The Knowable and the Unknowable Godhead

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When dealing with the ineffable, we are never able to describe that reality itself.  But we can understand the dynamics of the Godhead by analogy with the created realities, such as the Gods, which are in a sense the first manifestations of the unmanifest..  This is what Proclus did.   As R. T. Wallis explains:

"The view of some Neoplatonists that the Supreme Principle contains the causes of (the lower) realities...Proclus rejects as inconsistent with the One's absolute unity...(So he makes a) distinction between the One, which...must be wholly unknowable, and the Henads, for although the latter are unknowable in themselves, some conception can none the less be formed of their nature from the beings that participate [i.e. express or embody or "incarnate"] them [ET 123].  As Dodds observes [p.266], Proclus is thereby enabled to devote more than 400 pages of his Platonic Theology to his "unknowable" gods..."

[R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, pp150-1]

Like Iamblichus, Proclus understood supra-human reality to be made up of Spiritual hierarchies, mediating between the Absolute and the phenomenal.   Regarding Plotinus' first two hypostases, the One (or Absolute) and the Nous (or Divine Mind), Proclus replaced the Nous with a triad Being-Life-Nous, and between Being and the One inserted a further series of principles, the Henads ("Unities") or Gods, to mediate between the One's unknowable unity and lower realities.   As the intermediate principles between the Unmanifest Absolute and manifest existence, the Henads can be compared to the Logos of Philo and Ibn Arabi, the Gnostic Aeons, and even more strikingly to the Worlds which emanate from the transcendent Adam Kadmon of Lurianic Kabbalah.  Regarding the latter, Rabbi Moses Luzzatto writes

"...We cannot say anything whatsoever about the Primordial Man, but can treat only of the branches that ramify him to the outside."

[General Principles of the Kabbalah, p.14]

In both cases we have reference to unknowable realities within the Godhead itself, and the projection, or emanation, of those realities into phenomenal existence, where they become knowable.

As Proclus explains: "every particular intelligence participates the first Henad (i.e. the One, or Absolute) both through the universal (Monadic) Intelligence and through the particular henad it coresponds to";

[Elements of Theology, prop.109]).   Similarly, "every particular soul participates the universal (Monadic) Intelligence both through the Universal Soul and its own particular intelligence; and every corporeal nature participates the universal Soul both through Universal Nature and through a particular soul."


The two-fold causation

This led to a two-fold theory of causation, according to which each individual principle derives its generic characteristics from its own orders Unparticipated Monad, and its specific characteristics from the Participated principle immediately above it.  To quote Wallis:

"...the Henads are arranged in a hierarchical order  prefiguring the structure of the lower orders of the  universe.  There are thus Noetic Henads (corresponding to  Unpartcipated [the original hypostasis of] Being), Noetic- Noeric Henads (to Unparticipated Life [or Power]), Noeric  Henads (to Unparticipated Nous), Supercosmic Henads (to Unparticipated Soul [Psyche]), and Intracosmic Henads (to  Divine Participated Souls and the bodies they animate) [ET 162-5].  In each case the Henads in question are not members  of the order whose name they bear..., but the transcendent source of that orders distinctive characteristics..."  [p.151]

This is all rather complex, although it can be represented  in diagrammatic form, as follows:

The One Noetic Henads Noetic-Noeric Henads Noeric Henads Supracosmic Henads Intracosmic Henads
Unparticipated Being Noetic-Noeric Participated Being Noeric Participated Being Supracosmic Participated Being Intracosmic Participated Being
Unparticipated Life Participated Life Supracosmic Participated Life Intracosmic Participated Life
Unparticipated Nous Supracosmic Participated Nous Intracosmic Participated Nous
Unparticipated Divine Soul Participated Divine Soul
Divine Body
Note that the Henads form a decreasing sequence.  Those which are closest to the One (The  Absolute) partake of the latter's nature, while  those which are further are consequently more ontologically impoverished, although of course still incomparably superior to the human grade.

Participated  and Unparticipated realities

Henad - parallel concepts

Adam Kadmon
Lurianic Kabbalah
Sri Aurobindo
suggested reality:
The Manifest Absolute

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page created & uploaded 12 November 1998