The Nature of the Gods (III): The First Intelligible Triad (2)

The Nature of the Gods (III): The First Intelligible Triad (2)

Having discussed in the previous part of this essay those aspects of the God which are entirely prior to Being, we now join the God in proceeding to be. The division between that which is beyond being (the epekeina tês ousias that is the locus of the Good in Plato’s Republic) and Being Itself lies within each God, in the form of the division between the God’s existence (hyparxis) and Her activity (energeia). In the terms Plato uses in the Philebus, this activity is the Mixture of Limit and the Unlimited resulting from the operation of Causality. That is, it is Being (or any being) as the intersection of discrete and continuous natures and the expression of an agency. With the transition to the third moment of the first intelligible triad, the center of gravity, so to speak, has shifted within the henadic individual, and it is no longer the dyad of Existence and Power(s), One-All and All-One that matters, but rather the opposition between agency and action, will and structure, subjectivity and objectivity. In henological terms, this opposition is characterized as between the Unitary (heniaios), that which unifies or imparts integrity, and the Unified (hênômenon), that which experiences unity as an affection or pathos.

Accordingly, Proclus states in his Elements of Theology (prop. 6) that:

“Every manifold is composed either of things unified (hênômena) or of henads.”

There is always already multiplicity, and multiplicities of multiples, but there are two primary kinds of multiplicity: the henadic kind, exhibited by the Gods, and the kind exhibited by beings in general. The divine multiplicity is unitary (prop. 113, “The entire divine manifold [arithmos] is unitary”), because it is made up of the primary units, which are themselves primary because of the kind of manifold that they alone can form, namely one in which all are in each, rather than all in one. Unified multiplicity, by contrast, is made up of units which are unified, each unit having its unity by virtue of some characteristic, a unit just as some kind of thing; and a manifold of things grouped according to kind is also itself made one through this ‘as’ structure, and hence is also itself ‘unified’. I have referred to these two kinds of manifold as polycentric and monocentric respectively.

But where could Unified multiplicity come from, if not from Unitary multiplicity, lest there be an infinite regress or logical circle of things unified? And hence, from purely formal considerations, Being come from the Gods? And where could this difference arise, if not first within each henad, each God Herself? Hence there is the Unitary and the Unified in each God. In this fashion, we distinguish between the God’s existence and her action, and do not confuse Gods with roles or functions. We recognize the God’s freedom, and do not see Her as merely a part in a cosmic machine fulfilling an alien destiny. We recognize Her agency, and do not reduce Her to Her manifestations or appearances, to what She has been, for Hers is to be. We recognize Her, in short, as subject and not solely as object.

However, we also recognize the converse of these, what She makes, which, since She is ultimate, is what She has made of Herself. In this fashion, the opposition between the Unitary and the Unified in each God is based upon the prior opposition between what Damascius calls Their ‘One-All’ and ‘All-One’ aspects, that is, the way in which each member of the polycentric or unitary manifold on the one hand has all the others in Her, while on the other hand is in all the others. But now there is one thing, a Unified to which the Gods lend themselves, which is the activity of each and the passivity of all. As the Gods are present to one another Their active and passive relations toward one another become concrete in their own right. This is what Being is: the totality of relations among the Gods, and by extension of all other things as well. And it should be emphasized that had we no conception of Gods, we would say the same thing concerning the ultimate units of whatever formal system, to which henology, as the science of ultimates, would apply.

Within the Unified, upon the plane of Being (for a treatment of which from a different perspective, see a prior column), therefore, the Gods step out of the radical equality They possess simply as Gods, and assume differentiated and hierarchical positions amongst themselves in pursuit of Their common work, the cosmos. They array Themselves as parents and children, as sovereigns and subjects, as partners and antagonists, as strangers and kin, all of these dispositions being purely relative to a common plane of action.1 Upon this plane, accordingly, there is high and low, center and periphery, doer and done-to. But “All that is unified is other than the One Itself” (Proclus, Elements of Theology, prop. 4). There is no approach to Unity through being more Unified, nor distance from it in being less. The ladder of Being, the scala naturae, is not absolute, but a matter purely of integration relative to diverse purposes.

This hierarchical disposition of things is the illusion essential to Being, the same that produces the mirage of a ‘One Itself’, when indeed the One neither is, nor is one:

“Every God is more universal who is nearer to the One, more specific as more distant,” (ET prop. 126).

This differential universality is a function of more or less numerous effects, which we may in turn regard as a greater intensity of power (ibid., p. 112.16-19), but nevertheless “each is a henad” (ibid., 18). Nothing—no one—can be ‘more’ or ‘less’ a henad. Rather, the scalar language should alert us to the ground of such hierarchies in the second moment of the first intelligible triad, the Infinite or All-One, the henad as continuum, which is power and the ground of every more-and-less, while the absolute, existential nature of a henad has its ground in the triad’s first moment, Limit or the One-All, the henad as fact, one who is here.

  1. This is the plane of which Heraclitus speaks as a war (frags. 82-3): “War is the common and strife is justice … War has manifested some as Gods, some as humans, some it has made slaves, others free.” For Empedocles, by contrast, love is the common, and even strife takes the form of love, though it is love of the same and not of the other. But the two accounts do not differ in their formal dimension.

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