Sunday, November 21, 2010

excerpts from Pico's Commento on the Angelic Level of Being (Jayne translation)

77 The Platonists hold as a fundamental postulate that every created thing has three kinds of being. The three are given different names by different Platonists, but they all mean the same thing. For present purposes we can use the following terms for them: causal being, formal being, and participated being.

77 The sun, according to philosophers, is not itself hot, for heat is an earthly property and not a heavenly one, but the sun is nonetheless the cause and source of all heat. Fire is hot, both by virtue of its level of being and by virtue of its own form. A piece of wood is not hot of itself, but it certainly can be heated by fire, in which case it participates the aforementioned property from the fire. Thus this thing called heat has causal being in the sun, formal being in fire, and participated being in wood or other such material.

77 Of these three kinds of being, the highest and most perfect causal being. Accordingly the Platonists believe that all of the powers which are commonly attributed to God exist in Him only in the causal mode of being. Thus they say that God is not Himself being but the cause of all being, and similarly that God is not Himself intellect. Statements such as these can give a modern Platonist a good deal of trouble if he does not understand the principle behind them. I remember that a great Platonist once told me that he was amazed by a passage in which Plotinus says that God understands nothing and knows nothing. It is perhaps even more amazing that my Platonist did not understand in what sense Plotinus means that God does not understand: Plotinus simply means that the attribute of understanding exists in God in its causal being rather than in its formal being. Plotinus is not denying that God understands; he is only attributing to him understanding of a higher and more perfect kind. That this is the case can be clearly understood from the following. Dionysius the Areopagite, the prince of the Christian theologians, says in one place that God knows not only Himself but also every smallest particular thing; but elsewhere Dionysius uses the same manner of speaking that Plotinus uses, saying that God is not an intellectual or intelligent creature, but is ineffably exalted above all intellect and cognition.

78 This distinction among three kinds of being should be noted carefully, for it sheds much light on the understanding of Platonic philosophy, and we shall refer to it often. [end first chapter]

78 [Second Chapter] That every creature falls into one of three classes. The Platonists divide all creatures into three classes. Two of these classes are extremes. In one class is included every creature which is corporeal and visible, such as the sky, the elements, the plants, and everything which is composed of the elements. In the other class is included every creature which is invidible and not only incorporeal but also entirely free and separate from any body. This latter class is properly called the intellectual level of being, and our theologians call it the Angelic level of being.

Between these two extremes there is an intermediate level of being which, although it is itself incorporeal, invisible, and immortal, is nevertheless burdened with the function of giving motion to the corporeal world. This intermediate level of being is called the Rational Soul; it is lower than Angelic being, but higher than corporeal. It is subject to the former, but mistress over the latter.

Above these three hypostases is God Himself, the author and cause of every creature. The Attribute of divinity has its causal being in God, its original source. Proceeding directly from Him, divinity has its second or formal being in the Angelic hypostasis

79 Finally, divinity appears again in the Rational Soul, participated there from the Angelic hypostases. Thus the Platonists say that divinity is limited to three hypostases, namely, God, the Angelic Mind, and the Rational Soul) the first, God, cannot be multiplied, and that one God alone is the source and cause of every other kind of divinity.

81 The Platonists and the ancient philosophers Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster call this first creature sometimes “son of God,” sometimes “Wisdom,” sometimes “Mind,” and sometimes “Divine Reason,” which some even interpret as “the word.” But everyone should be careful not to suppose that this “word” is the “Word” that our theologians call the “Son of God.” For what we mean by “the Son” is of one and the same essence as the Father, is equal to him in everything, and, lastly, is a creator and a creature; whereas what the Platonists call “the son of God” must be identified with the first and noblest angel created by God.
[interesting to compare Zosimos on “Hermes and Zoroaster” in his discussion on the letter Omega]

81-82 In order to understand what follows, it is necessary to know that every cause which produces a certain effect, whether through art or through intellect, first contains within itself the form of the thing which it wishes to produce, just as an architect has within himself, in his mind, the form of the building which he wants to build, and following that form as his model, designs and contructs his work in imitation of it. This kind of form the Platonists call an Idea or exemplar, and they say the form of the building which the builder has in his mind must be truer and more perfect than that of the building subsequently constructed by him in the appropriate material, such as stone or wood or the like. The first form of being they call ideal or intelligible being; the other they call material or sensible being. Thus if a builder builds a house, the Platonists would say that there are two houses; one intelligible, the one which the builder has in his mind, and the other sensible, the one which he has constructed out of marble or stone, expressing as fully as he can in that material the form which he has conceived within himself.

82 Now the Platonists say that although God created only one creature, the First Mind, nevertheless in effect He created all creatures, for in that First Mind, He created the Ideas or Forms of all things. For in that Mind is the Idea of the sun, the Idea of the moon, of men, of all the animals, of the plants, of the stones, of the elements, and of everything in the world. And since the Idea of the sun is a truer sun than the visible sun is, and so on with all of the other things in world, it follows not only that God created all things, but also that he created them in the truest and most perfect kind of being they can have, that is, in true, ideal, and intelligible being. For this reason the Platonists call the First Mind the intelligible world.

84 Because the contemplative life is concerned with beings which are superior to the one who does the contemplating, whereas the active life is concerned with beings which are inferior to, and ruled or governed by, the one who is superior to them, any being resembles the active life to the extent that it turns in some way towards beings inferior to itself. Now that we have explained these three names, we have only to analyze the various functions of each of the three hypostases and it will be clear which name is applicable to each function of each hypostasis, and for what reason.

85 In the case of the first hypostasis, it cannot be supposed that He contemplates, because this is the property of the First Mind, of which God is the source and cause; God thereby cannot be called Saturn. The only one of these functions that can be attributed to God is that he is the beginning of everything; but in this attribution are included two properties. The first is pre-eminence and superiority, and for this attribute He can be called Uranus. The second is the fact that he produces creatures. In this creation there is implied a turning toward things which are inferior to Him while He is creating them. Such turning, we said above, is like the active life, and for this reason in some sense the name Jupiter does apply to God, especially with the addition of the other attribute of pre-eminence, as in saying, “Jupiter, Optimus Maximus.”

85 To the First or Angelic Mind, more names apply, because it is less simple than God, and it has more functions. First, one must remember that every creature consists of two components, one of which, the inferior part, is called its potency, the other, the superior part, is called its act. In the Philebus, Plato calls the first component infinity, and the second, boundary or limit; Avicebron and many others call the two components respectively matter and form. There is a difference of opinion among philosophers as to whether the matter component is the same in all creatures… Nevertheless all authorities agree on this, that everything which falls between God and prime matter in the scale of being is composed of potency and act.

86 The Mind is thought to carry out these three functions in the following way: it turns itself toward its father by means of that part in it called its act; it stoops to the making of inferior things by means of its other part, called its potency; and it stays within itself by using both parts together. By virtue of its first two functions it may be called Saturn, because both of these functions are forms of contemplation. By virtue of its third function it may be called Jupiter. Since the function of creating the physical world has been assigned to the Mind on account of the part called its “potency,” it is chiefly that part in it which is called Jupiter.

87 …therefore the elements have their causal being in the heavens, as Plato says, but not their formal being, as Aristotle rightly denies.

106 [The Ideas] are simply ideal forms of the natures of things. Every mind is provided with them, and understands by means of them. In the Liber de Causis it is said of them that every mind is full of forms… these forms, called Ideas, exist causally in God; they exist formally in the Angelic Mind, in which they are first created by God; and finally they exist participatively in the Rational Soul, which, in participating the substance of the First Mind, also participates in the Ideas, and consequently, their beauty.

107 The form which God gives to the Angelic Mind consists of the Ideas, which, as I have said, constitute the highest form of Beauty. Thus the Ideas descend from God to the Angelic Mind. Since everything becomes imperfect as they move away from its cause and source and mixes with other kinds of things, so the Ideas necessarily become imperfect as they move away from God, their source and cause, and mix with the unformed substance of the Mind, which had theretofore been completely untouched by the form-giving power of the Ideas. At that stage, the Angelic Mind contains the beauty of the Ideas within itself, but that beauty is imperfect and is obscured by the opacity of the Mind’s own substance. Hence a desire inevitably arises in the Angelic Mind to possess the Ideas in their perfect form.

108 the ancients called the Angelic Mind, adorned with the Ideas, paradise… they referred to people as being “in Paradise” if they lived a completely non-physical intellectual life, and, having already risen above human nature and become like angels, lived in contemplation alone.

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