Every philosophy must begin with some basic principle upon which
everything else follows and takes hold. The principle exists only for the sake
of what is possible. Nothing is said about the principle in and of itself; yet, it
does represent an Idea. With that Plotinus begins to build his system of the
three Hypostases. The supreme ultimate principle he calls the One. Nothing
can be said about it, we can only say what it is not, not what it is. Plotinus
was the first to express negative theology. As he says:
“If we are led to think positively of the One, name and thing, there would be more truth in silence.” Enneads V.5.6.
Plotinus begins with The One as his ultimate principle and affirms this to be the source of everything else, taking shape as Thought, not the thought of many things, just itself. In the One there is no division, it is the ultimate unity; nothing can be known about the unity as such. We cannot approach it analytically; the self-sufficing completion of the One is inherently perfect.
Up to this point it seems that we have a static principle with no meaning or purpose, but Thought, if for no other reason, at least allows for possibilities, otherwise nothing could follow. Plotinus also identifies the One with the Good, being the source of all that is good, and in other contexts the Supreme, or the Father.
“When we speak of the One and when we speak of the Good we must recognize an identical nature; we must affirm that they are the same–not, it is true, as venturing any predication with regards to that (unknowable) Hypostasis but simply as indicating it to ourselves in the best terms we find.” Enneads II.9.1.In the lower realms the Good manifests as Truth, Justice, Love, and in these things we find Beauty, not of the eye, but in the heart and mind. Plotinus cannot think of creation or reality as being an inherently bad thing, even the light has it’s shadows, and they could not exist without it.
“For that only can be named the Good to which all is bound and itself to none: for only thus is it veritably the object of all aspiration. It must be unmoved, while all circles around it, as a circumference around a centre from which all the radii proceed.” Enneads I.7.1.
The One, in an act of Thought, contemplates; although indivisible and without form, having no material objects for its contemplation, it functions to reason, and reasons about itself. In an Aristotelian sense, its thinking is a thinking of thinking. This brings about an awareness of its perfection in perfect self-identity, and comprises the perfections found at lower levels of reality. The One moves within itself–Thought stirs. While gathered within, though not self-contained, its movement reaches out, like a falling leaf that leaves no trace of its movement, or spokes from a hub seeking the rim. Held within the radiation emanating from the sun to the planets, thoughts, Ideas, distill out of the glow, and from the One’s quiet contemplation the vast realm of Intelligence manifests in the second hypostasis, the Intellectual Realm.
The nature of the One, or the Good, is generative of all things, that is why it is none among them. Thus it is not a something, not a quality nor quantity, possessing neither extension or attributes. Through the Good, we express our moral values not as objects standing over against us, although we express ourselves in relationship to them.
“The First must be without form, and if without form, then it is no Being; Being must have some definition and therefore be limited, but the First cannot be thought of as having definition and limit, for thus it would be not the Source but the particular item indicated by the definition assigned to it.” Enneads V.5.6.
On a more practical level, every day we rise with the sun and go about our business. Our view of the sky is an empty field of blue dominated by the light and the warmth of the sun’s rays. Other than an occasional glimpse of our pale Moon, the Earth and the sun appear to be all that exist in the firmament. Out there, somewhere, an unseen God finds a home here in the many religions that flourish throughout the land. After the sun sets, the night sky is filled with an uncountable number of stars. Our ancient ancestors believed these sparkling lights to be the Gods, for they were in heaven.
It is all a matter of perspective. There are day worshipers and night worshipers, so to speak, and they don’t share the same point of view, but they may both be partially correct, and not know it. The sun shines every day, but is not recognized for having any theological value. At night there are so many stars, it is not feasible that they could all be our Gods. But, one thing is apparent: the sun is a star.
Plotinus was an early Western philosopher, the planets were as divine to him as the stars, one he referred to as Zeus, and spoke often of it; the Romans later called it Jupiter. In his philosophy, the One, although a principle, is the source of everything else, including the whole universe. But this is no longer the same universe he looked up to every night, now we know it as a vast complex system. His theory is basically correct, but out of perspective. One way to correct it is to apply his Divine Triad on larger systems that reach down to our sun, and then to us. In other words, think of the whole universe as being a Primal First Hypostases, and all the stars the Primal Second Hypostasis, and our galaxy the Primal Third Hypostasis. Our sun, then, begins the cycle again on a smaller scale derived and contained within the larger one, and represents the system that Plotinus begins his philosophy with.The key to everything is energy in all its forms. Our universe was born in the throes of an unimaginably huge blast of energy, the Big Bang. This is undeniably the ultimate source of everything else, on the largest scale this might be called the Primeval One. Being a principle, the Idea of creation came along with the birth of our universe. Out of the emanation from the Primeval One, the second hypostasis took form releasing the power given off by stars being born throughout the universe, the primeval Intellectual-Principle. Through gravity, many star groups formed into spiral galaxies, the primal third hypostasis. The birth and energy from stars continually sustain the universe, and is conserved in the form of heat and movement. Bound and carried within those incredible forces manifests the reason and purpose for there to be any creation at all. Anthony Damiani, in “Astronoeis,” states it this way: “The stars are a theophany of radiating intelligences, distributing their presence and informing the universe through patterns of intellectual energy. So the stars, which are the bodies of the gods, sensibly represent Ideas that are being transmitted from the Universal Soul to the cosmos.” 7 The third hypostasis, the Primeval World Soul, takes form in certain star groups that grow to huge dimensions. The gravity at the center is so powerful that other material, including smaller stars, add to its size until a spiral galaxy takes shape forming a new Black Hole. Within a particular galaxy we call the Milky Way, in a starry arm about two thirds of the way out, a small star orbits the center about every 250 million years; that star is our sun. The sun and planets now form our very familiar solar system, and we return to the philosophy of Plotinus with a new perspective. Damiani writes: “Each sun or star is unfolding or manifesting within itself, through its own powers, the content of its own Logos, i.e., a world or a cosmos of its own. So for instance our Sun is unfolding or manifesting its own world through its own powers. These powers are symbolically represented by the planets, which are both the agents and the vehicles that manifest that Sun’s intellectuality.” 8 Despite the complexity that present day astronomers are discovering throughout the universe, it is nonetheless an ordered system generally following basic physical laws. It is clear that Plotinus considered his system to be an explanation of how everything works from the universe on down. Were Plotinus alive today, he would realize immediately that he had more work ahead to accommodate all this new knowledge. Rather than throw his whole philosophy out as untenable, there is no logical reason it cannot first be applied to the large scale universe out there, without need for further elaboration, and then concentrate our focus on the smaller scale solar system here. From this perspective his dialectic remains unbroken and still viable in all realms of creation. This view of Plotinus as a vast Idea of reality could create a conundrum among believers of traditional religions. Do these star gods expect to be worshiped? they might ask. No, these gods care nothing of that. Their vision is to perpetuate the growth of our universe, and the eventual birth of others through the generation of living thinking ensouled beings. The purpose of religion, outside of cultural and personal reasons, is to insure that this spiritual process continues. Our destiny is to be a part of the Whole, and that is of an expanding universe glowing with seeds of eternal Life.