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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.

F. The participated Intelligence

The unparticipated Intelligence reveals the existence of a class of participated characteristics of intelligence (νόες μετεχόμενοι). We note that the unparticipated Intelligence cannot be truly described as an intelligence, since only its effects are individual intelligences, while it itself is an intelligence only to the extent that it is the cause of all intelligences(70). The power of the activity of the unparticipated Intelligence, which is immediately responsible for the production of these possessed characteristics of nous, as a whole, is called the 'logos' this is for Proclus the creating word (δημιουργικός λόγος) of the unparticipated Intelligence.

Each individual participated characteristics of intelligence is itself an individual intelligence; it is a whole, knowing all its effects by including them potentially in its activity and producing them by means of this activity or knowledge. Yet, each individual intelligence represents only one aspect of the unparticipated Intelligence. Each of the individual intelligences is a whole found in-the-parts and contains all things dividedly (71). The reason that it is possible for an individual intelligence to contain all things within it is found in the principle: «all things are in all things». Therefore,«all the individual intelligences, following the unparticipated Intelligence, know all things under the aspect of a single thing» (72). Thus, it is clear that the individual intelligences are the intermediaries between the unparticipated Intelligence and all less universal things. One of the many principles, in which they are involved, is to divide up what was previously unified within the unparticipated Intelligence, and transmit all the characteristics that it contained universally and potentially to various individual and actual things.

There are several ranks of intelligences: the class of all the participated characteristics of intelligence itself; its highest members are known as divine intelligences, which are participated by a divine soul (73). Of special importance is the world-Intelligence (Νους του κόσμου), being participated by the world Soul (Ψυχή του Παντός), and thus, is the cause of the activities of the soul. In the lower rank come the ordinary or intellectual intelligences (νοεροί νόες), which are participated by the more divided aspects of the world Soul. The human intelligence is considered to be a kind of «spark» of the intelligence. All intelligences contain within themselves the individual characteristics, known as «objects of knowledge» (νοητά) or forms (είδη); these are the ideal or pre-existed Form of all beings that actually exist in the sensible world (74).

All beings, Nicolaus states, possess their existence as derived from God, who is the only unparticipated, for unparticipated terms subsist prior to the participated (75). Everything exists due to its participation of all principles in the primal Cause, the true Being (όντως Ον), maintains its own unparticipated nature and stands above all creation. This primal Cause is called by Proclus not God, but something divine, intelligible and unparticipated(76). Nicolaus observes that the participated are more of one nature (ενικώτερα) than the participants and therefore divine (θείον), while the participants are placed on a lower level. Yet the unparticipated cannot be many, for plurality is not a characteristic of the primal Cause. If the true Being is a manifold, it should not be called όντως ον, but όντως όντα (77). In proposition 20, Proclus states, that the true Being is one, as well as the unparticipated Intelligence and the unparticipated soul, but now he speaks of many participated intelligences. This Intelligence is participated by a manifold of henads, and these, in return are participated by the unparticipated Being, or the unparticipated Intelligence. Nicolaus criticises Proclus' statement that all these henads, which are supra-mundane are participated by the unparticipated soul. As all soul is dependent upon intelligences (78); the intelligence is converted upon the intelligible (79), so the supra-mundane gods depend on the intellectual. But Nicolaus asks: if the unparticipated soul is one, why does Proclus use the term αμέθεκτος ψυχή?
Here there is a contradiction with the conclusion of proposition 22, where it is stated that there is only one primal Soul.

In propositions 23 and 24 Proclus states that the unparticipated Intelligence is superior and has primal existence, while in proposition 166, he accepts both: the unparticipated and participated intelligence and the latter is participated either by supra-mundane or by intra-mundane souls.

Another inconsistency of Proclus is traced by Nicolaus. The Neoplatonic philosopher tends to show that the intelligence is either unparticipated and thus leading all that participate, or participated; therefore, intelligence is neither all unparticipated nor all participated. Then, how can the statement, «both unparticipated and participated intelligence», be in agreement with that argument? Nicolaus considers the teachings of Proclus as the main source, for the doctrine of the multi-god system and the hierarchy of the three 'grades' of the divine intelligences: a) the unparticipated Intelligence; (b) the supra-mundane intelligences, which serve as a mean term between (a) and (c), and (c) the intra-mundane (planetary) intelligences (80). Nicolaus observes that Proclus accepts a whole system of ensouled and intelligible universe with a manifold of supra-mundane and intra-mundane gods, which is entirely inconsistent and absurd. The existence of intra-mundane intelligences is unacceptable, because the world-order itself is possessed of intelligence as well as of soul. Yet, the intra-mundane souls must participate in supra-mundane
intelligence through the mediation of intelligences which are intra-mundane(81).

Further Proclus says that every intelligence is primarily participated by principles, which are intellectual at once in their existence and in their activity. For human consciousness, intuitive thought is possible only intermittently; hence Proclus depends on certain higher souls as the permanent channels of νόησις. These are similar to the Plotinian «superconscious» but on the other hand they are non-human entities, nor are they aspects of the soul. They are intermediate between human souls and timeless intelligences (αεί κατά χρόνον νοούντες), analogous to the αεί γινόμενα, operating between temporal and eternal being (82). Proclus' purpose is to strengthen the system at its weakest stage, where eternity needs the element of time. The contact of a well-ordered human mind, apprehended in a single act of intuition, represents, for Proclus, a perfect system of knowledge. Each part would be involved in the existence of every other part, without blurring necessary distinctions. Plotinus sees individual truths as valuable only in relationship to the whole (83). With Proclus this expresses the internal unity of pure mind, rather than any relationship between universal soul and individual souls, as with Porphyr. He distinguishes also the intelligible forms (νoερά είδη), the content of the νόες, from the νοητά είδη, which are above the intellect and represent the true Being (όντως ον), in a strict sense, and even with greater unity. Psellos, in his work 'De omni faria doctrina', chapter 25, understands by «intellectual forms» the «ψυχή, νόες, άγγελoι, αρχάγγελoι, δυνάμεις, και όσα τoιαύτα», while he considers the forms as Platonic expressions, like αγαθότης, οσιότης. On the same level moves Proclus, who has in mind the clear Platonic forms (84).

In proposition 180 Proclus contradicts himself by admitting that «every intelligence is unparticipated though it is consisted of parts», despite his intention to underline the fact that «every intelligence is undivided».

Proclus separates the unparticipated Intelligence from all other participated intelligences and its excellency lies on its attribute of being unparticipated.
Christian teaching accepts the supreme Intelligence as the source of all other intelligences, and the fact that it is the supreme Cause of all other intelligences, enables it to participate in them. Despite the participation of the Intelligence in lower intelligences, the excellency remains as a characteristic of the undivided intelligence, which can be participated by the other intelligences, according to their power and general attributes (85).

At the fact of participation, the lower intelligences participate the higher, only through the illumination shed out by the higher to the lower. It is clear that the lower does not possess any power itself of participation, and its achievement is the result of the given illuminations (χορηγουμένας ελλάμψεις). The higher Being illuminates the lower and while the irradiation of the superior serve as a basis, the characters which proceed from secondary principles are found upon them; thus, there is an order of precedence in participation and successive rays strike downwards upon the same recipient (86).

Proclus was accused by Nicolaus as holding the multi-gods doctrine. When he says: «all that is unparticipated is divine», he means that even the individuals who participate the universals are closer to the one. In this case, even the universals are participated and conversely the individuals being far from the one and participated by none, can be called divine (87). Yet, every participated divine intelligence is participated by divine souls. If participation, Nicolaus states, assimilates the participant to the participated principle and causes it to have the same nature, it is easy to say that a soul, which participates and is annexed to a divine intelligence, is itself divine, participating through the mediation of the intelligence the divinity immanent therein(88). Nicolaus wonders if participation assimilates the participant to the participated and causes it to have the same nature, now it does not assimilate the intelligence, which is closer and of the same nature to the divine intelligence, but it does the soul. It is only the one and primal Intelligence that bestows existence to beings and thus, it is the only participated. The product participates the producer, which is only God, and in this case, he is participated by the first Intelligence. Nο doubt, the divine intelligences produce nothing from themselves, but only they transfer to all beings all divine participations. Nicolaus states that these intelligences are called intellectual in relation to their priors and intellective to their sequent (89).


Proposition 56 suggests that «the participants, which derives from the one, acts as a connecting point between the other participated and the unparticipated beings». The purpose here is to safeguard the active inter-relationship between the ultimate causes and the whole causal series. This view, however, tends inevitably towards a strict monism incompatible with the theory of «self existent» (αυθυπόστατον). On the other hand, some later scholastics found Proclus' argument a useful way of combining the emanationism of Avicenna with Christian Orthodox teaching on creation... Similarly, in the Areopagitic writings there exist the phrase αμεθέκτως μετεχόμενα, and Nicolaus himself does not hesitate in admitting that God is both μεθεκτός and αμέθεκτος, in the sense that a term which is directly αμέθεκτον can be indirectly μεθεκτόν by means of the μετεχόμενα, which it produces. Though the primal Intelligence is unparticipated, the participant do participate in it. For Nicolaus, it is a fallacy to divide the participated intelligence into supra-mundane and intra-mundane, for it leads to the doctrine of multi-god system, which is completely unaccepted.


70. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 65, p. 62. The triadic structure of Reality is parallel to that of prop. 23. Also see: props. 67, 103, 118, 173, 195; 'In Tim.' Ι, 8.17 sq ; Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', p.68.

71. Cf. Ρroclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 180, p.158. Nicolaus οf Methone, 'op. cit.', p.157.

72. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', props. 170-171, pp. 148-150. Plotinus ('Enneads' IV, 2.l) and Porphyr (Αφορμαί προς τα νοητά V) had made substantially the same distinctions as Proclus did between the pure unity of the One and the minimal unity of Matter in six grades, with the omission of the henads. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op.cit.', pp. 149-151.

73. Proclus, 'E.Τ.', props: 111, p. 98; 129, p. 114; 179, p. 158; 181, p. 158; 182, p. 160.

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

75. Proclus, 'E.Τ.', props. 11-12, pp. 12-14. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 15-16. 76. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', props. 181-182, pp. 158-160. There is a basic difference between the «divine» and the «intellectual» participated intelligences on one hand and the «supra-mundane» and «intra-mundane» on the other. In case we combine the two groups we get three grades of participated intelligence (a) «Θείος υπερκόσμιος» (b) «Θείος εγκόσμιος» (c) «νοερός εγκόσμιος». Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 157-159.

77. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', props. 161-162, pp. 140-142. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 143-144. E.R. Dodds, 'οp. cit'., pp. 281-282.

78. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 20, p. 22. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 30-31.

79. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 161, p. 140. Cf. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', p. 143.

80. Proclus, 'E.Τ.', props: 181-183, pp. 158-Ι60. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 157159.

81. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 101, p.90. Cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' V, 4.2 init. and esp. VI, 6.8; V, 4.8. Nicolaus of Methone, '.op.cit.', pp. 98.

82. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 167, p. 144-146. Nicolaus of Methone, pp. 147-148.

83. Cf. Plotinus, 'Enneads' IV, 9.5.

84. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 176, p. 154. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 154-155.

85. Proclus, 'E.Τ', prop. 181-183, pp. 158-160; 293-294. Nicolaus of Methone, pp. 157-159.

86. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', props. 180, pp. 158, 293. Cf. also Nicolaus οf Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 157, 15-19: «... τους δ' άλλους άπαντας νόας ουκ αυτούς τους υπερτέρους υπό των καταδεεστέρων μετέχεσθαι αλλά τας αυτοίς πρωτοδότως χορηγουμένας ελλάμψεις είτουν μεθέξεις εκείνου εις τους μετ' αυτούς δευτεροδότως διαβιβάζειν».

87. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', prop. 181, p.158; prop. 24, p. 28. Nicolaus of Methone, op.cit., p. 157.

88. Proclus, 'Ε.Τ.', props. 183-184, pp. 160-l62. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 159-161.

89. Proclus, 'E.Τ.', prop. 182, p. 160. Nicolaus of Methone, 'op. cit.', pp. 158-159.

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