The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Fifth Tractate

On the Integral Omnipresence of the Authentic Existent (2).

1. The integral omnipresence of a unity numerically identical is in fact universally received; for all men instinctively affirm the god in each of us to be one, the same in all. It would be taken as certain if no one asked How or sought to bring the conviction to the test of reasoning; with this effective in their thought, men would be at rest, finding their stay in that oneness and identity, so that nothing would wrench them from this unity. This principle, indeed, is the most solidly established of all, proclaimed by our very souls; we do not piece it up item by item, but find it within beforehand; it precedes even the principle by which we affirm unquestionably that all things seek their good; for this universal quest of good depends on the fact that all aim at unity and possess unity and that universally effort is towards unity.

Now this unity in going forth, so far as it may, towards the Other Order must become manifest as multiplicity and in some sense become multiple; but the primal nature and the appetition of the good, which is appetition of unity, lead back to what is authentically one; to this every form of Being is urged in a movement towards its own reality. For the good to every nature possessing unity is to be self-belonging, to be itself, and that means to be a unity.

In virtue of that unity the Good may be regarded as truly inherent. Hence the Good is not to be sought outside; it could not have fallen outside of what is; it cannot possibly be found in non-Being; within Being the Good must lie, since it is never a non-Being.

If that Good has Being and is within the realm of Being, then it is present, self-contained, in everything: we, therefore, need not look outside of Being; we are in it; yet that Good is not exclusively ours: therefore all beings are one.

2. Now the reasoning faculty which undertakes this problem is not a unity but a thing of parts; it brings the bodily nature into the enquiry, borrowing its principles from the corporeal: thus it thinks of the Essential Existence as corporeal and as a thing of parts; it baulks at the unity because it does not start from the appropriate principles. We, however, must be careful to bring the appropriately convincing principles to the discussion of the Unity, of perfect Being: we must hold to the Intellectual principles which alone apply to the Intellectual Order and to Real Being.

On the one hand there is the unstable, exposed to all sorts of change, distributed in place, not so much Being as Becoming: on the other, there is that which exists eternally, not divided, subject to no change of state, neither coming into being nor falling from it, set in no region or place or support, emerging from nowhere, entering into nothing, fast within itself.

In dealing with that lower order we would reason from its own nature and the characteristics it exhibits; thus, on a plausible foundation, we achieve plausible results by a plausible system of deduction: similarly, in dealing with the Intellectual, the only way is to grasp the nature of the essence concerned and so lay the sure foundations of the argument, not forgetfully straying over into that other order but basing our treatment on what is essential to the Nature with which we deal.

In every entity the essential nature is the governing principle and, as we are told, a sound definition brings to light many even of the concomitants: where the essential nature is the entire being, we must be all the more careful to keep to that, to look to that, to refer all to that.

3. If this principle is the Authentic Existent and holds unchanging identity, does not go forth from itself, is untouched by any process of becoming or, as we have said, by any situation in place, then it must be always self-gathered, never in separation, not partly here and partly there, not giving forth from itself: any such instability would set it in thing after thing or at least in something other than itself: then it would no longer be self-gathered; nor would it be immune, for anything within which it were lodged would affect it; immune, it is not in anything. If, then, not standing away from itself, not distributed by part, not taking the slightest change, it is to be in many things while remaining a self-concentrated entire, there is some way in which it has multipresence; it is at once self-enclosed and not so: the only way is to recognise that while this principle itself is not lodged in anything, all other things participate in it — all that are apt and in the measure of their aptitude.

Thus, we either cancel all that we have affirmed and the principles laid down, and deny the existence of any such Nature, or, that being impossible, we return to our first position:

The One, numerically identical, undistributed, an unbroken entire, yet stands remote from nothing that exists by its side; but it does not, for that, need to pour itself forth: there is no necessity either that certain portions of it enter into things or again that, while it remains self-abiding, something produced and projected from it enter at various points into that other order. Either would imply something of it remaining there while the emanant is elsewhere: thus separated from what has gone forth, it would experience local division. And would those emanants be, each in itself, whole or part? If part, the One has lost its nature, that of an entire, as we have already indicated; if whole, then either the whole is broken up to coincide point for point with that in which it is become present or we are admitting that an unbroken identity can be omnipresent.

This is a reasoning, surely, founded on the thing itself and its essential nature, not introducing anything foreign, anything belonging to the Other Order.

4. Then consider this god [in man] whom we cannot think to be absent at some point and present at another. All that have insight into the nature of the divine beings hold the omnipresence of this god and of all the gods, and reason assures us that so it must be.

Now all-pervasion is inconsistent with partition; that would mean no longer the god throughout but part of the god at one point and part at another; the god ceases to be one god, just as a mass cut up ceases to be a mass, the parts no longer giving the first total. Further, the god becomes corporeal.

If all this is impossible, the disputed doctrine presents itself again; holding the god to pervade the Being of man, we hold the omnipresence of an integral identity.

Again, if we think of the divine nature as infinite — and certainly it is confined by no bounds — this must mean that it nowhere fails; its presence must reach to everything; at the point to which it does not reach, there it has failed; something exists in which it is not.

Now, admitting any sequent to the absolute unity, that sequent must be bound up with the absolute; any third will be about that second and move towards it, linked to it as its offspring. In this way all participants in the Later will have share in the First. The Beings of the Intellectual are thus a plurality of firsts and seconds and thirds attached like one sphere to one centre, not separated by interval but mutually present; where, therefore, the Intellectual tertiaries are present, the secondaries and firsts are present too.

5. Often for the purpose of exposition — as a help towards stating the nature of the produced multiplicity — we use the example of many lines radiating from one centre; but, while we provide for individualization, we must carefully preserve mutual presence. Even in the case of our circle we need not think of separated radii; all may be taken as forming one surface: where there is no distinction even upon the one surface but all is power and reality undifferentiated, all the beings may be thought of as centres uniting at one central centre: we ignore the radial lines and think of their terminals at that centre, where they are at one. Restore the radii; once more we have lines, each touching a generating centre of its own, but that centre remains coincident with the one first centre; the centres all unite in that first centre and yet remain what they were, so that they are as many as are the lines to which they serve as terminals; the centres themselves appear as numerous as the lines starting from gem and yet all those centres constitute a unity.

Thus we may liken the Intellectual Beings in their diversity to many centres coinciding with the one centre and themselves at one in it but appearing multiple on account of the radial lines — lines which do not generate the centres but merely lead to them. The radii, thus, afford a serviceable illustration for the mode of contact by which the Intellectual Unity manifests itself as multiple and multipresent.

6. The Intellectual Beings, thus, are multiple and one; in virtue of their infinite nature their unity is a multiplicity, many in one and one over many, a unit-plurality. They act as entire upon entire; even upon the partial thing they act as entire; but there is the difference that at first the partial accepts this working only partially though the entire enters later. Thus, when Man enters into human form there exists a particular man who, however, is still Man. From the one thing Man — man in the Idea — material man has come to constitute many individual men: the one identical thing is present in multiplicity, in multi-impression, so to speak, from the one seal.

This does not mean that Man Absolute, or any Absolute, or the Universe in the sense of a Whole, is absorbed by multiplicity; on the contrary, the multiplicity is absorbed by the Absolute, or rather is bound up with it. There is a difference between the mode in which a colour may be absorbed by a substance entire and that in which the soul of the individual is identically present in every part of the body: it is in this latter mode that Being is omnipresent.

7. To Real Being we go back, all that we have and are; to that we return as from that we came. Of what is There we have direct knowledge, not images or even impressions; and to know without image is to be; by our part in true knowledge we are those Beings; we do not need to bring them down into ourselves, for we are There among them. Since not only ourselves but all other things also are those Beings, we all are they; we are they while we are also one with all: therefore we and all things are one.

When we look outside of that on which we depend we ignore our unity; looking outward we see many faces; look inward and all is the one head. If man could but be turned about by his own motion or by the happy pull of Athene — he would see at once God and himself and the All. At first no doubt all will not be seen as one whole, but when we find no stop at which to declare a limit to our being we cease to rule ourselves out from the total of reality; we reach to the All as a unity — and this not by any stepping forward, but by the fact of being and abiding there where the All has its being.

8. For my part I am satisfied that anyone considering the mode in which Matter participates in the Ideas will be ready enough to accept this tenet of omnipresence in identity, no longer rejecting it as incredible or even difficult. This because it seems reasonable and imperative to dismiss any notion of the Ideas lying apart with Matter illumined from them as from somewhere above — a meaningless conception, for what have distance and separation to do here?

This participation cannot be thought of as elusive or very perplexing; on the contrary, it is obvious, accessible in many examples.

Note, however, that when we sometimes speak of the Ideas illuminating Matter this is not to suggest the mode in which material light pours down on a material object; we use the phrase in the sense only that, the material being image while the Ideas are archetypes, the two orders are distinguished somewhat in the manner of illuminant and illuminated. But it is time to be more exact.

We do not mean that the Idea, locally separate, shows itself in Matter like a reflection in water; the Matter touches the Idea at every point, though not in a physical contact, and, by dint of neighbourhood — nothing to keep them apart — is able to absorb thence all that lies within its capacity, the Idea itself not penetrating, not approaching, the Matter, but remaining self-locked.

We take it, then, that the Idea, say of Fire — for we had best deal with Matter as underlying the elements — is not in the Matter. The Ideal Fire, then, remaining apart, produces the form of fire throughout the entire enfired mass. Now let us suppose — and the same method will apply to all the so-called elements — that this Fire in its first material manifestation is a multiple mass. That single Fire is seen producing an image of itself in all the sensible fires; yet it is not spatially separate; it does not, then, produce that image in the manner of our visible light; for in that case all this sensible fire, supposing that it were a whole of parts [as the analogy would necessitate], must have generated spatial positions out of itself, since the Idea or Form remains in a non-spatial world; for a principle thus pluralized must first have departed from its own character in order to be present in that many and participate many times in the one same Form.

The Idea, impartible, gives nothing of itself to the Matter; its unbreaking unity, however, does not prevent it shaping that multiple by its own unity and being present to the entirety of the multiple, bringing it to pattern not by acting part upon part but by presence entire to the object entire. It would be absurd to introduce a multitude of Ideas of Fire, each several fire being shaped by a particular idea; the Ideas of fire would be infinite. Besides, how would these resultant fires be distinct, when fire is a continuous unity? and if we apply yet another fire to certain matter and produce a greater fire, then the same Idea must be allowed to have functioned in the same way in the new matter as in the old; obviously there is no other Idea.

9. The elements in their totality, as they stand produced, may be thought of as one spheric figure; this cannot be the piecemeal product of many makers each working from some one point on some one portion. There must be one cause; and this must operate as an entire, not by part executing part; otherwise we are brought back to a plurality of makers. The making must be referred to a partless unity, or, more precisely, the making principle must be a partless unity not permeating the sphere but holding it as one dependent thing. In this way the sphere is enveloped by one identical life in which it is inset; its entire content looks to the one life: thus all the souls are one, a one, however, which yet is infinite.

It is in this understanding that the soul has been taken to be a numerical principle, while others think of it as in its nature a self-increasing number; this latter notion is probably designed to meet the consideration that the soul at no point fails but, retaining its distinctive character, is ample for all, so much so that were the kosmos vaster yet the virtue of soul would still compass it — or rather the kosmos still be sunk in soul entire.

Of course, we must understand this adding of extension not as a literal increase but in the sense that the soul, essentially a unity, becomes adequate to omnipresence; its unity sets it outside of quantitative measurement, the characteristic of that other order which has but a counterfeit unity, an appearance by participation.

The essential unity is no aggregate to be annulled upon the loss of some one of the constituents; nor is it held within any allotted limits, for so it would be the less for a set of things, more extensive than itself, outside its scope; or it must wrench itself asunder in the effort to reach to all; besides, its presence to things would be no longer as whole to all but by part to part; in vulgar phrase, it does not know where it stands; dismembered, it no longer performs any one single function.

Now if this principle is to be a true unity — where the unity is of the essence — it must in some way be able to manifest itself as including the contrary nature, that of potential multiplicity, while by the fact that this multiplicity belongs to it not as from without but as from and by itself, it remains authentically one, possessing boundlessness and multiplicity within that unity; its nature must be such that it can appear as a whole at every point; this, as encircled by a single self-embracing Reason-Principle, which holds fast about that unity, never breaking with itself but over all the universe remaining what it must be.

The unity is in this way saved from the local division of the things in which it appears; and, of course, existing before all that is in place, it could never be founded upon anything belonging to that order of which, on the contrary, it is the foundation; yet, for all that they are based upon it, it does not cease to be wholly self-gathered; if its fixed seat were shaken, all the rest would fall with the fall of their foundation and stay; nor could it be so unintelligent as to tear itself apart by such a movement and, secure within its own being, trust itself to the insecurity of place which, precisely, looks to it for safety.

10. It remains, then, poised in wisdom within itself; it could not enter into any other; those others look to it and in their longing find it where it is. This is that “Love Waiting at the Door,” ever coming up from without, striving towards the beautiful, happy when to the utmost of its power it attains. Even here the lover does not so much possess himself of the beauty he has loved as wait before it; that Beauty is abidingly self-enfolded but its lovers, the Many, loving it as an entire, possess it as an entire when they attain, for it was an entire that they loved. This seclusion does not prevent its sufficing to all, but is the very reason for its adequacy; because it is thus entire for all it can be The Good to all.

Similarly wisdom is entire to all; it is one thing; it is not distributed parcelwise; it cannot be fixed to place; it is not spread about like a colouring, for it is not corporeal; in any true participation in wisdom there must be one thing acting as unit upon unit. So must it be in our participation in the One; we shall not take our several portions of it, nor you some separate entire and I another. Think of what happens in Assemblies and all kinds of meetings; the road to sense is the road to unity; singly the members are far from wise; as they begin to grow together, each, in that true growth, generates wisdom while he recognizes it. There is nothing to prevent our intelligences meeting at one centre from their several positions; all one, they seem apart to us as when without looking we touch one object or sound one string with different fingers and think we feel several. Or take our souls in their possession of good; it is not one good for me and another for you; it is the same for both and not in the sense merely of distinct products of an identical source, the good somewhere above with something streaming from it into us; in any real receiving of good, giver is in contact with taker and gives not as to a recipient outside but to one in intimate contact.

The Intellectual giving is not an act of transmission; even in the case of corporeal objects, with their local separation, the mutual giving [and taking] is of things of one order and their communication, every effect they produce, is upon their like; what is corporeal in the All acts and is acted upon within itself, nothing external impinging upon it. Now if in body, whose very nature is partition, there is no incursion of the alien, how can there be any in the order in which no partition exists?

It is therefore by identification that we see the good and touch it, brought to it by becoming identical with what is of the Intellectual within ourselves. In that realm exists what is far more truly a kosmos of unity; otherwise there will be two sensible universes, divided into correspondent parts; the Intellectual sphere, if a unity only as this sphere is, will be undistinguishable from it — except, indeed, that it will be less worthy of respect since in the nature of things extension is appropriate in the lower while the Intellectual will have wrought out its own extension with no motive, in a departure from its very character.

And what is there to hinder this unification? There is no question of one member pushing another out as occupying too much space, any more than happens in our own minds where we take in the entire fruit of our study and observation, all uncrowded.

We may be told that this unification is not possible in Real Beings; it certainly would not be possible, if the Reals had extension.

11. But how can the unextended reach over the defined extension of the corporeal? How can it, so, maintain itself as a unity, an identity?

This is a problem often raised and reason calls vehemently for a solution of the difficulties involved. The fact stands abundantly evident, but there is still the need of intellectual satisfaction.

We have, of course, no slight aid to conviction, indeed the very strongest, in the exposition of the character of that principle. It is not like a stone, some vast block lying where it lies, covering the space of its own extension, held within its own limits, having a fixed quantity of mass and of assigned stone-power. It is a First Principle, measureless, not bounded within determined size — such measurement belongs to another order — and therefore it is all-power, nowhere under limit. Being so, it is outside of Time.

Time in its ceaseless onward sliding produces parted interval; Eternity stands in identity, pre-eminent, vaster by unending power than Time with all the vastness of its seeming progress; Time is like a radial line running out apparently to infinity but dependent upon that, its centre, which is the pivot of all its movement; as it goes it tells of that centre, but the centre itself is the unmoving principle of all the movement.

Time stands, thus, in analogy with the principle which holds fast in unchanging identity of essence: but that principle is infinite not only in duration but also in power: this infinity of power must also have its counterpart, a principle springing from that infinite power and dependent upon it; this counterpart will, after its own mode, run a course — corresponding to the course of Time — in keeping with that stationary power which is its greater as being its source: and in this too the source is present throughout the full extension of its lower correspondent.

This secondary of Power, participating as far as it may in that higher, must be identified.

Now the higher power is present integrally but, in the weakness of the recipient material, is not discerned as every point; it is present as an identity everywhere not in the mode of the material triangle — identical though, in many representations, numerically multiple, but in the mode of the immaterial, ideal triangle which is the source of the material figures. If we are asked why the omnipresence of the immaterial triangle does not entail that of the material figure, we answer that not all Matter enters into the participation necessary; Matter accepts various forms and not all Matter is apt for all form; the First Matter, for example, does not lend itself to all but is for the First Kinds first and for the others in due order, though these, too, are omnipresent.

12. To return: How is that Power present to the universe?

As a One Life.

Consider the life in any living thing; it does not reach only to some fixed point, unable to permeate the entire being; it is omnipresent. If on this again we are asked How, we appeal to the character of this power, not subject to quantity but such that though you divide it mentally for ever you still have the same power, infinite to the core; in it there is no Matter to make it grow less and less according to the measured mass.

Conceive it as a power of an ever-fresh infinity, a principle unfailing, inexhaustible, at no point giving out, brimming over with its own vitality. If you look to some definite spot and seek to fasten on some definite thing, you will not find it. The contrary is your only way; you cannot pass on to where it is not; you will never halt at a dwindling point where it fails at last and can no longer give; you will always be able to move with it — better, to be in its entirety — and so seek no further; denying it, you have strayed away to something of another order and you fall; looking elsewhere you do not see what stands there before you.

But supposing you do thus “seek no further,” how do you experience it?

In that you have entered into the All, no longer content with the part; you cease to think of yourself as under limit but, laying all such determination aside, you become an All. No doubt you were always that, but there has been an addition and by that addition you are diminished; for the addition was not from the realm of Being — you can add nothing to Being — but from non-Being. It is not by some admixture of non-Being that one becomes an entire, but by putting non-Being away. By the lessening of the alien in you, you increase. Cast it aside and there is the All within you; engaged in the alien, you will not find the All. Not that it has to come and so be present to you; it is you that have turned from it. And turn though you may, you have not severed yourself; it is there; you are not in some far region: still there before it, you have faced to its contrary.

It is so with the lesser gods; of many standing in their presence it is often one alone that sees them; that one alone was alone in the power to see. These are the gods who “in many guises seek our cities”; but there is That Other whom the cities seek, and all the earth and heaven, everywhere with God and in Him, possessing through Him their Being and the Real Beings about them, down to soul and life, all bound to Him and so moving to that unity which by its very lack of extension is infinite.

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