The Gifford Lectures of William Ralph Inge, professor of Divinity at Cambridge, are presented in a two volume edition, which serves as an excellent introduction to Inge’s concerns around neo-Platonic thought, Plotinus and the tradition of Christian mysticism. Beginning from a basic introduction to Plotinus, Inge presents the philosopher as a great thinker of mysticism. From there Inge begins to define the ideas of mystical philosophy from the legacy of Plotinus’s work and the legacy of neo-Platonism, ‘the result of seven hundred years of untrammelled thinking.’ (p. xiii) which is completely inter-twined within the tradition of Christian philosophy. Dedicating substantial time to contextualizing and historicizing Plotinus’s thought ensures that the lectures remain grounded in a rigorous approach to philosophical history. One lecture is dedicated to explaining the forerunners to Plotinus and the philosophical context of the third century.
With this background in place, Inge goes on to exploring and explaining the thought of Plotinus in great detail, covering the world of sense, the mystical understanding of the soul along with all of its faculties and how the soul enters into the living chain of Being that is the universe. From there on, the second volume covers the immortality of the soul (and the roots of this argument in Greek philosophical history) and the formulations of this nature offered by Origen, Clement and Plotinus. Finally, Inge turns to issues of religion, ethics and aesthetics. Focusing on the connection between the personal and the political, or the ethical and the moral to phrase things in more philosophical terms, Inge notes that after political virtue comes a purification, wherein the soul casts off its lower nature and remains only the image of Spirit. God is presented as first as an ideal and finally an atmosphere – yet without the addition of both passion and incarnation (in essence without a Christology) Plotinus’s philosophy is incomplete. Drawing from a deep knowledge of Greek philosophy and the tradition of mystical theology Inge presents Plotinus as integral to an understanding of Christian mystic theology.
Whilst the age of the lectures may mean that the philosophical work has been superseded by more recent or contemporary scholarship the links between Plotinus and Christian mysticism are cogently and forcefully made. Despite the challenge of mounting a philosophical defence of mysticism, Inge closes his lectures reminding the reader that we are, and should be, ‘learners to the end’ (p. 241.) So these lectures, despite their age, may well prove to be an instructive guide for all those curious about the mystic tradition in Christian