“The Concept of Unbounded and Evil Matter in Plotinus and John Damascenus”, THEANDROS. An Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy, Volume 2, number 3, Spring/Summer 2005.
This article aims at explaining how the concept of matter was related with the infinite, the unbounded and the evil in Plotinus and how it was appeared in the dialogue Against Manicheans of John Damascenus to have the meaning of privatio boni. Of course, there is a distance of time between these two writers, but it will be useful to compare the 3rd (Plotinus) and the 8th (Damascenus) centuries A.D. At the 3rd century, Plotinus continues the classic Greek idea, which is that anything good and positive in this world has a limit (πέρας) (Of course Plotinus was the first inside the history of Greek philosophy who attributes the adjective infinite to God). Plotinus represents a short of bridge between the Greek philosophy and the Christianity; but it is with John Damascenus that the Neo-Platonic idea of matter looses its independency and becomes a non being and a privation of good. In Plotinus this idea was not at all clear. This is why Plotinus continues to have the classic Greek view on matter as infinite along with the later Christian consideration of the same subject, which in John Damascenus finds its culmination: matter and evil are quasi-unsubstantial and dependent.
Also, this article in short examines the subject of relation between matter and form in the Aristotelian meaning, which has influenced the Plotinus’s hierarchy of hypostases, especially, in the way that the derived intelligible receives its whole existence in submitting itself as “matter” to its source as “form”. This is the idea which Christianity kept, trying to harmonize Genesis with Timaeus, Revelation with pagan philosophy. There is a contradiction in the philosophy of Plotinus between matter as evil, and matter as a kind of form. This duplicity of mind on matter in Plotinus has disappeared during the time of John Damascenus, when matter becomes privation and non being, not as the other pole in relation to God, but as a part already included in the divine tolerance. With John Damascenus the doctrine that matter and evil are only a privation of good, plays an important role and obtains a permanency as a standard belief of the Church. The only reality in the world is God and Goodness. Everywhere we find a tension towards the evil is the tension towards the matter. But this tension – although man is free – cannot earn the reality. Evil has not real substance. God is the real love, goodness and existence. Although man has the free will, because of its capacity continually to change, there is a destination to the good alteration not only for man, but for the whole world. Anything evil will be good in the Second Coming. The entire world is good and the entire world will be saved at the fullness of time.
Keywords: matter, infinite, evil, unbounded, John Damascenus, privatio boni, free will, Plotinus, limit, Christianity, independency, God, Goodness