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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On Matter and Form
By Solomon ibn Gabirol (Avicebron) (1021?–1058)
From the ‘Fountain of Life,’ Fifth Treatise

INTELLIGENCE is finite in both directions: on the upper side, by reason of will, which is above it; on the lower, by reason of matter, which is outside of its essence. Hence, spiritual substances are finite with respect to matter, because they differ through it, and distinction is the cause of finitude; in respect to forms they are infinite on the lower side, because one form flows from another. And we must bear in mind that that part of matter which is above heaven, the more it ascends from it to the principle of creation, becomes the more spiritual in form, whereas that part which descends lower than the heaven toward quiet will be more corporeal in form. Matter, intelligence, and soul comprehend heaven, and heaven comprehends the elements. And just as, if you imagine your soul standing at the extreme height of heaven, and looking back upon the earth, the earth will seem but a point, in comparison with the heaven, so are corporeal and spiritual substance in comparison with the will. And first matter is stable in the knowledge of God, as the earth in the midst of heaven. And the form diffused through it is as the light diffused through the air….  1
  We must bear in mind that the unity induced by the will (we might say, the will itself) binds matter to form. Hence that union is stable, firm, and perpetual from the beginning of its creation; and thus unity sustains all things.  2
  Matter is movable, in order that it may receive form, in conformity with its appetite for receiving goodness and delight through the reception of form. In like manner, everything that is, desires to move, in order that it may attain something of the goodness of the primal being; and the nearer anything is to the primal being, the more easily it reaches this, and the further off it is, the more slowly and with the longer motion and time it does so. And the motion of matter and other substances is nothing but appetite and love for the mover toward which it moves, as, for example, matter moves toward form, through desire for the primal being; for matter requires light from that which is in the essence of will, which compels matter to move toward will and to desire it: and herein will and matter are alike. And because matter is receptive of the form that has flowed down into it by the flux of violence and necessity, matter must necessarily move to receive form; and therefore things are constrained by will and obedience in turn. Hence by the light which it has from will, matter moves toward will and desires it; but when it receives form, it lacks nothing necessary for knowing and desiring it, and nothing remains for it to seek for. For example, in the morning the air has an imperfect splendor from the sun; but at noon it has a perfect splendor, and there remains nothing for it to demand of the sun. Hence the desire for the first motion is a likeness between all substances and the first Maker, because it is impressed upon all things to move toward the first; because particular matter desires particular form, and the matter of plants and animals, which, in generating, move toward the forms of plants and animals, are also influenced by the particular form acting in them. In like manner the sensible soul moves toward sensible forms, and the rational soul to intelligible forms, because the particular soul, which is called the first intellect, while it is in its principle, is susceptible of form; but when it shall have received the form of universal intelligence, which is the second intellect, and shall become intelligence, then it will be strong to act, and will be called the second intellect; and since particular souls have such a desire, it follows that universal souls must have a desire for universal forms. The same thing must be said of natural matter,—that is, the substance which sustains the nine categories; because this matter moves to take on the first qualities, then to the mineral form, then to the vegetable, then to the sensible, then to the rational, then to the intelligible, until at last it is united to the form of universal intelligence. And this primal matter desires primal form; and all things that are, desire union and commixture, that so they may be assimilated to their principle; and therefore, genera, species, differentiæ, and contraries are united through something in singulars.  3
  Thus, matter is like an empty schedule and a wax tablet; whereas form is like a painted shape and words set down, from which the reader reaches the end of science. And when the soul knows these, it desires to know the wonderful painter of them, to whose essence it is impossible to ascend. Thus matter and form are the two closed gates of intelligence, which it is hard for intelligence to open and pass through, because the substance of intelligence is below them, and made up of them. And when the soul has subtilized itself, until it can penetrate them, it arrives at the word, that is, at perfect will; and then its motion ceases, and its joy remains.  4
  An analogy to the fact that the universal will actualizes universal form in the matter of intelligence is the fact that the particular will actualizes the particular form in the soul without time, and life and essential motion in the matter of the soul, and local motion and other motions in the matter of nature. But all these motions are derived from the will; and so all things are moved by the will, just as the soul causes rest or motion in the body according to its will. And this motion is different according to the greater or less proximity of things to the will. And if we remove action from the will, the will will be identical with the primal essence; whereas, with action, it is different from it. Hence, will is as the painter of all forms; the matter of each thing as a tablet; and the form of each thing as the picture on the tablet. It binds form to matter, and is diffused through the whole of matter, from highest to lowest, as the soul through the body; and as the virtue of the sun, diffusing its light, unites with the light, and with it descends into the air, so the virtue of the will unites with the form which it imparts to all things, and descends with it. On this ground it is said that the first cause is in all things, and that there is nothing without it.  5
  The will holds all things together by means of form; whence we likewise say that form holds all things together. Thus, form is intermediate between will and matter, receiving from will, and giving to matter. And will acts without time or motion, through its own might. If the action of soul and intelligence, and the infusion of light are instantaneous, much more so is that of will.  6
  Creation comes from the high creator, and is an emanation, like the issue of water flowing from its source; but whereas water follows water without intermission or rest, creation is without motion or time. The sealing of form upon matter, as it flows in from the will, is like the sealing or reflection of a form in a mirror, when it is seen. And as sense receives the form of the felt without the matter, so everything that acts upon another acts solely through its own form, which it simply impresses upon that other. Hence genus, species, differentia, property, accident, and all forms in matter are merely an impression made by wisdom.  7
  The created soul is gifted with the knowledge which is proper to it; but after it is united to the body, it is withdrawn from receiving those impressions which are proper to it, by reason of the very darkness of the body, covering and extinguishing its light, and blurring it, just as in the case of a clear mirror: when dense substance is put over it its light is obscured. And therefore God, by the subtlety of his substance, formed this world, and arranged it according to this most beautiful order, in which it is, and equipped the soul with senses, wherein, when it uses them, that which is hidden in it is manifested in act; and the soul, in apprehending sensible things, is like a man who sees many things, and when he departs from them, finds that nothing remains with him but the vision of imagination and memory.  8
  We must also bear in mind that, while matter is made by essence, form is made by will. And it is said that matter is the seat of God, and that will, the giver of form, sits on it and rests upon it. And through the knowledge of these things we ascend to those things which are behind them, that is, to the cause why there is anything; and this is a knowledge of the world of deity, which is the greatest whole: whatever is below it is very small in comparison with it.  9

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