Antoine Fabre d’Olivet – Man Is One of the Three Great Powers of the Universe – What the Other Two

Man Is One of the Three Great Powers of the Universe – What the Other Two






Antoine Fabre d’Olivet (1820)

Let us avoid the mistake which nearly all philosophers have made, especially in these modern times, and let us consider that if it is ridiculous to pretend to write upon Man without knowing him, it is both ridiculous and odious pretending to trace a course for him without being perfectly informed about his starting point, the goal for which he strives, and the purpose of his journey. Let us, above all, understand his position, and, since he himself is a power, let us try with attention to find what are the superior or inferior powers with which he must come in contact.

That universal Man is a power is averred by all the sacred codes of nations; it is felt by all the sages; it is even avowed by all true savants. I read in a Dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle, printed quite recently, these remarkable phrases: “Man possesses the essence of organizing power; it is in his brain that the intelligence that governs the formation of beings is confined…He is born the minister and interpreter of the divine Will over all that which breathes…The sceptre of the earth is entrusted to him.” About fifteen centuries before of our era, Moses had put these words in the mouth of the Divinity addressing Man: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” And, a long time before Moses, the legislator of the Chinese had said, in suitable words without figures of speech, that Man is one of the three powers which rule the Universe.

It would be better, without doubt, to receive these texts and an infinite number of others that I could cite in the same sense, than to believe Anaxagoras, whose belief was followed by Helvetius, that man is an animal whose whole intelligence comes from the conformation of his hand, or with Hobbes, followed by Locke and Condillac, that there is nothing innate in him, that he can use nothing without practice, and that he is born wicked and in a state of warfare with his fellow creatures.

But, although it be very true, as all sages and theosophists affirm in attesting the name of the Divinity, that Man is a power destined by the eternal Wisdom to dominate inferior nature, to restore harmony in the discord of its elements, to render co-ordinate its three kingdoms, and to raise them from diversity to unity, it is, however, not true, as men more enthusiastic than judicious have believed without reflection and without examination, that this power should appear upon the earth all made, provided with all its forces, possessing all its developments and, so to speak, descending from heaven surrounded by a glory gathered without trouble and with knowledge acquired without pain. This exaggerated idea which issues from the golden mean, so recommended by the sages, issues also from the truth. Man is a power without doubt, but a power in the germ, which, in order to manifest his properties so as to attain the height to which his destiny calls him, has need of an interior action stimulated by the exertion of an exterior action upon it. He is a celestial plant whose roots attached to the earth can suck up the elementary forces so as to perfect them by a particular process; and which, raising little by little its majestic trunk, covering itself in its season with flowers and intellectual fruits, matures them in the rays of the divine Light, and offers them in sacrifice to the God of the Universe.

This comparison, which is very just, can be continued. A tree, while it is still young, bears as yet no fruits, and the husbandman does not expect it, for he knows that its greatest importance and usefulness exact a longer elaboration and render its fruits less forward; but when the time has come to reap the harvest he does so and each season which renews it must augment the quantity of its fruits, if the excellence of the tree responds to the excellence of the cultivation. When, without injury to its fruitfulness, by exterior accidents, tempests, or destructive winds, the harvest fails many times in succession, the tree is reputed bad and defective and it is as such, following the forcible expression of Jesus, torn up and cast into the fire.

Now, cultivation is to the tree what civilization is to Man. Without the former, the plant, abandoned to a poor and degraded Nature, would bear only ordinary flowers without lustre, only fruits lacteous or resinous, insipid, or bitter and often poisonous; without the latter, Man, delivered to a cruel sort of Nature, severe with him because she does not recognize him as her own child, would develop only out of place, suffering and ferocious, greedy and unfortunate.

It is therefore upon civilization that all in Man depends; it is then upon his social state that the edifice of his grandeur is established. Let us look carefully at these important points; let us not fear to make a study of them. There is no object more worthy of our examination, no study whose results promise us more advantages.

But if Man is, at first, as I have just said, only a power in germ which civilization must develop, whence will come to him the principles of this indispensable culture? I reply that it will be the from the two powers to which he finds himself linked and of which he must form the third, according to the tradition of the Chinese theosophists already cited. These two powers, between which he finds himself placed, are Destiny and Providence. Beneath him is Destiny, nature necéssitée et naturée; above him is Providence, nature libre et naturante. He is himself, as Kingdom of Man, the mediatory will, the efficient form, placed between these two movements, which would be incompatible without him.

The three powers, which I have just named—Providence, Man, considered as the Kingdom of Man, and Destiny—constitute the universal ternary. Nothing escapes their action; all is subject to them in the universe; all except God Himself who, enveloping them in His unfathomable Unity, forms with it the Sacred Tetrad of the ancients, that immense quaternary, which is All in All and outside of which there is nothing.

I shall have much to say in the following work concerning these three powers, and I shall describe as much as is possible for me, their respective action and the part that each of them takes in the diverse events which vary the scene of the world and change the face of the universe. They will be seen appearing together for the first time as motive causes independent one of the other, although equally bound to the unique Cause which rules them, acting according to their nature, jointly or separately, and giving thus sufficient cause for all things. These three powers considered as primal causes are very difficult to define; for, as I have already announced, one would never be able to define a principle; but they can be known by their acts and grasped in their movements, since they do not leave the sphere in which individual man is included as an integral part of Universal Man. What opposes the idea that God may be known and grasped in the same manner as these three powers which emanate from Him is the fact that this absolute Being contains them without being contained and enchains them without being enchained. He holds, according to the beautiful metaphor of Homer, the golden chain which envelops all beings and which descends from the heights of brilliant Olympus to the centre of shadowy Tartarus; but this chain which he moves at His pleasure leaves Him always immobile and free. Let us content ourselves to adore in silence this ineffable Being—this God besides whom there is no other god and, without seeking to sound His fathomless essence, search to understand the powerful ternary in which He is reflected: Providence, Man and Destiny. What I am about to say here will be in substance only what I have already said in my Examens sur les Vers dorés of Pythagoras or elsewhere; but in a subject so exacting it is impossible not to repeat oneself.

Destiny is the inferior and instinctive part of Universal Nature which I have called nature naturée. Its own action is called fatality. The form by which it manifests itself to us is called necessity; it is this which links cause and effect. The three kingdoms of the elementary nature, mineral, vegetable, and animal, are the domain of Destiny; that is to say, everything comes to pass in a manner fatal and forced, according to laws determined beforehand. Destiny gives the principle of nothing but takes possession of it as soon as it is given in order to dominate the consequences. It is by the necessity of these consequences alone that it influences the future and makes itself felt in the present; for all that it possesses personally is in the past. Thus by Destiny we understand that power by which we conceive that the things created are created, that they are thus not otherwise, and that once placed according to their nature they have forced results which are developed successively and necessarily.

At the time when Man appears upon the earth he belongs to Destiny, which for a long time involves him in this vortex and at first subject to its influence as all elementary beings, he carries in him a divine germ which never could entirely be confused with him. This germ, reacted upon by Destiny itself, develops to oppose it. It is a spark of the divine Will which, participating in the universal life, comes into the elementary nature to restore harmony in it. As this germ develops, it operates according to its energy upon forced things, and operates freely upon them. Liberty is its essence. The mystery of its principle is such that its energy augments proportionally as it exerts itself and that its force although indefinitely restrained is never vanquished. When this germ is entirely developed, it constitutes the Will of the Universal Man, one of the three great powers of the Universe. This power, equal to that of Destiny which is inferior to it and even to that of Providence which is superior to it, is quickened only by God Himself to whom the others are equally subjected, each according to his rank, as I have already said. It is the Will of Man, which, as powerful a medium, unites Destiny and Providence; without it, these two extreme powers not only would never unite, but they would not even understand each other. This Will, in revealing its activity, modifies the coexistent things, creates new ones which become immediately the property of Destiny, and prepares for the future consequences in that which is about to be.

Providence is the superior and intellectual part of Universal Nature, which I have called nature naturante. It is a living law emanating from the Divinity, by means of which all things are determined with power to be. All inferior principles emanate from it; all causes draw from its depths their origin and their force. The aim of Providence is the perfection of all beings, and this perfection it receives from God Himself, the irrefutable Type. The means that it has to attain this end is what we call Time. But time does not exist for it according to our ideas. It conceives it as a movement of eternity. This supreme power acts only immediately upon universal things; but this action by a chain of consequences can make itself felt as a mediator for particular things; so that the smallest details of human life can be interested in it, or can be deduced from it, according as they are bound by invisible bonds to universal events. Man is a divine germ which it sows in the fatality of Destiny, so as to change it and to render it master by means of the Will of this mediatory being. This Will, being essentially free, can exercise itself as well upon the action of Providence as upon that of Destiny; but with this difference, however, that, if it really changes the event of Destiny which was fixed and necessary and that by opposing necessity to necessity and Destiny to Destiny, it can do nothing against the providential event precisely because it is indifferent in its form and because it always reaches its goal by any route whatsoever. It is time and form alone which vary. Providence is enchained neither by the one nor the other. The only difference is for Man, who changes the forms of life, shortens or lengthens time, enjoys or suffers, according as he accomplishes good or evil; that is to say, according as he unites his particular action to the universal action or as he discriminates it.

This is what I can say in general of these three great powers which compose the universal ternary and of the action upon which all things depend. I feel certain that the reader, indifferently attentive, will find what I have just said somewhat unsatisfactory and will probably complain of the vagueness and obscurity of my expressions; but it is not my fault if the material is in itself vague and obscure. If the distinction to be made between Providence, Destiny, and the Will of Man had been so easy, if one had been able to arrive without painful efforts at the understanding of these three powers, and if to the evidence of their existence one could have joined the clear and precise classification of their attributes, I know no reason why in these modern times, any savant could not have described their respective action, or have tried to establish upon it the bases of their systems, physical as well as metaphysical, political as well as religious. There should necessarily be some difficulty in making the distinction which I am attempting for the first time since Pythagoras or Kong-Tzée, as the majority of the writers who have preceded me have seen only one principle where there are three.

Some, as Bossuet, have attributed all to Providence; others, as Hobbes, have made all proceed from Destiny; and still others, as Rousseau, have wished to recognize everywhere only the Will of Man. Many men have gone astray following the coldness of their reason or the rage of their passions, and have believed that they saw the truth as much in the writings of Hobbes as in those of Rousseau, and thus, because Destiny and the Will, which both have chosen for the unique motive of their meditations, are easier to grasp than Providence, whose course more lofty and almost always covered with a veil, demands, in order to be perceived, a more calm intelligence, and, in order to be admitted, a faith less bound by the instinctive reason and less troubled by the tempests of the animistic passions.

I should like very much to be able to respond to the expectations of my readers in the manner of the geometrician, to be able to demonstrate to them the three powers in question, and to teach them to understand these directly, wherever their own action manifests itself; but that would be an enterprise as vain as ridiculous. Such a demonstration cannot be contained in a syllogism; a knowledge so extensive cannot result from a dilemma.

Whatever words I employ, the meditation of the reader must supply the insufficiency of the discourse. I should regard myself very fortunate if, after having reached the end of the work in which I am about to engage, this demonstration was found in the ensemble of facts and this knowledge in their comparison and in the application that a judicious reader will not fail to make. I shall neglect nothing in order to facilitate this labour for him, and I shall seize all occasions which present themselves to retrace the general ideas that I have given and to strengthen them by examples.

This Introductory Dissertation could be terminated here, since after having explained the reason and the subject of my work, and after having presented the analysis of my work, and after having presented the analysis of the faculties of the being, who ought to be the principal object, I have revealed in advance the motive causes of the events which I am about to describe in it; however, to reply as much as is possible to the desire of several friends whose approbation is precious to me and who have pressed me to enter into several new details in regard to what I understand by the three great powers which rule the universe, I shalt add, to what I have said in general, an example in particular, taken from the vegetable kingdom—that one of the three inferior kingdoms where the action of these three powers, more balanced and more uniform, appears to offer more influence in the examination.

Let us take an acorn. In this acorn is contained the life proper of an oak, the future germination of the tree which bears this name, its root, trunk, branches, arborization, fructification, all that which constitutes the oak, with the incalculable succession of oaks which can arise from it. Here are two powers clearly manifest to me. First, I perceive an occult power, incomprehensible, impossible to grasp in its essence, which has infused in this acorn the potential life of the oak, which has specified this life as the life of an oak, an not the life of an elm, a poplar, a walnut, or any other tree. This life which manifests itself under the vegetable form and under the vegetable form of the oak pertains nevertheless to universal life. All that is, is; there are not two verbs to be. Now this occult power which gives the power of being and which specifies the life in the power of being is called Providence. Secondly, in the acorn is an obvious power, comprehensible, sizable in its forms, which, manifesting itself as the necessary effect of the vital infusion of which I have spoken and which has been accomplished, one knows not how, will irresistibly show why, that is to say, it will result in an oak, every time that the acorn finds itself in a condition suitable for this. This power which appears always as the consequence of a principle or the result of a cause is called Destiny. There is this notable difference between Destiny and Providence: that Destiny has need of a condition as we have just seen, in order to exist; whereas Providence has no necessity for being. To exist is therefore the verb of Destiny; but Providence alone, is.

However, the moment that I examine this acorn I have the sensation of a third power which is not in the acorn and which can dispose of it; this power, which belongs to the essence of Providence because it is, depends also upon the forms of Destiny because it exists. I perceive this power free, since it is in me and nothing prevents me from developing it according to the extent of my strength. I hold the acorn, I can eat it and assimilate it thus with my substance; I can give it to an animal that will eat it; I can destroy it by crushing it beneath my feet; the acorn is destroyed. is its Destiny annihilated? No, it is changed; a new Destiny, which is my work, commences for it. The débris of the acorn decomposes according to fatal, fixed, and irresistible laws; the elements which were united in order to enter into its combination are dissolved, each returns to its place, and the life, for which they served as covering, unalterable in its essence, carried anew by its appropriate vehicle in the nourishing channels of the oak, will fertilize another acorn and once more offers itself to the chances of Destiny. The power which can thus take possession of the principles given by Providence and act effectively upon the consequences of Destiny is called Will of Man.

This Will can act in the same manner upon all things, physically as well as metaphysically, subject to the sphere of activity; for nature is everywhere alike. Not only can it interrupt and change Destiny, but, by modifying all the consequences, it can also transform the providential principles and that is without doubt its most brilliant advantage. I will give an example of this modification and of this transformation in the following comparison which I have made in the vegetable kingdom as the easiest to grasp and to generalize.

Suppose that, instead of examining as acorn, it is an apple that I examine, a sour, wild apple, which has as yet received only the influences of Destiny; if I sow a seed of this apple and if I cultivate with care the tree which springs from it, the fruits which are brought forth will be perceptibly improved, and by cultivation will be improved more and more. Without this cultivation, the effect of my will, nothing could improve it; for Destiny is a stationary power which carries nothing to perfection; but once I possess an apple-tree improved by cultivation, I can, by means of grafting, make use of this apple-tree in improving many others, modifying their destiny, and sour as they are, make them sweet. I can do more; I can by conveying the principle of another species into these seedlings thus transform sterile shrubs into fruitful trees. Now that which operates in one régime by means of cultivation operates in another by means of civilization. The civil and religious institutions accomplish here what the diverse cultivations and graftings accomplish there.

I seems to me, after what I have said, that the respective actions of Providence, Destiny, and the Will of Man, are very easy to distinguish in the vegetable kingdom; it is much less so in the Kingdom of Man; but it does not escape to such an extent that the mind’s eye cannot grasp it readily, when the mind can once admit its existence. The action of Destiny and that of the Will move quite openly, that of Providence is, I admit, more shrouded and more veiled; it must be thus, so that it can never be comprehended. If man could foretell what the designs of Providence are, he might, in virtue of his free will, oppose their execution and this must never be, at least directly.

However, there is a last question which one can address to me upon the essence of the three universal powers, the action of which I am about to try to explain for the first time. I have said that it emanates from God Himself and forms a ternary which the divine Unity envelops; but are we to conceive them as three distinct beings? No; but as three distinct lives in the same being; three laws, three modes of being, three natures comprised in one single nature. Man, whose metaphysical constitution I have given, is an abstract image of the universe; he lives equally the three lives which his volitive unity envelops. In comparing the universe to Man, we can conceive that Providence represents there the intellectual sphere, Destiny the instinctive sphere, and the Will of Man itself, the animistic sphere.

These spheres are not three distinct beings, although, to avoid lengthy phrasing, and paraphrasing, I will personify them often in describing their action; they are, as I have said, three different lives, living the universal life and giving particular life to a multitude of providential, instinctive, and animistic beings, that is to say, which follow the law of Providence, Destiny, or the Will act, that will signify that the providential, prophetic, or volitive law unfolds itself, becomes efficient cause, and produces such or such effect, such or such event. This will signify also, according to the occasion which will be easily perceived, that any beings whatever, subject to one of these laws, serve or provoke this movement; and to cite one example among a thousand, when I say Providence conducts Moses, the phrase will signify that the providential law is the law of this divine man and that he lived chiefly in the intellectual life of which it is the regulator. When I say that Destiny provokes the taking of Constantinople by the Turks that will signify that the taking of this city is a fatal consequence of anterior events and that motive of the Turks who take possession of it hold to the prophetic law to which they are obedient. When I say finally that Luther is the instrument of the Will of Man which provokes a schism in Christianity, that will signify that Luther, drawn along by very strong animistic passions, makes himself the interpreter of all the passions analogous to his own, and presents to them a focus wherein their rays, coming to meet and to be reflected, cause a moral conflagration which tears the Christian cult into shreds.

After having given these explanations and interpretations, I do not believe that I have yet clearly explained all; but I am, in short, obliged to rely upon the sagacity of the reader which will supply what I may have omitted. Determined to reveal what my studies and my meditations have taught me regarding the origin of human society and the history of Man, I have dared, in a few pages, to run through an interval of twelve thousand years. I have found myself in the presence of a mass of facts which I have tried to classify and a host of beings whose character I have rapidly sketched. My pen, consecrated to truth, has never flinched before it; I have always told it with the strong conviction of telling it; if my readers can recognize it, by the indelible sign with which Providence has marked it, their approbation will be the kindest recompense for my labours. If, after mature reflections, they judge that I have been in error, I shall still rely upon the equity of their judgement that they will at least believe in my sincerity which makes it impossible for me to want to deceive any one.