II.9 Against the Gnostics

Overarching Thoughts

At stake is Gnostic cosmodicy. Plotinus emerges as a pagan apologist of the divine and the terrestrial order. (The influence from Ireneaus and Hippolytus, as well as the influence on Epiphanius, as well as the general overarching problematic, merits deep investigation. A lot undoubtedly hinges on the different nature of the creator: the Plotinian Soul over against the Christian God.) However the text is intended for ‘friends’, rather than a faithful account of Gnostic doctrine or a public confrontation with their school. This address of friends is attested in the antonym of the original Greek title: Pros. The text is directed towards those Gnostics that are in a position to receive it; it is not directed against them. Importantly, the text is the last part of the Langschrift, the longest treatise composed by Plotinus and divided into four by Prophyry to serve the Enneadic structure (the other three being in their order of composition, 3.8, 5.8 and 5.5).

Synopsis: Ch.1 Argument against the existence of more than one first principle and more than one nous. Why there must be so many and only so many intelligible entities—a consideration that pervades the next chapters. Ch.2 Three forces in the soul, making it swerve towards the better and the worse. Ch.3 The dependency of the lower on the higher; the intelligible will never shut itself away and abandon the corporeal. Ch.4 The Soul couldn’t have erred in the creation of this world: this world is as perfect as a corporeal world can be. Ch.5 First aporias of Gnostic cosmogony. Ch.6 Appropriation and misuse of Plato and the multiplication of entities. Plotinus uses Ockham’s razor against the Gnostics. An account of the basic truths and falsehoods of Gnosticism. Ch.7 Unlike our individual souls the universal Soul remains unaffected by its body. Partaking in it, we must follow its rhythm, lest we be crushed by a God who means no harm. Ch.8 Further considerations on the world creation by the Soul; the homology of the ontological and the moral good. Ch.9 Indifference to worldly goods; hierarchy recast in the intelligible and reflected in the sensible. Advocacy of piety and humility with regard to one’s own excellence. The Gnostic arrogance of claiming exclusively the attention of the God, is not only a moral, but an epistemic fallacy too. The primary concern of the God is the greatest perfection of the whole. Ch.10 The true intention of the letter: its address of friends. The absurd and blasphemous Gnostic genealogy of creation, resulting in a Demiurge made of matter. Ch.11 Refutation of the Gnostic cosmology. Why would the universal Soul create the Demiurge to produce the world, instead of creating it directly? If the Demiurge is an independent essence, like the Soul, and its nature is material it will lack the imagination required in planning and producing the world. If a contemplation, as the Gnostics claim, it will need to receive its creating power from the Soul and wouldn’t be a true creator. Ch.12 Further problems of the Gnostic doctrine. The question of the creation of the world in accordance or against the nature of the Soul; the question of the origin of the darkness into which the world came to be. Ch.13 The false Gnostic drama of an evil divine order replaced by the truth of an ascending goodness and perfection. Ch.14 The Gnostic folly of claiming mastery over gods and spirits of disease, by words, incantation and spells. The significance of diet. Advocacy of clarity, simplicity, piety, dignity, reason and courage. Ch.15 The effect of philosophy upon its recipients. The question of virtue. Ch.16 A defense of the divine, through providence and design. Ch.17 A defense through the structure of Beauty Ch.18 Advocacy of gratitude for the body, of the celestial kinship of souls, of the imitation of the Soul. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 1

The nature of the Good is simple and first. And everything that is not first is not simple. (The repercussions of this rather fundamental postulate of Plotinus almost exceed our grasp. Increasing concretion means increasing complexity, a grain of sand appears more complex than an ecosystem.) So that the Good is itself good and the One itself one, yet this isn’t a matter of postulation of a nature, but a only a means for our understanding to think the one. So that the one, being the simplest and completely self-sufficient must necessarily stand above all. (Hyper: the tradition.al topology of the Good.) Accordingly there are no more originary principles (archai), but we must postulate the one first, followed by Intellect (nous) and Soul (psychē): these and only these are the intelligible orders and principles. It has been shown elsewhere that no two of those three orders can be reduced to one single and so remains to see whether there may be more.

No one will discover a simpler principle, or one to transcend the One. Moreover, it is not possible to dissolve a principle into actuality and potentiality, since what is without matter, must always be actual. Accordingly, not only the One, but Intellect and Soul as well must be actual. Further it is not possible to postulate a resting and a moving intellect. Rather “nous is as it is, forever the same, resting in a still activity.” This formulation already attests however the tension in the thought of Plotinus. The stillness of the activity of nous, its resting being-at-work, is a thought we must tarry with. For Plotinus the activity of nous manifests itself in the logos that proceed from it and makes psychē intelligible (noeran), rather than create another nature between the two. Moreover, there cannot be a nous that thinks and another thinking that it thinks. For even with us, although it is one thing to think and another to think that one thinks, yet what is at work is a singular application (prosbolē), which is not insensitive to its own activity, except when thought is reduced to inanity (aphrosynē). The true intellect will then be singular and thoroughly aware of its thought and the distinction of the two activities of the intellect in thought, but not essentially, will be no objection to its actual singularity. For, if it were another intellect that thought of this thought, it would no longer constitute a self-thinking activity, but something thinking about something else. Further, when the thought of the intellect consists in the nothing but its intelligible interiority, how could it fail to be a thought that thinks itself? The absurdity of dividing nous, becomes apparent when we realize that then a third nous would be required to think the thought of the second and so on ad infinitum. Finally, if one wishes to hypostasize the logos that proceeds from nous and interpolate it between nous and psychē, he must rob psychē from thought, as it won’t be able to reach nous and it won’t even have a true logos in itself but an image (eidōlon), a logos proceeding from the hypostasized logos, twice removed from the thought of nous. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 2

So there is a singular nous (henan noun), through and through unswerving (pantachēi aklinē), which imitates the father (patera), the originary one, as far as it is possible to itself. In our soul however a part turns towards those things beyond, another to the things of this world and a third remains between the two. And as it is one nature with a multitude of forces in it, it swerves between the best and the worst, at times having its middle part appropriated by the extremes. But never does justice (themis), allow it that the whole soul be dragged down and as long as the soul contemplates what is before it, it is accorded a beautiful order by a wondrous power (eis to pro autēs theai katakosmousa dynamei thaumastē). [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 3

The Soul is always illuminated and gives its light to what comes after it, those beings, which are held together and sustained in life as long as they partake in its light. (The idea of the Christian light incessantly sustaining the world is at hand.) The fire then and life of the Soul is measured, proceeding as far as possible from the Intellect and that of the Intellect from the One. This dependence of intelligible life and power is not temporal, but rather ontological. For those intelligible realities have not come to be and will not perish, as they have nothing to dissolve into. And if we were to say that these intelligible hypostases should dissolve into matter, why shouldn’t we also assume the dissolution of matter? (Implied is here the incorporeality of matter, which grants it a certain indestructibility: the non-being of matter exists forever like the being of forms.) If however there ever was a need of beings to proceed from the one, the need exists also now. (And will always exist.) So that the divine will not shut itself away from matter, but rather matter will always be able to receive the light descending from the One. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 4

The soul may have “shed its wings” (Plato, Phaedrus, 246c), but this does not refer to the universal Soul. For if as the Gnostics claim it erred (sphalma), then it must have done so at a specific point in time. This is however absurd, for if it did so at a specific moment in time, why not earlier? And if it has been in this state forever, it cannot have shed its wings and fallen and must forever remain so. Rather the creation of the world is not a declension (neusis), an inclination of the Soul towards the world, but a non-declension. Was it otherwise the Soul couldn’t be the creator of the world. For in order to create the Soul must have retained a memory of the forms and if so it couldn’t be completely inclined to the lower, but it would strive to reach the higher, its neusis leading it to the intelligible. Moreover the Soul cannot be expecting some reward from the universe, like some petty craftsman. (A difficulty Christian theology will also have to overcome. It does so by claiming that God made the world out of love.) And if the Soul has regretted the creation of this world, what is it waiting for before destroying it? If it is waiting for the individual souls to witness the evil of the world, this should have taken place by now. Moreover it is wrong to assume an evil origin and evil being (to kakōs gegonenai) of this world, because of all the difficulties in it. This is rather the expectation of those who believe this world must be as perfect as the intelligible when it is merely its image. And if we look around, we must admit that there could be no fire, no earth, no celestial dome and no sun better than those of our world, other than their intelligible counterparts. This world is as perfect as a corporeal world can be. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 5

Rather the Gnostics assume that there is a power in them and even in the most base of humans, which is immortal and more divine than that of the sun, claiming that the celestial order and beauty has no communion with the immortal Soul. It is no surprise that they should protest on worldly disorder; but why would then the immortal Soul choose this inferior world to dwell in, rather than the most beautiful celestial? (Plotinus succumbs to a fallacy emerging from a lack of a perspective of the longue durée of cosmos, which offers ample scope of disorder, chaos, violence, noise, etc. The celestial cosmos is no more beautiful or ordered than this terrestrial world.)

The Gnostics also introduce a second soul composed of the elements. What they fail to account for is how life and a principle of coherence (synochē), let alone perception and will, might emerge from the elements. The Gnostics then introduce another earth (gēn), to which they believe will go after leaving this world. This is an archetypal world (paradeigma), but why would they wish to transmigrate to the original of a disorderly and evil world, remains unclear. It also remains unclear how and why the maker undertook the production of such a paradigmatic world. The Gnostics seem to believe this took place after the maker was already inclined towards the creation of this world, in order to safeguard (phylattein) the souls. But such safeguarding seems to have failed. Be it as it may, if the paradigmatic world was created after this one, it would have come about by the abstraction of matter from its form (and this intelligible world would no longer be an archetype, but a product); souls would then have no need of this other world for their safety, once tried successfully in this. Finally it remains unclear what the Gnostics mean by placing the form of the world in their soul. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 6

Moreover, introducing a multitude of intelligible entities (paroikēseis, antiypoi, metanoiai, etc.) the Gnostics do no more than create a new jargon (kainologountes), which produces beings, in the place of what is no more than affects (pathē) of the Soul. The Gnostics attempt thus to found their own sect (hairesis: it is important here the exact connotation of the word; in my reading its use is already loaded), appropriating and misusing classical thought. Indeed, whatever truth they hold, is to be found for Plotinus already in Plato, while whatever new they have imported of their own accord into their system of thought is false. (A summary, yet perhaps unavoidable for Plotinus, judgment of Gnosticism.)

So for example in the words of Timaeus (39e): “The maker of everything, thought that it should contain all the ideas that thought contemplates in what is truly living,” the Gnostics discover a multiplicity of intellects. One which holds in repose the ideas (en hēsychiai echonta), another that contemplates them (theōrounta) and yet another that effectuates them discursively (dianooumenon) and yet at times they will rather postulate Soul as the creator. In general, they multiply entities believing thereby to have discovered truth in all accuracy, while they merely drag the intelligible down into the likeness of the sensible. For in truth there can and must be only the smallest numbers of principle in the intelligible (deon ekei to hōs hoti malista oligon eis arithmon diōkein). Ockham’s razor is here championed by one of its least likely proponents.

So on the one hand the Gnostics have received certain truths from the tradition of Platonism: the immortality of the soul, the intelligible universe, the first god, the need of the soul to exit its association with the body and be separated from it as well as of the flight from becoming into essence (ek geneseōs eis ousian). But on the other this sect will not argue in a generous and philosophic manner in search of truth, but hunting honour, it introduces all kinds of generations and corruptions, blame the soul for its association with the body, denounce the universe and its maker, as well as his management of the world, identify this maker with the universal Soul into which every fault of individual souls is imported. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 7

Neither did the world begin, nor will it end. The weight that the body constitutes for the soul is an ancient truth. But as it is a major fallacy to transfer the faults of our souls to the universal Soul, a fallacy akin to blaming a whole city for the shortcomings of its potters, so we must think the relation of body and soul in accordance with this difference. The universal Soul is not bound by the body of the cosmos, nor does it direct it the way our souls direct our bodies. For, among many other considerations, it is of utter importance that our bodies are already bound by the universal soul, before they bind us. So we are bound twice, by the Soul and our body, before we bind in turn a second time the centrifugal elements in our bodily constitution. The universal Soul however remains unbound and unaffected by the elements over which it presides (archei). For the elements are contained in it and thereby affected by all that happens to it, while the opposite is not the case. Like the graft of a tree will die if the tree dies, while its withering will not affect the whole tree, so the fire in us will be extinguished, if the universal fire is destroyed, but the destruction of our fire will not affect the universal soul. Indeed, for Plotinus, even the extinction of the universal fire will not affect the Soul, since this is no more than one of the elements and another world may emerge without it. (This is a bold hypothesis, yet it is a question whether the very logic of corporeality dictates the presence of four elements, resolving into the four fundamental qualities: cold, hot, wet and dry.) Moreover, while the elements of the body try to escape it (the elemental centrifuge), there is nowhere for the elements of the universe to escape into and the universal Soul can arrange them as it wills and so its nature remains where it was always meant to be. (Plotinus remains silent about the resistance of the elements. Even if they cannot escape they cannot be absolutely pliant, like matter; otherwise there will be no vantage point to introduce imperfection. This draws us back to a reconsideration of matter, designated as root of all evil.) Finally, if any of the parts of the whole moves out of its own accord, discording with the rhythm of the divine dance of the universe, it must be trampled over, like a turtle, by the feet of the dancing Soul. (The vast implications of a God who cannot halt the dance to save one of his creations. Cf. the earlier IV.4.32, where greater animals trample the smaller, or a fire sweeps over living beings.) [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 8

To ask why the Soul made the universe amounts to asking why Soul exists and why the creator creates. (Yet this is not an empty, rhetorical question.) This is a question posed by those who assume that what exists forever had a beginning (archē: here the world is employed with a narrowly temporal connotation.) These people believe that the change and turn of a being (trapenta) from something to something else was the cause of the universe. And they censure this being in its administration of the universe, a fallacy resting in their inability to comprehend the magnitude of the intelligible nature. For it is a nature who’s life is not disjointed, which to some extend the lives of the lesser beings it creates are, but rather it is a continuous, pure, great and omnipresent life of absolute wisdom (sophia), which can only be a pure and beautiful image (agalma) of the intelligible gods. But if it is in the nature of an image to imitate imperfectly (otherwise it would no longer be an image; but let us think here of cloning, the ultimate product of art), it is always in its nature to be a certain likeness: in this case one that is beautiful and complete.

And this world that came to be was not planned and contrived, but came (at once) after the intelligible, the activity of which is twofold (interior and exterior) and so required an exteriority upon which to manifest its activity. This exteriority is our world, the one and only image, which preserves (aposōizōn) the intelligible universe. And if the earth is full of all sorts of living and immortal beings, there must be even greater perfection and life in the celestial spheres, where corporeality is most perfect and constitutes no hindrance to the activity of the Soul. Accordingly, our wisdom cannot be greater than the one to be found in the sky. Finally, if our souls where compelled (biastheisai: with violence) by the universal Soul to come into being, the universal Soul that dominated them must be most perfect, since in the intelligible the hierarchy is a matter of perfection. But if our souls came into being out of their own accord, how can we blame the universal Soul, especially when we are always afforded the freedom to exit this world? (The thought Plotinus can in no way accommodate is the existence of a more powerful, but evil divinity. Ontological perfection must go hand in hand with moral perfection. If Platonism has any meaning, it must hinge on the agathon: the One that is and is at once and exclusively good.) [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 9

A man of true excellence (spoudaios) will not seek wealth, material equality, or the power to dominate. For this man knows that the there two kinds of life in this world (dittos o enthade bios), that of wise excellence (tois spoudaiois) and that of the many, the first directed to the uttermost above (to akrotaton kai to anō) and latter in turn divided into two. (Platonic taxonomic dialectic is here at work. Cf. Sophist, Statesman, etc.) The first, which retains a memory of virtue, partakes in a certain kind of good (agathon), while the second, of the common multitude (phaulos ochlos; we could even read: base mob), which exists as a kind of (hoion) manual labourer to provide for the needs of the need of the best (tois epieikesterois; we might read this, especially within the metaphor as referring to the upper classes simpliciter. Cf. also Aristotle, Politics, 1308b). (Plotinus, who might under a certain light be seen as deeply apolitical, appears here deeply conservative. What seems to be at stake is less a political doctrine and more the ontologization of a political hierarchical structure. It is extremely important that the multitude is not allotted the place of a working class, but only the likeness (hoion) of this structural position. If this whole taxonomy refers to the intelligible good what kind of non-material needs can the work of these labourers satisfy for the wise?)

Of course then some will be better and some worse and there shall be crime and murder. (But the Gnostics who despise the world should welcome murder as a piece of good fortune.) But it is a good thing that there might be winners and the defeated in this contest of life and that reward and punishment should befall them accordingly. And one must strive for perfection, but never regard this striving as a possession and all the less as a personally exclusive one: for this already indicates a less than perfect soul. (The same antinomy that runs through Christianity: if I recognize myself as pious and good, I am already removed from my aim.) Rather there are other men of excellence and perfection in gods and the life of the universal Soul is of the highest perfection. And the highest among the Gods, deserves praise in thought and in hymns for manifesting such perfection in the multiplicity of gods that depend upon and existing through him, rather than enfolding into oneness (systeilai eis hen). (A thought that runs through Christianity up to Leibniz and beyond.) It is in the nature of things (kata physin: the question of physis opens, physis, as something almost beyond the divine) that there should be gods of lesser perfection than the highest and that human perfection should be even more inferior. To think of ourselves as equal to the gods is like a flight in dreams; in truth it is no more than an obstacle to becoming a god, insofar as this lies within human powers, that is as far as nous can take one. For, to wish to go beyond the intellect is to fall outside the intelligible, to enter into the unintelligible. (This is the space of the One.) And it is a trait of immense arrogance to believe to be so unique within creation that God only cares for you, while forgetting the rest of this creation and it is propagating falsehood to incite the same belief in others. Rather, the God sees the whole of creation, which needs him; otherwise God would not see them either, who believe not to need him. So, a pious and wise man will accept what befalls him, from the movement of the universal dance and not consider what is individually pleasant, ignoring the whole. (The Leibnizian defense against theodicy.) And this man, will know what he truly possesses and that, unlike the Gnostics wish to assume, claiming to possess something does not amount to possessing it. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 10

There are many more points that could be singled out as false in the Gnostic teachings; indeed, everything. (For, it must be assumed that if a theory is essentially false, it is so throughout, even if it contains certain truths.) Plotinus however is unwilling to go through every single point, confessing that the present refutation intends friends who have fallen into Gnosticism. This is an Aristotelian conception of friendship. Of course amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas, but friendship has space for the fallen, the imperfect, provided that something truly good remains in them. As for the convinced Gnostics, who bask in their falsehood, unable to bring forth any proofs (apodeixis: a de-cisive monstration, a de-monstration), a different manner (tropos) of writing would be required. Before moving on however, Plotinus examines one final, most absurd, Gnostic position. The convoluted genealogy of the production of wisdom (Sophia) from a declension of the Soul resulted in its human incarnation. So the souls came down, but the universal Soul for the sake of which they came to this world did not follow them and did not decline, but merely illuminated matter from which an image, a lower wisdom (Sophia-Achamoth) was born. From this image a further image, the Creator (Demiurge) came to be through matter and then revolted against his matter and so dragged down the universe to the uttermost point of imitation, into pure baseness. For Plotinus, merely relating this account is enough to demonstrate its blasphemy. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 11

The chapter proceeds as a series of aporetic questions that function in a familiar Plotinian manner as refutations.

First of all, if the Soul did not descend into this world, but merely illuminated it, how could one speak of a declension? And if the Soul illuminated matter, how could it not also illuminate those beings above it? And if the Soul drew its illumination of the world from an in-ceptive con-ception (logismos), why did it not thereby create the world, but waited for the birth of images (a twilight of idols)? In that case logismos, this strange land (xenē gē), would not force the creator to descend (decline). And this matter (which constitutes the Demiurge) could perhaps create material images, but how could it be the creator of souls? A soul, unlike a body, would require no matter and would remain attached to its creator. But is such a created soul an ‘essence’ (ousia) or as they say a ‘contemplation’ (ennoēma)? If it is an essence it won’t differ (ontologically) from its origin, and it will be yet another kind of soul. And whereas the higher creating soul will have to be the contemplating one (logikē), this lower created soul must (an unclarified necessity) be nutritive (phytikē) or generative (gennētikē), which it means that it cannot have produced the world through imagination (phantasia) and in order to seek in this creation honour. (Even as a vegetative soul the creator does not need imagination. The creation of the world could be a simply matter of nature at this point. Yet this is clearly not what the Gnostics thought about the Demiurge.) Finally, if it is so, it remains unclear why matter should at all be introduced. On the other hand, if this created soul is a contemplation, a clarification of the meaning of this word is due from the Gnostics. Be that as it may, a mere contemplation would need to receive from the Soul its creative, productive power. Finally, amidst much confusion it is unclear why the Gnostics place fire first in this order of the creation of the world. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 12

The Gnostics say that the newly created Demiurge came to create the world by recollecting the intelligible. But neither did he nor his mother (the offspring of Sophia, wisdom proper) exist at the time, to be able to recollect. (Of course the Platonic theory of recollection presupposes that there is a certain difference of the being that originally knew and the one recollecting; at the same time however, it is one and the same soul that is incarnated into a different existence.) And why did from this dim recollection, the demiurge make fire first? If he could recollect and create fire then surely he could have created the whole world, since creation must have proceeded from a thought of the whole, in which fire would be a part. For in nature, unlike art, creation does not proceed from the elements, but as a whole. An animal for example, does not emerge from the aggregation of elements, which are accordingly mixed, but a layout (peribolē) and an outline (perigrpahē) of the whole animal is imprinted (typousa) into the menstruation of its mother. Why then wasn’t matter also imprinted with the form of the universe, in which the elements would be included? Although their wise souls would agree to such a necessity, they would attribute the process of production to the inferiority of the demiurge. Yet how could the maker of the celestial spheres be all that inferior?

Finally, if we are to consider the necessity of the Soul to create this must have been universal (pantōs). It must have been a necessity according or against its nature. If according to nature, it must forever have been so. If against its nature, then “against nature” will also exist in the intelligible and thus evil would have existed before this world (the identification of ‘nature’ with the good and its opposite with evil, is absolute). In which case this world is not to blame for the evils, but rather they should be referred back to the first creating principles. As for the creating Soul, declined into an already existing darkness, which it saw and illuminated. But where did this darkness come from? If the darkness did not exist until then, the Soul would have nowhere to decline into. But if it was also created by the Soul, then darkness must indeed be referred back to the intelligible. (This fundamental criticism of Gnosticism does not leave Plotinus’ own thought on matter unaffected. Where did Plotinian matter come from? Its ambivalent ontology is attempting to configure an answer, yet the implications remain open.) [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 13

Those who censure the nature of the world know not what they are doing. For the Gnostics do not understand that there is an order (taxis), a hierarchy of beings and that the last among them should not be judged and censured as though they were first. Rather one must accommodate with kindness the nature of the universe in one’s soul, without seeking pleasure in the artifice of a divine tragedy. (The Gnostics postulated Archons, rulers of the divine spheres, who barred the upward homecoming of the soul. In order to progress past each Archon, an appropriate spell was necessary.) What could be so terrifying about these beings in the eyes of those who possess not the Gnostic wisdom? Even if their bodies are made of fire, they are not to be feared, since they are proportioned to the earth and the all; and one should look into their souls, because even the Gnostics claim this to be the seat of honour. And if their bodies are already great and beautiful, as well as an integral part of the universe, their soul must be all the more so. And if there is something honourable (timion ti) in man this lies not in the exercise of tyrannical rule, but in providing beauty and order (kosmon kai taxin). (A deep lesson of Socratic wisdom.) So one should at most interpret the intervention of such spirits as the giving of signs (sēmeia; cf. II.3, on celestial signs), but the unfolding of events is specific to chance and individual circumstances and dispositions. So that is not possible to demand virtue from everyone, nor that this world is as perfect as the one beyond. And the evil of this world is nothing but a lesser degree of perfection. Lesser perfection is the only way evil can be admitted in the intelligible, but this is far from evil proper as the Gnostics regard it. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 14

Gnostics compose hymns to influence the divine powers as though they could make the gods obey spells and incantations. This is not only an attestation of their vain conceit, which feeds on the dignity it divests from the gods, but also absurd. For how could what is incorporeal be affected by sound? As for the healing powers they claim, if they consist in temperance (sōphrosynē) and orderly diet (kosmiai diatēi: the significance of nourishment is here crucial) they must be welcomed. But since they are meant to be words that can master and dispel the spirits (daimonia) that are taken to be not simply the cause, but the very disease itself, they represent a dangerous lie. For a series of problems and contradictions ensue from this idea.

Instead of giving oneself to such illusions, Plotinus calls his readers, those intended friends, to seek clarity and simplicity of character, pious dignity and reasoned courage. Philosophy and truth can be founded in no less. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 15

Plotinus wishes in turn to consider the effect of the Gnostic teachings on their recipients. He divides between two fundamental philosophic tropes, one proceeding from pleasure (hedonē) and another, which chooses virtue and the good. The first, exemplified by Epicurus, whose teaching Plotinus misconstrues, is seen as devoid of lawfulness, honour and virtue, temperance, reasoned justice and the practice (askēsis), which makes one great. Plotinus is still profoundly perceptive of one thing: pleasure, what is left when all virtue is removed, is thoroughly individual. It is something, which cannot be shared, what cannot be common.

Both Platonists and the Gnostics champion the second trope of philosophy. The latter however are merely putting on a pretense of virtue, claiming to possess gnosis, a salvaging knowledge, which they fail to practice. The complete lack of Gnostic works on virtue indicates this. For surely it is insufficient to advocate a sight of the divine, without taking the effort and responsibility of explaining how (pōs), this sight is to be undertaken and made to lead to virtue. Without the how from which virtue emerges, God remains an empty name. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 16

To despise the good and the divine is no accomplishment. Rather it is an act that corrupts even evil unto its limit. Yet if the Gnostics claim to honour the gods, such honour is enfeebled by their detestation of their creation. In doing so, they show their ignorance of the truly divine. For they see not the continuity of the higher and the lower and are thereby unable to account for the divine providence they claim exclusively for themselves. For surely if the gods cared so much for them, why were they sent to this evil world and why do they still remain here? And why aren’t gods here as well, if they so much care for the Gnostics; for how could they know about their fate if they dwelled in a completely severed world? Rather if there is any providence at all, the divine and the worldly must be connected and the earlier must be honoured and witnessed in the latter. And if there is providence, it will be first for the whole and then for the part. But if love and art discovers in the perceptible the divine, the infinitude of universal beauty cannot fail to uncover a sight of the divine goodness. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 17

Even if they possess a partial truth in recognizing the inferiority of the body, the Gnostics should perceive that the power (dynamis) of the intelligible is manifested in the magnitude (megethos, ogkos) of the corporeal: extentio here is the counterpart of potentia there. And whether the Soul is still or divinely moved, the body that corresponds to it, will not affect it, but the Soul will always distribute the Good and Beautiful without envy, an affect improper for the divine, to everything according to its ability to receive it. Accordingly, if the Gnostics claim to remain unmoved (mē kineisthai) by beauty, then they must also remain unmoved by beautiful and ugly deeds, as well as by their intelligible archetypes, the originary causes of all worldly beauty. (Cf. 1.3 On Dialectic & 1.6 On Beauty) Far from this, the Gnostics appear much inclined to the beauty of sensuality. This ad hominem hypocrisy is compounded by the Gnostics founding their arrogance in the denouncement not of something inferior and ugly, but of what even they initially posit as beautiful and superior. One should always appreciate the beautiful, and knowing the difference between the beauty of the part and the whole and that between the corporeal and the intelligible, always strive to ascend to its higher, more resplendent manifestations.

Plotinus here makes a tentative (mēpote) claim, on the mutual homology of internal and external beauty. One cannot be truly ugly inside and remain beautiful on the outside, while the external manifestation of true beauty is an attestation of its inner counterpart. Still, among things corporeal, a hindrance (kōlyma), an obstacle (empodion), might superimpose itself (epiktēton) and obstruct the manifestation of a beautiful nature or even corrupt a lesser one. Nothing however could have obstructed the intelligible All, which manifests itself with unspeakable beauty. Nothing could have restrained the One into the imperfection, the incompleteness that pertains to a child: the One must have unfolded its full power, its total capacity, its telos. [Georgios Tsagdis]

Ch. 18

And if the Gnostics wish to believe themselves freed from the body, claiming that the disciples of Plotinus and all other Platonists, must remain shackled, they only show themselves ungrateful for the house the inhabit, without however abandoning it, when they should appreciate the exquisite skill required in its making unto the day it will no longer be needed. And they should strive to discover their kinship (syggeneia) with all that is good, their celestial brethren rather than the base humans they call brothers. They should moreover remain unmoved by the afflictions of this world, to near as much as possible the universal Soul, which remains forever unaffected. In everything then, they should imitate this Soul, which in the magisterial Platonic words cares for all that is soulless and discover in the stars the first step towards the perfection that lies outside (exō). [Georgios Tsagdis]

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