distinction between that which is (Being), and that which comes to be (Becoming).  Pack- aging his ideas in a series of works he called his "Dialogues," Plato articulated the results of his search for the "true basis of order in the moral, natural, and political realms."1  He describes in his Dialogues the idea that truth cannot be attained by the senses, but with the mind.2 

   To Plato, truth, and therefore reality, is actually the grasping by the subject of ideas, or forms already existent in his own mind.  According to Plato, these ideas existed independently of external reality or of what we perceive with our senses.  What we perceive with our senses are only examples of what is already grasped by the mind.  Actual truth about reality then, can only be gleaned with the proper exercise of the mind, because, as Plato put it, "knowledge does not consist in impressions of sense, but in reasoning about them."  In other words, one doesn't know reality by observing and perceiving it; he must look to his own mind, and according to Plato's "Theory of Forms," it is the mind that gives "objective truth" to reality. 

   After the death of Plato, his most gifted student broke away to found his own school of philosophy which he named the "Peripatetic school."  This student's name: Aristotle.

   As Plato was Socrates most gifted student, so also was Aristotle to Plato.  He differed from his mentor, however, in that while Plato believed the world to be composed of "eternal forms", Aristotle believed it to be real, but subject to the unreal, or unseen.  This contrast was short lived in that the brand of philosophy postulated by these Greek philoso- phical giants soon gave way to new schools of thought; chief of which was the "Stoics," founded by "Zeno," another student of the teachings of Socrates; and the "Skeptics," founded by "Pyrrho of Elis."  This dominance over the realm of metaphysical thought was short lived, however, by the first century before Christ.

   Around 100 AD the works of Plato saw a resurgence of interest.  Combined with some of the ideas of Aristotle and the Stoics, and based largely on his work "Timaeus" this school of thought soon became known as the "Middle Platonism." 

   In Middle Platonism, Aristotle's ideas concerning "formless matter" as the ultimate substratum of all visible things, and the existence of the  "transcendent mind" was merged with Plato's ideas as defined in his "Theory of Forms".  From this perspective, Middle Platonism taught that "the visible cosmos is shaped as the eternal World-Soul, formed and enlivened by it's contemplation of God."  This contemplation, in it's turn; "confers form and harmony on formless matter."3  

   Middle Platonism existed as such for more than 300 years.  It was most prevalent in Alexandria, Egypt and the East, where it competed for dominance with it's sister "science," Gnosticism. It was eventually supplanted by the rising popularity of "Neo-Platonism," a new philosophy that used it as an intermediate point to it's own formation. 

   The individual credited with the formation and popularity of Neo-Platonic thought was one "Plotinus" (205-270AD).  Egyptian born, Plotinus was a late blooming student of philosophy, having only begun his studies in Alexandria, Egypt at age 28.  His quest for knowledge became so great, at one point, that he even joined the army of Roman Emperor Gordianus III in his campaign against Persia with hopes of gaining first hand knowledge of Persian and Indian thought.  Later, he moved to Rome and founded a school of philosophy where he began to shift Middle Platonic views back towards pure Platonism, (but maintain- ing Aristotle's metaphysical framework). By the end of the fourth century B.C., Plotinus' writings concerning Neo-Platonic ideas had gained dominance in the world of philosophical thought.

   Neo-Platonic philosophies have come down to us today due largely to the efforts of three men:

       1. Porphyry - (232-306? AD)  A staunch and eloquent Neo-Platonist, who is almost as equally well known for his virulent anti-Christian sentiment as his philosophies.

       2. Proclus  (410-485 AD)  Considered to be the last and greatest of the Athenian Platonists.  In the writings of his student "Marinus," Proclus is shown to have held daily devotions to the sun and moon.  He also openly observed the holy days of several divergent religions.

   The third figure most responsible for today's proliferation and growth of Neo-Platonism is Immanuel Kant, a philosopher of the 18th century who has been ranked in influence with both Plato and Aristotle.  Kant provides the unbroken link between ancient and modern metaphysical thought.

1. Williston Walker, (1985), entitled - "A History of the Christian Church" - (4th  Edition, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York), p.11
2. Plato, qtd. in Joseph Margolis, An Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry.
3. Williston Walker book (1918) entitled  "A History of the Christian Church"  p. 12.

Recent History
Contemporary Revival of Heresy

   The ancient Platonist philosophical tradition was preserved in recent times primarily through the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Kant believed that man didn't have the ability to know the physical world.  He thought that the only thing one could know were his sensations, and that things, space, and time exist only as part of the mind.4

   Kant's most famous work was the "Critique of Pure Reason," (published in 1781 in German).  His intent in writing this work was to "set up" the difference between things of the material world and the actions of the mind.  He believed and taught that the things of the outside world were real, but that they needed the human mind to give them form and order.  In his view, only the mind can encompass them with time and space.  For example, when sitting in a church sanctuary, one can only see the inner walls of the church; but he is aware of the things extant outside of the sanctuary, yet still in the building, e.g.; classrooms, office space, etc.  The mind gathers up all of these thought impressions of the rest of the church building and builds a complete church.  Thus the entire church is being created by our minds while our eyes can only see a part of it.  This philosophy became known as "Transcendentalism," but in reality, it is just an extension of Middle Platonic, and Neo-Platonic thought, (Plato's "Forms" and Aristotle's "Metaphysics"). 

   American style Transcendentalism had its birth in early 19th century Boston.  In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a brilliant man by all historical accounts, resigned his position as Pastor of a Unitarian Church  and went on to spearhead the transcendental movement as a reaction against the more orthodox idea that God was distinct from His creation.  He held the Gnostic position that everything was divine, and that God could be found in everything, (metaphysical monism).  Emerson, whose thinking was reminiscent of the neo-platonic idea of universal mind, believed that nature, man, and God were really part of an unseen reality; a reality which couldn't be grasped by the senses, or the intellect; but rather by intuition. Emerson, along with Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller, were probably the best known American transcendentalists.5

   Boston was also the home of the Emerson School of Oratory, where the New Thought Movement was spread rapidly by its faculty and students. Many New thought followers were students of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and picked up on his (really Kant's) neo-platonic ideas.6 In fact, according to the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Reli- gion, "one could well think of New Thought as a practically-applied Transcendentalism."7

   While the origins of Modern New Thought philosophy are traced to the teachings of transcendentalists, like Emerson or Thoreau, the credit for its systematic development and wide spread dispersion is generally attributed to one man: Phineas P. Quimby.

   Phineas P. Quimby was born in Lebanon, NH Feb 16, 1802.  At the age of two, his parents moved to Maine, and settled in the town of Belfast.  Quimby's father, a blacksmith, was a man of limited means.  This, for Quimby, meant that his opportunities for formal education were limited as well (Annetta Gertrude Dresser, "Historical Sketch").8  This limitation, however, didn't stop Quimby, an intellectual, from satisfying his inquisitive mind by studying subjects such as mechanics, philosophy, and the sciences .  His curiosity, however, eventually led him into the occult, where, according to the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, he studied "spiritism, occultism, hypnosis, and other aspects of parapsychology."9  After some time, Quimby took to using hypnotism, clairvoyance, and telepathy in order to carry out his mission of healing.

   After awhile, Quimby became convinced that diseases weren't real, but rather, were merely an "error of the mind."10  He further believed that disease came into existence when the person accepted the error, or expressed belief in the disease.  All one needed to do, according to Quimby, was to become convinced of the "truth," that is, that the disease is really an error of the mind.11

   Quimby died January 16, 1866. It was said that his death was due to the fact that; "he no longer had the strength of will nor the reasoning powers to combat the sickness which terminated his life."12 

   Quimby's ideas ultimately became the foundation from which all of the prominent metaphysical cults have grown, including; Religious Science, Mind Science, Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Word Faith Movement.  Thus, there is an unbroken line of ascent beginning at Plato and his disciples, moving through Immanuel Kant and Dr. Quimby leading directly to the Modern Profits of Got.      
4. "Immanuel Kant."  Ron Turner. URL:  July 13, 1998
5. Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 4: American Transcendentalism: An Introduction." PAL: Perspectives in  American Literature- A Research and      Reference Guide. URL:  (July 13, 1998).
6. "New Thought Movement." Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion. URL: 13 July 1998
7. Ibid.
8. The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby.  9 chapters.   URL:  (2 Dec.1997).
9. Burgess and McGee (1988), Zondervan Publishing House, p. 719.
10. Dresser, The Philosophy....
11. ibid.
12. ibid.