Emanationism is the doctrine that describes all existence as emanating (Latin emanare, "to flow from") from God, the First Reality, First Absolute, or Principle. Essentially, emanationism holds that all things proceed from one divine substance in a progression or series, where each reality arises from the previous one. The lowest level is matter, the material world. Every derived being is regarded as being less perfect than the level it proceeded from, its brightness and perfection varying from its distance from the divine Source. In emanating these lower levels, the Source itself loses none of its perfection and is not diminished.
Emanationism differs from the Christian doctrine of creation, which asserts that the material world is God's good creation. Thus, God creates every being in the material world to be inherently perfect, directly reflecting some aspect of the nature of God. Whether rocks, plants, or animals, every being is perfect in its own way. God created human beings in the material world to fully manifest God's nature as His partners of love, a truth which is revealed in the Incarnation. On the other hand, Emanationism devalues the material world, and is, thus, characteristic of theologies that deny material existence as something to be transcended or escaped from.
Emanationism is a component in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical thought systems, including Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, and is frequently encountered in Hindu metaphysics. Some religions and philosophical systems adhere to a doctrine of emanation without using the term.
Aspects of emanationism can be found in the doctrines of Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.E.–c. 50 C.E.), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher whose synthesis of Platonic, Stoic, and Jewish thoughts became a foundation for Christian, and later Jewish and Islamic, rational theology. Early Christian writers modified the concept of emanation to explain the Trinity and the divine status of Jesus. The system of emanation developed by Proclus, Plotinus and other Neoplatonists was modified in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, which were translated into Latin around 858, by Scottus Eriugena and widely studied by the medieval scholastics. Thus, God was portrayed as the essence of goodness and love, and other beings as emanations from His goodness.
The primary classical exponent of Emanationism was Plotinus, whose Enneads elaborated a system in which all phenomena and all beings were an emanation from the One (hen). In Ennead 5.1.6, emanation is compared to a diffusion from the One, in three primary stages: The One (hen), the Intellect/will (nous), and the Soul (psyche tou pantos). For Plotinus, emanation, or the "soul's descent," is a result of the Indefinite Dyad, or tolma, the primordial agnosis inherent to and within the Absolute, the Godhead.
Plotinus in particular argued that there is no knowledge or sentience in the Absolute, and that all things noetic (spiritual, intellectual) and corporeal were a logos, or proportional phenomena, of the emanation of and by the One. In Plotinian emanationism, there are lesser and lesser potencies of will as procession occurs beginning from the One, through the noetic, or the soul, finally ending in base matter, which is generally seen as utter privation (total absence of conscious will).
Emanation, Pantheism, and Creation ex nihilo
Some scholars classify emanationism with pantheism, but there are considerable differences between the two concepts. Pantheism is a system of reality, identifying all things as manifestations or modes of the one substance; emanation is primarily concerned with the process by which all things derive. Emanation does not necessarily imply that God is immanent in the finite world, nor that all things are substantially one. Some conceive of emanation in a pantheistic sense, as an expansion of the Divine substance within itself. However, many emanationists regard the derived beings as being separate from their source.
Pure emanationism regards God as the first origin of all things, from the highest spiritual realms to the most basic matter, with matter being the last and most imperfect emanation. Some emanationist views, however, combine the idea of eternal, pre-existent matter with the theory of emanation, making God’s role one of organizing matter rather than originating it.
The doctrine of creation teaches that all things are distinct from God, but that God is their efficient cause, producing things by an act of His will, not out of His own substance or from pre-existing matter, but out of nothing (ex nihilo). Emanationism teaches that Divine substance is the reality from which all things derive, not by any divine act of will, but out of necessity. It is the essential nature of Divine substance to originate emanation. Emanationism also teaches that all things are not produced instantaneously, but through gradual stages, and that the lower realms of existence are separated from God by intermediaries.
Emanation and evolution
The term “evolution” implies the development of one thing into something else. When a new being is derived from a previous being by emanation, the previous being remains as it was and exists concurrently with the new being. The process of evolution is usually regarded as progress, a movement upwards towards a more perfect existence. Emanation, on the other hand, is a movement downwards from the infinitely perfect towards the less perfect, less pure, and less divine. Perfection is the starting point rather than the end result, and those who wish to reach a higher degree of perfection must do so by regressing upwards through the stages of emanation. Ancient metaphors for emanation included water flowing from a spring or an overflowing water jar; the stem, branches, and leaves of a plant emerging from the roots; light or heat emanating from the sun; ripples generated by a stone dropped in a lake; and wisdom emanating from a teacher.
Emanationism in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity
Aspects of emanationism can be found in the doctrines of Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.E.–c. 50 C.E.), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher whose synthesis of Platonic, Stoic, and Jewish values became a foundation for Christian, and later Jewish and Islamic, rational theology. It was also elaborated in the writings of Basilides (c.120-140 C.E.) and Valentinus (died c. 161 C.E.), both of whom were founders of Gnostic schools. It occupied a place of importance in esoteric teachings, including Gnostic religions and the Jewish Kabbalah. The Islamic scholar, Al-Farabi (870-950 C.E.), replaced the Q’uranic notion of ex nihilo with emanation, introducing the idea of salvation through rising through the stages of emanation to become one with the “Active Intellect.”
Early Christian writers modified the concept of emanation to explain the Trinity and the divine status of Jesus. Origen (c.185-c. 254) developed the idea of Logos, eternally generated out of the divine substance; the universal principle of everything particular, inner word and self-manifestation of God, one substance with God and yet lesser than God. The Logos, manifested in Jesus, originated in the divinity of God and yet was less than God. The system of emanation developed by Proclus, Plotinus, and other Neoplatonists was modified in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, which were translated into Latin around 858, by Scottus Eriugena and widely studied by the medieval scholastics. God was portrayed as the essence of goodness and love, and other beings as emanations from His goodness.
Emanationism and Hinduism
Most of the Hindu religions portray a monistic, pantheistic view of created existence, which emanates and is inseparable from the Godhead. The following commentary on a Shakta Tantric text cites several earlier writings concerning the relationship between the Godhead and the world:
…(Brahman, the Godhead, said) "May I be many and born as many," and thus He made Himself into the world as it exists within Himself. So it has been (also) said "By His mere wish He throws out and withdraws the universe in its entirety." Also it is elsewhere said—"The Great Lord having drawn on Himself the picture of the world by the brush of His own Will is pleased when looking thereon." S'ruti also says, "As the spider throws out and takes back its thread, so Ishvara (God) projects and withdraws the universe." Thus the one great Lord becomes the material cause from which the world is made, as says the Text, "May I be many…" (Kama-Kala-Vilasa, translated by Sir John Woodroffe, Ganesh; Co. Madras, 1971, p. 142).
Some Hindu teachings portray emanation as a cyclical process which repeats endlessly.
Emanations are sometimes featured in fiction as well, especially in fantasy fiction. Some examples include:
- J.R.R. Tolkien's Ainur of the world of Middle-earth.
- Clive Barker's Imajica
- Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials
- The Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda Softworks, in which Order and Chaos and the unity thereof are used to create a type dual Emanationism.
- Surat Shabda Yoga
- Dusen, Wilson Van. The Design of Existence: Emanation from Source to Creation. Chrysalis Books, 2001.
- Frank, Daniel H. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish philosophy. Cambridge: New York : Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521652073.
- Harris, R Baine. The Significance of Neoplatonism. Norfolk, Va.: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Old Dominion University, 1976. ISBN 0873958004.
- Macierowski, Edward Michael. The Thomistic Critique of Avicennian Emanationism from the Viewpoint of the Divine Simplicity with Special Reference to the Summa Contra Gentiles. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1980.
- Thompson, William Irwin. From Nation to Emanation: Planetary Culture and World Governance. Findhorn Publications, 1982. ISBN 978-0905249452.
- Wallis, Richard T., and Jay Bregman. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. ISBN 0791413373.
All links retrieved September 12, 2017.
- Emanation, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Emanationism, Catholic Encyclopedia
- Emanation and Ascent in Hermetic Kabbalah Colin Low 2004. Presentation and notes on emanation and the roots of Hermetic Kabbalah.
General philosophy sources
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Paideia Project Online
- Project Gutenberg
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