Albinus

Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


Albinus


Plato's doctrine of Fate is something like this: all things, he says, are in Fate, but not everything is fated. For though Fate holds the rank of law, it does not decree that one person shall do this and another suffer that, for if it did, it would go on ad infinitum producing infinite things and infinite accidents associated with them. Moreover, there would be nothing in our power, and praise and blame as well as everything like that would vanish. Rather, Fate decrees that if a soul selects a life of this kind, and does certain acts, then certain things will follow upon the selection.
The soul then is without a master, and it rests with itself to do or to refrain from an act: it is not forced to do this or that. Nonetheless, whatever follows from doing something is accomplished by Fate. For example, if a Paris carries off a Helen, he freely does so, but it follows that Greeks will war with Trojans for her sake.

Didaskalikos XXVI ALBINUS

Academeca, a grand public park, lay about a mile northwest of the Dipylon Gate of ancient Athens. Amidst its meadow and groves – one olive tree of which still stands – Plato and a few followers gathered to honour the Muses through philosophical discourses. By 385 B.C. Plato had established there a Mouseion (a shrine of learning) and founded a school known as the Academy until Justinian closed it in A.D. 529. Although Plato's dialogues have inspired humanity for twenty-three centuries, the mature deliberations of his leading disciples were not recorded and remain an enigma today. His successors and students wrote, taught and conducted the activities of the Academy, but the tantalizing fragments of their works show only that the range of interests they pursued was immense, that Plato taught them to examine rigorously all cherished ideas and ideals, and that the only standpoint forbidden was dogmatism. Dialectical method was cultivated and Pythagorean ideas welcomed, even to the extent of identifying Platonic Ideas with Numbers. Happiness was equated with living in accordance with Nature, an injunction subject to myriad interpretations and borrowed by the Stoic philosophers.

The rise of Stoic philosophy, austere and admirable in its demanding way of life, but metaphysically limited from a Platonic perspective, eventually attracted the attention of the Academy. Whilst the Old Academy dealt with questions raised by Plato, the Middle Academy, marked by the election of Crates in 270 B.C., focussed on detailed responses to Stoic philosophy. This critical and even negative use of dialectic resulted in a steady drift towards scepticism, a reaction to all dogmatic schools which propounded specific doctrines. With the election of Carneades, who died in 128 B.C., the New Academy was rigidly sceptical; Carneades emphasized epoche, suspension of judgement, in epistemology and metaphysics, and probability as a guide to action. By the turn of the century, Philo of Larissa, the Platonic teacher of Cicero, and his successor, Antiochus of Ascalon, detected in the New Academy a misconception of Plato's intent. They appealed to the self-evident nature of certain truths and adopted an eclectic approach which held that both the Stoic and Aristotelian Peripatetic philosophers differed in form but not in substance from the original Academy.

The movement inaugurated by Philo and Antiochus became a bridge that would link the tradition of the Academy to the resurgence of creative imagination later known as neo-Platonism, the culmination of which would be the election of the brilliant neo-Platonist Proclus as successor in the Athenian Academy. Antiochus did not accept the Stoic view that virtues differed from other goods in kind, but rather held with the Old Academy that they differed in degree. This led him to insist upon a concept of perfectibility of human nature which included not just the highest, spiritual part but all aspects of the individual, including the individual's relationships to others and to the community as a whole. Antiochus had a significant impact upon the members of the Academy, but his influence reached far beyond its venerated precincts. He deeply affected Cicero as well as Arius Didymus, the Stoic doxographer who taught in the court of Augustus Caesar. In the eastern Mediterranean world his views left their impressions on Gaius and his remarkable student, Albinus.

Absolutely nothing is known of Gaius, and almost the same is true of the life of Albinus. Galen wrote that he had studied briefly under a pupil of Gaius in Pergamon, and Porphyry said that some commentaries of Gaius were read in the seminars led by Plotinus. Albinus is almost as much a mystery. All that is known of his life comes from a single statement by Galen that sometime between A.D. 149 and 157 he had attended the lectures of Albinus in Smyrna. Albinus was the contemporary of Theon of Smyrna, who wrote a mathematical introduction to Plato, a compilation of quotations on Platonic philosophy which suggest a strong Pythagorean influence. Albinus collected his teacher's views in a series of notebooks, wrote commentaries on Platonic dialogues, provided instructions for studying the dialogues and wrote a summary of Platonic doctrines. Unfortunately, only the latter documents survive, because they became popular textbooks, whilst his more original work disappeared with the loss of classical learning after Justinian's closure of non-Christian schools. The Eisagoge, an introduction to Plato's dialogues, offers suggestions for use of the dialogues, and the Didaskalikos is a guide to their doctrines. Together they reveal the kind of thinking that prepared the ground for the eclectic philosophy of Ammonius Saccas and the elaborate system of Plotinus.

For Albinus, a proper study of the dialogues is tantamount to a true higher education which affects the entire nature of the student. In the Eisagoge, Albinus insisted that such an undertaking requires careful preparation.

For as it is necessary to become a spectator of his own soul as well as of things divine and even of the gods themselves, and to attain to the most beautiful mind, he must cleanse out the false opinions of his conceptions. For not even physicians have deemed the body capable of enjoying the food brought to it unless a person shall have previously cast out the obstacles in it.

Once the mind has become fundamentally agnostic, the feelings and emotions must also be summoned and purged of old matrices of reaction, so that they stand forth as pure principles. Only then can specific doctrines be introduced and assimilated in a way that can perfect the soul and elevate the whole nature. These doctrines must be elicited from the soul, separated from false (and therefore damaging) views and fortified by reason, which combines contemplation and action.

Albinus divided the dialogues into two broad classes, hyphegetikos and zetetikos, explanatory and exploratory, the former offering teachings and the latter purging and awakening the soul. He rejected the traditional order of study used even today, beginning with Euthyphro (the indictment of Socrates), followed by the Apology (his trial), Crito (his imprisonment) and Phaedo (his last day and death). Wisdom decrees, Albinus argued, that the dialogues are each complete and independent and yet form a whole like a circle, which has no discernible beginning or ending. The moral and intellectual condition of the student should determine the starting-point and order of the dialogues to be studied. For one well prepared by birth, present age and education, Alcibiades is a good beginning, for it deals with self-knowledge, the beginning of all wisdom. In time, one should turn to Phaedo, which teaches the importance of the philosophic life, given the immortality of the soul. Then one can take up the Republic, for it presents a comprehensive theory of education. Eventually, one may turn to Timaeus, the treatment of Nature and things divine, leading towards a recollection of divinity. Such a course is not simply an introduction to the works of a great thinker: it is a path of moral and spiritual development that transforms one's being, awakens the powers of the soul and achieves its apotheosis in a vision of the Divine. Beginning with the obstetrical or maieutic dialogues, one passes through positive doctrines to a state of consciousness which transcends description, a journey which encompasses self-realization and contributes to universal enlightenment.

Albinus took a characteristically Platonic definition of philosophy as the point of departure for the Didaskalikos.

Philosophy is a longing after wisdom, or a release or withdrawal of the soul from the body, while we are turning ourselves to what is perceived by mind, and to things that exist truly.

For Albinus, periagoge, turning away, of soul from body is the fundamental posture which makes possible real knowledge and right conduct. This reorientation of consciousness is necessarily illuminating and therapeutic, healing the soul so that it can bring to fruition its innate wisdom. Though Albinus accepted the traditional division of Platonic studies into logic, physics and ethics for instructional purposes, he changed the names of these divisions to dialektike, theoretike and praktike and altered their order of importance by placing physics first, followed by ethics and logic. Theoria, or contemplative philosophy, includes the study of physical Nature, mathematics and things divine; praxis embraces economics (as the management of the household) and politics as well as ethics; and dialectic covers every aspect of logic, conceptualization and reasoning.

If reliance on sense-impressions as a source of knowledge inclines one to scepticism, assertion of self-evident truths is too simplistic. For Albinus, the objects of both noesis and aisthesis, mind and sense-impression, are primitive and unanalysed, and both require logos for understanding, which means that the primary impressions (constituting immediate thought) are subject to a secondary process (constituting discursive thought) which forms the objects of knowledge. Epistemonikos logos, the power of apprehending intelligible objects, joins with noesis to produce episteme, abstract knowledge, whereas doxastikos logos, the power of dealing with sense-impressions, unites with aisthesis to produce doxa, opinion. Noesis grasps Platonic Ideas in their purely transcendent aspect, just as aisthesis receives qualities, but the logoi allow for the recognition of forms in matter and for the mental construction of objects out of qualities. Right reason judges what is true in the realm of theoria and what is proper in the field of praxis. Since this implies some standard of assessment, each soul must possess physikai ennoiai, natural or innate concepts, which are used to measure contemplation and conduct.

Albinus encountered the same difficulties as his predecessors in attempting to delineate the exact nature of the Platonic dialectic. Its logical character can be elucidated by a variety of schemata, but the way in which it induces the soul to recollect its inherent omniscience can be grasped only through experience. Albinus maintained that the whole of Aristotelian logic can be found in Plato, the true founder of formal logic. Aristotle's categories are Platonic, though they must be subsumed under Plato's fundamental distinction between absolute and relative. Substance may be examined a priori by descent from first principles or a posteriori by ascent through analysis. Accidents may be studied through syllogistic logic or by induction. Although induction cannot yield certitude, it is useful for stirring up innate concepts. The philosophical and mythic etymological studies found in Cratylus can be useful, for in addition to the literal history of word development, words are formed by conventions related to Nature.

Theoretike includes theology, mathematics and physics. Mathematics sharpens the mind and prepares it for a more transcendental understanding of the ultimate roots of Nature. Matter, being potentially carnal, is the first principle of corporeal things. The Platonic Ideas, however, are paradigmatic first principles.

An Idea, considered in relation to God, is his thought (noesis); in relation to human beings, the primary object of intellection (proton noeton); in relation to matter, measure; in relation to the sensible cosmos, the model; in relation to itself, substance.

An idea is "an eternal paradigm of natural things", but Albinus counters the tendency to separate creative powers, Platonic Ideas and an overarching Deity by affirming that these ideas – the archetypes of all that Nature can manifest – are eternal thoughts in the Divine Mind. For Albinus, such ideas necessarily exist, for whether Deity is mind or is possessed of a mind, it has thoughts which must be eternal and unchanging. If matter in itself is without measure and ratio, something must give it measure, and if the cosmos is not a random event, something formed it on a model. If knowledge differs from opinion, there must be intelligible ideas which secure it.

From any standpoint, ideas must exist. Since ideas are associated with the concepts of soul, mind and God, human beings, who inevitably compromise their powers of intellection by insinuating material attributes into the intelligible realm, confuse Deity with its divine activity.

Since Mind is superior to Soul, and since Mind in activity, intelligising all things simultaneously and eternally, is superior to mind in potentiality, and since the cause of this is nobler than it, being superior to it, this would be the Primal God – the cause of the eternal activity of the mind of the whole cosmos. The Primal Deity, itself without motion, directs its activity towards the mind of the cosmos, just as the sun towards vision when a person looks at it, or as an object of desire sets desire in motion while remaining itself motionless, so will this Mind move the mind of the whole heaven.

But since the first Mind is the noblest of things, the object of its thought must be noblest as well, and yet nothing is nobler than it is itself. Therefore it would have to contemplate eternally itself and its own thoughts, and this activity is Idea.

Deity is thus the motionless mover, the causeless cause, which is ineffable and cannot be said to do, or involve itself in, anything save the contemplation of itself and its own thoughts. This eternal creative activity is energeia, which constitutes the Idea from which all the Platonic Ideas are derived. Deity is Mind – or more like mind than like any other comprehensible abstraction – but is indescribable and indefinable. Albinus held that this eternal and perfect Primal God calls Mind and Soul into action by its presence, but he shunned the traditional distinction between them. For him, the World Soul has a rational and irrational aspect. The first is directly awakened by Deity, and it sets about organizing the second. Whilst the two can be distinguished for purposes of clear understanding, they are not in reality separate hypostases, but form one entity intimately associated with Deity. Although God cannot be defined, it can be existentially (though not intellectually) described by following one of the three paths.

The path of negation (later called the via negationis) proceeds by removing attributes from the conception of Deity as with the first hypothesis in Parmenides. The path of analogy (via analogiae) can be illustrated by the simile of the sun in Book VI of the Republic. The anagogical path (via eminentiae) leads upwards through the progressive universalization of experience. For Albinus, the chief example of this spiritual path is Diotima's discourse on love in the Banquet. Although the first two paths will show that God is without parts or body, changeless and eternal, only the last way leads to that mystical intimacy which presages direct understanding of the Ineffable. Albinus thus links the veiled suggestions found in Plato's writings – especially the Seventh Letter – with the mystical teachings of Plotinus.

The physics of Albinus are traditional in most respects, though he firmly associates the dodecahedron with the twelve signs of the zodiac and each of the three hundred and sixty triangles of the dodecahedron with a degree of the celestial circle. Whilst denying that the world was created in time, since it is eternally coming to be, he taught that the World Soul slumbers, only to be periodically awakened by the Primal God through turning the rational aspect towards Itself, so that it in turn will activate the irrational aspect. Just as the highest gods are part of the rational process, so the daimones inhabit the elements of the irrational dimension of the World Soul, and, when awakened by the rational, proceed to form the manifest world. This periodicity of creation and dissolution is not a temporal process, for time arises within created Nature, but just as the daimones are aroused into action by transcendent powers, so time is a reflection of dynamic eternity.

Albinus accepted the Platonic tripartite soul, but concentrated on the division of the soul into rational and pathetikon, passionate and irrational. He elaborated Plato's arguments for the soul's immortality but was more concerned to explain the descent of the soul into a succession of bodies. All Platonists agreed that the rational soul is immortal, but the fate of the passionate aspect of soul was the subject of considerable controversy. Albinus resolved the question to his own satisfaction by affirming the mortality of the irrational soul. The tripartite division, however, applies to the disembodied soul as well as the soul which is incarnated. In the disembodied soul the three aspects are gnostikon (cognitive), parastatikon (dispositional) and oikeiotikon (appropriative), which in the embodied soul are rational, spirited and appetitive. Thus, whilst the irrational aspect perishes at death, there is that archetypal aspect of the immortal soul which corresponds to the mortal part. Without having language adequate for the expression of his thoughts, Albinus nonetheless pointed to a conception of soul in which the mortal and embodied aspects function as vehicles for the immortal aspects.

Albinus saw in the descent of the soul into embodied existence an element of necessity and the will of the gods to make themselves manifest through souls. But he thought that the chief reason for embodiment is akolasia, wantonness, a wrongful willingness of the soul to become involved in corporeal life. He did not attribute sinful sensuality to the soul, but rather thought of akolasia as the erroneous judgement of a free will. In addition, the soul naturally suffers from philosomatia, a love of or affinity for the body. "Body and soul", he wrote, "have a kind of affinity towards each other, like fire and asphalt." Through the judgements of a free will, soul sometimes draws near body, and when that happens, it is attracted to it. Once the connection is made, reincarnation occurs until the soul frees itself through philosophic understanding. Thus Albinus taught doctrines of free will and of fate. "All things are in Fate but not everything is fated." The soul chooses freely, but having chosen, the consequences cannot be avoided. The subtlety of this doctrine can perhaps be appreciated through contemplating the Myth of Er at the end of Book X of the Republic. Albinus struggled to enunciate a doctrine of fate strikingly similar to the Indian conception of karma.

Though the Platonic metaphysics of Albinus were complex, they could be translated into a straightforward ethics. The good for the human being is knowledge of and contemplation of the Primal Good which is Deity. All other goods derive from this highest Good. Happiness will be found, however, only in the goods pertaining to soul alone, for other goods are only materials which can be used for weal or woe. Virtue, being a power of soul, is self-sufficient and neither requires nor can have external justification. Telos, the end or purpose of life, is gaining "likeness to God", which means raising one's intelligence towards Deity insofar as possible. Although living in accordance with Nature is an admirable and even necessary step, it is not the purpose of human existence, contrary to Stoic views. The God which an individual may become like is not the ineffable Primal God but the rational aspect of the World Soul or Cosmic Mind, though this is achieved through meditation upon and profound understanding of That which can have no likeness. As time in some mysterious way becomes the moving image of eternity, and as the irrational aspect of the World Soul somehow mirrors the rational aspect which itself reflects the Ineffable, so too human conduct can mirror the virtue of the soul and the soul in perfect virtue may reflect the Divine Mystery.

We may attain to the goal of becoming like unto God by being in control of suitable natural faculties (physis), by correct habituation, training and discipline (askesis), and especially by the use of reason and teaching (didaskalia) and the transmission of doctrines, so as to transcend for the most part human distractions, and to be always in contact with intelligible realities.

For Albinus, the ordinary studies of his time and today are at best preliminaries and purifications that prepare the earnest disciple for the Greater Mysteries, which fuse pure thought with spiritual insight in contemplation of the Divine. Unfortunately, history has not preserved those creative works which would have given full credit to the originality and genius which Albinus brought into his scholastic summaries of Platonic studies. If it had, one might see that Albinus laid the strong foundations upon which the Eclectic School and neo-Platonic philosophy built their elaborate and graceful edifices.

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The sovereign soul
Of him who lives self-governed and at peace
Is centered in itself taking alike
Pleasure and pain; heat, cold; glory and shame.

SHRI KRISHNA


OM