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Essays and Fragments of Proclus

Translated by Thomas Taylor

ISBN 978-1898910-176

Proclus on the Soul and Fate

From his essay on
Fate, Providence and That Which is Within our Power, (section IV)

If you are willing, however, we will betake ourselves to the second discussion, viz. the consideration of the soul which is separable, and of that which is inseparable from bodies. But assume this also from the philosophy of Aristotle. For he says, that every soul which has an energy not at all indigent of body, is likewise allotted an essence beyond and separable from body. And this necessarily. For if we should arrange energy as existing independent of body, but essence inseparable from body, energy would be better than essence, since it would not be at all indigent of a subordinate essence, that being rooted in it, it might have a subsistence according to nature. This however is impossible. It is necessary, therefore, that the soul which has an energy separable from body, should also be itself separable. Consider then, my friend, what soul it is in us, which we acknowledge is not at all indigent of body, in the energies of itself according to nature? Is it sense? But every sensitive power uses corporeal instruments, and together with them energizes about its proper sensibles; viz. it uses the eyes, the ears, and all the other senses, being at the same time moved and copassive with them. What then shall we say of anger and desire? But do you not see that these frequently co-operate with the corporeal parts, with the heart and the liver, and that these also are not pure from body? For how is it possible that things which energize with sense, should not also be indigent of body, since sense is always moved through body? But with respect to the orectic powers, that these energize with sense, is I conceive known to all of us. For what deprived of sense, can either be angry, or desire? Plotinus also rightly asserting, that all the passions are either senses, or are not without sense. If, therefore, that which is angry is so in conjunction with sense, possessing at the same time a sense of sorrow, and that which desires possesses a sense of delight; but that which energizes with sense energizes with body, for sense subsists with body; - if this be the case, it is necessary that every thing which is angry and desires, should energize with body. Hence, these species of life, being all of them irrational, have that energy which is according to nature in conjunction with body. Looking now, however, to the rational nature itself, consider the life of it which is seated in the inferior lives, and corrects either what is deficient in them according to knowledge, as when from above it evinces that sense is deceived about its own objects of knowledge. I mean for instance, when it shows that sense is deceived in asserting that the sun is but a foot in diameter, or when sense with its usual deception asserts of such things any thing of a similar nature: or when reason disciplines anger, which is immoderate in its motions, when it is agitated with fury. Hence Ulysses in Homer exclaims "endure, my heart," and represses the impulse of anger barking like a dog or when the rational nature represses the wantonness of desire, and frustrates its endeavours to detain the soul by the delights that germinate from the body, the petulance of these delights being ameliorated by the corporeal temperaments. For in all such energies the rational soul evidently represses all the irrational motions both gnostic and orectic, and liberates itself from them, as from things foreign to its nature. It is necessary, however, to investigate the nature of every thing, not from the perverted use of it, but from its natural energies. Hence, if reason, when it is moved in us as reason, restrains the shadowy impression of the delights of desire, punishes the precipitate motion of anger, and reproves sense as full of deception, asserting that we neither hear nor see any thing accurately, and if it asserts these things looking to its internal reasons, none of which it knows through body, or through corporeal cognitions, it is evident that according to this energy it elongates itself from the senses, contrary to the decision of which it is separated from those sorrows and delights.

After this, however, I see another and a better energy of our rational soul, the inferior powers being now at rest, and exhibiting no tumult, as in many things they are accustomed to do, according to which energy she is converted to herself, sees her own essence and the powers she contains, the harmonic ratios of which she consists, and the many lives of which she is the completion, and re-discovers herself to be a rational world, the image indeed of the natures prior to herself, and from which she has departed, but the paradigm of the natures posterior to herself, and over which she presides. To this energy of the soul, my friend, arithmetic, and geometry, the mother of your art, are said to contribute much, which indeed elongate the soul from the senses, purify the intellect from the irrational forms of life with which it is surrounded, and lead it to the incorporeal comprehension of forms, extending as it were, the lustrations to the future mystics that are anterior to the most sacred mysteries. For consider from intellectual energies after what manner the above-mentioned sciences are allotted the purifying power of which we have been speaking. For if they assume the soul replete with images, and knowing nothing subtile, and unattended with material garrulity, and if they cause reasons to shine forth which possess an irrefragable necessity of demonstration, and forms full of all certainty and immateriality, and by no means calling to their assistance the grossness which is in sensibles, do they not evidently purify our intellectual life from those things that fill us with folly, and which are unadapted to the divine circumscription of beings? After both these energies of the rational soul, let us survey her now running back to her highest intelligence, through which she sees her sister souls in the world, which are allotted the heavens and the whole of generation according to the will of the father, and of which she being a part, desires the contemplation of them. But she sees above all souls, intellectual essences and orders. For above every soul a deiform intellect resides, which imparts to the soul an intellectual habit. She also sees prior to these, the monads of the Gods themselves which are above intellect, and from which the intellectual multitudes receive their unions. For it is necessary that unific causes should be placed above things united, in the same manner as vivifying causes are above things vivified, causes that impart intellect are above things intellectualized, and in a similar manner imparticipable hypostases are above all participants. For according to all these elevating intellections, I conceive it is evident to those that are not perfectly blind, how the rational soul leaving sense and bodies behind, is led upward by intellectual surveys about the inflected and truly mystic intuitions of the supermundane Gods. Or whence, and from what kind of energies have the progeny of the Gods unfolded to us the occult dispensations of divinity? And after what manner are souls said to energize enthusiastically, and assuming a mania better than temperance to be conjoined to the Gods themselves? I speak of the Sibyl who soon after she was born uttered admirable things, and told those who were present at the time who she was, and from what order she came into this terrestrial abode, and I allude to any other soul who in a similar manner was of a divine destiny. In short, we must say that the rational and intellectual soul in whatever way it may energize, is beyond body and sense; and therefore it is necessary that it should have an essence separable from both these. This however though of itself now evident, I will again manifest from hence, that when it energizes according to nature, it is superior to the influence of Fate, but that when it falls into sense, and becomes irrational and corporeal, it follows the natures that are beneath it, and living with them as with intoxicated neighbours, is held in subjection by a cause that has dominion over things that are different from the rational essence. For again, it is necessary that there should be a certain genus of beings of this kind, which according to essence indeed is above Fate, but according to habitude is sometimes arranged under it. For if indeed the beings which are wholly eternal are placed above the laws of Fate, but there are beings which according to the whole of their life, are arranged under the periods of Fate, it will also be necessary that there should be an intermediate nature between these two, which sometimes indeed is above the productions of Fate, and sometimes is under its dominion. For the progression of beings much more than the situation of bodies, leaves no vacuum; but there are every where media between the extremes, which also bind the extremes to each other. And not only Plato, but likewise the oracles of the Gods have revealed these things to us. For in the first place indeed, they order those divine men who were thought worthy to be the auditors of those mystic discourses, "not to look upon nature, because the name of it is fatal." And again, they order them "not to co-augment Fate." Every where also, they exhort them to turn from the life which is according to Fate, and to avoid "becoming corporeal with the fatal herds;" by all which they withdraw us from the senses and material desires; for through these we become corporeal, and are then acted upon from necessity by Fate. For similitude every where copulates beings to each other; but that which is assimilated enjoys the same polity as that to which it is assimilated, whatever it may be, and consequently is under the dominion of the ruler of that polity. For nothing is without a ruler and a principality in the universe, whether you speak of wholes, or of parts. But different things have different rulers, because these live in one way, and those in another. Afterwards, the oracles teaching concerning our most divine life, and that immaculate polity, which we enjoy when liberated from every polity of Fate, say, "The souls that become venerable by understanding the works of the father will escape the fatal wing of Destiny." The soul, therefore, embracing this life, and such a life as this, will not rank among those souls that are led by Fate. But if it wishes to conform itself to body, aspires after what are called corporeal goods, and pursues honours, power and riches, it suffers the same thing as a philosopher who is chained, and in this condition enters a ship. For he becomes subservient to the winds that move the ship, [and cannot help himself] if some one of the sailors should trample on him, or some fettered slave should insult him. Bidding farewell, therefore, to the things to which we are bound, we should direct our attention to the strength of virtue, and consider Fate not as effecting any thing in us, but in the things which surround us. For with respect, my friend, to all external circumstances that may befall us, enemies may demolish the walls of our city, and reduce its buildings to ashes, they may deprive us of our possessions, and leave us in a state of indigence; but all these being mortal and external, are in consequence of this in the power of other beings, and not in ours.

But with respect to the things which are in our power, there is no one so potent as to able to take away any one of them, even though he should possess all human power. For if we are temperate, we shall still continue to be so, though these calamities may befall us, and if we are contemplators of true beings, neither shall we be plundered of this habit; but all these dreadful events taking place, we shall still persevere in celebrating the rulers of all things, and in investigating the causes of effects. By no means, therefore, must we reprobate the necessity of the soul from its ultimate energies, but looking to its first energies, we should admire its unconquerable power. And if we are thus wise, nothing will disturb us pertaining to the passions of the inferior parts of the soul; but when the body is disturbed, and we say that we sustain something of a dreadful nature, it is not we who thus speak, but it is the language of desire; for the delights of the body, and therefore its sorrows pertain to this part. When also being robbed of our wealth, or not obtaining riches, we are grieved, this passion belongs to that power of the soul which is a lover of wealth. And again, when being reproached, and falling from power, we are indignant, this is not the passion of the superior soul, but of that which dwells downward, about the heart. For this pertains to the part which is a lover of honour. But the reason which is in us, being in all such particulars deceived, follows and is at the same time is disturbed with the subordinate powers of the soul, being a blind intellect, and not having that eye yet purified, by which it is able to perceive itself, and the natures prior and posterior to itself. When, however, it becomes purified from those things with which it was invested when it fell, it will then know what that is which is in its power, how it is neither in corporeal natures; for these are posterior to reason; nor in those beings in whom there is the liberty of divine will; for they are prior to reason; but that it consists in living according to virtue. For this alone is free and unservile, and adapted to liberty, and is truly the power of the soul, and confers power on its possessor. For it is the province of all power to contain and preserve that which possesses it. But he who directs his attention to vice, looks at the debility of the soul, though she should possess all other power. For the power of instruments is one thing, and the power of those beings that ought to use the instruments another. Hence, every soul, so far as it participates of virtue, and so far as it is [a rational soul], is free; but so far as it is vicious and debilitated, and is not [rational], it is subservient to other things, and not to Fate only, but to every thing, in short, that is either willing to give that which is appetible, or is able to take it away. For he who possesses virtue is subservient to those beings who are alone sufficient to impart to and coaugment with him that which is desirable; but these are the Gods, with whom there is true virtue, and from whom that which is in our power is derived. Plato also somewhere says, that this voluntary servitude is the greatest liberty. For by being subservient to those who possess all the power of all things, we become assimilated to them, so that, as he says, we govern the whole world; i.e. when we are perfect and winged, and reign on high. This, therefore, pertains to the most divine of our souls, just as it pertains to the last of them, to be as it were bound in prison, and to live an involuntary, instead of a voluntary free life. But to the souls that have an intermediate subsistence between these, it belongs, so far as they are liberated from passions and the body, to ascend above necessity to a life which has dominion over generation. For again, if intellect and deity are prior to soul, but passions and bodies are posterior to it; and if to these it belongs to act from compulsion, but to intellect and deity, to act in a manner better than all necessity, and which is alone free, it is necessary that the soul betaking itself either to the former or to the latter, should either enter under the necessity of subordinate, or exert the liberty of more excellent natures; and that it should be subservient either to supernal dominion, or to dominion inferior to itself. But if it is subservient, it must either rule in conjunction with the powers that rule over it, or be alone subservient in conjunction with subservient natures. Here, therefore, the soul ascending and resuming its power, which is virtue, will consider nothing as dreadful whatever it may be, that takes place about and external to the body. For the passions of instruments do not pass to those that use them; but in whatever manner they may subsist, it is possible for the soul to energize according to virtue; strenuously indeed, if the body should happen to be languid, but moderately when it is sane. And when poverty is present, it may energize sublimely, but in affluence magnificently; but every where from occurring circumstances, it may extol virtue that uses them; and being ameliorated by its inward strength may vanquish external calamities. For you must not suppose that you mechanists alone, are to be permitted to say, that you can move a given weight with a given power; for this you are well known to assert; but it is much more possible for those who live according to virtue, truly to adorn a power given from every circumstance by another power. And he who does this is generous and free; but the bad man is the slave of all things though he should rule over all things. For he resembles those who are punished in Egypt, by laughing vizards that surround them. Over these also, who are not able to govern themselves, necessity prevails. For being elongated from the Gods, the universe uses them as brutes.

When, therefore, you wish to see that which is in our power, look at the soul living according to nature. But the soul which is not debile lives according to nature. For there is nothing debile in that which is conformable to nature. The soul, however, is not debile, which is not replete with vice, [the evil of the soul]; for in all things evil is debile. And if you consider the soul in this point of view, you will see what the nature is of that which is in our power. For you will see that it uses all circumstances rightly, and either prohibits them from taking place, or providentially attends to calamitous events when they occur. It also permits Fate to act upon those things which are posterior to Fate, and of which it is the lord; but is coordinated to the natures prior to itself, and from which being more excellent than itself, it is not divulsed. And thus much for the second particular which we proposed to discuss.

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