Front Page Titles (by Subject) VII: Why The Supreme is a Triad - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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VII: Why The Supreme is a Triad - Plotinus, The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead [253 AD]
The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead, with Porphry’s Life of Plotinus, and the Preller-Ritter Extracts forming a Conspectus of the Plotinian System, translated from Greek by Stephen Mackenna (Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1918).
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Why The Supreme is a Triad
II. 9, 1. . . . It follows that we need have recourse to no other Principles than these Three: we have first The One, then, following upon The One, the Divine Mind and the Primal Intellectual-Principle; after this, the Soul. This is the order ruling in the nature of things and we may not assign either fewer or more Principles than these to the Supreme. If we affirm less than Three, we must bring together either Soul and Intellectual-Principle or Intellectual-Principle and The First: but we have abundantly shown that these are separate. It remains, then, to consider whether there can be more than Three.
Now what Divine Hypostasis could exist outside of these Three?
The First Principle of the All, as we have indicated it, is at once the most simplex and the most exaltedly transcendent that can be discovered: it is unsound to double the Persons by distinguishing between potentiality and act in an immaterial Existence whose Act is its Essence.
Similarly we cannot pose two Intellectual-Principles, one in rest and one in movement. . . . The Divine Mind has its eternal, immobile Act towards The One; the Reason which descends from It to the Soul and makes the Soul intellective cannot constitute a distinct Hypostasis. . . . Nor may we conceive two Divine Minds, one knowing and the other knowing that It knows; thinking may be distinguished, no doubt, from thinking that one is thinking; but in the entire process there is really only one consciousness aware of its activity; it would be absurd to suppose that the Authentic Intelligence could ever be thus unconscious of its act. . . . No: the Intellectual-Principle has Intellection of Itself; and the Intellectual and Intelligible Kosmos which is its Thought is also Itself: therefore the Intellectual-Principle in Its Intellection has self-consciousness; It necessarily knows Itself. (Plotinus urges, further, that if we are to suppose, with certain Gnostics, a second Intellectual-Principle conscious of the action of an unconscious first, we open the list of an unending series of Divine Minds.)
So, too, the supposition that a first Intellectual-Principle engenders in the Soul-of-the-All a second Intellectual-Principle intermediate between Divine Mind and Soul, takes away from the Soul its intellective-nature (n) . . . on this hypothesis the Soul would possess not the Divine Intellectual Principle but merely an image of it. . . . We can, therefore, admit only these Three Hypostases in the Supreme; one Transcendent; one Intellectual-Principle, self-identical, unswerving ever, imitating the Father as nearly as may be (n); then Soul, with the reserve that the Soul in us, while in part always dwelling with the Intellectual Existences, is in part fallen to the realm of sense and in part again occupies an intermediate region.”
“The Soul’s Intellective-Nature”:— This refers to the Plotinian doctrine that the Soul is a Logos, a Reason-Principle or Idea or Thought of the Divine Mind:—
III. 2, 2. “For what emanates from the Intellectual-Principle is a Reason-Principle, a Logos.”
III. 6, 18. “The Soul, itself a Divine Thought and possessing the Divine Thoughts, or Ideas, of all things, contains all things concentred within it.”
If the Soul is one of many Ideas in the Intellectual-Principle it is hard to see why there should be only one All-Soul: but Plotinus is concerned in opposing, not so much the “superfluous multiplication.” of lower forms of Being as the multiplication of grades in the Intellectual-Realm; the ninth tractate of the Second Ennead, “Against the Gnostics,” contains an elaborate refutation of such needless subdivision of the Divine.
“One Intellectual-Principle”:— The one Divine Intellectual-Principle is, as we have seen, Intelligent no less than Intelligible (is at once the subject and object of True-Knowing). The Ideas which it contains are understood, in Philo’s sense, as Intellectual Powers:—
V. 9, 8. “No Idea is anything other than the Intellectual-Principle: each is the Intellectual-Principle; and the entire Intellectual-Principle is the entirety of the Ideas . . . as a science entire is the entirety of the truths it sums.”
IV. 8, 3. “Every Intelligence dwells in that Place of Intellection, and there, too, dwell the Intellectual-Forces, the Ideas, with all particular Intelligences; for Divine Mind is not a pure Unity but a Unity in Multiplicity.”
Hence it is that there comes to exist in the Divine a Kosmos which contains all the Ideas of things existing in the world of sense: in that Divine Realm the Divine Thoughts, imperfectly manifested below, are consummately beautiful, perfect and veritably one:—
V. 9, 9. “This sense-grasped universe is a living being including the entirety of life, but it derives its existence and the specific mode of its existence from a Power (the Soul) which is ever being led back towards the Divine Mind from which it emerged: therefore the entire exemplar of this universe must be in that Intellectual-Principle which must be, thus, a Kosmos, an ordered collectivity.”
The Three Supreme Principles are most closely linked; each of the lower derives from its prior and the entire lower universe derives from The First, but through the mediation of the Intellectual-Principle and the Soul.
The Intellectual-Principle has its intellection by virtue of the self-contemplation of the One:—
V. 1, 7. “We say the Intellectual-Principle is the image of The One. . . . But The One is not an Intellectual-Principle, how then does it engender an Intellectual-Principle? The answer is that The One has Vision and this very Vision actually is the Intellectual-Principle.”
The Soul is twofold in Act; standing between Divine Mind and Nature, it looks to both, as is indicated in the quotation from IV. 8, 3, page 139.
IV. 8, 5. “For every soul has something of the lower for the purposes of body and of the higher for the purposes of Divine Mind.”
All existents are brought back, by these channels of mediation, to the First Principle. See I. 7, 2, page 90.
IV. 3, 12. “The Intellectual-Principle entire rests ever Above but sends down to the sense-known world through the Soul which in turn gives out to its own next.”
IV. 5, 9. “All through the scheme of things, lowers are included under what is one degree less low, and highers under the higher yet; one thing under another, until the First is reached; this First, having nothing before It, can be overpassed by nothing . . . must therefore overpass all.”
Thus all follow the same line, up and down, and for their ultimate Principle all depend upon The One, which for this reason alone is called The Good:—
I. 7, 1. “The Absolute Good must be described as That to Which all things aspire and It to none.”
Compare I. 8, 2, page 93.
As to the mode in which The One or The Good is present to all and all exist and have their substantial being in It, this is conveyed, after Plotinus’ manner, by many images and metaphors. One of these illustrations makes it, so to speak, a universal Life:—
VI. 5, 12. “It is present as one Life: in a living organism the life is not seated at one point . . . it is diffused throughout the entire frame. If this seems impossible, remember that the Divine Energy knows no bound of quantity; divide it mentally for ever and It is still the same; It is fundamentally infinite; it has no touch of Matter about It so as to vary according to the magnitude of the object upon which It acts.”