“Most significantly, at each stage of Ascent, according to Plotinus, the lower has to be “embraced” and “permeated,” so that Descent and embrace should, if all goes well, occur with each stage of Ascent and development (up to one’s present level). In Christian terms, Eros or transcendental wisdom (the lower reaching up to the higher) has to be balanced with compassion or Agape (the higher reaching down and embracing the lower)?at each and every stage.
This general notion–of a multidimensional Kosmos interwoven by Ascending and Descending patterns of Love (Eros and Agape)–would become a dominant theme of all Neoplatonic schools, and exert a profound influence on virtually all currents of subsequent thought, up to (and beyond) the Enlightenment. Through Augustine and Dionysius, it would permeate all of Christianity, in one form or another, from Boethius to Jakob Boehme, from the great Victorine mystics (Hugh and Richard) to Saint Catherine and Dame Julian, from Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross to Tauler and Eckhart. Through Nicholas Cusanus and Giordano Bruno it would help jolt the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Through Novalis and Schelling, it would be the roots of the Romantic and Idealist Rebellion against the flatland aspects of the Enlightenment. It would find its way into Leibniz and Spinoza and Schopenhauer, and make its way to Emerson and James and Jung. Even Locke would operate within its broad framework, though he would collapse the frame almost beyond recognition. Indeed, when Lovejoy traces the influence of the Great Chain, and refers to it as “the dominant official philosophy of the greater part of civilized mankind through most of its history,” the hand of Plotinus lurks, virtually without exception, there in the background.
Thus, to give only a quick example now, the Cambridge Platonists, who would have such an interesting hand in the molding of modernity, had “their roots in the Platonism of the Renaissance, as developed in the fourteenth century by Ficino and Pico. This was a Platonism very influenced by Plotinus. It was a doctrine in which love played a central part; not only the ascending love of the lower for the higher, Plato’s Eros, but also a love of the higher which expressed itself in care for the lower, which could easily be identified with Christian Agape. The two together make a vast circle of love through the universe.” The Great Circle, that is, of refluxing Eros (the Many returning to the One: wisdom and the Good) and effluxing Agape (the One becoming Many: Goodness and compassion).
In this general conception (which is how I will use the terms from now on), Eros is the love of the lower reaching up to the higher (Ascent); Agape is the love of the higher reaching down to the lower (Descent). In individual development, one ascends via Eros (or expanding to a higher and wider identity), and then integrates via Agape (or reaching down to embrace with care all lower holons), so that balanced development transcends but includes?it is negation and preservation, ascent and descent, Eros and Agape.
Likewise, the love of the Kosmos reaching down to us from a higher level than our present stage of development is also Agape (compassion), helping us to respond with Eros until the source of that Agape is our own developmental level, our own self. The Agape of a higher dimension is the omega pull for our own Eros, inviting us to ascend, via wisdom, and thus expand the circle of our own compassion for more and more beings.
(And not just in the West is Agape stressed. Many tantric and yogic schools–Aurobindo’s for example–put prime emphasis on “the descent of the supermind,” the agape of the supermind that “comes down” in order to pull us up to an identity with it, so that we then express that agape or compassion for all beings now “in” us; as usual, Agape and Eros are united only in the nondual Heart.)*”
*[nota 390] “Likewise, Grace is Agape, and is given freely to all; it shines on all as the omega pull of the Source-Goal, urging Eros to return, to reflux, to that Source. (This doctrine of grace is also extensively found in the East, even–I would say especially–in Buddhism, where it is behind all forms of guru yoga.)In Japanese Buddhism, a distinction is made between self-power (Eros) and other-power (grace or Agape), as represented respectively in Zen and Shin, but both schools agree that the distinction is ultimately based on the subject-object dualism, that there is neither self nor other, neither eros nor agape–again, Eros and Agape united only in the nondual Heart.”