The One (Greek: Hen), which is also the Good (Greek: tou agathon), 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. The One is utterly immovable, abiding in the solitude of its own unity. 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 is also infrequently called God (Greek: Theos, Latin: Deus), but it is important to stress that the One is an apophatic God, existing wholly supra-essentially (Hyparxis) and completely beyond Being or Substance (hyperousios), thus existing completely within 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. Orpheus calls it the Unutterable Principle, or Árritos Arkhí (Ἄρρητος Ἀρχή), made out of the words árritos, meaning “that which cannot be expressed” or “not to be divulged,” and arkhí, meaning “beginning.”
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.org 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.org 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.org 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. One might be wondering why there are things outside of the One. This is explained by Plotinus’ description of the activity of the One. Here, he describes that the One overflows of its own superabundance (Uždavinys 2009, 27). It gains nothing from this overflowing, nor has any need to overflow. Rather, it is simply its nature, and hence in turn it is also simply in the nature of the divine.
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.
In Pythagorean theological arithmetic the monad is not the same as the number “1” in contemporary math (Kupperman 2014, 91). Instead, a monad transcends number, being the “non-spatial source of number” (Waterfield 1988, 35). Because of this, numbers only come into existence with the Dyad, “where there are two things, or difference” (Kupperman 2014, 91). This is because 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 Aion, the 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 supra-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 Pre-Essential Demiurge: Aion
The Supreme God is nameless and many-named. To the divine Iamblichus He is called Aion, meaning Eternity. Iamblichus also calls Him the “Pre-Essential” (proousios), “Father of Himself” (autopater), “Principle of Himself” (autarchis), “God of Gods” (theos theon), “Father of Essence” (ousiopator), “Principle of Intellection” (noetarchis prosagoreoetai), and “Monad springing from the One” (monas ek tou enos) (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2). To the blessed Julian He is called Hyperion, meaning “The High-One” or “He who Watches from Above.” Julian also calls Him the “Supra-Intelligible” (epekeina tou nou) and “Idea of Being” (idean ton onton) (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 359). To the divine Orpheus, Aion is called Phanes. Phanes is depicted as both male and female, whose name means “to bring light” or “to shine,” as it is from Him all life emanates.
Aion can be understood as the One-Being once it’s reflected into the Intelligible Realm (i.e., the first realm of Being which is immediately after the non-realm of the One), autonomously shining forth from it (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2). For this Iamblichus calls Him “the self-sufficient God, for which reason He is termed “father of Himself” and “principle of Himself”; for He is first principle and “God of Gods” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2), and Julian calls Him the “first and greatest” (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 361). Plato writes that “eternity [aion] remains in the One” (Plato Timaeus, 37d5), which tells us that Aion is a horizontal extension of the One, i.e., existing within the same level and occupying the same ontological place as the One-Being; however, as He exists at the top of the Intelligible Realm as its first principle and cause, rather than at the bottom of the non-realm of the One, He is functionally different, and acts as a medium between the two realms. He is called the “Monad . . . from the One” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2), being pre-essential and the first principle of essence and source of essentiality and essence (i.e., ousia), for which reason he is termed “father of essence” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2). He is thus the supreme genus who allows for all levels of the ontological hierarchy to participate in His divine essence. As the Monad from the One who is the pre-essential first principle of the Intelligible Realm He is the “Principle of Intellection” (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.2), the source of that which is thought, who thinks the Gods under Him (out of the pre-essential henads He pluralizes from Himself as the One-Being, who are unfolded into His unity, monoeides), and Being itself, into existence, springing forth the entirety of the Intelligible Cosmos, the Intelligible Gods, and His vertical emanation the Celestial Demiurge (the Nous, i.e., Zeus-Helios), all of whom surround Him (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 377). As the Good made manifest as a God, Aion is the source of Being, Life, and Intellect who unifies and rules over Them (Iamblichus In Timaeus, fr. 54). He also holds the role of organizing His domain, the Intelligible Realm, and all its inhabitants (i.e., the Gods) according to the impulses given by the One, bestowing upon the Intelligible Gods the life-light which sustains and nourishes Them, granting Them their beauty, existence, perfection, and oneness (Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, III 361) and allowing Them to think in a unitary mode.
As the One-Being, Aion’s existence is beyond all things and prior to the Gods under Him, being alone in the singularity of the highest divinity, governing apart over the universe. He is so sublime and transcendental that even the Gods under Him can’t know Him, as demonstrated by the Oracle of Clarian Apollo (Smith 1995, 98):
“There exists a fire (phlogmos) which has occupied a vessel above the heavens – a fire infinitely in motion, a boundless eternity. It is not within the grasp of the blessed Gods, unless the mighty Father should plan His purposes so that He Himself might be looked upon: in that place the ether does not bear the radiant stars; nor is the luminous moon raised up there. No God meets Him [the Father, who is fire] on His path, nor am I myself [solar Apollo] spread out so far as to reach Him, though I whirl through the ether in company with my light-rays. God is fire, a vast channel moving in a spinning motion with a whirring sound. But if someone touched that ethereal fire, he would not feel fear in his heart, for it has not power to burn. Through an unceasing care that derives from God Himself, eternity mingles with eternities. Self-begotten, untaught, without a mother, unshakeable, nameless, many-named, and dwelling in fire – that is God; we are messengers (angeloi), only a small part of God.”
Aion is the creative power the Celestial Demiurge draws from to create and shape the cosmos. Matter (hylē) is also created by Aion, and is thus eternal. Hylē is initially vacant though, being an empty receptive substance which forms into matter as we know it once the Celestial Demiurge directs the Logoi to give hylē shape. This informs matter and gives it shape, turning it from an empty substance into the matter we understand. Aion is also the model upon which the Cosmos are based on, for which reason He is called “the Paradigm” (Iamblichus, De Mysteriis VIII.2) and the “the Essence of Being” (Iamblichus In Timaeus, fr. 35) from which all Being stems. Here, the divine Zeus, Demiurge of the Kosmos, “unpacks” a paradigm for the cosmos (i.e., a soul-formula) from all the Kings of the Kosmos before Him, who are His pre-forms. It is described in Orphic fragments that Zeus does so by swallowing Phanes (Orphic Fragments (Kern) 58, 164, 165, and 167. Loosely trans. by HellenicGods.org, Edited):
“Thus mighty Zeus engulfed and swallowed Erikapaios [Phanes], employing all of His power, and drew everything that existed into the hollow of His belly. And now all things in Zeus were created anew, the sky, the sea, the earth, and all the blessed and immortal Gods and Goddesses, all that was then and all that will be, all mingled in the belly of Zeus.”
Aion being the cosmic model is important, because it tells us that the cosmos and its nature are modeled by the Celestial Demiurge based upon something that is eternal, unchangeable, good, and beyond generation, as Plato writes: “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). The Demiurge gives order to the disorderly motion of the cosmos by creating Soul as an image of Phanes, the paradigm, who is also called Animal Itself.
Because Aion comes into being before duality, which sprung when the Word (Logoi) of creation was spoken by the Celestial Demiurge, Iamblichus informs us the only appropriate way to worship Aion is through silence (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.3). This may fit with the first formula of Roman rites that is the “Favete Linguis,” or command of silence. As Seneca explains in The Happy Life (26, 7): “When you will hear the sacred texts mentioned, keep silent.” Seneca uses the world “favoriteci” which derives from another important Latin term, “favor.” In this case, the term favoriteci doesn’t mean favor or help, but rather an order that intimates silence. This silence is needed to perform the sacred rite without being disturbed by any profane voices. We can find variants of this formula in Virgil (Virgil Aeneid, V.71): ore favete omnes, meaning “all have to observe silence,” and in Tibullus, who writes that “the bystanders, men and women, have to observe a pious silence” (Tibullus Elegiarum, II.2.2) and “keep silent all the bystanders” (Tibullus Elegiarum, II.1.1).
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 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. In doing so, the Godhead provides access to all His capabilities to all Gods via Himself and doesn’t ask for a exclusive pedestal of superiority, because all manifestations are treated as equal to Him. It allows Himself to be accessed by one manifestation via another manifestation indirectly. This all-pervasiveness. Each God, as a multiplication of the Good, is the center of all. This provides a case for a plurality of worship, as it means there are many ways to approach and worship God.
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), 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 and Plotinus’ description of its activity as an overflow of its superabundance. It gains nothing from this overflowing, nor has any need to overflow. Rather, it is simply its nature. 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.)
“Everything comes to be out of One and is resolved into One.”
-Musaios (Guthrie 1935, 74-75)
“Prior to the true beings and to the universal principles [or principles that rank as wholes] there is the one God, prior cause even of [that deity who is generally believed to be] the first God and King, remaining unmoved in the singularity of His own unity. For no object of intellection is linked to Him, nor anything else. He is established as a paradigm for the self-fathering, self-generating and only-fathered God who is true Good; for it is something greater, and primary, and fount of all things, and basic root of all the first objects of intellection, which are the forms. From this One there has autonomously shone forth the self-sufficient God, for which reason He is termed “father of himself” and “principle of himself”; for He is first principle and God of Gods, a monad springing from the One, pre-essential and first principle of essence. For from Him springs essentiality and essence, for which reason He is termed “father of essence”; He Himself is pre-essential being, the first principle of the intelligible realm, for which reason He is termed “principle of intellection.”
-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis VIII.2 [Edited]
“[The] first and greatest, namely, [is] the Idea of the Good.”
-Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus (III 361)
“This divine and wholly beautiful universe, from the highest vault of heaven to the lowest limit of the earth, is held together by the continuous providence of the God, has existed from eternity ungenerated, is imperishable for all time to come, and is guarded immediately by nothing else than the Fifth Substance [Aithir] whose culmination is the beams of the sun; and in the second and higher degree, so to speak, by the intelligible world; but in a still loftier sense it is guarded by the King of the whole universe, who is the centre of all things that exist. He, therefore, whether it is right to call Him the Supra-Intelligible, or the Idea of Being, and by Being I mean the whole intelligible region, or the One, since the One seems somehow to be prior to all the rest, or, to use Plato’s name for Him, the Good; at any rate this uncompounded cause of the whole reveals to all existence beauty, and perfection, and oneness, and irresistible power”
-Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus (III 359)
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