Front Page Titles (by Subject) X: Soul and Body - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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X: Soul and Body - 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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Soul and Body
IV. 3, 9. The entry of a Soul into a body may take place in one of two ways. In one case it has already been in an earthly body and changes for another, or having been in a body of fire or air (an “astral” body) it enters for the first time into an earthly body. . . . In another case it has been previously outside of any body, but chooses one now and so enters for the first time into relation with the material universe. At present we are to deal only with this second case. . . . We begin with the Soul-of-the-All. . . . We must use such phrases as “entry of the Soul” and “ensouling the world,” though there never was a time when this All was without Soul, never a time when the frame of the universe held together in the absence of Soul, never a time when Matter was crude and unordered (n). We separate them, Soul and Body, Form and Matter, only to be enabled to discuss them clearly; there is no combination which the reasoning faculties may not resolve into its elements.
If Body, the body-kind, had not existed the Soul could never have gone forth from itself, for there exists no other place to which its nature would allow it to resort. If it is to go forth from itself, it must provide a suitable place; it must shape itself a body.
Now the Soul (as a Divine Hypostasis) is motionless, with an immobility rooted in immobility’s self (the immobility which is one of the Categories of the world of Authentic-Existence) but it may be thought of as a powerful light shining forth afar; at the uttermost reach of its fires there must be darkness (n): once this darkness exists the Soul must see it, and, by seeing it, give it form, for the Law could not allow anything that is near to Soul to be without some share in Divine Idea. . . .
The Kosmos, the ordered and patterned system thus produced, becomes like a stately and varied mansion not disowned by its architect though not identical with him; it is judged worthy in every inch of all its builder’s care in adding beauty to its being, as far as existence is possible to Matter and without prejudice to the Maker who presides over it from the eternal seat Above (n).
Thus is the All ensouled, with a spirit not its own but communicated to it: governed by Soul, not governing it; not so much possessing as possessed by Soul. For the Universe lies within this maintaining Spirit and no recess of it is wholly void of Soul (n): it may be compared to a net that takes all its life from being wet in the waters and still is never able to move of its own motion there, but as the sea tosses it the net is spread out, exactly to the full of its reach, no mesh of it able to push beyond its own set place.
The Soul, outside all the limits of space and quantity, is able to embrace within its unvarying force the entire body of the All, and is ever at the furthest and the nearest point which the All includes (n). The Universe spreads as broad and wide as the presence of the Soul, and it stretches as far as the outflow of life from the Soul proceeds.
“Never a time.” Plotinus makes the world eternal on the ground that there could never be a time at which the Eternal Principles were unproductive.
“Darkness”:—Cf. I. 8, 4, and I. 8, 5, pages 96-7 of this volume.
“Presides over it”:—This refers to the prior Soul. In other places Plotinus utterly denies a fall of the Soul:—
II. 9, 4. “Is it to be thought that creation comes about because the Soul has lost its wings? Such a catastrophe cannot be conceived of the Divine All-Soul. We hear of its Fall: but, why and how, and when? If it fell from all eternity, then it is eternally a fallen thing; if we fix a time, why not earlier or later? We hold that the Kosmos was produced by no such fall: the creation, rather, came about by the Soul’s not falling. If the Soul fell that could be only by its forgetting the things of the Supreme; but if it forget that Sphere, how could it create this? From what model does it work but from what it sees There? If then it creates from the vision of the Divine Realities, it can never have fallen.”
“Adding Beauty”:—“All things that exist in the Universe have Soul and vital force and are images of the eternal life in the Divine and Intellectual Kosmos. The Universe is consummate in beauty and only the witless could revile it:—
II. 9, 4. “Nor can we admit that this universe is ill-constructed because of the many flaws that may be found in it: such a complaint would rank it high indeed—as if it were the Intellectual Universe itself and not merely an image of that Divine Sphere.”
The very evil in the universe contributes towards the good: the Providence of God nowhere shines more brightly than in His power to turn evil to His purposes:—
III. 2, 5. “Vice itself is not without its usefulness to the All; it exhibits the beauty and the rightness of virtue; it calls up the intelligence to oppose the evil course; it manifests the value and grace there is in goodness by displaying the cost of sin. No doubt evil has not essentially anything to do with these purposes, but once it is there it serves in working out great ends; and only a mighty power could thus turn the ignoble to noble uses and employ to the purposes of form what has risen in formless lawlessness.”
“The Furthest and Nearest Point”:—For the world is a living-being penetrated with life, and all its members are working together towards one end:—
IV. 4, 32: “We must look upon this Universe with all the lives within it as one living-being having for all its parts one soul which reaches to every member, to every object existing in the sense-known scheme. . . . This world, by virtue of its unity, is linked in fellow-feeling; it is like one animal and its furthest extremities are near and share their experiences.”
IV. 4, 36. “The universe is very varied: all the Reason-Principles (Divine Thought-Forms) meet in it, infinitely diverse powers. . . . It is a being awake and alive at every point. . . . Each thing has its own peculiar life in the All, though we, because our senses do not discern the activity going on inside wood and stone, deny the life. . . . Their living is in secret, but they live: all that lives to our perception is composed of things that live imperceptibly and bestow upon the visibly living the powers which are manifested in the life. Man could not rise to his lofty height if his activity were determined by utterly soulless powers; nor, again, could the All be of so exalted a life unless everything in it had a life of its own; choice perhaps does not belong to these invisible lives, but their activity has no need of choice; they are of earlier origin than choice (i.e. they act by an “instinct” nearer to the Divine intuition) and therefore have far-reaching efficiency.”
To this general idea are hinged Plotinus’ theory of the sacredness of temples and statues and upon the efficacy of Magic:—
IV. 3, 11. “The olden sages, in seeking to procure the presence of the Gods by erecting temples and statues, seem to me to have possessed deep insight into the nature of the universe: They felt the All-Soul to be a Principle ever at our call; it is but fitly preparing a place in which some phase of it may be received, and a thing is always fit to receive the operation of the Soul when it is brought to the condition of a mirror, apt to catch the image.”
IV. 4, 26. “Our prayers are heard in the sense that they fit into the linked scheme of the All; they are effective by virtue of the same universal harmony. This is the secret of Magic also.”
IV. 4, 40. “Enchantment is possible because of the fellow-feeling and accordant nature of like things and also through the unlikeness that, equally, exists; in sum through the variety in the forces which co-operate to the constitution of one living-being. Even without human intervention there is much magical operation: the true magic is the Love reigning in the Universe—and the Hate, as well.” . . . (Prayer and Magic, Plotinus explains, are efficient through the one cause:—“the sympathy which every part of the Universe has for every other: twitch at any one point a rope hanging free, and it swings through all its length; touch one chord of a lyre and every other chord resounds . . . much more must the universe respond to any single action since it embraces all things, even contraries, reconciled into a perfect harmony.)”