Eternity

In the Timaeus Plato tells us that the model (paradeigma) after which the Demiurge made the all (tode to pan) is an Eternal Living Creature (zoon aidion on), and that he made this all more similar (homoion) to its model through the fabrication of Time:

And as the nature of the Living Creature was to be eternal, it was impossible to bind this nature in its entirety to becoming (toigennetoi). So he planned to make a certain moving image of Eternity (eikd...kineton tina aionos), and then in setting the Heavens in order, he made of that Eternity which remains in a One an eternal image, which proceeds according to number. And it is this image which we call Time (chronon). (Plato, Timaeus 37d)

Proclus comments on this passage at length in the In Timaeum (Proclus, In Timaeum III.8.18—34.14). Proclus gives an account in which Eternity is the principle which unifies the intelligible genera, while Time as its image is the intellectual principle which unifies the dividing activity of Soul, as well as all else which shares in becoming.

Eternity dwells in the intelligible. But where in the intelligible does it reside? Proclus asks in what order (taxis) of the intelligibles (noeta) it exists (Proclus, In Timaeum III. 10.02-07). In order to understand this question, we must examine briefly the structure of Proclus' spiritual hierarchy. In Proclus the divisions which emerged in the Plotinian Nous have been systematically related to each other through a logic of unity and multiplicity. Plotinus speaks about a division between subject and object in Nous, and about a multiplicity of genera of Being in Nous, while also asserting the unity of Nous. Proclus also holds to the unity of Nous, but he subjects the reality which is Nous to a dividing analysis, in order to distinguish more clearly its moments. It is crucial to remember about this analysis that the terms through which we understand Nous are not themselves noetic. Our thought is dianoetic, and as such the simultaneous division and unity which is Nous cannot be expressed by us adequately. We can hold only to one side or the other, and we finally fall back on a mode of expression by which we say Nous is a thinking which is both completely unified and divided, even though this is not something we experience in our own thinking.

Proclus refers to the distinction between object and subject in Nous as a division between intelligible (noeta) and intellectual (noera) orders of Nous. Further, between the intelligible and the intellectual is an intermediate order which is referred to as intelligible-and-intellectual (noeta kai noera). This distinction between orders is at first misleading, because it gives one the impression that the intelligible orders are merely object of thought without the activity of thinking, while the intellectual orders are merely activity which looks up to the intelligible for its object. This is not the case. Nous is an hypostasis, which means for Proclus that it is a mind that is a unity in plurality, in which the total structure is mirrored in each part (Gersh 1973, 19ff; 51-58). Similarly, Nous is one mind, but at the same time each of its parts is a reflection of the whole and thus are also individual minds. Thus all of the orders have these three moments in them in some manner, and their hierarchical arrangement is a matter of emphasis. The intelligible has more the character of cause, and thus Proclus distinguishes out three intelligible triads which stand above and give rise to the other orders. Next there come to be three intelligible-and-intellectual triads,6 and after these comes an intellectual hebdomad.7 So while Nous as a whole is a unity, its various moments as intelligible, intelligible-and-intellectual, and intellectual are to be thought of both as an articulation of the interior nature of the thought of Nous as a whole, and as an articulation of the noes (intellects) which make up the different orders of Nous, all without losing the unity which Nous has as the unity of a thinking mind.

So Proclus' question about the place of Eternity is important. If Eternity is in Nous, and in one of the three intelligible orders of Nous rather than in the lower orders, then it is important to specify exactly which intelligible triad it is. In other words, asking about the place of Eternity in the intelligible is asking what role Eternity plays in the unfolding of the One into the multiplicity of intelligible eide which found the subsequent diversity of the cosmos. Proclus thinks that the three intelligible triads in Nous are, in order, the One-Being, Eternity, and the Eternal Living Being, or autozoon. The final intelligible triad, the autozoon, is the paradigm to which the Demiurge (who is in the intellectual hebdomad) looks when he orders the cosmos. As such, it contains all of the genera of Being, but in a manner best described by Plotinus, where all is in each and each in all, without any mixture or confusion (Plotinus, Ennead V 8.4). One may be tempted to think of this multiplicity of intelligible genera as a static set of categories. Perhaps they are the five Greatest Kinds (megista gene) of Plato's Sophist. Proclus does speak of them at times in these terms.8 Yet it is not the case that a static set of intelligible categories can easily be thought of as all in each and each in all. The dynamism of the Plotinian Nous seems to rule out a conception of the first multiplicity of Being along Aristotelian or Kantian lines, from the Categories or the Critique of Pure Reason. The Plotinian eide are alive. It is as proper to speak of them as gods as it is to speak of them as t1he primary division of Being. And they are Being as thought, and thought as the activity (energeia) of thought. They are Being as thinking activity.

If this is the case then the intelligible order of Nous cannot merely contain the autozoon. Proclus has analysed the thinking of Nous into its moments, one of which is the multiplicity of intelligible genera which is the autozoon. But just as there is more to the description of Nous in Plotinus than its multiplicity, so in Proclus this multiplicity must be embraced by and be an expression of a prior unity. The unity here is Eternity as the second intelligible triad. As such Eternity is not a genus of Being, because the genera of Being only make their appearance with the autozoon. Proclus remarks that the genera of Being imply their opposites, but Eternity is not opposed to any of the genera in the way in which Rest, for example, is opposed to Motion.

All of these are equally eternal: Same, Different, Rest, Motion. This would not be the case if Eternity were one [genus of Being] among them. For Rest is not equally Rest and Motion, but all of the intelligibles are equally always in existence and eternal. So Eternity is opposed to none of these, nor to anything which comes after it. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.11.23-28)

If this is the case, then neither is Time opposed to Eternity. Rather than being the opposite of Eternity, Time is its image. This is important for Proclus' conception of the structure of the whole of things. Being does not fall into two different genera: that which is eternal and that which is temporal. If this were the case, then the eternal and the temporal would be related to each other in the same manner as any other two genera into which Being falls, such as Rest and Motion, or Sameness and Rest. Instead, in Proclus, we find that the temporal is related to the eternal not as simply other than it, but rather as its image. As we will see below, this means that Time is the unifying principle of the temporal, and is not ranked itself as being in Time, in the way that Eternity is the unifying principle of the intelligible genera without itself being one of these genera. Further, eternal things and temporal things are not related as simply belonging to different genera of Being. Rather, temporal things are an image of the eternal genera of Being itself.

So Eternity cannot be a genus of Being, and if it is not a genus of Being it cannot be in the autozoon, the third intelligible triad. Rather, it is the comprehensive principle of the intelligible genera in the autozoon. It is Eternity which brings them to birth and is the cause of their unchanging permanence.

.and [Eternity is] the cause of the unchanging permanence of all [the intelligible genera], a cause which is neither among the many intelligible [genera] themselves, nor comes from them by [a sort of] collection, but is raised above them and present to them, and by itself arranges them and as it were gives them shape, and it does this by making them to be as a whole all at once. For the manifold Form of the intelligibles (he pantodape ton noeton idea) is not brought forth immediately after the Good, which is without any trace of multiplicity. Rather, there are certain natures in between, more unified than the multiplicity of the All-Complete [i.e. the autozoon], and shewing forth in themselves the pangs of childbirth and the signs of the generation of the Wholes and the unifying bond. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.12.18-27)

Eternity is one of these natures that are "in between," as the principle immediately prior to the autozoon. The term "pangs of childbirth" (odina) is an interesting term for Proclus to use with regard to the emergence of the intelligible genera from Eternity. Throughout Proclus we find that multiplicity is brought forth from unity. Hence Eternity, as the principle of bringing forth, is not ranked with the intelligible genera, precisely because it is a prior unity which brings them forth. Proclus quotes the Chaldaean Oracles, and takes up their motif of the "Paternal Nous" (patrikos nous) and the "Flower of Nous" (noou anthos).

[Eternity] is saturated (diakore) with Paternal Divinity, which [the Oracles] call "the Flower of Nous." It shines down on all things, as the source of their nous and their eternally unchanging knowing, and their erotic turning towards (strephesthai) and activity around the cause of all. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.14.11—14)

Eternity is not only the source of the bringing to birth of the intelligible genera, it also is the source of their nous and hence of their circular movement back towards the source of their birth. These two motifs, of paternity and of a turning towards or return (epistrophe) indicate what is really going on in Proclus' conception of Nous. The multiplicity of intelligible genera in the autozoon are not merely a static set of categories, because they themselves are living eide which have been brought to birth. And in their being brought to birth they look back to their source, they strive towards it erotically, and they attain its unity and perfection in the only way they can, i.e. through their own multiplicity. Nous as a whole has the unity of a mind whose thought is of itself. Nous as intellectual, or as act of thinking, has a unity afforded through its orientation back towards the intelligible genera. But these genera themselves also have the unity afforded by their erotic orientation towards their own source. This unity afforded by being oriented towards a prior unity will also be the sort of unity which Time affords the multiplicity inherent in dianoia.

So in Proclus' system, even at the highest levels of Nous, Being is a dynamic coming forth into multiplicity of that which is hidden in a prior unity.9 So that which emerges into multiplicity has a certain unity about it, as having sprung from a single source and as returning to the same source. Such a multiplicity may be thought of as vectoral, i.e. as pointing the way back towards its own origin. Or it may be thought of as the circumference of a circle, whose infinity of points are all made into one figure by their orientation towards the centre, i.e. by their equidistance from the centre.

Nous as a dynamic coming forth of a prior unity into multiplicity is not so much like the common sense which gives unity to the proper senses, in Aristotle, or the transcendental unity of apperception which allows us to add the 'I think' to all of our thoughts, in Kant. Rather, it is in fact closer to the self-articulation of Geist in Hegel, or the revealing of itself of Being in Heidegger. In both these thinkers we have a coming forth into multiplicity, but both differ from Proclus' conception of a unity which is prior to and aloof from the unity it engenders, and which also does emerge into this multiplicity. Nous gives rise to a multiplicity of intelligible genera, but it is a primal unity before actualising itself in these multiple ways. Being is itself a power, a unity, which expresses itself in the multiplicity which it brings to birth, yet all that multiplicity of thought which is brought to birth seeks the unity which Being in itself is.10 Thus besides the third intelligible triad, the autozoon which is the multiplicity of intelligible genera, there must be a prior principle which brings this multiplicity to birth. And this is Eternity, the second intelligible triad.

Let us concede that there must be a principle before the autozoon. Why is it Eternity, and why is there also another intelligible triad before Eternity? Briefly stated, Proclus tells us that from Plato we know that the autozoon is eternal. But to be eternal means to participate in Eternity, not to be Eternity itself. So we know that Eternity is distinct from, and higher than, the autozoon. Further, by analogy with Time and the World, we know that Eternity is the next thing above the autozoon. Proclus tells us that the World is the first thing to participate in Time, because Time did not exist before the creation of the World (Proclus, In Timaeum III. 12.31 ff). In other words, genesis as a whole participates in Time as a whole, and is its primary participant. Likewise, the totality of intelligible genera participate in Eternity as a whole, and is its primary participant, because it is the primary locus of eternal beings. Hence Eternity is the second intelligible triad, which brings to birth the autozoon as the third intelligible triad.

What is before Eternity? Eternity is not itself the primal unity of Being, but rather, it is the principle of giving birth. It is the second moment; the power (dunamis) in the triad pater/dunamis/nous; the life (zoe) in the triad on/zoe/wows; the procession (proodos) in the triad mone/proodos/epistrophe.11 As power, life, and procession, Eternity is the principle of emergence, and what emerges is before it. Remember also that not all which is is eternal. Therefore Being must be a principle which is more comprehensive than Eternity, and in Procline metaphysics the higher principle is more comprehensive than the lower. Thus the unity to which Eternity looks is Being itself, and it is Being which Eternity causes to be expressed and brought to birth in multiplicity in the autozoon. Being is the first intelligible triad, called by Proclus the One-Being. Proclus interprets the phrase "Eternity which remains in a One" from Plato's Timaeus to refer to this. The One in which Eternity remains is not the One itself, but rather the unity of the One-Being.

If Eternity manifests a duality, even if we are often silent about this in our haste—for the "always" is bound to "being" (toi onti) in one unity (kata tauton) and "Eternity" (aion) is "that which always is" (ho aei on)—it seems that that before Eternity there is the monad of Being, the One-Being, and remaining in this One [i.e. in the One-Being]. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.15.11-15)

The monad of Being is the One-Being, so that it is in this that Eternity remains. Eternity manifests the duality of "being" and "eternal." But the Being which lies before it also manifests a duality: that of "One" and "Being." The One itself as absolute simplicity does not admit of any duality, and so cannot be said to be. But the unity which Eternity makes manifest is a unity of Being, and is therefore the One-Being, not the One itself.

So we see that Being does not fall into eternal and temporal as genera of itself. Rather, Being gives forth through the productive power of Eternity the eternal genera in the autozoon, which themselves give rise to a temporal image. Because Time is an image of Eternity, rather than simply a different mode of existence for beings, we should expect that Time will also be a principle of bringing to birth and of unification. In summary, the three moments of the intelligible in Nous are the simple source which remains in itself, the One-Being; Eternity as the principle which brings to birth the intelligible genera and unifies and comprehends them; and the autozoon which is a living multiplicity of intelligible genera, erotically turned towards the unity which is their source.

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