The principle which orders this whole world, in terms of providence, is the logos. It is the rational side of the nous, the mind. Now you will have some difficulty in distinguishing these three concepts, perhaps, so let me repeat this because it is important for the later development of the Logos doctrine. After the abysmal One, beyond every number and everything special, we have the nous. We can call it perhaps the principle of self-consciousness in which God has present all the potentialities of being, all the essences which appear in reality. The second principle, the soul, the principle of movement, of life, also of person. The third principle is not another hierarchy but is only the dynamic side of nous, the principle of reason or logos, which organizes everything providentially, and gives it its place. It is the natural law, to use a modern expression, to which everything is subjected, in physics and in living bodies. The nous is not the logos; it is, so to speak, the source of all contents, but the logos gives order to them. The logos is the more dynamic principle, which is the providentially working power which directs the natural laws and the ethical laws.
Now I come to the next step in this system. The soul, because of its ambiguity, is the dynamic force which now changes the whole consideration. The soul is able to turn away from the nous, and with it from its eternal source in the abysmal One; it can separate itself from its eternal origin and can turn to the lower realms. Nature is the realm of the unconscious, between matter and the conscious soul, but nature has unconscious souls, while in man alone the soul is completely conscious. This turning away of the soul from the nous towards matter, towards the bodily realm, is the source of evil. But evil is not a positive power, it is the negation of the spiritual. It is participation in matter; it is participation in non-being, in that which has no power of being by itself. When the soul turns to non-being, then evil arises.
But evil is not an ontological reality: this, neither Greeks nor Christians could admit; this was the Manichaean heresy that there is a Divine ground of evil, a Divine being which produces evil. Evil is non-being. Now if I say this, I know that many of my dear colleagues, and some of my even dearer students, would say: “So you say that evil is nothing, sin is nothing, sin is non-being; so you don’t take sin seriously!” Then you should at least say that Plotinus or Augustine, who said the same thing, do not take sin seriously. Now it is a little hard to say this of these people if you see their further developments, especially Augustine. Nevertheless, the sound of the word “non-being” conveys to some of us the imagination that sin is not real. But a distortion of something which has being is as real as the undistorted state of that being, only it is not ontologically real. And that is what Plotinus says here, and that is what Augustine says, and that is what every Christian who is not a Manichaean heretic, also must say, because if sin is ontologically real, this would mean that there is a creative principle of evil — as we have it in Manichaeism – and that is what the doctrine of creation denies. “Esse qua esse bonum est,” being as, namely as the distortion of the good creation. And that is what even being is good, said Augustine and also the anti-Gnostic Fathers.