Thomas Taylor: Tractate 9 (VI, 9, 7-11) — OF THE GOOD, OR THE ONE.

VII. If, however, because it is none of these things, you become indefinite in your decision, in this case establish yourself in the above mentioned particulars, and from these [ascend to] and fix yourself in God. But for this purpose you must not extend the dianoetic power outwardly. For God is not in a certain place, so as to desert other things; but wherever any thing is able to come into contact with him, there he is present. Hence, as in other things, it is not possible to perceive something intellectually, while understanding and attending to another thing, but it is necessary not to introduce any thing else to the object of intellectual vision, in order that the perceiver may be the thing itself which is perceived; — thus also here, it is not possible for the soul to perceive God, while it retains the impression of something else, and energizes according to that impression. Nor again, is it possible for the soul while occupied and detained by other things to be impressed with the form of something contrary to them. But as it is said of matter, that it ought to be void of all qualities, in order that it may receive the impressions of all things; thus also, and in a much greater degree, it is necessary that the soul should become formless, in order that there may be no impediment to its being filled and illuminated by the first principle of things. If, however, this be the case, it is requisite that the soul, dismissing all externals, should be entirely converted to its inmost recesses, and should not be called to any thing external, but should be unintellective of all things; and prior to this indeed, in inclination, but then also it should be without the perception of forms. It is likewise necessary that the soul, being ignorant of herself, should dwell on the contemplation of God, and associating, and as it were sufficiently conversing with him, should announce, if possible, the conference which it there held to another; which Minos perhaps having accomplished, was on this account said to be the familiar of Jupiter. Calling to mind also this conference, he established laws which were the images of it, being filled through the contact with divinity with materials for the institution of laws. Or may we not say that the soul, if she wishes to abide on high, will consider political concerns as unworthy to be the subject of conference with deity ? For this indeed will be the language of him who has seen much of divinity. For, as it is said, God is not external to any one, but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that he is so. For they fly from him, or rather from themselves. They are unable, therefore, to apprehend that from which they fly. And having destroyed themselves, they are incapable of seeking after another. For neither will a child, when through insanity he becomes out of himself, recognize his father. But he who knows himself, will also know from whence he was derived.

VIII. If, therefore, a certain soul has known itself at another time, it will also know that its motion is not rectilinear, but that its natural motion is as it were in a circle about a certain thing, not externally, but about a centre. The centre, however, is that from which the circle proceeds ; and therefore such a soul will be moved about the source of its existence. It will also be suspended from this, eagerly urging itself towards that to which all souls ought to hasten. But the souls of the Gods always tend thither; and by tending to this they are Gods. For whatever is conjoined to this is a God. But that which is very distant from it, is a multitudinous man and a brute. Is, therefore, that in the soul which is as it were a centre, the object of investigation? Or is it necessary to think that it is something else, in which as it were all centres concur ? This centre, however, and this circle are assumed by us according to analogy. For the soul is not a circle in the same way as a figure; but because an ancient nature is in it and about it. And because the soul is suspended from a thing of this kind, and in a still greater degree when it is wholly separated from the body. Now, however, since a part of us is detained by the body; just as if some one should have his feet in the water, but with the rest of his body should be above it; — thus also being elevated by that part which is not merged in body, we are conjoined to that which is as it were the centre of all things; after the same manner as we fix the centres of the greatest circles in the centre of the sphere by which they are comprehended. If, therefore, the circles were corporeal and not psychical, they would be conjoined to the centre locally, and the centre being situated in a certain place, the circles would revolve about it. Since, however, these souls are themselves intelligible, and this centre is above intellect, it must be admitted that this contact is effected by other powers than those by which an intellective nature is adapted to be conjoined to the object of intellectual perception. The contact, also, is greater than that by which intellect is present [with the intelligible] through similitude and sameness, and is conjoined with a kindred nature, nothing intervening to separate the conjunction. For bodies, indeed, are prevented from being united to each other; but incorporeal natures are not separated from each other by bodies. Hence, one is not distant from the other by place, but by otherness and difference. When, therefore, difference is not present, then the natures which are not different are present with each other. The principle of all things, therefore, not having any difference, is always present; but we are present with it when we have no difference. And it indeed does not aspire after us, in order that it may be conversant with us; but we aspire after it, in order that we may revolve about it. We indeed perpetually revolve about it, but we do not always behold it. As a band of singers, however, though it moves about the coryphaeus, may be diverted to the survey of something foreign to the choir [and thus become discordant], but when it converts itself to him, sings well, and truly subsists about him; — thus also we perpetually revolve about the principle of all things, even when we are perfectly loosened from it, and have no longer a knowledge of it. Nor do we always look to it; but when we behold it, then we obtain the end of our wishes, and rest [from our search after felicity]. Then also we are ho longer discordant, but form a truly divine dance about it.

IX. In this dance, however, the soul- beholds the foun»j tain of life, the fountain of intellect, the principle of being, the cause of good, and the root of soul. And these are not poured forth from this fountain, so as to produce in it any diminution. For it is not a corporeal mass ; since if it were, its progeny would be corruptible. But now they are perpetual, because the principle of them abides with invariable sameness; not being distributed into them, but remaining whole and entire. Hence, they likewise remain, just as if the sun being permanent, light also should be permanent. For we are not cut off from this fountain, nor are we separated from it, though the nature of body intervening, draws us to itself. But we are animated and preserved by an infusion from thence, this principle not imparting, and afterwards withdrawing itself from us since it always supplies us with being, and always will as long as it continues to be that which it is. Or rather, we are what we are by verging to it. Our well-being also consists in this tendency. And to be distant from it nothing else than a diminution of existence. Here, liked wise, the soul rests, and becomes out of the reach of evil running back to that place which is free from ill. Am here also, she energizes intellectually, is liberated from perturbations, and lives in reality. For the present life and which is without God, is a vestige of life, and an imitation of that life which is real. But the life in the intelligible world consists in the energy of intellect. Energy also generates Gods, through a tranquil and quiet contact with the principle of all things. It likewise generates beauty, justice, and virtue. For the soul being filled with deity, brings forth these. And this is both the beginning and end to the soul. It is the beginning indeed, because she originates from thence; but it is the end, because the good is there, and because when the soul is situated there, she becomes what she was before. For the good which is here, and in sensible concerns, is a lapse, a flight, and a defluxion of the wings of the soul. But that the good is there, is indicated by the love which is connascent with the soul; conformably to which Love is conjoined in marriage with souls, both in writings and in fables.1 For since the soul is different from God, but is derived from him, she necessarily loves him, and when she is there she has a celestial love; but the love which she here possesses is common and vulgar. For in the intelligible world the celestial Venus reigns; but here the popular Venus,2 who is as it were meretricious.3 Every soul also is a Venus. And this the nativity of Venus, and Love who was born at the same time with her, obscurely signify.4 The soul, therefore, when in a condition conformable to nature, loves God, wishing to be united to him, being as it were the desire of a beautiful virgin to be conjoined with a beautiful Love. When, however, the soul descends into generation, then being as it were deceived by [spurious] nuptials, and associating herself with another and a mortal Love, she becomes petulant and insolent through, being absent from her father. But when she again hates terrene wantonness and injustice, and becomes purified from the defilements which are here, and again returns to her father, then she is affected in the most felicitous manner. And those indeed who are ignorant of this affection, may from terrene love form some conjecture of divine love, by considering how great a felicity the possession of a most beloved object is conceived to be; and also by considering that these earthly objects of love are mortal and noxious, that the love of them is nothing more than the love of images, and that they lose their attractive power because they are not truly desirable, nor our real good, nor that which we investigate. In the intelligible world, however, the true object of love is to be found, with which we may be conjoined, which we may participate, and truly possess, and which is not externally enveloped with flesh. He however who knows this, will know what I say, and will be convinced that the soul has then another life. The soul also proceeding to, and having now arrived at the desired end, and participating of deity, will know that the supplier of true life is then present. She will likewise then require nothing farther; for on the contrary, it will be requisite to lay aside other things, to stop in this alone, and to become this alone, amputating every thing else with which she is surrounded. Hence, it is necessary to hasten our departure from hence, and to be indignant that we are bound in one part of our nature, in order that with the whole of our [true] selves, we may fold ourselves about divinity, and have no part void of contact with him. When this takes place therefore, the soul will both see divinity and herself, as far as it is lawful for her to see him. And she will see herself indeed illuminated, and full of intelligible light; or rather, she will perceive herself to be a pure light, unburthened, agile, and becoming to be a God, or rather being a God, and then shining forth as such to the view.5 But if she again becomes heavy, she then as it were wastes away.

X. How does it happen, therefore, that the soul does not abide there? Is it not because she has not yet wholly migrated from hence ? But she will then, when her vision of deity possesses an uninterrupted continuity, and she is no longer impeded or disturbed in her intuition by the body. That however which sees divinity, is not the thing which is disturbed, but something else; when that which perceives him is at rest from the vision. But it is not then at rest according to a scientific energy, which consists in demonstrations, in credibilities, and a discursive process of the soul. For here vision, and that which sees, are no longer reason, but greater than and prior to reason. And in reason, indeed, they are as that is which is perceived. He therefore who sees himself, will then, when he sees, behold himself to be such a thing as this, or rather he will be present with himself thus disposed, and becoming simple, will perceive himself to be a thing of this kind. Perhaps, however, neither must it be said that he sees, but that he is the thing seen; if it is necessary to call these two things, i.e. the perceiver and the thing perceived. But both are one; though it is bold to assert this. Then, indeed, the soul neither sees, nor distinguishes by seeing, nor imagines that there are two things; but becomes as it were another thing, and not itself. Nor does that which pertains to itself contribute any thing there. But becoming wholly absorbed in deity, she is one, conjoining as it were centre with centre. For here concurring, they are one; but they are then two when they are separate. For thus also we now denominate that which is another. Hence this spectacle is a thing difficult to explain by words. For how can any one narrate that as something different from himself, which when he sees he does not behold as different, but as one with himself ?

XI. This, therefore, is manifested by the mandate of the mysteries, which orders that they shall not be divulged to those who are uninitiated. For as that which is divine cannot be unfolded to the multitude, this mandate forbids the attempt to elucidate it to any one but him who is fortunately able to perceive it. Since, therefore, [in this conjunction with deity] there were not two things, but the perceiver was one with the thing perceived, as not being [properly speaking] vision but union; whoever becomes one by mingling with deity, and afterwards recollects this union, will have with himself an image of it. But he was also himself one, having with .respect to himself no difference, nor with respect to other things. For then there was not any thing excited with him who had ascended thither; neither anger, nor the desire of any thing else, nor reason, nor a certain intellectual perception, nor, in short, was even he himself moved, if it be requisite also to assert this; but being as it were in an ecstasy, or energizing enthusiastically, he became established in quiet and solitary union, not at all deviating from his own essence, nor revolving about himself, but being entirely stable, and becoming as it were stability itself. Neither was he then excited by any thing beautiful; but running above the beautiful, he passed beyond even the choir of the virtues. Just as if some one having entered into the interior of the adytum should leave behind all the statues in the temple, which on his departure from the adytum will first present themselves to his view, after the inward spectacle, and the association that was there, which was not with a statue or an image, but with the thing itself [which the images represent], and which necessarily become the second objects of his perception. Perhaps, however, this was not a spectacle, but there was another mode of vision, viz. ecstasy, and an expansion and accession of himself, a desire of contact, rest, and a striving after conjunction, in order to behold what the adytum contains. But nothing will be present with him who beholds in any other way. The wise prophets, therefore, obscurely signified by these imitations how this [highest] God is seen. But the wise priest understanding the enigma, and having entered into the adytum, obtains a true vision of what is there. If, however, he has not entered, he will conceive this adytum to be a certain invisible thing, and will have a knowledge of the fountain and principle, as the principle of things. But when situated there, he will see the principle, and will be conjoined with it, by a union of like with like, neglecting nothing divine which the soul is able to possess. Prior to the vision also it requires that which remains from the vision. But that which remains to him who passes beyond all things, is that which is prior to all things. For the nature of the soul will never accede to that which is entirely non-being. But proceeding indeed downwards it will fall into evil; and thus into non-being, yet not into that which is perfect nonentity. Running, however, in a contrary direction, it will arrive not at another thing, but at itself. And thus not being in another thing it is not on that account in nothing, but is in itself. To be in itself alone, however, and not in being, is to be in God For God also is something which is not essence, but beyond essence. Hence the soul when in this condition associates with him. He, therefore, who perceives himself to associate with God, will have himself the similitude of him And if he passes from himself as an image to the arche type, he will then have the end of his progression. But when he falls from the vision of God, if he again excites the virtue which is in himself, and perceives himself to be perfectly adorned; he will again be elevated through virtue proceeding to intellect and wisdom, and afterwards to the principle of all things. This, therefore, is the life of the Gods, and of divine and happy men, a liberation from all terrene concerns, a life unaccompanied with human pleasures and a flight of the alone to the alone.6

  • 1. See my translation of the fable of Cupid and Psyche; for to this fable Plotinus now evidently alludes.
  • 2. The celestial Venus, says Proclus (in Schol. MSS. in Cratylum), is supermundane, leads upwards to intelligible beauty, is the supplier of an unpolluted life, and separates from generation. But the Venus that proceeds from Dione governs all the co-ordinations in the celestial world and the earth, binds them to each other, and perfects their generative progressions, through a kindred conjunction. He likewise informs us, that this goddess proceeds from foam, according to Orpheus, as well as the more ancient [or celestial] Venus; and that both proceed from generative powers; one from that of Heaven, but the other from that of Jupiter the Demiurgus. He adds, that by the sea (from which they rose) we must understand an expanded and circumscribed life; by its profundity, the universally-extended progression of such a life ; and by the foam, the greatest purity of nature, that which is full of prolific light and power, that which swims upon all life, and is as-it were its highest flower.
  • 3. Plotinus says this, looking to the illegitimate participations of this Venus by mankind.
  • 4. See the speech of Diotima in the " Banquet of Plato."
  • 5. Hence Aristotle in his " Politics " also says, that he who surpasses beyond all comparison the rest of his fellow-citizens in virtue, ought to be considered as a God among men. He also observes, that such a one is no longer a part of the city, that law is not for him, since he is a law to himself, and that it would be ridiculous in any one to subject him to the laws. Let no one, however, who is not thus transcendently virtuous, fancy that law also is not for him; for this fancy in such a one is not only idle, but if not suppressed may lead to sedition, and the destruction of himself and others. In short, the man who has not completely subdued his passions, is so far from being above law, that, as Proclus well observes, " the universe uses him as a brute." Observe, too, that when Plotinus calls the man who is able in this life to see divinity a God, he means that he is a God only according to similitude ; for in this way, men transcendently wise and good are called by Plato, Gods and divine.
  • 6. From this solitary subsistence of the one, the solitariness of all other divine natures is derived, and their ineffable association with themselves. Hence Plato in the " Timaeus" says, " that the Demiurgus established heaven (i.e. the world) one, only, solitary nature, able through virtue to converse with itself, indigent of nothing external, and sufficiently known and friendly to itself." Proclus, in his Commentaries on this dialogue, admirably illustrates these words as follows : " To comprehend the whole blessedness of the world in three appellations, is most appropriate to that which subsists according to a triple cause, viz. the final, the paradigmatic, and the demiurgic. For of the appellations themselves, the first of them, viz. one, is assumed from the final cause ; for the one is the same with the good. But the second, viz. only, is assumed from the paradigmatic cause. For the only-begotten and onlyness (monosis) were, prior to the universe, in all-perfect animal. And the third, viz. the solitary, is assumed from the demiurgic cause. For the ability of using itself, and through itself governing the world, proceeds from the demiurgic goodness. The world, therefore, is one, so far as it is united and is converted to the one. But it is only, so far as it participates of the intelligible, and comprehends all things in itself. And it is solitary, so far as it is similar to its father, and is able to save itself. From the three, however, it appears that it is a God. For the one, the perfect, and the self-sufficient, are the elements of deity. Hence, the world receiving these, is also itself a God; being one indeed, according to hyparxis ; but alone, according to a perfection which derives its completion from all sensible natures; and solitary through being sufficient to itself. For those that lead a solitary life, being converted to themselves, have the hopes of salvation in themselves. And that this is the meaning of the term solitary, is evident from the words, " able through virtue to converse with itself, indigent of nothing external, and sufficiently known and friendly to itself." For in these words Plato clearly manifests what the solitariness is which he ascribes to the world, and that he denominates that being solitary, who looks to himself, to that with which he is furnished, and to his own proper measure. For those that live in solitary places, are the saviours of themselves, so far as respects human causes. The universe, therefore, is likewise after this manner solitary, as being sufficient to itself, and preserving itself, not through a diminution but from an exuberance of power ; for self-sufficiency is here indicated ; and as he says, through virtue. For he alone among partial animals [such as we are] who possesses virtue, is able to associate with, and love himself with a parental affection. But the vicious man looking to his inward baseness, is indignant with himself and with his own essence, is astonished with externals, and pursues an associcdion xcith others, in consequence of his inability to behold himself. On the contrary, the worthy man perceiving himself beautiful, rejoices and is delighted, and producing in himself beautiful conceptions, gladly embraces an association with himself. For we are naturally domesticated to the beautiful, hut hastily withdraw ourselves from deformity. Hence, if the world possesses virtue adapted to itself, in its intellectual and psychical essence, and in the perfection of its animal nature, looking to itself, it loves itself, and is present with, and sufficient to itself.