The Problem of Evil in Neoplatonic Thought

18 12 2008

But it is as if two people were living in the same well-built¬†house; one of them criticizes its structure and its builder, although he keeps on living in it all the same. The other, however, does not criticize; in fact, he affirms the builder has constructed the house with consummate skill, and he awaits the time when he will move on, and no longer have need of a house… He who finds fault with the nature of the universe does not know what he is doing, nor how far his arrogance is taking him. The reason is that they do not know about the successive order of things, from the first to the second to the third, and down to the last things; nor do they know that we must not abuse those things which are lower than the first, but gently acquiesce in the nature of all things.


Boys cannot understand the counsel of their elders, nor peasants the thoughts of the wise. However, with unbecoming arrogance, the earthly creature Man often presumes to fathom the reasons of divine nature, and search into the purpose of its providence. And, what is worse, men of all ages blasphemously discuss the divine mysteries at banquets, even in brothels. Pythagoras justly prohibited speaking of these mysteries without divine insight. No man, but the divine, Campano, perceives the divine… It should therefore be enough for man to know that the beautiful working of this single universe is governed by a wise architect, on whom it depends. From goodness itself only good can spring. And what proceeds from that can only be ordered well. Therefore, everything should be accepted for the best. Who thus understands the divine, and loves it, is divine by nature, good in practice, joyful in hope, blessed in reward.

-Marsilio Ficino

Of the most ridiculous of people who pretend to be philosophers, the most foolish are those who toil over the “problem of evil”.¬† This most of all is like chasing your own tail. If you want to understand evil, look at yourself, at your own fears, and your own mortality. The chaos in your own heart is the cause of the chaos outside of it.

The only satisfactory resolution to the problem of horrible things happening to us is, to echo Plotinus, to realize that this house that we live in now is only a temporary stop in our pilgrimage towards eternity. We are, as both of the divines say, called to a higher life, on the cusp of eternity and time, eternal life and temporary death. There is no other way to make sense of the atrocities and tragedies experienced here; providence is beyond the grasp of the human mind. Only the invoking of the divine in ourselves can save us and bring back light from the darkness. The only way to escape the evils of our animal existence is to leap over the human towards the divine. This is more a ritual, a surrender to the One using the things of this world to recognize our own falleness, than a puzzle to be solved by the humanly clever.