The God of Plotinus is the God of Calvinism, who needs the Bible anyway? Part II Immutability and Infinity


Immutability becomes a primary attribute of the Pre-Socratic,  Platonist and Neoplatonist gods.  Parmenides believed real being was immutable, Socrates and Plato would elaborate on real being and the nature of god, but Plotinus would develop a detailed and coherent systematic theology using immutability as one of the foundational concepts of his god.

Augustine considered immutability to be his base attribute.  He credited his conversion on accepting the immutability of God, his ascent to God culminated in the contemplation of the immutable god, and his later writing frequently mentions immutability.  It is generally accepted that Aquinas was an Aristotelian philosopher because of his position on the forms.  However, he is much closer to Plotinus in his concept of Simplicity

Augustine is frequently cited as a student of the Neoplatonism, however, immutability does not seem to be stressed in the Enneads.  Instead, Augustine’s obsession with immutability seems closer to the Eleatic Pre-Socratics and Plato.  The most detailed exposition of immutability from Plotinus is in the sixth Ennead reproduced below.

Plotinus begins by using rational deductions from Aristotle’s unmoved mover to prove immutability.  ( a life which does not move by changing) (ακινητον εις μεταβολην)  Aristotle used unmoved mover to explain immutability since movement is another term for change.  A thing changes by moving from one state of being to another.  An apple loses its freshness and rots.  This is a move from fresh to rotten.  Plotinus will link immoveable to immutable by saying “move by changing.”

The word for changing is the word used by Plato where he explains the concept of static perfection : the perfect does not change, if it changed it would move to something less than perfect.  He is linking the Aristotelian unmoved mover with the god of Plato.

Then does he change himself (μεταβάλλει) for the better and to something fairer, or for the worse and to something uglier than himself?” Plato. Republic, Book II, [381b]

Plotinus will explain immutability with these three phrases:

nothing puts it out of itself (εξιστημι),or alters it (ουδε τι τρεπει)  or make it deviate(παρακινει)

Of course if the one is immutable then that implies impassibility, nothing can alter it or make it deviate, or force the one out of its stance.  Not only is the immutable eternal but it is also impassible; unaffected (απαθες). Impassibility is being defined here as not subject to outside influence.

If god (a type of real being) does not change then he is eternal. ( For by this… real beings stand still in eternity)

Because god is immutable he has the attribute of aseity: God is not in need of any other being or thing to sustain himself.( if there was anything, it (the one) would exist because of it)

 Here is the interdependence of the attributes of the God of Rationality, each trait supports the other.  As with all chains and interrelated attributes, there is a terrible weakness.  If god is not immutable then the other attributes are suspect.

But when you contemplate the substance running through them, giving them a life which does not move by changing (ακινητον εις μεταβολην), and the thought and the wisdom and knowledge in them, you will laugh at the lower nature for its pretension to substantiality.  For by this substance life abides and intellect abides, and the real beings stand still in eternity; nothing puts it out of itself (εξιστημι),or alters it (ουδε τι τρεπει)  or make it deviate(παρακενει); for there is nothing beside it to get a grip on it; but if there was anything, it would exist because of it.  And if there were anything opposed to it, it would be unaffected  (απαθες) by this very opposed thing; but, existing itself, it would not have made this opposite exist, but some other cause before it, and that would be the really existent(to on); so that Parmenides in this way was right in saying that being was one; and it is not unaffected(απαθες)  because of the absence of anything else, but because it really exists; for real being alone can exist by itself.[1]

In the fifth Ennead, Plotinus will again link the ideas of immutability, infinity and impassibility.

If anything comes into being after it, we must think that it necessarily does so while the One remains continually turned towards itself.

So if there is a second after the One, it must have come to be without the One moving at all, without any inclination or act of will or any sort of activity on its part.  How did it come to be then…It must be a radiation from it while it remains unchanged, like the bright light of the sun which, so to speak,  runs round it, springing from it continually while it remains unchanged.[2]

Here is the link between impassibility, infinity, and immutability.  Plotinus had to sell the idea of a simple and immutable One who also was responsible for sustaining the whole universe.  To the ancient Greeks the Sun seemed to be an infinite source of power.  The Sun remained unchanged but heated the earth.  The Sun also seemed to be impassible.  Nothing done by men on earth affected the Sun.  How does he explain impassibility? The One continually looks toward itself, not what he creates.

At same time the One must sustain the world without losing or expending something from himself.  Plotinus thought the Sun was shining but not losing anything.  He believed the energy coming from the Sun was inexhaustible.  This is also his idea of Omnipotence.

The whole method of immutability is based on a faulty method.  How can one base the character of God on the immutability of his being?  How does this systematic theology work on individuals?  Does an individual acquire a sweet nature because he devours sweet candy bars?  The metaphysical method of the reification of God is wrong.  It is wrong to build a god on a bunch of adjectives.  (simplicity, immutability, eternality etc.) For instance God is love and shows mercy but he is also a just god.

Exodus 34:6-8

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

Of course God is merciful and gracious but is he perfect mercy and graciousness.  By only looking at mercy, it is tempting to believe in a God who has unconditional love, forgiving all iniquities and never punishing evil.  Scripture never shows God as being perfectly or unconditionally forgiving.  To place an adjective on God like mercy, and interpret all the actions of God in this way would be contrary to the Scriptural presentation of God.

God is merciful, but it is abundantly clear, God eventually punishes an unrepentant sinner.  God is not merciful then but he is being just.  God is not perfectly just or everyone would die without mercy.  His justness is tempered by his mercy.  It is impossible to build God in the likeness of a string of adjectives.

Hosea 11:8-12

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,

Hosea was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II ( 786–746 BC).  It is presumed his  prophetic announcements lasted until the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721BC.  In Hosea God is in an act of deliberation.  Will he execute justice and destroy Ephraim or not?   He is torn by his love for Ephraim and his desire to execute justice.  In this situation, God decides not to execute justice but to practice mercy.

The translators ridiculously translate verse nine into “ I will not again destroy Ephraim.”  Ephraim has not yet been destroyed when this prophesy is made.  If Ephraim were destroyed then the phrase “I will not execute my anger” is wrong.  This is a mistranslation based on a philosophical bias.  What he says is “I will not turn to destroy Ephraim.”  He is practicing mercy.

However, God eventually loses patience with Israel (Ephraim) and destroys it.   How does one reconcile the difference between “I will not destroy Ephraim” and “I have cast out all Ephraim.”

Jeremiah 7:15

And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.

2 Kings 17:18

Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.

God lost patience with Ephraim just as he will eventually lose patience with Judah in the deportation to Babylon.  The statement “I will not turn to destroy Ephraim” is a temporary state of affairs.  God is say just like every statement, it is my intention not to destroy Ephraim now.  Of course when Ephraim persists in its evil ways God is just when he changes his mind, turns and destroys Ephraim.

Jeremiah 18:9-10

And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.



The Greek word for infinity was apeiron (Greek apeiron) which literally means without end or completion.  It is sometimes translated as unbounded, infinite, indefinite, or undefined.  In Greek the infinite was a pejorative word.  It stood for the chaos out of which the world was formed.  Thus, apeiron meant infinitely large, totally disordered, complex, and not subject to determination.

Plotinus had a huge influence in bring a positive connotation to the word.  His spin on the word was to negate the limits of predication.  In grammar the function of predication is to limit.  The typical copulative sentence has a subject, the verb “is”, and a predicate.  As an example “The rose is red.”  The rose in the sentence does not include yellow roses, pink roses, black roses.  The rose is limited to red.

Plotinus will say the One is beyond being and not subject to limitations usually imposed on beings.

This phrase “beyond being” does not mean that it is a particular thing, for it makes no positive statement about it-and it does no say its name, but all it implies is that it is “not this”.  But if this is what the phrase does, it in no way comprehends the One: it would be absurd to seek to comprehend that boundless  (apleton) nature; for anyone who want to do this has put himself out of the way following at all, even the least distance, in its traces…[3]

The One is  “infinite” or “unbounded” in the sense of being “without limit.” It is taken for granted that anything unbounded is incapable of being measured or predicated or defined.  Predication is the function of reasoned dialogue.  Without predication the one is ineffable.  This is a concept of the apophatic mysticism.

Being must not fluctuate, so to speak, in the indefinite  (aoristw), but must be fixed by limit and stability.[4]

Plotinus speaks of the power as unbounded, or of the One indirectly in terms of “negative theology” denying that is can be defined that to which they refer.  Even the terms the one and the good strictly speaking are misleading if taken in a positive sense and ar meant only as a sort of negative designation of the fundamentally unnameable.  The transcendent exists but can never be defined.  Its definition in fact could only be “the indefinable”

Plotinus understands infinity as being some type of perfection.  Aristotle understands infinity as chaos.  The One is infinite because he is ascetic (self-sufficient, when he lacks nothing) and omnipotent (sense of power).  Since the One is beyond being he should not be limited to those categories that limit beings.

For he is the First.  But he is not limited: for by what?   But he is not unlimited  (apeiron)  like a magnitude either: for where should he proceed to, or what should he intend to gain when he lacks nothing?  Bu he has infinity (apeiron) in the sense of power: for he will never be otherwise, or fail, since the things which do not fail exist through him.[5]

In Scriptures, God seems to be limited by place, time and knowledge.  The traditional infinite series of omnipresent, omniscience and omnipotent do not apply to God.  If God is everywhere it is meaningless to say God is in heaven, or to say God left the Temple of Jerusalem.  The Scripture never represents God as being out of time.  God is always in temporal time.  God assigns power to angels and principalities, he does not have all power.

By assigning infinity to God, Plotinus advances the propaganda of apophatic mysticism.  The God of Scriptures is the God of revelation.  He is very effable and knowable.  He is not knowable exhaustive but He is knowable comprehensively.

[1] Plotinus. Ennead VII. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. 1988. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 73-75.  VI,6,18)

[2] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. 1984. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001.  P 31 (V,1,6)

[3] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984-2001. P 173 (II,4,7)

[4] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984-2001. P 37 (V,1,7)

[5] Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984-2001. P 187 (V.5.10)

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