Armstrong: O Bem

VI. 7. 34-36
(Armstrong Selection and Translation)

[The happy state of the soul which enjoys the vision of the Good; how Noûs, in itself and in the soul, transcends its normal knowing to reach that vision.]

We shall no longer be surprised if we find that the Object which causes these tremendous longings is altogether free from even intelligible shape; for the soul too, when it conceives an intense desire for It, puts away all the shape it has and anything intelligible there is in it. For no one who possesses anything else and is actively concerned with it can see the Good or be conformed to Him. The soul must not keep by it good or evil or anything else, that it may alone receive Him, the Only One. When the soul has good fortune with Him and He comes to it, or rather when His presence becomes manifest, when it turns away from the things present to it and prepares itself, making itself as beautiful as possible, and comes to likeness with Him (those who practise this preparation and adorning know clearly what they are); then it sees Him suddenly appearing in itself (for there is nothing between, nor are they still two, but both are one; while He is present, you could not distinguish them; lovers and those they love here imitate this state in their longing to unite); it is not conscious of being in its body any more, nor does it call itself anything else, man or living being, or being, or all; to contemplate these things does not suit its present state; it has no time for them and does not want them; it seeks the Good and meets It when It is present and looks at It instead of itself; and it has no time to see who it is who looks. There it would not exchange anything in the world for This, not even if you gave it the mastery over the whole heaven, since there is nothing better, no greater good; for it cannot go higher, and everything else, however exalted, only belongs to it when it comes down. So then it can judge rightly and know that This is what it desired, and say with certainty that nothing is better than This; for there is no deceit There; where could it find anything truer than the Truth? It is That which it speaks of, and it speaks of It afterwards, silently and happily and without making any mistake about its happiness. It does not speak when its bodily senses are tickled but when it becomes again That which it was before, when it was happy. As for all the other things in which it took delight before, position, power, wealth, beauty, knowledge, it despises them all and says so, and it would not say so if it had not found better things than these. It is not afraid of any misfortune while it is with This and while it has the full vision; if everything else belonging to it is destroyed, it is with its full approval, so that it may be only with This; to so great happiness has it attained.

It is so disposed then that it thinks little of the activity of Noûs, which it welcomed at other times, because the activity of Noûs is a kind of movement, and it does not want to move; for it says that He Whom it sees does not move either. All the same, it does become Noûs and contemplates by being intellectualized and entering into the intelligible region; when it has entered there and is surrounded by the intelligible it thinks; but when it sees Him it at once puts away everything. It is as if someone went into a richly decorated house and looked at and admired all the beauties of its interior, before he saw the master of the house; but when he saw him, not the same kind of thing as a statue but requiring real contemplation, he would abandon the decorations and look only at him in future; and then, looking at him and not taking his eyes off him, by the continuity of his gaze he would no longer see a sight but blend his vision with its object, so that what he saw before became sight in him, and he forgot all other objects. The image would give a better comparison if it was not a man who presented himself to the visitor contemplating the beauties of the house, but a god, and one who did not appear to the eyes but filled the soul of the beholder.

Noûs has one power for thinking, by which it looks at its own contents, and one by which it sees That Which is above it by a kind of intuitive reception, by which it first simply saw and afterwards, as it saw, acquired intellect, and is one. The first is the contemplation of Noûs in its right mind, the second that of Noûs in love. When it goes out of its mind, being drunk with the nectar, it falls in love and is simplified into a happy fullness; and drunkenness like this is better for it than sobriety. But is its vision partial, now of one thing and now of another? No; the course of the exposition presents these visions as [successive] happenings, but Noûs always has thought and always has this state which is not thought but looking at Him in a different way. In seeing Him it possesses the things which it produces and is conscious at the same time both of their production and their presence within it. Seeing them is what is called thinking, but it sees Him at the same time by the power which makes it able to think.

The soul sees Him by a kind of blurring together the Noûs abiding in it and making it disappear, or rather its Noûs sees first, and the contemplation passes to it and the two become one. The Good is spread out upon them and united with the combination of both, and runs over the two and rests upon them, uniting them and giving them a blessed sense and sight; It raises them so high that they are not in place, nor in anything else, though they are things whose nature is to be one in another; for He is not anywhere; the intelligible place is in Him, and He is not in any other. So the soul does not move then, because the Good does not; and it is not soul, because the Good does not live, but is above life; nor is it Noûs, because the Good does not think; for the soul must be like It. (It does not think, because It is not an object of thought.)

Everything else is clear, and we have said something about the point which follows. But all the same we ought to say a little about it here too, beginning from the point we have reached, and going on by a process of reasoning. The greatest thing is knowledge of or contact with the Good. Plato says that it is’ the greatest study ‘, meaning by’ study’ not the actual vision but learning something about It beforehand. We learn about It by comparisons and negations and knowledge of the things which proceed from It and intellectual progress by ascending degrees; but we advance towards It by purifications and virtues and adornings of the soul and by gaining a foothold in the world of Noûs and settling ourselves firmly There and feasting on its contents; anyone who attains to this at once contemplates himself and everything else and is the object of his contemplation; he becomes real being and Noûs and the Perfect Living Creature and does not look at it any more from outside. When he becomes this he is near; the Good is next above him, close to him, already shining over the whole intelligible world. Then letting all study go, led by his instruction to Noûs and firmly established in beauty, he raises his thought to that in which he is, but is carried out of it by the very surge of the wave of Noûs and, lifted high by its swell, suddenly sees without knowing how; the Sight fills his eyes with light but does not make him see something else by it, but the Light is That Which he sees. There is not in It one thing which is seen and another which is Its light, or Noûs and that which it thinks, but a Radiance which produces these at a later stage and lets them exist beside It. The Good is a Radiance which simply produces Noûs without extinguishing Itself in the production. The Radiance remains, and Noûs comes to be by reason of the Good’s existence.