« PreviousContinue »
proposition underlies Plotinus's conception of the Nous, the thinking principle. The Nous is perfect contemplating thought, thought which has reached, not which through dialectic is reaching, its object. The content of this thought is the Nous itself and God. The Nous contains the Ideas, as a science contains the theorems of which it is composed. Hence the Ideas are as truly existent as the Nous itself which, in their totality, they constitute. The Nous is at once the knower and the known, the subject and the object of thought; in both of which phases the Nous is veriest being as the object of knowledge it is quiescent being, as the subject, it is being -thought-in action.
As the Nous proceeds from God, so the soul issues from the Nous. The coming into being of the soul is not due to an act of creative volition on the part of the The Soul. Nous, but proceeds from its overflowing nature, as the Nous itself had proceeded from God. The soul is the intermediary between the Nous and the sensible world; so its nature is intermediate, having within itself the elements received from the Nous, but also pervaded by the corporeal, which in turn derives its existence from the soul. Yet the soul is nearer the divine than the earthly, and partakes of both phases of the Nous, to wit, existence under the guise of number and form, like the Ideas, and activity, like that of the Nous viewed as the thinking subject. Though far from the light of God, still the soul is light, as opposed to the darkness of matter upon which it bounds; and it is immortal though not existent from all eternity. Only the world-soul issues immediately from the Nous, and from the world-soul the souls of individuals.
As the Nous depends not on the soul which issues from it, so the soul is not dependent upon the body, which issues from the soul and depends on it. But corporeality, the sensible world, besides being dependent on the soul for form
as well as being, has within itself the qualities of nonbeing, of extension, of evil, which are qualities of matter. While Plotinus follows Plato in his general determinings of the conception of matter, he goes beyond Plato in calling it the Bad. Evil is lack of good,—privation; and matter is the first and absolute Bad, the veriest privation of all good, of existence. Corporeality, which indeed has form and substance derived from the soul, is evil in so far as it consists of matter; and the soul itself may seem polluted through its connection with corporeality. On the other hand, in so far as the sensible world springs from the soul it has form, beauty, harmony; and to this thought, justifying an appreciation of the beauty of the visible world, Plotinus clung, Greek as he was.' The philosopher will see good in the world of sense so far as it exhibits the spirit forces which bring it to form and beauty and evoke the sympathies and harmonies of nature whereby is shown its relationship to the soul whence comes the Light.
Men are estranged from God, their souls held in the bonds of sense attachments. In this bondage of the will
lies the imperfection of man's spiritual nature, Purification and not in the fact of its co-existing with the
unto the Ecstasy of God.
body. Hence no sudden sundering of the particular connection of body and soul-as by suicide-will carry the soul upwards; for at death the unpurified nature will turn again to fitting corporeal envelopments. During life man must purify himself by turning from things of sense. Plotinus reasoned after Stoical analogies that man's well-being lay in the development of the highest parts of his nature. But his system revolved in the dualistic opposition between spirit and matter. Matter was utterly evil. Hence to Stoical conceptions of human well-being self-poised in the action of a will guided by right reason, he added the ascetic con
1 Plotinus admires the visible world in the spirit of Plato's Timaus. Zeller, ib., 32, p. 559.
ception that occupation with things of sense is defilement; that the severing of thought and desire from them is purification. All virtue with Plotinus is purification, loosing of the soul from sense.
The lower stages of this purification, perhaps the only stages attainable by common souls, consist in the ordinary practical virtues of life. These may lead upward toward the speculative virtues of a life of thought and contemplation. Still higher is the immediate apprehension of the supersensual, which does not arise through comparison of conceptions originally based on data of sense, but comes straight from the spiritual object of thought, more especially comes to the soul from the Nous. This direct intuition is possession of the thing known, the self-vision of thought. Its highest stage is vision of the Godhead, wherein all definitude of thought as well as all self-consciousness of the thinker has ceased in mystical ecstasy. This is the apprehension of that highest Godhead, which transcends the power of thought and is not only supersensual but superrational. There must be a cessation of all inclination toward the corporeal through the falling away of every impression of it. Then the soul must pass beyond thought and surrender itself to the vision of the One. For thought is movement; the One is motionless. The soul must abstract itself from every form of the definitely intelligible, must become sheer receptivity, pure indefiniteness; otherwise no apprehension can come of what transcends all definite attribute.'
This ecstasy is union with the Godhead, all distinction ceasing between the beholder and the vision; it ceases even to be a vision of God, becomes a veritable beingGod, complete surrender of self to the infinite, comparable only to drunkenness or the madness of love. It is indescribable, can only be had by those to whom it comes; one cannot seek, but must wait till suddenly filled 1 1 Zeller, ib., 33, p. 611. Zeller, ib., 32, p. 612-615.
with the higher light which streams from the Godhead, which is the Godhead. This enlightenment brings no knowledge of God, for knowledge implies difference between consciousness and what is known. That He is, is felt; not what He is. The sum of Plotinus's ethics is an endeavor to prove that the summit of human faculty consists in this ecstasy, this vision, this beholding through immediacy. Virtuous conduct, art, speculation, knowledge, thought, subserve it; then it comes.
The system of Plotinus was a reaction against finding man's whole good in reason and action in accordance with it. The highest goal for man was mystic The Neo- union with an unthinkable God. This was a reaching out after what Stoicism and anterior pagan philosophy had not recognized; but it was a reaching out after something mystic and unreal, which not for long should afford solace to man. Most interesting was the recognition that reason did not reach to the highest good attainable. Plotinus did not see
that reason also was not broad enough, since it did not include the whole of human nature, which a philosophy adequate for humanity must compass.
Mortal life is
His system told a yearning after God. short, and the soul held by the body. In order to attain union with God, the soul must seek the aid of gods and dæmons. Though Plotinus's own thoughts turned toward contemplation of the highest God, the absolute First, his philosophy made room for innumerable other gods as well. The overflowing nature of the First might not contain itself; it would appear in the Nous, and through it in various forms of divine goodness throughout the universe. The Nous was the second god. But inasmuch as it embraced the Ideas as its component parts, those
"Die Platonische und Aristotelische Philosophie findet ihr Ziel in objectiven Wissen, die neu-platonische in einem subjectiven Gemuthszustand, welcher sowohl die Selbst-erkenntniss als die Erkenntniss des Objects ausschliesst."-Zeller, ib., 32, p. 429.
also should be thought as divine entities. And from the Nous and the Ideas, the overflowing tide of divinity passed over into lower modes, into the world-soul, also a god, into the spirits of the stars, into numberless gods and dæmons existent intermediate between human souls. and the higher deities. Things move each other through sympathies springing from likeness of their natures. Through prayer and magic, men bring their natures to likeness with beings above them and thereby move those beings to help them. An apprehension of this sympathy enables men to feel and know the future movements of events, which take place in accordance with the tendencies and sympathies of nature; and this is divination. It came naturally to Plotinus to see his manifold divine spirits under the names of the deities of the popular religions. Stoicism had prepared this course of allegoric fancy, and far more than Stoicism was Neo-Platonism adapted to fall in with the rites and superstitions of polytheism.
Although it was impossible that Plotinus, living when and where he did, should have been untouched by Oriental and more especially Jewish influences, nevertheless Neo-Platonism, as moulded by the master's mind, was Hellenic in most of its derived conceptions and Hellenic in its strenuously reasoned structure; Hellenic also in professing to be but a harmony and completion of previous Greek philosophies. It was also a grand denunciatory disavowal of materialism, an assertion, great in its loftiness and strength of argument, that man's true nature was spiritual, and that things spiritual were alone truly existent. So had Platonism before it been the living certainty of the reality of spirit; the weakness of the later system lay in its loosened grasp upon the verities of human nature, of the human soul and God, and God's relationship to the universe; in place of which it set up colossal structures of reasoned unrealities. The fault was in the weakness of the time. It lay not within the