the general character of the philosophy of plotinus.
Plotintjs is one of the greatest names in the history of philosophy, the classical representative of one of the main lines of human thought; he is the Mystic par excellence. And what makes his Mysticism more important is that he presents it as the ultimate result of the whole development of Greek philosophy. Further, if we look to the development of thought after Plotinus, we can see that it was mainly through him, and through St. Augustine as influenced by him, that Mysticism passed into Christian Theology and became an important element in the religion of the middle ages and of the modern world.
What is Mysticism ? It is religion in its most concentrated and exclusive form; it is that attitude of the mind in which all other relations are swallowed up in the relation of the soul to God. This conception may become more intelligible if we recall one or two points in the nature and history of religion. The relation of the soul to God—of the individual, conscious of his finitude, to the whole in which he and all other creatures are embraced, and to the principle or Being who gives unity to that whole—is not at first a clearly recognised factor, much less a predominant factor, in the conscious life of man. But it is always implied in that life; it is presupposed in all our consciousness of the world and of ourselves; and reflexion makes us aware that, without the recognition of it, we cannot understand either the intelligible world or the mind that knows it. Further, it is the fact from which religion springs; for it is just because this idea underlies all our conscior&ness that we are unable to rest in any finite object, or even in the whole world of finite objects, as complete in itself or as a perfect satisfaction of ail out desires; and, for the same reason, we are equally unable to find such complete reality or such perfect satisfaction in the inner life of the /«elf or in any of its states as such. : This inability to rest in the finite as its own firm! explanation, or to be satisfied with it as an ultimate good, is the real source of the superstitions that darken and confuse the life of the savage. It is the source, at a more advanced stage, of that imaginative effort to idealise particular objects, and, above all, to idealise Tnan himself, which is the creator of mythology* Finally, as the reflective tendency, the tendency to turn back upon the self, gains predominance over the tendency to seek reality in external objects, it is the source of a subjective religion, such as appeared in later Israel, a religion that divests its God of every likeness to anything in the heavens above or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth, which, in short, removes from him everything but the bare nature of a thinking subject as such. In this latter religion God, as a spiritual being, seems to come close to the very self of man and to lay his hand directly upon man's inner life, upon " the very pulse of the machine yet at the same time to stand apart from him as another self, before whom "his mortal nature doth tremble like a guilty thing surprised." " Whither shall I go from thy spirit, whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, there art thou : if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there." The thought of God's holiness, his utter isolation and stainless purity, and at the same time of a nearness to man which is yet complete separation from him, makes the worshipper shrink into himself with an awe of which he can only partly free himself by the most scrupulous obedience to the divine laws. For to think of the Absolute as spiritual, and yet as standing over against us like another finite subject—between whom and our own subjectivity a great. gulf is fixed—is to have religion in its sternest form, a religion which may purify the soul from the base compliances of idolatry, but which at the same time is apt to petrify it in its isolation. In spite of its moral spirit, however, we have to recognise that this religion also, so long as it remains in its pure type, falls short of the idea of religion; for the worship of a God who is conceived as an abstract subject, though more elevating, is as one-sided as the worship of a God who is conceived purely as an object. And we cannot say that the principle of religion has become self-conscious, till God is clearly conceived as the unity presupposed in all being and all thought, the One who is alike beyond mere subjectivity and mere objectivity. . Now the Mysticism which finds its classical expression in Plotinus consists just in the predominant and even exclusive consciousness of this negative unity, God, for the Mystic, is the One who is presupposed in all, God as God, as the unity above the difference of subject and object^ to which everything is related and wMch itself is related to nothing. The Absolute One is, indeed, necessarily conceived as the source of all that is; but, lor Mysticism, the negative so decisively preponderates over the positive relation, that God and the world cannot be included in one thought. The religious consciousness thus tends to exclude and substitute itself for all other consciousness, leaving no place, or at least a quite separate and lower place, for any intellectual interest in nature or man as apart from the contemplation of God, or for any practical interest in secular ends, social or individual, apart from the realisation of God's life within us. Something of the same purely religious attitude of mind had been shown, no doubt, in later Judaism; but the Jew was always defended against the extreme of Mysticism by his strong sense of the separate personality of God and man, and, as a consequence, his vivid consciousness of moral obligation as involved in the worship of God. In Plotinus, however, the barrier between the infinite and the finite is thrown down, and the former is brought into immediate contact with the latter, so that every distinction and relation of the finite vanishes away. Religion ceases to be the consecration of life or of any of its secular interests, and becomes itself the whole of life—the gulf into which man throws all his earthly joys and sorrows, the anodyne with which he puts to sleep the energies of will and thought, all the cares of his divided life, and ultimately his divided life itself. For the one supreme desire of the Mystic comes to be this: to merge the consciousness both of the world and of himself in the consciousness of God, or rather, we should say, in God himself.
Now such a view, as I have already indicated,1 *Vol. I, p. 34.
carries with it a complete inversion of all our ordinary thought. The ordinary consciousness indeed rests on the presupposition of a unity beyond all difference; but it does not directly set that unity before itself as an object, or at least, does not treat it as exclusive of other objects. Here, on the other hand, the unity is no longer presupposed, but made the immediate object of thought; and, in the direct gaze at it, everything, even the thought which makes .it an object, seems to be cancelled. The world is not denied a lower kind of reality, but its interests are regarded as external to the higher life; and the soul, emptied of all finite content, can have no desire but to break down the last barrier which separates it, from the divine.
At this point, however, there arises a peculiar difficulty of Mysticism, which tends even to confound itwith its extreme opposite. For the mystic who finds , everything, in God seems to speak the same language as the Agnostic who finds nothing in him, or who finds in him only the negation of all that we can perceive or know or think. In the ascent to the divine unity, the mystic loses hold of everything by which he could positively characterise it, and when he arrives at it, it is with empty hands. He begins by separating from it everything that is material, removing from it every attribute which we attach to things conditioned by time and space.
He is thus enabled to determine it as eternal and indivisible " without variableness or shadow of turning," as resting ever in its own pure self-identity. But he cannot stop here; he must go on to deprive it of all, even ideal, activity. Thus, in the first place, he excludes from it all discursive thought, all thought which moves by inference from-one point to another; for such discourse of reason, he contends, always involves incompleteness, involves that we pass from one imperfect notion to another, seeking to complete our consciousness of the object or to find an ultimate reason for it. Thus there remains only the possibility of a pure self-consciousness, such as Aristotle attributes to the divine Being, an intuitive consciousness which, in one supreme act of vision, sees the whole as one with itself through all its differences. But Plotinus declares that even such a consciousness as this, even pure self-consciousness with its transparent duality of subject and object, must rest upon a unity which is above itself. To find the absolute One, therefore, we must free ourselves from all the conditions of an intelligence which goes out of itself to any object, even if that object be immediately recognised as identical with itself. The absolute unity, which is the presupposition of all difference, is, as Plato had said, " beyond being" and "beyond knowledge" ; for even the fI am' of self-consciousness breaks away from it.
" Wherefore/' says Plotinus,1 " it is in truth unspeakable; for if you say anything of it, you make it a particular thing, Now that which is beyond everything, even beyond the most venerable of all things, the intelligence, and which is the only truth in all things, cannot be regarded as one of them; nor can we give it a name or predicate anything of it. But we try to indicate it to ourselves as we are able. When, therefore, in our difficulties about it, we say that it neither perceives itself, nor is conscious of itself, nor knows itself, it must be considered that, in using such language, we are getting at it through its opposites. Thus, if we speak of it as knowable and as knowing, we #are making it manifold; while if we attribute thought to it, we are treating it as in need of thinking. If, indeed, in any way we suppose thinking to be associated with the One, we must regard such thinking as unessential to it- For what thought does is to gather many elements to a unity and so to become conscious of a ; whole ; and this it does even when it is its own olgfct, as is the case in pure thinking. But such a self-eonseiousness is one with itself, and has not to search beyond itself for anything; whereas, if thought be directed to an external object, it has need of that object and is not pure thinking. Thus that which is absolutely simple and self-sufficient needs
nothing whatever, while that which is self-sufficient in the second degree, needs nothing hut itself, that is, it needs only to think itself. And its end being only in relation to itself, it makes good its own defect and attains self-sufficiency by the unity which it gives to all the elements of its consciousness—having communion with itself alone and directing all its thought to itself. Such consciousness, then, is the perception of a manifold content, as indeed is indicated by its name (jTvvaiardrjo-ig = conscientia); and the thinking which is presupposed in it, when it thus turns upon itself, ipso yacto finds its unity broken: for even if it only says, /I am in being/ it speaks as one who makes a discovery, and that with good reason, for being is manifold. Thus when in the very act of apprehending its own simple nature, it declares ' I am in being' (oj/ ei/j.1), it fails to grasp either being or itself. ... It appears, therefore, that, if there is something which possesses absolute simplicity, it cannot think itself."
"How, then, are we to speak of it?" asks Plotinus. " We speak, indeed, about it," he answers, " but itself we do not express: nor have we any knowledge or even thought of it. How, then, can we speak of it at all, when we do not grasp it as itself ? The answer is that, though it escapes our knowledge, it does not entirely escape us. We have possession of it in such a way that we can speak of it, but not in such a way that we can express it; for we can say what it is not, hut not what it is. Hence we speak of it in terms borrowed from things that are posterior to it, hut we are not shut out from the possession of it, even if we have no words for it. "We are like men inspired and possessed, who know only that they have in themselves something greater than themselves —something they know not what—and who, therefore, have some perception of that which has moved them, and are driven to speak of it, because they are not one with that which moves them. So it is with our relation to the absolute One. When we use pure intelligence, we recognise that it is the mind within the mind, the source of being and of all things that are of the same order with itself; but we see at the same time that the One is not identified with any of them but is greater than all we call being, greater and better than reason and intelligence and sense, though it is that which gives them whatsoever reality they have."1
:In these words we have a picture of the embarrassment of the mystic when he tries to say what is that divine unity which is above all things. He is obliged, to dismiss, one after another, every predicate as inadequate, and to characterise the One as the negation of allthings other than itself. Even the nippies' ' and ' One' he finally has to reject as 1V, 3, 14.
expressing rather what it is in relation to us than what it is in itself. And to say that this relation is negative, and that, for instance, we call it ' One ' simply in opposition to the multiplicity of the finite, does not enable us to escape the difficulty ; for a negative relation is still a relation, and must have some positive basis. Nor would there be any meaning even in denying a predicate of a subject with which it had no point of community.
If, therefore, we are to cut off all such community between the Absolute and Infinite and the relative and finite, we cannot even negatively relate the former to the latter. But thus we seem to be landed in the abyss of Agnosticism, and to have lost the last characteristic by which our thought could take hold of the Absolute. We cannot even determine it by negation of the finite, but have to go on to deny even our negative predicates. Such failures in our speech as to the Absolute are for Plotinus explained by the fact that the Absolute is not presented as a definite object but Kara Trapovcrlav e^ncm}/^? Kpelrrova,1 in an immediate contact which is above knowledge. What we are speaking of is too near to us to become properly an object for our thought, and when we try to make it an object, we fall away from it. And the difficulty seems to be that while in every move-1vi, 9, 4.
ment of our thought we always presuppose it, we are always looking from it to something else, and to look directly at it, and to realise it in itself, is for our consciousness to return, as it were, to the source from which it sprang, and to lose itself therein. It is to still all the movement of the world without and of the soul within, and to be filled with God alone. It is, in the expressive language of Plotinus, the " flight of the alone to the Alone," of the spirit divested of all finitude to ther absolute One.1
In Plotinus then we see in an extreme form the religious inversion of man's ordinary consciousness. Our ordinary consciousness rests, indeed, as all intelligence must rest, on a presupposed unity, but it seldom makes that unity the direct object of thought, still less separates it from all other objects, as that which is central, all-inclusive and all-transcending. Nor does religion at first altogether change, though it may modify, this ordinary way of thinking. Eather, in spite of occasional movements of feeling, in which the infinite, as it were, breaks in upon the finite, it on the whole remains a secular consciousness, for which the world is a collection of independent things and beings, and the good of man's life still seems to lie in a number of separate interests—of which religion is only one, though it may be one of the most important God is not yet represented lVI, 9, 11.
as the absolute One, in whom we and all things " live and move and have their being." Thus we seem to move from one thing to another, from one interest to another, while the all-encompassing circle, within which all objects and interests are comprehended, can hardly be said to exist for us. Our thought rests on difference as the primary fact—on the difference of one thing from another and of the self from the not-self—and, if the unity be recognised at all,- it is as a unity of external relation Or synthesis, It is a great step in advance, nay* it is like. a reading of the veil under which the meaning of life when it is realised'that all the difference® of consciousness presuppose its unity. And it is not unnatural that when this consciousness first arises, it should appear in a one-sided and exclusive form. Mysticism, as it is expressed by Plotinus, represents the first overpowering realisation of this idea, in which no place, or at least no logical place, is left for any other thought We can, therefore, understand how it is that he dwells so much u^oi^iife conception that the One is always with us and within us, though we seldom realise its neaniessw But, just because we do not realise this, our life, he contends, is disorganised and at discord with itself, o*r rather with a principle in it which is deeper even than the self. We look outward instead of looking inward, and we look inward instead of looking upward. Our first Is that which ought to he last, and our last is that which ought to be first.
The only way, therefore, in which we can put ourselves in harmony with the truth of things and of our own being, is by an entire inversion of the usual attitude of our consciousness. "A soul that knows itself," he declares, "must know that the proper direction of its energy is not outwards in a straight line," that is, out from itself to an object, "but that it moves in that way only by external influence; while the movement that really conforms to its nature is round about a centre, a centre which is not without but within it. In this, its true movement, then, it will circle round that principle from which it derives its life, and will attach itself to the same centre to which all souls ought to cling. To that centre the gods always move, and it is because they so move that they are gods, for that which is closely attached to the central principle is divine; while a soul that withdraws itself from that centre sinks .linfo a man with his complex and animal nature."1 Yet Plotinus bids us remember that all this is merely >%if analogy; for the soul is not a circular figure in space, nor does it move in a circular course, and what expr&ssed^by this: metaphor is a relation of spiritual nearness ani dependence. We have therefore to use
1 An allusion to the Orjpiov ttoikCKov koI iro\vk^(pa\ov of Plato [Rep. 588 c). Of. Phaedrus, 230 A.
the analogy without forgetting its difference from the thing illustrated. For " bodies by their nature cannot enter into real communion with other bodies, but incorporeal things are not kept apart by corporeal obstructions. If they are separated from each other it is not by place but by difference and antagonism of nature, and when this disappears they are immediately present to each other. Now the One, having no difference in it, is, therefore, omnipresent; and we are always present to it, except in so fax as we alienate ourselves from it It, indeed, cannot make us its aim or centre, but it is itself our true aim and centre. Thus we are always gathered around it, though we do not always turn towards it. We may compare ourselves to a chorus which is placed round a Ghoragus, but which sings out of tune so long as it directs its attention away from him to external tilings; but when it turns to him, it sings in perfect harmony, deriving its inspiration from him. So it is with us: we are always gathered around the divine centre of our being; and, indeed, if we could withdraw from it, our being would at once be dissolved away, and we should cease to exist at alL But, near as it is to us, often we do not direct our eyes to it. When, however, we do so direct our gaze, we attain to the end of our desires and to the rest of our souls, and our song is nomor® a discord, but, circling round our centre, we pour forth a divinely inspired chorale. And in the choral dance we behold the source of our life, the fountain of our intelligence, the primal good, the root of the soul."1 This passage is a good illustration of the way in which Plotinus becomes possessed with a sacred enthusiasm which turns his words into poetry, whenever he tries to express the relation of the soul to God. I quote them, however, for another purpose, namely, as expressing very clearly his view that the usual attitude of the soul is essentially perverted. In the ordinary consciousness, we take shadows for realities, and realities for shadows; we are equally blind to our own nature and to the nature of the things around us. The beginning of wisdom for us, therefore, is to renounce all that from this false point of view we seem to know. Still, even when we do make
this renunciation, we are at first like men who turn from the reflexions of light in other things to the sun, and who, though they are looking at pure light, ire so dazzled by it that they can see nothing at all. So, in turning our souls to the unity, which is the presupposition of all our consciousness of other things, we lbse sightof every image of sense or imagination, "ted we are even carried beyond all the definite thought by which we distinguish one object from another. We are* so to speak, in perfect light, where we can see as little in perfect darkness. For all definite thought of objects or of ourselves is got by
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