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Dr. Constantine G. Niarchos

Nicolaus of Methone's Criticism on Proclus' "Theory of «Participated» or «Unparticipated» Intelligence" (NOUS)

From Yearbook of the Research Center for Greek Philosophy, at the Academy of Athens, 13-14 Athens 1983-1984.

D. The functioning of the intelligence

Every intelligence has intuitive knowledge of itself; but the primal intelligence knows itself only and both, intelligence and its object, are numerically one; whereas each subsequent intelligence knows simultaneously itself and its prior, so that its object is in part itself but in part its source(52). Nicolaus states that it is only God, that knows Himself no one of the intelligences possesses such an attribute. Yet, its knowledge is exerted upon all other beings, whose existence has been bestowed on them by God Himself. The knowledge of its prior does not constitute also the knowledge of itself yet the knowledge of the lower beings does not mean in any way its reversion to the lowest ones (53).

Knowledge of the lower beings enables the primal Intelligence to exert a kind of providence upon them, an idea not acceptable by Proclus. Nicolaus understands the intelligences as mediators between God and all other beings. They know themselves, as they are, know their prior, but not their entire substance (54). Every intelligence has simultaneous intellection of all things; but, while the unparticipated intelligence knows all unconditionally, each subsequent intelligence knows all in one special aspect. Proclus states that all knowledge in the intelligences is by simultaneous intuition, as their activity is eternal. Yet never by identical intuitions, which would make their being identical. The difference lies in the point of view to which the knowledge is related (55). For Proclus the dominant aspects of particular intelligences are analogous to specific differences within a genus (56). Nicolaus underlines that not only the primal, the one God, but every intelligence has simultaneous intellection of all things, and finally in the Proclean thought, any intellection is equal to creations (57). Here, Proclus appears to accept that every intelligence is capable of creating everything. Even more, it creates itself and all prior to it, which is obviously absurd (58). In fact, as Nicolaus states, not every intelligence knows everything nor it creates everything. This is the attribute of the primal Nous, which, being itself unparticipated, knows and creates everything. Its intellectual act is further completed by both the logos and the spirit. All its acts are directed towards all beings and things in general. The bishop of Methone identifies this primal Nous with God, while all other intelligences are subordinate and function with their own orders (59).

The Neoplatonists posited a creation by emanation through the creative power of intuition and contemplation, which operates naturally within the temporal world at a particular level of being. Plotinus in one place traces everything back to nature and in other places to Nous or Soul (60). This typifies the vague approach of Plotinus with no clear delimitation or function in contrast to the more systematic formulations of Proclus. Plotinus' method led to conflicting interpretations between Porphyr and Iamblichus - for the former the creative principle was a transcendent soul and for the latter was the intelligible world as a whole. Proclus insists that the creative principle is mainly the intelligence, as the intelligence is an object of appetition to all things, so all things proceed from the intelligence, and the whole world-order, though eternal, has its being there from (61). Proclus here infers the creative function of the intelligence from its character as ορεκτόν, which results from the identification of the Aristotelian Nous with the Platonic demiurge. He emphasises that the creation of the world, like its reversion upon its cause, is beyond time (62).

Nicolaus states that even here Proclus contradicts himself; if everything proceeds from Nous, then Nous is prior to all beings. But elsewhere Proclus places Nous after the One, and thus there are some things that neither desire nous nor proceed from it(63). Yet, both Plotinian and Proclean approaches see creation as an indirect effect of contemplation (παρακολούθημα)(64). God creates, and this is the result of His thinking, but He does not think in order to create (65). Nicolaus here objects that: if intellection is creation, then each intelligence would create itself and also its higher sources, because of its complete intellection of both itself and its sources. In fact Proclus accepts that every intelligence has intuitive knowledge of itself and therefore creates itself if it knows its sequent it reverts upon its inferior, which is absurd. It is obvious that Nous does not know nor creates its sequent. It seems to us that even Nicolaus fails to realise that creation of the lower element comes from contemplation of the higher (66). Again Proclus declares that intelligence creates by existing and its existence is thought; therefore, it creates by its intellectual act. The existence of nous and its intellection are one thing, since intelligence is identical with the being which is its content. Nicolaus accepts that the primal Intelligence possesses both intellectual and creative attributes. As the primal Intellect knows its sequent and as the true Being bestows existence to all beings, thus its intellectual act is identical to its creative power. It is only the primal Intellect that knows itself, and if it knew only its prior, then it moved not be the primal Intelligence.

Ε. The unparticipated Intelligence

The structure of the unparticipated intelligence is much more difficult than that of the unparticipated One, because it does not hold true to Proclus' general principles. For we should expect that the existence, power and activity of the intelligence, would each have its own characteristic of power. But the actual composition of the unparticipated intelligence, that Proclus presents, appears very different. The characteristics of the unparticipated Intelligence in relation to its cause the unparticipated Being and the unparticipated power are set forth thus: the unparticipated Being has being «by its own existence», «as a cause» and activity doubly «as a cause»; the unparticipated power has being «by possession»; but has power by its own existence. The intelligence contains potentially, within its activity, everything else in the universe that is below it; so it itself is all other things in the world, «as a cause». Nevertheless, there is no actual division within the unparticipated intelligence, for, since its activity is an eternal fact, it 'knows' all things simultaneously. Its entire knowledge is simply its own activity and the objects of its knowledge are not the things of the material world themselves, but their pre-existing potential forms that are included in it. Here we note Proclus' affirmation that «every intelligence is a whole..., but the unparticipated intelligence is absolutely a whole» (67). Therefore, every intelligence knows all things at once, but the unparticipated intelligence knows absolutely all things at once (68).

In addition to being the cause of the world, by means of its activity, the unparticipated intelligence is also the goal for the return of everything below it. In particular, the soul, which, as the cause of all other motion is itself able to move, moves toward the intelligence as its own cause and the goal of its own motion; but the intelligence itself is motionless. This latter statement of Proclus, as expressed in his Elements of Theology, was refuted by Nicolaus, who did not accept that «the cause of all things (the intelligence) must be motionless, since, if it were moved, it would be imperfect (for all motion is an imperfect activity); and it would be subject to time, although it is the cause of time». Nicolaus, simply, accepts that only the primal Intelligence (God) is the cause of all things, the intelligence itself included (69).


52. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 167, p.144. The divine intelligence of prop. 161 is described as «πρώτως νοητόν» and perfects itself without loss of transcendence. In «νoυς νοητός», as in the Plotinian intelligence, both subject and object are one in number, i.e. logically distinguishable. This seems to be the «πρώτως νους» οf prop. 160 and the «αμέθεκτος νους» of props. 101, 166, 170. The lower intelligences are not identical with their objects but know them through participation, and the highest of these is the demiurge of the 'Timaeus' (cf. 'In Tim.' Ι, 323). Elsewhere the demiurge is described as «unparticipated intelligence» (cf. 'In Tim.' ΙII, 101. Also see: Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.' pp. 146-147.

53. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 144-145.

54. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 120, p. 104. In Plato's 'Laws' 899d is stated that any denial of the divine providence within the world constitutes a mere blasphemy, meriting the severest punishment. For the Stoics the immanent Logos governs all by «νους» and «πρόνoια» (cf. ' D.L.' VII, 138; 'SVF' Ι, 176). In Philo (cf. 'De Fuga' 101) the Logos exercises providence through the immanent «δυνάμεις» in the same way as in Plotinus (cf. 'Enneads' IV, 8, 2) the World Soul possesses a general providence and the individual souls a particular providence for the bodies they inhabit. The topic of providence bulks almost as large in Neoplatonism as does that of predestination and grace in the Christian theology of the period. For Proclus the doctrine of the divine providence is the starting point of his argumentation that it serves as the intervention of god in the world (cf. 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 122, 'Ρ.Τ.' Ι. 15, pp. 74-76). Proclus justifies the association of providence with the Henads on the grounds that it involves bestowal of good and that Goodness is the distinctive characteristic of the First Hypostasis (cf. 'Ε. Τ.', props. 119-120). In addition, the Greek word «πρόνοια» means pre-intellectual and indicates, according to Proclus, the Henads' super-intellectual cognition (cf. 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 120; Plotinus, 'Enneads' V, 3.10, 43). The etymology fits the Plotinian system better than that of Proclus. Nicolaus states that it would, if pressed, require us to ascribe providence to Being and Life also, since they also are «προ νου» (cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.', pp. 115-116). Also see R. Τ. Wallis, 'op. cit.', pp. 148-151.

55. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 170, p. 148. Proclus insists that the activity of all intelligences is eternal and therefore they know all that they know in a simultaneous way («άμα»). Yet, it is known that never two intelligences have identical intuitions, for in this case their being would be identical too. Proclus seems to conceive the main characteristics of the particular intelligences in connection with the specific differences within a genus (cf. prop. 177, and 'in Tim.' Ιl, 202.7: «του γαρ ζώου μετέχει μεν και άνθρωπος, και έστιν όλον και εν τούτω το είδος, αλλ' ου μόνον, αλλά καθ' εν το όλον, oίoν το ανθρώπειον είδος, ώστε μετά του όλου και ενός τινος, όπερ εστίν αυτού μόριον, πάρεστι τω μετέχοντι». See also Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit., pp. 149-150. Plotinus, 'Enneads' V,8,4: Porphyr, 'Αφορμαί πρoς τα νοητά 44,11.

56. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 177, p. 156. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.' pp. 155-156.

57. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.' 152-153. Proclus states that emanative creation is timeless and unwilled in contrast to the Christian doctrine of deliberate creation in time. The only creative power is contemplation or intuitive thought, which, at a certain level of being, transforms itself automatically into spatio-temporal terms (cf. E.R. Dodds, 'op. cit.', p. 290). Both nature and intelligence possess creative powers; Plotinus and Proclus express similar views on this issue (cf. 'Enneads' IIΙ, 8, Proclus, 'In Tim. Ι, 334.15). The intelligence possesses clearly creative attributes (cf. 'Enneads' V, 4.3: «νουν ποιητήν όντως και δημιουργόν»). For Proclus the creative principle is mainly the intelligence and everything derives from it (cf. prop.34). Nicolaus argues against Proclus' theorem and states that if intellection be creation, then since each intelligence has intellection of itself and its priors, each intelligence must create itself and its priors, which in fact is absolutely absurd. E.R. Dodds ('op. cit.', pp.290-291) observes that usually contemplation of the higher is creation of the lower (cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 152-153. Gregorius of Nazianzus, or. 38, 'PG 36, 320e).

58. Proclus 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 167, pp. 144-146. Cf. Nicolaus οf Methone, 'op. cit.' pp. 147-148. 59. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 147-148.

60. Cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' V, 9.3; ΙI, 9. 4. R.T. Wallis, 'op. cit.', pp. 61-69, 132-133.

61. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 34, pp. 36-38. Proclus is careful to stress that the «creation» of the world-order, like the «reversion» of the world-order upon its cause, is timeless, and thus consistent with the infinite duration of that order in time.

62. Cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' ΙIΙ, 2.l: «...νουν προ αυτού (του κόσμου) είναι ουχ ως χρόνω πρότερον όντα, αλλ' ότι παρά νου εστι και φύσει πρότερος εκείνος και αίτιος τούτου... δι' εκείνον όντος και υποστάντος αεί».

63. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 43-44.

64. Cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' III, 8.9.

65. Proclus, 'Ιn Parm.' 791.14 sq.

66. Idem, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 167, pp. 144-146. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', p. 147.

67. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 180, p. 158. Proclus in agreement with Porphyr (αφορμαί xxii) states that the primal intelligence is a whole-before-the-parts and each of the remaining intelligences is a whole-in-the-part. Nicolaus observes that Proclus' theorem ends to a flat contradiction (cf. prop. 171).

68. Cf. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 170, p. 148. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.', pp. 149-150.

69. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 169, pp. 146-147. The «νοητόν», the «νους» and the «νόησις» have the character of being a totum simul, which for the Neoplatonists is the mark of eternity: cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' V, 1.4 and Porphyr, Αφορμαί προς τα νοητά, 44.15. Also see: Plato's 'Timaeus' 38a and Aristotle's 'Metaphysics' Λ 7, 1072b 26 sq. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.', pp. 149-150.

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