Thoughts on why Proclus, the last great follower of Plato, may have been subsumed into the early Christian chuch.
At the Athens academy ca. 430 AD. Proclus taught that the ancient mystics, in addition to sharing myths that still, to this day, influence and define many ceremonies, were actually able to manipulate and control the populace, using myths with the intent to close within themselves the secret truths of reality. This was at the time the Christians were first defining the creed as it still survives to this day. Is such neoplatonic influence still at work in the Christian church today?
According to Proclus, to know the Gods as they did is to identify in souls those feelings which cause human events, in a manner which is incomprehensible to others and therefore manifests as supernatural power. Those simpler souls who simply witness or engage in sacred ceremonies, customs, and holidays are only amazed by Gods, and are possessed by divine awe upon hearing their stories. The more complex souls adapt the common susceptibility to sacred symbols, and as if on the plateaus of the Gods themselves, find an exuberance of spirit totally imperceptible to lesser beings.
Such an interpretation of religion's affect on human life does not preclude an individual's belief in any particular God or spiritual force, and does not deny its validity, but rather separates the people into strata, some of whom believe in Gods out of non-comprehending awe alone, and others who not only perceive the divine forces but also work within them.
While I could continue with the historical validation of the concepts, including the use of myth to explain and control human interaction, the question raised in this group has been whether the metaphysical concepts of Ideal form are valid. While the metaphysical conception may not be have been absolutely correct at the time, and even may be challenged by other approaches which deny their coherence, the amount of its influence on the course of civilization nonetheless validates its importance empirically.
My own extrapolation from this observation sometimes causes extreme ire and wrath amongst those with rigorous religious beliefs, so I must state first it is only an attempt at understanding why the doctrines have been so powerful. The first, and most obvious to me, is that all through the Dark Ages, the Christian church taught those who could not read of the One God, the One Truth, and the One Way. Also knowing that any one metaphysical system can be challenged by others, it further extended the doctrines to include Three Aspects of the One Truth manifest in different ways, each of which are separate but still One, thus including the paradox of multiple mutually exclusive explanations of reality which are all true within the core of Christian teaching.
As to some conclusion from the above observations, I do not presume to impose them on others. Rather I feel that each person draws their own conclusions as they wish, or as needs be, or as they are told by others. There are many others who have drawn their own conclusions. and are more than willing to impose them on those with lesser thought. As a consequence, they have the power to control. drawn from the above thoughts, whereas I have contented myself instead with understanding the consequences of conclusions individuals choose for themselves. Often these are consequences which the individuals and groups are unable to perceive, but which I can. Sometimes, the conclusions of others are of more depth, and then know more than I about themselves, for which I am only glad.
If it is true that Proclus' writing was an inspiration of the early church formation, it would explain much of the Dark Ages. One superb illustration is the development of the Rood screen. The 'Ecclesia' or 'marketplace' was the Greek origin of the modern church design: stalls on each side of an alley down the center, with an altar at a T-junction at the far end. But during the Dark Ages, the people were unable to know the divine as well as the clergy. Slowly the ecclesiastics evolved to represent perfect form in society. Churches became taller and grander, representing the perfect home. Now surviving in austere stone, they were originally painted in candy-cane colors, filled with colored light from stained-glass windows.
To separate the perfect from the masses, a rood screen was built with curtains or wooden dividers so the populace could not see the movement of divine order on the other side. Often there were carvings facing the congregation of saints in agony or rapture, whereas those facing the clergy, never seen by the common people, were humorous grotesques.
The rood screens, mostly destroyed during the reformation, only survive in a few places. Here is one in Paris, with spiral staircases ascended as to heaven. The pulpit protrudes from the perfection on the far side of the screen into the common people, providing the one place where the authoritative Word of those knowing Perfection could be heard by others. Is it only irony that the stone womb around the altar, lit by colored lights and candles, so closely resembled Plato's Cave, which was his model of how we view reality: only as shadows in the darkness, projected there by some light, perhaps divine, beyond our normal comprehension?
For the 10 centuries of the Dark Ages, the commoners were in Proclus' awe of the Divine, held outside Plato's cave. They admired and feared the church as Guardian of the Light of Knowledge. Around the altar, hidden by Rood screns and curtains, the church kept the Word in its Holy physical rendition of Plato's cave. Core in the church doctrine was monotheism: the One Word, the One God, the One Faith. But by stating the One was also Three ~ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ~ The Christian church is also polytheistic.
As well as Proclus' metaphysics of the One, understood only by those in power and held in awe by others, the Trinity incorporates a second core metaphysical premise into the Christian church: that there are multiple, complete, mutually exclusive explanations of reality which coexist without paradox. This is perhaps not metaphysics, strictly speaking, but 'pataphysics,' the science of multiple metaphysical systems. Here are two possible philosophical reasons why the pataphysics of the Christian church became the most powerful and most popular system of thought worldwide.
First, during that long incubatory period of the Dark Ages, the ascendant aspect of the Trinity was God the Father. If Christianity were like many other religions and held that its Gods exist only in complete divine separation from humanity, then the invention of the printing press and the widespread ability to read would have ended Christianity. The first book to roll off the Printing Press, the bible, was read by the populace everywhere, destroying the supremacist oppression of knowledge by the Church.
The Christian Church founders had certainly anticipated, if not the breadth and extent, the very nature of the Dark Ages, believing it the best way for civilization to be. Had it also anticipated the Reformation? For by including three aspects of God in one, the church doctrine transformed instead of declined. Instead of the Father as ascendant, the Son became ascendant, and as all people learned all the details of Christ's life, the emphasis of the church simply augmented paternal guidance of an ignorant flock in awe, still maintained by the Catholics, to Protestantism and personal salvation.
That then would be the first pataphysical system in the church doctrine protecting its survival. It not only included Neoplatonist metaphysics, but also, personal existentialism within its core doctrine. While it moreover contains a third element ~ The transcendentalism of the Holy Spirit with its divine supernatural gifts ~ The second element so long incubated through the many centuries of the Dark Ages provided a fundamentalist view (the Holy Bible as the One Perfect Truth) with personal direct access to salvation through the doctrine of the Covenant: that blood must be shed for transgression of Divine Law, but Christ, by being the incarnate flesh of God, was able to bypass the need for further sacrifice by the intentional destruction of God's Own Flesh for each and every person to call their own, merely through sincere request for forgiveness in prayer. While other religions have taught forgiveness (even the ancient Egyptians and the Vikings), no others were able to cultivate a potent combination of personal salvation with both paternal justice, and transcendental power, as did the holy Christian Church in its sanctuary womb of the Platonic Cave, where that which is known of real substance can only be seen, in half darkness, as shadows on a wall.