Sunday, March 17, 2013

On the Platonic (and Hence Marcionite) Interpretation of the Cross

Perhaps more significant than any of these examples is the treatment by the later Neoplatonists of the doctrine of the X in the soul which is summarized by Proclus in his Republic Commentary. According to Plato, the strip of psychic substance which the Demiurge employs in the creation of the World-Soul is split lengthwise and then the two parts are joined together at the middle crossing each other diagonally, the result being a figure shaped like a X. Proclus argues that the application of this particular figure to Soul emphasizes its 'psychic life' (Procl. in Remp. II. 144. 1-2). So far the doctrine is fairly clear, but a slight difficulty arises in connection with individual souls. Are we to understand that the figure is present in these as well as in the World-Soul? In the present passage Proclus only answers this question by stating that the figure is 'a characteristic of the whole psychic nature' (ibid 143.23-4). But fortunately his opinion is set out elsewhere. Individual souls, he argues, have not only the figure which is common to all (i.e. the X) But also figures peculiar to themselves such as that of Heracles, that of Pentheus, and so on. (Procl. in Tim II. 256. 3ff). This idea can perhaps be explained by comparing the important passage in the Euclid Commentary where Proclus classifies the various types of figures with which he is concerned. These are : (i) Those produced by art, for example the images produced by the sculptor. (ii) The works of Nature. Such figures include those which maintain the constitutive proportions of the elements in the sublunary sphere and those which define the motions of the heavenly bodies. (iii) The 'figures of souls.' These are beautiful, living, self-moving, and immaterial. (iv) 'Intellectual figures' which are productive, efficacious, perfecting, remaining in themselves yet present alike to all, bringing unity to the psychic figures, and setting limits to the vagaries of the sensible. (v) The figures of the gods. These are perfect, unitary, unknowable, and ineffable. They are mounted upon the intellectual figures and set unitary limits to the entire realm of figures.(Procl. In Eucl. 136. 20ff) This passage shows that not only does each metaphysical order have figures appropriate to it but that any principle possesses in addition to its own peculiar figure the figures appropriate to those higher principles in which it participates. This is demonstrated by the remarks made about the intellectual figures bringing unity to the psychic figures, the figures of the gods being mounted upon the intellectual figures, and so on. The inevitable conclusion is that a soul which participates an intellect possesses not only the X appropriate to its own nature but also the figure appropriate to the intellect to which it is linked in procession. The soul therefore becomes in the strictest sense a whole complex of figures.

The full significance of the doctrine of the figure in the World-Soul becomes apparent when we come to examine the extensive analogy of which it forms a part. In an important passage in the Timaeus Commentary Proclus uses Plato's statement that the Demiurge created the Cosmos as an effigy of the everlasting gods as an opportunity to compare the fashioning of the Cosmos with the consecration of a statue in the theurgic ritual. He explains that just as the Demiurge has bestowed 'characters.'  and 'names' upon the Cosmos so does the theurgist 'consecrate' a statue.(Procl. in Tim. III. 6. 8ff.)   In another passage Proclus explores the analogy in greater detail and we discover that the X in the World-Soul and the names which the Demiurge bestowed upon the two parts of the strip of psychic substance are parallel to the amulets which the theurgist places in the hollow of his statue and the amulets attached to the outside of the statue by means of fillets respectively. (Procl. in Remp. II. 212. 20ff) This in its turn links up with an earlier passage in the Timaeus Commentary where Proclus explains Plato's statement that the Demiurge ordained that the two parts of the strip forming the noetic centre of the ensouled cosmos should be known as 'the Same' and 'the Different' respectively. (Procl. in Tim. II. 255. 12ff).

These ideas about the use of graphic symbols in theurgic ritual are found in many other later Neoplatonic sources. Iamblichus frequently refers to written characters in the De Mysteriis although he appears to think little of the practice adopted in certain occultist circles of standing upon the characters.(Iambl. De Myst. 129. 14ff) References are fairly common throughout Proclus' works and in addition to the passages already quoted one should perhaps note his reference to the 'ineffable beauty' of the characters as having its origin in that part of the spiritual world which is called the supercelestial region. Clearly he alludes to one of the more elevated types of character whence the more mundane varieties take their origin.(Procl. Th. Pl. 193) Finally, Damascius stresses the significance of graphic forms for those who revealed the sacred oracles to mankind, in other words, the theurgists. (Damasc. Dub. et Sol. II. 128. 4-5) [From Iamblichus to Eriugena: An Investigation of the Prehistory and Evolution of the Pseudo-Dionysian Tradition by Stephen Gersh p. 297 - 299]

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