Plotinus: The Peak of Pagan Wisdom (II)

This originally appeared in Introduction to Magic, Volume 3, by the Gruppo di Ur. This is Part 2 of 2. ⇐ Go to part 1

Plotinus adds: pleasure is the act of life. It is the same view already established by another great genius of the ancient world, Aristotle, who had taught that every activity, insofar as it is perfect, is happy. Happiness and pleasure are like that in the form of purity and freedom: those who arise from the act that is fulfilled and that, once fulfilled, realizes the One, Being, the Good – not those passive and promiscuous men grabbed into the middle of the turbid self-satisfaction of cravings, thirsts, instincts. Again we are led to the non-human point of view of “reality”. The one who does not know the irrationality of sentiments. The degree of “being” is the secret and measurement of happiness itself.

Consequently, Plotinus asserts that the even in this universe souls can be happy: highlighting, with this, an important aspect of the pagan conception of existence. If “virtue”, as the dominating spiritual actuality, implies power, one can conceive as little that the “good” is accompanied by “happiness”, as glory is separable from victory. Whoever is defeated by external or internal constraint is not “good”: and for such a being to be happy would be unjust. But he accuses only himself of that, not the world.

Otherwise, we understand, the thing is for whoever reduces “virtue” to a simple “moral” disposition.

He certainly says, then, that “my kingdom is not of this world” and expects God to give happiness in the “afterlife” as a reward to the “just”, who, lacking power, have tolerated and endured injustice with humility and resignation in this life. The warrior and heroic truth of ancient classical-Aryan man was different. If “evil” and all its materialization in violence and limits of inferior forces and corporeal things has roots in a state of degradation of the good—it is inconceivable, it is logically contradictory that it might endure as a principle of unhappiness and servitude in respect to whoever destroyed that root, having become “good.” If “good” is, then “evil”—suffering, passion, slavery—cannot be. They are instead: they, then, will say that “virtue” is still imperfect; “being” is still incomplete; “purity” and “unity” are still “adulterated”.

There are those who are unarmed. But who has weapons, fights—there is no God who fights for those who are not in arms. The law requires that victory in war is the brave, not to those who pray.

That the cowardly are dominated by the wicked—is just.

New reaffirmation of the virile, Roman, warrior spirit of the pagan tradition. New contrast with the mystical-religious attitude. New contempt for those who deprecate the “injustice” of earthly things and instead of blaming their cowardice, they either resign themselves to their powerlessness, or they blame the Whole or hope that “Providence” cares about them.

“There is no God who fights for those who are not in arms.” This is the anti-Christian cornerstone of every warrior morality; and it carries back to the concepts explained above about the identification—from the metaphysical point of view—of “reality”, “spirituality”, and “virtue”. The cowardly cannot be good, “good” implies a soul of a hero. And the perfection of the hero is the triumph. Ask God for victory, it would be equivalent to ask Him for “virtue”: since victory is the body in which the very perfection of “virtue” takes place.

The soldiers of Fabius, leaving, vowed not to conquer or die, but vowed to fight and to return as victors. And the victors returned. The spirit of Rome reflects the spirit of this same wisdom.

For fear, total suppression, the soul has nothing to be afraid of.

Those who fear nothing have not reached the perfection of virtue. He is mediocrity.

In the higher man [spoudaus], feelings are not displayed as in the others. Do not reach the interior: they are other things, are suffering and grief, his or others. This would be weakness of the soul.

If suffering passes the measure—that pass it. The light that is in him will last, like the lamp of a lighthouse in the swirling wind and storm.

Master of himself even in this state, will decide what there is to do.

The spoudaus would not be such, if a demon was acting within his action. In him, it is the sovereign mind (nous) that acts.

Plotinus admits that the superior man can sometimes have involuntary and unreflective fears, but almost as movements that do not belong to him and because his spirit is not present. “Coming back to himself, he will drive them away … Like a child who remains tamed only by the majesty of those who gaze on him fixedly.”

Concerning suffering, it can at most cause the separation of a part of oneself not yet free from passion: but never the overturning of the higher principle. “He will decide what there is to do.” When it is the case, he may also withdraw from the game. Do not forget that according to Plotinus the superior man is in himself his own “demon” and he lives down here like an actor who plays a part he freely chose. Against the Gnostics Christians he retorted sharply, “Why despise this world, where you yourselves have come to by your own will? It permits you to go away if good is not found there. ‘”

As nous in man can be precisely defined as the “being” principle made of pure intellectuality, it is the “Olympic mind” with respect to which the “soul” principle (psyche) already represents a marginal wrapping up: at most, it is a profundity that is hidden and latent. But then, more than the ‘”I”, it is a “demon” who acts in every action. Plotinus says exactly that everything that happens without deliberation, unites a demon to a god. We now see who the opposite condition is revealed.

There, the why of being … it does not exist as why, but as being. Better: the two things are one.

May everyone be himself.

May our thoughts and our actions be our own. May the actions of each being belong to him. Whether they be good—whether they be evil.

When the soul has pure and impassible reason for a guide, in full self-mastery, where he wants to direct his energy. Only then can the act be said to be ours, not another’s: from interiority of the soul as a purity, as a pure dominating and sovereign principle… not by action misled by ignorance and fragmented by desire … For, then, passion, and not act, it would be in us.

Feelings are the visions of the soul asleep.

Everything of the soul that is in the body sleeps. To come out of the bod, is the true awakening. Changing lives with a body, is to pass from one sleep to another sleep, from one bed to another bed.

To truly awaken, is to leave the world of bodies.

As materiality is the state of swoon of the spirit, so the reality of sleep is every reality that appears to us in the midst of the material senses. The coming out from the body and the abandonment of the world of bodies is, however, not grossly interpreted: it is essentially about an interior transformation, a self-integration in the “intellectual nature without sleep”. And this is the true initiatic and metaphysical realization.

Very effectively, Plotinus assimilates the transformation of the body in passing from one bed to another. When it also had a consistency, the doctrine of reincarnation could not be better stigmatized, as in the part of this pagan initiate. One form is equivalent to another in the “cycle of births” in respect to the center which is equally distant from every point on the circumference. Metaphysical realization is a fracture in the series of conditioned states: one opening above a radically heterogeneous direction. One does not reach it by following the trail of those types who “flee”, those who pursue a goal that they have outside themselves: in the becoming of the world of bodies.

What must there be in front of you as a spectacle, if one looks outside. But now, you have to look at yourself; to make yourself one with what you have to contemplate; to know that what you have to contemplate is yourself.

And that is yours. As someone who was invaded by the god Phoebus or a Muse. He would see himself shine in divine clarity, if he had the power at the same time to contemplate in himself this divine light.

16 thoughts on “Plotinus: The Peak of Pagan Wisdom (II)

  1. The point I was trying to make, Cassiodorus, even if harsh, is that matters are not so simple. As you see, Aquinas did not make a sharp distinction between creation and emanation. Here, we are taking Guenon at his word that theological propositions can be rephrased as metaphysical statements, hence we are taking that approach. If done correctly, there should be no conflict between them. To oppose one to another, would be like comparing a color to an odor; that is why we can’t be bogged down in tedious and unresolvable theological disputes. As Aquinas himself put it, there are certain things he knows through metaphysics that common people must believe by faith. Other things, he leaves to faith. However, as we have often pointed out, Solovyov claims that even those dogmas can be known. That is something we will get to eventually.

    The advantage of metaphysics is that more can be encompassed without unnecessary partisanship (not that it is all unnecessary).

  2. Plato studied under the Israelites and merged what he learned from them with his own creations.

  3. Of course, the Greek myths and legends were echoes of much more ancient, perhaps even primordial revelations. There are, of course, many Hyperborean allusions in them.

    However, the greek religion(s), as we know them, historically, certainly degenerated into superstitions and polytheism, with sorcery occupying top place, at least in the first centuries AD.

    As for Plato and Plotinus: it is said that Plato, his main influence, traveled to Egypt to learn the ancient wisdom, which explains much of the contents of his writings. Plotinus was, of course, also influenced by ancient Eastern wisdom. Both, however, seem to have, afterwards, relied on their own efforts to put all this into a workable template. It is not clear wether or not they received some kind of initiation. In one of his books on initiation, Guenon claimed that Plotinus “seems to have had some kind of hindrance that prevented his initiation from becoming fully active and workable”, but I don’t know where he got that idea from and why.
    Anyway, neither of them worked within the confines of a regular traditional revelation, in the light of which to balance their doctrines, which makes them fallible from time to time.

  4. You need to spell this out more: what about natural revelation, the inner image of Man, etc.? If Christianity and the Bible are to be believed, these things have a much stronger place than traditionally accorded within the Faith, although Orthodoxy does better than most. Revelation, I agree, is more than the limiting factor of secular Reason, or a purely esoteric and private truth, however, “Revelation” as usually used within the Faith is exoterically denoted: Plotinus is not speaking of this, here. Additionally, there is the fact of works like the Stromata, in which Clement claims that a natural revelation actually preceded the Scripture, and is endorsed (for example) when St. Paul quotes the poet Aratus. In the Stromata, Clement goes so far as to claim that the Greek “revelation” is a corruption of a “barbarian” and “Northern” revelation that comes even more directly from God, and finds its natural heir in the Israelite mythos.

  5. I agree, Mihai.

    As I was pointing out, Plotinus was influenced by the Christian St Dionysius.

  6. Trying so hard to equate Christianity and Neo-Platonism is a mistake. So is taking everything uncritically and unconditionally from the ancient greek philosophers.

    For me, Plato is an invaluable resource on the path towards Truth. However, I do recognize that, every now and then in his writings, he does show inaccuracies, inconsistencies or exaggeration. It is a question of taking what is good and not being limited by some of the few failings he has. And what is good is precisely what conforms to metaphysical principles, in other words, the exposition of genuine traditional doctrine.

    The same goes for Neo-Platonism. Both Plato’s writings and those of Plotinus (and the rest of the neo-platonists) represent a synthesis of ancient and traditional metaphysical doctrines, but they are not direct Revelation- such as Christianity is. This means that individual opinion is sometimes present alongside with the great truths they expose, thus presenting certain limitations.

    This is why they should be used as templates, as means to an end, but not ends in themselves.

    The same goes with the writings of those such as Guenon, Evola and the like.

  7. Colegero,

    I appreciate the link that you provided.

  8. I think Elder Thaddeus (Your Thoughts Determine Your Life) draws a distinction between image and likeness, but only for those who are not on the true path (which Clement would say culminates in Gnosis). We all have His image, but through sin we deform His likeness. Ideally, you have both.

  9. It’s interesting that Clement of Alexandria embraces, even claims, the term Gnostic for advancement in the Christian faith. When he debates points with them, he usually uses their level of reasoning and accepts many, if not most of their dogmas, in some form.

  10. So creation = emanation and all things do contain a trace of the Trinity.

    There is then no conflict between Plotinus and St Thomas.

  11. From the Summa Theologica:

    creation, which is the emanation of all being, is from the not-being which is nothing

    For the whole discussion on this topic, refer to: Question 45. The mode of emanation of things from the first principle.

    As for “resembling” the “supreme identity”, by which I presume you mean God, I consider “image and likeness” to be synonyms, so your accusation of a violation misses the mark (allusion intended).

    I hope we will not get bogged down in a theological “debate”, which is on the level of discursive reason. There is plenty of “real” material to ponder, such as the meaning of being “awake” vs sleep, the identity of being and power, what is the “nous” that transcends discursive reasonging, what exactly is that “interior transformation” that was mentioned, and so on. I had to put up with heresy hunters from the neo-pagans, and I won’t tolerate it from the other side. Gornahoor is entirely optional and I have no desire to convince anyone of anything against their will.

  12. As a Catholic who believes in the genuineness of the works of St Dionysius, I will say that despite what the Traditionalists would have us believe it was actually Neoplatonism that was influenced by Christianity – Dionysius predating Plotinus.

    Take it from where it comes from, but Dugin in his METAPHYSICS OF THE GOSPEL claims that Orthodox Christianity teaches manifestionism not creationism as the Western church does.

  13. Do the adherents of Tradition regard the Platonic philosophical mysticism of late antiquity as a Revelation or a merely “human system”? Does the doctrine of the Self suggest that Revelation is not, well, “necessary”? Does the formal “avataric descent” actually make intellection/realization possible? That is, does it “open the door”? Or does Revelation simply point the way?

    (Apologies for beating this horse) On Plotinian emanationalism….I’m not sure- historically speaking, traditional Christians have defended the view that creatio ex nihilo implies that, between creator and creation, there is an absolute ontological chasm. The classical theist wouldn’t, of course, deny Divine immanence, but there is an insistence on the radical divide between the natural and supernatural – to safeguard His transcendence. To suggest anything that resembles the “Supreme Identity” violates creatio ex nihilo and automatically leads to howls of gnosticism and pantheism. Would it be fair to say that, from the perspective of classical theism, it is essential to distinguish between imago Dei and the nondual doctrine of the Self?

  14. It may be helpful for someone to verify the Plotinus quotes, since the process from Greek to Italian and then English seems to have produced some awkward wordings. I previously provided the link to the text where the references can be found. I have marked the actual quotes next to a blue vertical bar.

  15. This piece needs further commentary. I am sensing a Nietzschean tone throughout the essay and Evola may be trying to remold Plotinus into a proto-Nietzsche ?

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