With Joseph Smith having given the King Follett Discourse one-hundred seventy years ago this day, I thought I would put up a post from my dissertation that addresses one of the themes from the Discourse. Here I discuss the Platonic concept of the nous, or the uncreated part of the soul that was divine.
I put this analysis in the context of discussing the Book of Abraham, so this is the part where Abraham discusses “intelligences.”
The Nous. Using the term “intelligence” to describe pre-mortal beings was similar to the Platonic concept of the nous; indeed, intelligence is one way to translate nous in to English, mind is another. Smith used both terms to describe a similar concept. In Plato’s Alcibiades, Socrates says the part of the soul “in which knowing and thinking take place” is the “part of it that resembles the divine” and in the Phaedo, “our souls also existed apart from the body before they took on human form, and they had intelligence.” The nous was the uncreated part of the soul, a divine spark that emanated from God. The nous was akin to the divine, and by listening to it, one could discover the divinity within and ultimately become divine oneself. “Nous, then, is more like an organ or mystical union than anything suggested by our words ‘mind’ or ‘intellect,” explains Andrew Louth, “And yet nous does mean mind.”
For Philo, “Foundational to assimilation is the underlying kinship between human beings and God’s Logos via the mind,” explains Charles Anderson. Christian Platonists also spoke of a divine part of the soul. “In the Christian Platonism of Clement,” explains Robert Pierce Casey, “man shared in the divine life by his possession of a mind a kin and allied to the divine Logos. The way to this union was through intellectual and moral discipline confirmed and strengthened by the sacraments.” Jean Danielou explains, “A certain light of its own carries the man through the various mystic stages until he is restored to the highest pace of rest having taught the pure in heart to contemplate God face to face with knowledge and comprehension.” Origen refers to pre-mortal beings as “intellects” or noi, “all created equal after the pattern of the only true image, the Logos,” explains Bernard McGinn. 
That a part of the soul was uncreated was controversial, however. Justin Martyr’s conversion from Platonism to Christianity illustrates this point. As a Platonist, Justin “expected immediately to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.” While contemplating these things, Justin met an old man who questioned the soul’s ability to see God and explained that contrary to what the Platonists taught, the soul was not eternal because souls were created. “For God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible,” the old man explained “and therefore He is God, but all other things after Him are created and corruptible…. For that which is unbegotten is similar to, equal to, and the same with that which is unbegotten.” The old man then told Justin of the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus, and having now rejected the eternity of the soul, Justin converted to Christianity. Explains Andrew Louth,
But, for [orthodox] Christianity, man is a creature; he is not ultimately God’s kin, but created out of nothing by God and only sustained in being by dependence on His will. There is an ontological gulf between God as his creation, a real difference of being. Only in Christ, in whom divine and human natures are united, do we find One who is of one substance with the Father. At this point Christianity and Platonism are irreconcilable.
Clement and Origen, of course, felt differently, as did many Christian Platonists that came after. But the idea of the uncreated nous remained controversial.
Neoplatonists promoted the idea of the nous as well. Iamblichus taught the doctrine of henads, or the spark of divinity in the soul and throughout the creation generally. Explains Polymnia Athanassiadi-Fowden, “Echoing Plato, [the emperor] Julian describes the Promethean fire as a particle of the sun sent by the gods to the world to become the logos and the nous, through which humanity shares in divinity. The incorporeal reason that is in man pushes him towards philosophy, ‘the art of arts and science of sciences’ which consists of nothing less than knowledge of oneself and assimilation to the divine.” For Proclus, explains Lucas Siorvances, “For souls to elevate, they must have a spark of divinity, their respective ‘one.”
In the Middle Ages, intelligences, or mens, were unembodied spirits associated with the stars and planets. Medieval thinkers also spoke of a particular part of the soul. Albertus Magnus spoke of an “intellectual soul” that if purified led one back to God. Meister Eckhart talked a lot about the “uncreated something” in the soul, which got him in trouble with the authorities. Eckhart was accused of teaching that “there is something in the soul that is uncreated and not capable of creation; if the whole soul were such, it would be uncreated and not capable of creation; and this in intellect.” Eckhart denied this charge, but Bernard McGinn notes that Eckhart had taught this on several occasions. Kabbalah also taught that “spirits were made of the same divine essence as God.”
Agrippa said an intelligence was “an intelligible substance, free from all gross and putrefying mass of a body, immortal, insensible, assisting all, having influence over all; and the nature of all intelligences, spirits and angels is the same.” Agrippa also said that the soul of man “is a certain divine substance, flowing from a divine fountain.” Early modern mystics were heavily influenced by Eckhart and repeated his teachings. Valentine Weigel declared “Our soul is spirit and God is spirit; hence the soul is in God and God in the souls, for they are of the same nature.” Like Neo- and Christian Platonists before him, Weigel taught that it was through the divine part of the soul that we receive revelation from God: “The object is already present within us, in the inner ground of the soul and heart, i.e. God, the Word, finds there his dwelling place.” Thus Christians needed to heed this inner light. Lutheran authorities condemned personal revelation as “enthusiasm,” leading Weigel to declare “Woe to you teachers on that [last] day, because you did not teach your poor, simple congregation to listen inwardly and guide them to the inner word. Woe to you in eternity because you condemned such talk from your pulpit as fanaticism and enthusiasm.”
Many other early modern mystics spoke of heeding the inner word or light, particularly the Quakers. Not only were such ideas condemned (Chapter One), but a number of early modern thinkers also specifically called such beliefs a Platonic corruption. These critics argued that belief in personal revelation was based on the Platonic notion of an uncreated part of the soul through which humans could receive revelation that would lead them back to God. As German Protestant Johann Christoph Adelung declared, “The inner light, or as the Quaker and mystic calls it, the Christ in us, is then nothing else but the imagination, which according to such enthusiasts is the true divine soul.” Many early modern Christian Platonists did teach this idea including Jacob Boehme, John Pordage, Jane Lead, and Emmanuel Swedenborg.
In a list of items that the reader was to learn from her revelations, Lead declared, “Thirdly, we are excited to consider, what we Mortals are, from whom our Descent is, and what manner of Spirit we consist of, and exist by. For until we understand our own Eternal being, we cannot know God, the Being of all Being. For as we are the inbreathed Soul from God, we live in his Essence.” Here Lead suggests that the sparks are pre-mortal humans. Furthermore, Smith said something similar in the King Follett Discourse. As recorded by William Clayton: “Few beings in the world who understand the character of God and do not comprehend their own character.” In Willard Richard’s notes, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.”
“Know thyself” or gnothi seauton was an old saying inscribed at Delphi that Plato quoted a number of times in his dialogues. It is this saying that Socrates uses to focus on the divine part of the soul “in which knowing and thinking take place.” Socrates says that to know ourselves we must look at the soul with a mirror and adds, “The way we can best know ourselves is to use the finest mirror available and look at God.” Thus, as with Smith and Lead, knowing ourselves and knowing God were linked. Clement proposed several meanings to “know thyself.” “It may be an injunction to the pursuit of knowledge. For it is not possible to know the parts without the essence of the whole; and one must study the genesis of the universe, that thereby we may be able to learn the nature of man.” In another place, Clement says to know yourself is to “Know for what you were born, and whose image you are; and what is your essence, and what your creation, and what your relation to God, and the like.” Though ambiguous, the statement suggests to know oneself has to do with ones relation to God. Ralph Waldo Emerson explicitly argued that to know thyself was to know ones own divine nature in his poem by that name: Gnothi Seauton (1831). In it, Emerson asserts the idea of the nous: “God dwells in thee./ It is no metaphor nor parable,/ It is unknown to thousands, and to thee; Yet there is God.” Emerson continues, “But if thou listen to his voice,/ If thou obey the royal thought,/ It will grow clearer to thine ear,/ More glorious to thine eye./ The clouds will burst that veil him now/ And thou shalt see the Lord.” Like Lead’s sparks, if one listened to his or her God within, it would become ones own eyes and ears. To know thyself was to understand this nature. Smith took this idea a step further: if humans could become deified, then God was a deified man (see below).
Lead spoke of the sparks being “generated” from the “Tri-Un Deity” while Smith said that intelligences were uncreated. Yet Lead said the sparks were generated out of the “Trine-Un deity” similar to Kabbalah. Furthermore, Lead added, “These Spirits do proceed immediately from the Fountain Source of all Spirits.” Using the word “proceed” was similar to John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” In standard Trinitarianism, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father while being coeternal with him. Lead’s use of “proceeds” to describe these spirits suggests that they had the same relationship with the Father as the Holy Ghost. William Phelps used the Greek word for the Comforter, parakletos, for the title of his work “Parakletes,” suggesting similarly to Lead that pre-mortal beings “proceeded” from the Father like the Holy Ghost did. Lead’s statements about these sparks lacked cohesion, but may have still had essentials in common with Smith’s intelligences.
Andrew Michael Ramsay used “intelligences” frequently in The Travels of Cyrus to mean spiritual beings generally. “Mankind are all but one family of that immense republic of intelligences, of which God is the common Father,” Ramsay stated in his introduction. Later Ramsay declared, “The notion of a spirit constituted by the supreme God to be the head and guide of all spirits, is very ancient. The Hebrew doctors believed that the soul of the Messias was created from the beginning of the world, and appointed to preside over all the orders of intelligences.” In terms of intelligences as pre-mortal humans, Ramsay has different sages recount their myths of the pre-mortal world to Cyrus. For the Persians, the intelligences were divided between Jyngas and a lower order called genii, genii being of the order that became humans. For the Hebrews, intelligences were divided between cherubim and ishim; again, the lower ishim became humans. The Book of Abraham does mention the noble and great ones among the intelligences but suggests that the distinction is only important for who will become rulers on earth like Abraham. Thus this passage in the Book of Abraham most closely resembles the Timaeus.
Smith first used the term “intelligence” in section 82 (now 93) of the Doctrine and Covenants, the section that made cryptic references to the plan of salvation. In highly abstract language, the revelation declared, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” The revelation referred to humans’ pre-existent state, used “intelligence” in that context, and even said that “intelligence” like the nous, could not be created or destroyed. Yet “intelligence” is not explicitly equated with pre-mortal beings in this passage, but instead is said to be “light and truth.” In 1836 Oliver Cowdery published a section from Thomas Dick’s The Philosophy of a Future State, under the title “On the Absurdity of Supposing that the Thinking Principle in Man Will Ever Be Annihilated.” The term “thinking principle in man” is essentially the concept of the nous. Dick also referred to this part of man as “mind,” “rational nature,” and “the spark of intelligence” all terms that had been used for the nous. Dick also seemed to refer to this as a pre-mortal aspect of man—“God is every day creating thousands of minds” and “innumerable intelligences that are incessantly emerging into existence”—but he seemed to suggest that such were created at some point. Smith would assert that this aspect was uncreated, but Dick may have provided Smith additional vocabulary for this concept.
Smith first used the term intelligence to explicitly mean pre-mortal beings in a speech in 1841. As recorded in the McIntire minute book on March 28, 1841, “[T]he spirit or the inteligence of men are self Existant principles he before the foundation this Earth—& quotes the Lords question to Job ‘where wast thou when I laid the foundation of the Earth’ Evidence that Job was in Existing somewhere at that time.” Before this statement, Smith explicitly referred to pre-mortal beings, but used the term “spirit.” In the quote from March 1841, Smith equated spirit and intelligence. When speaking of pre-mortal beings, Smith was explicit that, as with the nous, they were uncreated. “The Sprit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity.” In the King Follett Discourse, Thomas Bullock recorded Smith saying, “[T]he soul the in[ne]r Spirit—of God[,] man says [was] created in the begin[in]g. the very idea lessens man in my idea—I don’t bel[ieve] the doct[rine].” Just as Justin’s old man declared that teaching that man was uncreated lessened God, Smith said teaching that “the soul the inner spirit” was created lessened man. In the King Follett Discourse, both Wilford Woodruff and William Clayton recorded Smith saying “the soul the mind of man,” instead of “inner Spirit” but both of these terms relate to this idea of the nous. Again, Dick had used the term “mind” to refer to this concept. Another statement in the Discourse is also similar to the concept of the nous. “The mind of man—the intelligent part is coequal with God himself.” Here Smith said the “mind” was a particular part of man. Christian and Neoplatonists held that the nous was a particular part of the soul: the intellect. Smith’s statement suggests a similar idea: mind is “the intelligent part.”
 Plato, Alcibiades, 133c. Scholars debate whether the Alcibiades is an authentic Platonic dialogue, but it was a favorite of the Neoplatonists. Phaedo, 76c.
 Andrew Louth. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, xiii, xvi.
 Charles A. Anderson, Philo of Alexandria’s Views of the Physical World (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 157.
 Robert Pierce Casey, “Introduction,” Clement of Alexandria, The Exceprta Ex Theodoto of Clement of Alexandria, trans. and ed. by Robert Pierce Casey (London: Christophers, 1934), 36.
 Jean Danielou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, trans. John Austin Baker (London: Darton, Logman and Todd, 1973), 450.
 Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, vol 1 of The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 113.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 2 and 5.
 Louth, Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, xiii.
 Lucas Siorvances, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 168-69.
 Polymnia Athanassiadi-Fowden, Julian and Hellenism: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), 136.
 Siorvances, Proclus, 168.
 David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450. 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 260.
 Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism in Medieval Germany (1300-1500), vol. IV of the Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 2005), 19-20, 150.
 Paul Kleber Monad, Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 109.
 Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, trans. James Freake, ed. Donald Tyson (Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn, 1993), 499, 585. Other references to Intelligences are on pages 6, 37, 39, 110. 208, 216, 250, 330, 345, 365, 415, 430, 499. Agrippa said the intelligences were the nine orders of angels on 250 and references the Timaeus in regards to intelligences on 39.
 Steven D. Ozment, Mysticism and Dissent: Religious Ideology and Social Protest in the Sixteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 212, 216, 224.
 Hanegraaf, Esotericism and the Academy, 106, 137.
 Brian Harris, “The Theosophy of Jacob Boehme, German Protestant Mystic, and the Development of His Ideas in the Works of His English Disciples, Dr. John Pordage and Mrs. Jane Lead” (Ph.D. Diss. University of Queensland, Australia, 2006), 21, 39, 78, 183; Julie Hirst, Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-Century Mystic (Aldershot: UK: Ashgate, 2005), 118; Ernst Benz, Emanuel Swedenborg: Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason, trans. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (West Chester, Penn.: Swedenborg Foundation, 2002), 136.
 Lead, Wonders of God’s Creation, 61.
 April 7, 1844, Words of Joseph Smith, 356, 340.
 Charmides 164d, Laws 923a, Phaedrus 230a, Philebus 48c, and Protagoras 343b in addition to the references in the Alcibiades.
 Plato, Alcibiades, 133b-c. D. S. Hutchinson thinks the part about seeing God “seems to have been added by a later neo-Platonist scholar.” Plato, Complete Works of Plato, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, Hackett, 1997), 592 n. 30.
 Clement, Stromata, 1.14, 5.4.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gnothi Seauton (1831), http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/emerson/poems/gnothi.html
 Lead, Wonders of God’s Creation, 46.
 That the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father was part of the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed.
 Ramsay, Travels of Cyrus, xxi, 330, 85-87, 291-92.
 Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, 211-12. Current 93:29-30.
 “Extracts from Dick’s Philosophy,” Messenger and Advocate 3, no. 3 (December 1836): 423-25
 March 28, 1841, Words of Joseph Smith, 67.
 Before August 8, 1839, Words of Joseph Smith, 9.
 Before August 8, 1839, Words of Joseph Smith, 8.
 April 7, 1844, Words of Joseph Smith, 351.
 April 7, 1844, Words of Joseph Smith, 345, 359.
 April 7, 1844, Words of Joseph Smith, 359.
 As discussed in Chapter Three, the Book of Mormon refers to Christ having a spirit body prior to his incarnation; thus humans may have also received spirit bodies prior to earth life.