From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016
Lives of Neoplatonists
Plotinus: Divine Triad, Beauty, Free Will, Evil
Porphyry: Body and Soul
Iamblichus: Theurgic Rituals for Uniting with the Divine
LIVES OF NEOPLATONISTS
Life of Plotinus (204-270 CE) (Porphyry, Life of Plotinus)
Plotinus the philosopher, who lived recently, seemed ashamed of having a body. Consequently he never spoke of his family or home [of Lycopolis in Egypt’s Nile Delta]. He never would permit anybody to perpetuate him in a portrait or statue. One day that Amelius begged him to allow a painting to be made of him, he said, "Is it not enough for me to have to carry around this image, in which nature has enclosed us? Must I besides transmit to posterity the image of this image as worthy of attention?" . . . Plotinus was subject to chronic digestive disorders; nevertheless, he never was willing to take any remedies, on the plea that it was unworthy of a man of his age to relieve himself by such means. Neither did he ever take any of the then popular "wild animal remedy," because, said he, he did not even eat the flesh of domestic animals, let alone that of savage ones. . . . Eustochius himself told me that he happened to be at Puzzoli at the time of Plotinus’s death, and that he was slow in reaching the bedside of Plotinus. Plotinus then said to him, "I have been waiting for you; I am trying to unite what is divine in us to that which is divine in the universe." Then a serpent, who happened to be under Plotinus’s death-bed slipped into a hole in the wall [as happened at the death of Scipio Africanus], and Plotinos breathed his last. . . .
At 28 years of age he devoted himself entirely to philosophy. He was introduced to the teachers who at that time were the most famous in Alexandria. He would return from their lectures sad and discouraged. He communicated the cause of this grief to one of his friends, who led him to Ammonius, with whom Plotinus was not acquainted. As soon as he heard this philosopher, he said to his friend, "This is the man I was looking for!" From that day forwards he remained close to Ammonius. So great a taste for philosophy did he develop, that he made up his mind to study that which was being taught among the Persians, and among the Hindus. . . .
Plotinus had a great number of auditors and disciples, who were attracted to his courses by love of philosophy. . . . Several senators, also, came to listen to Plotinus. Marcellus, Orontius, Sabinillus and Rogatianus applied themselves, under Plotinus, to the study of philosophy. . . . Me also, Porphyry, a native of Tyre, Plotinus admitted to the circle of his intimate friends, and he charged me to give the final revision to his works.
Once Plotinus had written something, he could neither retouch, nor even re-read what he had done, because his weak eyesight made any reading very painful. His penmanship was poor. He did not separate words, and his spelling was defective; he was chiefly occupied with ideas. Until his death he continuously persisted in this habit, which was for us all a subject of surprise. When he had finished composing something in his head, and when he then wrote what he had meditated on, it seemed as if he copied a book. . . . Several men and women of substance, being on the point of death, entrusted him with their boys and girls, and all their possessions, as being an irreproachable trustee; and the result was that his house was filled with young boys and girls. . . . The obligation of attending to the needs of so many wards did not, however, hinder him from devoting to intellectual concerns a continuous attention during the nights. His disposition was gentle, and he was very approachable by all who dwelt with him. Consequently, although he dwelt full twenty-six years in Rome, and though he was often chosen as arbitrator in disputes, never did he offend any public personage.
Among those who pretended to be philosophers, there was a certain man named Olympius. He lived in Alexandria, and for some time had been a disciple of Ammonius. As he desired to succeed better than Plotinos, he treated Plotinos with scorn, and developed sufficient personal animosity against Plotinos to try to bewitch him by magical operations. However, Olympius noticed that this enterprise was really turning against himself, and he acknowledged to his friends that the soul of Plotinos must be very powerful, since it was able to throw back upon his enemies the evil practices directed against him. The first time that Olympius attempted to harm him, Plotinos having noticed it, said, "At this very moment the body of Olympius is undergoing convulsions, and is contracting like a purse." As Olympius several times felt himself undergoing the very ills he was trying to get Plotinos to undergo, he finally ceased his practices.
Life of Porphyry (233-305 CE) (Eunapius, Lives)
Porphyry's birthplace, the capital city of the ancient Phoenicians [i.e., Tyre], and his ancestors were distinguished men. He was given a liberal education, and advanced so rapidly and made such progress that he became a pupil of Longinus, and in a short time was an ornament to his teacher. . . . Porphyry's name in the Syrian town was originally Malchus (this word means "king"), but Longinus gave him the name of Porphyry, thus making it indicate the color of imperial attire. . . . After Porphyry's early education had thus been carried on and he was looked up to by all, he longed to see Rome, the mistress of the world, so that he might enchain the city by his wisdom. But directly he arrived there and became intimate with that great man Plotinus, he forgot all else and devoted himself wholly to him. And since with an insatiable appetite he devoured his teaching and his original and inspired discourses, for some time he was content to be his pupil, as he himself says. Then overcome by the force of his teachings he conceived a hatred of his own body and of being human, and sailed to Sicily . . . There he lay groaning and mortifying the flesh, and he would take no nourishment and "avoided the path of men." But great Plotinus "kept no vain watch" on these things, and either followed in his footsteps or inquired for the youth who had fled, and so found him lying there; then he found abundance of words that recalled to life his soul, as it was just about to speed forth from the body. Moreover he gave strength to his body so that it might contain his soul. . . . So Porphyry breathed again and arose . . . Now Porphyry returned to Rome and continued to study philosophical disputation, so that he even appeared in public to make a display of his powers; but every forum and every crowd attributed to Plotinus the credit of Porphyry's renown. For Plotinus, because of the celestial quality of his soul and the oblique and enigmatic character of his discourses, seemed austere and hard to listen to. But Porphyry, like a chain of Hermes let down to mortals, by reason of his many-sided culture expounded all subjects so as to be clear and easy of comprehension. . . . It seems that he entered the married state, and a book of his is extant addressed to his wife Marcella; he says that he married her, although she was already the mother of five children, and this was not that he might have children by her, but that those she had might be educated; for the father of his wife's children had been a friend of his own. It seems that he attained to an advanced old age. At any rate he left behind him many speculations that conflict with the books that he had previously published; with regard to which we can only suppose that he changed his opinions as he grew older. He is said to have departed this life in Rome.
Life of Iamblichus (245-325 CE) (Eunapius, Lives)
Iamblichus, was of illustrious ancestry and belonged to an opulent and prosperous family. His birthplace was Chalcis, a city in the region called Coele Syria. As a pupil of Anatolius, who ranks next after Porphyry, he made great progress and attained to the highest distinction in philosophy. Then leaving Anatolius he attached himself to Porphyry, and in no respect was he inferior to Porphyry except in harmonious structure and force of style. For his utterances are not imbued with charm and grace, they are not lucid, and they lack the beauty of simplicity. . . . But because he practiced justice he gained an easy access to the ears of the gods; so much so that he had a multitude of disciples, and those who desired learning flocked to him from all parts. . . . Occasionally, however, he did perform certain rites alone, apart from his friends and disciples, when he worshipped the Divine Being. But for the most part he conversed with his pupils and was unexacting in his mode of life and of an ancient simplicity. As they drank their wine he would charm those present by his conversation and filled them as with nectar. And they never ceased to desire this pleasure and never could have too much of it, so that they never gave him any peace.
Life of Proclus (412-485) (Marinus, Life of Proclus)
Love of gain was entirely alien to Proclus, to the point that, from childhood, he neglected care of the fortune left him by his parents, who were very rich, from passionate love for philosophy. . . . . . . Shortly after his birth [in Constantinople], his parents moved him to their homeland, to Xanthus [i.e., Lycia, in what is now Turkey]. . . . . For a very short time he attended a grammar school in Lycia, and then traveled to Egyptian Alexandria, already deeply imbued with the moral qualities which charmed the teachers he attended. The Isaurian sophist Leonas, the most celebrated among his fellow philosophers, not only admitted him to his courses, but invited him to become his house-guest . . . . Then he attended the lessons of Roman teachers, and rapidly made great progress in their curriculum; for at the beginning he proposed to follow the legal career of his father, who had thereby made himself famous in the capital. . . . While he was still young, he took much delight in rhetoric, for he had not yet become acquainted with philosophical studies. . . . He was still studying when Leonas invited him to share his journey to Constantinople . . . on his arrival the goddess advised him to devote himself up to philosophy, and to attend the Athenian schools. So he said farewell to rhetoric, and to his other former studies, and first returning to Alexandria, he attended only what philosophical courses were there given. . . . After having studied under the teachers in Alexandria, and having profited by their lessons . . . he looked upon these schools with scorn, and simultaneously remembering the divine vision that had visited him in Constantinople, and the command which it had brought him, he embarked for Athens. . . . Chance led him to hear first Syrianus [i.e., head of the revived Academy] . . . . He is the author of many hitherto unknown theories, that were physical, intellectual, or still more divine. . . . He especially preached abstinence from animal food, but if a special ceremony compelled him to make use of it, he only tasted it, out of consideration and respect. . . . [Upon Syrianus’s death, Proclus assumed leadership of the revived Academy]. . . . Proclus left this world . . . His body received the funerary honors usual among the Athenians, as he himself had requested.
PLOTINUS: DIVINE TRIAD, BEAUTY, FREE WILL, EVIL
The Three Hypostases: The One, The Divine Intelligence, The Universal Soul (1.8.2)
The One as the Source of Everything
2. Let us now determine the nature of the Good [i.e., the One], at least so far as is demanded by the present discussion. The Good is the principle on which all depends, to which everything aspires, from which everything issues, and of which everything has need. As to Him, He suffices to himself, being complete, so He stands in need of nothing; He is the measure and the end of all things; and from Him spring intelligence, being, soul, life, and intellectual contemplation.
Divine Intelligence Possesses All Things
All these beautiful things exist as far as He does; but He is the one Principle that possesses supreme beauty, a principle that is superior to the things that are best. He reigns royally, in the intelligible world, being Intelligence itself, very differently from what we call human intelligences. Human intelligences indeed are all occupied with propositions, discussions about the meanings of words, reasonings, examinations of the validity of conclusions, observing the concatenation of causes, being incapable of possessing truth "a priori," and though they are intelligences, being devoid of all ideas before having been instructed by experience; though they, nevertheless, were intelligences. Such is not the primary Intelligence. On the contrary, the primary Intelligence possesses all things. Though remaining within itself, it is all things; it possesses all things, without possessing them [in the usual understanding of that term]; the things that subsist in it not differing from it, and not being separated from each other. Each one of them is all the others, is everything and everywhere, although not confounded with other things, and remaining distinct therefrom.
Universal Soul Contemplates the Divine Intelligence
The power which participates in Intelligence [i.e., the universal Soul] does not participate in it in a manner such as to be equal to it, but only in the measure of her ability to participate therein. She is the first actualization of Intelligence, the first being that Intelligence, though remaining within itself, creates. She directs her whole activity towards supreme Intelligence, and lives exclusively thereby. Moving from outside Intelligence, and around it, according to the laws of harmony, the universal Soul fixes her glance upon it. By contemplation penetrating into its inmost depths, through Intelligence she sees the divinity Himself. Such is the nature of the serene and blissful existence of the divinities, a life where evil has no place.
Emanations from the One (5:1:6)
Mystery or Derivation of Second from First
6. How does Intelligence see, and what does it see? How did the Second issue from the First, how was it born from the First, so as that the Second might see the First? For the soul now understands that these principles must necessarily exist. She seeks to solve the problem often mooted by ancient philosophers. "If the nature of the One is such as we have outlined, how does everything derive its hypostatic substance [or, form of existence], manifoldness, duality, and number from the First? Why did the First not remain within Himself, why did He allow the leakage of manifoldness seen in all beings, and which we are seeking to trace back to the First?" We will tell it. But we must, to begin with, invoke the Divinity, not by the utterance of words, but by raising our souls to Him in prayer. Now the only way to pray is [for a person], when alone, to advance towards the One, who is entirely alone. To contemplate Unity, we must retire to our inner sanctuary, and there remain tranquil above all things [in ecstasy]; then we must observe the statues, so to speak, which are situated outside of [soul and intelligence], and in front of everything, the statue that shines in the front rank [Unity], contemplating it in a manner suitable to its nature [in the mysteries].
Generation is the Radiation of an Image.
All that is moved must have a direction towards which it is moved; we must therefore conclude that that which has no direction towards which it is moved must be at a stand-still, and that anything born of this principle must be born without causing this principle to cease being turned towards itself. We must, however, remove from our mind the idea of a generation operated within time, for we are here treating of eternal things. When we apply to them the conception of generation, we mean only a relation of causality and effect. What is begotten by the One must be begotten by Him without any motion on the part of the One; if He were moved, that which was begotten from Him would, because of this movement, be ranked third, instead of second. Therefore, since the One is immovable, He produces the hypostatic [form of existence] which is ranked second, without volition, consent, or any kind of movement. What conception are we then to form of this generation of Intelligence by this immovable Cause? It is a radiation of light which escapes without disturbing its quietness, like the splendor which emanates perpetually from the sun, without affecting its quietness, which surrounds it without leaving it. Thus all things, in so far as they remain within existence, necessarily draw from their own essence ["being"] and produce externally a certain nature that depends on their power, and that is the image of the archetype from which it is derived. Thus does fire radiate heat; thus snow spreads cold. Perfumes also furnish a striking example of this process; so long as they last, they emit exhalations in which everything that surrounds them participates. Everything that has arrived to its point of perfection begets something. That which is eternally perfect begets eternally; and that which it begets is eternal though inferior to the generating principle. What then should we think of Him who is supremely perfect? Does He not beget? On the contrary, He begets that which, after Him, is the greatest. Now that which, after Him, is the most perfect, is the second rank principle, Intelligence. Intelligence contemplates Unity, and needs none but Him; but the Unity has no need of Intelligence. That which is begotten by the Principle superior to Intelligence can be nothing if not Intelligence; for it is the best after the One, since it is superior to all other beings. The Soul, indeed, is the word and actualization of Intelligence, just as Intelligence is word and actualization of the One. But the Soul is an obscure word. Being an image of Intelligence, she must contemplate Intelligence, just as the latter, to subsist, must contemplate the One. Intelligence contemplates the One, not because of any separation therefrom, but only because it is after the One. There is no intermediary between the One and Intelligence, any more than between Intelligence and the Soul. Every begotten being desires to unite with the principle that begets it, and loves it, especially when the begetter and the begotten are alone. Now when the begetter is supremely perfect, the begotten must be so intimately united to Him as to be separated from Him only in that it is distinct from Him.
Features of the One: Indivisible, Infinite, Unspeakable
The One May be Conceived of as Indivisible and Infinite (6.9.6)
6. In what sense do we use the name of unity, and how can we conceive of it? We will have to insist that the One is a unity much more perfect than the point of the monad. For in these, abstracting [geometric] magnitude, and numerical plurality, we do indeed stop at that which is most minute, and we come to rest in something indivisible. But this existed already in a divisible being, in a subject other than itself, while the One is neither in a subject other than itself, nor in anything divisible. If it is indivisible, neither is it of the same kind as that which is most minute. On the contrary, it is that which is greatest, not by [geometric] magnitude, but by power; possessing no [geometric] magnitude, it is indivisible in its power; for the beings beneath it are indivisible in their powers, and not in their mass [since they are incorporeal]. We must also insist that the One is infinite, not as would be a mass of a magnitude which could be examined serially, but by the incommensurability of its power. Even though you should conceive of it as of intelligence or divinity, it is still higher. When by thought you consider it as the most perfect unity, it is still higher. You try to form for yourself an idea of a divinity by rising to what in your intelligence is most unitary [and yet He is still simpler]; for He dwells within Himself, and contains nothing that is contingent.
The One is Above Consciousness, Unspeakable, and Describable Only by Negation (5:3:12-13)
12. As the One is above Intelligence, it is also above consciousness. As it needs nothing, neither has it any need of knowing anything. Cognition [or, consciousness], therefore, belongs only to the second-rank nature. Consciousness is only an individual unity, while the One is absolute unity; indeed individual unity is not absolute Unity, because the absolute is [or, "in and for itself"], precedes the ["somehow determined," or] individual.
13. This Principle, therefore, is truly indescribable. We are individualizing it in any statement about it. That which is above everything, even above the great Intelligence, truly has no name, and all that we can state about Him is, that He is not anything. Nor can He be given any name, since we cannot assert anything about Him. We refer to Him only as best we can. In our uncertainty we say, "What does He not feel? is He not self-conscious? does He not know Himself?" Then we must reflect that by speaking thus we are thinking of things, that are opposed to Him of whom we are now thinking. When we suppose that He can be known, or that He possesses self-consciousness, we are already making Him manifold. Were we to attribute to Him thought, it would appear that He needed this thought. If we imagine thought as being within Him, thought seems to be superfluous. For of what does thought consist? Of the consciousness of the totality formed by the two terms that contribute to the act of thought, and which fuse therein. That is thinking oneself, and thinking oneself is real thinking; for each of the two elements of thought is itself a unity to which nothing is lacking.
On the contrary, the thought of objects exterior [to Intelligence] is not perfect, and is not true thought. That which is supremely simple and supremely absolute [i.e., the One] stands in need of nothing. The absolute that occupies the second rank needs itself, and, consequently, needs to think itself. Indeed, since Intelligence needs something relatively to itself, it succeeds in satisfying this need, and consequently, in being absolute, only by possessing itself entirely. It suffices itself only by uniting all the elements constituting its nature ["being"], only by dwelling within itself, only by remaining turned towards itself while thinking; for consciousness is the sensation of manifoldness, as is indicated by the etymology of the word "con-scious-ness," or, "conscience." If supreme Thought occur by the conversion of Intelligence towards itself, it evidently is manifold. Even if it said no more than "I am existence," Intelligence would say it as if making a discovery, and Intelligence would be right, because existence is manifold. Even though it should apply itself to something simple, and should say, "I am existence," this would not imply successful grasp of itself or existence. Indeed, when Intelligence speaks of existence in conformity with reality, intelligence does not speak of it as of a stone, but, merely, in a single word expresses something manifold.
The existence that really and essentially deserves the name of existence, instead of having of it only a trace which would not be existence, and which would be only an image of it, such existence is a multiple entity. Will not each one of the elements of this multiple entity be thought? No doubt you will not be able to think it if you take it alone and separated from the others. But existence itself is in itself something manifold. Whatever object you name, it possesses existence. Consequently, He who is supremely simple cannot think Himself. If He did, He would be somewhere, [which is not the case]. Therefore, He does not think, and He cannot be grasped by thought.
We Come Sufficiently Near to Him to Talk About Him by Way of Negation (5:3:14)
14. How then do we speak of Him? Because we can assert something about Him, though we cannot express Him by speech. We could not know Him, nor grasp Him by thought. How then do we speak of Him, if we cannot grasp Him? Because though He does escape our knowledge, He does not escape us completely. We grasp Him enough to assert something about Him without expressing Him himself, to say what He is not, without saying what He is; that is why in speaking of Him we use terms that are suitable to designate only lower things. Besides we can embrace Him without being capable of expressing Him, like men who, transported by a divine enthusiasm, feel that they contain something superior without being able to account for it. They speak of what agitates them, and they thus have some feeling of Him who moves them, though they differ therefrom. Such is our relation with Him. When we rise to Him by using our pure intelligence, we feel that He is the foundation of our intelligence, the principle that furnishes "being" and other things of the kind; we feel that He is better, greater, and more elevated than we, because He is superior to reason, to intelligence, and to the senses, because He gives these things without being what they are.
Divine Intelligence Contains the Forms (6.7.2)
In The Intelligible, Everything Possesses its Reason as Well as its Form
2. [By this process] we also know the nature of Intelligence, which we see still better than the other things, though we cannot grasp its magnitude. We admit, in fact, that it possesses the whatness [essence], of everything, but not its "whyness" [its cause]; or, if we grant [that this "cause" be in Intelligence], we do not think that it is separated (from its "whatness", or, essence]. Let us suppose that, for instance, the man, or, if possible, the eye, should offer itself to our contemplation [in the intelligible world] as a statue, or as a part of it, would do. The man that we see on high is both essence and cause. As well as the eye, he must be intellectual, and contain his cause. Otherwise, he could not exist in the intelligible world. Here below, just as each part is separated from the others, so is the cause separated [from the essence]. On high, on the contrary, all things exist in unity, and each thing is identical with its cause. This identity may often be noticed even here below, as for instance, in eclipses. It would therefore seem probable that in the intelligible world everything would, besides the rest, possess its cause, and that its cause constitutes its essence. This must be admitted; and that is the reason why those who apply themselves to grasp the characteristic of each being succeed [in also grasping its cause]. Indeed that which each [being] is, depends on the "cause of such a form." To repeat: not only is a [being's] form its cause, [which is incontestable], but yet, if one analyses each form considered in itself, its cause will be found. The only things which do not contain their causes are those whose life is without reality, and whose existence is shadowy.
Intelligence Contains the Cause of All its Forms
What is the origin of the cause of what is a form, which is characteristic of Intelligence? It is not from Intelligence, because the form is not separable from Intelligence, combining with it to form one single and same thing. If then Intelligence possess the forms in their fulness, this fulness of forms implies that they contain their cause. Intelligence contains the cause of each of the forms it contains. It consists of all these forms taken together, or separately. None of them needs discovery of the cause of its production, for simultaneously with its production, it has contained the cause of its hypostatic existence. As it was not produced by chance, it contains all that belongs to its cause; consequently, it also possesses the whole perfection of its cause. Sense-things which participate in form do not only receive their nature from it, but also the cause of this nature. If all the things of which this universe is composed be intimately concatenated; and if the universe, containing all things, also contain the cause of each of them; if its relation with them be the same as that of the body with its organs, which do not mature successively, but which, towards each other, are mutually related as cause and effect; then so much the more, in the intelligible world, must things have their "causes," all of them in general in respect to the totality, and each independently in respect to itself.
The Universal Soul creates the Natural Generative Powers which creates Matter
The Structure of the Universe: Intelligence, Soul, Natural Generative Powers, Matter (2.3.17)
Under these circumstances, it is plain that the universal Soul forever contemplates the better principles, because it is turned towards the intelligible world, and towards the divinity. As Soul fills herself with God, and is filled with God, she, as it were, overflows over her image, namely, the power which holds the last rank [i.e., the natural generative power], and which, consequently, is the last creative power. Above this creative power is the power of the Soul which immediately receives the forms from the Intelligence. Above all is the Intelligence, the Demiurge, who gives the forms to the universal Soul, and the latter impresses its traces on the third-rank power [the natural generative power]. This world, therefore, is truly a picture which perpetually pictures itself. The two first principles [i.e., Intelligence and Universal Soul] are immovable; the third is also immovable [in essence]; but it is engaged in matter, and becomes immovable [only] by accident. As long as the Intelligence and the Soul subsist, the "reasons" flow down into this image of the Soul [the natural generative power]. Likewise, as long as the sun subsists, all light emanates from it.
Imperfect Material Objects Modeled after the Forms (2.3.17)
17. Let us examine if the "reasons" contained in the Soul are thoughts. How could the Soul produce by thoughts? It is the Reason which produces in matter; but the principle that produces naturally is neither a thought nor an intuition, but a power that fashions matter unconsciously, just as a circle gives water a circular figure and impression. Indeed, the natural generative power has the function of production. But it needs the co-operation of the governing [principle] of the Soul, which forms and which causes the activity of the generative soul engaged in matter. If the governing power of the Soul form the generative soul by reasoning, it will be considering either another object, or what it possesses in herself. If the latter be the case, she has no need of reasoning, for it is not by reasoning that the Soul fashions matter, but by the power which contains the reasons, the power which alone is effective, and capable of production. The Soul, therefore, produces by the forms. The forms she transmits are by her received from the Intelligence. This Intelligence, however, gives the forms to the universal Soul which is located immediately below her, and the universal Soul transmits them to the inferior soul [the natural generative power], fashioning and illuminating her. The inferior soul then produces, at one time without meeting any obstacles, at others, when doing so, although, in the latter case, she produces things less perfect. As she has received the power of production, and as she contains the reasons which are not the first [i.e., the "seminal reasons," which are inferior to the Ideas] not only does she, by virtue of what she has received, produce, but she also draws from herself something which is evidently inferior [matter]. It doubtless produces a living being [i.e. the material world], but a living being which is less perfect, and which enjoys life much less, because it occupies the last rank, because it is coarse and hard to manage, because the matter which composes it is the bitterness, so to speak, or the superior principles, because it spreads its bitterness around her, and communicates some of it to the universe. . . .
Material objects as Emanations from the Forms (6.4.10)
10. It may be objected that the image [i.e., material things] need not necessarily be attached to its model [i.e., the forms]. For there are images that exist in the absence of their model from which they are derived. For instance, when the fire ceases, the heat that proceeds from it does not any the less remain in the warmed object. The relation between this image and its model should be understood as follows. Let us consider an image made by a painter. In this case, it is not the model who made the image, but the painter; and even so it is not even the real image of the model, even if the painter had painted his own portrait. For this image did not arise from the body of the painter, nor from the represented form, nor from the painter himself, but it is the product of a complex of colors arranged in a certain manner. We, therefore, do not really here have the production of an image, such as is furnished by mirrors, waters, and shadows. Here the image really emanates from the pre-existing model, and is formed by it, and could not exist without it. It is in this manner that the inferior potentialities proceed from the superior ones.
Matter is Non-Being since it is Nothing Actually Real, But only Potentially (2.5.4-5)
4. As matter, therefore, is no "being" neither in respect of beings, nor of forms, matter is non-being in the highest degree. Since matter does not possess the nature of true beings, and since it cannot even claim a place among the objects falsely called beings [for not even like these is matter an image of reason], in what kind of being could matter be included? If it cannot be included in any, it can evidently not be something actually. . . . It exists only potentially; it limits itself to being a feeble and obscure image, which cannot assume any form. May we not thence conclude that matter is the image actually; and consequently, is actually deception? Yes, it truly is deception, that is, it is essentially non-being. If then matter actually is non-being, it is the highest degree of non-being, and thus again essentially is non-being. Since non-being is its real nature, it is, therefore, far removed from actually being any kind of a being. If it must at all be, it must actually be non-being, so that, far from real-being, its "being" [so to speak] consists in non-being. To remove the deception of deceptive beings, is to remove their "being." To introduce actuality in the things which possess being and essence potentially, is to annihilate their reason for being, because their being consists in existing potentially.
Achieving Mystical Vision of the One through the Perception of Beauty (1.6.1-9)
Beauty in Daily Life
1. Beauty mainly affects the sense of sight. Still, the ear perceives it also, both in the harmony of words, and in the different kinds of music; for songs and verses are equally beautiful. On rising from the domain of the senses to a superior region, we also discover beauty in occupations, actions, habits, sciences and virtues. Whether there exists a type of beauty still higher, will have to be determined by discussion.
Problems Concerning Higher Beauty
What is the cause that certain bodies seem beautiful, that our ears listen with pleasure to rhythms judged beautiful, and that we love the purely moral beauties? Does the beauty of all these objects derive from some unique, immutable principle, or will we recognize someone principle of beauty for the body, and some other for something else? What then are these principles of beauty, if there are several? Or which is this principle, if there is but one?
What is the Principle by Participation in which the Body is Beautiful?
First, there are certain objects, such as bodies, whose beauty exists only by participation, instead of being inherent in the very essence of the subject (others are beautiful in themselves, as is, for example, virtue). Indeed, the same bodies seem beautiful at one time, while at another they lack beauty; consequently, there is a great difference between being a body and being beautiful. What then is the principle whose presence in a body produces beauty therein? What is that element in the bodies which moves the spectator, and which attracts, fixes and charms his glances? This is the first problem to solve; for, on finding this principle, we will use it as a means to resolve other questions.
Beauty is found in the Parts, not in the Symmetry of the Parts as Stoics Maintain
[The Stoics], like almost everybody, insist that visual beauty consists in the proportion of the parts relatively to each other and to the whole, joined to the grace of colors. If then, as in this case, the beauty of bodies in general consists in the symmetry and just proportion of their parts, beauty could not consist of anything simple, and necessarily could not appear in anything but what was compound. Only the totality will be beautiful; the parts by themselves will possess no beauty; they will be beautiful only by their relation with the totality. On the contrary, if the totality is beautiful, it would seem also necessary that the parts be beautiful; for indeed beauty could never result from the assemblage of ugly things. Beauty must therefore be spread among all the parts. According to the stoic doctrine, the colors which, like sunlight, are beautiful, are beautiful but simple, and those whose beauty is not derived from proportion, will also be excluded from the domain of beauty. According to this hypothesis, how will gold be beautiful? The brilliant lightning in the night, even the stars, would not be beautiful to contemplate. In the sphere of sounds, also, it would be necessary to insist that what is simple possesses no beauty. Still, in a beautiful harmony, every sound, even when isolated, is beautiful. While preserving the same proportions, the same countenance seems at one time beautiful, and at another ugly. Evidently, there is but one conclusion: namely, that proportion is not beauty itself, but that it derives its beauty from some superior principle. [This will appear more clearly from further examples]. Let us examine occupations and utterances. If also their beauty depended on proportion, what would be the function of proportion when considering occupations, laws, studies and sciences? Relations of proportion could not obtain in scientific speculations; no, nor even in the mutual agreement of these speculations. On the other hand, even bad things may show a certain mutual agreement and harmony; as, for instance, were we to assert that wisdom is softening of the brain, and that justice is a generous folly. Here we have two revoltingly absurd statements, which agree perfectly, and harmonize mutually. Further, every virtue is a soul-beauty far truer than any that we have till now examined; yet it could not admit of proportion, as it involves neither size nor number. Again, granting that the soul is divided into several faculties, who will undertake to decide which combination of these faculties, or of the speculations to which the soul devotes itself, will produce beauty? Moreover [if beauty is but proportion], what beauty could be predicated of pure intelligence?
Beauty Consists in Kinship to the Soul
2. Returning to our first consideration, we will examine the nature of the element of beauty in bodies. It is something perceivable at the very first glance, something which the soul recognizes as kindred, and sympathetic to her own nature, which she welcomes and assimilates. But as soon as she meets an ugly object, she recoils, repudiates it, and rejects it as something foreign, towards which her real nature feels antipathy. That is the reason why the soul, being such as it is, namely, of an essence superior to all other beings, when she perceives an object kindred to her own nature, or which reveals only some traces of it, rejoices, is transported, compares this object with her own nature, thinks of herself, and of her intimate being as it would be impossible to fail to perceive this resemblance.
Beauty Consists in Participation in a Form
How can both sensible and intelligible objects be beautiful? Because, as we said, sensible objects participate in a form. While a shapeless object, by nature capable of receiving shape [physical] and form [intelligible], remains without reason or form, it is ugly. That which remains completely foreign to all divine reason [a reason proceeding from the universal Soul], is absolute ugliness. Any object should be considered ugly which is not entirely molded by informing reason, the matter, not being able to receive perfectly the form [which the Soul gives it]. On joining matter, form co-ordinates the different parts which are to compose unity, combines them, and by their harmony produces something which is a unit. Since [form] is one, that which it fashions will also have to be one, as far as a composite object can be one. When such an object has arrived at unity, beauty resides in it, and it communicates itself to the parts as well as to the whole. When it meets a whole, the parts of which are perfectly similar, it interpenetrates it evenly. Thus it would show itself now in an entire building, then in a single stone, later in art-products as well as in the works of nature. Thus bodies become beautiful by communion with [or, participation in] a reason descending upon it from the divine [universal Soul].
The Soul Appreciates the Beautiful by an Aesthetic Sense
3. The soul appreciates beauty by an especially ordered faculty, whose sole function it is to appreciate all that concerns beauty, even when the other faculties take part in this judgment. Often the soul makes her [aesthetic] decisions by comparison with the form of the beautiful which is within her, using this form as a standard by which to judge. But what agreement can anything corporeal have with what is incorporeal? For example, how can an architect judge a building placed before him as beautiful, by comparing it with the Idea which he has within himself? The only explanation can be that, on abstracting the stones, the exterior object is nothing but the interior form, no doubt divided within the extent of the matter, but still one, though manifested in the manifold? When the senses perceive in an object the form which combines, unites and dominates a substance which lacks shape, and therefore is of a contrary nature; and if they also perceive a shape which distinguishes itself from the other shapes by its elegance, then the soul, uniting these multiple elements, fuses them, comparing them to the indivisible form which she bears within herself, then she pronounces their agreement, kinship and harmony with that interior type.
Examples of Correspondence of Physical Beauty With its Form
Thus a worthy man, perceiving in a youth the character of virtue, is agreeably impressed, because he observes that the youth harmonizes with the true type of virtue which he bears within himself. Thus also the beauty of color, though simple in form, reduces under its sway that obscurity of matter, by the presence of the light, which is something incorporeal, a reason, and a form. Likewise, fire surpasses all other bodies in beauty, because it stands to all other elements in the relation of a form; it occupies the highest regions; it is the subtlest of bodies because it most approaches the incorporeal beings; without permitting itself to be penetrated by other bodies, it penetrates them all; without itself cooling, it communicates to them its heat; by its own essence it possesses color, and communicates it to others; it shines and coruscates, because it is a form. The body in which it does not dominate, shows but a discolored hue, and ceases being beautiful, merely because it does not participate in the whole form of color. Again, the hidden harmonies of sound produce audible harmonies, and also yield to the soul the idea of beauty, though showing it in another order of things. Audible harmonies can be expressed in numbers; not indeed in any kind of numbers, but only in such as can serve to produce form, and to make it dominate.
Transition from Sense Beauty to Intellectual Beauty
So much then for sensory-beauties which, descending on matter like images and shadows, beautify it and thereby compel our admiration.
4. Now we will leave the senses in their lower sphere, and we will rise to the contemplation of the beauties of a superior order, of which the senses have no intuition, but which the soul perceives and expresses.
Interior Beauties Could Not Be Appreciated Without an Interior Model
Just as we could not have spoken of sensory-beauties if we had never seen them, nor recognized them as such, if, in respect to them, we had been similar to persons born blind, likewise we would not know enough to say anything about the beauty either of the arts or sciences, or of anything of the kind, if we were not already in possession of this kind of beauty; nor of the splendor of virtue, if we had not contemplated the ["golden] face of Justice," and of temperance, before whose splendor the morning and evening stars grow pale.
Moral Beauties more Delightful than Sensory Beauties
To see these beauties, they must be contemplated by the faculty our soul has received; then, while contemplating them, we will experience far more pleasure, astonishment and admiration, than in contemplation of the sensory-beauties, because we will have the intuition of true beauties. The sentiments inspired by beauty are admiration, a gentle charm, desire, love, and a pleasurable impulse.
They Who Feel These Sentiments Most Deeply are called Lovers
Such are the sentiments for invisible beauties which should be felt, and indeed are experienced by all souls, but especially by the most loving. In the presence of beautiful bodies, all indeed see them; but not all are equally moved. Those who are most moved are designated "lovers."
The Cause of These Emotions is the Invisible Soul
5. Let us now propose a question about experiences to these men who feel love for incorporeal beauties. What do you feel in presence of the noble occupations, the good morals, the habits of temperance, and in general of virtuous acts and sentiments, and of all that constitutes the beauty of souls? What do you feel when you contemplate your inner beauty? What is the source of your ecstasies, or your enthusiasms? From where come your desires to unite yourselves to your real selves, and to refresh yourselves by retirement from your bodies? Such indeed are the experiences of those who love genuinely. What then is the object which causes these, your emotions? It is neither a figure, nor a color, nor any size. Rather, it is that [colorless] invisible soul, which possesses a wisdom equally invisible; this soul in which may be seen shining the splendor of all the virtues, when one discovers in oneself, or contemplates in others, the greatness of character, the justice of the heart, the pure temperance, the imposing countenance of valor, dignity and modesty, proceeding alone firmly, calmly, and imperturbably; and above all, intelligence, resembling the divinity, by its brilliant light. What is the reason that we declare these objects to be beautiful, when we are transported with admiration and love for them? They exist, they manifest themselves, and whoever sees them will never be able to restrain himself from admitting them to be true beings. Now what are these genuine beings? They are beautiful.
Love of Beauty Explained by Aversion for Opposite
But reason is not yet satisfied. Reason wonders why these true beings give the soul which experiences them the property of exciting love, from which proceeds this halo of light which, so to speak, crowns all virtues. Consider the things contrary to these beautiful objects, and with them compare what may be ugly in the soul. If we can discover of what ugliness consists, and what is its cause, we will have achieved an important element of the solution we are seeking. Let us picture to ourselves an ugly soul; she will be given up to intemperance; and be unjust, abandoned to a host of passions, troubled, full of fears caused by her cowardliness, and of envy by her degradation; she will be longing only for vile and perishable things; she will be entirely depraved, will love nothing but impure wishes, will have no life but the sensual, and will take pleasure in her turpitude. Would we not explain such a state by saying that under the very mask of beauty turpitude had invaded this soul, brutalized her, soiled her with all kinds of vices, making her incapable of a pure life, and pure sentiments, and had reduced her to an existence obscure, infected with evil, poisoned by lethal germs; that it had hindered her from contemplating anything she should, forcing her to remain solitary, because it misled her out from herself towards inferior and gloomy regions? The soul fallen into this state of impurity, seized with an irresistible inclination towards the things of sense, absorbed by her intercourse with the body, sunk into matter, and having even received it within herself, has changed form by her admixture with an inferior nature. Not otherwise would be a man fallen into slimy mud, who no longer would present to view his primitive beauty, and would exhibit only the appearance of the mud that had defiled him; his ugliness would be derived from something foreign; and to recover his pristine beauty he would have to wash off his defilement, and by purification be restored to what he once was.
Ugliness results from Mingling with Bodies that are Foreign to it
We have the right to say that the soul becomes ugly by mingling with the body, confusing herself with it, by inclining herself towards it. For a soul, ugliness consists in being impure, no longer unmingled, like gold tarnished by particles of earth. As soon as this dross is removed, and nothing but gold remains, then again it is beautiful, because separated from every foreign body, and is restored to its unique nature. Likewise the soul, released from the passions begotten by her intercourse with the body when she yields herself too much to it, delivered from exterior impressions, purified from the blemishes contracted from her alliance with the body—that is, reduced to herself, she lays aside that ugliness which is derived from a nature foreign to her.
Virtues are only Purifications
6. Thus, according to the ancient [Platonic or Empedoclean] maxim, "courage, temperance, all the virtues, indeed even good judgment, are only purifications." The mysteries were therefore wise in teaching that the man who has not been purified will, in hell, dwell at the bottom of a swamp; for everything that is not pure, because of its very perversity, delights in mud, just as we see the impure swine wallow in the mud with delight. Indeed, what would real temperance consist of, if it is not to avoid attaching oneself to the pleasures of the body, and to flee from them as impure, and as only proper for an impure being? What else is courage, unless no longer to fear death, which is mere separation of the soul from the body? Whoever therefore is willing to withdraw from the body could surely not fear death. Magnanimity is nothing but scorn of things here below. Last, good judgment is the thought which, detached from the earth, raises the soul to the intelligible world. The purified soul, therefore, becomes a form, a reason, an incorporeal and intellectual essence; she belongs entirely to the divinity, in whom resides the source of the beautiful, and of all the qualities which have affinity with it.
The Soul's Welfare is to Resemble the Divinity by which it’s Beauty Increases
Restored to intelligence, the soul sees her own beauty increase; indeed, her own beauty consists of the intelligence with its ideas; only when united to intelligence is the soul really isolated from all the remainder. That is the reason that it is right to say that "the soul's welfare and beauty lie in assimilating herself to the divinity," because it is the principle of beauty and of the essences; or rather, being is beauty, while the other nature [non-being, matter], is ugliness. This is the First Evil, evil in itself, just as that one [the First Principle] is the good and the beautiful; for good and beauty are identical. Consequently, beauty or good, and evil or ugliness, are to be studied by the same methods. The first rank is to be assigned to beauty, which is identical with the good, and from which is derived the intelligence which is beautiful by itself. The soul is beautiful by intelligence, then, the other things, like actions, and studies, are beautiful by the soul which gives them a form. It is still the soul which beautifies the bodies to which is ascribed this perfection; being a divine essence, and participating in beauty, when she seizes an object, or subjects it to her dominion, she gives to it the beauty that the nature of this object enables it to receive.
After Purification the Soul can Ascend to The Good
We must still ascend to the Good to which every soul aspires. Whoever has seen it knows what I still have to say, and knows the beauty of the Good. Indeed, the Good is desirable for its own sake; it is the goal of our desires. To attain it, we have to ascend to the higher regions, turn towards them, and lay aside the garment which we put on when descending here below; just as, in the [Eleusynian, or Isiac] mysteries, those who are admitted to penetrate into the recesses of the sanctuary, after having purified themselves, lay aside every garment, and advance stark naked.
The Supreme Purpose of Life is the Ecstatic Vision of Supreme Beauty
7. Thus, in her ascension towards divinity, the soul advances until, having risen above everything that is foreign to her, she is alone with Him who is alone. She then sees Him from whom all depends, in all His simplicity and purity. It is Him to whom all aspires, from whom everything draws its existence, life and thought. He who sees him is overwhelmed with love; with ardor desiring to unite himself with Him, entranced with ecstasy. Men who have not yet seen Him desire Him as the Good. Those who have seen Him, admire Him as sovereign beauty. They are struck simultaneously with stupor and pleasure, thrilling in a painless ecstasy, loving with a genuine emotion, with an ardor without equal, scorning all other affections, and disdaining those things which formerly they characterized as beautiful. This is the experience of those to whom divinities and guardians have appeared. They no longer care about the beauty of other bodies. Imagine, if you can, the experiences of those who see Beauty itself, the pure Beauty, which, because of its very purity, is fleshless and bodiless, outside of earth and heaven. All these things, indeed are contingent and composite, they are not principles, they are derived from Him. What beauty could one still wish to see after having arrived at vision of Him who gives perfection to all beings, though himself remains unmoved, without receiving anything; after finding rest in this contemplation, and enjoying it by becoming assimilated to Him? Being supreme beauty, and the first beauty, He beautifies those who love Him, and thereby they become worthy of love. This is the great, the supreme goal of souls; this is the goal which arouses all their efforts, if they do not wish to be disinherited of that sublime contemplation the enjoyment of which confers blessedness, and privation of which is the greatest of earthly misfortunes. Real misfortune is not to lack beautiful colors, nor beautiful bodies, nor power, nor domination, nor royalty. It is quite sufficient to see oneself excluded from no more than possession of beauty. This possession is precious enough to make worthless domination of a kingdom, if not of the whole earth, of the sea, or even of the heavens—if indeed it were possible, while abandoning and scorning all that [natural beauty], to succeed in contemplating beauty face to face.
The Method to Achieve Ecstasy is to Close the Eyes of the Body
8. How will we start, and later arrive at the contemplation of this inexpressible beauty? Like the divinity in the mysteries, it remains hidden in the recesses of a sanctuary, and does not show itself outside, where it might be perceived by the profane. We must advance into this sanctuary, penetrating into it, if we have the strength to do so, closing our eyes to the spectacle of terrestrial things, without throwing a backward glance on the bodies whose graces formerly charmed us. If we do still see corporeal beauties, we must no longer rush at them, but, knowing that they are only images, traces and shadows of a superior principle, we will flee from them, to approach Him of whom they are merely the reflections. Whoever would let himself be misled by the pursuit of those vain shadows, mistaking them for realities, would grasp only an image as fugitive as the fluctuating form reflected by the waters, and would resemble that senseless [Narcissus] who, wishing to grasp that image himself, according to the fable, disappeared, carried away by the current. Likewise he would wish to embrace corporeal beauties, and not release them, would plunge, not his body, but his soul into the gloomy abysses, so repugnant to intelligence. He would be condemned to total blindness; and on this earth, as well as in hell, he would see nothing but mendacious shades.
We Fly to Our Fatherland by Closing the eyes of the Body and Opening an Interior Vision
This indeed is the occasion to quote [from Homer] with unique force, "Let us fly to our dear fatherland!" But how will we fly? How will we escape from here? is the question Ulysses asks himself in that allegory which represents him trying to escape from the magic sway of Circe or Calypso, where neither the pleasure of the eyes, nor the view of fleshly beauty were able to hold him in those enchanted places. Our fatherland is the region from which we descend here below. It is there that dwells our Father. But how will we return to it? What means will be employed to return us to it? Not our feet, indeed; all they could do would be to move us from one place of the earth to another. Neither is it a chariot, nor ship which need be prepared. All these vain helps must be left aside, and not even considered. We must close the eyes of the body, to open another vision, which indeed all possess, but very few employ.
Train your Interior Vision by Contemplating Virtue, Perfecting Yourself, Making yourself Beautiful
9. But how will we train this interior vision? At the moment of its [first] awakening, it cannot contemplate beauties too dazzling. Your soul must then first be accustomed to contemplate the noblest occupations of man, and then the beautiful deeds, not indeed those performed by artists, but those [good deeds] done by virtuous men. Later contemplate the souls of those who perform these beautiful actions. Nevertheless, how will you discover the beauty which their excellent soul possesses? Withdraw within yourself, and examine yourself. If you do not yet therein discover beauty, do as the artist, who cuts off, polishes, purifies until he has adorned his statue with all the marks of beauty. Remove from your soul, therefore, all that is superfluous, straighten out all that is crooked, purify and illuminate what is obscure, and do not cease perfecting your statue until the divine resplendence of virtue shines forth upon your sight, until you see temperance in its holy purity seated in your breast. When you will have acquired this perfection; when you will see it in yourself; when you will purely dwell within yourself; when you will cease to meet within yourself any obstacle to unity; when nothing foreign will any more, by its mixture, alter the simplicity of your interior essence; when within your whole being you will be a true light, immeasurable in size, uncircumscribed by any figure within narrow boundaries, unincreasable because reaching out to infinity, and entirely incommensurable because it transcends all measure and quantity; when you will have become such, then, having become sight itself, you may have confidence in yourself, for you will no longer need any guide. Then must you observe carefully, for it is only by the eye that then will open itself within you that you will be able to perceive supreme Beauty. But if you try to fix on it an eye soiled by vice, an eye that is impure, or weak, so as not to be able to support the splendor of so brilliant an object, that eye will see nothing, not even if it were shown a sight easy to grasp. The organ of vision will first have to be made analogous and similar to the object it is to contemplate. Never would the eye have seen the sun unless first it had assumed its form. Likewise, the soul could never see beauty, unless she herself first became beautiful. To obtain the view of the beautiful, and of the divinity, every man must begin by making himself beautiful and divine.
Contemplate Beauty in the Divine Intelligence, then Contemplate The Good
Thus he will first rise to intelligence, and he will there contemplate beauty, and declare that all this beauty resides in the Forms. Indeed, in them everything is beautiful, because they are the daughters and the very essence of Intelligence.
Above intelligence, he will meet Him whom we call the nature of the Good, and who causes beauty to radiate around Him. Thus, to repeat, the first thing that is met is beauty. If a distinction is to be established among the intelligibles, we might say that intelligible beauty is the locus of ideas, and that the Good, which is located above the Beautiful, is its source and principle. If, however, we desire to locate the Good and the Beautiful within one single principle, we might regard this one principle first as Good, and only afterwards, as Beauty.
Union with the Divine (6.9.10-11)
Attachment to Earthly things Prevents the Soul from Remaining in Divine Intelligence
10. Why does the soul which has risen on high not stay there? Because she has not yet entirely detached herself from things here below. But a time will come when she will uninterruptedly enjoy the vision of the divinity, that is, when she will no longer be troubled by the passions of the body. The part of the soul that sees the divinity is not the one that is troubled [i.e., the irrational soul], but the other part [i.e., the rational soul]. Now she loses the sight of the divinity when she does not lose this knowledge which consists in demonstratings, conjectures and reasonings. In the vision of the divinity, indeed, that which sees is not the reason, but something prior and superior to reason; if that which sees is still united to reason, it then is as that which is seen. When he who sees himself sees, he will see himself as simple, being united to himself as simple, and will feel himself as simple.
The Soul becomes Absorbed in the Divinity
We should not even say that he will see, but only that he will be what he sees, in case that it would still here be possible to distinguish that which sees from that which is seen, or to assert that these two things do not form a single one. This assertion, however, would be rash, for in this condition he who sees does not, in the strict sense of the word, see; nor does he imagine two things. He becomes other, he ceases to be himself, he retains nothing of himself. Absorbed in the divinity, he is one with it, like a center that coincides with another center. While they coincide, they form but one, though they form two in so far as they remain distinct. In this sense only do we here say that the soul is other than the divinity. Consequently this manner of vision is very difficult to describe. How indeed could we depict as different from us Him who, while we were contemplating Him, did not seem other than ourselves, having come into perfect at-one-ment with us?
The Soul flies to the Divinity, and Becomes an Image of the Divinity
11. He who sees himself as having become divinity, possesses within himself an image of the divinity. If he rises above himself, he will achieve the limit of his ascension, becoming an image, so to speak, that becomes indistinguishable from its model. Then, when he will have lost sight of the divinity, he may still, by arousing the virtue preserved within himself, and by considering the perfections that adorn his soul, reascend to the celestial region, by virtue rising to Intelligence, and by wisdom to the Divinity Himself. Such is the life of the divinities. Such also is that of divine and blessed men, which involves detachment from all things here below, scorn of all earthly pleasures, and flight of the soul towards the Divinity that she will see face to face.
Free Will Within a Determined Universe (3.1.7-9)
The Stoic View of Fate: Everything results from an Interrelated Network of Causes
7. There remains to be considered the [Stoic] doctrine which, linking and interrelating all things among each other, establishes "a single cause which produces everything through seminal reasons (logoi spermatikoi)." This doctrine is close to [Heraclitus's view] which makes the universal soul the source and cause of all condition and of all movement, in individuals as well as those of the universe.
Alexander Of Aphrodisia's Criticism: There is no Liberty since our Appetites are Caused by Prior Events
In this case, even if we possessed the power of doing something by ourselves, we would not be any the less than the remainder of the universe subjected to necessity, because Fate, containing the whole series of causes, necessarily determines each event. Now since Fate includes all causes, there is nothing which could hinder the occurrence of that event, or alter it. If then everything obeys the impulsion of a single principle, nothing is left to us but to follow it. Indeed, in this case, the fancies of our imagination would result from earlier facts, and would in turn determine our appetites. Our liberty would then have become a mere word. Nor would we gain any advantage from obeying our appetites, since our appetites themselves will be determined by earlier facts. We would have no more liberty than the other animals, than children, or the insane, who run here and there, driven by blind appetites; for they also obey their appetites, as fire would do, and as all the things which fatally follow the dispositions of their nature. These objections will be decisive for those capable of grasping them. Thus, in the search for the causes of our appetites, we must seek for other explanations.
The Human Soul is a Primary Cause of Action, and Acts Freely when it is Good
8. What other cause, besides the preceding, will we have to invoke to let nothing occur without a cause, to maintain order and interdependence of things in the world, and to preserve the possibility of predictions and omens without destroying our personality?
We must introduce among the number of beings another principle, namely, the soul, and not just the World-soul, but also the individual soul of every person. In the universal linking of causes and effects, the individual soul is a principle of great importance. For, instead of, like all other things, being born of a "seminal reason," it constitutes a "primary cause." Outside of a body, she remains absolute mistress of herself, free and independent of the cause which administers the world. However, as soon as she has descended into a body, she is no longer so independent, for she then forms part of the order to which all things are subjected. Now, inasmuch as the accidents of fortune, that is to say, the surrounding circumstances, determine many events, the soul alternately yields to the influence of external circumstances, and then again she dominates them, and does what she pleases. This she does more or less, according as she is good or evil. When she yields to the corporeal temperament, she is necessarily subjected to desire or anger, discouraged in poverty, or proud in prosperity, as well as tyrannical in the exercise of power. But she can resist all these evil tendencies if her disposition is good; she modifies her surroundings more than she is affected by them; some things she changes, others she tolerates without herself incurring guilt.
The Soul Is Free When Following Reason, Not when Following an External Impulse.
9. All things therefore, which result either from a choice by the soul, or from exterior circumstances, are "necessary," or determined by a cause. Could anything, indeed, be found outside of these causes? If we gather into one glance all the causes we admit, we find the principles that produce everything, provided we count, amidst external causes, the influence exercised by the course of the stars. When a soul makes a decision, and carries it out because she is impelled to do so by external things, and yields to a blind impulse, we should not consider her determination and action to be free. The soul is not free when, perverting herself, she does not make decisions which direct her in the straight path. On the contrary, when she follows her own guide, pure and impassible reason, her determination is really voluntary, free and independent, and the deed she performs is really her own work, and not the consequence of an external impulse. She derives it from her inner power, her pure being, from the primary and sovereign principle which directs her, being deceived by no ignorance, nor vanquished by the power of appetites; for when the appetites invade the soul, and subdue her, they drag her with them by their violence, and she is rather "passive" than "active" in what she does.
Matter is by its Nature Evil since it is Unaffected by the Good (3.6.11)
If matter really participated in the Good [that is, if matter were really modified by it], its nature would no longer be evil. Therefore, the statement that matter is evil is true enough if it is considered to imply that it is unaffected by Good; and this really amounts to saying that it is entirely unaffected by Good.
Evil Located in Non-Being (1.8.3)
3. Since [the Divine Intelligence and Universal Soul] are real beings, and since the first Principle [i.e., the One] is their superior, evil could not exist in such beings, and still less in Him, who is superior to them. For, all these things are good. Evil then must be located in non-being, and must, so to speak, be its form, referring to the things that mingle with it, or have some community with it. This "non-being," however, is not absolute non-being. Its difference from being resembles the difference between being and movement or rest; but only as its image, or something still more distant from reality. Within this non-being are comprised all sense-objects, and all their passive modifications; or, evil may be something still more inferior, like their accident or principle, or one of the things that contribute to its constitution. To gain some conception of evil it may be represented by the contrast between measure and incommensurability; between indetermination and its goal; between lack of form and the creating principle of form; between lack and self-sufficiency; as the perpetual unlimited and changeableness; as passivity, insatiableness, and absolute poverty. Those are not the mere accidents of evil, but its very essence; all of that can be discovered when any part of evil is examined. The other objects, when they participate in the evil and resemble it, become evil without however being absolute Evil.
Evil as a Deprivation of Good (5.9.10)
The intelligible world does not contain any imperfection. Evils here below come from lack, privation, omission; it is a state of matter, or of anything similar to matter, which failed to be completely assimilated.
Matter Retains its Evil Quality since it is a Deprivation of Good (2.4.16)
Does matter continue to be evil when it happens to participate in the good? Yes, because it was formerly deprived of good, and did not possess it. That which lacks something, and obtains it, holds the middle between good and evil, if it is in the middle between the two. But that which possesses nothing, that which is a deprivation, or rather that which is deprivation itself, must necessarily be evil; for it is not a deprivation of wealth, but deprivation of wisdom, of virtue, of beauty, of vigor, of shape, of form, of quality. How, indeed, could such a thing not be shapeless, absolutely ugly and evil?
Specific evils as Deprivations of Specific Goods (1.8.5)
If we grant the existence of evils external to the soul, we will be forced to decide about their relation to sickness, ugliness, or poverty. Sickness has been explained as a lack or excess of material bodies which fail to support order or measure. The cause of ugliness, also, has been given as deficient adjustment of matter to form. Poverty has been described as the need or lack of objects necessary to life as a result of our union with matter, whose nature is [the Heraclitian and Stoic] "indigence." From such definitions it would follow that we are not the principle of evil, and are not evil in ourselves, for these evils existed before us. Only in spite of themselves would men yield to vice. The evils of the soul are avoidable, but not all men possess the necessary firmness. Evil, therefore, is caused by the presence of matter in sense-objects, and is not identical with the wickedness of men. For wickedness does not exist in all men; some triumph over wickedness, while they who do not even need to triumph over it, are still better. In all cases men triumph over evil by those of their faculties that are not engaged in matter.
Evil is Necessary since Matter is the Final Emanation from the Good (1.8.7)
Here follows still another demonstration of the necessity of evil. Since good does not remain alone, evil must necessarily exist by issuing from the good. Alternatively, we might express this as the degradation and exhaustion [of the divine power, which, in the whole hierarchic series of successive emanations weakens from degree to degree]. There must, therefore, be a last degree of being, beyond which nothing further can be begotten, and that is evil. Just as the existence of something after a first [Good] is necessary, so must also a last degree [of being] be necessary. Now the last degree is matter, and contains nothing more of the First; [and, as matter and evil are identical,] the existence of evil is necessary.
The Worse cannot Exist without the Better (3.3.7)
7. It is only because there are good things in the world, that there are worse ones. Granting the conception of variety, how could the worse exist without the better, or the better without the worse? We should not, therefore, accuse the better because of the existence of the worse; but rather we should rejoice in the presence of the better, because it communicates a little of its perfection to the worse. To wish to annihilate the worse in the world is tantamount to annihilating Providence itself; for if we annihilate the worse, to what could Providence be applied? Neither to itself, nor to the better; for when we speak of supreme Providence, we call it supreme in contrast with that which is inferior to it.
The World Should not be Considered Evil because of our Sufferings; Nothing More Beautiful Could be Imagined (2.9.4)
Nor should the world be considered badly made, merely because we suffer so much in it. This idea results from entertaining unjustifiable expectations of its perfections, and from confusing it with the intelligible world of which it is an image. Could a more beautiful image, indeed, be imagined? After the celestial fire could we imagine a better fire than our own? After the intelligible earth, could we imagine a better earth than ours? After the actualization by which the intelligible world embraces itself, could we imagine a sphere more perfect, more wonderful, or better ordered in its movements? After the intelligible sun, how could we imagine any sun different from the one that we see?
This is the Best of all Possible Worlds because we can Achieve Virtue (2.9.8)
What would be the nature of a world better than the present one, if it were possible? The present one must be a faithful image of the intelligible world, if the existence of the world be necessary, and if there be no better possible world. The whole earth is peopled with animate and even immortal beings; from here below up to the heaven [the world] is full of them. Why should the stars in the highest sphere [the fixed stars], and those in the lower spheres [the planets], not be divinities, in view of their regular motion, and their carrying out a magnificent revolution around the world? Why should they not possess virtue? What obstacle could hinder them from acquiring it? Not on high are found the things which here below make men evil; namely, that evil nature which both is troubled, and troubles. With their perpetual leisure why should not the stars possess intelligence, and be acquainted with the divinity and all the other intelligible deities? How should we possess a wisdom greater than theirs? Only a foolish man would entertain such thoughts. How could our souls be superior to the stars when at the hands of the universal Soul they undergo the constraint of descending here below? For the best part of souls is that which commands. If, on the contrary, the souls descend here below voluntarily, why should the [Gnostics] find fault with this sphere whither they came voluntarily, and from which they can depart whenever it suits them? That everything here below depends on the intelligible principles is proved by the fact that the organization of the world is such that, during this life, we are able to acquire wisdom, and live out a life similar to that of the divinities.
Evils Are Necessary to the Perfection of the Universe (2.3.18)
18. Must the evils in the universe be considered as necessary, because they are the consequences of the superior principles? Yes, for without them the universe would be imperfect. The greater number of evils, if not all of them, are useful to the universe; such as the venomous animals; though they often ignore their real utility. Even wickedness is useful in certain respects, and can produce many beautiful things. For example, it leads to fine inventions, it forces men to good judgment, and does not let them fall asleep in an indolent security.
Providence not Responsible for Voluntary Evil Committed by People (3.2.7)
Let us take first, the actions of souls who do evil voluntarily; the actions of the wicked who, for instance, harm virtuous men, or other men equally evil. Providence need not be held responsible for the wickedness of these souls. The cause should be sought in the voluntary determinations of those souls themselves. For we have proved that the souls have characteristic motions, and that while here below they are not pure, but rather are animals [as would naturally be the case with souls united to bodies]. Now, it is not surprising that, finding themselves in such a condition, they would live conformably to that condition. Indeed, it is not the formation of the world that made them descend here below. Even before the world existed, they were already disposed to form part of it, to busy themselves with it, to infuse it with life, to administer it, and in it to exert their power in a characteristic manner, either by presiding over its [issues], and by communicating to it something of their power, or by descending into it, or by acting in respect to the world each in its individual manner. The latter question, however, does not refer to the subject we are now considering; here it will be sufficient to show that, however these circumstances occur, Providence is not to be blamed.
PORPHYRY: BODY AND SOUL
Relation between Incorporeal Souls and Corporeal Bodies (The Sentences)
1. Every body is in a location. But nothing essentially incorporeal, or anything of this kind, is in any location.
2. Things that are essentially incorporeal, because they are more excellent than all body and location, are everywhere, not with division, but indivisibly.
3. Things that are essentially incorporeal are not present within the location of bodies, but are present with them when they please. They verge towards them so far as they are naturally adapted so to verge. They are not, however, present with them in their location, but through association, proximity, and alliance.
4. Things that are essentially incorporeal are not present within bodies by their nature and essence, for they are not mingled with bodies. But they impart a certain power which is proximate to bodies, through verging towards them. For tendency constitutes a certain secondary power proximate to bodies.
5. Soul, indeed, is a certain medium between an impartible essence, and an essence which is divisible about bodies. But intellect is an impartible essence alone. And qualities and material forms are divisible about bodies.
6. Not everything" which acts on another, effects that which it does effect by approximation and contact; but those natures which effect anything by approximation and contact, use approximation accidentally.
7. The soul is bound to the body by a conversion to the corporeal passions; and is again liberated by becoming impassive to the body.
8. That which nature binds, nature also dissolves: and that which the soul binds, the soul likewise dissolves. Nature, indeed, bound the body to the soul; “but the soul binds herself to the body. Nature, therefore, liberates the body from the soul; but the soul liberates herself from the body.
9. Thus, there is a twofold death. The one, indeed, universally known, in which the body is liberated from the soul. But the other unique to philosophers, in which the soul is liberated from the body. Nor does the one entirely follow the other. . . .
18. Soul is an essence without size, immaterial, incorruptible, possessing its existence in life, and having life from itself. . . .
29. It is necessary that an incorporeal nature, if it is contained in body, should not be enclosed in it like a wild beast in a den [for nobody is able thus to enclose and encompass it]. Nor is it contained in body in the same way as a container holds something liquid, or the wind. But it is necessary that it should give existence to certain powers which are directed to what is external, through its union with body. Through these powers, when it descends, it becomes connected with body. Thus, its conjunction with body is effected through an ineffable extension. Hence, nothing else binds it, but it binds itself to body. Neither, therefore, is it liberated from the body, when the body is [mortally] wounded and corrupted, but it liberates itself, by turning itself from an adhering affection to the body.
Mystical Interpretation of Homer’s Cave of with Two Doors (Cave of the Nymphs)
What does Homer obscurely signify by the cave in Ithaca, which he describes in the following verses?
At the head of the harbor is a long-leafed olive tree, and near it a pleasant, shadowy cave that is sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads. Therein are mixing bowls and jars of stone, and there too the bees store honey. In the cave are long looms of stone, at which the nymphs weave webs of purple dye, a wonder to see. There are also ever-flowing springs. There are two doors to the cave, one toward the North Wind, by which men go down, but the door toward the South Wind is sacred and men do not enter it. It is the pathway of the immortals. [Odyssey, 11]
The poet, indeed, does not narrate these particulars from historical information. This is evident since those who have given us a description of the island have, as Cronius [the Pythagorean] says, made no mention of such a cave being found in it. This likewise, he says, is clear since it would be absurd for Homer to expect, that in describing a cave fabricated merely by poetical license and thus artificially opening a path to gods and men in the region of Ithaca, he would gain the belief of mankind. It is equally absurd to suppose that nature herself should point out, in this place, one path for the descent of all mankind, and again another path for all the gods. For, while the whole world is indeed full of gods and men, it is impossible to be persuaded, that in this Ithacan cave, men descend and the gods ascend. Cronius therefore, having premised this much, says that it is evident, not only to the wise but also to the common, that the poet, under the veil of allegory, conceals some mysterious meaning. He thus compels others to explore what the gate of men is and also what is the gate of the gods: what he means by asserting that this cave of the Nymphs has two gates; and why it is both pleasant and obscure, since darkness is by no means delightful, but is rather productive of aversion and horror. . . .
[Greek Theologians of the past] believed that a cave is a symbol of the sensible world because caverns are dark, stony, and humid. They asserted that the world is a thing of this kind, through the matter of which it consists, and through its repercussive and flowing nature. But they also thought it was a symbol of the intelligible world, because that world is invisible to sensible perception, and possesses a firm and stable essence. Thus, also, partial powers are unapparent, and especially those which are inherent in matter. For they formed these symbols, from surveying the spontaneous production of caves, and their nocturnal, dark, and stony nature; and not entirely, as some suspect, from directing their attention to the figure of a cavern. For every cave is not spherical, as is evident from this Homeric cave with a double entrance. But since a cavern has a twofold similitude, the present cave must not be assumed as an image of the intelligible but of the sensible essence. For in consequence of containing perpetually flowing streams of water, it will not be a symbol of an intelligible nature, but of a material essence. . . .
This world, then, is sacred and pleasant to souls who have now proceeded into nature, and to natal daemons, though it is essentially dark and obscure. From this some have suspected that souls also are of an obscure nature and essentially consist of air. Hence a cavern, which is both pleasant and dark, will be appropriately consecrated to souls on the earth, conformably to its similitude to the world, in which, as in the greatest of all temples, souls reside. To the nymphs likewise, who preside over waters, a cavern, in which there are perpetually flowing streams, is adapted. Let, therefore, this present cavern be consecrated to souls, and among the more partial powers, to nymphs that preside over streams and fountains. . .
Since, therefore, every twofold entrance is a symbol of nature, this Homeric cavern has, very properly, not one portal only, but two gates, which differ from each other conformably to things themselves; of which one pertains to Gods and good (daemons), but the other to mortals and depraved natures . . .
In this cave, therefore, Homer says, all external possessions must be deposited. Here, naked, and assuming a suppliant habit, afflicted in body, casting aside everything superfluous, and being averse to the energies of sense, it is necessary to sit at the foot of the olive and consult with Minerva by what means we may most effectively destroy that hostile rout of passions which insidiously lurk in the secret recesses of the soul. Indeed, as it appears to me, it was not without reason that Numenius and his followers thought the person of Ulysses in the Odyssey represented to us a man who passes in a regular manner over the dark and stormy sea of generation, and thus at length arrives at that region where tempests and seas are unknown, and finds a nation "where the people have never heard of the sea and do not even mix salt with their food."
Against the Bodily Resurrection of the Dead (Against the Christians, in Macarius, Apocriticus)
Let us once again discuss the question of the resurrection of the dead. For what is the reason that God should act thus, and upset in this random way the succession of events that has held good until now, whereby he ordained that races should be preserved and not come to an end, though from the beginning he has laid down these laws and framed things thus? The things which have once been determined by God, and preserved through such long ages, ought to be everlasting, and ought not to be condemned by Him who fashioned them, and destroyed as if they had been made by some mere man, and arranged as mortal things by one who is himself a mortal. Wherefore it is ridiculous if, when the whole is destroyed, the resurrection will follow, and if he will raise—will we say?—the man who died three years before the resurrection, and along with him Priam and Nestor who died a thousand years before, and others who lived before them from the beginning of the human race. If anyone is prepared to grasp even this, he will find that the question of the resurrection is one full of silliness. For many have often perished in the sea, and their bodies have been consumed by fishes, while many have been eaten by wild beasts and birds. How then is it possible for their bodies to rise up? Come then, and let us put to the test this statement which is so lightly made. Let us take an example. A man was shipwrecked, the mullets devoured his body, next these were caught and eaten by some fishermen, who were killed and devoured by dogs; when the dogs died ravens and vultures feasted on them and entirely consumed them. How then will the body of the shipwrecked man be brought together, seeing that it was absorbed by so many creatures? Again, suppose another body to have been consumed by fire, and another to have come in the end to the worms, how is it possible for it to return to the essence which was there from the beginning?
You will tell me that this is possible with God, but this is not true. For all things are not possible with him. He simply cannot bring it about that Homer should not have become a poet, or that Troy should not be taken. Nor indeed can he make twice two, which make the number four, to be calculated as a hundred, even though this may seem good to him. Nor can God ever become evil, even though he wishes. Nor would he be able to sin, as being good by nature. If then he is unable to sin or to become evil, this does not come upon him through any weakness in him. In the case of those who have a disposition and fitness for a certain thing, and then are prevented from doing it, it is clear that it is by their weakness that they are prevented. But God is by nature good, and is not prevented from being evil; nevertheless, even though he is not prevented, he cannot become bad.
Consider next how unreasonable it would be if the creator would stand by and see the heaven melting, though no one ever conceived anything more wonderful than its beauty, and the stars falling, and the earth perishing. Yet you presume that he will raise up the rotten and corrupt bodies of men, some of them, it is true, belonging to admirable men, but others without charm or symmetry before they died, and presenting a very unpleasant sight. Again, even if he could easily make them rise in a beautiful form, it would be impossible for the earth to hold all those who had died from the beginning of the world, if they were to rise again.
IAMBLICHUS: THEURGIC RITUALS FOR UNITING WITH THE DIVINE (Theurgia)
Porphryry Questions Iamblichus about the Gods and Theurgic Practice
I will begin this friendly correspondence with you with a view to learning what is believed in respect to the gods and good daemons and likewise the various philosophical speculations in regard to them. Very many things have been set forth concerning these subjects by the [Grecian] philosophers, but they for the most part have derived the substance of their belief from conjecture.
In the first place, therefore, it is to be taken for granted that there are gods. I ask then: what are the uniquenesses of the superior races [of Gods], by which they are differentiated from each other? Are we to suppose the cause of the distinction to be their energies or their passive motions, or things consequent: or is it a classification established by difference of bodies—the gods being distinguished by aetherial bodies, the daemons by aerial bodies, and souls by bodies pertaining to the earth?
As the gods dwell in heaven only, I ask therefore, why are invocations at the Theurgic Rites directed to them as being of the Earth and Underworld? How is it that although possessing power unlimited, undivided, and unrestricted, some of them are mentioned as being of the water and of the atmosphere, and others are allotted by definite limitations to different places and to distinct parts of bodies? If they are actually separated by circumscribed limitations of parts, and according to diversities of places and subject-bodies, how will there be any union of them one to another? . . .
Iamblichus's Response: All Gods Unified in the One
I assume accordingly that you ask a solution of that matter of which you seem to be in doubt, namely: "As the gods dwell only in Heaven, why are invocations at the Theurgic rites directed to them as being of the Earth and Underworld?"
This position which is thus assumed at the beginning, namely, that the gods travel across heaven only, is not true; for the universe is full of the gods. But you then demand: "How is it that although possessing power unlimited, undivided, and unrestricted, some of them are mentioned as being of the water and of the atmosphere, and that others are assigned by definite limitation to different places and distinct parts of bodies? If they are actually separated by narrow limitations of parts, and according to diversities of places and subject-bodies, how will there be any union of them one to another?"
One most excellent solution of all these and an infinite number of similar questions is by a survey of the manner in which the gods are assigned.
This, then, is the explanation: Whether the assignment is to certain parts of the universe, as to heaven or earth, whether to holy cities and regions, whether to certain temple-precincts or sacred images, the divine irradiation shines upon them all from the outside, just as the sun illuminates every object from without with his rays. Hence, as the light encompasses the objects that it illuminates, so also the power of the gods comprehends from without those that participate in it. In a similar way, also, the light of the sun is present in the air without being combined with it (and it is evident that there is nothing left in the air when the illuminating agent is removed, although warmth is still present when the heating has entirely ceased). Accordingly, the light of the gods shines while entirely separate from the objects illuminated, and, being firmly established in itself, makes its way through all existing things.
Still further, the light that is the object of perception is one, continuous, and everywhere the same entirety. Thus, it is not possible for a part of it to be cut off by itself, or to be enclosed in a circle, or at any time to remove itself from the source of illumination. According to the same principles, therefore, the whole universe, being susceptible of division, is distinguished with reference to the one and indivisible light of the gods. In short, this light is one and the same everywhere. It is not only present and undivided with all things that are capable of participating of it, but, likewise, by an absolute power and by an infinite superiority, it fills all things, as a cause, joins them together in itself, unites them everywhere with itself, and combines the ends with the beginnings. The whole heaven, including with it the universe imitating this, goes around in a circular revolution, unites all to itself, and leads the elements whirling in a circle; and all things being in each other, and borne toward each other, it holds them together and defines their equal proportions. Guiding them to the remotest distances, it makes the ends combine with the beginnings (as, for example, the earth with the sky) and effects a sole connection and accord of wholes with wholes.
Who, then, that contemplates the visible image of the gods, united in this way as one, will lack reverence for the gods and its causes, and thus entertain a different judgment about them by introducing among them artificial divisions, arbitrary distinctions, and corporeal outlines? I, for one, do not think that anyone would be so inclined. For if there is neither any analogy, nor scheme of proportion, nor interblending in respect to power or simple energy of that which is set in order with that which sets in order, then I say that there is nothing existing in it, either of extension or in regard to distance, or of encompassing locally, or of division by due setting apart, or of any other such natural equalizing of qualities in the presence of the gods with beings inferior in their nature. For in natures that are homogeneous in essence and power, or that are in some manner of similar form or alike in race, there can be perceived an encompassing or holding fast. But in the case of those that are totally exempt from all these conditions, what opposing circumstance in respect to these things, or pathways through them all, or separate outline, or encompassing in some prescribed space, or anything of this kind, can be justly conceived? On the other hand, I think that they who are partakers of the gods are, every one, of such a nature as to partake of them according to their own intrinsic quality, some as of the other, others as of the atmosphere, and others as of the water; which the technique of the Divine Performances recognizes, and so makes use of the adaptations and invocations according to such a classification.
Theurgic Practices Aim to Reunite the Soul with God
But the objection is also made: "The invocations are made to the gods as though they are impressionable beings, which implies that not only are the daemons impressionable, but so too are the gods."
This, however, is not as you have supposed. For the illumination which is present through the invocations is self-appearing and self-subsisting; it is also far removed from the being attracted downward, and goes forth into manifestation through the divine energy and perfection, and it excels voluntary choice and activity by so far as the Divine Purpose of the Absolute Goodness is superior to the deliberately chosen of life. By such a purpose, therefore, the gods being gracious and providential, give forth light abundantly to the Theurgists, and call their souls upward to themselves (providing for them union to themselves in the Chorus). The gods also accustom them, while they are still in the body, to keep themselves detached from corporeal things, and likewise to be led up to their own eternal and noetic First Cause.
From these [Theurgic] performances it is plain, that what we are now discussing is the safe return of the soul. For while contemplating the blessed spectacles, the soul reciprocates another life, is linked with another energy, and rightly viewing the matter, it seems to be not even a human, for the most blessed energy of the gods. If, indeed, the upward way through the invocations effects for the priests a purifying of the passions, a release from the condition of generated life, and likewise a union to the Divine First Cause, why, indeed, does anyone impute to it any of the passion? For such invocation does not draw down beings that are impassive and pure, to that which is susceptible and impure. On the contrary, it makes us who had become impressionable through the generated life, pure and steadfast.
PROCLUS: PROVIDENCE (Ten Doubts Concerning Providence)
9. Let us next consider how the crimes of other people, as, for instance, of parents or ancestors, are punished in their offspring. It is said that certain people have suffered punishment for the crimes of their ancestors (as both revelations and the mysteries establish), and certain liberating gods are said to purify from them. In answer to this it may be said, in the first place, that every city and every race is one living entity, in a much greater degree than every man, and is more immortal and sacred. For one tutelar deity presides over a city as over one living entity, and likewise over the whole of one race. There is also one common cycle to a city, and to a race, including within one boundary the life and death of each, as if one nature pervaded through the whole city, and every individual that it contains. Hence, one common nature extending through a whole city, and through a whole race, makes each to be one. If, therefore, as we have shown, every city, and each race of men, is a specific one, why is it astonishing that the crimes of ancestors should be punished in their offspring? The life of cities being one, it is punished in later times for the better or worse deeds which it performed in earlier times. For Providence not only rewards or punishes each of us for what we have done at another time, but considers a city as one, and a race as one; the first agents also not being neglected. For since Providence exists, it is not lawful that anything should be neglected.
There is also a mutual connection of offspring with their ancestors, since the offspring have a reference to their ancestors, a culmination like a completed being. Since offspring are generated from them and having a common life and nature together with them, the offspring are deservedly honored or punished. I do not, however, think that it is at all astonishing if all being parts of one, and some things being co-adapted to others (not just to those that are near, but those that are remote) the offspring should be allotted circumstances similar to those of their ancestors. For there is not the same similarity between all the parts to each other, but, rather, the similarity is greater with some, and less with others. Nor is there the same proportion, for there is a greater binding with some these, but less with others. This is not because that which is near has more similarity, and that which is more remote is less similar. For nothing prevents us from admitting that things which are more remote may be more similar than things that are closer.
This is evident in medical operations. For when the loins are diseased, do not cauterize the parts which are near, but those which are opposite to the loins. Similarly, when the liver forms an abscess, they scarify the upper stomach. Again, when the hoofs of oxen are very tender, physicians treat the tips of their horns, and not the parts that are near the hoofs. For the healing effect produced in them is not through the parts that are near it, but through those that are mutually connected to it. All of the initial criminals, therefore, suffer punishment for their crimes, but through these something unseen passes to their mutually-connected offspring. These offspring do not suffer unjustly, but do so from a similarly of life where similar punishments are allotted to them by Providence.
Further, if it is necessary to speak of the transmigrations of souls, and their reincarnation into different lives, it must be admitted by those who believe in this doctrine that souls are rewarded or punished in a later life for what they have done in a former life. Further, in human life, the whole period of a race is analogous to a drama, where different souls are frequently introduced in it, and often the same souls to give completion to the final scene. It is just as the same players sometimes speak in the character of Tiresias, and sometimes in that of Oedipus.
Providence punishes or rewards souls according to what they deserve, but also punishes or rewards others because of the similarity of their lives with that of other people. This is like cutting off a malignant root of a plant, which one might easily perceive beforehand. Stinging is natural to scorpions, and venom is natural to snakes. But there is a power in the universe that knows this before these creatures strike. In the same manner, Providence, perceiving in souls a wickedness that is natural to that of their ancestors, punishes the offspring for it, even though the offspring may not have committed the same crimes. It thus destroys in advance a similar evil in those who possess it, like a small disorder before it grows into a major epileptic seizure. For just as the abnormal lumps on bodies, dark spots, and marks of fathers which do not appear in their immediate offspring, reappear in their grandchildren, so too the uniquenesses of manners break out in more distant offspring, which are completely unknown to others. But as Providence knows all things, it must be granted that providence knows this by a prior knowledge. The similarity, moreover, becomes evident insofar as Providence punishes them in a manner that corresponds to the crimes that their ancestors committed. But I have already discussed this elsewhere.
Questions for Review
1. What are the main features of Plotinus’s notion of the One?
2. What are the main features of Plotinus’s notion of the Divine Intelligence?
3. What are the main features of Plotinus’s notion of the Universal Soul?
4. According to Plotinus in Enneads 1.6.1-3, what are the main features of our perception of exterior physical beauty?
5. According to Plotinus in Enneads 1.6.4-5, what are the main features of our perception of interior beauty?
6. According to Plotinus in Enneads 1.6.6, how is purification of the soul achieved?
7. According to Plotinus in Enneads 1.6.7-9 and elsewhere, what are the main features of mystical union with the divine?
8. In Enneads 3.1.7-9, what are the main features of Plotinus’s view of human free will?
9. What are the main features of Plotinus’s solution to the problem of evil?
10. According to Porphyry in The Sentences, what are the main features of the relation between incorporeal souls and corporeal bodies?
11. According to Porphyry in Cave of the Nymphs, what is the allegorical meaning of the cave with two doors?
12. According to Porphyry in Against the Christians, what is his argument against the bodily resurrection of the dead?
13. According to Iamblichus in Theurgia, in what way are all gods unified in the One?
14. According to Iamblichus in Theurgia, in what way is the soul reunited with God through theurgic practices?
15. According to Proclus in Ten Doubts Concerning Providence, what are some of the reasons why providence punishes children for the crimes of their parents?
Questions for Analysis
1. Stoics argued that Beauty is found in the Symmetry of the Parts of a thing, not within those parts themselves. Discuss Plotinus’s criticism of this view in Enneads 1.6.1 and how the Stoics might respond.
2. Steven L. Kimbler makes the following criticism of capacity for humans to have a mystical experience of the one: “If the One is unrelated to beings, how can we ever have a mystical encounter with the One? If the mystical encounter consists of seeing the image of the One via the Intellect, how would we know there is something greater than the image of the One? . . . We are only left to assume that something is beyond the image. The relevant question is: ‘How can we determine the Good is the One rather than the Intellect?’” (Plotinus and Aquinas on God, 2010). Discuss Kimbler’s criticism and how Plotinus might respond.
3. Discuss Plotinus’s view of free will and how a determinist might respond.
4. Discuss Plotinus’s explanation of evil and how a religious critic might respond.
5. Discuss Porphyry’s argument against the bodily resurrection of the dead, and how a Christian might respond.
6. Discuss Iamblichus’s view that all gods unified in the one, and whether this makes Greek polytheism more plausible.
7. Discuss one of Proclus’s justifications for why providence punishes children for the crimes of their parents and whether his argument succeeds.