The One, which is also the Good, is the ultimate and true unknowable Godhead and reality. It has a singular nature and is the sum of all things in existence; however, exists beyond all things, transcending the Cosmos and manifesting it through the overflowing emanation of its superabundant goodness. Even to speak of it places limiting labels and definitions, as the One is not only the source and the totality of all, but transcends and lays beyond all as the source of all. 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. It is an apophatic God, existing supra-essentially 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 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. These three moments of the One are the Ineffable One, the Simply One and the One-Being.
I. The Ineffable One
The One has a singular nature; encompassing but laying beyond all things. The One is eternal, existing ungenerated and without Being (Ousia). The One does not exist as we understand existence. Instead, the One exists in a negative reality, where it is existing but lacking Being (Ousia). As such, it is nowhere at all.. It is the principle beyond all Being, beyond all participation, totally imparticipable and transcendent, beyond all knowledge, unmoved in the singularity of its own unity. It not only transcends physical reality, but transcends the mind. 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, quite simply, the One in-and-of itself, being unconnected to anything after it.
The One is the Good
The Good and The One are one and the same. For us to understand this, imagine something beautiful; say a breathtaking, beautiful waterfall. Now, instead of pausing and focusing on that experience alone, lift your mind higher and consider that this isn’t 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.
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. 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.
Furthermore, with this in mind, we can see that Beauty isn’t the only good. There are also things such as Truth, Virtue, Excellence, and Justice — which we also consider to be good without even giving it a second thought. And, just as there is with Beauty, we may suppose that there is some Form for each of these other things: a Form of Truth, a Form of Virtue, of Excellence, of Justice, etc.
And finally, we may contemplate the possibility of an overarching principle or essence which all these different Forms of good things have in common. Something beyond these things which they ultimately trace their source from. This essential and primordial good would be the Good; also known as the One.
The One is understood as beyond Being and Ineffable to the mind. The One is the sum of all things in existence, however is beyond all things. All things come from the One, and all things desire the Good.
Therefore, the Good must be beyond all things because nothing desires to attain what it already has. That the Good illuminates the whole of the Intelligible Realm, where Being is created, means it exists before that realm, and so is not only beyond entities but beyond Being. The Good is also understood as the sum of all things, and with that wholly self-contained, since nothing can be added to the Good because if something can be added to the Good to improve it, then that thing is itself the Good that all things desire, and our souls would turn to that instead. We can thus see the nature of the Good is to unify things and perfect them. The principle of unity belongs to the One-Being as the monad (source) above the Intelligible Realm. This means that anything failing to participate in the Good also ceases to have the power of union, and anything that ceases to have the power of union ceases participating the Good. This ultimately means anything that is not good fails to exist, lacking Being since it doesn’t participate in the Good. Good is thus seen as holding a positive existence, since all things in existence derive from it.
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)
Iamblichus states that the Gods are monoeides, meaning “in the form of singularity,” (Clark 2010, 56-57) a term that Plato uses for the Good. This means that the Gods share a singular divine essence first prior to becoming distinct individuals, as unity precedes multiplicity. In this they are unitary and emanatory as manifestations of their singular divine source, the One. 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“), pre-essential ineffable unities, in which they are illuminated from the One and communicated into Being. 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.
II. The Simply One
The Ineffable One is the One in and of itself, unconnected to anything after it. It is the unparticipated One. Following this One is another One. This One is variously called the “Simply One” (ho haplos hen) and “that which is before duality” (pro tos duados.)
The Simply One is derived from Iamblichus’ reading of the second hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides. 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, as opposed to the passive Ineffable One in repose.
Based on this information, all we can say about the Simply One is that it exists; pre-existing everywhere.
Even though the Simply One is beyond duality, duality comes as a result of it. The Dyad is a product of the Simply One. The Dyad is between singularity and multiplicity and has characteristics of both. The Dyad at this point represents “Limit and the Unlimited, or… One and Many.” Here “One” and “Many” can be 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 Monad/Source of if there is nothing that follows?) 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.” 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 principle of unity belongs to the One-Being as the source (monad) above the Intelligible Realm. This means that anything failing to participate in the Good also ceases to have the power of union, and anything that ceases to have the power of union ceases participating the Good. This ultimately means anything that is not good fails to exist, lacking Being since it doesn’t participate in the Good. Good is thus seen as holding a positive existence, since all things in existence derive from it.
The One-Being becomes Aion (Also known as Paradigm) once it’s reflected into the Intelligible Realm, the realm immediately after the realm of the One. Aion acts as the source (monad) of that realm, and as the Good rules over and unifying Being, Life and Mind. Specifically, Aion represents 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; being 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” 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)
“Every good tends to unify what participates it; and all unification is a good; and the Good is identical with the One.”
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