The Fountain of Life (Fons Vitae) (excerpt), by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, tr. by Harry E. Wedeck , at sacred-texts.com
Master: You have understood it quite well. But what follows?
Pupil: It follows that all that is in the inferior substances is in the superior substances, but not that all that is in the superior substances is in the inferior substances. Thus growth and generation are in the animal soul, but sensation and locomotion are not in the vegetative soul, and sensation and locomotion are in the rational soul, while reason and knowledge are not in the animal soul. And I think that this principle is valid until the universal matter is reached and the universal form that envelops every form. It can thereby be seen that the more the substances are superior, the more forms they envelop, the more universal and comprehensive they are, until the universal primal matter is reached that supports all things.
Master: You must deepen your knowledge of the actions of these substances upon each other, according to the procedure used in this discussion.
Pupil: What do you mean?
Master: It is necessary, I repeat, for you to fix your attention on the demonstration of the existence of these substances, on the inquiry into the faculties of each of them, on the determination of their operations, on the comparison of the actions of each of these substances with the actions of the others, on the distinction of the impressions of these substances upon others, of their common characters and their differences, and all that is embraced by the types of logical questions relating to their investigation, so that what constitutes their similarity and their belonging to the same genus may be clear to you. You will then understand the action of some upon others and you will see the perfection of some in relation to the imperfection of others. And you must know that the knowledge of the simple substances and the intelligence of what is possible to understand about
them are the greatest sense of repose and the greatest pleasure for the rational soul. And on the knowledge that the soul possesses of these substances, on its power to penetrate in them, on its perception of their forms and their properties, on its knowledge of their actions and their passions, depend for the soul the knowledge of the divinity and its union with it. Apply yourself therefore to the study of the simple substances and inspire yourself with the greatest zeal, particularly for what concerns the soul and the intelligence, for they possess all things and the forms of all things are in them.
Pupil: Since you have opened for me the gateway to knowledge of the simple substances and you have encouraged me to follow the path that leads to this knowledge, let us return to our discussion, I mean to the demonstration of matter and form in the intelligibles, as we did for the sensibles.
Master: When the existence of the intelligible substances is established, the existence of matter and form will be practically demonstrated to you. Linger then over the study of these substances and do not hurry, in your eagerness, toward that which follows, for on the knowledge that you will have of the existence of these substances, will depend your knowledge of what follows, and vice versa.
Pupil: The existence of these substances is to me a fact established by the method that consists in considering the different actions and that is founded on the belonging of these actions to the same genus and on their similarity. But I should like you to point out to me now, on the whole question of these substances, a general method to complete my knowledge of this subject.
Master: Consider the nearest of the sensible
spheres and then in ascending order: you will find that the more the spheres rise, the greater their body, the more subtle their essence, the stronger their action, and the more simple their motion.
Pupil: I am considering this and I find it as you said.
Master: Also observe the motion of the universal body and observe the motions of all the spheres that are beneath it.
Pupil: I observe them and I find that they all move on account of the first motion with which the universal body moves.
Master: Regarding what you see of the motion of the universal body, has it its cause in the body or in some other thing?
Pupil: I think that the universal body finds in itself the cause of this motion.
Master: Is it possible that all the bodies that are beneath the universal body do not move by themselves, as you granted, while the universal body does move by itself?
Pupil: Why is it impossible?
Master: If it is possible, it may be that the essence of the universal body differs from the essence of the other bodies inferior to it.
Pupil: What proof is there that the essences of the bodies are a single essence?
Master: The proof is that they have motion in common.
Pupil: Do you think that the union of the superior spheres and of the inferior spheres in motion makes their common essence necessary?
Master: Note too their duration and their permanence, for in that they differ.
Pupil: If all bodies move on account of the motion
of the universal body, why do the motions of these bodies differ in direction, while the motion of the universal body is one and has a single direction?
Master: It appears from this that the motion of the universal body is not by itself.
Pupil: How so?
Master: If its motion were by itself, the motion of the bodies that it moves could not differ from it in the direction of their motion.
Pupil: Do you think that by saying of the motion of the universal body that it is not by itself you are not constrained to say that everything mobile has a mover and so on to infinity?
Master: The proposition that everything mobile has a mover and so on to infinity is invalidated by the lack of mobility in the inferior extremity, by the fact that motion cannot be by itself, and that all motion cannot be the cause of motion.
Pupil: What will you say if, returning to the charge, I say that the motion of the universal body is by itself?
Master: I know the falsity of this assertion from what precedes. It is demonstrated still more conclusively by the diversity of the bodies in motion and existence and in the deprivation of motion.
Pupil: Add an explanation at this point.
Master: If the universal body moves by itself, it is necessary that it should be at the same time mover and mobile.
Pupil: How so?
Master: Because one of its parts cannot be motive only or mobile only.
Pupil: Why not?
Master: How can one of its parts be not mobile, when it is mobile by itself? For if it were mobile by
itself, it would necessarily be entirely mobile and entirely motive: which is impossible.
Pupil: You have shown me that it would be inadmissible to say that the universal body is entirely mobile by itself.
Master: The result would also be that the motions of the parts of the body would not follow each other without the first motion pushing the second one and the passive object depending on the non-agent.
Pupil: Now I know in four ways that the universal body cannot move by itself. But is there still another way of demonstrating this?
Master: Yes, there is another way, besides those already shown: it is to consider that the heavens have a beginning and that they are not eternal.
Pupil: You have enlightened me. But if the heavens are not mobile by themselves, is it possible that they are moved without an intermediary by the First Mover?
Master: I did not believe that you could doubt that the heavens, that are the substance supporting the categories, are moved without an intermediary by the First Mover, after the logical proofs given according to the two methods that we have indicated for discovering the existence of the simple substances, that is, the method that consists in examining the properties of the First Author and those of the substance that supports the categories, and the method that consists in studying the impressions and the actions of these substances on others: since the substance that supports the categories comes from another essence from which it emanates. Understand from this that this substance does not emanate from the First Mover. Furthermore, I declare that if the dense unites with the subtle through an intermediary that
agrees with these two extremes and if it receives its impression through an intermediary, as the human body receives the action of the rational soul through the intermediary of the animal spirit, as man receives intelligence through the intermediary of the rational soul, as the visual faculty unites with the bodies through the intermediary of the pupil and the subtle air, and as the universal soul unites with the bodies through the intermediary of the heavens that are a mean between the corporeal things and the spiritual things, similarly it is proved from this also that between the substance that supports the categories and the First Author there are also intermediary substances.
Pupil: I do not doubt, on the strength of the proofs that you have advanced, that there are substances intermediary between the substance that supports the categories and the First Author. But I should like you to increase my knowledge of the existence of these substances. Expand then the demonstration of this question.
Master: Do you not assert that some sensibles are superior to others and that the superior sensible is above the inferior?
Pupil: Why should I not?
Master: What is the cause of this?
Pupil: The cause is the difference between the inferior and the superior. And that is why it is impossible that the first should be in the rank of the second.
Master: Do you not assert also that the intelligible substance is higher and more subtle than the sensible substance?
Pupil: I do not say otherwise.
Master: Do you not also assert that some intelligible
substances are higher and more subtle than others?
Pupil: Why is that necessary?
Master: For the reason that makes some sensibles higher and more subtle than others.
Pupil: What follows from this?
Master: The following reasoning results from this: If some sensible bodies are more noble than others, and if the superior body is more noble than the inferior, it is necessary that the highest of the superior beings should be the most noble and the strongest and that the last of the inferior beings should be the most worthless.
Pupil: It must be so.
Master: Therefore between the superior extremity of the sensibles and the superior extremity of the intelligibles, there is the same relation as between the inferior extremity of the sensibles and the inferior extremity of the intelligibles. Understand by this the existence of the simple substances, intermediary between the First Author and the substance that supports the categories.
Pupil: The existence of the simple substances is henceforth demonstrated by the methods that you acquainted me with. But a doubt on the matter still perplexes me when I consider our proposition that the forms borne by the substance that supports the categories are impressed by the simple substances and come from them. I see that the reason is disposed to understand this and that the proofs adduced previously on this question allow it to admit it, for these forms are accidents and nothing prevents them from coming from the simple substances and being united with them, as the sun's light emanates from the sun
and unites with bodies. But how can one say that some simple substances emanate from others and that the essence of the substance supporting the categories emanates from the simple substance that follows it hierarchically?
Master: The essences of the simple substances do not flow at all, but it is their energies and their rays that flow and spread. For the essences of each of these substances are finite and limited and not extended to infinity, while their rays emanate from them and cross their boundaries and their limits on account of the subordination of these substances to the first emanation that proceeds from the Will. Just as the light that, from the sun, is diffused in the airfor this light transcends the limits of the sun and extends through the air, while the sun in itself does not go outside its limitsand just as the animal power flows from the rational faculty, whose abode is the brain, in the sinews and the musclesfor this power penetrates and spreads in all parts of the body, while in itself the substance of the soul does not spread and does not extendso every simple substance extends its ray and its light and spreads them on that which is inferior, although the substance retains its rank and does not cross its boundaries.
Pupil: So, according to your statement, it is necessary that whatever emanates from the simple substances should be energies and qualities and not substances themselves.
Master: I shall show you that the rays that emanate from each of the substances do not exclude the concept of substantiality, although they are energies since they emanate from them. I assert that it is necessary that the cause should be more worthy of the concept of substantiality than the effect. And since this is
so, it is necessary that all the light that streams from the superior toward the inferior should not be really and completely worthy of the concept of substantiality in relation to the first substance that is its cause. And from this viewpoint we may say of these substances that they differ in perfection from the point of view of substantiality. Therefore the superior substance among them is more worthy of the concept of substantiality than the inferior one.
But although the inferior is not equal to the superior in the concept of substantiality, it still does not exclude the concept of substantiality, for there emanates from the superior an energy that is a substance for that which emanates from it. Therefore the inferior substance is, in one sense, an energy for the superior substance from which it emanates, and, in another sense, it is a substance for the virtue that emanates from it. That is why nothing prevents substance from emanating from substance, when the substance from which it emanates is a simple substance.
Pupil: Explain this in more detail.
Master: It is axiomatic that whatever emanates from something belongs to the same genus as that from which it emanates, although both differ in disposition. And as the simple substance is a substance that communicates, it is necessary that what emanates from it should be a substance, although these two substances differ in disposition. Moreover, as the thing does not communicate for the reason that it is an accident, nothing prevents substance from emanating from substance. Now the proof that the emanation does not come from the fact that the thing that is communicated is an accident, is that a thing may be an accident without being communicated. This shows that the cause of the emanation is the subtlety of
the light and the energy. Moreover, since the accidents communicate their essences although they are weaker than the substances, it is all the more reason for the substances to communicate their essences. Moreover, the cause that prevents bodies from emanating from bodies is that quantity, by reason of its dense and limited nature, is opposed to substance communicating its essence. Now as the simple substances are exempt from quantity, nothing prevents substances from emanating from them. Moreover, the energies and the accidents that emanate from substances, as light, heat, and other similar things, emanate from the energies and the accidents that these substances have, and not from the essences of these substances. Which proves that everything that emanates is similar to that from which it emanates and that only what resembles a thing emanates from it. It is therefore necessary that from the simple substances there should emanate a thing that is similar to it, that is, a simple substance. Moreover, if the superior substances did not give their essences to the inferior substances, they would not give them their names and their definitions. But they do give them their names and their definitions. Therefore they give them their essences. Now since the superior substances give their essences to the inferior substances and their essences are substances, it is evident that the essences of the inferior substances come from the essences of the superior substances. Moreover, as forms emanate from forms, so substances emanate from substances.
Pupil: Since it is said of the soul that it emanates from the intelligence, show me whether it is outside the essence of the intelligence or in the interior of its essence. For if it is outside the essence of the intelligence, it does not emanate from it. If on the other
hand it is in the interior of the essence of the intelligence, there is no difference between them.
Master: The soul issues from the essence of the intelligence as power issues from a strong thing and does not enter its essence. But the fact that it issues horn its essence does not prevent it from emanating from it, for whatever emanates from a thing issues from the thing from which it emanates and withdraws from it on so emanating. Thus the soul emanates from the intelligence and issues from the essence of the intelligence on emanating from it: and the fact that the soul issues from the intelligence as power issues from a strong object does not prevent the soul from being a substance, for the thing that emanates from the intelligence is a substance in itself, although it is an accident in this respect that it emanates from another substance.
Pupil: Since some of the simple substances emanate from others, observe that the higher ones among them must diminish in themselves since the lower ones emanate from them.
Master: Since the inferior substances emanate from the essences of the superior substances as power issues from a strong thing, and not as essence issues from essence, it is necessary that the essences of the superior substances should not diminish in giving birth to the inferior substances. Similarly, it is necessary that these energies, I mean the inferior substances, should not separate from the essences of the superior substances, although they emanate from them. Thus the heat of fire does not diminish and does not leave it, although the fire produces heat in the air that is around it, and this heat is not that of the fire, for the fire can be withdrawn while the heat remains in the air: moreover, the two things are different and the
heat that the air receives differs in power from that which is in the fire. Similarly, when the light of the sun spreads over the earth, the light that is borne by the essence of the sun is not diminished, although the first light emanates from it, and the light that spreads over the earth is not the light itself that the essence of the sun has. The proof of this is the difference of the subjects and the difference of the lights in power and weakness.
Pupil: Now I know that the energies that emanate from each of the simple substances, although they are the energies and the rays of the substance from which they emanate are still substances, and limited ones, on account of their virtue in themselves and because other energies emanate from them. The doubt that I entertained in this respect is gone. But explain something that comes to my mind, although it does not concern the present question. I find that the more the simple substances descend, the thicker and denser they become, until they become corporeal and finite. I find that the same thing happens with compound substances. I find, lastly, that the action of the divers substances on others is not equally evident. How then is it possible that the divine virtue should become weakened, transformed, and materialized, and that the action of the holy First Author should be more manifest in certain substances than in others, when the divine virtue is the highest degree of virtue, achievement, and perfection of all power and all majesty?
Master: It is impossible that the divine virtue should become weakened, but in the desire that attracts them toward it, the virtues rise and cast a shadow on what is below.
Pupil: Why is this so?
Master: Because every virtue that emanates from a thing is strong around it. It is therefore necessary that the virtue that emanates from the holy First Author should be stronger near him, in proportion as it is in his proximity, than it is elsewhere and far from him.
Pupil: This difference harmonizes with the virtue of a thing if this virtue is not essential to the thing: more so, if it is finite. Now the essential virtue of the First Author is infinite. Therefore it is impossible that this virtue should be stronger near him than it is at a distance. Now this is what I do not understand: How is it possible that something should recede from or approach an infinite thing, that is not enclosed in space, but that is equally in everything as everything is in it?
Master: It is true that the essential virtue of the holy First Author is not finite. But the increase and the diminution that constitute the differences between the forms do not introduce any difference in the efficient virtue in itself and do not make it finite.
Pupil: Why not?
Master: Because the form is received from the efficient virtue in the matter according to the aptitude of the matter in this respect, for if the matter were ready to receive a single form, perfect and without difference, the virtue would not fail to produce it.
Pupil: Why then did you say that the virtue emanating from the First Author is stronger near him, in proportion to his proximity?
Master: Beware of letting the difference of the virtue fall on the essence of the virtue, but attribute it to the essence of the thing that receives its action.
Pupil: How so?
Master: Since the matter that is nearer the source
of the virtue is more ready to receive its action than the matter that is more distant, it is necessary that the virtue in the nearer matter should display more strength than in the more distant matter. Besides, this doctrine is not germane to the present question: it is contained in the science of the Will.
Pupil: All that has been said to establish the existence of the simple substances is sufficient. But summarize your talk and give me a résumé of the meaning of this question.
Master: If you want to envisage the whole, rise from the inferior to the superior. You will see the more subtle, more simple, stronger and more united being, whether matter as regards matter, form as regards form, motion as regards motion. And take the evidence as proof of what is obscure, the compound as proof of the simple, and the effect as proof of the cause, for if you succeed in this, you will attain the goal of your investigation.
Pupil: You have satisfied me on that point. But how can I imagine the order of these substances and their existence in each other?
Master: You must always take the sensible things as images of the intelligibles: then it will be easy for you to picture the intelligible things.
Pupil: What image shall I take from the order of the intelligible substances?
Master: Take as an image the absolute universal body, and that because the inferior is the image of the superior. For if you consider the composition of the absolute body and the order of its parts, the knowledge of the order of the simple substances will be easy for you.
Pupil: Point out to me the terms of the parallelism that there is between the simple substances and the sorts of the universal body.
Master: Place the primal matter opposite the substance that has all the forms of the body, for the matter has all the forms. Place the substance of the intelligence opposite quantity, for the intelligence, having two virtues, is subject to division. Arrange the substance of the soul opposite the figure that encloses quantity. And arrange the substance of nature opposite color, which is the last of the parts of the body, as nature is the last of the simple substances: besides, all color comes from nature. Just as the more the sight penetrates color on reaching the figure, quantity, and substance, the more does the being darken for it and hide on account of its subtlety: and just as the more it returns and leaves the substance for quantity, quantity for figure, and figure for color, the more does the being become perceptible to it from the fact of its density, so the more the intelligence penetrates that which is after the substance with categories, that is, the spiritual substance, until the primal matter is reached that corresponds to the substance, the more does the being on account of its subtlety darken for it and hide. And inversely, as it leaves the matter and returns toward a nearer substance, the being on account of its density becomes alight and more perceptible. The comparison that I make will facilitate your knowledge of the order and the different degrees of the spiritual substances.
And in general when you want to imagine these substances, the manner in which your essence spreads therein and comprehends them, you must raise your intelligence to the supreme intelligible, strip it and purify it of every stain of the sensible, deliver it from the prison of nature, and attain by the virtue of the intelligence to the highest knowledge that you can achieve of the truth of the intelligible substance, until you are as it were divested of the sensible substance
and are in this respect so to speak in a state of ignorance. Then you will enclose in some fashion the entire corporeal world in your essence and you will set it as if in a niche of your soul. When you have done this you will understand the pettiness of the sensible in relation to the grandeur of the intelligible. And the spiritual substances will stand ready within your reach: set before you, you will see them envelop and dominate you, and it will seem to you that your own essence becomes one with these substances. And presently you will think that you are some part of these substances, on account of your connection with the corporeal substance. Then again you will think that you are the entirety of these substances and that there is no difference between them and yourself, on account of the union of your essence with their essences and the conjunction of your form with their forms.
Pupil: I do what you bid me, I rise according to the degrees of the intelligible substances and I stroll in their pleasant gardens. I find the sensible bodies in comparison with the intelligible substances extremely low and extremely imperfect and I see the corporeal world entirely swimming in them like a boat in the sea and a fledgling in the air.
Master: You have observed well and understood well. But if you rise to the universal primal matter and if you are illuminated by its shadow, you will then see that which surpasses all admiration: apply yourself therefore zealously to this, for it is in sight of this that the human soul exists and there is a great joy therein and perfect happiness.
Pupil: Teach me if the energies of these substances are finite or infinite. If they are finite, how do they proceed from an infinite virtue? And if they are
infinite, how does something finite come from them into existence?
Master: The fact is, the Will, that is, the virtue that produces these substances, is finite according to its effect and infinite according to its essence. In these circumstances, its effect is finite. The Will is finite according to its effect because its action has a beginning and that is why it follows the Will. And it is infinite according to its essence, because it has no beginning. Inversely, we must say of the substance of the intelligence that it has a beginning, since it is an effect, and that it is infinite because it is simple and timeless.
Pupil: May heaven shower you with blessings! Show me how to imagine the union of the spiritual substances with the corporeal substances and the union of the spiritual substances with each other.
Master: Observe the union of light with the air, the soul with the body, the intelligence with the soul, and the union of the parts of the body with each other, that is, figure color, quantity, and substance, and their arrangement. And consider from this that the union of the accident with the body, of the accident with the soul, and of the soul with the body is proof of the union of the spiritual substances with each other. There is another proof in the fact that the union increases as the body becomes more subtle.
Pupil: I have often heard philosophers call these spiritual substances circles or spheres. Now it is clear that the figure of the circle is peculiar to the body only.
Master: Do not be surprised at this, for if they have called these substances circles and spheres, it is because some are superior to others and some envelop others.
Pupil: What am I to understand by this superiority and this envelopment?
Master: Just like your understanding of the sustaining in regard to the sustained, and of the cause as regards the caused and of the one knowing in regard to the known.
Pupil: Can we find in the particular substances proof of this envelopment, that would allow us to judge the universal substances?
Master: Consider the virtue of nature: you will find that it envelops the body because it acts in it and the body is passive in regard to it and is clothed with it. Consider also the vegetative soul: you will find that it acts on nature and dominates it and you will find that nature is enveloped by it and experiences its action. Consider likewise the intelligence and the rational soul: you will find that both of them contain all the substances that are beneath them, that they know them, penetrate and dominate them, and particularly the substance of the intelligence, on account of its subtlety and its perfection. From these particular substances, you will conclude that some universal substances contain others and that all of them contain the compound substance in the sense that the soul contains the body and that the intelligence contains the soul. For the inferior substance among them is contained in the superior substance because the latter possesses and knows it. And the universal soul bears the corporeal world in its entirety, imagines and sees all that is in it, as our particular souls possess our bodies, imagine and see all that is in them: and still more the universal intelligence, by reason of its perfection, its faculty to extend, and the nobility of its substance. You will understand thereby how the First Author, sublime and holy, knows all things and
how all things exist in his knowledge. And know this: Just as the essence and the form of the corporeal substance correspond to the essence and the form of the spiritual substance, so the envelopment by the spiritual substance corresponds to the envelopment by the corporeal substances, since the inferior is the image of the superior, as you have often heard it said. In these circumstances, it is evident that the envelopment of the corporeal substance by the spiritual substance indicates that the corporeal substance exists in it and that it is contained in it as all bodies exist in the body of heaven and are contained in it: and the turning of the spiritual substance upon itself in eternity and in permanent duration is like the turning of heaven upon itself by displacement and revolution.
Pupil: Add an explanation to this.
Master: If you will imagine the structure of the whole, that is, the universal body and the spiritual substances that contain it, consider the formation of man and take it as an image. For the body of man corresponds to the universal body and the spiritual substances that move it correspond to the universal substances that move the universal body, and among these spiritual substances the inferior substance obeys the superior substance and is submissive to it, until the motion reaches the substance of the intelligence. You will then find that the intelligence orders and dominates these substances and you will find that all the substances that move the body of man follow the intelligence and obey it while it perceives them and judges them.
Pupil: You have revealed a great mystery to me and a profound principle by telling me that the inferior motion of the universal substances has its cause
in the motion of the substances that are superior to them: and that for this reason the inferior substances are submissive to the superior substances and obey them, until the motion reaches the highest substance. We thus find that all substances are submissive to the highest substance, that they obey it, that they follow it and that they move at its command. And I consider that the order of the particular soul imitates the disposition of the universal world.
If the present discussion had no other result but that, it would be sufficient, for it contains in itself the concept of the universal action and the passivity that are the ultimate end of wisdom.
Master: You have understood well what I have said in realizing that the inferior substances are submissive to the superior substances. Know too that this is the path that leads to perfect happiness and that allows us to obtain true delight, that is our end.
Pupil: You have just proved to me in this third book the existence of the intelligible substances, that no one but you has been able to demonstrate. I have acquired the knowledge of these substances, that nobody but myself acquires, according to my ability, and I have thus begun the study of this question. But let us consider in the fourth book matter and form, since that is our object, and demonstrate your previous thesis, namely, that there are matter and form in the intelligibles as in the sensibles.