Plotinus: A Conspectus of his Philosophy

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Source: Appendix to Plotinus, 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).


The translator had written copious notes with reference to many passages of the Enneads when, at last and just in time, he saw that the method of particular explanation would lead inevitably to endless repetition with not a little final ambiguity. In a good translation no single passage should be difficult to anyone having a firm grasp of the Neo-Platonic system.

After the study of the general exposition given under the heading “Terminology,” the novice will find the first difficulties wonderfully cleared by the reading of the passages selected by Preller and Ritter as embodying the main substance of the doctrine.

Since all this matter will appear, elaborately worked, in its proper place in the course of this complete rendering of the Enneads now beginning to appear, it has been judged sufficient for the immediate purpose to translate these Preller-Ritter extracts in somewhat rough-and-ready fashion; they, too, serve as a chart, merely.

The edition used is “Historia Philosophiæ Græcæ et Romanæ ex Fontium Locis contexta. . . . H. Ritter et L. Preller. . . . Gothæ, 1864.” Where the compilers had presented a flagrantly vicious text, the emendations of Volkmann have been adopted.

The Notes following each of the fourteen main extracts and embodying other extracts, are also the work of Preller and Ritter. In translation some explosions of mere learning have been suppressed and some more substantial passages, too—these last where the translator, having taken up Plotinus’ text earlier or carried it further than the compilers, found that their remarks or illustrations had become superfluous. The compilers have occasionally caught too quickly at the first apparent meaning of a passage without sufficient study of its context—a common fault in citation from the Enneads—and the notes sometimes state very bluntly matters calling for very fine distinction: the translator has sometimes judged well to vary their phrasing to meet such cases, sometimes has left the errors to be tranquilly corrected by the evidence the compilers themselves furnish.

Whatever fault may be found with the compilers or with their hasty translator, it will remain the fact that to know this Preller-Ritter Conspectus through and through is to have present to the mind a very useful and nearly adequate compendium of the system.


The Fall of the Souls: Their Return

V. 3, 9. What can be the cause that has led the souls to forget God, their Father, and, members of Him though they are, wholly His, to cease to know both themselves and Him?

The evil that has befallen them is due to a Rebellious Audacity (n) to their entry into birth (or their desire to “become”) to the Primal Differentiation (n) and to the desire of the souls to have similarly a life of their own.

They began to revel in free-will (n): they indulged their own movement: they took the wrong path: they went far astray (n): thus it was that they lost the knowledge that they sprang of that Divine Order (were members of the Triune). . . . They no longer had a true vision of The Supreme or of themselves: they dishonoured themselves by honouring the Alien in forgetfulness of their Race, by admiring all things rather than themselves. Smitten with longing for the Lower, rapt in love for it, they grew to depend upon it: so they broke away, as far as was in their power, and came to slight the lofty sphere they had abandoned. . . Nothing that so humbles itself to things that rise and perish, making itself pettier and less enduring than what it honours, nothing such can ever keep in mind the nature of God or His power.

Two appeals must be made to those that have thus fallen if they are to be set again towards the High and towards The Primals and led up to the Supreme, to the One and First.

One method exhibits to the soul the shame of the things which it now honours—of this we will treat later—the second appeal . . . leads the other and conveys it with clear conviction: it is to teach the soul, or to remind it, of its lofty race and rank.


Rebellious-Audacity:This word, tolma,—is used elsewhere in the same sense, that is to indicate the motive leading the soul, from the beginning, to desert its First Principle.

In Theologumena Arithmetica, we read, “The first Dyad separated itself from the Monad in what is called an act of rebellion or self-assertion, a tolma.”

Plotinus: V. 2, 2, says that in plants there dwells “the more rebellious and self-assertive part (or phase) of the soul.”

Primal Differentiation:This refers to the Intellectual-Principle (the Divine-Mind) which is said, VI. 9, 5, “to sunder itself from The One in an act of self-assertion.”

Self-Will:Plotinus upholds the Freedom of the Will but denies that Free-Will can consist in the power to effect things mutually contradictory. Thus, VI. 8, 21, “The greatest power is in keeping nearest to Unity: to be able to effect contradictory acts is weakness; it is to be unable to hold to the Best.”

He says that Free-Will is shown in right action not in acts done under the driving of the senses:—

III. 1, 9. “Whensoever the soul has been wrested from its own character by the force of the Outer and so acts—rushing in a blind excitement—the act or the state is not to be called an act or state of freedom; so, too, when in a self-induced corruption it answers to impulses within itself that are not entirely right, not of its highest nature: only when our soul acts by its native pure and independent Reason-Principle can the act be described as ours and as an exercise of Free-Will.”

Plotinus often affirms that the Liberty or Free-Will by which we pursue or accomplish evil is rather the very negation of freedom:—

IV. 8, 5. “All that descends to a lower state descends against its own Free-Will, but since it has followed an impulse of its own nature it is said to pay the penalty, which is no other than the very fall itself. But in the sense that such act and experience was necessary from eternity by a law of nature, then one may say, . . . that this thing, descending from what was above it to the service of something else, was sent down by God.”

On this doctrine of the alienation of the soul from God and the necessity of return by purification, see III. 6, 5: in a deeper sense he denies that we are really cut off from God: see, later, Extract X., page 148.


The Grandeur of the Soul (Human and Divine)

V. 1, 2. Before all let every Soul remember that itself is the creator of every living thing, having breathed the life into them: into all that the earth nourishes and the sea; all that are in the air and all the divine stars in the heavens; itself has formed the sun and this vast firmament of sky: itself has given them their stately ordering and leads them around in their ranks: and it is a Nature apart from all to which it gives the order and the movement and the life, and it must of necessity be more honourable than they; for they are things whose being has had a beginning, and they perish when the Soul that leads the chorus-dance of life departs, but the Soul itself has ever-being since it cannot suffer change. . . . As rays from the sun pour light upon a gloomy cloud and make it shine in a golden glory, so the Soul when it comes to body touches it to life, brings immortality to it, wakes it where it lies prostrate; and the heavenly-system, taking up its everlasting movement under the leading of the wisdom of the Soul, becomes a blissful living-being, venerable with the Soul that dwells within, a dead body before the Soul came, or rather mere darkness of Matter, Non-Being, “hated of the gods.”

What the Soul is, and what its power, will be more manifestly, more splendidly, evident, if we think how its counsel comprehends and conducts the heavens, how it communicates itself to all this vast bulk and ensouls it through all its extension, through big and little so that every particle of the great frame, though each has its own need and function and some are closely linked and some far apart, every particle has its own place in Soul.

But the Soul itself is not thus dismembered, it does not give life parcelwise, a fragment of Soul to a fragment of matter; every fragment lives by the Soul entire which is present everywhere, present as a unit and as an Universal, as is the Father that engendered it.

And the heavens, manifold in content and in spatial difference, become a Unity by the power and faculty of the Soul, and through Soul this world is a God. And the Sun too is a God, for it too is ensouled; so too the stars: and if we ourselves are anything, we come to it through the Soul: “Dead is nastier than dung.” . . .

If it is soul that gives worth, why does anyone ignore himself and follow aught else? You reverence the Soul elsewhere; then revere yourself.


(The Compilers say, “This passage evidently refers to the Soul-of-the-World”; it does, but, as they proceed to indicate, it refers also to the human Soul, as being one with the Divine All-Soul.)

The ninth treatise of the Fourth Ennead is devoted, entire, to proving That All the Souls are One Soul.

The main argument is that only bodies are separated by mass, place, limit.

IV. 9, 1. “Why should the Soul in myself be One and the Soul of the All not One? All the more why, since in the divine there is no mass, no body?”

VI. 4, 4. “The Souls are separate without being distinct; they are present to each other as one; they are no more sundered by boundaries than are the manifold elements of a science in any one mind: the one Soul is of such a nature as to include all, for it knows nothing of limits.”

Remark, however, that there is still a multiplicity of souls:—

IV. 9, 2. “We do not declare the Soul to be one in the sense of entirely excluding Multiplicity: this absolute Unity belongs only to the prior Kind (The Transcendent): we make it both one and manifold: it has part in the Nature which is divided among bodies; but it has part also in the Indivisible and so we find it One again.”

Proof of the Soul’s unity is afforded by human sympathy and by the efficacy of the magic arts:—

IV. 9, 3. “We share each others’ feelings; if we see another in distress we suffer with him; we are irresistibly impelled to form friendships: incantations and other magical practices draw us together and call out sympathetic response from afar: all this is a token to us of the unity of the Souls.”

How we are to understand the co-existence of Unity and Multiplicity in the Soul is exhibited in a neighbouring passage:—

“The Indivisible Soul (the Unity of the Soul) is seated in the Intellectual-Principle which is not divided among the bodily forms; the divisible Soul is seated within (or around) the bodies; it is essentially one in identity but, associated with different bodies, it brings sensation about, and may be called another faculty or power of the Soul; so too with (the still lower) that faculty which has creative power and procures the multiplication of bodily-life. This manifoldness of faculty does not take away unity; a seed has the power of manifold production and yet is one thing, and out of this Unity springs the unity of its produce.”

Plotinus frequently uses the simile (as above) of the Unity of knowledge to illustrate the Unity of particular Souls in the All-Soul: thus—

IV. 9, 5. “The particular Souls merge into one Soul which has given itself to form the Multiplicity and yet has kept its character: it is of a quality to remain one though it bestow itself upon all; its potency runs to all at once; it is present in every particular Soul and is the same in them all: no one need baulk at this doctrine if he will but think how a science, with all its detail, constitutes one whole: the whole remains a unity and yet is divisible into its parts.”


The Soul in Relation to its Prior, to The Intellectual-Principle

V. 1, 3. Since your Soul is so exalted a power, so divine, be confident that in virtue of its possession you are close to God. Begin, therefore, with the help of this Principle, to make your way to Him: you have not far to go; there is not much between. Lay hold of that which is more divine than this godlike thing, lay hold of that Summit of the Soul which borders on the Supreme from which the Soul immediately derives, the Intellectual-Principle of which the Soul, glorious Principle though we have shown it to be, is but an image.

For as the spoken thought is an image of the thought that was in the Soul, so the Soul is an image (or thought) of the Intellectual-Principle and is the entire activity by which the Intellectual-Principle sends forth life to the producing of later forms of Being: fire contains a warmth ever within itself and a warmth which it sends forth to do its work (and so Divine-Mind both has its own inner Act and sends forth a creative force, the Soul).

We are to take the Soul now in its loftier phase, not as an emanation, merely, but as eternally a member of the Supreme, even though in part it operates, also, elsewhere.

Springing from the Intellectual-Principle (n) it is intellective, operating in the sphere of the Divine Reason: it draws its perfection from this superior Principle which is like a cherishing father who has given it Existence though not a nature as perfect as his own.

The Soul’s substantial-existence springs from the Divine Intellect, and its expression in characteristic Act is effected by virtue of its vision of this Divine Intellect, for, as its vision penetrates into This, it possesses within itself, for its very own, what it sees no less than what it effects; nothing can be called an Act of the Soul but what it does after the mode of its intellective nature and, so, entirely in its own character: all that is lower than such act has another origin and is an accidental experience, merely.

The Soul becomes yet more divine through the Intellectual-Principle because This is at once its Father and its ever-present companion. Nothing separates the Soul and the Divine-Mind but that they are not one and identical, that the Soul is a subsequent and a recipient while the other is the Divine thing received: what serves as Matter to the Intellectual-Principle must be noble; it is itself intellective and simplex (n).

In fine, nothing more clearly shows the grandeur of Divine-Mind than that it is nobler than so noble a being as the Soul.


Springing from the Intellectual-Principle”:—Many metaphors are used to indicate how the universe rises from its principles—cast down like light from the sun, flowing forth like water from a well, branching out like a tree from the root. That from which the Emanation takes place remains ever complete, undiminished:—

III. 8, 9. “Imagine a spring which has no commencement, giving itself to all the rivers, never exhausted by what they take, ever tranquilly its full self.”

Such is the exuberance of the First that it gives forth its Emanations without premeditation.

V. 2, 1. “The One is not a Being but the source of Being which is its first offspring. The One is perfect, that is it has nothing, seeks nothing, needs nothing, but, as we may say, it overflows, and this overflowing is creative: the engendered entity . . . looks towards the One and becomes The Intellectual-Principle; resting within itself, this offspring of the One is Being.”

No idea of time or of any motion or change may be admitted in reference to this Generative Act:—

V. 1, 6. Far from our thought be any generation in time when we treat of the Ever-Existents. . . . Nor may we attribute action to the Generator. If there were action this very action would have to be counted among the Divine Principles and the engendered Hypostasis (The Intellectual-Principle) would be a Third, not a Second. The First is immobile; any second must spring from it without any assent in It, apart from Its will, without any movement in It. . . . And all things that have Being, as long as that Being inheres to them, must by the virtue that is in them, give forth from their essence an hypostasis belonging to them but going forth to the outer while still closely linked to them, an image, as it were, of this original and archetype: fire thus gives forth its heat; snow does not keep its inner cold to itself; perfumes, too, may serve in illustration; as long as they exist they spread abroad something of themselves to the pleasure of all that are near.

All that has reached its perfection produces; The Eternally Perfect produces an eternal product, though a product of less perfection than Itself.

Matter to the Intellectual-Principle”:— The Intelligible (or Intellectual)-Matter in the Divine Mind is explained in—

II. 4, 4. “If, then, the Divine Thought-Forms (The Ideas) are many, there must of necessity be something common to all and something peculiar to each to differentiate them: this particularity or specific difference is the individual shape; but if there is shape there must be something that has taken the shape . . . that is to say there is a foundation, substratum, a Matter. Further, if there is an Intellectual Kosmos of which our Kosmos is an image, and if ours is compound and includes Matter, there must be a Matter in the Intellectual Kosmos as well.


The Intellectual Principle and the Intellectual-realm in Relation to the One

V. 1, 4. If anything more is needed to establish the magnificence of Divine-Mind, look, with awe, to this sense-known Universe; consider its vastness, and its beauty and the harmony of its eternal course, the Gods within it, the seen Gods and the unseen, and the blessed spirits (n) and all the life of animal and plant. Then ascend to its Original, to its more authentic form, and There contemplate all the Intellectual Host, immortal by their own indwelling right, in the plenitude of their own conscious life: see, presiding above these, the immaculate Divine-Mind; consider that fathomless Wisdom, that veritable Saturnian Age, age of Kronos, who is Son of God and is the Intellect of the Divinity, embracing all the immortal orders—all Intelligence, every God, every soul—in His calm eternal Identity. Eternally identical this Principle must be, for what change or “otherness” could be sought There where all is well? Whither could that Being move outside Itself, having all within Itself? What increase (and, therefore, diversity) could The Most Perfect desire? In Him, in all ways consummate, all things are consummate; of all that He has, all is perfect: and of all that is within His being, all is perfect: of all that is His there is nothing that He does not know—knowing by a knowledge that is never sought but always immediately present (n); and His blessedness is nothing from without but exists, all, in the one Eternity, exists to the Divine Mind which is Itself the veritable Eternity mimicked by that Soul-circling movement of Time which is ever flinging aside the outworn and clutching at the new.

The Soul (principle of movement and author of Time) is occupied always with consecutive things—always with some single object, now Socrates, and now a horse—but Divine Mind knows all as one. Within this all things are contained at rest in Unity; it alone has Authentic Existence and Its “I am” is for ever: nowhere is there any future to It; already It is all Its infinity; nowhere any past for nothing There can pass, but, as all is True-Being There, so all holds steadfast always, all things in the divine finding joy in their state. Each Being of all that are There is Divine Mind, is Authentic Existence; and their entirety constitutes Divine Mind entire and Authentic Existence entire. This Divine Mind, through Its Act, Its Intellection, becomes Existence; and Existence, in that it is the object of the Intellection, brings to Divine Mind both Intellection and Existence.

The First Cause of the Intellectual-Principle is another Principle which is the Cause also of Existence; this Cause, distinct from either, is common to them since they have their substantial existence together, never deserting each other; so that, while they are two, they yet constitute a Unity, which Unity is at once Intellection and Existence, Thinker and Thought—the Intellectual-Principle being the Intellective Subject while Existence is the object of the Intellection (n). For the Intellection could not take place if this Intellectual Kosmos did not contain, at once, identity and difference.

Thus the Primals are Intellection (=The Intellectual-Principle) Existence, Differentiation and Identity. To these must also be added Motion and Rest (n)—Motion corresponding to the Act of Intellection, Rest to the unbroken Identity. Differentiation is implied by there being a Thinker and a Thought (an Intellectual-Principle and an object of Intellection): if this difference did not exist, all would be a silent Oneness.

There must also be a difference among the Divine Thoughts (The Ideas)—with, yet, identity since the Intellectual-Principle is one in itself, a common principle to all: this Difference is that the Ideas are distinct (i.e. it is not a difference of essential nature).

It is this Multiplicity of difference in the Divine Realm itself that produces Number and Quantity and even Quality which is the specific character of these Principles, the sources of all else that exists.


Blessed-Spirits”:—These are the Daimones.

Knowledge immediately present”:—Enquiry implies an imperfect mentality and therefore cannot be imputed to the Intellectual-Principle: the Soul has, of itself, only the Reasoning-Intelligence. Thus:—

V. 1, 10. “Our Soul is a Divine Thing, outside of the Realm of Sense as Soul-Nature must be: it is consummate when it has attached itself to the Intellectual-Principle, which in part is eternally self-wrapped in Intellection but in part is occupied abroad in leading the Soul towards Intellection.” “The higher part of the Soul,” Plotinus continues, “is ever absorbed in the Divine Mind.”

So also:—

V. 1, 11. “And if the Soul, though it must sometimes reason towards the Just and the Good, may sometimes know them immediately, there must be within us the Intellectual-Principle which never seeks but eternally knows the Right.”

All Reasoning belongs to the inferior order:—

IV. 3, 18. “Does the Soul employ Reasoning before it enters the body and when it has left body, or only while it is here? Only here, where it knows doubt and care and weakness; for Intelligence is the less self-sufficing for needing to reason, just as in the crafts or arts reasoning means hesitation in the workman, but when all is plain the craft takes its own masterly way. In the Intellectual Order there is no ratiocination and the man arrived at this degree does not employ it.”

V. 5, 1. “The Intellectual-Principle must ever know and never overlook or forget; its knowing can never come by way of conjecture, never be doubtful, never depend upon learning from without or upon any proving. This Intellectual-Principle (even in man) has nothing to do with sense-reports; it contemplates nothing outside of itself.”

The Intellective Subject and the Object of Intellection”:—Authentic-Existence and The Divine Mind are customarily named together by Plotinus as one entity: to him there is no real being except what is of the Intellectual and Intelligible order:—

V. 4, 2. “The Intellectual-Principle is Itself the Intelligible—the object of True-Knowing—and at the same time the Intelligent—the True-Knower. Real-Being and the Intellectual-Principle are identical, for the Divine Mind does not act upon Its object as sensation acts upon material things which must exist apart from the sensation: the Intellectual-Principle actually is all the Existence upon which it exercises its Act.”

So again:—

V. 1, 10. “And in sequence upon The First comes Existence, that is the Intellectual-Principle.”

This Existence (or Being) is also called Essence:—e.g. in I. 7, 1 we read of “Intelligence and Essence” where the reference is to the Second Principle, the Emanation directly proceeding from the First, the One.

Motion and Rest”:—Since the Intellectual-Principle is identical with its Act (Intellection) and with its object (Existence) it follows that Motion and Rest must be attributed to it: for “Intellection is the First Life” (III. 8, 7) and Life is identical with Act (expressive or functional activity) as we are told more than once. Compare VI. 2, 8. “Activity and movement accompany the Intellection in the Divine Mind: in Its Self-Intellection is the foundation of Essence and Being: It exists while it thinks and it knows both itself and its objects as possessing Being . . . and Being is the absolutely unmoving, the very base in which all that is most motionless is founded.”

Often, however, all motion is limited to the Soul, rest being given as the characteristic of the Intellectual-Principle:—

II. 9, 1. “The Divine Mind remains true to its own Being, ever in the one state, unmoving in its stable Act: all movement around It, as towards It, begins with Soul.”

IV. 4, 16. “Making The Good the centre, the Intellectual-Principle will be a motionless circle and the Soul a circle in motion, moved by its aspiration inwards: for the Intellectual-Principle contains The Good immediately, and the Soul must strive towards it.

The Intellectual-Principle rests ever in Itself, contemplates nothing else (except The First) never moves elsewhere and is therefore not an agent (praktikos).”

V. 3, 6. “This principle is not an agent under need of acquiring knowledge of the outer, as for instance a man must, when he goes out from himself into the business of life.”

The Soul does not of its own right and nature possess this Intellectual-Principle which merely takes possession if the Soul turns towards It:—

V. 6, 4. “The Soul possesses the Intellectual-Principle as something added to it: Intellection belongs essentially to the Intellectual-Principle.”

The Soul therefore has external action when it builds the Kosmos:—

IV. 8, 3. “The Intellective Soul has Intellection for its Act, but not Intellection unalloyed: if it had, it would be identical with its prior. To its nature as an Intellective it adds another Act which constitutes its characteristic “person” (hypostasis) and so it becomes something distinct from the Intellectual-Principle. The Soul too has its function, as every member of the Divine must; looking towards its prior, it has Intellection; looking to itself, it preserves its own essence; looking to what comes after it, to what it orders and conducts, it rules the lower world.”

Still, on deeper examination, it is discovered that all action subserves thought and is performed for purposes of contemplation:—

III. 8, 5. “All action is in view of contemplation . . . what we have not the will-power to get by the direct way we seek by the round. When we acquire what our action sought, achieve what we proposed, what is it for? Not to be ignored but to be known, to be seen: we act for the sake of some satisfaction we desire, and this not that it may remain outside the bound of our possessions but that it may be ours. This means that it be . . . where? Where but in the mind? Thus all act circles back to thought, for what the act lays up in the soul, which is a Reason-Principle, can be nothing else than a Reason-Form, a silent thought (a thought not marred by the noise of action).”

Even the very Kosmos, shaped or created by the Soul, is itself a “Contemplation” (or, as we might say, a Mentation, an intellectual activity).

III. 8, 4. “Treating of Nature we said that all engendering was a Contemplation: we come now to the Soul which is prior to Nature and say that by the Soul’s Contemplation—its zest for knowledge, its desire for experience, the birth-pangs induced in it by what it knows, its teeming plenty—the Soul, itself a Contemplation entire, has begotten another Contemplation . . . a weaker than itself.”


The Beginning of Multiplicity

V. 1, 5. This God (The Intellectual-Principle), already a Being of Multiplicity, is present in the soul. . . . But what is the God that has thus engendered; what is the Simplex, existing before all such Multiplicity, the source at once of its existence and of its Multiplicity, the source of Number itself? For Number is not primal: before the Two, there is the One (n) and the Unit must precede the Dyad: coming later than the One, the Dyad has the One as the standard of its differentiation, that without which it could not be the separate differentiated thing it is. And as soon as there is differentiation, number exists.


The need for a Principle above the Intellectual-Principle is established by the consideration that Divine Mind is, and contains, a Multiplicity: it is both Intellection and Existence and includes the Multiplicity of the Divine Thoughts, the Ideas; its Multiplicity demands a Unity to include or contain it.

III. 8, 8. “The Intellectual-Principle, thus, contains the Multiple: therefore it is not the First: there must be a Principle transcending t. . . . Multiplicity is subsequent to Unity and the Intellectual-Principle is number: the Source of this number is the One: Divine Mind, as being both the Intellectual-Principle and the Intellectual-Kosmos is twofold: as long as we have duality, we must go still higher until we reach what transcends the Dyad.”

From this it follows that nothing can be attributed to The One but what is purely Itself: if It possessed or included anything other than Itself, the One would be, again, a Multiplicity:—

V. 4, 1. “Standing transcendent above all things that follow It, existing in Itself, not mixing or to be mixed with any emanation from Itself, veritably The One, not merely possessing Oneness as an attribute of Its essence—for that would be a false Oneness—a Principle overpassing all reasoning, all knowing . . . a Principle standing over all Essence and Existence . . . only when it is simplex and First, apart from all, can It be perfectly self-sufficing: a non-primal needs its prior and a non-simplex demands the simplex which is its source.”

VI. 9, 6. “All that is multiple, and not One, is needy; made up of many elements, it craves the Unity; the Unity itself cannot crave the Unity which it is.”

Another consideration is that unless there were a Unity there could be nothing else: things are by the virtue of a Unity:—

VI. 9, 1. “All beings exist by the One—and this whether their being is primal or merely partial. . . . Take away their Unity and they lose their Being.” Plotinus goes on to instance an army, a choir, a herd, a house, a ship, planets, animals, a man: a principle of Unity makes them what they are, and this principle in them is an image, a distant reflection, of the Unity that is the essence of the all-transcending One.”

Still, in a certain mode, Multiplicity may be affirmed of The One—in that it possesses infinite power:—

VI. 9, 6. “The One must be taken to be infinite not in the sense of some mass or number never to be measured or traversed, but in the sense of inconceivable power.” And see, later, on Extract VII, page 144.


The Absolute Transcendence of The One

VI. 9, 3. Since the Nature or Hypostasis of The One is the engenderer of the All, It can Itself be none of the things in the All; that is It is not a thing; it does not possess quality or quantity; It is not an Intellectual-Principle, not a Soul; It is not in motion and not at rest; not in space, not in time; It is essentially of a unique form or rather of no-form, since it is prior to form as It is prior to movement and to rest: all these categories hold only in the realm of Existence and constitute the Multiplicity characteristic of that lower realm.


The One can be indicated only in negations:—

VI. 8, 11. “How can we make such a statement about It, seeing that all else we say of it is said by negation?”

No attribute can be affirmed of It: we penetrate to It only by mystic contemplation, the senses sealed:—

See I. 6, 8. Page 88 of this work.

The One is without thought but also without ignorance:—

VI. 9, 6. “That It neither knows nor has Intellection of Itself does not constitute any ignorance in It. Ignorance implies something outside the ignorer . . . but what stands absolutely alone neither knows anything nor has anything to ignore; being one and always present to itself it has no need of self-knowing; in fact, even that self-presence ought not to be attributed to It if we are to preserve Its unity; we must rule out all knowing and all consciousness whether of Itself or of aught else; we must conceive It not as having Intellection but as being the object of Intellection (object to the knowing of the Divine Mind).

Hence it follows that The One is not intelligible in Itself but only to the Divine Intellectual-Principle:—

V. 6, 2. “In regard to the Intellectual-Principle The One will be Intelligible, an object of true-knowing, but within Itself It will strictly neither possess Intellection nor be the object of Intellection.”

The One does not even possess will; if Plotinus, after Plato, names It The Good, even this must be understood in a modified sense:—

VI. 9, 6. “All that can be said to lack or desire, lacks or desires the Good that will complete it: The One, therefore, can experience no Good nor any will to Good; It is the Beyond-Good, or It is good, not in regard to Itself, but in regard to the lower that is capable of partaking in it.”

Similarly if It is called the Source and the Cause, this is not a definition of The One as It is in Itself but the statement of a relation in which the lower stands to It:—

VI. 8, 8. “All things, however exalted, august, are later than This: It is the source of all, though in some sense It is no source: we must keep all things apart from It . . . even freedom of action. . . . It can enter into no relation with the realm of Existence.”

VI. 9, 3. “When we call it a Cause we are not making an assertion about It but about ourselves; we speak of what we derive from It while It remains steadfastly within Itself.”

Plotinus is insistent that this name, The One, is a poor shift towards indicating a Nature which can never be expressed, of which no knowledge is possible:—

VI. 9, 5. “This Wonder, this One, to which in verity no name may be given . . . but since we must treat of It we may thus name It, but on condition of bearing in mind the special sense and guarding against confusing It with any form that may be suggested by the numerical designation.”

V. 3, 13. “Hence It can not be truly designated; any name employed makes It some thing; but That which is above all things—above that most august of Existents, the Intellectual-Principle—This alone of all is authentic; It is no thing among things; It is nameless, for It falls under no class; we can attempt no more than to use words which will in some helpful way indicate It for the purposes of discussion.”

VI. 8, 8. “Language fails even for the adequate discussion of the Transcendent, much more for defining it.”


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.

So, too:—

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.”


The Soul and the World of Nature

IV. 4, 13. How does this Wisdom (n) differ from what we know as Nature?

The distinction is that the Wisdom is an earlier, a more divine form of the Soul; for Nature, too, is an image of the Divine Wisdom, but, as the last emanation of the Soul, possesses only the lowest degree of the Reason illuminating it. . . . Nature, then, has not consciousness (n): it has merely productivity which consists in its transmitting, without choice or knowledge, to what follows upon itself, to the body-kinds and Matter-kinds, the Form which it has received from Soul.

III. 2, 2. From that Divine Kosmos, authentic and One, this lower Kosmos derives its existence: it is not a true Unity; it is manifold, subdivided into multiplicity, thing standing apart from thing in spatial differentiation; discord takes the place of harmony; where all is something less than perfect, item clashes with item; no member suffices to itself; each to complete its own function demands the aid of another and so there is general strife.

This lower Kosmos has been engendered not because the Divinity saw need for it, but from the sheer necessity there was for a secondary or derivative kind, since it was not in the constitution of existence that The Divine should be the latest and lowest of things.

The Divine is The First; it possessed, also, a multiform power, an all-power, fitted to produce other forms of being; but Its action could not be the result of seeking and planning; if there were planning, It would not possess the Kosmos as something quite Its own, something emanating from Its own Essence: It would be like a craftsman in whom creation is not an inborn personal power but an acquirement, as of a trade learned. But the Universe is the work of the undisturbed, unmoved Divine Mind giving something from Itself to Matter (n): this Gift is the Reason-Principle which flows from It.


This Wisdom” is that Soul which verges on The Intellectual-Principle, that is the superior Soul above that which deals directly with Nature and with bodily forms:—

III. 8, 4. “What we call Nature is a Soul, the offspring of a prior Soul, of a Soul living with more power.”

This prior Soul is compared elsewhere to the Celestial Aphrodite, the inferior Soul, that which is Nature, to the Earthly Aphrodite. This inferior or later soul is described as bringing Nature into being by the process by which Contemplation or Mental Purposing passes into action.

In other places Sensation in animals and the principle of growth in plants are said to be produced by an outwending or procession of the Soul:—

V. 2, 1. “The Soul, as looking to the Divine order, is perfect; going outside of itself into a movement foreign to its essence, it engenders an image which is sensitive and vegetative Nature.”

Speaking rather loosely Plotinus says, IV. 9, 4, that the multiplicity of Souls all proceed from the one Soul-of-the-All: in IV. 8, 4 we have the conception, truer to the system, that they are, rather, a multiplicity within the one Soul.

Something of Itself to Matter”:—VI. 4, 16. “This is no coming-down as into a place; the Soul’s Descent consists in its being with body; when we say that the Soul is in the body, we mean that it communicates something of its own to the body.”

The Soul “entering” the multiplicity of the sense-known world suffers, as it were, a loss of its unity, a part, a lower part, visiting the lower sphere:—

II. 9, 2. “The less exalted part of the Soul is dragged down . . . the eternal law could never allow it to descend entire.”

In joining the body it loses something of its liberty, for in all that it now does, even though the life be mainly lived in Reason, there is a certain admixture:—

VI. 8, 2. “All that has to do with action, even where Reason rules, is of mixed quality, and entire freedom cannot exist.”



I. 8, 7. “But why does the existence . . . necessity of Evil” (pages 100-101).


Plotinus goes much further than Plato in the low rank accorded to Matter. In the Enneads it is the sheer terminus of the Truly-Existent and of The Good; it is that which has nothing of reality or of value. Sometimes, however, like Plato, Plotinus makes Matter “The Other-than-Being”: cf. I. 8, 3, and I. 8, 5, pages 94, 97 of this volume.

III. 6, 7. “Matter is without body; body is of earlier date (less distant from the Divine) and merely includes Matter . . . neither is Matter a spirit or a mind, it is not life, it is not a Reason-Form or Idea, it is not a limit; it might be more nearly described as a boundlessness; it is not a power or potentiality; it produces nothing and since it is none of the things of this sphere it cannot come under the name of an Existent; it is, rather, Not-Being; and it is not even this in the sense in which Motion and Rest may be called Not-Being; it is merely a phantasm or shadow of space, an aspiration towards existence; it is present where no one sees; it ever eludes the eye that searches for it . . . it comprises all the contraries, the little and the great, the more and the less . . . it is a ghostly thing incapable alike of staying or going since it has drawn no force from the Divine: and, so, all its pretence of existence is a lie.”

From Plotinus’ doctrine it would follow that wherever there is Non-Being or defect of Being, there must be some presence of Matter; that would seem to be the case even in the Soul, even in the Divine Mind; but Plotinus will not allow Matter There (?).


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.)”


The Soul in Man

IV. 3, 15. “The Souls, in proceeding from the Intellectual Sphere, pass first to the heavens and there take a body: by means of this celestial body, as they acquire more and more of spatial extension they descend to bodies of a more earthly nature; some of the souls will have entered into a first and only body, others will have passed down from body to body; these last have not the strength to lift themselves aloft again; they are heavily burdened and numbed into forgetfulness; they carry a great weight that bears them down (n).”

IV. 3, 17. “That this is the order of descent is a matter of simple sense. The heavenly region is the most exalted of sensible space and touches the borders of the Intellectual Sphere; the sky-things are, therefore, the first to receive Soul, fitter as they are for participation in the Divine. The earthy is of later origin, is further removed from the bodiless kind and is of a nature to receive only a lesser and later soul. All the Souls, then, illuminate the heavens, shedding there the first and most powerful effulgence of their splendour (n) the lower world receives only the later rays. Those Souls that plunge deepest in the descent irradiate the lowest bodies but they themselves take no gain from that service.”

VI. 4, 14. “But we, what are we? Before our birth to the world we were in the Divine, men of another rank than now, of the order of the Gods, souls unmingled with Matter, Intellectual-Principle inbound into the entirety of Authentic-Existence; we were members of the Divine Mind, not then under limit, not cast out but wholly of the All.

“Even now we are not cast out; but upon that Primal-Man which we were, another man has been intruded . . . we are become a double person . . . and our first and loftier nature lies torpid.”


The Descent of the Souls”:—Sometimes the Descent is explained by the consideration that the Soul has need of Matter, and Matter need of Soul: cf. I. 8, 11, page 106 of this work. Sometimes it appears that a law of eternal necessity leads the Souls to follow their own temper and will, and enter a body, choosing one suited to the distinctive character of each. After this arise the forgetfulness and self-will mentioned in the first Extract as causing the fall.

First Effulgence etc.”:—Compare Extract X. page 148 of this work. The firmanent is, to Plotinus, a God; so, too, the sun and stars, Gods of the second order; for, besides the Supreme God, The One, Plotinus admits three orders of Gods: I. The Intellectual-Puissances, constituting the Divine Mind: cf. notes on Extract VII. page 144 of this volume; 2. The heavenly bodies; 3. The Daimones or “Blessed Spirits,” midway between earth and moon and between the Gods and men.

Plotinus impugns the theory of Astrology but concedes that the stars signify what is to be; this doctrine he bases on the intimate connection of all things great and small in the Universe:—

II. 3, 7. “We may think of the stars as letters being ceaselessly traced upon the sky, or traced once for all but being constantly rearranged in such a way that while they do their own work in the universe they also signify to us. The unity of an organic body enables us to reason from part to other part; from the eyes or some other organ one can judge of a man’s character, perils, resources. . . . So the Universe is full of signs, and the wise man is the man that reads the reality from the symbols.”

What are We?”:—Compare—

IV. 3, 12. “The human Souls, which can see their own image in the world as in a Dionysos’ mirror, have not abandoned their place in the Divine; for all their descent, they are not cut off from their Principle, from Divine Mind. The Intellectual-Principle does not descend with them but while they walk the earth their Summit is above the heavens.”


The Soul after Death

I. 1, 10. Page 38 of this volume.


The Soul liberated by death goes whither it has tended and as it has deserved—up to the heavens and among the stars, or in the Divine Mind itself, or into other human bodies, or yet deeper into Matter as into animals or plants. Cf. I. 8, 13, page 105 of this volume.

Plotinus does not allow that the authentic, the separable Soul, is in the body: the body is in the Soul: see I. 1, 7, page 35 of this work; and

IV. 3, 20. “The body is visible; the Soul is not: we observe that the body is possessed of Soul since it moves and feels . . . hence we are led to say that there is a Soul in it. If the Soul were an object of sight or of any sense, we should perceive that it is wrapped about the entire living being, equally covering it from extremity to extremity; we should judge that the Soul is in no way within the body but that the secondary is within its principal, the content within the container, the passing within the perdurable.”

IV. 3, 22. “The Soul is in the body only as light is in the air (permeating but not enclosed).”

The Essential Constituent of man is that prior Soul which ever remains a member of the Intellectual Realm from which it sprang: cf. I. 1, 7, page 36 of this volume.

VI. 7, 5. “The diviner Soul never leaves the Divine Mind: while it clings There, it allows the lower Soul, as it were, to hang down from it while it holds itself bound by its own Reason-Principle to the Reason-Principle of the Divine sphere to which it belongs.”

It follows that the perceptions of the senses and the perturbations of the mind do not belong to the true man but to the body or to the Couplement of Soul and body, so that the Authentic Soul is not affected but is merely aware of an affection elsewhere:—

IV. 4, 18. “Sorrow and pleasure of the sense belong to the body thus modified; pain and joy of the body come in the form of knowledge without feeling to us, to the true man.”

The virtues not philosophic but practical, or civic, belong to this Couplement—as do vices and flaws which cannot touch the true Soul: cf. I. 1, 11 and 12, page 39 of this volume. The true virtue is seated only in the true essence of the man: see I. 4, 14, page 70 of this volume.

For the true Soul, or true Man, is the Soul loosed from the body either by death or by the life of philosophic contemplation: cf. Porphyry, “There are two modes of death: one, known to every one, where the body is loosed from the Soul; the other, that of the Sages, where the Soul is released from the body: the one death may or may not be followed by the other.”

All the trouble of this life, all the vicissitudes of the earthly career touch only those that cede too much to the lower and outer:—

III. 2, 15. “Man-made weapons directed against fellow-mortals in quaintly set-out battles, like Pyrrhic dances, show what children’s games are all our human affairs; and they show us, too, that death is nothing very serious: to die in wars, in battles, is to grow old a little before one’s time; it is going away suddenly, to come back again. Or suppose that you are dispossessed of your wealth; remember that there was a time when you did not as yet possess it, and that your despoiler will either lose it in turn or find its possession a greater evil than its loss could be. Murders, death in all its shapes, the capture and sacking of towns, all must be considered as so much stage-show, so many shiftings of scenes, the horror and outcry of a play; for here, too, in all the changing doom of life, it is not the true man, the inner Soul, that grieves and laments but merely the phantasm of the man, the outer man, playing his part on the boards of the world. Who could be troubled by such griefs, except one that understands only the lower and outer life, never dreaming that all the tears and mighty business are but a sport? . . . If the Sage has to take part in the revels he will not forget that he has fallen among children and for the moment discarded his own grave truth.”


Likeness to God

I. 2, 3. Page 44 of this volume.

V. 3, 9. One that seeks to penetrate the nature of the Divine Mind must see deeply into the nature of his own Soul, into the Divinest part of himself. He must first make abstraction of the body, then of the lower soul which built up that body, then of all the faculties of sense, of all desires and emotions and every such triviality, of all that leans towards the mortal. What is left after this abstraction is the part which we describe as the image of the Divine Mind, an emanation preserving some of that Divine Light.


All the virtues are referred to the “Purification” which consists in separating the Reasonable or Intellectual Soul from the body-soul and from the body: cf. I. 6, 6, page 84 of this volume.

It is an error to seek the perfect happiness in action or in the moral (or civic) virtues, since all action belongs to the outer, to the mixed life, not to the pure Act of the prior Soul: see I. 1, 10 and the reference to Hercules in I. 1, 12, pages 38, 40, of this volume.

Our task is not merely to expel evil but to become good, not to be without fault but to be God. Still if we expel evil, the Good comes of itself:—

V. 3, 6. “The Soul, brought to its purity, welcomes the indwelling imprint of the Intellectual-Principle.”

V. 3, 6. “When we were in the Divine we rested content in the nature of the Intellectual-Principle; we had Intellection and saw all things in The One; for the Intellectual-Principle had the Intellection and spoke to the Soul of what it saw, and the Soul rested in tranquil co-operation with the activities of its prior.”

V. 3, 8. “Light is visible by light: the Intellectual-Principle sees Itself; and this Light shining upon the Soul enlightens it, that is makes it a member of the Intellective order.”


The Vision of the Supreme

VI. 9, 3. What, then, is The One and what Its nature? We cannot be surprised to find It difficult to tell of since even Existence and the Ideas resist our penetration though all our knowing is based upon the Ideas.

The further the human Soul, or Mind, ventures towards the Formless (to what is either above or below Form and Idea), the more is it troubled; it becomes itself, as it were, undefined, unshaped, in face of the shifting variety before it and so it is utterly unable to take hold; it slips away; it feels that it can grasp nothing. It is at pain in these alien places, and often is glad to give up all its purpose and to fall back upon the solid ground of the sense-grasped world and there take rest—much as the eye, wearied of the minute and fine, is eased when it meets the large and bold.

Besides, the Soul when it ventures the vision unaided thinks itself baulked from the very fact that it can see only by completely possessing its object, that is by becoming one within itself and one with The One; perfectly assimilated to the object of its contemplation, it recognises no vision. Despite all this difficulty, there is a way; and this way must be taken by those that desire the life of Wisdom within The One. That which we seek is The One, the Principle of the Universe, The Good and the First; therefore, the way is to keep ourselves in the close neighbourhood of Unity, never allowing ourselves to fall away towards the lower sphere of Multiplicity; we must keep calling ourselves back from the sense-known world . . . to the Primals, from all that is evil to the Absolute Good; we must ascend to this Principle within ourselves, making ourselves one out of our manyness; that is we must become Intellectual-Principle alone by throwing the entire Soul in confidence into the Intellectual-Principle and so establishing it There that henceforth, in the plenitude of life, it shall take to itself all that the Intellectual-Principle sees and thus shall see The One, no longer asking aid from any sense, no longer paying heed to anything that comes by sense, but with pure Intellection and the topmost Puissance of the Intellective-Principle contemplating the All-Pure.

VI. 9, 4. Our greatest difficulty is that consciousness of The One comes not by knowledge, not even by such an intuitive Intellection as possesses us of the lower members of the Intellectual Order, but by an actual Presence superior to any knowing. The Soul, when it deals with matters of knowledge, suffers a certain decline from its Unity, for knowing is still an act of reasoning, and reasoning is a multiple act, an act which leads the Soul down to the sphere of number and multiplicity. The Soul, therefore, must rise above knowledge, above all its wandering from its Unity; it must hold itself aloof from all knowing and from all the knowable and from the very contemplation of Beauty and Good, for all Beauty and Good are later than this, springing from This as the daily light springs from the sun.

Hence it is that we read of the “Greatness, not to be spoken of, not to be written.” If we here speak and write, it is but as guides to those that long to see: we send them to the Place Itself, bidding them from words to the Vision: the teaching is of the path and the plan, seeing is the work of each Soul for itself. Some there are that for all their effort have not attained the Vision: the Soul in them has come to no sense of the Splendour There; it has not taken warmth; it has not felt burning within itself the flame of love for What is There to know, the passion of the lover resting on the bosom of his love. They have received the Authentic Light; all their Soul has gleamed as they have drawn near; but, they come with a load on the shoulders which has held them back from the Place of Vision; they have not ascended in the pure integrity of their being but are burdened with that which keeps them apart; they are not yet all one within.

The Supreme is not absent from any one—and yet is absent from all; present everywhere It is absent except only to those that are prepared to receive It, those that have wrought themselves to harmony with It, that have seized It and hold It by virtue of their own Likeness to It and by the power in themselves akin to the power which rays from It: These and these only, whose Soul is again as it was when it came from out of the Divine, are free of what Vision of the Supreme Its mighty nature allows.

VI. 9, 11. The Soul restored to Likeness goes to its Like and holds of the Supreme all that Soul can hold . . . that which is before all things that are, over and apart from all the universe of Existence. This is not to say that in this plunging into the Divine the Soul reaches nothingness: it is when it is evil that it sinks towards nothingness: by this way, this that leads to the Good, it finds itself; when it is the Divine it is truly itself, no longer a thing among things. It abandons Being to become a Beyond-Being when its converse is in the Supreme. He who knows himself to have become such, knows himself now an image of the Supreme; and when the phantasm has returned to the Original, the journey is achieved. Suppose him to fall again from the Vision, he will call up the virtue within him and, seeing himself all glorious again, he will take his upward flight once more, through virtue to the Divine Mind, through the Wisdom There to the Supreme. And this is the life of the Gods, and of Godlike men, a life without love of the world, a flight of the Alone to the Alone.