As you read Plotinos an image forms of the aboriginal enchanter: Herakleitos. Herakleitos who went down to the river and stared at it, and saw the water passing along and wondered what a river was, and it became a metaphor, it seems, of the visible world. Where in flux is permanence? Permanence is the divine, the real, what matters, and the flux is illusion–and matter the substance of illusion. So believed Plotinos, who followed after Plato.

Plotinos understood that timeless idea Greece gave the world: Hellenism. He appropriated its rigor of intellect, its certainty of the primordial reality of form, the arithmetical mysticism of Pythagoras, the clarity and light and applied it all to personal conversion: return to God. He was a philosopher of spirituality.

Imagine with him: look up to the heavens and in the deep heavens seeing the light and splendor shinning through those distant bodies. It is the glow of divinity, a gesture at the grandeur and splendor of World-Soul, of Nature, the spiritual reality apprehended beyond the world of perception. This is the realm of Zeus. Above Zeus and the endless motion of Soul which is time, above one thing coming after another and discursive reason is the realm of the Eternal, of Kronos, of Contemplation. It is a geometric, clear, abstract and unchanging world of Mind, where thinker and thought are one, but the object of though is still a higher and absolutely singular. Depth, beyond depth, beyond depth. Height, upon height, upon height.

There is a lot of poetry in that! Theologically, the One of Plotinos is beyond consciousness and personally indifferent, from what I can tell. The One, the Good, is generously available, so that one can ascend in contemplation and view it, achieving in that way a totality of permanent Being in a body of higher substance, but not in personal relationship. He always spoke in terms of sameness and otherness, and I don’t think they would have had the subject and object terminology. Could one contemplate the One as subject and subject? I do not think so, though I hesitate to limit in any way the possibilities available to the Great Plotinos. The One is available and superabundantly radiates from itself, and is beyond activity and even beyond being, and that is all. For one there is an achievement after which there is no growth, no development, only eternal perfection, endless abundant, blessed contemplation. It is Oriental, isn’t it? An Oriental spirituality done with absolute Hellenic reason. Also, it is a philosophy of absolute reverence, and there is perhaps its limitation: reverence cannot assume all of what divinity reveals. I mean that Plotinus would have found impious to assume the One, though immanent and transcendent both, in any way condescending or personal. A tremendous source for poetry, but not enough for the consolation of religion. It was for someone not devoted reverently to Neoplatonism but willing to use it for another reverence (a platonical irreverence) such as St. Augustine to understand in that God was more deep inside himself than he was, and was a subject he could turn to, rather than just otherness or beyond otherness . . . or is that subject? The otherness beyond otherness is when object becomes responding subject. Can it be? Perhaps that’s what Plotinos meant by his language? I do not know. But you see how useful his language turns out to be.


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