“The lecturer has found Plotinus a most inspiring and fortifying spiritual guide, as well as a great thinker. In times of trouble like the present he has much to teach us, lifting us up from the miseries of the world to the pure air and sunshine of eternal truth, beauty, and goodness.” – Dean Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus1
After rereading the first two parts I wrote on Plotinus, the reader may not grasp his eloquence and utter sincerity. So I thought today I would offer more segments in his own words from the Enneads. I should start by letting you know I most of the on-line translation (link below) by Stephen MacKenna and B.S. Page (the same translation used by The Great Books) in the summer of 2008.2 I reread a small part of this in preparation for these essays and also some from the 1964 translation of the ‘essential’ parts by Elmer O’Brien.3 I hope to tempt you to read some of it on your own. These selections will generally follow the order of Porphyry’s original text.
“It would be absurd to think that happiness begins and ends with the living body; happiness is the possession of the good of life; it is centred therefore in Soul, is an Act of the Soul…” (I, 4, 14)4
“If Happiness demands the possession of the good of life, it clearly has to do with the life of Authentic-Existence for that life is the Best. Now the Authentic-Existence is measurable not by time but by eternity; and eternity is not a more or a less of a thing of any magnitude but is the unchangeable, the indvisible, is timeless Being.” (I, 5, 7)5
“To put Happiness in action is to put it in things that are outside virtue and outside the Soul; for the Soul’s expression is not in action but in wisdom, in a contemplative operation within itself; and this, this alone, is Happiness.” (I, 5, 10)6
“It is impossible to talk about bodily beauty if one, like one born blind, has never seen and known bodily beauty. In the same way, it is impossible to talk about the ‘luster’ of right living and of learning and of the like if one has never cared for such things, never beheld ‘the face of justice’ and temperance and seen it to be ‘beyond the beauty of evening or morning star.’ Seeing of this sort is done only with the eye of the soul. And seeing thus, one undergoes a joy, a wonder, and a distress more deep than any other because here one touches truth. Such emotion all beauty must induce – an astonishment, a delicious wonderment, a longing, a love, a trembling that is all delight. It may be felt for things invisible quite as for things you can see, and indeed, the soul does feel it. All souls, we can say, feel it, but souls that are apt for love feel it especially. It is the same here as with bodily beauty. All perceive it. Not all are stung sharply by it. Only they whom we call lovers ever are.” (I, 6 , 4)7
(continued next post)
1From Inge’s first Gifford Lecture at St. Andrews, 1917-1918 (Note: World War I took place from 1914-1918).
2The link is http://classics.mit.edu/Plotinus/enneads.mb.txt
3Mr. O’Brien’s biography (in 1964) according to that book: “Elmer O’Brien is Chairman of the Department of Theology at Loyola College, Montreal, He has been Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University Graduate School and Professor of Dogmatic Theology ad Regis College, Toronto. He is a frequent contributor to Thought, Cross Currents, America, and Commonweal and is the author of biennial surveys of Ascetical and Mystical Theology published in Theological Studies.” It seems clear the work of Plotinus, technically a pagan, was commandeered by Christian mystics and scholars after his death.
4 Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, page 18.
5Ibid., page 20. (This is remarkably similar to the thoughts of some existentialists and psychologists who come to this conclusion by different paths nearly 1700 years later.)
5Ibid., page 21.
7O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus.The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 37-38