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EIGHTH TRACTATE On Free-Will and the Will of The One - Plotinus, On the One and Good; being the Treatises of the Sixth Ennead [253 AD]
On the One and Good; being the Treatises of the Sixth Ennead, translated from Greek by Stephen Mackenna (Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1918).
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Can there be question as to whether the gods have voluntary action? Or are we to take it that while we may well enquire in the case of men with their combination of powerlessness and hesitating power, the gods must be declared omnipotent, not merely some things but all lying at their nod? Or is power entire, freedom of action in all things, to be reserved to one alone, of the rest some being powerful, others powerless, others again a blend of power and impotence?
All this must come to the test: we must dare it even of the Firsts and of the All-Transcendent and if we find omnipotence possible work out how far freedom extends. The very notion of power must be scrutinised lest in this ascription we be really making power identical with Essential Act, and even with Act not yet achieved.
But for the moment we may pass over these questions to deal with the traditional problem of freedom of action in ourselves.
To begin with, what must be intended when we assert that something is in our power; what is the conception here?
To establish this will help to show whether we are to ascribe freedom to the gods and still more to God, or to refuse it, or again, while asserting it, to question still, in regard both to the higher and lower, the mode of its presence.
What then do we mean when we speak of freedom in ourselves and why do we question it?
My own reading is that, moving as we do amid adverse fortunes, compulsions, violent assaults of passion crushing the soul, feeling ourselves mastered by these experiences, playing slave to them, going where they lead, we have been brought by all this to doubt whether we are anything at all and dispose of ourselves in any particular.
This would indicate that we think of our free act as one which we execute of our own choice, in no servitude to chance or necessity or overmastering passion, nothing thwarting our will; the voluntary is conceived as an event amenable to will and occurring or not as our will dictates. Everything will be voluntary that is produced under no compulsion and with knowledge; our free act is what we are masters to perform.
Differing conceptually, the two conditions will often coincide but sometimes will clash. Thus a man would be master to kill but the act will not be voluntary if in the victim he had failed to recognise his own father. Perhaps however that ignorance is not compatible with real freedom: for the knowledge necessary to a voluntary act cannot be limited to certain particulars but must cover the entire field. Why for example should killing be involuntary in the failure to recognise a father and not so in the failure to recognise the wickedness of murder? If because the killer ought to have learned, still ignorance of the duty of learning and the cause of that ignorance remain alike involuntary.
A cardinal question is where are we to place the freedom of action ascribed to us.
It must be founded in impulse or in some appetite, as when we act or omit in lust or rage or upon some calculation of advantage accompanied by desire.
But if rage or desire implied freedom we must allow freedom to animals, infants, maniacs, the distraught, the victims of malpractice producing incontrollable delusions. And if freedom turns on calculation with desire, does this include faulty calculation? Sound calculation, no doubt, and sound desire; but then comes the question whether the appetite stirs the calculation or the calculation the appetite.
Where the appetites are dictated by the very nature they are the desires of the conjoint of soul and body and then soul lies under physical compulsions: if they spring in the soul as an independent, then much that we take to be voluntary is in reality outside of our free act. Further, every emotion is preceded by some meagre reasoning; how then can a compelling imagination, an appetite drawing us where it will, be supposed to leave us masters in the ensuing act? Need, inexorably craving satisfaction, is not free in face of that to which it is forced: and how at all can a thing have efficiency of its own when it rises from an extern, has an extern for very principle, thence taking its Being as it stands? It lives by that extern, lives as it has been moulded: if this be freedom, there is freedom in even the soulless; fire acts in accordance with its characteristic being.
We may be reminded that the Living Form and the soul know what they do. But if this is knowledge by perception it does not help towards the freedom of the act; perception gives awareness, not mastery: if true knowing is meant, either this is the knowing of something happening—once more awareness—with the motive-force still to seek, or the reasoning and knowledge have acted to quell the appetite; then we have to ask to what this repression is to be referred and where it has taken place. If it is that the mental process sets up an opposing desire we must assure ourselves how; if it merely stills the appetite with no further efficiency and this is our freedom, then freedom does not depend upon act but is a thing of the mind—and in truth all that has to do with act, the very most reasonable, is still of mixed value and cannot carry freedom.
All this calls for examination; the enquiry must bring us close to the solution as regards the gods.
We have traced self-disposal to will, will to reasoning and, next step, to right reasoning; perhaps to right reasoning we must add knowledge, for however sound opinion and act may be they do not yield true freedom when the adoption of the right course is the result of hazard or of some presentment from the fancy with no knowledge of the foundations of that rightness.
Taking it that the presentment of fancy is not a matter of our will and choice, how can we think those acting at its dictation to be free agents? Fancy strictly, in our use, takes it rise from conditions of the body; lack of food and drink sets up presentments and so does the meeting of these needs; similarly with seminal abundance and other humours of the body. We refuse to range under the principle of freedom those whose conduct is directed by such fancy: the baser sort, therefore, mainly so guided, cannot be credited with self-disposal or voluntary act. Self-disposal, to us, belongs to those who, through the activities of the Intellectual-Principle, live above the states of the body. The spring of freedom is the activity of Intellectual-Principle, the highest in our being; the proposals emanating thence are freedom; such desires as are formed in the exercise of the Intellectual act cannot be classed as involuntary; the gods, therefore, that live in this state, living by Intellectual-Principle and by desire conformed to it, possess freedom.
It will be asked how act rising from desire can be voluntary since desire pulls outward and implies need; to desire is still to be drawn, even though towards the good.
Intellectual-Principle itself comes under the doubt; having a certain nature and acting by that nature can it be said to have freedom and self-disposal—in an act which it cannot leave unenacted? It may be asked, also, whether freedom may strictly be affirmed of such beings as are not engaged in action.
However that may be, where there is such act there is compulsion from without, since failing motive, act will not be performed. These higher beings, too, obey their own nature; where then is their freedom?
But, on the other hand, can there be talk of constraint where there is no compulsion to obey an extern; and how can any movement towards a good be counted compulsion? Effort is free once it is towards a fully recognised good; the involuntary is, precisely, motion away from a good and towards the enforced, towards something not recognised as a good; servitude lies in being powerless to move towards one’s good, being debarred from the preferred path in a menial obedience. Hence the shame of slavedom is incurred not when one is held from the hurtful but when the personal good must be yielded in favour of another’s.
Further, this objected obedience to the characteristic nature would imply a duality, master and mastered; but an undivided Principle, a simplex Activity, where there can be no difference of potentiality and act, must be free; there can be no thought of “action according to the nature,” in the sense of any distinction between the being and its efficiency, there where being and act are identical. Where act is performed neither because of another nor at another’s will, there surely is freedom. Freedom may of course be an inappropriate term: there is something greater here: it is self-disposal in the sense, only, that there is no disposal by the extern, no outside master over the act.
In a principle, act and essence must be free. No doubt Intellectual-Principle itself is to be referred to a yet higher; but this higher is not extern to it; Intellectual-Principle is within the Good; possessing its own good in virtue of that indwelling, much more will it possess freedom and self-disposal which are sought only for the sake of the good. Acting towards the good, it must all the more possess self-disposal for by that Act it is directed towards the Principle from which it proceeds, and this its act is self-centred and must entail its very greatest good.
Are we, however, to make freedom and self-disposal exclusive to Intellectual-Principle as engaged in its characteristic Act, Intellectual-Principle unassociated, or do they belong also to soul acting under that guidance and performing act of virtue?
If freedom is to be allowed to soul in its Act, it certainly cannot be allowed in regard to issue, for we are not master of events: if in regard to fine conduct and all inspired by Intellectual-Principle, that may very well be freedom; but is the freedom ours?
Because there is war, we perform some brave feat; how is that our free act since had there been no war it could not have been performed? So in all cases of fine conduct; there is always some impinging event leading out our quality to show itself in this or that act. And suppose virtue itself given the choice whether to find occasion for its exercise—war evoking courage; wrong, so that it may establish justice and good order; poverty that it may show independence—or to remain inactive, everything going well, it would choose the peace of inaction, nothing calling for its intervention, just as a physician like Hippocrates would prefer no one to stand in need of his skill.
If thus virtue whose manifestation requires action becomes inevitably a collaborator under compulsion, how can it have untrammelled self-disposal?
Should we, perhaps, distinguish between compulsion in the act and freedom in the preceding will and reasoning?
But in setting freedom in those preceding functions, we imply that virtue has a freedom and self-disposal apart from all act; then we must state what is the reality of the self-disposal attributed to virtue as state or disposition. Are we to put it that virtue comes in to restore the disordered soul, taming passions and appetites? In what sense, at that, can we hold our goodness to be our own free act, our fine conduct to be uncompelled? In that we will and adopt, in that this entry of virtue prepares freedom and self-disposal, ending our slavery to the masters we have been obeying. If then virtue is, as it were, a second Intellectual-Principle, and heightens the soul to Intellectual quality, then, once more, our freedom is found to lie not in act but in Intellectual-Principle immune from act.
How then did we come to place freedom in the will when we made out free action to be that produced—or as we also indicated, suppressed—at the dictate of will?
If what we have been saying is true and our former statement is consistent with it, the case must stand thus:—
Virtue and Intellectual-Principle are sovran and must be held the sole foundation of our self-disposal and freedom; both then are free; Intellectual-Principle is self-confined: Virtue in its government of the soul which it seeks to lift into goodness would wish to be free; in so far as it does so it is free and confers freedom; but inevitably experiences and actions are forced upon it by its governance: these it has not planned for, yet when they do arise it will watch still for its sovranty calling these also to judgement. Virtue does not follow upon occurrences as a saver of the emperilled; at its discretion it sacrifices a man; it may decree the jettison of life, means, children, country even; it looks to its own high aim and not to the safeguarding of anything lower. Thus our freedom of act, our self-disposal, must be referred not to the doing, not to the external thing done but to the inner activity, to the Intellection, to virtue’s own vision.
So understood, virtue is a mode of Intellectual-Principle, a mode not involving any of the emotions or passions controlled by its reasonings, since such experiences, amenable to morality and discipline, touch closely—we read—on body.
This makes it all the more evident that the unembodied is the free; to this our self-disposal is to be referred; herein lies our will which remains free and self-disposing in spite of any orders which it may necessarily utter to meet the external. All then that issues from will and is the effect of will is our free action; and in the highest degree all that lies outside of the corporeal is purely within the scope of will, all that will adopts and brings, unimpeded, into existence.
The contemplating Intellect, the first or highest, has self-disposal to the point that its operation is utterly independent; it turns wholly upon itself; its very action is itself; at rest in its good it is without need, complete, and may be said to live to its will; there the will is intellection: it is called will because it expresses the Intellectual-Principle in the willing-phase and, besides, what we know as will imitates this operation taking place within the Intellectual-Principle. Will strives towards the good which the act of Intellectual-Principle realises. Thus that principle holds what will seeks, that good whose attainment makes will identical with Intellection.
But if self-disposal is founded thus on the will aiming at the good, how can it possibly be denied to that principle permanently possessing the good, sole object of the aim?
Any one scrupulous about setting self-disposal so high may find some loftier word.
Soul becomes free when it moves, through Intellectual-Principle, towards The Good; what it does in that spirit is its free act; Intellectual-Principle is free in its own right. That principle of Good is the sole object of desire and the source of self-disposal to the rest, to soul when it fully attains, to Intellectual-Principle by connate possession.
How then can the sovran of all that august sequence—the first in place, that to which all else strives to mount, all dependent upon it and taking from it their powers even to this power of self-disposal—how can This be brought under the freedom belonging to you and me, a conception applicable only by violence to Intellectual-Principle itself?
It is rash thinking drawn from another order that would imagine a First Principle to be chance-made what it is, controlled by a manner of being imposed from without, void therefore of freedom or self-disposal, acting or refraining under compulsion. Such a statement is untrue to its subject and introduces much difficulty; it utterly annuls the principle of free-will with the very conception of our own voluntary action, so that there is no longer any sense in discussion upon these terms, empty names for the non-existent. Anyone upholding this opinion would be obliged to say not merely that free act exists nowhere but that the very word conveys nothing to him. To admit understanding the word is to be easily brought to confess that the conception of freedom does apply where it is denied. No doubt a concept leaves the reality untouched and unappropriated, for nothing can produce itself, bring itself into being; but thought insists upon distinguishing between what is subject to others and what is independent, bound under no allegiance, lord of its own act.
This state of freedom belongs in the absolute degree to the Eternals in right of that eternity and to other beings in so far as without hindrance they possess or pursue The Good which, standing above them all, must manifestly be the only good they can reasonably seek.
To say that The Good exists by chance must be false; chance belongs to the later, to the multiple; since the First has never come to be we cannot speak of it either as coming by chance into being or as not master of its being. Absurd also the objection that it acts in accordance with its being if this is to suggest that freedom demands act or other expression against the nature. Neither does its nature as the unique annul its freedom when this is the result of no compulsion but means only that The Good is no other than itself, is self-complete and has no higher.
The objection would imply that where there is most good there is least freedom. If this is absurd, still more absurd to deny freedom to The Good on the ground that it is good and self-concentred, not needing to lean upon anything else but actually being the Term to which all tends, itself moving to none.
Where—since we must use such words—the essential act is identical with the being—and this identity must obtain in The Good since it holds even in Intellectual-Principle—there the act is no more determined by the Being than the Being by the Act. Thus “acting according to its nature” does not apply; the Act, the Life, so to speak, cannot be held to issue from the Being; the Being accompanies the Act in an eternal association: from the two (Being and Act) it forms itself into The Good, self-springing and unspringing.
But it is not, in our view, as an attribute that this freedom is present in the First. In the light of free acts, from which we eliminate the contraries, we recognise There self-determination self-directed and, failing more suitable terms, we apply to it the lesser terms brought over from lesser things and so tell it as best we may: no words could ever be adequate or even applicable to that from which all else—the noble, the august—is derived. For This is principle of all, or, more strictly, unrelated to all and, in this consideration, cannot be made to possess such laters as even freedom and self-disposal, which in fact indicate manifestation upon the extern—unhindered but implying the existence of other beings whose opposition proves ineffective.
We cannot think of the First as moving towards any other; He holds his own manner of being before any other was; even Being we withhold and therefore all relation to beings.
Nor may we speak of any “conforming to the nature”; this again is of the later; if the term be applicable at all in that realm it applies only to the secondaries—primally to Essential Existence as next to this First. And if a “nature” belongs only to things of time, this conformity to nature does not apply even to Essential Existence. On the other hand, we are not to deny that it is derived from Essential Existence for that would be to take away its existence and would imply derivation from something else.
Does this mean that the First is to be described as happening to be?
No; that would be just as false; nothing “happens” to the First; it stands in no such relationship; happening belongs only to the multiple where, first, existence is given and then something is added. And how could the Source “happen to be?” There has been no coming so that you can put it to the question “How does this come to be? What chance brought it here, gave it being?” Chance did not yet exist; there was no “automatic action”: these imply something before themselves and occur in the realm of process.
If we cannot but speak of Happening we must not halt at the word but look to the intention. And what is that? That the Supreme by possession of a certain nature and power is the Principle. Obviously if its nature were other it would be that other and if the difference were for the worse it would manifest itself as that lesser being. But we must add in correction that as Principle of All, it could not be some chance product; it is not enough to say that it could not be inferior; it could not even be in some other way good, for instance in some less perfect degree; the Principle of All must be of higher quality than anything that follows it. It is therefore in a sense determined—determined, I mean, by its uniqueness and not in any sense of being under compulsion; compulsion did not co-exist with the Supreme but has place only among secondaries and even there can exercise no tyranny; this uniqueness is not from outside.
This, then, it is; This and no other; simply what it must be; it has not “happened” but is what by a necessity prior to all necessities it must be. We cannot think of it as a chance existence; it is not what it chanced to be but what it must be—and yet without a “Must.”
All the rest waits for the appearing of the king to hail him for himself, not a being of accident and happening but authentically king, authentically Principle, The Good authentically, not a being that acts in conformity with goodness—and so, recognisably, a secondary—but the total unity that he is, no moulding upon goodness but the very Good itself.
Even Being is exempt from happening: of course anything happening happens to Being, but Being itself has not happened nor is the manner of its Being a thing of happening, of derivation; it is the very nature of Being to be; how then can we think that this happening can attach to the Transcendent of Being, That in whose power lay the very engendering of Being?
Certainly this Transcendent never happened to be what it is; it is so, just as Being exists in complete identity with its own essential nature and that of Intellectual-Principle. Certainly that which has never passed outside of its own orbit, unbendingly what it is, its own unchangeably, is that which may most strictly be said to possess its own being: what then are we to say when we mount and contemplate that which stands yet higher; can we conceivably say “Thus, as we see it, thus has it happened to be?” Neither thus nor in any mode did it happen to be; there is no happening; there is only a “Thus and No Otherwise than Thus.” And even “Thus” is false; it would imply limit, a defined form: to know This is to be able to reject both the “Thus” and the “Not-Thus,” either of which classes among Beings to which alone Manner of Being can attach.
A “Thus” is something that attaches to everything in the world of things: standing before the indefinable you may name any of these sequents but you must say This is none of them: at most it is to be conceived as the total power towards things, supremely self-concentred, being what it wills to be or rather projecting into existence what it wills, itself higher than all will, will a thing beneath it. In a word it neither willed its own “Thus”—as something to conform to—nor did any other make it “Thus.”
The upholder of Happening must be asked how this false happening can be supposed to have come about, taking it that it did, and how the happening, then, is not universally prevalent. If there is to be a natural scheme at all, it must be admitted that this happening does not and cannot exist: for if we attribute to chance the Principle which is to eliminate chance from all the rest, how can there ever be anything independent of chance? And this Nature does take away the chanced from the rest, bringing in form and limit and shape. In the case of things thus conformed to reason the cause cannot be identified with chance but must lie in that very reason; chance must be kept for what occurs apart from choice and sequence and is purely concurrent. When we come to the source of all reason, order and limit, how can we attribute the reality there to chance? Chance is no doubt master of many things but is not master of Intellectual-Principle, of reason, of order, so as to bring them into being. How could chance, recognised as the very opposite of reason, be its Author? And if it does not produce Intellectual-Principle, then certainly not that which precedes and surpasses that Principle. Chance, besides, has no means of producing, has no being at all, and, assuredly, none in the Eternal.
Since there is nothing before Him who is the First, we must call a halt; there is nothing to say; we may enquire into the origin of his sequents but not of Himself who has no origin.
But perhaps, never having come to be but being as He is, He is still not master of his own essence: not master of his essence but being as He is, not self-originating but acting out of his nature as He finds it, must He not be of necessity what He is, inhibited from being otherwise?
No: What He is, He is not because He could not be otherwise but because so is best. Not everything has power to move towards the better though nothing is prevented by any external from moving towards the worse. But that the Supreme has not so moved is its own doing: there has been no inhibition; it has not moved simply because it is That which does not move; in this stability the inability to degenerate is not powerlessness; here permanence is very Act, a self-determination. This absence of declination comports the fulness of power; it is not the yielding of a being held and controlled but the Act of one who is necessity, law, to all.
Does this indicate a Necessity which has brought itself into existence? No: there has been no coming into being in any degree; This is that by which being is brought to all the rest, its sequents. Above all origins, This can owe being neither to an extern nor to itself.
But this Unoriginating, what is it?
We can but withdraw, silent, hopeless, and search no further. What can we look for when we have reached the furthest? Every enquiry aims at a first and, that attained, rests.
Besides, we must remember that all questioning deals with the nature of a thing, its quality, its cause or its essential being. In this case the being—in so far as we can use the word—is knowable only by its sequents: the question as to cause asks for a principle beyond, but the principle of all has no principle; the question as to quality would be looking for an attribute in that which has none: the question as to nature shows only that we must ask nothing about it but merely take it into the mind if we may, with the knowledge gained that nothing can be permissibly connected with it.
The difficulty this Principle presents to our mind in so far as we can approach to conception of it may be exhibited thus:—
We begin by posing space, a place, a Chaos; into this existing container, real or fancied, we introduce God and proceed to enquire: we ask, for example, whence and how He comes to be there: we investigate the presence and quality of this new-comer projected into the midst of things here from some height or depth. But the difficulty disappears if we eliminate all space before we attempt to conceive God: He must not be set in anything either as enthroned in eternal immanence or as having made some entry into things: He is to be conceived as existing alone, in that existence which the necessity of discussion forces us to attribute to Him, with space and all the rest as later than Him—space latest of all. Thus we conceive as far as we may, the spaceless; we abolish the notion of any environment: we circumscribe Him within no limit; we attribute no extension to Him; He has no quality since no shape, even shape Intellectual; He holds no relationship but exists in and for Himself before anything is.
How can we think any longer of that “Thus He happened to be”? How make this one assertion of Him of whom all other assertion can be no more than negation? it is on the contrary nearer the truth to say “Thus He has happened not to be”: that contains at least the utter denial of his happening.
Yet, is not God what He is? Can He, then, be master of being what He is or master to stand above Being? The mind utterly reluctant returns to its doubt: some further considerations, therefore, must be offered:—
In us the individual, viewed as body, is far from reality; by soul which especially constitutes the being we participate in reality, are in some degree real. This is a compound state, a mingling of Reality and Difference, not, therefore reality in the strictest sense, not reality pure. Thus far we are not masters of our being; in some sense the reality in us is one thing and we another. We are not masters of our being; the real in us is the master since that is the principle establishing our characteristic difference; yet we are again in some sense that which is sovran in us and so even on this level might in spite of all be described as self-disposing.
But in That which is wholly what it is—self-existing reality, without distinction between the total thing and its essence—the being is a unit and is sovran over itself; neither the being nor the essence is to be referred to any extern. Besides, the very question as to self-disposal falls in the case of what is First in reality; if it can be raised at all, we must declare that there can be no subjection whatever in That to which reality owes its freedom, That in whose nature the conferring of freedom must clearly be vested, preeminently to be known as the liberator.
Still, is not this Principle subject to its essential Being? On the contrary, it is the source of freedom to Being.
Even if there be Act in the Supreme—an Act with which it is to be identified—this is not enough to set up a duality within it and prevent it being entirely master of that self from which the Act springs; for the Act is not distinct from that self. If we utterly deny Act in it—holding that Act begins with others moving about it—we are all the less able to allow either self-mastery or subjection in it: even self-mastery is absent here, not that anything else is master over it but that self-mastery begins with Being while the Supreme is to be set in a higher order.
But what can there be higher than that which is its own master?
Where we speak of self-mastery there is a certain duality, Act against essence; from the exercise of the Act arises the conception of the mastering principle—though one identical with the essence—hence arises the separate idea of mastery, and the being concerned is said to possess self-mastery. Where there is no such duality joining to unity but solely a unity pure—either because the Act is the whole being or because there is no Act at all—then we cannot strictly say that the being has this mastery of self.
Our enquiry obliges us to use terms not strictly applicable: we insist, once more, that not even for the purpose of forming the concept of the Supreme may we make it a duality; if now we do, it is merely for the sake of conveying conviction, at the cost of verbal accuracy.
If, then, we are to allow Activities in the Supreme and make them depend upon will—and certainly Act cannot There be will-less—and these Activities are to be the very essence, then will and essence in the Supreme must be identical. This admitted, as He willed to be so He is; it is no more true to say that He wills and acts as His nature determines than that His essence is as He wills and acts. Thus He is wholly master of Himself and holds His very being at His will.
Consider also that every being in its pursuit of its good seeks to be that good rather than what it is; it judges itself most truly to be when it partakes of its good: in so far as it thus draws on its good its being is its choice: much more then must the very Principle, The Good, be desirable in itself when any fragment of it is very desirable to the extern and becomes the chosen essence promoting that extern’s will and identical with the will that gave the existence?
As long as a thing is apart from its good it seeks outside itself; when it holds its good it accepts itself as it is: and this is no matter of chance; the essence now is not outside of the will; by the good it is determined, by the good it is in self-possession.
If then this Principle is the means of determination to everything else, we see at once that self-possession must belong primally to it, so that through it others in their turn may be self-belonging: what we must call its essence comports its will to possess such a manner of being; we can form no idea of it without including in it the will towards itself as it is. It must be a consistent self willing its being and being what it wills; its will and itself must be one thing, all the more one from the absence of distinction between a given nature and one which would be preferred. What could The Good have wished to be other than what it is? Suppose it had the choice of being what it preferred, power to alter the nature, it could not prefer to be something else; it could have no fault to find with anything in its nature, as if that nature were imposed by force; The Good is what from always it wished and wishes to be. For the really existent Good is a willing towards itself, towards a good not gained by any wiles or even attracted to it by force of its nature; The Good is what it chose to be and, in fact, there was never anything outside it to which it could be drawn.
It may be added that nothing else contains in its essence the principle of its own satisfaction; there will be inner discord: but this hypostasis of the Good must necessarily have self-option, the will towards the self; if it had not, it could not bring satisfaction to the beings whose contentment demands participation in it or imagination of it.
Once more, we must be patient with language; we are forced to apply to the Supreme terms which strictly are ruled out; everywhere we must read “So to speak.” The Good, then, exists; it holds its existence through choice and will, conditions of its very being: yet it cannot be a manifold; therefore the will and the essential being must be taken as one identity; the act of the will must be self-determined and the being self-caused; thus reason shows the Supreme to be its own Author. For if the act of will springs from God Himself and is as it were His operation and the same will is identical with His essence, He must be self-established. He is not, therefore, “what He has happened to be” but what He has willed to be.
Another approach:—Everything to which existence may be attributed is either one with its essence or distinct from it. Thus any given man is distinct from essential man though belonging to the order Man: a soul and a soul’s essence are the same—that is, in the case of soul pure and unmingled—Man as type is the same as man’s essence; where the thing, man, and the essence are different, the particular man may be considered as accidental; but man, the essence, cannot be so; the type, Man, has Real Being. Now if the essence of man is real, not chanced or accidental, how can we think That to be accidental which transcends the order man, author of the type, source of all being, a principle more nearly simplex than man’s being or being of any kind? As we approach the simplex, accident recedes; what is utterly simplex accident never touches at all.
Further we must remember what has been already said, that where there is true being, where things have been brought to reality by that Principle—and this is true of whatsoever has determined condition within the order of sense—all that reality is brought about in virtue of something emanating from the divine. By things of determined condition I mean such as contain, inbound with their essence, the reason of their being as they are, so that, later, an observer can state the use for each of the constituent parts—why the eye, why feet of such and such a kind to such and such a being—and can recognise that the reason for the production of each organ is inherent in that particular being and that the parts exist for each other. Why feet of a certain length? Because another member is as it is: because the face is as it is, therefore the feet are what they are: in a word the mutual determinant is mutual adaptation and the reason of each of the several forms is that such is the plan of man.
Thus the essence and its reason are one and the same. The constituent parts arise from the one source not because that source has so conceived each separately but because it has produced simultaneously the plan of the thing and its existence. This therefore is author at once of the existence of things and of their reasons, both produced at the one stroke. It is in correspondence with the things of process but far more nearly archetypal and authentic and in a closer relation with the Better, their source, than they can be.
Of things carrying their causes within, none arises at hazard or without purpose; this “So it happened to be” is applicable to none. All that they have comes from The Good; the Supreme itself, then, as author of reason, of causation, and of causing essence—all certainly lying far outside of chance—must be the Principle and as it were the exemplar of things, thus independent of hazard: it is the First, the Authentic, immune from chance, from blind effect and happening: God is cause of Himself; for Himself and of Himself He is what He is, the first self, transcendently The Self.
Lovable, very love, the Supreme is also self-love in that He is lovely no otherwise than from Himself and in Himself. Self-presence can hold only in the identity of associated with associating; since, in the Supreme, associated and associating are one, seeker and sought one—the sought serving as Hypostasis and substrate of the seeker—once more God’s being and his seeking are identical: once more, then, the Supreme is the self-producing, sovran of Himself, not happening to be as some extern willed but existing as He wills it.
And when we say that neither does He absorb anything nor anything absorb Him, thus again we are setting Him outside of all happening—not only because we declare Him unique and untouched by all but in another way also. Suppose we found such a nature in ourselves; we are untouched by all that has gathered round us subjecting us to happening and chance; all that accrument was of the servile and lay exposed to chance: by this new state alone we acquire self-disposal and free act, the freedom of that light which belongs to the order of the good and is good in actuality, greater than anything Intellectual-Principle has to give, an actuality whose advantage over Intellection is no adventitious superiority. When we attain to this state and become This alone, what can we say but that we are more than free, more than self-disposing? And who then could link us to chance, hazard, happening, when thus we are become veritable Life, entered into That which contains no alloy but is purely itself?
Isolate anything else and the being is inadequate; the Supreme in isolation is still what it was. The First cannot be in the soulless or in an unreasoning life; such a life is too feeble in being; it is reason dissipated, it is indetermination; only in the measure of approach towards reason is there liberation from happening; the rational is above chance. Ascending we come upon the Supreme, not as reason but as reason’s better: thus God is far removed from all happening: the root of reason is self-springing.
The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.
We maintain, and it is evident truth, that the Supreme is everywhere and yet nowhere; keeping this constantly in mind let us see how it bears on our present enquiry.
If God is nowhere, then not anywhere has He “happened to be”; as also everywhere, He is everywhere in entirety: at once, He is that everywhere and everywise: He is not in the everywhere but is the everywhere as well as the giver to the rest of things of their being in that everywhere. Holding the supreme place—or rather no holder but Himself the Supreme—all lies subject to Him; they have not brought Him to be but happen, all, to Him—or rather they stand there before Him looking upon Him, not He upon them. He is borne, so to speak, to the inmost of Himself in love of that pure radiance which He is, He Himself being that which He loves. That is to say, as self-dwelling Act and Intellectual-Principle, the most to be loved, He has given Himself existence. Intellectual-Principle is the issue of Act: God therefore is issue of Act, but since no other has generated Him He is what He made Himself: He is not, therefore, “as He happened to be” but as He acted Himself into being.
Again; if He preeminently is because He holds firmly, so to speak, towards Himself, looking towards Himself, so that what we must call his being is this self-looking, He must again, since the word is inevitable, make Himself: thus, not “as He happens to be” is He but as He Himself wills to be. Nor is this will a hazard, a something happening; the will adopting the Best is not a thing of chance.
That his being is constituted by this self-originating self-tendance—at once Act and repose—becomes clear if we imagine the contrary; inclining towards something outside of Himself, He would destroy the identity of his being. This self-directed Act is therefore his peculiar being, one with Himself. If then his act never came to be but is eternal—a waking without an awakener, an eternal wakening and a supra-Intellection—He is as He waked Himself to be. This awakening is before being, before Intellectual-Principle, before rational life, though He is these; He is thus an Act before Intellectual-Principle and consciousness and life; these come from Him and no other; his being, then, is a self-presence, issuing from Himself. Thus not “as He happened to be” is He but as He willed to be.
Or consider it another way:—We hold the universe, with its content entire, to be as all would be if the design of the maker had so willed it, elaborating it with purpose and prevision by reasonings amounting to a Providence. All is always so and all is always so reproduced: therefore the reason-principles of things must lie always within the producing powers in a still more perfect form; these beings of the divine realm must therefore be previous to Providence and to preference; all that exists in the order of being must lie for ever There in their Intellectual mode. If this regime is to be called Providence it must be in the sense that before our universe there exists, not expressed in the outer, the Intellectual-Principle of all the All, its source and archetype.
Now if there is thus an Intellectual-Principle before all things, their founding principle, this cannot be a thing lying subject to chance—multiple, no doubt, but a concordance, ordered so to speak into oneness. Such a multiple—the co-ordination of all particulars and consisting of all the Reason-Principles of the universe gathered into the closest union—this cannot be a thing of chance, a thing “happening so to be.” It must be of a very different nature, of the very contrary nature, separated from the other by all the difference between reason and reasonless chance. And if the Source is precedent even to this, it must be continuous with this reasoned secondary so that the two be correspondent; the secondary must participate in the prior, be an expression of its will, be a power of it: that higher therefore (as above the ordering of reason) is without part or interval (implied by reasoned arrangement), is a one-all Reason-Principle, one number, a One greater than its product, more powerful, having no higher or better. Thus the Supreme can derive neither its being nor the quality of its being. God Himself, therefore, is what He is, self-related, self-tending; otherwise He becomes outward-tending, other-seeking—He who cannot but be wholly self-poised.
Seeking Him, seek nothing of Him outside; within is to be sought what follows upon Him; Himself do not attempt. He is, Himself, that outer, He the encompassment and measure of all things; or rather He is within, at the innermost depth; the outer, circling round Him, so to speak, and wholly dependent upon Him, is Reason-Principle and Intellectual-Principle—or becomes Intellectual-Principle by contact with Him and in the degree of that contact and dependence; for from Him it takes the being which makes it Intellectual-Principle.
A circle related in its path to a centre must be admitted to owe its scope to that centre; it has something of the nature of that centre in that the radial lines converging on that one central point assimilate their impinging ends to that point of convergence and of departure, the dominant of radii and terminals: the terminals are of one nature with the centre, separate reproductions of it, since the centre is, in a certain sense, the total of terminals and radii impinging at every point upon it; these lines reveal the centre; they are the development of that undeveloped.
In the same way we are to take Intellectual-Principle and Being. This combined power springs from the Supreme, an outflow and as it were development from That and remaining dependent upon that Intellective nature, showing forth That which, in the purity of its oneness, is not Intellectual-Principle since it is no duality. No more than in the circle are the lines or circumference to be identified with that Centre which is the source of both: radii and circle are images given forth by indwelling power and, as products of a certain vigour in it, not cut off from it.
Thus the Intellective power circles in its multiple unity around the Supreme which stands to it as archetype to image; the image in its movement round about its prior has produced the multiplicity by which it is constituted Intellectual-Principle: that prior has no movement; it generates Intellectual-Principle by its sheer wealth.
Such a power, author of Intellectual-Principle, author of being—how does it lend itself to chance, to hazard, to any “So it happened”?
What is present in Intellectual-Principle is present, though in a far transcendent mode, in the One: so in a light diffused afar from one light shining within itself, the diffused is vestige, the source is the true light; but Intellectual-Principle, the diffused and image light, is not different in kind from its prior; and it is not a thing of chance but at every point is reason and cause.
The Supreme is cause of the cause: it is cause preeminently, cause as containing cause in the deepest and truest mode; for in it lie the Intellective causes which are to be unfolded from it, author as it is not of the chance-made but of what the divine willed: and this willing was not apart from reason, was not in the realm of hazard and of what happened to present itself.
Thus Plato seeking the best account of the necessary and appropriate says they are far removed from hazard and that what exists is what must exist: if thus the existence is as it must be it does not exist without reason: if its manner of being is the fitting, it is the utterly self-disposing in comparison with its sequents and, before that, in regard to itself: thus it is not “as it happened to be” but as it willed to be: all this, on the assumption that God wills what should be and that it is impossible to separate right from realisation and that this Necessary is not to God an outside thing but is, itself, His first Activity manifesting outwardly in the exactly representative form. Thus we must speak of God since we cannot tell Him as we would.
Stirred to the Supreme by what has been told, a man must strive to possess it directly; then he too will see, though still unable to tell it as he would wish.
One seeing That as it really is will lay aside all reasoning upon it and simply state it as the self-existent, such that if it had essence that essence would be subject to it and, so to speak, derived from it; none that has seen would dare to talk of its “happening to be,” or indeed be able to utter word. With all his courage he would stand astounded, unable at any venture to speak of This, with the vision everywhere before the eyes of the soul so that, look where one may, there it is seen unless one deliberately look away, ignoring God, thinking no more upon Him. So we are to understand the Beyond-Essence darkly indicated by the ancients: it is not merely that He generated Essence but that He is subject neither to Essence nor to Himself; His essence is not His Principle; He is Principle to Essence and not for Himself did He make it; producing it He left it outside of Himself: He had no need of being who brought it to be. Thus His making of being is no “action in accordance with His being.”
The difficulty will be raised that God would seem to have existed before thus coming into existence; if He makes Himself, then in regard to the self which He makes He is not yet in being and as maker He exists before this Himself thus made.
The answer is that we utterly must not speak of Him as made but sheerly as maker; the making must be taken as absolved from all else; no new existence is established; the Act here is not directed to an achievement but is God Himself unalloyed: here is no duality but pure unity. Let no one suspect us of asserting that the first Activity is without Essence; on the contrary the Activity is the very reality. To suppose a reality without activity would be to make the Principle of all principles deficient; the supremely complete becomes incomplete. To make the Activity something superadded to the essence is to shatter the unity. If then Activity is a more perfect thing than essence and the First is all perfect, then the Activity is the First.
By having acted, He is what He is and there is no question of “existing before bringing Himself into existence”; when He acted He was not in some state that could be described as “before existing.” He was already existent entirely.
Now assuredly an Activity not subjected to essence is utterly free; God’s selfhood, then, is of his own Act. If his being has to be ensured by something else, He is no longer the self-existent First: if it be true to say that He is his own container, then He inducts Himself; for all that He contains is his own production from the beginning since from the beginning He caused the being of all that by nature He contains.
If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before all time, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making and eternal “coming into existence.”
This is the source also of his self-disposal—strictly applicable if there were a duality, but conveying, in the case of a unity, a disposing without a disposed, an abstract disposing. But how a disposer with nothing to dispose? In that there is here a disposer looking to a prior when there is none: since there is no prior, This is the First—but a First not in order but in sovranty, in power purely self-controlled. Purely; then nothing can be There that is under any external disposition; all in God is self-willing. What then is there of his content that is not Himself, what that is not in Act, what not his work? Imagine in Him anything not of his Act and at once His existence ceases to be pure; He is not self-disposing, not all-powerful: in that at least of whose doing He is not master He would be impotent.
Could He then have made Himself otherwise than as He did?
If He could we must deny Him the power to produce goodness for He certainly cannot produce evil. Power, There, is no producer of the inapt; it is that steadfast constant which is most decidedly power by inability to depart from unity: ability to produce the inapt is inability to hold by the fitting; that self-making must be definite once for all since it is the right: besides, who could upset what is made by the will of God and is itself that will?
But whence does He draw that will seeing that essence, source of will, is inactive in Him?
The will was included in the essence; they were identical: or was there something, this will for instance, not existing in Him? All was will, nothing unwilled in Him. There is then nothing before that will: God and will were primally identical.
God, therefore, is what He willed, is such as He willed; and all that ensued upon that willing was what that definite willing engendered: but it engendered nothing new; all existed from the first.
As for his “self-containing,” this rightly understood can mean only that all the rest is maintained in virtue of Him by means of a certain participation; all traces back to the Supreme; God Himself, self-existing always, needs no containing, no participating; all in Him belongs to Him or rather He needs nothing from them in order to being Himself.
When therefore you seek to state or to conceive Him, put all else aside; abstracting all, keep solely to Him; see that you add nothing; be sure that your theory of God does not lessen Him. Even you are able to take contact with Something in which there is no more than That Thing itself to affirm and know, Something which lies away above all and is—it alone—veritably free, subject not even to its own law, solely and essentially That One Thing, while all else is thing and something added.