Ammonius Saccas

Ammonius Saccas

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For the author of the early Gospel synopsis please see: Ammonius of Alexandria
Ammonius of Alexandria (Christian)
Ammonius of Alexandria was a Christian philosopher who lived in the 3rd century. He is not to be confused with Ammonius Saccas, the Neoplatonist philosopher, also from Alexandria....



Ammonius Saccas (3rd century AD) was a Greek philosopher from Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 who was often referred to as one of the founders of Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

. He is mainly known as the teacher of Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

, whom he taught for eleven years from 232 to 243. He was undoubtably the biggest influence on Plotinus in his development of Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

, although little is known about his own philosophical views. Later Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 writers stated that Ammonius was a Christian, but it is now generally assumed that there was a different Ammonius of Alexandria
Ammonius of Alexandria (Christian)
Ammonius of Alexandria was a Christian philosopher who lived in the 3rd century. He is not to be confused with Ammonius Saccas, the Neoplatonist philosopher, also from Alexandria....

 who wrote biblical texts.

Life


Not much is known about the life of Ammonius Saccas. He had a humble background, and appears to have earned a living as a porter
Porter (carrier)
A porter, also called a bearer, is a person who shifts objects for others.-Historical meaning:Human adaptability and flexibility early led to the use of humans for shifting gear...

 at the docks of Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, hence his nickname of "Sack-bearer" (Sakkas for sakkophoros). Most details of his life come from the fragments left from Porphyry
Porphyry (philosopher)
Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...

's writings. The most famous pupil of Ammonius Saccas was Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 who studied under Ammonius for eleven years. According to Porphyry, in 232, at the age of 28, Plotinus went to Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 to study philosophy:
In his twenty-eighth year he [Plotinus] felt the impulse to study philosophy and was recommended to the teachers in Alexandria who then had the highest reputation; but he came away from their lectures so depressed and full of sadness that he told his trouble to one of his friends. The friend, understanding the desire of his heart, sent him to Ammonius, whom he had not so far tried. He went and heard him, and said to his friend, "This is the man I was looking for." From that day he stayed continually with Ammonius and acquired so complete a training in philosophy that he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline and that prevailing among the Indians.


According to Porphyry, the parents of Ammonius were Christians, but upon learning Greek philosophy, Ammonius rejected his parents' religion for paganism
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

. This conversion is contested by the Christian writers Jerome
Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

 and Eusebius, who state that Ammonius remained a Christian throughout his lifetime:

[Porphyry] plainly utters a falsehood (for what will not an opposer of Christians do?) when he says that ... Ammonius fell from a life of piety into heathen customs. ... Ammonius held the divine philosophy unshaken and unadulterated to the end of his life. His works yet extant show this, as he is celebrated among many for the writings which he has left.


However we are told by Longinus that Ammonius wrote nothing, and if Ammonius was the principal influence on Plotinus, then it is unlikely that Ammonius would have been a Christian. One way to explain much of the confusion concerning Ammonius is to assume that there were two people called Ammonius: Ammonius Saccas who taught Plotinus, and an Ammonius the Christian
Ammonius of Alexandria (Christian)
Ammonius of Alexandria was a Christian philosopher who lived in the 3rd century. He is not to be confused with Ammonius Saccas, the Neoplatonist philosopher, also from Alexandria....

 who wrote biblical texts.

To add to the confusion, it seems that Ammonius had two pupils called Origen: Origen the Christian
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

, and Origen the Pagan
Origen the Pagan
Origen the Pagan was a Platonist philosopher who lived in Alexandria. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas and a contemporary of Plotinus in Ammonius's philosophy school in Alexandria...

. It is quite possible that Ammonius Saccas taught both Origens. Among Ammonius' other pupils there were Herennius and Cassius Longinus.

Philosophy


Hierocles
Hierocles of Alexandria
Hierocles of Alexandria was a Greek Neoplatonist writer who was active around AD 430.He studied under Plutarch at Athens in the early 5th century, and taught for some years in his native city. He seems to have been banished from Alexandria and to have taken up his abode in Constantinople, where he...

, writing in the 5th century, states that Ammonius' fundamental doctrine was that Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 and Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 were in full agreement with each other:
He was the first who had a godly zeal for the truth in philosophy and despised the views of the majority, which were a disgrace to philosophy. He apprehended well the views of each of the two philosophers [Plato and Aristotle] and brought them under one and the same nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

and transmitted philosophy without conflicts to all of his disciples, and especially to the best of those acquainted with him, Plotinus, Origen, and their successors.


According to Nemesius
Nemesius
Nemesius , was a Christian philosopher, and the author of a treatise De Natura Hominis . According to the title of his book, he was the Bishop of Emesa . His book is an attempt to compile a system of anthropology from the standpoint of Christian philosophy.Nemesius was also a physiological theorist...

, a bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

 and Neoplatonist c. 400, Ammonius held that the soul was immaterial.

Little is known about Ammonius's role in the development of Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

. Porphyry seems to suggest that Ammonius was instrumental in helping Plotinus think about philosophy in new ways:
But he [Plotinus] did not just speak straight out of these books but took a distinctive personal line in his consideration, and brought the mind of Ammonius' to bear on the investigation in hand.

Two of Ammonius's students - Origen the Pagan
Origen the Pagan
Origen the Pagan was a Platonist philosopher who lived in Alexandria. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas and a contemporary of Plotinus in Ammonius's philosophy school in Alexandria...

, and Longinus - seem to have held philosophical positions which were closer to Middle Platonism
Middle Platonism
Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Plato's philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC, when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected the scepticism of the New Academy, until the development of Neoplatonism under Plotinus in the 3rd century. Middle Platonism absorbed many...

 than Neoplatonism, which perhaps suggests that Ammonius's doctrines were also closer to those of Middle Platonism than the Neoplatonism developed by Plotinus (see the Enneads
Enneads
The Six Enneads, sometimes abbreviated to The Enneads or Enneads , is the collection of writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry . Plotinus was a student of Ammonius Saccas and they were founders of Neoplatonism...

), but Plotinus does not seem to have thought that he was departing in any significant way from that of his master.

See also

  • Enneads
    Enneads
    The Six Enneads, sometimes abbreviated to The Enneads or Enneads , is the collection of writings of Plotinus, edited and compiled by his student Porphyry . Plotinus was a student of Ammonius Saccas and they were founders of Neoplatonism...

  • Neoplatonism
    Neoplatonism
    Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

  • Origen
    Origen
    Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

  • Origen the Pagan
    Origen the Pagan
    Origen the Pagan was a Platonist philosopher who lived in Alexandria. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas and a contemporary of Plotinus in Ammonius's philosophy school in Alexandria...

  • Plotinus
    Plotinus
    Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

  • Porphyry
    Porphyry (philosopher)
    Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...


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