Philosophical prayer in Proclus's commentary on Plato's Timaeus.
In the Neoplatonic tradition many philosophers defended and elaborated upon the Platonic doctrine of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its connection to the metaphysical value of prayer. For Plotinus, prayer is the reaching of the soul toward God, an activity which transforms one's inner being into a sanctuary for the divine, enabling individuals to become collected, self-gathered, and tranquil. (4) His student, Porphyry, as recorded by Proclus, believes that prayer is especially appropriate for the virtuous, as "like loves being connected to like" and in this way the "virtuous person is most like the gods." (5) In later Neoplatonism, Iamblichus further argues that prayer leads human souls to the highest levels of consciousness of which we are capable. We read:
Extended practice of prayer nurtures our intellect, enlarges very greatly our soul's receptivity to the gods, reveals to men the life of the gods, accustoms their eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods, until it leads us up to the highest level of consciousness (of which we are capable); ... in a word, it renders those who employ prayers, if we may express it, the familiar consorts of the gods. (6)
Ultimately, the "highest level of consciousness" for Iamblichus is not knowledge per se, that is, knowledge of a discursive or reflective type. As Iamblichus argues, "[k]nowledge, after all, is separated (from its object) by some degree of otherness" so it can never engender the "unitary connection with the gods that is natural."? Attempting to distance himself from Plotinus and Porphyry, Iamblichus believed that beyond the rationalistic work of the philosopher, who simply contemplates the divine in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and thereby remains separated from the object of his veneration, true prayer is a type of theurgy or godwork that divinizes the soul or makes it like the divine and thereby generates the activity of union with the gods. (8)
Following upon Iamblichus and responding to Timaeus's invocation of the gods at Timaeus 27c1-d4, Proclus discusses at length in his commentary on Timaeus the metaphysical value of prayer? Heralding the fact that prayer marks the soul's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or return to its causative principle, Proclus proceeds to exonerate individuals who "... observe the power of providence penetrating the whole of reality." (10) He further declares that individuals with even a modicum of "good sense" or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], defined here not as self-control but as "an inspired activity of the soul," will invoke and pray to the gods. (11) Interestingly, this identification of the person of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] with the prayerful one arises from the fact that, for Proclus, such individuals not only believe in the gods but further recognize and pay homage to the providential signatures of the divine interpenetrating not only our own being but the totality of the cosmos. Proclus argues that these divine signatures ultimately illuminate the divine origin of all things, revealing the gods' unceasing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and concern for creation. (12) The prayerful, then, are those who have reverted to this signature within themselves, that is, within the soul, and, as a consequence, they "establish themselves in the goodness of the gods," realizing thereby that within even the most insignificant of things lies a trace of the kindness, truth, and beauty of the divine will and divine providence. (13) As a result, the person of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] can be said to pray for the gift of receptivity to such divine light.
In addition to elevating these "inspired individuals," lauding their ability to extricate themselves from all other preoccupations, Proclus is never one to overlook a problem, as he pinpoints the issue that penetrates to the heart of all Platonic musings on prayer: in theory the act of prayer should seem superfluous for Proclus's person of "good sense" (14) as such a person should aptly recognize that all things are guided by providence and are thus oriented toward the good. In short, what need is there for prayer? In response, Proclus returns to the doctrine of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], but adds an important addendum: to become like god is to exist freely. Proclus explains that since the gods are not only our superior causes but also the ones who have wisely granted self-motion to human souls, we can truly be like the gods only insofar as human beings, like the gods, can also be self-moved and self-sufficient entities, acquiring their freedom through this process of self-actualization. Yet, this gift does not come without a price; for, ultimately, due to the very structure of our souls as halfway-housed between intelligible and sensible reality, human beings must will ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to turn to the intelligible. Put otherwise, human beings must decide to enact their freedom and become what they are, that is, self-moved entities, or to remain at the level of the corporeal. (15) We must choose between lives ruled by the hand of Moira or Fate, the instrument of providence which moves that which cannot move itself--the sensible body--or we can choose the freedom of the gods, that which transcends the materially enslaved as self-knowing, self-constituting, and self-willing. (16) This choice for freedom and identity paradoxically arises in the simple act of reversion to, recognition of, and reverence for the divine, the origin and sustaining cause of all. (17) To pray, then, for Proclus, is not to ask for things to be otherwise, but to pray truly is the exercise of human liberation, which likens one's being and will to the gods', that is, one becomes self-moved. It is toward this end that prayer aims, namely the unification of the divine will with the human will, and so Proclus writes; "It is through prayer that the ascent is brought to completion and it is with prayer that the crown of virtue is attained, namely piety towards the gods." (18)
Due to these provoking claims about the pivotal role prayer has for not only safeguarding the possibility of freedom in a determined world but also ensuring its premier enactment, the following project intends to address two issues. First, it details the nature of prayer in Proclus's metaphysics (19) and, second, it demonstrates how Proclus offers a unique paradigm for the marriage of prayer, providence, and freedom in his own attempt to solve a slightly enigmatic moment in the Timaeus itself, the Pythagorean's lack of explicitly invoking the gods. As Proclus wonders, "[b]ut how can it be, they say, that Timaeus has announced with a grand flourish that one should pray and call on the gods and goddesses, but he fails to do this himself and immediately turns to the proposed accounts without praying?" (20) What will become remarkable in this analysis is how Proclus advances a form of philosophical prayer, which, as Iamblichus similarly argued, is more than just [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or simple contemplation, but is rather a kind of divine activity or work, that is, theurgy, which harmonizes one's will with the will of the divine through their acts of providential care. (21)
The Nature of Prayer. Proclus's account of prayer begins with a highly poetic invocation of the Neoplatonic doctrine of cyclical creativity (first advanced by Plotinus in the Enneads) in which all products of creation remain ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), proceed from ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and, most importantly for understanding his conception of prayer, return ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) or revert upon their cause. (22) Insofar as all things remain in their superior and productive causes, everything from the highest intelligible realities to the lowest depths of matter have, as Iamblichus similarly insisted in De Mysteriis, their existence and foundation in the gods, and so Proclus further stresses that we are continuously rooted in the divine. (23) For Proclus, "the divine does not stand aloof from anything, but is present for all things alike." (24)
For this reason, even if you take the lowest levels [of reality] there too you will find the divine present. The One is in fact everywhere present, inasmuch as each of the beings derives its existence from the gods, and even though they proceed forth from the gods, they have not gone out from them but rather are rooted in them. Where, indeed, could they "go out," when the gods have embraced all things and taken hold of them in advance and still retain them in themselves? (25)
In proceeding from the gods and entering into the creation, all things still abide in their cause, establishing the kinship of the secondary with the primary and therein constituting the possibility of communion. Nevertheless, the procession of creation also serves to distinguish the effect from the cause, severing the origin from the originated or derivative. Thus, the last phase of return or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is of utmost significance because everything from the divine Intellect to a sensible plant, like the sunflower, must return or reflect upon its proximate and productive cause to become a concrete, determinate being instead of a merely indefinite other. To acquire limit all things must reflect on their origin, must return from the indeterminate expanse and pray to that which provides limit, to that which bestows unity, integration, and integer, that is, identity. (26) Thus, Proclus emphasizes how "all things pray except the First" (27) and in so doing echoes a fragmentary work of his which is largely based on justifying hieratic arts:
All things pray ... either noerically or discursively or physically or perceptibly. The sunflower too moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing. (28)
The sunflower prays by physically turning toward the sun, its king and superior cause, discovering therein its proper nourishment, allowing it to flourish and come into its own through contact or communion with its origin. Furthermore, in this schema of creativity all created things also have the potential to return to the causes of their causes and, by extension, the whole of the cosmos possesses the potential to return through a series of steps or interconnected chains to the primary cause: the Good or the One. In short, the genesis of everything individual is, in its return to its origin, but an instance of theo-cosmogenesis. (29) As Neoplatonic commentator Werner Beierwaltes has stated, "[i]n this way the essential act of being is a circle beginning in the gods and ending in the gods." (30)
Further, in his account of prayer, Proclus emphasizes that the essence or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of prayer consists in binding together the goods of "secondary beings with those that are prior." (31) This is the primary perfection of all of creation insofar as all things remain in their origin and thus can still be found in their cause; all things remain embraced by the divine. Furthermore, Proclus regards the ability to return or revert as a second kind of perfection bestowed upon all things:
All things, therefore, remain in and revert to the gods, receiving this ability from them and obtaining in their very being a double signature, the one in order to remain there, the other so that what proceeds forth can return. (32)
For Proclus, the material causes of our return are the signatures of the divine which grace all things and, ultimately, evidence that providence provides the provisions for our divine lineage and heritage. These signatures not only bestow upon us a history, a rootedness with that which seems far from us but, more importantly, they also permit, remind, and beckon us to our homecoming, promising us a safe voyage back to our true hearth and abode. This is the double signature of the divine, signed with sincerity upon our souls. (33) We read:
[Nature] instills in the bodies the signatures of affinity to their gods, in the one case solar signatures, in another lunar, in others those of other gods, and he causes these things to revert to the gods as well, some to the gods in general, others to specific gods bringing his products to completion in accordance with the various characteristics of the gods. These [signatures] the Demiurge too had much earlier effectuated in the case of the souls, giving them signatures so that they could both remain [in their cause] and revert, on the one hand establishing them in accordance with the One, on the other hand graciously bestowing on them the [ability to] revert in accordance with Intellect. (34)
According to Proclus, it is due to the gods' benevolence that these divine signatures are sown into the world as the material causes of prayer, ultimately allowing us to recognize that we are already bound (religare) to the god, embraced by divine [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. In recognizing this we uncover the bond which always already marked our soul; in praying we revert and ultimately reawaken the divine element in us, thus coming into our true propriety. In gaining this identity we begin to blur the line between that which divides the supplicant from his object of devotion as the supplicant himself becomes divine. We read:
It is to this reversion that prayer offers an enormous contribution by means of the ineffable symbols of the gods, which the Father of the souls has sowed in them. Prayer attracts the beneficence of the gods towards itself. It unifies those who pray with the gods who are being prayed to. It links the Intellect of the gods with the formulations of those who pray, inciting the will of those who contain the goods in a perfect way within themselves to share them unstintingly. Prayer is the creator of divine persuasion and establishes all which is ours in the gods. (35)
As Iamblichus similarly noted, the appeal to divine persuasion may be seen as a luring or enticement of the gods through flattery to descend to the level of mortal, sensible being. Yet, for Proclus, as it was for Iamblichus, this is not the case, as divine persuasion refers to the enactment of divine [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] already reflected in creation and the possibility of the ascent of souls. (36) Our prayers are not forms of petition, requesting the gods to come to us, to descend to our level, but rather prayer "attracts the benefice of the gods towards itself." (37) Thus Proclus declares that the efficient cause of prayer is, strikingly, not the supplicant but rather "the efficacious powers of the gods," which attract all things back to their proximate causes, an activity made possible insofar as prayer's formal cause lies in the very structure of the divinely created soul in its capacity "to resemble the gods and bring their entire life to completion." (38)
This understanding of the attraction of the gods to themselves through the awakening of the divine element in the soul acquires further clarification in Proclus's fivefold account of the nature of true and proper prayer. First, explicitly expanding on Iamblichus's account in the De Mysteriis, Proclus agrees with his predecessor that one who prays must have knowledge of the gods ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), their divine rank and manifestations. Without this knowledge, one would not recognize the particular signatures of the divine in creation. Second, the process of becoming like the gods is a process of familiarization ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), of becoming familial, characterized by those who purify the soul from their mortal and sensible bonds. This familiarization or filiation is the return to our proper abode ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which reestablishes kinship with the divine. It is the homecoming of the prodigal soul. The third level of prayer is a touching ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the divine with the uppermost part of our soul. Here, the soul does not touch the divine at its center but only peripherally or at a tangent. The soul only approaches the periphery or stands at the border of divine, but it is not yet encompassed by the divine figure. Here, the soul becomes itself through communion with the divine, yet still stands outside or at the tangent as soul, as a subject distinct from its object, remaining self-gathered in its dialogue with what is both same and other, with what is both familiar but also uncanny (unheimlich). The fourth step is the approaching ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), further described as an illumination. Illumination is a seeing caused by entering into the light of the divine, and at this stage of prayer the supplicant allows such light to vivify all his thinking and actions, allowing them to be formed and informed at all times by the gods. Prayer's final stage is unification ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), where one is no longer a subject reflecting upon providence or divine illumination, but one is rather fused with the divine, one has penetrated unto the center point of the circle, equidistant from the totality of all points along the periphery. At this stage "we no longer belong to ourselves but to the gods, remaining in the divine light and encircled in its embrace." (39)
This is the supreme limit of true prayer, enabling it to link together reversion with the [initial] rest, to re-establish in the unity of the gods all that proceeded from it, and to enclose the light in us with the light of the gods. It is no small contribution, then, that prayer makes to the entire ascent of souls. Nor is it the case that the person who possesses virtue does not need the goods that come additionally through prayer, but rather the complete opposite. It is through prayer that the ascent is brought to completion and it is with prayer that the crown of virtue is attained, namely piety towards the gods. (40)
Those who pray are virtuous because prayer allows them to commune with and return to the divine origin, thus completing the activity and intent of the divine. In Aristotelian terms, prayer is the activity ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) that allows the human soul to actualize its [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (41) The Virtuous person heeds the goods of prayer because they are not external goods appended to the soul but are the goods constitutive of the true work of the soul. As W. Beierwaltes argues: "The religious character of the act of transcendence arises particularly in the meaning that prayer has for the beginning and accomplishment of the pensive ascent to the One. This is, however, not an incidental addition of the introversion and transcendence of thinking, but it is internally its essence itself." (42) Proclus cements the necessity of prayer when he discusses why prayer is synonymous with those who are good. We read:
In short none other should pray but the person who is especially good, as the Athenian stranger says: for this person the [practice of] conversing with the gods becomes highly effective for obtaining the life of well-being, whereas in the case of the wicked it is natural for the opposite to occur, "for it is not permissible for the impure to come in contact with what is pure." (43)
Here, in making the distinction between the good who pray and the wicked who are far from divine communion, Proclus markedly reminds us that, unlike the sunflower which immediately or instinctively prays, the human being must decisively will ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to become himself; he must choose to turn toward his constitutive principles, to become fully soul versus turning to the body and corresponding darkness of that which abides in ignorance. This act must be chosen, must be resolutely willed by the individual who sees this fundamental divide between the unerringly good will of the divine and the fragmentary will of the human being, who, unlike the gods, must utilize a discerning will, parsing the good rather than immediately knowing it. If we turn to the gods, we incline ourselves toward the truly good, the identical, that is, that which wills one thing, recognizing that our own self-movement has, as Proclus regards, the feeblest force." We read:
... and in choosing we need their [the gods'] assistance, so that when making a decision we should discover what is profitable and in choosing we should not through passion incline to what is worse, but all the more when we act and venture upon any deed we should observe that self-movement has but the feeblest force, whereas the whole is dependent on divine providence. (45)
Here we should be reminded that for Proclus the divine will, as intelligible and limited in its desire for the good, is both provident and absolutely free as it always wills itself, the Good. Our self-movement, by contrast, is a choice between identifying with the divine will in free introversion or ignoring it and turning toward slavish extroversion or that which is unlimited and without identity or integrity (for example, the indefinite expanse without periphery), consequently that which lacks (self-)determination, that is, freedom. When we choose the divine, we choose that which provides for us as more than just body, but soul, and thus we make the goods of the divine our good. (46) As Proclus writes:
And this is the true task of prayer, that things for which we pray are held in common with the gods, in accordance with our capacities and our activities and that we complete them in cooperation with the gods. An example would be if someone should pray to the gods, who excise the effect of matter and cause the stains that come from the [process of] birth to vanish, while he himself with the help of the purificatory virtues is especially engaged in this. Such a person would certainly with the help of the gods achieve liberation from the shackles of matter. (47)
Timaeus's Prayer. In his account of prayer, Proclus leaves no stone unturned and details the differences in modes or kinds of prayer. First, in order of interest for us, Proclus discusses prayers in accordance with the time in which one performs prayer: according to seasons, according to solar revolutions, and according to other divine connections. More interestingly, he marks the modes of prayer in accordance with the objects for the sake of which the prayer is offered: the salvation of the soul, the good of the body, and beneficial external goods. Notably, there seems to be a natural hierarchy within this kind of prayer in which prayers made on behalf of the soul are more impending and salvific than those made on behalf of a desire for external goods. Additionally, Proclus also describes the mode of prayer in accordance with the genus and species of the god: creative, purgative, vivificatory, and perfective. In his examples of these modes of prayer Proclus leans on natural paradigms, describing prayers that petition creative gods for rain or wind, purgative gods for the extirpation of disease, and life giving gods for prayers concerned with the growth of crops. Here we should be careful not to limit Proclus's intention merely to deities concerned only with caring for or tending to products of nature. This broader conception of prayer can be seen primarily in his understanding of perfective prayers, as such prayers can also be made to the gods for the sake of a different object, that is, the soul. One may pray for purification from diseases of the soul or for creative assistance in writing a hymn or a work of philosophy, as Proclus himself does at the opening of his commentary on the Parmenides. (48) Thus these modes, in accordance with the genera and species of the god to whom one is making supplication, are intimately connected to the question of the object of prayer and its likeness to its superior cause and thus can be expanded to include gods who tend to and care for the ascension of souls as well as the body and external goods. Along the same lines, there are unique modes of prayer in accordance with the supplicant, that is, the subject who is praying: philosophical, theurgic, and institutional prayer, where institutional prayer is defined as ancestral practices commonly accepted within a given community. What should be noted here is the possibility that, as with his definition of the mode of prayer in accordance with the object of prayer, Proclus seems here to be suggesting a hierarchy of kinds of prayer in accordance with the subject insofar as he mentions philosophical prayer prior to theurgic prayer and theurgic prayer prior to institutional prayer.
Despite the immediate intrigue of this enigmatic passage, in this section Proclus makes no mention of what the distinction between theurgic and philosophical prayer would be but rather leaves his readers wondering. Is Proclus returning to an attitude similar to Porphyry who, in contrast to Iamblichus, valorized [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] over theurgy in the philosopher's practice of ascent? (49) To understand how this is decisively not the case, it would behoove us to look at Proclus's paradigm of true and proper prayer. Ironically, Timaeus's failure explicitly to offer a prayer suggests a paradigm for the partnership of providence, prayer, and freedom, which, as we shall soon see, is the enactment of philosophical prayer. Proclus's reply to Timaeus's abstaining from prayer is worth quoting at length:
[W]hat belongs to the decision/purposeful will ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) includes its accomplishment in itself, while what follows on from the decision/will inclines to another activity and through action completes what had been decided/willed, so The philosophical life is dependent on our decision/purposeful will, and what is deficient in it results from the deficiency in our decision/will.... We would be justified, therefore, in claiming that the activity of prayer belongs to that which has its full completion in the decision/will itself. The decision/will to pray is a desire for reversion to the gods. This desire guides the desirous soul and unites it to the divine which in our view was the very first task of prayer. One should not, therefore, decide/will first and pray later, but rather the decision/purposeful will and practice of prayer should go together in accordance with the measure of the intention, now more and now less .... This then is what Timaeus does here. The things which he prays to the gods to accomplish, these he too fulfills in accordance with the human intellect by ordering his entire account in conformity with the intellect of the gods. (51)
In this attempt to explain Timaeus's apparent lack of prayer, Proclus emphasizes, in tune with Iamblichus, the importance of our choices ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), concluding that to will decisively to pray is already to accomplish both the act and aim of prayer. Proclus stresses that this is the peculiar form of prayer for the philosopher as the "philosophical life is dependent upon our decision/our purposeful will" and the philosopher's "activity of prayer belongs to that which has its full completion in the decision/will itself." In other words, the philosopher's will to pray is already the act of prayer because it manifests the will for reunion. Communion with the gods is already an act and an end in itself, requiring no further emendation. Moreover, this will is not something made or created but is rather the very essence of our being; our will is already turned toward the divine, already naturally desirous of what providence always already wills. In praying we do not become something other but finally become a unified self, divinely willing ourselves. Proclus explains that this is why one need not pray for the desire to pray, because, unlike prayers that request certain impulses or desires to do good things, to pray is already an expression of the desire to commune with the source of all good, the divine. It is already to be good because it merges our will, our activity and our end in a single decision that expresses our highest ascent and liberty. When we decide to pray we will one thing instead of turning outward toward the plurality manifest in matter, toward the indefinite expanse, fragmenting our will toward partial, tangential, and external goods which will not stimulate self-movement but bind us to things moved by the hand of fate. Thus when one decides to pray, for Proclus, one need only thank the gods for the desire itself, that is, the desire which actualizes itself. In this thanking the supplicant acknowledges that the gods have given him "the ability to revert to them," because "for all other matters goodness comes to be present through prayer, but in the case of prayer it comes through prayer itself." (52) In this thanking, the human being has escaped a dependency on matter and all that is externally moved, and returns to that which is beyond necessity, to that which has freely moved and willed. Thus Timaeus need not explicitly pray as his prayer was already enacted in his very desire to turn to the divine. In attuning his entire likely story to the gods themselves, he decisively harmonizes both his will and intellect to the will and intellect of the divine. Due to this, he raises himself up but, furthermore, inspires his auditors to share in the intellect and will of the divine, stimulating them to the activity characteristic of their being, that is, self-movement. While discussing Timaeus's use of tentative language in his account of his likely story, Proclus explains how he benefits his auditors:
For if the listeners will receive the account in accordance with Timaeus's intellect, and Timaeus will organize his entire exposition in accordance with the gods' intellect, then it simply must be the case that the entire conversation will relate to one and the same intellect and intellective process. In addition to all this, the self-movement of the souls is amply demonstrated through these words, because they [the souls], after being set in motion by the gods, both move themselves and project the sciences for themselves. In fact, [the words] I think indicate the activity that receives its impulse from the life that possess its own autonomy. (53)
In brief, Timaeus is in his activity not just divine-like but actually divine, stimulating souls to the activity that deifies not only themselves but also the cosmos. As Proclus made clear at the outset of his excursus on prayer, Timaeus imitates "the Maker of the universe" and, according to Proclus's modes of prayer, he, in the unity of his will with the gods, prays timelessly and philosophically, invoking throughout all his endeavors the highest and most creative gods for the sake of the soul. (54) Furthermore, Timaeus himself follows Proclus's fivefold account of the nature of prayer, ending in divine unification. In other words, he has knowledge of the divine which is more than simply [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] but an awareness of providence that orders his entire life and all his endeavors. He is familial with the divine insofar as he has been purified from the sensible. He further approaches the gods, giving a discursive account of their very acts of creation, touching them insofar as his account has been illuminated by the light of the divine intellect. Finally, he is unified with the gods insofar as his will and account are in harmony with the divine will, that is, providence, therein divinizing his account of creation, the world, and offering not just natural philosophy but a true theology for all who listen. (55)
Additionally, it should be noted that Proclus also off-handedly mentions that this was the particular form of prayer for the philosopher and, in so doing, he seems to be attempting to bridge the gap between Plotinus or Porphyry and Iamblichus. He does not suggest that the prayers of the philosopher are only intellectual, that is, mere [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Rather, the prayers of the philosopher require a decisive commitment to ordering one's entire life to the divine in both word and deed. Philosophical prayer is not merely attempting to commune with the divine through the intellect, but it is the harmonization of one's will with the divine will. Markedly, this act of prayer is silently expressed in the very activities or, dare one say, rituals, of doing philosophy, of narrating a cosmology which is truly a theology or, as is seen in Proclus himself, an exegesis on a text like the Timaeus and the advancement of the basic metaphysical principles of reality in his Elements of Theology. Philosophical prayer can be the commenting on a text or the writing of a philosophical treatise, which turns the soul of its auditors toward the highest realities, therein completing the will of the divine in the cycle of creation.
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(1) Theaetetus 176b; my own translation. See also Phaedrus 237a-b, Symposium 220d, Phaedo 117c. See also B. Darrell Jackson, "The Prayers of Socrates," Phronesis 16 (1971): 14-37 for an in-depth analysis of these passages as well as numerous other examples of prayer in Plato's dialogues. For further references to the familiar Platonic concept of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] see also Republic 613bl and Timaeus 90d. For an account of Greek prayer from the Homeric age to the fourth century BCE see Simon Pulleyn, Prayer in Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). For the most comprehensive studies of Socrates and his religious views see the now standard work of Mark McPherran, The Religion of Socrates (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996) and "Socratic Reason and Socratic Revelation," in Socrates: Critical Assessments vol. 2, ed. William J. Prior (New York: Routledge, 1996), 167-94. For this contrast between the average form of worship and that of philosophers, see R. M. Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns: Essays, Translations, Commentary (Leiden: Brill 2001), 18.
(2) Plato, Timaeus 27cl-3.
(3) Plato, Laws 4.716c-d. As the Athenian Stranger declares: "So what kind of action is dear to the God and follows him? One kind, expressed in one ancient phrase, namely, that 'like is dear to like'.... He, then, that is to become dear to such an one must needs become, so far as he possibly can, of like character.... On this there follows ... that to engage in sacrifice and communion with the gods continually by prayers and offering and devotions of every kind, is a thing most noble and good and helpful toward the happy life ... but for the wicked, the very opposite." Translation slightly modified from Laws, vol. 1, trans. R. G. Bury (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926). See also Laws 3.687d-688b.
(4) See, Plotinus, Enneads V. 1.6.7-15; see also V.8.9.13 and following.
(5) Proclus, In Platonis Timaeum commentaria, I 208.8. Paragraph and line numbers refer to Procli Diadochi, In Platonis Timaeum commentaria, ed. E. Diehl (Leipzig: Teubner, 1903-6 [Reprint Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1965]). The translations used throughout this text (unless otherwise indicated or adapted) are from Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, vol. 2, book 2: Proclus on the Causes of the Cosmos and its Creation, trans. D. T. Runia and M. Share (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); hereafter, In Tim.
(6) Iambhchus, De Mysteriis V.26.238.12-239.10: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Book, page, paragraph and line numbers refer to On the Mysteries of the Egyptians: The Reply of the Master Abamon to the Letter of Porphyry to Anebo trans, and ed. E. Clarke and J. Dillon (Leiden: Brill, 2004); hereafter, DM.
(7) Iamblichus, DM 126.96.36.199-6. See DM II.10.96.13-97.9 As most know, Iamblichus famously venerated theurgy, that is, the hieratic arts, over philosophy insofar as, for Iamblichus, mere intellectual understanding prevents those who simply contemplate from true union with the gods. Apparently arguing against the overly "rational mysticism" of Plotinus and Porphyry, Iamblichus spends a considerable amount of time trying to show his adversaries that, far from advocating "irrationalism," as G. Shaw argues below, he was offering a keener vision of the implications of the Neoplatonic system, a vision that ultimately argues that union with the gods is not our work but the gods' work. Keep in mind though that while, for Iamblichus, union with the gods was theurgical, that is, the work of the gods, to prepare oneself for theurgic ritual one must have the proper theoretical knowledge of the divine. See DM VIII.4.267.5. For more in-depth accounts of Iamblichus's possible critique of Plotinus's "rationalism," see Gregory Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), as well as James Lowry, The Logical Principles of Proclus' Stoicheiosis Theologike as Systematic Ground of the Cosmos (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1980), 20-21. As Lowry states, "What Iamblichus did was to develop this mystical side of Plotinus more systematically than Plotinus himself had done; ..." while Shaw claims "Iamblichus's subordination of philosophy to theurgy was simply making explicit a distinction that was already implicit in Plotinus's mysticism but that he failed to work out." Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 97. For more on Iamblichus and theurgy in general see John Dillon, "Iamblichus' Defense of Theurgy: Some Reflections," The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 1.1 (2007): 30-41; John Finamore, "Plotinus and Iamblichus on Magic and Theurgy," Dionysius 17 (1999): 83-94; Crystal Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will and Love in Iamblichus' Theory of Theurgic Prayer and Religious Invocation," in Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism, (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 133-50; and Gregory Shaw, "The Role of Aesthesis in Theurgy," in Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism, op. cit., 91-112.
(8) See note 7 above. This was an issue that divided many late Neoplatonists insofar as they attempt to respond to the problem of how human beings may ascend to the One, that is, through contemplation or the use of ritual or theurgic practices. See Richard Wallis, Neoplatonism (Duckworth, 1972), 107, who argues that theurgy, god-work, was coined in deliberate contrast to theology and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which merely talk about or contemplate the gods versus an activity which allows for union with the gods. Damascius famously paraphrased this divide when he writes: "To some philosophy is primary, as to Porphyry and Plotinus and a great many other philosophers; to others, hieratic practice, as to Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus and the hieratic school generally." In Phaedonem 1.172.1-3. The Greek Commentaries on Plato's Phaedo. Vol. 2: Damascius, trans, and ed. L. G. Westerink (New York: North Holland Publishing, 1977), 104. See also Damascius, Philosophical History, section 4, trans, and ed. P. Athansassiadi (Athens: Apamea Cultural Association, 1999), 79. For the most recent scholarship on this divide see C. Addey, Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2013) for an account of how these two practices, theurgy and contemplation, were not mutually exclusive but may have been regarded as complementary. Of course, as can be seen in the above footnotes and quotes from De Mysteriis, this issue over the priority of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] versus theurgy was the subject of the well-known controversy between Iamblichus and Plotinus's pupil Porphyry and has been well rehearsed in Neoplatonic scholarship. Many scholars now agree that Porphyry held some respect for theurgy but believed it was a lower level activity with regard to its ability to help in the ascent of souls. AS Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 14 writes: "Iamblichus had been led to the higher reaches of Platonism by Porphyry, and although Porphyry also introduced Iamblichus to theurgy it was Iamblichus who discovered its deeper significance. For Porphyry, theurgy functioned as a mere preparation for the philosophic life and was to be left on the periphery of the higher disciplines. Iamblichus, on the other hand, moved theurgy from the periphery to the centre, not only in the life of the philosopher, but for anyone who worshipped the gods."
(9) Proclus, In Tim., 1 206.26-223.3
(10) Ibid., 215.7.
(11) Ibid., 215.20-21.
(12) Ibid,. 215.20-5. See Iamblichus, DM III.15.135.10-136.4. See also Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will and Love," 136-38, especially 136, n. 12; Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 74, Werner Beierwaltes. Proklus. Grundzuge seiner Metaphysik (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1979), 317; and Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 48-50, 162-228 for a discussion of the various different types of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in addition to their role in the ascent of the soul in Iamblichus. For the doctrine of divine sympathy and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] see further Proclus, De providentia et fato et eo quod in nobis ad Theodorum mechanicum, 12 in Proclus: On Providence, trans. Carlos Steel (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2007); see also Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 87; and notes 29 and 30 below.
(13) Proclus, In Tim., 1 212.19-25 and 215.15.
(14) See Iamblichus, DM V.26.237.5-240.8, where he fully defends the nature of prayer against Porphyry's doubts about its utility and In Tim. 208.7-30, where Proclus discusses his forerunner's view of prayer. See Dillon, "Iamblichus' Defense of Theurgy" and Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will and Love," who similarly pinpoint this problem in Neoplatonic queries on prayer. Addey persuasively argues that Iamblichus defends against Porphryry in his DM by asserting that prayer is not a petitioning of the gods but the act reestablishing the "One of our soul" in divine unity. See Iamblichus, In Phaedrum in Iamblichi Chalcidensis in Platonis dialogos commentariorum fragmenta, ed. John Dillon (Lieden: Prometheus Trust, 1973) fragment 6, and DM V 26.239.6, VIII 6.269.1-7.270.14; see further Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul.
(15) Proclus, In Tim., 1 216.10-19 and 221.15.
(16) See Proclus, De Prov., 21 where Proclus quotes from the Chaldean Oracles, "do not gaze at nature; its name is fate," and further insists that when we lead the life of soul, utilizing the intellect, we may finally be liberated from the regime of fate and thus "escape the ruthless fatal wing of Moira." See Chaldean Oracle fragments 102, 103, 130 and 153 in R. Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, Text, Translation and Commentary, Studies in Greek and Roman Religion, (Leiden: Brill, 1989). For more information on the distinction between providence and fate see De Prov., 5-14. At De Prov., 7 Proclus distinguishes providence or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as that which "signifies the activity before the intellect, which must be attributed solely to the Good," while fate or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "indicates the cause that strings together" divided objects dissociated in space and time. For Proclus, such things are consequently "moved by another and thus corporeal." Proclus in De Prov., 10 concludes that "such things governed and connected by fate must be things moved by an external cause [fate] and totally corporeal. And if this is established, it is clear that, in laying down fate as the cause of the connection, we shall posit it as the patron of things that are externally moved and corporeal."
(17) See Proclus, De Prov., 57. As we shall see below, human providence or the human good is unlike the lotus flower or the rooster, which pray instinctively through the simple act of living, that is, they immediately follow providence, while human beings must choose to be what they are, that is, they must choose to follow the will of the divine and thus decisively pray. See De Sacrificio., 148.10, 149.12 in Catalogue des manuscrits alchimques grecs, vol. 6, ed. Joseph Bidez (Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1928) 148-151. See also, In Tim., I 221.8-222.7.
(18) Proclus, In Tim., I 212.5-7.
(19) Naturally, Proclus's account of prayer leans heavily on Iamblichus as scholars like Van den Berg have shown. As he notes, Proclus too begins with knowledge of the gods and culminates in divine unification ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), ultimately mirroring in his account of prayer the account of Iamblichus. See Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 86-7. Furthermore, my account of Proclus's understanding of the relationship between human freedom and providence in the act of prayer has been greatly aided by reading Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will, and Love," 133-50 as Addey draws similar conclusions about the role of providence and freedom in Iamblichus's conception of prayer. Nevertheless, I believe that Proclus is making some interesting distinctions in his account of this problem that help resolve the tensions between human will and divine will. See also In Tim., 209.10-15 where Proclus clearly wishes to distinguish his version of prayer from Iamblichus's as clearer and closer to Plato.
(20) Proclus, In Tim., I 221.8-13.
(21) Following Iamblichus, Proclus often defended the legitimacy of theurgy and expressed the importance of these sacred activities. Nevertheless, in the following we shall see that he ranks philosophical prayer over theurgic prayer and in so doing seems to be offering us a middle position between Porphyry and Iamblichus insofar as philosophical prayer will consist of the "ritual activities" of philosophical lecturing and exegesis which are necessary for any authentic contemplation of the cosmos. See In Tim., I 214.2-5. For more information on theurgy see Finamore, "Plotinus and Iamblichus on Magic and Theurgy," 83-94. See also Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul; Dillon, "Iamblichus' Defense of Theurgy;" and Addey "The Role of Divine Providence, Will, and Love." For more information on prayer in Iamblichus, Proclus and Neoplatonism see further John Dillon, "Appendix A: Iamblichus' Theory of Prayer," in Platonis dialogos commentariorum fragmenta, 407-411; "The Platonic Philosopher at Prayer," in Metaphysik und Religion: Zur Signatur des spatantiken Denkens. Akten des internationalen Kongresses vom 13.-17 Mars in Wurzburg, hrsg. Von Th. Kobusch und M. Erler [Beitrage zur Altertumskunde 160], (Munchen-Leipzip, 2002) 279-95 and "The Religion of the Last Hellenes," in Religion and Philosophy in the Platonic and Neoplatonic Traditions, eds. K. Corrigan, John D. Turner, and Peter Wakefield (St. Augustin: Academic Verlag, 2012). See also K. Corrigan, "Religion and Philosophy in the Platonic Tradition," in Religion and Philosophy in the Platonic and Neoplatonic Traditions, op. cit.
(22) Plotinus, Enneads V.2.1 and VI.5-7. For a concise explanation of Proclus's doctrine of cyclical creativity see G.R. Morrow and John Dillon, Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), xviii-xix. See too Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 19-21, who also neatly explains Proclus's circular theory of causation in its association with the making and singing of hymns.
(23) See Iamblichus, DM 188.8.131.52-29.7, 184.108.40.206-33.9. See also Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 133-5 and Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will, and Love," 138.
(24) Proclus, In Tim., I 209.20.
(25) Proclus, In Tim., I 209.21-26,: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII];
(26) Proclus, Elements of Theology, [section] 30, [section] 31 and [section] 35; hereafter, ET. Translations from Proclus' Elements of Theology, second edition, trans. and ed. E. R. Dodds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004).
(27) Proclus, In Tim., I 213.2, where Proclus quotes Theodore of Asine, fellow Neoplatonist and student of Porphyry. See Runia and Share, 49, n. 46.
(28) Proclus De Sacrificio, 148.14-18: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Translation modified from Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 20; see also note 17 above.
(29) The term "theo-cosmogenesis" actually signifies more of a "theo-anthropo-cosmogenesis" because the gods do not truly acquire their proper form, that is, come into their propriety, until they have acquired human form, that is, become anthropomorphic. In turn, human essence only attains its propriety if it abides properly with the gods and occupies its proper place in the cosmos. One could even argue that the cosmos, in turn, only achieves its order once it acquires a theomorphic shape. In short, cosmos, gods, and humans share a common genesis such that the one cannot come into its own without the reciprocal figuring of the others. Note, however, that the One itself remains effusive and inscrutable, neither cosmetically, divinely, nor anthropomorphically figured. Human freedom is but the form or figure of the groundless, which, in itself, is entirely beyond and prior to form, ground and figuration.
(30) Beierwaltes, Proklus, 317:"So ist der Wesensakt des Seienden ein in den Gottern beginnender und in ihnen endender Kreis: Beierwaltes." See Proclus, In Tim., I 210.10. Beierwaltes's exegesis on Proclus's conception of prayer has been immensely helpful in unpacking the metaphysical and soteriological implications of prayer. We read also in Beierwaltes, op. cit., 313-14: "The religious character of the act of transcendence arises particularly in the meaning that prayer has for the beginning and accomplishment of the pensive ascent to the One. This is, however, not an incidental addition of the introversion and transcendence of thinking, but it is internally its essence itself: Prayer originates from the compulsion of thinking itself, since this is determined and directed by its ground and aim, the One as the divine itself. If thinking, then, in the suspension of the external into the inner, in the procession beyond the many to the One, in the transition from the mortal to the immortal, presumes to see the origin in its true essence, then it will necessarily become prayer, since it knows the origin as the divine itself. Prayer is hence the return of that which is grounded, which is moved by the divine itself, into its divine ground, the return of the originated into its divine origin. Given that it implements itself in word, it is the peculiar manner of return for man. For, man is grounded in the divine and he is first then himself when he has become aware of this being-grounded through introversion and transcendence in time. The returning ascent of thinking as prayer becomes in this way decisive for the salvation of man. Return into the whole is namely in an encompassing sense: salvation." Translation by Tyler Tritten.
(31) Proclus, In Tim., I 213.1
(32) Proclus, In Tim., I 210.11-4: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(33) See Iamblichus, DM III.15.135.10-136.4. See note 12 above for references to secondary literature on [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and their role in the ascent of the soul in Iamblichus.
(34) Proclus, In Tim., I 210.21 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(35) Ibid., I 211.1-8: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(36) See Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 87, where he notes the parallel between Iamblichus and Proclus on the fact that prayers were not meant to force the gods as the "gods conferred their blessing on the theurgist because of the ties of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] between the gods and their creatures. They did so in accordance with their own will. Moreover, they did so without envy. In the same vein, Proclus says that prayer creates persuasion of the divine, that is, the opposite of force. The persuasion too originates from Iamblichus, who states that prayer awakens persuasion, communion, and indissoluble friendship." See further Van den Berg, Proclus' Hymns, 72-4. See DM 1.12 for Iamblichus's attempt to respond to Porphyry's objections that prayer and theurgy were attempts to force the gods to an unbefitting ontological level. Iamblichus clarifies that the gods, as gracious and propitious, illuminate us and call souls upward in prayer as opposed to the gods themselves descending or being compelled to debase themselves for us. See further Addey, "The Role of Divine Providence, Will, and Love," for Iamblichus and divine sympathy.
(37) Proclus, In Tim., I 211.3.
(38) Ibid., I 213.15.
(39) Ibid., I 211.9-25.
(40) Ibid, I 211.29-212.5: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(41) Ibid., I 212.30-213.8.
(42) Beierwaltes, Proklus, 314.
(43) Proclus, In Tim., I 212.7-13: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. See Plato, Laws 716d-e2 and Phaedo 67b2.
(44) Proclus, In Tim., I 215.30-216.3. See Addey, "The Role of divine Providence, Will, and Love," for Iamblichus's similar musings on the relationship between prayer, freedom, and divine providence.
(45) Proclus, In Tim., I 216.5-9: ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(46) See Proclus, De Prov. 17, 18, 44, and 21 for the explicit connection of choosing between the intelligible and the sensible as a choice between freedom and slavery. See also Steel, Proclus: On Providence, 49-50.
(47) Proclus, In Tim., I 221.27-222.3: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(48) See. Proclus, Procli in Platonis Parmenidem commentaria, 617.1-23. Proclus provides an example of this form of prayer at the opening of his commentary on Plato's Parmenides when he writes, "I pray to all the gods and goddesses to guide my mind in this study I have undertaken--to kindle in me a shining light of truth and enlarge my understanding for the genuine science of being; to open the gates of my soul to receive the inspired guidance of Plato; and to hold me back from too much conceit to wisdom and from the paths of error by keeping me in intellectual converse with those realities from which alone the eye of the soul is refreshed and nourished, as Plato says in the Phaedrus (246e-251b). I ask from the intelligible gods fullness of wisdom, from the intellectual gods the power to rise aloft, from the supercelestial gods guiding the universe an activity free and unconcerned with material inquiries, from the gods to who the cosmos is assigned a winged life, from the angelic choruses a true revelation of the divine, from the good daemons an abundant filling of divine inspiration, and from heroes a generous, solemn, and lofty disposition." Translation from G. R. Morrow and J. Dillon, Proclus' Commentary on the Parmenides, op. cit.
(49) See note 8 above.
(50) While I believe that Runia and Share's translation of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] with "decision" is apt concerning the context of the passage in which the emphasis is on resolution and decisiveness versus a mere willing or blind willing, I also would like to retain the important element of will insofar as the decision is an act of will here understood as a decisive will or a purposeful will, that is an identical will, insofar as its end or telos is in itself and is thus identical with itself. This purposeful will should be contrasted with the blind will, and thus the decision to translate [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as "decision," I believe, was fair but ultimately fails to retain the important element of willing and thus needs to be amended.
(51) Proclus, In Tim., I 221.12-222.5 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(52) Ibid., I 216.26-217.4.
(53) Ibid:, I 222.23-223:4: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(54) Ibid., I 206.28.
(55) Furthermore, in accordance with the modes of prayer, Timaeus's prayer is creative in its invocation of the demiurgic mind, philosophical insofar as the decision to pray includes its accomplishment in itself, psychic insofar as its object is the salvation of the soul, and finally, in accordance with the time, his prayer is eternal or immediate and continuous insofar as there is no time when Timaeus is not praying as there is no exact time where one can pinpoint the beginning or end of his prayer.
Correspondence to: Danielle A. Layne, Department of Literature and Philosophy, PO Box 8023, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia 30458.
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|Author:||Layne, Danielle A.|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2013|
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