Divine Powers in Late Antiquity

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Anna Marmodoro, Irini-Fotini Viltanioti
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , April
     280 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This volume is a collection of twelve essays on a breadth of topics related to the critical scholarship of divine powers in Late Antiquity. Divided into two main parts—“The Powers of the Gods: From Plotinus to Proclus” and “The Powers of God: From Philo of Alexandria to the Cappadocian Fathers”—is the work of co-editors Anna Marmodoro and Irini-Fotinit Viltanioti.

Part 1 includes six essays that focus on particular issues of the notion of divine power, as developed by the most prominent philosophers of Neoplatonism, including Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus.

In the first chapter Kevin Corrigan examines divine power in Plotinus’s philosophy and concludes that the power of the One is the source for all intelligible activity. Paulina Remes then analyses the relationship between human action (energeia) and divine power (dunamis) in Plotinus’s metaphysics. Remes notes that the action in antiquity was a combination between the inner and the outer aspects. More exactly, the Enneads provides a subtle theory of moral motivation and reason’s role in virtuous actions. The suggestion is that moral qualities are determined by the moral state of the soul.

In chapter 3 Viltanioti discusses the way in which Neoplatonic philosophy on divine powers was applied to various aspects of Greco-Roman religion, such as statue iconography. Viltanioti considers that the cult statues—“the contemplation of the images of gods”—are a mystical process, or spiritual ascent through the soul, which elevates towards the One.

Chapter 4 begins by evoking the ways in which Iamblichus understood divine power. More specifically, Peter Struck writes about a type of “true” divination characterized by the divine power.

In chapter 5 Todd Krulak focuses on the effects of the ritual statue animation from Proclus’s Commentary on the Timaeus. It is an interesting episode, drawing heavily on the invocation of deity to establish a terrestrial location “so as to make her fit for divine.” In this sense, the animation rite was viewed as a means for the soul’s purification and its liberation from the material world. Marco Antonio Santamaria Álvarez is the author of another attractive essay. This last chapter of the first part offers a reflection on the transmission of divine power in the Orhpic Rhapsodies. In this sense, the author makes a contribution to the understanding of the mythical language as instrument for this transmission.

Part 2 focuses on issues pertaining to the divine power in some of the early Christian theologians, including Philo of Alexandria, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil-the-Great, Athanasius-the-Great, and Gregory of Nyssa.

Chapter 7 introduces a theme prevalent in the early Christianity: the usage of Platonic philosophy as tool for understanding the Old Testament. In this sense, Philo of Alexandria played an important role. In this chapter Baudouin S. Decharneux analyses Philo’s thought as a decisive factor for the beginnings of Christian theology. He points out that there is no salvation without intercession of God’s powers. It is known that, for Philo, antique philosophy, especially Platonism, played an important role given that Christian theology is a Platonizing interpretation.

Chapter 8 describes the divine power in the Old and New Testaments as well as in early Christian theology including Ignatius of Antioch, The Shepherd of Hermas, and Justin Martyr. Jonathan Hill considers that, in the Old Testament, the divine power is defined in terms of strength while this power is understood in the early Christianity as apostolic mission and preaching.

Focusing on a distinctively Christian understanding, in chapter 9 Mark Edwards demonstrates how early Christianity should be viewed as a different philosophical school, characterized by its own ideas and texts. As a result, Edwards concludes that early Christianity assumed a distinct philosophy in late antiquity.

In chapter 10 Ilaria L.E. Ramelli focuses on a specific matter: the convergence between pagan and Christian debates on the theme of divine powers. From this perspective, Origen assimilates divine power into the soul’s power in its body.

Chapter 11 is devoted to the narrative of Genesis. Here, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz discusses the literal interpretation of Basil-the-Great on Genesis, and in the final chapter of the second part Marmodoro debates the creation of the world by God. In this sense, Gregory of Nyssa used philosophical heritage to explain how an immaterial God created a material world.

As a final remark, it should be said that the editors of this book deserve admiration for their own scholarly achievements.

These essays gathered are worthy of attention for anyone seriously interested in the phenomenon of divine powers in late antiquity.

Divine Powers in Late Antiquity is well documented, and the general index will be particularly helpful to dig deeper in the text. Also, an extensive bibliography and index of names make this book especially valuable for scholars.

In sum, I highly recommend this foundational book to anyone concerned with the issues discussed herein, and all such readers can benefit from its persuasive analyses and full insight.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel Lemeni is associate professor in Eastern Spirituality at West University of Timisoara, Romania.

Date of Review: 
August 9, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anna Marmodoro specialises in metaphysics and its history; she has a background in ancient, late antiquity and medieval philosophy, and a strong research interest in the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of mind, and. She is the author of Everything in Everything: Anaxagoras's Metaphysics (OUP, 2017) and Aristotle on Perceiving Objects (OUP, 2014).

Irini-Fotini Viltanioti is a Wiener-Anspach Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, University of Oxford and Associated Researcher at the University of Brussels and CNRS. She specialises in ancient philosophy, with research interests in classics and the history of religions. Viltanioti is the author of L'harmonie des Sirènes du pythagorisme ancien à Platon (De Gruyter, 2015).


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