Virtues

April 1, 2022

Not to step above the beam of the balance.

The 14th Symbol is explaind by Iamblichus:

This symbol exhorts us to: - the exercise of justice - the honoring equality and moderation - the knowledge of justice as the most perfect virtue Justice completes the other virtues. Without justice, none of the other virtues are of any advantage. It also admonishes us, that it is proper to know this virtue not in a careless manner, but through theorems and scientific demonstrations. But this knowledge is the business of no other art and science than the Pythagoric philosophy alone, which in a transcendent degree honors disciplines before every thing else.

“The Pythagoreans called the pentad providence and justice, because it equalizes things unequal, justice being a medium between excess and defect, just as 5 is the middle of all the numbers that are equally distant from it on both sides as far as to the decad, some of which it surpasses, and by others is surpassed, as may be seen in the following arrangement:

“For here, as in the middle of the beam of a balance, 5 does not depart from the line of the equilibrium, while one scale is raised, and the other is depressed.

In the arrangement 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, the sum of the numbers which are posterior, is triple the sum of those that are prior to 5; for 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 = 30. But 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10.

If the numbers on each side of 5 represent the beam of a balance, 5 being the tongue of it, when a weight depresses the beam, an obtuse angle is produced by the depressed part with the tongue, and an acute angle by the elevated part of the beam.

Hence it is worse to do than to suffer an injury. The authors of the injury verge downward as it were to the infernal regions; but the injured tend upward as it were to the Gods, imploring the divine assistance.

The Pythagoric symbol means “Pass not above the beam of the balance.”

Since injustice pertains to inequality, in order to correct this, equalization is requisite, that the beam of the balance may remain on both sides without obliquity.

But equalization is effected by addition and subtraction. Thus, if 4 is added to 5, and 4 is also taken from 5, the number 9 will be produced on one side, and 1 on the other, each of which is equally distant from 5.

Thus too, if 3 is added to 5, and is also subtracted from it, on the one side 8 will be produced, and on the other 2.

If 2 is added to 5, and likewise taken from it, 7 and 3 will be produced. And by adding 1 to 5, and subtracting 3 from it, 6 and 4 will be the result; in all which instances, the numbers produced are equidistant from 5, and the sum of each couple is equal to 10.”

The 9th Symbol

Such as dig not fire with a sword.

Iamblichus explains that this symbol exhorts to prudence.

It excites in us an appropriate conception with respect to the propriety of not opposing sharp words to a man full of fire and wrath, nor contending with him. For frequently by words you will agitate and disturb an ignorant man, and will yourself suffer things dreadful and unpleasant.

Heraclitus agrees and says “It is difficult to fight with anger. Whatever is necessary to be done redeems the soul.”

For many, by gratifying anger, have changed the condition of their soul, and have made death preferable to life.

But by governing the tongue, and being quiet, friendship is produced from strife, the fire of anger being extinguished; and you yourself will not appear to be destitute of intellect.”

But this follows from the whole being naturally prior to the part, and not the part to the whole.

For whole co-subverts, but is not co-subverted by part= since if whole is taken away, part also is taken away; but the contrary does not follow.

Such therefore as hope the intellective and gnostic part of virtue, are denominated skilful and intelligent; but such as have the ethical and pre-elective part of it, are denominated useful and equitable.

The Phaedo of Plato explains that the first virtues are the physical, which are common to brutes, being mingled with the temperaments, and for the most part contrary to each other; or rather pertaining to the animal.

Or it may be said that they are illuminations from reason, when not impeded by a certain bad temperament= or that they are the result of energies in a former life.

Of these Plato speaks in the Politicus and the Laws.

The ethical virtues are above these and are ingenerated by custom and a certain right opinion. These are the virtues of children when well educated.

These virtues also are to be found in some brute animals. They likewise transcend the temperaments, and on this account are not contrary to each other. These virtues Plato delivers in the Laws.

They pertain however at the same time both to reason and the irrational nature. In the third rank above these are the political virtues, which pertain to reason alone; for they are scientific. But they are the virtues of reason adorning the irrational part as its instrument; through prudence adorning the gnostic, through fortitude the irascible, and through temperance the epithymetic power, (or the power which is the source of desire;) but adorning all the parts of the irrational nature through justice. And of these virtues Plato speaks much in the Republic.

These virtues too follow each other. Above these are the cathartic virtues, which pertain to reason alone, withdrawing from other things to itself, throwing aside the instruments of sense as vain, repressing also the energies through 341 these instruments, and liberating the soul from the bonds of generation. Plato particularly unfolds these virtues in the Phædo.

Prior to these however are the theoretic virtues, which pertain to the soul, introducing itself to natures superior to itself, not only gnostically, as some one may be induced to think from the name, but also orectically= for it hastens to become, as it were, intellect instead of soul; and intellect possesses both desire and knowledge. These virtues are the converse of the political= for as the latter energize about things subordinate according to reason, so the former about things more excellent according to intellect. These virtues Plato delivers in the Theætetus.

According to Plotinus, there is also another gradation of the virtues besides these, viz, the paradigmatic. For, as our eye, when it is first illuminated by the solar light, is different from that which illuminates, as being illuminated, but afterwards is in a certain respect united and conjoined with it, and becomes, as it were, solar-form; so also our soul at first indeed is illuminated by intellect, and energizes according to the theoretic virtues, but afterwards becomes, as it were, that which is illuminated, and energizes uniformly according to the paradigmatic virtues. And it is the business indeed of philosophy to make us intellect; but of theurgy to unite us to intelligibles, so that we may energize paradigmatically.

When possessing the physical virtues, we know mundane bodies (for the subjects to virtues of this kind are bodies); so from possessing the ethical virtues, we know the fate of the Universe, because fate is conversant with irrational lives.

For the rational soul is not under fate; and the ethical virtues are irrational, because they pertain to the irrational part. According to the political virtues we know mundane affairs, and according to the cathartic supermundane; but as possessing the theoretic we know intellectual, and from the paradigmatic intelligible natures. Temperance also pertains to the ethical virtues; justice to the political, on account of compacts; fortitude to the cathartic, through not verging to matter; and prudence to the theoretic.

Observe too, that Plato in the Phædo calls the physical virtues servile, because they may subsist in servile souls; but he calls the ethical σκιογραφιαι adumbrations, because their possessors only know that the energies of such virtues are right, but do not know why they are so.

Olympiodorus observes that Plato calls the cathartic and theoretic virtues, those which are in reality true virtues. He also separates them in another way, viz. that the political are not telestic, i. e. do not pertain to mystic ceremonies, but that the cathartic and theoretic are telestic. Hence, Olympiodorus adds, the cathartic virtues are denominated from the purification which is used in the mysteries; but the theoretic from 343 perceiving things divine. On this account he accords with the Orphic verses, that

The soul that uninitiated dies,

Plung’d in the blackest mire in Hades lies.

For initiation is the divinely-inspired energy of the virtues. Olympiodorus also further observes, that by the thyrsus-bearers, Plato means those that energize according to the political virtues, but by the Bacchuses those that exercise the cathartic virtues.

For we are bound in matter as Titans, through the great partibility of our nature; but we rise from the dark mire as Bacchuses. Hence we become more prophetic at the time of death= and Bacchus is the inspective guardian of death, because he is likewise of every thing pertaining to the Bacchic sacred rites.

All the virtues likewise exhibit their proper characters, these being every where common, but subsisting appropriately in each. For the characteristic property of fortitude is the not declining to things subordinate; of temperance, a conversion from an inferior nature; of justice, a proper energy, and which is adapted to being; and of prudence, the election and selection of things good and evil. Olympiodorus farther observes, that all the virtues are in the Gods.

For many Gods, says he, are adorned with their appellations; and all goodness originates from the Gods. Likewise, prior, to things which sometimes participate the virtues, as 344 is our case, it is necessary there should be natures which always participate them. In what order, therefore, do the virtues appear? Shall we say in the psychical? For virtue is the perfection of the soul; and election and pre-election are the energies and projections of the soul. Hence the Chaldæan oracles conjoin fontal virtue with fontal soul, or in other words, with soul subsisting according to cause.

But may it not also be said, that the virtues naturally wish to give an orderly arrangement to that which is disordered? If this be admitted, they will originate from the demiurgic order. How then will they be cathartic there?

May we not say, Olympiodorus adds, that through the cathartic virtues considered according to their causal subsistence in Jupiter the demiurgus, he is enabled to abide in his accustomed mode, as Plato says in the Timæus?

According to ancient theologists, he ascends to the tower of Saturn, who is a pure intellect.

This distribution of the virtues is presently no less novel than important. I add the following discussion of them from the Αφορμαι προς τα νοητα, or Auxiliaries to Intelligibles, of Porphyry:

“There is one kind of virtues pertaining to the political character, and another to the man who tends to contemplation, and on this account is 345 called theoretic, and is now a beholder.

There are also other virtues pertaining to intellect, so far as it is intellect, and separate from soul. The virtues indeed of the political character, and which consist in the moderation of the passions, are characterised by following and being obedient to the reasoning about that which is becoming in actions.

Hence, looking to an innoxious converse with neighbours, they are denominated, from the aggregation of fellowship, political.

Prudence subsists about the reasoning part. Fortitude about the irascible part; temperance, in the consent and symphony of the epithymetic with the reasoning part; and justice in each of these performing its proper employment with respect to governing and being governed.

But the virtues of him who proceeds to the contemplative life, consist in a departure from terrestrial concerns.

Hence also, they are called purifications, being surveyed in the refraining from corporeal actions, and avoiding sympathies with the body.

For these are the virtues of the soul elevating itself to true being. The political virtues, therefore, adorn the mortal man, and are the forerunners of purifications. For it is necessary that he who is adorned by these, should abstain from doing any thing precedaneously in conjunction with body. Hence in purifications, not to opine with body, but to energize alone, gives subsistence to prudence; which derives its perfection 346 through energizing intellectually with purity.

But not to be similarly passive with the body, constitutes temperance. Not to fear a departure from body as into something void, and nonentity, gives subsistence to fortitude. But when reason and intellect are the leaders, and there is no resistance [from the irrational part,] justice is produced. The disposition therefore, according to the political virtues, is surveyed in the moderation of the passions; having for its end to live as man conformable to nature. But the disposition according to the theoretic virtues, is beheld in apathy;[108] the end of which is a similitude to God.

Since, however, of purification one kind consists in purifying, but another pertains to those that are purified, the cathartic virtues are surveyed according to both these significations of purification; for they purify the soul, and are present with purification. For the end of purification is to become pure.

But since purification, and the being purified, are an ablation of every thing foreign, the good resulting from them will be different from that which purifies; so that if that which is purified was good prior to the impurity with which it is defiled, purification is sufficient. That, however, which remains after purification, is good, and not purification.

The nature of the soul also was not good, but is that which is able to partake of good, and is boniform. For if this were not the case, it would not have become situated in evil. The good, therefore, of the soul consists in being united to its generator; but its evil, in an association with things subordinate to itself.

Its evil also is two-fold.

  1. The one arising from an association with terrestrial natures; but the other from doing this with an excess of the passions. Hence all the political virtues, which liberate the soul from one evil, may be denominated virtues, and are honorable. But the cathartic are more honorable, and liberate it from evil, so far as it is soul. It is necessary, therefore, that the soul when purified should associate with its generator.

Hence the virtue of it after its conversion consists in a scientific knowledge of [true] being; but this will not be the case unless conversion, precedes.

There is therefore another genus of virtues after the cathartic and political, and which are the virtues of the soul energizing intellectually. Here, wisdom and prudence consist in the contemplation of those things which intellect possesses. But justice consists in performing what is appropriate in a conformity to, and energizing according to intellect.

Temperance is an inward conversion of the soul to intellect. And fortitude is apathy; according to a similitude of that to which the soul looks, and which is naturally impassive. These virtues also, in the same manner as the others, alternately follow each other.

“The fourth species of the virtues, is that of the paradigms subsisting in intellect; which are more excellent than the psychical virtues, and exist as the paradigms of these; the virtues of the soul being the similitudes of them. And intellect indeed is that in which all things subsist at once as paradigms. Here, therefore, prudence is science; but intellect that knows [all things] is wisdom.

Temperance is that which is converted to itself. The proper work of intellect, is the performance of its appropriate duty, [and this is justice[109]]. But fortitude is sameness, and the abiding with purity in itself, through an abundance of power.

There are therefore four genera of virtues; of which, indeed, some pertain to intellect, concur with the essence of it, and are paradigmatic. Others pertain to soul now looking to intellect, and being filled from it. Others belong to the soul of man, purifying itself, and becoming purified from the body, and the irrational passions. And others are the virtues of the soul of man, adorning the man, through giving measure and bound to the irrational nature, and producing moderation in the passions.

He who has the greater virtues has also necessarily the less. But the contrary is not true, that he who has the less has also the greater virtues. Nor will he who possesses the greater, energize precedaneously according to the less, but only so far as the necessities of the mortal nature require.

The scope also of the virtues, is, as we have said, generically different in the different virtues. For the scope of the political virtues, is to give measure to the passions in their practical energies according to nature. But the scope of the cathartic virtues, is entirely to obliterate the remembrance of the passions.

The scope of the rest subsists analogously to what has been before said. Hence, he who energizes according to the practical virtues, is a worthy man= but he who energizes according to the cathartic virtues, is a dæmoniacal man, or is also a good dæmon. He who energizes according to the intellectual virtues alone, is a God.

But he who energizes according to the paradigmatic virtues, is the father of the Gods.

We, therefore, should especially pay attention to the cathartic virtues, since we may obtain these in the present life.

But through these, the ascent is to the more honorable virtues. Hence it is requisite to survey to what degree purification may be extended. For it is a separation from body, and from the passive motion of the irrational part.

But how this may so effected, and to what extent, must now be said.

He who intends to acquire this purification, should, as the foundation and basis of it:

  • first know himself to be a soul bound in a foreign thing, and in a different essence.
  • secondly collect himself from the body, and as it different places, so as to be disposed in a manner perfectly impassive with respect to the body.

He who energizes uninterruptedly according to sense, though he may not do this with an adhering affection, and the enjoyment resulting from pleasure, yet at the same time his attention is dissipated about the body, in consequence of becoming through sense[110] in contact with it.

But we are addicted to the pleasures or pains of sensibles, in conjunction with a promptitude, and converging sympathy; from which disposition it is requisite to be purified. This, however, will be effected by admitting necessary pleasures, and the sensations of them, merely as remedies, or as a liberation from pain, in order that [the rational part] may not be impeded [in its energies.]

Pain also must be taken away. But if this is not possible, it must be mildly diminished. It will be diminished, if the soul is not co-passive with it.

Anger, likewise, must as much as possible be taken away and must by no means be premeditated.

But if it cannot be entirely removed, deliberate choice must not be mingled with it, but the unpremeditated motion must be the impulse of the irrational part. That however which is unpremeditated is imbecile and small.

All fear, likewise, must be expelled. He who acquires this purification, will fear nothing. Here, however, if it should take place, it will be unpremeditated.

Anger therefore and fear must be used for the purpose of admonition. But the desire of every thing base must be exterminated. Such a one also, so far as he is a cathartic philosopher, will not desire meats and drinks. Neither must there be the unpremeditated in natural venereal connexions; but if this should take place, it must only be as far as to that precipitate imagination which energizes in sleep.

In short, the intellectual soul itself of the purified man must be liberated from all these corporeal propensities.

He must likewise endeavour that what is moved to the irrational nature of corporeal passions, may be moved without sympathy, and without animadversion; so that the motions themselves may be immediately dissolved, through their vicinity to the reasoning power.

This, however, will not take place while the purification is proceeding to its perfection.

It will happen to those in whom reason rules without opposition.

Hence in these, the inferior part will so venerate reason, that it will be indignant if it is at all moved, in consequence of not being quiet when its master is present, and will reprove itself for its imbecility.

These, however, are yet only moderations of the passions, but at length terminate in apathy. When co-passivity is entirely exterminated, then apathy is present with him who is purified from it.

For passion becomes moved, when reason imparts excitation, through verging [to the irrational nature.]”