Plotinian Sources for Coleridge’s Theories of Evil

Karen McLean


(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 20, Winter 2002, pp 93-104)




IT IS WIDELY ACCEPTED that Neoplatonic thought has influenced Coleridge’s philosophy, but this acceptance has generally been confined to aspects of idealism, transcendentalism and the mature Coleridge’s wariness of pantheism.  Neoplatonism pervades Coleridge’s writings, from the earliest dalliance with the Platonic reincarnation myth, to the adoption of key terms originally defined and used by Neoplatonists, Plotinus and Proclus in particular.  At an early age Coleridge sensed within Plato and the Neoplatonists a beacon of spiritual light,[1] and it was this search for and sense of something profound that helped anchor Coleridge, initially to pantheism, during his early spiritual wandering, affecting his development as a poet of Nature, and preparing him and attracting him further to the philosophical life which was to follow.

       However, Neoplatonism also influenced Coleridge’s theory of evil, especially in regard to the fallen finite will of humanity, the status of the physical world and the ramifications arising from the act of creation.  With this in mind, the aspect I wish to concentrate on is the status of matter in both Coleridge’s and Plotinus’ systems, and the issues its status raises for the world of Nature and the individual’s place within it.  Although this is a small aspect of each philosophy, it is enough to show the great extent to which Plotinian theodicy influences Coleridge’s theory of creation and the Satanic principle, as outlined in recent work by such writers as Perkins, Hedley, Harding and Reid.[2]

       Generally speaking, Coleridge believes God is instantiated by a self-subsistent, perpetual act of Will, realised in the relation of God the Father and the Son (in whom God recognises himself, formalising his own identity and existence).  He touches upon the centrality of God’s causa sui in his 1824 Confession of Faith, describing three moments; stasis, apostasis and temporal history, (in which the tension between the first two classifications produces results tangible to us):


First Class—The Absolute, the innominable [autopatõr][3] or Causa Sui, in whose transcendent I AM as the Ground is whatever verily is.  The Triune God, by whose Word and Spirit, as the transcendent Cause, exist whatever substantially exist: God Almighty, Father, Son and




Holy Ghost, undivided, unconfounded, co-eternal.  Entitates Eternæ in Verbo Filio,[4] [hai en autõ eisi õs autos en patri autou].[5]—This class I designate by the word [Stasis].—

Second Class.  The Eternal Possibilities, the Actuality of which hath not its origin in God.—[Apostasis].  Chaos Spirituale.

Third Class.  Creation <and Formation> of the Heaven and Earth and by the redemptive Word.  The Apostasy of Man.  The Redemption of Man.  The Incarnation of the Word in the Son of Man.[6]


While the Will succeeds in formalising God’s existence, there is another alternative open to it.  Will, by definition free, has the illogical choice of not actualising itself as ordered existence. Coleridge recognised how this was encapsulated in his own finite Will—instead of imitating the order and meaning of Will as it became actual in God, Coleridge can choose to separate his will from God’s nature, replacing this central and necessary tenet with his own self (though it be a baseless, empty principle, leading to contradiction and chaos):


[I]n its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the Will becomes satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others; the more hopeless as the more obdurate by its subjugation of sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure; in short, by the fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action, under which all other motives from within and from without must be either subordinated or crushed.[7]


This possibility to create chaos and disorder is a path not taken, a fallen, abortive quasi-existence, yet divine love and order prevail—God raises this fallenness up, offering it form.  From this arises an imitation of the Divine Ideas in the Logos, resulting in the physical world, us and our finite wills.  Coleridge explains this through an account of the giving of God’s grace to the fallen Will:


…Will as essentially causative of Reality, and thence to the Will as causative of its own reality—thence to the paternal Will, as the Father; to the intelligential Will, as the co-eternal begotten Son of the Father; thence to the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, the [perichõrèsis] [8] in Deity, and in the Complement, with and by which




the living God is and is Love; and finally to the divine Plenitude beheld in the filial Deity, in whom alone as the adequate Icon … God loveth it—so in the second we must necessarily reverse the whole—commencing with the Multëity, as the faithless Shadow of the Plenitude, and toilsomely ascending to meet the Descent of Deity on the fallen creature, condescending to it in and by Succession.  For the sake of that which having become finite could only be in succession, God himself became successive—.Together with the Eternal then was now the Historical: but only as far as God manifested himself historically.—We have followed as heedfully as hath been given to us in the reconstruction of our own Spirit the out-breathing of the Spirit—the breathing Air is gone forth and its warmth has awakened the sense of the Natura, the Futurition of the Faces of the Waters—i.e. the Multëity of the Indistinction— [9]


       If I can ask you to keep this brief Coleridgean thesis in mind, let me introduce you to Plotinus.

       Plotinus, head of the Academy in 4th century Greece, does much to develop the Platonic view of the physical world as a realm where truth is present only as a fitful and chaotically unpredictable ‘appearance’.  Based upon Plato’s suggestion of a supreme creative intelligence, Plotinus chooses to focus upon the One as the origin, and subsequent basis, of all reality.  This was a change in emphasis, from Plato’s insistence that the human experience was a struggle against distracting temptations, to Plotinus’ optimistic view that the whole of creation was good because of the perfection of its origin.

       Plotinus refines Plato’s view of the individual within the world by proposing that a person, as a soul, has the ability and impetus either to transcend the material and intellectual, questing towards the One in an attempt to reunite with the true reality, or to sink into a self-imposed existence separate from the One, which being separate and lacking any true basis is abortive and delusional.  Plotinus believed this self-destructive movement of the soul was a microcosm of evil in its greater and more general sense, and, as I shall show, it is a proposition that has many parallels with Coleridge’s own theodicy.

       An important characteristic of Plotinian philosophy is the view that everything which exists, even the messy multiplicity of the physical world, is good simply because ‘everything that exists’ originates from the overflowing of the One.  In contrast, Plato generally views the physical world and its multiplicity as evidence of the contradictorily passive and resistant plastic material with which the Demiurge makes the physical things of our corporeal world.  The difference between the two thinkers is due to the way in which Plotinus separates physical substance, which is the lowest manifestation and end result of the existence of the One, from evil or ‘matter’, which is devoid of all qualities.  This is the non-existence to which the self-destructive soul is attracted, and its attraction reveals to us the greater macrocosm of evil—it




attempts to attain an independent existence separate from the true reality of the One. 

       As J M Rist explains it, for Plotinus, there are two worlds—the world of particulars and the world of Forms.  This division applies to matter as well—there is matter in this world, but it is an image of intelligible matter, which seems to be the ultimate example of heterotès, ‘otherness’, or ‘distinction’.  As I shall show below, this is not Plato’s dualistic hupodoxa (Receiver), but a more Coleridgean mere potentiality.  For Plotinus, this ‘otherness’ is present in every reality, except the One.[10]  And, as the truth of the intelligible world is the basis for meaning in our own corporeal one, the principle of distinction and otherness influences our reality through matter’s multeity.  Rist’s outline is one way to look at it, and indeed substantial work has been done by Perkins on this point, specifically in relation to Plato.[11]  But Plotinus offers more to Coleridge in terms of teaming Absolute Will with its potentiality of distinction and otherness.  To explain this choice available to the Will, I will first look at Plotinus’ account of creation, and then the concept, inherent in the creative act, of either descending into evil or returning to the creative source.

       Let us examine this concept, of distinction and the correspondence between the soul’s choice to descend and the influence of evil, by tracing Plotinus’ creation from its start.  Creation for Plotinus has two definite actions, distinction from (or becoming other than) the origin, and secondly a contemplation of and subsequent return to the origin which completes an object’s entry into existence.  Often, the process in which everything results from the One is defined as ‘emanation’; but as Armstrong states, this comes from viewing Plotinian philosophy through a framework of contemporary Stoic terminology; both schools favoured the metaphor of radiating flame, light or heat.[12]  Plotinus’ One is not a blind, giving system, devoid of all providence; instead the first act the One conducts after differentiation from itself is the giving of a ‘power of return’.  While the One is so beyond characteristics as to be incomprehensible, its role as source and origin means that it appears to the whole of creation as the ultimate role model, the prime example and principle of existence.  However, Plotinus believes that all of reality proceeds from the One without any conscious influence of the One; things come to be not because the One wishes or plans existence to be a particular way, but due to the overwhelming productive nature of the One.  As Plotinus describes in the Ennead ‘On Beauty’, the One ‘provides for all and remains by itself and gives to all but receives nothing in itself’.[13]  The whole of existence is perfect because the One is the ultimate creative principle; it is that ‘alone, simple, single and pure, from which all depends and to which all look




and are and live and think: for it is the cause of life and mind and being’.[14]  All other creative agencies imitate this parent through their own creativity, and Plotinus believes that where there is perfection, there will consequently be production.  A subject which is truly alive and truly existent must also be perfect (at least contain traces of divine perfection) and possess the ability to create again from itself.

       In the beginning, the One conveys existence upon a second level, called the Intellect, or Mind.  As Plotinus saw the One as infinite, perfectly complete and therefore indivisible, where this second level of Intellect comes from is of great significance both to how he defines the One as a non-emanating source, and secondly, as it has parallels to Coleridge’s view of the creative act.

       For the moment, let us concentrate upon Plotinus’ notions of distinction and return contemplation.  The One, despite its perfect unity and indivisibility, is infinitely powerful and thus possesses the ability to divide from itself.  In fact, Plotinus believes that this is the action it must take if it wishes to create from itself as source.  This potentially separated and distinct part of the One Plotinus calls the Intellect, though it has not yet attained any sort of existence.  For Intellect to become fully real, it must cease dwelling upon its separation and distinction from its source to begin to contemplate and imitate the existence and perfection of the One.  This contemplation and subsequent imitation of the One by its own offspring is a crucial choice through which things are filled with existence, in contrast to the illegitimate self-assertion which separation and distinction from the One gives.

       Intellect cannot completely imitate the One, for the One is infinite, and a product cannot supersede or surpass the source from which it comes.  Specifically, Intellect successfully echoes the divine unity of the One by being both thought and the object of its own thought; it cannot attain the absolute simplicity of the One but it can pull its own Many-ness—the multitude of reified/enumerated Forms which distinguish it from the One—into a unity which approaches both the unity and infinity of the One.  In this way, Intellect and the process between it and the Forms, exist in comparison to the physical world we know, as ‘a kind of archetype and model’, very much in the Platonic sense.

       The creative influence of the One flows onwards, as Intellect produces from the thought, (or rather, the mental image) of itself a third level of existence which Plotinus calls Soul.  Acting as an emissary of Intellect in the material world, it can be further distinguished by its role in both of these levels of existence.  Firstly, Plotinus defines the third level of reality as Universal Soul, which conveys the sense of unity, infinity, intelligence and order found in the second level of reality, to the material world.  Within the material world Soul takes these principles and acts as an ‘immanent principle of life and growth’[15], and in this capacity it forms the fourth and last level of existence




which Plotinus calls Nature.  Soul, in its imitation of its origin, Intellect, uses the examples of the Forms to shape and unite chaotic matter, ‘that which is to come into being from many parts into a single ordered whole’ (I.6.2, On Beauty), in turn fashioning a place in which to dwell.

       The status of Intellect reveals crucial details about the One.  As it is the first created object outside of the All and Everything of the One, the Intellect is the highest thinkable reality, and indeed this is reflected by the fact that it contains the Ideas or Forms.[16]  The One, on the other hand, is somehow outside of being, as something that is capable of being must exhibit certain characteristics within space and time.  The One is all characteristics at once, and yet being the origin of all qualities before they become reified and shaped into a form which is thinkable, it is infinitely beyond properties.  The One can only really be thought of as the act through which the whole of existence, in all its variation and enumeration, is made real, maintained and ordered.  This act, while not contingent on God’s will in the Christian sense, is ongoing, both in the requirements of distinction and contemplation.  The whole of existence, everything except for the One, which is of itself and requires nothing, struggles to balance between the compulsion to differentiate itself from its source (both immediate, as in the previous level of existence, and general, in that it must attempt to be something other than the One) and the need to contemplate and imitate the One; unable to reunite fully with the supreme source, all elements of existence attain instead a partial and limited participation in the One by imitating a characteristic or two from the Many of the Intellect.

       Before I turn my attention to the ramifications this has for us as individuals, I will quickly examine Plotinus’ ideas of matter and evil.

       There is another type of entity outside being and existence, like the One, but this ‘something’ is totally devoid of qualities, whereas the One is supersaturated.  Plotinus calls this apparent counterpart to the One, matter.[17]  Generally speaking, and in slight contrast with Plato, Plotinus believes matter to be evil.  It is the resistant characteristic of matter which gives rise to evil for Plato, for he believes matter to be an inert, formless substrate upon which the Demiurge creates an image of the world of the Forms.  In contrast, Plotinus sees this resistance as a symptom of more fundamental relationship between the One, the things which gain existence through the One, and the contradictory existence of matter.  He proposes that matter is the ultimate example of self-distinction for it has a wholly separate quasi-existence.  It exists in the sense-world as a ‘potentiality which never can be actualised’;[18] a shadowy image of existence divorced from the effects of the One:


[Matter is] not life or form or … limit – for it is unlimitedness – or




power – for what does it make? – but it [should] be called non-being, not in the sense in which motion is not being or rest not being but truly not-being; it is a ghostly image of bulk, a tendency towards substantial existence; it is static without being stable ….  It always presents opposite appearances on its surface, small and great, less and more, deficient and superabundant, a phantom which does not remain and cannot get away either, for it has no strength for this, since it has not received strength from intellect but is lacking in all being.  Whatever announcement it makes, therefore, is a lie, and if it appears great, it is small, if more, it is less; its apparent being is not real, but a sort of fleeting frivolity; hence the things which seem to come to be in it are frivolities, nothing but phantoms in a phantom; … it seems to be filled, and holds nothing; it is all seeming.

                                                                    (On Impassibility, III.6.7)


       Rist describes matter usefully when he contrasts it with the precarious position of the whole of existence that subsists between the One and matter.  The otherness and distinction from the One that the whole of existence seeks is in fact a resistance or privation of absolute Being,[19] all qualities and characteristics.  That seems clear enough to us through the actions of the things that seek separation from the One, but this otherness is entirely what matter consists of.  Matter is absolute absence of quality (erèmia).  To quote Rist, ‘since matter is without qualities, it is hard to speak of it as other than mere potentiality without potency.  It is qualityless (‘apoios 1.8.10), non-being (‘mē on’ 2.5.4), only a potentiality of Being (2.5.5).’[20]  Paralleling the self-perpetuating supra-existence of the One and its ‘overflowing abundance’ [21], evil is made evil by its own inability to create.  It is unable to, on the one hand, produce from itself as the One does, because, on the other hand, it is impotence, ‘utter lack’ (1.8.3) and privation.  Once Soul produces matter as a place in which to dwell, the chain of creation is broken—matter is unable to create from itself in turn.

       When we look at matter, we see that it takes no place in a chain of hierarchy,[22] it has not been produced from a higher principle but has made itself an image and rival of the One without using the existence of the One.  Yet evil is not related to the One in the manichaeistic sense, where evil balances the effect of good as an equal opposite.  Evil only attains its quasi-existence because of the nature of the One.  As outlined above, the One contains ‘otherness’ but it does not use it.  Evil is fundamentally connected to Creation, as everything that is not the One must be ‘other’ than the One and seek existence by imitating what they can of the One.  But as for absolute evil itself, it remains within the One; unused, untouched, a choice not taken—it is




wholly potential and underlies every thing and every act.  Plotinus argues that our very conceptions of absolute evil are fundamentally limited because evil partakes of no quantifiable, understandable thing—such is its separation from the One.

       However, as evil underlies every act and every thing, it is possible that we can read enough within the effects of evil to draw tentative conclusions about it.  It imitates without the intention of making itself better; it seems to imitate the One in order to consume, supplant or destroy it, rather than align itself alongside it, attempting to rule with utter chaotic potentiality rather than understandable actuality.  Therefore evil has no trace of actuality, or any trace of origin; evil can only approach a form of existence which is potentially everything and nothing, causing a chaotic confused multiplicity which pretends to be a unity at the same time:


But as for matter, which is said to exist and which we say is all realities potentially, how is it possible to say that it is actually something real?  For if it was, it would already have ceased to be potentially all realities.  If, then, it is nothing real, it necessarily cannot be existent either. (II.5.4)


       To distinguish between the physical world and evil, matter never completely unites with form.  If ‘matter really was participant’ in the way people mistakenly view it as a purely physical composite substance, ‘what came to it would be swallowed and sink into it’.  But we can see that qualities are not swallowed or absorbed by evil, in fact matter (in comparison with the One) ‘remains the same and receives nothing’, but (in contrast with the One) anticipates qualities ‘as a repellent base and a receptacle for the things which come to the same point and there mingle’ (III.6.14).  Matter has no real existence, so therefore cannot possess any quality.  Only things which gain their existence through the One have the ability to create again from themselves or, in relation to matter, evade and resist greater forces.

       Although evil ‘appears’ to set itself up as a rival to the One, it makes no sense to Plotinus to conceive of an opposite to the One, because that would be proposing the existence of something which does not exist.  Instead, Plotinus believes evil to be a self-determined non-existence which attempts to rival the One, but cannot as only the One may truly exist.  He explains this relationship in terms of the way he has described the reflective and contemplative gaze of the Intellect, the Soul and the lower soul of Nature—evil is an image of the One, but it does not seek to unite with the One, but supersede and replace it.  Plotinus suggests that we view evil as a false image or guise of truth, existence and the One.


[E]vil is not in any sort of deficiency but in absolute deficiency; a thing which is only slightly deficient in good is not evil, for it can even be perfect on the level of its own nature.  But when something is




absolutely deficient—and this is matter—this is essential evil without any share of good.  For matter has not even being—if it had it would by this means have a share in good ... (I.8.5)


       An important point of comparison can be found within Coleridge’s view of creation and the function of both the creative principle, God’s Will, and the status of the fallen, finite, filial will of humanity.  As outlined above, Coleridge places evil’s potentiality in the Ground that existed, logically prior (rather than temporally) to the act of self-instantiation through the creation of the Son.[23]  Since God is order, love and actuality through this self-instantiation, evil exists as a ‘path not taken’.  Only the Infinite Will is actual (like Plotinus’ One) as long as it acts to unify, love; as long as it acts in its own image.  Again, Coleridge examines this from the perspective of what we ourselves must do, and how this moral imperative relates to the very act by which the apostatic, finite Will attains existence through God’s gift of grace and love:


We are the Children of Wrath—but not to Wrath!  We are born of Evil; but not to Evil—Of Darkness, but unto Light.  Our very Birth is a moment of our Redemption, and every Sense, every taste, touch, odor, sight, sound, a dawn of the unrisen but rising God, present to, tho not yet for, the re-born spirit in his names, and to be hallowed as such! yea, as the first infantile lispings of that Name, which above all names the Father hath glorified with himself, as his very Name, & absolute Person, Co-eternal self subsistent WORD, the Supreme Being, THE TRUE, begotten of the Supreme Will, THE ABSOLUTE GOOD, in the eternal Act, wherein he from everlasting to everlasting affirmeth himself, the I AM [….] For us there are only the Finite, and the Absolute.  Se finiendo, (secun)dum legem divinam definitè,[24] the Infinite Potential becomes one with the Absolute, and therein and thereby actually is—standing as a Number, a Distinctity in the transcendent Unity.  The Infinite is (below) Number —as dark, empty, Hades …[25]


       While Plato’s negativity comes about from the limiting of divine characteristics within the physical world, Coleridge’s evil originates from the free quality of the will, in that it possesses the potential of becoming other than order, form and unity.  As individuals, our wills are free to choose between disorder or unity.  While it is impossible for us to conceive of God having chosen a state so opposite to the perfect infinity and unity which is God, the apparent ease at which our wills can slide into irrationality and self-destruction tells us something about the fallen origin of our individual wills:




Whatever springs out of ‘the perfect Law of Freedom,’ which exists only by its unity with the Will of God, its inherence in the Word of God, and its communion with the Spirit of God—that (according to the principles of Moral Science) is GOOD—it is light and Righteousness and very Truth.  Whatever seeks to separate itself from the Divine Principle, and proceeds from a false centre in the Agent’s particular Will, is EVIL—a work of darkness and contradiction.  It is Sin and essential Falsehood.


       And this is not limited to an singular bad act—’not the outward deed, not the deed as a possible object of the senses’—if we have the potential to choose this path, then this potential renders the whole will bad.  ‘For as the Will or Spirit, the Source and Substance of Moral Good, is one and all, in every part; so it must be that totality, the whole articulated Series of Single Acts, taken as Unity, that can alone, … be recognized as the proper Counterpart and adequate Representative of a good Will.’ [26]


       The individual within Plotinus’ scenario is offered a similar choice.  An individual soul can either choose to ascend into lawful universality through the sanction of the One’s existence, or descend into a self-made reality which attempts an impossible existence outside of the One.  Plotinus believes that we have the ability to differentiate and distinguish ourselves as creative agents; either imitating or separating ourselves from the One.

       Instead of imitating the unity and perfection of the One, a soul which wills distinction from its origin buries itself in the confused multiplicity of the corporeal world, as well as limiting itself.  An example of this fall into self-interest would be when the soul neglects spiritual development and becomes enslaved to the appetites and concerns of the body.  As Armstrong explains, when this occurs, the soul ‘becomes entrapped in the atomistic particularity of the material world and [is] isolated from the whole’.[27]  It has broken the fundamental link between itself and its origin amongst higher principles, subjecting itself to something lower than itself, in this case its product—Soul creates body, and it makes no sense to have the creative origin imprisoned by its own creation.

       Furthermore, the way in which we are able to comprehend matter reveals the otherness intrinsic in our own minds.  In order to see matter, we must disengage our minds from all Form and Being.  This does not leave us with a pure, uncontaminated mind, for mind originates and imitates the essence of the One’s Form and super-essential Being.  To quote Rist, ‘Mind must leave its own light, go out into an outside realm … Mind must become mindless to




recognize what exists in some sense outside Being.’ [28]  In a manner of speaking, mind commits the ultimate act of distinction by imitating the absolute opposite of its own essence, by denying the qualities that make it mind, qualities that come from the One.

       Plotinus is sometimes inclined to look at all things apart from the One as being hopelessly inferior to it.  This concept starts to contradict the favourable view described above of creation as the result of the One’s own existence in that created things with their own agency (generally those things closest to the One, such as Intellect and Soul) are seen to enter existence as ‘acts of illegitimate self-assertion’.[29]  Because Intellect and Soul are so close to the One, they necessarily resemble the One in greater proportion, but Plotinus often finds it hard to distinguish between their potential to establish themselves in an abortive reality separate from the One, and the fact that they have been wholly created as a result of the One’s existence, though their absolute freedom may divorce them from the true and only legitimate reality.

       It is here that we can see the parallel between Coleridge’s view of Creation and God, and Plotinus’ ideas of distinction and agency.  For Plotinus, every level of creation, apart from the inanimate objects of the corporeal world, exercises the power to distinguish itself from the One.  To better understand Plotinus’ first development in creation, we could attempt to apply Coleridgean terms—the Word or Intellect is the One’s potential to distinguish itself, made actual.  Intellect is made actual by the One’s providential gift of itself as object of contemplation and imitation.  If the Intellect did not turn from its self-distinction to contemplate and imitate the One, it would remain in the limbo of potentiality.

       In his ideas on polarity, Coleridge also employed the notion of distinction in that the producing power requires some sort of otherness in order to create from itself:


No Power can produce but under the condition of passing out of its Oneness or Identity, nor manifest itself except by opposites, each of which suppose the existence of the other in order to the possibility of its own existence.  These twin opposites I call the Poles; & the process itself, in which THE ONE reveals its Being in two opposite yet correlative Modes of Existence, I designate by the term, Polarity, or Polarizing.[30]


       Where this otherness is located in Coleridge is an interesting question.  Plotinus, for example, places the agency for distinction in the object which separates itself from the One.  Examining this more closely, we could conclude that as Intellect and the subsequent levels of creation originate in the One,




somehow the One utilises the method of distinction.  But as Plotinus believes that the One is all, we may be prompted to determine that the One possesses the potential, or the theoretical method to distinguish a product from itself, even though Plotinus repeatedly states that we can attribute no characteristics or qualities to the One—such is its infinity, its unimaginable place ‘beyond being’, and we must also take into account the fact that we find our existence within the One; although we enumerate ourselves by distinguishing and formalising ourselves from the origin, there is no escaping our location within it.  The One is all there is.

       Coleridge places his idea of potentiality elsewhere, compared to Plotinus, for he sees the distinction within the Godhead as a natural and logical distinction—God the Father contemplates himself, creating a divine idea, a formal representation of his infinity, in God the Son.  The dynamic between the two is one of a relationship through an act, rather than a hierarchical, subsequent simplification.  God is contemplator and contemplated; the Son is God as he has acted; God is his own act.  Boulger notes this when he describes Coleridge’s ‘unconventional’ theology of ‘doing and becoming, [centred on] a God of action known by events rather than as a subject to be contemplated’.[31] 

       The influence of hierarchy within Plotinian theory means that these terms are seen to admit weakness or lack in the One.  Like Coleridge’s Godhead, it is in the One’s nature to overflow, to create from its own perfect and infinite self, and both thinkers attempt to balance the notion of a perfect, giving infinity with the necessary idea of distinction and Many-ness.  Yet for Coleridge, potentiality is located in the freedom of the creative Will, and distinction is a integral part of the expression of God’s nature.  For Plotinus, potentiality is also located in the ability of the act of distinction, in that an object can choose to separate itself from the One without returning to imitate; when we realise that this potentiality of distinguishment is located in the One, it begins to resemble the Infinite Will of Coleridgean theory.[32]  Admittedly, for Plotinus, it raises problems of infallibility and need in the One, though these problems are implausible considering the One’s nature.  Unlike Coleridge, he does not connect this possibility with an evil ‘path not taken’—it remains an illogical train of thought.

[1]       James Engell, introduction, Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, Bollingen Series 7, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983) I: lxxi.

[2]       Anthony John Harding, ‘Imagination, Patriarchy, and Evil in Coleridge and Heidegger’, in Studies in Romanticism 35 (Spring 1996): 3-26; Douglas Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion: ‘Aids to Reflection’ and the Mirror of the Spirit, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) pp. 248-263; Mary Anne Perkins, Coleridge’s Philosophy, (New York: Clarendon Press, 1994) pp. 32, 109-113, 129, 194; Nicholas Reid, ‘The Satanic Principle in the Later Coleridge’s Theory of Imagination’ in Studies in Romanticism 37 (Summer 1998): 259-77.

[3]       J. R. de J. Jackson glosses this as “Self-engendered or Father of self”.  I have transliterated all Greek script to Roman, as indicated by square brackets.

[4]       Glossed as “Eternal entities in the Son as Word”.

[5]       Glossed as “which are in him as he is in his Father”.

[6]       S. T. Coleridge, ‘Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit’ (1824) in Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson, Bollingen Series 11, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995), p. 1118-19.

[7]       S. T. Coleridge, The Statesman’s Manual, ed. R. J. White, Bollingen Series 6, (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972), Appendix C, p. 65.

[8]       Glossed as “literally a going round about, a coming round to the same place, a revolution”.

[9]       ‘On Love, the Holy Spirit and the Divine Will’ (1820), in Shorter Works and Fragments, p. 869-70.

[10]     John M. Rist, ‘Plotinus on Matter and Evil’ in Phronesis, ed. D. J. Allan and J. B. Skemp, vol. 6 (Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1961), p. 155.

[11]     Mary Anne Perkins, ‘Coleridge and the “Other Plato”’, in European Romantic Review, 8 (Winter 1997): 25-40.

[12]     A. H. Armstrong, preface, in Plotinus Enneads I, (London: William Heinemann Ltd; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1967) p. xviii.

[13]     Enneads I.6.7;  See also III.3.7 (On Eternity and Time).

[14]     Enneads I.6.7.

[15]     Armstrong, preface, Enneads, p. xxii.

[16]     Michael J. B. Allen ‘Marsilio Ficino on Plato, the Neoplatonists and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity’ in Renaissance Quarterly, 37 (4), (Renaissance Society of America: New York, 1984) p. 560.

[17]     For Plotinus’ distinction between physical matter and the principle of evil, see Ennead VI.9.11 (On the Good or the One).

[18]     Armstrong, Introductory Note to Ennead II.5 (On the movement of Heaven), p. 153.

[19]     See Rist, ‘Plotinus on Matter and Evil’, p. 158.

[20]     Rist, ‘Plotinus on Matter and Evil’, p. 156.

[21]     Rist, ‘Plotinus on Matter and Evil’, p. 160.

[22]     C.f. Ennead II.5.5 (On what exists potentially and what actually): “cast out and utterly separated, and unable to change itself”.

[23]     S. T. Coleridge, Huntington Library HM 8195 (On the Divine Ideas), 45; see also ‘Comparative Etymology’ (1826) in Shorter Works and Fragments, p. 1347, and in the same work ‘On the Trinity’ (1833), p. 1510-1512, where Coleridge equates Prothesis with Absolute Will (hence placing evil in potentia logically within the Ground, prior to its reception of actuality from God).

[24]     J. R. de J. Jackson glosses as “By limiting itself precisely according to divine law”.

[25]     ‘On Redemption’ (1832) in Shorter Works and Fragments, p. 1500-01.

[26]      S. T. Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, ed. John Beer, (London: Princeton N.J.: Routledge; Princeton UP, 1993) Bollingen Series 9, Aphorism on Spiritual Religion B, Aph. XII, p. 294.

[27]      Armstrong, preface, Enneads, p. xxiii.

[28]      Rist, Plotinus on Matter and Evil, p. 157.

[29]     Armstrong, preface, Enneads, p. xiii.

[30]     S. T. Coleridge, Collected Notebooks, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christenson, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957-) Bollingen Series L, 2 vols., vol. IV, 4538 ƒ165v.

[31]     James D. Boulger, Coleridge as Religious Thinker, (New Haven: Yale UP, 1961) p. 134.

[32]     Cf. Douglas Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion: ‘Aids to Reflection’ and the Mirror of the Spirit, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) pp. 82-83.  Hedley shows that for Plotinus the One is free to choose, but only so far as it chooses within its own nature – “For Plotinus the freedom of the One resides in his not being subject to any extrinsic causal power.  The One is not free in the sense of having choice or deliberating, and is not necessitated in the sense of being determined from without.  In this sense all the ‘actions’ of the One are ‘necessary’ in so far as they ensue from his immutable essence. …. Augustine and Aquinas largely inherited the Plotinian vision of the supreme being as actus purus, as perfect actuality.  There is no potentiality in the divine—nothing that God could become.  This Platonic tradition rejected adamantly the anthropomorphism which imagines God as capable of choosing evil.”