The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Second Tractate.

The Heavenly Circuit.

1. But whence that circular movement?

In imitation of the Intellectual-Principle.

And does this movement belong to the material part or to the Soul? Can we account for it on the ground that the Soul has itself at once for centre and for the goal to which it must be ceaselessly moving; or that, being self-centred it is not of unlimited extension [and consequently must move ceaselessly to be omnipresent], and that its revolution carries the material mass with it?

If the Soul had been the moving power [by any such semi-physical action] it would be so no longer; it would have accomplished the act of moving and have brought the universe to rest; there would be an end of this endless revolution.

In fact the Soul must be in repose or at least cannot have spatial movement; how then, having itself a movement of quite another order, could it communicate spatial movement?

But perhaps the circular movement [of the Kosmos as soul and body] is not spatial or is spatial not primarily but only incidentally.

What, by this explanation, would be the essential movement of the kosmic soul?

A movement towards itself, the movement of self-awareness, of self-intellection, of the living of its life, the movement of its reaching to all things so that nothing shall lie outside of it, nothing anywhere but within its scope.

The dominant in a living thing is what compasses it entirely and makes it a unity.

If the Soul has no motion of any kind, it would not vitally compass the Kosmos nor would the Kosmos, a thing of body, keep its content alive, for the life of body is movement.

Any spatial motion there is will be limited; it will be not that of Soul untrammelled but that of a material frame ensouled, an animated organism; the movement will be partly of body, partly of Soul, the body tending to the straight line which its nature imposes, the Soul restraining it; the resultant will be the compromise movement of a thing at once carried forward and at rest.

But supposing that the circular movement is to be attributed to the body, how is it to be explained, since all body, including fire [which constitutes the heavens] has straightforward motion?

The answer is that forthright movement is maintained only pending arrival at the place for which the moving thing is destined: where a thing is ordained to be, there it seeks, of its nature, to come for its rest; its motion is its tendence to its appointed place.

Then, since the fire of the sidereal system has attained its goal, why does it not stay at rest?

Evidently because the very nature of fire is to be mobile: if it did not take the curve, its straight line would finally fling it outside the universe: the circular course, then, is imperative.

But this would imply an act of providence?

Not quite: rather its own act under providence; attaining to that realm, it must still take the circular course by its indwelling nature; for it seeks the straight path onwards but finds no further space and is driven back so that it recoils on the only course left to it: there is nothing beyond; it has reached the ultimate; it runs its course in the regions it occupies, itself its own sphere, not destined to come to rest there, existing to move.

Further, the centre of a circle [and therefore of the Kosmos] is distinctively a point of rest: if the circumference outside were not in motion, the universe would be no more than one vast centre. And movement around the centre is all the more to be expected in the case of a living thing whose nature binds it within a body. Such motion alone can constitute its impulse towards its centre: it cannot coincide with the centre, for then there would be no circle; since this may not be, it whirls about it; so only can it indulge its tendence.

If, on the other hand, the Kosmic circuit is due to the Soul, we are not to think of a painful driving [wearing it down at last]; the soul does not use violence or in any way thwart nature, for “Nature” is no other than the custom the All-Soul has established. Omnipresent in its entirety, incapable of division, the Soul of the universe communicates that quality of universal presence to the heavens, too, in their degree, the degree, that is, of pursuing universality and advancing towards it.

If the Soul halted anywhere, there the Kosmos, too, brought so far, would halt: but the Soul encompasses all, and so the Kosmos moves, seeking everything.

Yet never to attain?

On the contrary this very motion is its eternal attainment.

Or, better; the Soul is ceaselessly leading the Kosmos towards itself: the continuous attraction communicates a continuous movement — not to some outside space but towards the Soul and in the one sphere with it, not in the straight line [which would ultimately bring the moving body outside and below the Soul], but in the curving course in which the moving body at every stage possesses the Soul that is attracting it and bestowing itself upon it.

If the soul were stationary, that is if [instead of presiding over a Kosmos] it dwelt wholly and solely in the realm in which every member is at rest, motion would be unknown; but, since the Soul is not fixed in some one station There, the Kosmos must travel to every point in quest of it, and never outside it: in a circle, therefore.

2. And what of lower things? [Why have they not this motion?]

[Their case is very different]: the single thing here is not an all but a part and limited to a given segment of space; that other realm is all, is space, so to speak, and is subject to no hindrance or control, for in itself it is all that is.

And men?

As a self, each is a personal whole, no doubt; but as member of the universe, each is a partial thing.

But if, wherever the circling body be, it possesses the Soul, what need of the circling?

Because everywhere it finds something else besides the Soul [which it desires to possess alone].

The circular movement would be explained, too, if the Soul’s power may be taken as resident at its centre.

Here, however, we must distinguish between a centre in reference to the two different natures, body and Soul.

In body, centre is a point of place; in Soul it is a source, the source of some other nature. The word, which without qualification would mean the midpoint of a spheric mass, may serve in the double reference; and, as in a material mass so in the Soul, there must be a centre, that around which the object, Soul or material mass, revolves.

The Soul exists in revolution around God to whom it clings in love, holding itself to the utmost of its power near to Him as the Being on which all depends; and since it cannot coincide with God it circles about Him.

Why then do not all souls [i.e., the lower, also, as those of men and animals] thus circle about the Godhead?

Every Soul does in its own rank and place.

And why not our very bodies, also?

Because the forward path is characteristic of body and because all the body’s impulses are to other ends and because what in us is of this circling nature is hampered in its motion by the clay it bears with it, while in the higher realm everything flows on its course, lightly and easily, with nothing to check it, once there is any principle of motion in it at all.

And it may very well be that even in us the Spirit which dwells with the Soul does thus circle about the divinity. For since God is omnipresent the Soul desiring perfect union must take the circular course: God is not stationed.

Similarly Plato attributes to the stars not only the spheric movement belonging to the universe as a whole but also to each a revolution around their common centre; each — not by way of thought but by links of natural necessity — has in its own place taken hold of God and exults.

3. The truth may be resumed in this way:

There is a lowest power of the Soul, a nearest to earth, and this is interwoven throughout the entire universe: another phase possesses sensation, while yet another includes the Reason which is concerned with the objects of sensation: this higher phase holds itself to the spheres, poised towards the Above but hovering over the lesser Soul and giving forth to it an effluence which makes it more intensely vital.

The lower Soul is moved by the higher which, besides encircling and supporting it, actually resides in whatsoever part of it has thrust upwards and attained the spheres. The lower then, ringed round by the higher and answering its call, turns and tends towards it; and this upward tension communicates motion to the material frame in which it is involved: for if a single point in a spheric mass is in any degree moved, without being drawn away from the rest, it moves the whole, and the sphere is set in motion. Something of the same kind happens in the case of our bodies: the unspatial movement of the Soul — in happiness, for instance, or at the idea of some pleasant event — sets up a spatial movement in the body: the Soul, attaining in its own region some good which increases its sense of life, moves towards what pleases it; and so, by force of the union established in the order of nature, it moves the body, in the body’s region, that is in space.

As for that phase of the Soul in which sensation is vested, it, too, takes its good from the Supreme above itself and moves, rejoicingly, in quest of it: and since the object of its desire is everywhere, it too ranges always through the entire scope of the universe.

The Intellectual-Principle has no such progress in any region; its movement is a stationary act, for it turns upon itself.

And this is why the All, circling as it does, is at the same time at rest.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24