The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Third Tractate.

Are the Stars Causes?

1. That the circuit of the stars indicates definite events to come but without being the cause direct of all that happens, has been elsewhere affirmed, and proved by some modicum of argument: but the subject demands more precise and detailed investigation for to take the one view rather than the other is of no small moment.

The belief is that the planets in their courses actually produce not merely such conditions as poverty, wealth, health and sickness but even ugliness and beauty and, gravest of all, vices and virtue and the very acts that spring from these qualities, the definite doings of each moment of virtue or vice. We are to suppose the stars to be annoyed with men — and upon matters in which men, moulded to what they are by the stars themselves, can surely do them no wrong.

They will be distributing what pass for their good gifts, not out of kindness towards the recipients but as they themselves are affected pleasantly or disagreeably at the various points of their course; so that they must be supposed to change their plans as they stand at their zeniths or are declining.

More absurdly still, some of them are supposed to be malicious and others to be helpful, and yet the evil stars will bestow favours and the benevolent act harshly: further, their action alters as they see each other or not, so that, after all, they possess no definite nature but vary according to their angles of aspect; a star is kindly when it sees one of its fellows but changes at sight of another: and there is even a distinction to be made in the seeing as it occurs in this figure or in that. Lastly, all acting together, the fused influence is different again from that of each single star, just as the blending of distinct fluids gives a mixture unlike any of them.

Since these opinions and others of the same order are prevalent, it will be well to examine them carefully one by one, beginning with the fundamental question:

2. Are these planets to be thought of as soulless or unsouled?

Suppose them, first, to be without Soul.

In that case they can purvey only heat or cold — if cold from the stars can be thought of — that is to say, any communication from them will affect only our bodily nature, since all they have to communicate to us is merely corporeal. This implies that no considerable change can be caused in the bodies affected since emanations merely corporeal cannot differ greatly from star to star, and must, moreover, blend upon earth into one collective resultant: at most the differences would be such as depend upon local position, upon nearness or farness with regard to the centre of influence. This reasoning, of course, is as valid of any cold emanation there may be as of the warm.

Now, what is there in such corporeal action to account for the various classes and kinds of men, learned and illiterate, scholars as against orators, musicians as against people of other professions? Can a power merely physical make rich or poor? Can it bring about such conditions as in no sense depend upon the interaction of corporeal elements? Could it, for example, bring a man such and such a brother, father, son, or wife, give him a stroke of good fortune at a particular moment, or make him generalissimo or king?

Next, suppose the stars to have life and mind and to be effective by deliberate purpose.

In that case, what have they suffered from us that they should, in free will, do us hurt, they who are established in a divine place, themselves divine? There is nothing in their nature of what makes men base, nor can our weal or woe bring them the slightest good or ill.

3. Possibly, however, they act not by choice but under stress of their several positions and collective figures?

But if position and figure determined their action each several one would necessarily cause identical effects with every other on entering any given place or pattern.

And that raises the question what effect for good or bad can be produced upon any one of them by its transit in the parallel of this or that section of the Zodiac circle — for they are not in the Zodiacal figure itself but considerably beneath it especially since, whatever point they touch, they are always in the heavens.

It is absurd to think that the particular grouping under which a star passes can modify either its character or its earthward influences. And can we imagine it altered by its own progression as it rises, stands at centre, declines? Exultant when at centre; dejected or enfeebled in declension; some raging as they rise and growing benignant as they set, while declension brings out the best in one among them; surely this cannot be?

We must not forget that invariably every star, considered in itself, is at centre with regard to some one given group and in decline with regard to another and vice versa; and, very certainly, it is not at once happy and sad, angry and kindly. There is no reasonable escape in representing some of them as glad in their setting, others in their rising: they would still be grieving and glad at one and the same time.

Further, why should any distress of theirs work harm to us?

No: we cannot think of them as grieving at all or as being cheerful upon occasions: they must be continuously serene, happy in the good they enjoy and the Vision before them. Each lives its own free life; each finds its Good in its own Act; and this Act is not directed towards us.

Like the birds of augury, the living beings of the heavens, having no lot or part with us, may serve incidentally to foreshow the future, but they have absolutely no main function in our regard.

4. It is again not in reason that a particular star should be gladdened by seeing this or that other while, in a second couple, such an aspect is distressing: what enmities can affect such beings? what causes of enmity can there be among them?

And why should there be any difference as a given star sees certain others from the corner of a triangle or in opposition or at the angle of a square?

Why, again, should it see its fellow from some one given position and yet, in the next Zodiacal figure, not see it, though the two are actually nearer?

And, the cardinal question; by what conceivable process could they affect what is attributed to them? How explain either the action of any single star independently or, still more perplexing, the effect of their combined intentions?

We cannot think of them entering into compromises, each renouncing something of its efficiency and their final action in our regard amounting to a concerted plan.

No one star would suppress the contribution of another, nor would star yield to star and shape its conduct under suasion.

As for the fancy that while one is glad when it enters another’s region, the second is vexed when in its turn it occupies the place of the first, surely this is like starting with the supposition of two friends and then going on to talk of one being attracted to the other who, however, abhors the first.

5. When they tell us that a certain cold star is more benevolent to us in proportion as it is further away, they clearly make its harmful influence depend upon the coldness of its nature; and yet it ought to be beneficent to us when it is in the opposed Zodiacal figures.

When the cold planet, we are told, is in opposition to the cold, both become meanacing: but the natural effect would be a compromise.

And we are asked to believe that one of them is happy by day and grows kindly under the warmth, while another, of a fiery nature, is most cheerful by night — as if it were not always day to them, light to them, and as if the first one could be darkened by night at that great distance above the earth’s shadow.

Then there is the notion that the moon, in conjunction with a certain star, is softened at her full but is malignant in the same conjunction when her light has waned; yet, if anything of this order could be admitted, the very opposite would be the case. For when she is full to us she must be dark on the further hemisphere, that is to that star which stands above her; and when dark to us she is full to that other star, upon which only then, on the contrary, does she look with her light. To the moon itself, in fact, it can make no difference in what aspect she stands, for she is always lit on the upper or on the under half: to the other star, the warmth from the moon, of which they speak, might make a difference; but that warmth would reach it precisely when the moon is without light to us; at its darkest to us it is full to that other, and therefore beneficent. The darkness of the moon to us is of moment to the earth, but brings no trouble to the planet above. That planet, it is alleged, can give no help on account of its remoteness and therefore seems less well disposed; but the moon at its full suffices to the lower realm so that the distance of the other is of no importance. When the moon, though dark to us, is in aspect with the Fiery Star she is held to be favourable: the reason alleged is that the force of Mars is all-sufficient since it contains more fire than it needs.

The truth is that while the material emanations from the living beings of the heavenly system are of various degrees of warmth — planet differing from planet in this respect — no cold comes from them: the nature of the space in which they have their being is voucher for that.

The star known as Jupiter includes a due measure of fire [and warmth], in this resembling the Morning-star and therefore seeming to be in alliance with it. In aspect with what is known as the Fiery Star, Jupiter is beneficent by virtue of the mixing of influences: in aspect with Saturn unfriendly by dint of distance. Mercury, it would seem, is indifferent whatever stars it be in aspect with; for it adopts any and every character.

But all the stars are serviceable to the Universe, and therefore can stand to each other only as the service of the Universe demands, in a harmony like that observed in the members of any one animal form. They exist essentially for the purpose of the Universe, just as the gall exists for the purposes of the body as a whole not less than for its own immediate function: it is to be the inciter of the animal spirits but without allowing the entire organism and its own especial region to run riot. Some such balance of function was indispensable in the All — bitter with sweet. There must be differentiation — eyes and so forth — but all the members will be in sympathy with the entire animal frame to which they belong. Only so can there be a unity and a total harmony.

And in such a total, analogy will make every part a Sign.

6. But that this same Mars, or Aphrodite, in certain aspects should cause adulteries — as if they could thus, through the agency of human incontinence, satisfy their own mutual desires — is not such a notion the height of unreason? And who could accept the fancy that their happiness comes from their seeing each other in this or that relative position and not from their own settled nature?

Again: countless myriads of living beings are born and continue to be: to minister continuously to every separate one of these; to make them famous, rich, poor, lascivious; to shape the active tendencies of every single one — what kind of life is this for the stars, how could they possibly handle a task so huge?

They are to watch, we must suppose, the rising of each several constellation and upon that signal to act; such a one, they see, has risen by so many degrees, representing so many of the periods of its upward path; they reckon on their fingers at what moment they must take the action which, executed prematurely, would be out of order: and in the sum, there is no One Being controlling the entire scheme; all is made over to the stars singly, as if there were no Sovereign Unity, standing as source of all the forms of Being in subordinate association with it, and delegating to the separate members, in their appropriate Kinds, the task of accomplishing its purposes and bringing its latent potentiality into act.

This is a separatist theory, tenable only by minds ignorant of the nature of a Universe which has a ruling principle and a first cause operative downwards through every member.

7. But, if the stars announce the future — as we hold of many other things also — what explanation of the cause have we to offer? What explains the purposeful arrangement thus implied? Obviously, unless the particular is included under some general principle of order, there can be no signification.

We may think of the stars as letters perpetually being inscribed on the heavens or inscribed once for all and yet moving as they pursue the other tasks allotted to them: upon these main tasks will follow the quality of signifying, just as the one principle underlying any living unit enables us to reason from member to member, so that for example we may judge of character and even of perils and safeguards by indications in the eyes or in some other part of the body. If these parts of us are members of a whole, so are we: in different ways the one law applies.

All teems with symbol; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another, a process familiar to all of us in not a few examples of everyday experience.

But what is the comprehensive principle of co-ordination? Establish this and we have a reasonable basis for the divination, not only by stars but also by birds and other animals, from which we derive guidance in our varied concerns.

All things must be enchained; and the sympathy and correspondence obtaining in any one closely knit organism must exist, first, and most intensely, in the All. There must be one principle constituting this unit of many forms of life and enclosing the several members within the unity, while at the same time, precisely as in each thing of detail the parts too have each a definite function, so in the All each several member must have its own task — but more markedly so since in this case the parts are not merely members but themselves Alls, members of the loftier Kind.

Thus each entity takes its origin from one Principle and, therefore, while executing its own function, works in with every other member of that All from which its distinct task has by no means cut it off: each performs its act, each receives something from the others, every one at its own moment bringing its touch of sweet or bitter. And there is nothing undesigned, nothing of chance, in all the process: all is one scheme of differentiation, starting from the Firsts and working itself out in a continuous progression of Kinds.

8. Soul, then, in the same way, is intent upon a task of its own; alike in its direct course and in its divagation it is the cause of all by its possession of the Thought of the First Principle: thus a Law of Justice goes with all that exists in the Universe which, otherwise, would be dissolved, and is perdurable because the entire fabric is guided as much by the orderliness as by the power of the controlling force. And in this order the stars, as being no minor members of the heavenly system, are co-operators contributing at once to its stately beauty and to its symbolic quality. Their symbolic power extends to the entire realm of sense, their efficacy only to what they patently do.

For our part, nature keeps us upon the work of the Soul as long as we are not wrecked in the multiplicity of the Universe: once thus sunk and held we pay the penalty, which consists both in the fall itself and in the lower rank thus entailed upon us: riches and poverty are caused by the combinations of external fact.

And what of virtue and vice?

That question has been amply discussed elsewhere: in a word, virtue is ours by the ancient staple of the Soul; vice is due to the commerce of a Soul with the outer world.

9. This brings us to the Spindle-destiny, spun according to the ancients by the Fates. To Plato the Spindle represents the co-operation of the moving and the stable elements of the kosmic circuit: the Fates with Necessity, Mother of the Fates, manipulate it and spin at the birth of every being, so that all comes into existence through Necessity.

In the Timaeus, the creating God bestows the essential of the Soul, but it is the divinities moving in the kosmos [the stars] that infuse the powerful affections holding from Necessity our impulse and our desire, our sense of pleasure and of pain — and that lower phase of the Soul in which such experiences originate. By this statement our personality is bound up with the stars, whence our Soul [as total of Principle and affections] takes shape; and we are set under necessity at our very entrance into the world: our temperament will be of the stars’ ordering, and so, therefore, the actions which derive from temperament, and all the experiences of a nature shaped to impressions.

What, after all this, remains to stand for the “We”?

The “We” is the actual resultant of a Being whose nature includes, with certain sensibilities, the power of governing them. Cut off as we are by the nature of the body, God has yet given us, in the midst of all this evil, virtue the unconquerable, meaningless in a state of tranquil safety but everything where its absence would be peril of fall.

Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled — the bodily element dominant with a trace of Soul running through it and a resultant life-course mainly of the body — for in such a combination all is, in fact, bodily. There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, towards the good and divine, towards that Principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally, the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by It — unless one choose to go bereaved of that higher Soul and therefore, to live fate-bound, no longer profiting, merely, by the significance of the sidereal system but becoming as it were a part sunken in it and dragged along with the whole thus adopted.

For every human Being is of twofold character; there is that compromise-total and there is the Authentic Man: and it is so with the Kosmos as a whole; it is in the one phase a conjunction of body with a certain form of the Soul bound up in body; in the other phase it is the Universal Soul, that which is not itself embodied but flashes down its rays into the embodied Soul: and the same twofold quality belongs to the Sun and the other members of the heavenly system.

To the remoter Soul, the pure, sun and stars communicate no baseness. In their efficacy upon the [material] All, they act as parts of it, as ensouled bodies within it; and they act only upon what is partial; body is the agent while, at the same time, it becomes the vehicle through which is transmitted something of the star’s will and of that authentic Soul in it which is steadfastly in contemplation of the Highest.

But [with every allowance to the lower forces] all follows either upon that Highest or rather upon the Beings about It — we may think of the Divine as a fire whose outgoing warmth pervades the Universe — or upon whatsoever is transmitted by the one Soul [the divine first Soul] to the other, its Kin [the Soul of any particular being]. All that is graceless is admixture. For the Universe is in truth a thing of blend, and if we separate from it that separable Soul, the residue is little. The All is a God when the divine Soul is counted in with it; “the rest,” we read, “is a mighty spirit and its ways are subdivine.”

10. If all this be true, we must at once admit signification, though, neither singly nor collectively, can we ascribe to the stars any efficacy except in what concerns the [material] All and in what is of their own function.

We must admit that the Soul before entering into birth presents itself bearing with it something of its own, for it could never touch body except under stress of a powerful inner impulse; we must admit some element of chance around it from its very entry, since the moment and conditions are determined by the kosmic circuit: and we must admit some effective power in that circuit itself; it is co-operative, and completes of its own act the task that belongs to the All of which everything in the circuit takes the rank and function of a part.

11. And we must remember that what comes from the supernals does not enter into the recipients as it left the source; fire, for instance, will be duller; the loving instinct will degenerate and issue in ugly forms of the passion; the vital energy in a subject not so balanced as to display the mean of manly courage, will come out as either ferocity or faint-heartedness; and ambition . . . in love . . .; and the instinct towards good sets up the pursuit of semblant beauty; intellectual power at its lowest produces the extreme of wickedness, for wickedness is a miscalculating effort towards Intelligence.

Any such quality, modified at best from its supreme form, deteriorates again within itself: things of any kind that approach from above, altered by merely leaving their source change further still by their blending with bodies, with Matter, with each other.

12. All that thus proceeds from the supernal combines into a unity and every existing entity takes something from this blended infusion so that the result is the thing itself plus some quality. The effluence does not make the horse but adds something to it; for horse comes by horse, and man by man: the sun plays its part no doubt in the shaping, but the man has his origin in the Human-Principle. Outer things have their effect, sometimes to hurt and sometimes to help; like a father, they often contribute to good but sometimes also to harm; but they do not wrench the human being from the foundations of its nature; though sometimes Matter is the dominant, and the human principle takes the second place so that there is a failure to achieve perfection; the Ideal has been attenuated.

13. Of phenomena of this sphere some derive from the Kosmic Circuit and some not: we must take them singly and mark them off, assigning to each its origin.

The gist of the whole matter lies in the consideration that Soul governs this All by the plan contained in the Reason-Principle and plays in the All exactly the part of the particular principle which in every living-thing forms the members of the organism and adjusts them to the unity of which they are portions; the entire force of the Soul is represented in the All, but, in the parts, Soul is present only in proportion to the degree of essential reality held by each of such partial objects. Surrounding every separate entity there are other entities, whose approach will sometimes be hostile and sometimes helpful to the purpose of its nature; but to the All taken in its length and breadth each and every separate existent is an adjusted part, holding its own characteristic and yet contributing by its own native tendency to the entire life-history of the Universe.

The soulless parts of the All are merely instruments; all their action is effected, so to speak, under a compulsion from outside themselves.

The ensouled fall into two classes. The one kind has a motion of its own, but haphazard like that of horses between the shafts but before their driver sets the course; they are set right by the whip. In the Living-Being possessed of Reason, the nature-principle includes the driver; where the driver is intelligent, it takes in the main a straight path to a set end. But both classes are members of the All and co-operate towards the general purpose.

The greater and most valuable among them have an important operation over a wide range: their contribution towards the life of the whole consists in acting, not in being acted upon; others, but feebly equipped for action, are almost wholly passive; there is an intermediate order whose members contain within themselves a principle of productivity and activity and make themselves very effective in many spheres or ways and yet serve also by their passivity.

Thus the All stands as one all-complete Life, whose members, to the measure in which each contains within itself the Highest, effect all that is high and noble: and the entire scheme must be subordinate to its Dirigeant as an army to its general, “following upon Zeus”— it has been said —“as he proceeds towards the Intelligible Kind.”

Secondary in the All are those of its parts which possess a less exalted nature just as in us the members rank lower than the Soul; and so all through, there is a general analogy between the things of the All and our own members — none of quite equal rank.

All living things, then — all in the heavens and all elsewhere — fall under the general Reason-Principle of the All — they have been made parts with a view to the whole: not one of these parts, however exalted, has power to effect any alteration of these Reason-Principles or of things shaped by them and to them; some modification one part may work upon another, whether for better or for worse; but there is no power that can wrest anything outside of its distinct nature.

The part effecting such a modification for the worse may act in several ways.

It may set up some weakness restricted to the material frame. Or it may carry the weakness through to the sympathetic Soul which by the medium of the material frame, become a power to debasement, has been delivered over, though never in its essence, to the inferior order of being. Or, in the case of a material frame ill-organized, it may check all such action [of the Soul] upon the material frame as demands a certain collaboration in the part acted upon: thus a lyre may be so ill-strung as to be incapable of the melodic exactitude necessary to musical effect.

14. What of poverty and riches, glory and power?

In the case of inherited fortune, the stars merely announce a rich man, exactly as they announce the high social standing of the child born to a distinguished house.

Wealth may be due to personal activity: in this case if the body has contributed, part of the effect is due to whatever has contributed towards the physical powers, first the parents and then, if place has had its influence, sky and earth; if the body has borne no part of the burden, then the success, and all the splendid accompaniments added by the Recompensers, must be attributed to virtue exclusively. If fortune has come by gift from the good, then the source of the wealth is, again, virtue: if by gift from the evil, but to a meritorious recipient, then the credit must be given to the action of the best in them: if the recipient is himself unprincipled, the wealth must be attributed primarily to the very wickedness and to whatsoever is responsible for the wickedness, while the givers bear an equal share in the wrong.

When the success is due to labour, tillage for example, it must be put down to the tiller, with all his environment as contributory. In the case of treasure-trove, something from the All has entered into action; and if this be so, it will be foreshown — since all things make a chain, so that we can speak of things universally. Money is lost: if by robbery, the blame lies with the robber and the native principle guiding him: if by shipwreck, the cause is the chain of events. As for good fame, it is either deserved and then is due to the services done and to the merit of those appraising them, or it is undeserved, and then must be attributed to the injustice of those making the award. And the same principle holds is regards power — for this also may be rightly or unrightly placed — it depends either upon the merit of the dispensers of place or upon the man himself who has effected his purpose by the organization of supporters or in many other possible ways. Marriages, similarly, are brought about either by choice or by chance interplay of circumstance. And births are determined by marriages: the child is moulded true to type when all goes well; otherwise it is marred by some inner detriment, something due to the mother personally or to an environment unfavourable to that particular conception.

15. According to Plato, lots and choice play a part [in the determination of human conditions] before the Spindle of Necessity is turned; that once done, only the Spindle-destiny is valid; it fixes the chosen conditions irretrievably since the elected guardian-spirit becomes accessory to their accomplishment.

But what is the significance of the Lots?

By the Lots we are to understand birth into the conditions actually existent in the All at the particular moment of each entry into body, birth into such and such a physical frame, from such and such parents, in this or that place, and generally all that in our phraseology is the External.

For Particulars and Universals alike it is established that to the first of those known as the Fates, to Clotho the Spinner, must be due the unity and as it were interweaving of all that exists: Lachesis presides over the Lots: to Atropos must necessarily belong the conduct of mundane events.

Of men, some enter into life as fragments of the All, bound to that which is external to themselves: they are victims of a sort of fascination, and are hardly, or not at all, themselves: but others mastering all this — straining, so to speak, by the head towards the Higher, to what is outside even the Soul — preserve still the nobility and the ancient privilege of the Soul’s essential being.

For certainly we cannot think of the Soul as a thing whose nature is just a sum of impressions from outside — as if it, alone, of all that exists, had no native character.

No: much more than all else, the Soul, possessing the Idea which belongs to a Principle, must have as its native wealth many powers serving to the activities of its Kind. It is an Essential-Existent and with this Existence must go desire and act and the tendency towards some good.

While body and soul stand one combined thing, there is a joint nature, a definite entity having definite functions and employments; but as soon as any Soul is detached, its employments are kept apart, its very own: it ceases to take the body’s concerns to itself: it has vision now: body and soul stand widely apart.

16. The question arises what phase of the Soul enters into the union for the period of embodiment and what phase remains distinct, what is separable and what necessarily interlinked, and in general what the Living-Being is.

On all this there has been a conflict of teaching: the matter must be examined later on from quite other considerations than occupy us here. For the present let us explain in what sense we have described the All as the expressed idea of the Governing Soul.

One theory might be that the Soul creates the particular entities in succession — man followed by horse and other animals domestic or wild: fire and earth, though, first of all — that it watches these creations acting upon each other whether to help or to harm, observes, and no more, the tangled web formed of all these strands, and their unfailing sequences; and that it makes no concern of the result beyond securing the reproduction of the primal living-beings, leaving them for the rest to act upon each other according to their definite natures.

Another view makes the soul answerable for all that thus comes about, since its first creations have set up the entire enchainment.

No doubt the Reason-Principle [conveyed by the Soul] covers all the action and experience of this realm: nothing happens, even here, by any form of haphazard; all follows a necessary order.

Is everything, then, to be attributed to the act of the Reason-Principles?

To their existence, no doubt, but not to their effective action; they exist and they know; or better, the Soul, which contains the engendering Reason-Principle, knows the results of all it has brought to pass. For whensoever similar factors meet and act in relation to each other, similar consequences must inevitably ensue: the Soul adopting or foreplanning the given conditions accomplishes the due outcome and links all into a total.

All, then, is antecedent and resultant, each sequent becoming in turn an antecedent once it has taken its place among things. And perhaps this is a cause of progressive deterioration: men, for instance, are not as they were of old; by dint of interval and of the inevitable law, the Reason-Principles have ceded something to the characteristics of the Matter.

But:

The Soul watches the ceaselessly changing universe and follows all the fate of all its works: this is its life, and it knows no respite from this care, but is ever labouring to bring about perfection, planning to lead all to an unending state of excellence — like a farmer, first sowing and planting and then constantly setting to rights where rainstorms and long frosts and high gales have played havoc.

If such a conception of Soul be rejected as untenable, we are obliged to think that the Reason-Principles themselves foreknew or even contained the ruin and all the consequences of flaw.

But then we would be imputing the creation of evil to the Reason-Principles, though the arts and their guiding principle do not include blundering, do not cover the inartistic, the destruction of the work of art.

And here it will be objected that in All there is nothing contrary to nature, nothing evil.

Still, by the side of the better there exists also what is less good.

Well, perhaps even the less good has its contributory value in the All. Perhaps there is no need that everything be good. Contraries may co-operate; and without opposites there could be no ordered Universe: all living beings of the partial realm include contraries. The better elements are compelled into existence and moulded to their function by the Reason-Principle directly; the less good are potentially present in the Reason-Principles, actually present in the phenomena themselves; the Soul’s power had reached its limit, and failed to bring the Reason-Principles into complete actuality since, amid the clash of these antecedent Principles, Matter had already from its own stock produced the less good.

Yet, with all this, Matter is continuously overruled towards the better; so that out of the total of things — modified by Soul on the one hand and by Matter on the other hand, and on neither hand as sound as in the Reason-Principles — there is, in the end, a Unity.

17. But these Reason-Principles, contained in the Soul, are they Thoughts?

And if so, by what process does the Soul create in accordance with these Thoughts?

It is upon Matter that this act of the Reason is exercised; and what acts physically is not an intellectual operation or a vision, but a power modifying matter, not conscious of it but merely acting upon it: the Reason-Principle, in other words, acts much like a force producing a figure or pattern upon water — that of a circle, suppose, where the formation of the ring is conditioned by something distinct from that force itself.

If this is so, the prior puissance of the Soul [that which conveys the Reason-Principles] must act by manipulating the other Soul, that which is united with Matter and has the generative function.

But is this handling the result of calculation?

Calculation implies reference. Reference, then, to something outside or to something contained within itself? If to its own content, there is no need of reasoning, which could not itself perform the act of creation; creation is the operation of that phase of the Soul which contains Ideal-Principles; for that is its stronger puissance, its creative part.

It creates, then, on the model of the Ideas; for, what it has received from the Intellectual-Principle it must pass on in turn.

In sum, then, the Intellectual-Principle gives from itself to the Soul of the All which follows immediately upon it: this again gives forth from itself to its next, illuminated and imprinted by it; and that secondary Soul at once begins to create, as under order, unhindered in some of its creations, striving in others against the repugnance of Matter.

It has a creative power, derived; it is stored with Reason-Principles not the very originals: therefore it creates, but not in full accordance with the Principles from which it has been endowed: something enters from itself; and, plainly, this is inferior. The issue then is something living, yes; but imperfect, hindering its own life, something very poor and reluctant and crude, formed in a Matter that is the fallen sediment of the Higher Order, bitter and embittering. This is the Soul’s contribution to the All.

18. Are the evils in the Universe necessary because it is of later origin than the Higher Sphere?

Perhaps rather because without evil the All would be incomplete. For most or even all forms of evil serve the Universe — much as the poisonous snake has its use — though in most cases their function is unknown. Vice itself has many useful sides: it brings about much that is beautiful, in artistic creations for example, and it stirs us to thoughtful living, not allowing us to drowse in security.

If all this is so, then [the secret of creation is that] the Soul of the All abides in contemplation of the Highest and Best, ceaselessly striving towards the Intelligible Kind and towards God: but, thus absorbing and filled full, it overflows — so to speak — and the image it gives forth, its last utterance towards the lower, will be the creative puissance.

This ultimate phase, then, is the Maker, secondary to that aspect of the Soul which is primarily saturated from the Divine Intelligence. But the Creator above all is the Intellectual-Principle, as giver, to the Soul that follows it, of those gifts whose traces exist in the Third Kind.

Rightly, therefore, is this Kosmos described as an image continuously being imaged, the First and the Second Principles immobile, the Third, too, immobile essentially, but, accidentally and in Matter, having motion.

For as long as divine Mind and Soul exist, the divine Thought-Forms will pour forth into that phase of the Soul: as long as there is a sun, all that streams from it will be some form of Light.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plotinus/p72e/part2.3.html

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