In Job's Balances \ III \ Vehement Words

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10

     If Plotinus's experience was as I imagine it, if his battle against the self-evident truths was no rejection of divine gifts but only the attempt to overcome the postulates by which reason transforms the life which God gave into scientific cognition, then his Enneads get quite a different meaning and significance for us. Thus it becomes clear to us why his ethics and theodicy are so hurriedly and carelessly constructed after the ready-made scheme of the Stoics; why he tried to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, why he was sometimes not above using the first "proofs" which came to his hand, why he wrote nothing down till he was fifty years old and, once he had begun to write, never read through what he had written. Then, too, we understand why he fulfilled his civic duties so conscientiously, and finally also his curious feeling of shame, and perhaps also of fear, that he had to live burdened with a body. He no more needed ethics and theodicy than he did the property of the orphans whose guardian he was; with them he was only playing the part assigned to him in the drama of world history.

     What could riches offer him? What could ethics offer him? Of course one needs the means necessary to live, and one needs ethical rules and moral principles; else communal human life here on this bank and shoal of time would be intolerable. Man needs theodicy too - the quiet assurance that everything is right in the world. But peace and quiet assurance are precisely what Plotinus feared most. They presuppose the deep sleep of the soul which signifies to him the antechamber and transition to death, to not-being. Yet one cannot tell this to any one; not even to the initiated, much less to the uninitiated. One may not say it even to oneself more than once, and if one has said it one must forget it again, because it has no meaning in our common speech. It is that theological truth which by its "logical" construction alone has ever been at war with scientific truth. Scientific truth takes the form of a judgment, an assertion which is always and everywhere acceptable and binding on all men. But how can the unrest which ruled in Plotinus's soul be comprised in the form of a judgment? He himself has said: "In so far as the soul is in the body it. rests in deep sleep." To this one may answer: Is this truth, then, the truth of a soul freed from the body? To free oneself from the body one must die; so long as you live you are the prisoner of your body, and so your assertion that so long as the soul is within the body it rests in deep sleep, is also only the truth of a sleeper and not of waking man.

     Plotinus knew as well as we do that this retort was possible; he knew, too, that all his predecessors' ethics and theodicies had been thought out for the uninitiated, for men who did not even suspect that they were sleeping, and that the task of philosophy was not to protect this sleep, but to make its continuance impossible. The external "peace" which Plotinus strove for with his theodicies and which so impressed his inexperienced disciples did not exclude a tense inner unrest, but was rather its necessary precondition. Plotinus revolted against the cares and troubles of the day simply in order to abandon himself entirely to the one deep and final unrest which he could "impart" to no one, which can be shared with no one. He does not want to waste his powers on the solution of problems of every day, and answers these questions hurriedly and fortuitously, at random. Only when he sees and hears how his own answers are turned by other men into eternal truths, then it can happen to him, as it did in his conflict with the Gnostics, to lose his "philosophic self-command" and give vent to his displeasure in angry phrases: How can one call the world bad? How can one call God, the Creator of the world, evil? And if someone had said in his presence that it was not fitting to lament the ruin of his fatherland, I think that he would have revolted again and cried from the depths of his soul: "Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, let my right hand forget its cunning, if I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem!"

     I think that Plotinus could cry as well as the Psalmist: De profundis ad Te, Domine, clamavi (Out of the depths I called to Thee, 0 Lord). I think that Plotinus's soul knew great joy and also great sorrow over the "everyday" events concerning which he taught the uninitiated, following the Stoics, that they were adiaphora (indifferent) and not even worth mentioning. Perhaps he asked fate and the Creator, not only about the death of great Socrates, but also about the crushed toad (the unknown Job of the Bible) which had found no place in his theodicy. He surely laughed himself over his meditations that every man must be content with the part assigned him by fate; he had compared the world with a play in which some men are given leading parts and others obscure ones, where what is important is not the part which one plays, but how conscientiously one plays it; for the play and not the players is the important thing.

     It is certain, I say, that Plotinus would have laughed at his own meditations; he would certainly have been furious if he had heard them from the mouths of the Gnostics or other men with whom he did not sympathize; if, for example, he had been able to read Leibniz's theodicy, in which his own thoughts are set out with such circumstance and detail. All Plotinus's enthusiasm was derived from his consciousness of the high destiny of man. He did not try to prevent the evildoer from perpetrating his crimes or the fool his folly, because the play needs not only noble and clever characters but also villains and fools! The task of his philosophy, which he himself described in the one phrase to timi˘taton, was liberation from the nightmare of visible reality.

     In what, then, did this nightmare consist? In what the horror? Whence came it? The Gnostics taught that the world was detestable in itself. For Plotinus this was inacceptable; he knew that it was not the world which was the evil and not the world that hid from us the timi˘taton, which he was seeking. He knew that one can only awaken from the nightmare when one suddenly (eksaiphnŕs) gets the sensation that self-evident truths are nothing but a certain enchantement et assoupissement. But this magic spell was no "chance" one. Plotinus and Pascal, each in his day, saw the "supernatural" power and felt it with all their souls. This force was enchanting man by convincing him of the "natural necessity" and the infallibility of reason which offered man eternal and universally valid truths. Plotinus combated the "theory of knowledge" inherited from his predecessors, i.e. the theory of the truths self-evident to all men. Against it, as we saw, he placed the theory of the "twofold truth" which Pascal expressed so boldly in those words of his (which history has ignored): "On n'entend rien aux ouvrages de Dieu si on ne prend pour principe quĺil a voulu aveugler les uns et Úclairer les autres." ("One understands nothing of God's works unless one assumes as principle that He wished to blind some and enlighten others.") I think we can say with assurance that Plotinus would have seen only a superbe diabolique in Epictetus's claim to Mercury's wand, as Pascal did in the philosophers' summum bonum; that he saw no miracle in the natural miracles of which Stoic ethics boasted, but only a futile imitation or even a caricature of a miracle. Perhaps an expression like superbe diabolique should not be taken as blame, coming from Plotinus; but perhaps - who knows - neither did Pascal in his heart of hearts blame Epictetus. Perhaps Pascal understood that Epictetus only took to his natural magic faute de mieux; reason, which Epictetus, after his great Greek masters, trusted absolutely, had lulled to sleep his ability, even in his rare moments of spiritual exaltation, to look upon the "theological" truth, which was imparted to Pascal and Plotinus in the state of ecstasy.

     Epictetus and the other Stoics, and with them the whole official Greek philosophy whose heirs we have involuntarily become, did not admit the possibility of real miracles. For Epictetus the law of contradiction was the final and supreme law which binds men and gods equally. It would have seemed madness to him if Pascal had said to him that the law of contradiction is precisely that angel with the flaming sword whom God posted at the gate of Paradise after the Fall of our forefather Adam. For Epictetus the way to achieve the Supreme, both for men and for gods, is complete subjection to the law. The law was "in the beginning" and will also be at the end. He formed an image from the law which he worshipped like a god, for the law is, like a god, "spirit", an ideal entity which knows neither genesis (origin) nor phthora (destruction). The doctrine of Epictetus which has so entranced man - and not only the simple but also philosophers - culminates in instilling into them the conviction that the idol which he has created is God, and that there are no other gods beside it, and that the purpose and destiny of man is to serve this idol. He rejects the carven images which his ancestors made, the images of gold and silver, ivory and marble. But he worships the ideal image without seeing that it is an image. And it came to pass that after him even those men who knew the message brought down from Sinai did not perceive that an image formed of ideas as little resembles God as an image formed of any coarse physical matter.

     Truth has ceased to be for man a living entity and has become an ideal entity (a mathematical function, an ethic idealism, practically identical conceptions). Natural necessity is for us today a boundary conception which marks the final triumph of "reason". today those who conscientiously study and read the Enneads see in Plotinus himself a philosopher enchanted by the self-evident truths of reason. And, I repeat, his works offer sufficient foundation for this view. But - for the last time - Plotinus never read through his works, and was so far from troubling to purify them from contradictions that he actually did everything in his power to keep those contradictions in their whole audacious shamelessness. These contradictions were necessary for him. Like his remote spiritual forefather Socrates, he felt that he must not lull to sleep the unrest and spiritual tension within him, but goad it on to the highest degree, where sleep becomes impossible. And that, we must assume, is why he tried so persistently to separate the soul from the body. He knew that this separation is the greatest of pains and that great pain alone can bring with it that "true awakening" for which he strove his whole life long. He demanded from man renunciation of all that is dearest to him, and repeated continually that the dearest could be taken from him. The most necessary, most important, most valuable - to timi˘taton - cafl be taken from us at any moment; he reminds us of this continually. And the human miracles which Stoicism and Gnosticism after it promised us will never replace that timi˘taton. We cannot exchange gifts of the gods for those of men.

     And sometimes (not, I repeat, often, not pollakis, but on very rare occasions) when the soul succeeds in awakening from the self-evident truths of reason it becomes convinced that it is kreittonos moiras (a higher lot, praestantioris sortis esse, as Marsilio Ficino translates it), that another destiny awaits it than men think. It was not born to "subject" itself. Submission and the glorification of submission are the results of a spell which has been cast over us. Plotinus, who himself hymned subjection, begins to believe that the "audacity", tolma, which he himself blamed so strongly, is the supreme gift of the gods. On earth laws hold sway. Earthly potentates, both anointed kings and tyrants and usurpers, all command and treasure obedience above all things. Nothing else is possible on earth. Here laws, both those of nature and those of the human community, are the necessary postulates of human existence. But "in the beginning" there were no laws; the law "came afterwards". And at the end there will again be no laws. God demands nothing of man, He only gives. And in His realm, in that realm of which Plotinus sings in inspired moments, the word compulsion loses all meaning. There, behind the gate guarded by the angel with the flaming sword, even truth, which according to our conceptions has the most unquestioned of rights to demand submission, will cease to desire to compel any one, and will gladly welcome by its side a contradictory truth. And there the wretched toad, whose fate it was on earth either to turn aside from the road or to be crushed, will not turn aside and will not be crushed. There God's real miracles will be performed, not the ideal miracles of Socrates and Epictetus. And there will be the Creator of the real earthly miracles, the "One" who brought sleep and trance to man and enchanted him by the self-evident truths of reason. To Him, the One who created our wonderful visible world, Plotinus's soul turns in his rare moments of inspired exultation. Then he sees that in a new balance hitherto unknown to man Job's sorrow really weighs more than the heavy sands of the sea; then his speech becomes ecstatic, and in the philosopher the psalmist is born - phugŕ monou pros monon: the flight of the one to the One.



FINIS
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Orphus system


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