The One (Greek: Monad), which is also the Good (Greek: tou agathon), and more infrequently God (Greek: Theos, Latin: Deus), is the ultimate and true unknowable Godhead and reality. It has an utterly singular nature (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2-3) and is the sum of all things in existence. Plato tells us that even to give it a name or speak of it places limiting labels and definitions, writing that “you cannot say that it ‘has’ anything or that there is anything ‘of’ it. Consequently, it cannot have a name or be spoken of, nor can there be any knowledge or perception or opinion of it. It is not named or spoken of, not an object of opinion or of knowledge, not perceived by any creature” (Plato Parmenides, 142a).
This is because the One is not only the sum of everything, but transcends and lays beyond each thing as the ultimate source of the all, manifesting multiplicity through the overflowing emanation of its superabundant goodness (Uždavinys 2009, 27). It is without beginning or end, and is even beyond the Gods which manifest from it. It can be used as a synonym for “God,” but this is not precisely accurate because the One is an apophatic God, existing supra-essentially (Hyparxis) and beyond Being (Ousia) and thus in a negative reality; and because of this it can only really be understood, as little as it can, by negation, where one only speaks in terms of what may not be said about its perfectness.
Though the One is singular, it may paradoxically be best understood (as best as we can understand it, that is) triadically, “all contained within itself transcendentally and immanently throughout the realms and cosmos” (Theourgia.com Catechism, 2). These three moments of the One are the Ineffable One, the Simply One and the One-Being. Here the One in all of its ways exists beyond Being (On), beyond Life (Zoe), and beyond Mind (Noesis) (Theourgia.com Catechism, 2). These all derive from the One but the One is simultaneously beyond them, for “as the senses of the physical body cannot grasp nor even perceive the realities of the mind, as image cannot take hold in what is absolutely simple and shapeless, and as the bodily cannot approach the incorporeal so too is the mind incapable of gazing upon that which is beyond intellect and beings are to be found inferior to that which is infinitely prior to being” (Theourgia.com Catechism, 2).
I. The Ineffable One
The Ineffable One is the unparticipated One (Finamore 1985, 41). The Ineffable One has a singular nature, encompassing but laying beyond all things. It is eternal, existing ungenerated and without Being (Ousia). The One does not exist as we understand existence, instead existing in a negative reality outside of Being (Ousia). As such, the Ineffable One is none and is found nowhere at all, with Plato writing that it “neither is, nor is one” (Plato, Parmenides 141e), but simultaneously it is also the first of a series of things which are different from, but dependent upon, the One for their Being.
It is the principle beyond all Being, beyond all participation, totally imparticipable and transcendent, beyond all knowledge, and “unmoved in the singularity of its own unity” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2-3) for “no object of intellection is linked to him, nor anything else” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2-3). It not only transcends physical reality, but transcends the mind. It is passive, laying in ultimate repose. All things exist because of the Ineffable One, though the Ineffable One is beyond all things. The Ineffable One is the ultimate and true reality, participating in nothing, prior and superior to everything else. The Ineffable One is simply the One in-and-of itself, being unconnected to anything after it.
II. The Simply One
Following the Absolute One is the “Simply One,” ho haplos hen, also called “that which is before duality,” pro tos duados. The Simply One is derived from Iamblichus’ reading of the second hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides (Dillon 2009, 30). Whereas the first hypothesis concludes that a One cannot be, the second hypothesis begins by saying that “[i]f a one is, it cannot be, and yet not have existence” (Plato Parmenides, 142a).
This second One is necessary because the first moment of the One, the Ineffable One, is completely contained within itself and eternally Ineffable, meaning there can be nothing outside the One. However, we know there are things outside of the One, evidenced by how I wrote this and you’re reading this. As a result, we have the Simply One, which is the creative first principle, or the One in activity.
Based on this information, all we can say about the Simply One is that it exists, and its nature is that it is pre-existing everywhere.
The One (Monad) isn’t the same as the number “1” in contemporary math. Instead, the One transcends number and is the “non-spatial source of number” (Waterfield 1988, 35). Difference, such as numbers, come into existence with the Dyad, where there are two things, or difference. Without difference there are no numbers; the number one is distinct from the number two, the number two is distinct from the number three, and so forth.
Even though the Simply One is beyond duality, duality comes as a result of it as the Dyad. The Dyad is between singularity and multiplicity and has characteristics of both, representing “Limit and the Unlimited, or if one wishes, One and Many” (Dillon 2009, 31). Here “One” and “Many” is understood as the existence of opposites: while the One represents unification, the Dyad represents separation.
Plato who makes it clear that plurality must exist if there is a One that is (is as in existing), so the One and Many are not only opposites but the beginning of number in the Platonist system— after all, what would the One be the source of if there is nothing which follows? (Plato Parmenides, 144a-e) The introduction of the Dyad here is a logical necessity stemming from Plato’s Parmenides, specifically the second hypothesis. In placing the Dyad ontologically after the Simply One, rather than simultaneously, Iamblichus tells us that duality is a natural result of the existence of the Simply One.
The level or mode of reality may be described as “ontological.” The root of the word ontology is ontos, meaning “that which is real.” Ontology is the study of real things, and ontologically prior things are “more real” than what comes after them. Iamblichus tells us that the Parmenidean hypotheses aren’t just mere logical propositions; rather they represent something ontological, something very literally real. Furthermore, Iamblichus tells us about necessity. The One is as real as reality gets, and as such the One is necessary in a way that nothing else is. If there isn’t a One, there is nothing; however there is clearly something. You, me, whatever you’re reading this from, etc. These things are, and they are because the Simply One is. What Iamblichus conveys is that at this level things that must be are. If something must logically follow from a proposition such as the Simply One, then that something exists. Not only does it exist, but it exists ontologically posterior to that which it must follow. The Dyad must exist, and it must exist after the Simply One, and following the Dyad is the One-Being.
III. The One-Being
Finally, following the Dyad is the One-Being (alternatively called One-Extant), the final moment of the One. The One-Being sits at the lowest point of the realm of the One, and as the lowest the One-Being acts as a bridge between the realm of the One and the Intelligible realm, simultaneously existing in both as a mediate. (This is part of an Iamblichean axiom: the lowest principle of one realm is also the highest principle of the next.)
The One-Being is prior to both oneness and Being, existing in all its ways beyond being, beyond life, and beyond mind; though it is the source of it all, giving it all to the Intelligible Realm, the highest realm directly below the non-realm of the One.
The One is the Good
Imagine something beautiful, such as a breathtaking waterfall. Now, instead of pausing and focusing on that experience alone, lift your mind higher and consider that this sight is not the only beautiful thing. There are many other experiences equally or more beautiful as this one.
Now, we must consider that there is something in common amongst all these experiences — in exactly the same way that there is something in common for all circles, all homes, or all dogs. That is, each of these things has some defining principle or principles: some unchangeable, transcendent, universal essence. However, this universal essence is not the only essence. We may conceive of the abstract “Form” of a circle, which would exist even if somehow we were able to remove all physical circles from the world.
There are also things such as Truth, Excellence, and Virtue— which we also consider to be good and beautiful without even giving it a second thought. And thus we may suppose that there is some Form for each of these other things: a Form of Truth, of Virtue, of Excellence, of Justice, etc.
With these universal essences in mind, we may also deduce that there is some Form of Beauty, which is the principle that all beautiful things have in common, and that this may potentially exist independently of all beautiful things. And connected to this Form of Beauty, we may consider an overarching principle or essence which all these different Forms of good things have in common. Something beyond these things closely connected to the Form of Beauty which all can ultimately trace their source from. This essential and primordial good would be the Form of the Good, (tou agathou idean), which is that “which just things and all the rest become useful and beneficial” (Plato Republic, 505a). The ultimate source of this Form is the Good itself, also known as the One.
But why are the One and the Good the same, and what exactly is the Good? The Good is that “which every soul pursues” for the sake of all that it does (Plato Republic, 505e). It’s not possible to describe it in any useful way, because not only is it beyond the mind, but it’s beyond Being and essence themselves, and thus there isn’t any singular thing we can point to so that one may describe it. Hence, Plato turns to analogy to describe the Good (Plato Republic, 507c-509a).
In the Republic, Socrates discusses the nature of one of the five senses, sight. Sight isn’t possible if there is merely eyes and an object to be seen, as “vision will see nothing and the colors will remain invisible” (Plato Republic, 507e). For us to have sight, we require the thing “that you call light” (Plato Republic, 507e), and the source of light is ultimately linked to a divine source, the sun (Plato Republic, 507d-e). In Platonism, the planets and stars are the bodies of the Encosmic Gods. Particularly, the sun is the body of Zeus-Helios, the Divine Mind and Creator.
When our sights look upon objects fully illuminated by the benevolent sun, we have full, sharp, clear vision. The Form of the Good is akin to the sun, which is itself “a visible reflection of the invisible Good” (Kupperman 2014, 97). When the soul looks upon the Intelligible Realm, “where truth and reality shine resplendent” (Plato Republic, 508d), it can grasp knowledge of those things “and attain to reason” (Kupperman 2014, 97). However, if the soul should avert their eyes from the Intelligible Realm and towards our realm of generation, its vision of truth will be dulled, “just as though the eye were turned away from illuminated objects” (Kupperman 2014, 97).
It’s important to note, however, that while light and vision are like the sun that they are not the all-ruling sun itself, rather the sun is the cause of vision (Plato Republic, 508b). Likewise, this is also true for the Good. The Good is “beyond that which it allows us to know” (Kupperman 2014, 97), and like the One, while we may never know it, we may know of it. This is because the Good is the One (Kupperman 2014, 97).
The Good being synonymous with the One is fundamental to Platonism. Proclus writes that “all things desire the Good” (Dodds 1963, 35, C Prop. 31), and hence the Good must be beyond everything since “all appetite implies a lack of, and a severance from, the object craved” (Dodds 1963, 11, B Prop. 8). As such, because the Good illuminates the entirety of the Intelligible Realm, it consequently must exist before that realm, and hence it isn’t merely beyond entities but beyond Being (Ousia) (Kupperman 2014, 97). Furthermore, the Good is wholly self-contained. Nothing can be added to it that would make it better, because “if something can be added to the Good to improve it, then that thing would be the Good all things desire” (Kupperman 2014, 97).
All things derive from the One, and the One is the Good because the Good is the best thing possible; for if something else were superior to the Good, the soul would turn to that instead. Additionally, the nature of the Good is to “unify things and perfect them,” (Kupperman 2014, 98) which is illustrated in the Republic where the Good makes all things beneficial and useful, and hence beautiful. However, the principle of unity belongs to the One-Being as the One (Monad) above the Intelligible Realm. This ultimately means that anything which fails to participate the Good also “ceases having the power of unity, and anything that ceases to have the power of union ceases participating the Good” (Kupperman 2014, 98). “Goodness, then, is unification, and unification goodness; the Good is one, and the One is primal good” (Dodds 1963, 17, C Prop. 13).
The One is the highest divinity, but in all of its modes, it is not directly knowable. Just like the analogy of the sun in Plato’s Republic, we’re able to see truth by the One’s divine light, but we should not mistake the truth for “that which illuminates it” (Kupperman 2014, 98). And without the One, there is no truth.
The use of this knowledge regarding this unknowable One is practical. The One is the foundation of all things, existing beyond everything and, but at the same time, existing “in or to all things” (Kupperman 2014, 98). The divine Iamblichus writes of this principle that “in the highest levels of beings, the abundance of power has this additional advantage over all others, in being present to all equally in the same manner without hindrance; according to this principle then, the primary beings illuminate even the lowest levels, and the immaterial are present immaterially to the material” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, V.23, 267).
The One is always with us. The unity and goodness which it brings are what we all strive for, even if we don’t always succeed in our goals. All acts of love (eros) are imitations of the Good, for Eros is “the perpetrator of unions” (Kupperman 2014, 98). And finally, as the source of unions, the presence of the Good in the material cosmos is what allows us for the practice of virtue, theourgia, theosis, and ultimately henosis (Kupperman 2014, 98).
The One is the First Cause
The One can be identified as the First Cause. This is because:
- If the First Cause were Mind, then all things would possess mind…
- If the First Cause were Soul, then all things would possess soul…
- If the First Cause were Being, then all things would partake in Being…
Some people may come to think that the First Cause is Being, as they see this quality in all things. Now if things had nothing but Being, and did not also possess goodness, this assertion would be true; but if beings subsist through goodness, and participate in the Good, it is necessary that the First Cause should be the super-essential Good (Sallustius, V).
Evidence of this is most obvious in souls endued with virtue, seen when they expose themselves to the most imminent dangers for their country or friends, or virtue itself; through Good neglecting the care of their own Being (Sallustius, V).
Thus, the One can be identified as the First Cause – as unity precedes the multitude, surpassing all things in power and goodness. Consequently, all things must partake of it, and the One is the primordial active source of Being from which all things emanate, though it does not actually create itself. Its existence, however, is necessary for there to be anything else, and this we must understand this Intelligible Triad of Being, Life and Mind is not the First Cause and lies after the One (Sallustius, V).
The One-Being becomes Aion (also known as Paradigm), also called Hypernion by Emperor Julian, once it’s reflected into the Intelligible Realm, the realm immediately after the realm of the One. Aion acts as the source of that realm, and as the Good Aion unifying and ruling over Being, Life and Mind (Iamblichus In Timaeus, fr. 54). More specifically, Aion is a vertical extension of the One into the Intelligible Realm. This means Aion occupies the same ontological place as the One-Being; however, as it exists at the top of the Intelligible Realm rather than at the bottom of the realm of the One, it is functionally different.
Aion is the Pre-Essential Demiurge, existing before Ousia (Substance/Being) though simultaneously being the source of ousia and essentiality. Both come into existence before the Gods.
As Aion, the One-Being is the model upon which the Cosmos are based on and is described as the “Essence of Being” (Iamblichus In Timaeus, fr. 35) from which all Being stems. Aion being the cosmic model is important, because it tells us about the nature of the cosmos: that the cosmos are modelled by the Celestial Demiurge based upon something that is eternal, unchangeable, good, and beyond generation, as Plato quotes in the Timaeus: “Everyone will see that [the Celestial Demiurge] must have looked to the eternal, for the world is the fairest of creations and He is the best of causes” (Plato, Timaeus 29a).
Iamblichus states that the Gods are monoeides, meaning “in the form of singularity” (Clark 2010, 56-57), a term which Plato uses for the Good. This means that the Gods the Gods share a single unity as emanatory manifestations within Their singular divine source, the One Supra-Essential Godhead (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 379), as unity precedes the existence of multiplicity (Sallustius, V). They derive from the One through simple multiplication of itself into a multitude (and thus preserving most of its attributes, as everything is multiplied oneness) and functioning as horizontal extensions of the same power, which leads back to that unity. This provides a case for a plurality of worship, as it means there are many ways to approach and worship the divine.
While the Gods are united within the One as monoeides, each of the Gods, insofar as they are a God, are henads (meaning “unities”), supra-essential ineffable unities. Though they are beyond Being (hyperousios). Though they are beyond Being, the bottom level of one hypostasis is considered to be the top level of the next, and thus the Gods are simultaneously understood to possess substance (Ousia) at the summits of Being, in which through Aion they are illuminated from the One and communicated into Being as its first principles. Existing in the Intelligible Realm, they hold no need to strive upwards, for as the first principles of Being they are already at the summit of existence and fully participate in the One.
The Gods concern themselves with things of this world and perform activities, however they do not perform these activities out of need because they are perfect and thus are without needs. This nature links back to the One. Plotinus’ description of the activity of the One is that it overflows of its superabundance. It gains nothing from this overflowing, nor has any need to overflow; it is simply its nature, and hence in turn it is also simply in the nature of the divine. Need/necessity isn’t to be confused with want and nature.
“Every good tends to unify what participates it; and all unification is a good; and the Good is identical with the One.”
-Proclus (Dodds 1963, 15, B Prop. 13.)
Afonasin, Eugene, John Dillon, and John F. Finamore. Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Clark, Dennis. “The Gods as Henads in Iamblichus.” The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 4, no. 1 (2010): 54-74. doi:10.1163/187254710×492901.
Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. “Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia Catechism.” Ekklesia Neoplatonismos Theourgia. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://theourgia.org/catechism/
Finamore, John F. Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985.
Iamblichus. De Anima. Translated by John F. Finamore and John M. Dillon. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002.
Iamblichus. De Mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Iamblichus. In Platonis Dialogos Commentariorum Fragmenta. Translated by Dillon, John M. Wiltshire, UK: Prometheus Trust, 2009.
Iamblichus. The Theology of Arithmetic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1988.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. “Living Theurgy: a course in Iamblichus Philosophy, Theology and Theurgy”. London: Avalonia, 2014.
Proclus. Elements of Theology. Translated by E. R. Dodds. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
Sallustius, “On the Gods and the Cosmos”, 4th Century ACE, accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.platonic-philosophy.org/files/Sallustius%20-%20On%20the%20Gods%20(Taylor).pdf
Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Second ed. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014.