pantheism


pantheism
/pan"thee iz'euhm/, n.
1. the doctrine that God is the transcendent reality of which the material universe and human beings are only manifestations: it involves a denial of God's personality and expresses a tendency to identify God and nature.
2. any religious belief or philosophical doctrine that identifies God with the universe.
[1725-35; < F panthéisme. See PAN-, THEISM]

* * *

Doctrine that the universe is God and, conversely, that there is no god apart from the substance, forces, and laws manifested in the universe.

Pantheism characterizes many Buddhist and Hindu doctrines and can be seen in such Hindu works as the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita. Numerous Greek philosophers contributed to the foundations of Western pantheism. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the tradition was continued in Neoplatonism and Judeo-Christian mysticism. In the 17th century Benedict de Spinoza formulated the most thoroughly pantheistic philosophical system, arguing that God and Nature are merely two names for one reality.

* * *

Introduction

      the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe. The cognate doctrine of panentheism asserts that God includes the universe as a part though not the whole of his being.

      Both “pantheism” and “panentheism” are terms of recent origin, coined to describe certain views of the relationship between God (sacred) and the world that are different from that of traditional theism. As reflected in the prefix “pan-” (Greek pas, “all”), both of the terms stress the all-embracing inclusiveness of God, as compared with his separateness as emphasized in many versions of Theism. On the other hand, pantheism and panentheism, since they stress the theme of immanence—i.e., of the indwelling presence of God—are themselves versions of Theism conceived in its broadest meaning. Pantheism stresses the identity between God and the world, panentheism (Greek en, “in”) that the world is included in God but that God is more than the world.

      The adjective “pantheist” was introduced by the Irish Deist John Toland in the book Socinianism Truly Stated (1705). The noun “pantheism” was first used in 1709 by one of Toland's opponents. The term “panentheism” appeared much later, in 1828. Although the terms are recent, they have been applied retrospectively to alternative views of the divine being as found in the entire philosophical traditions of both East and West.

Nature and significance
      Pantheism and panentheism can be explored by means of a three-way comparison with traditional or Classical Theism viewed from eight different standpoints—i.e., from those of immanence or transcendence; of monism, dualism, or pluralism; of time or eternity; of the world as sentient or insentient; of God as absolute or relative; of the world as real or illusory; of freedom or determinism; and of sacramentalism or secularism.

Immanence or transcendence
      The poetic sense of the divine within and around mankind, which is widely expressed in religious life, is frequently treated in literature. It is present in the Platonic Romanticism of Wordsworth and Coleridge, as well as in Tennyson, Emerson, and Goethe. Expressions of the divine as intimate rather than as alien, as indwelling and near dwelling rather than remote, characterize pantheism and panentheism as contrasted with Classical Theism. Such immanence encourages man's sense of individual participation in the divine life without the necessity of mediation by any institution. On the other hand, it may also encourage a formless “enthusiasm,” without the moderating influence of institutional forms. In addition, some theorists have seen an unseemliness about a point of view that allows the divine to be easily confronted and appropriated. Classical Theism has, in consequence, held to the transcendence of God, his existence over and beyond the universe. Recognizing, however, that if the separation between God and the world becomes too extreme, man risks the loss of communication with the divine, panentheism—unlike pantheism, which holds to the divine immanence—maintains that the divine can be both transcendent and immanent at the same time.

Monism, dualism, or pluralism (pluralism and monism)
      Philosophies are monistic if they show a strong sense of the unity of the world, dualistic if they stress its twoness, and pluralistic if they stress its manyness. Pantheism is typically monistic, finding in the world's unity a sense of the divine, sometimes related to the mystical intuition of personal union with God; Classical Theism is dualistic in conceiving God as separated from the world and mind from body; and panentheism is typically monistic in holding to the unity of God and the world, dualistic in urging the separateness of God's essence from the world, and pluralistic in taking seriously the multiplicity of the kinds of beings and events making up the world. One form of pantheism, present in the early stages of Greek philosophy, held that the divine is one of the elements in the world whose function is to animate the other elements that constitute the world. This point of view, called Hylozoistic (hylozoism) (Greek hylē, “matter,” and zōē, “life”) pantheism, is not monistic, as are most other forms of pantheism, but pluralistic.

time or eternity
      Most, but not all, forms of pantheism understand the eternal God to be in intimate juxtaposition with the world, thus minimizing time or making it illusory. Classical Theism holds that eternity is in God and time is in the world but believes that, since God's eternity includes all of time, the temporal process now going on in the world has already been completed in God. Panentheism, on the other hand, espouses a temporal–eternal God who stands in juxtaposition with a temporal world; thus, in panentheism, the temporality of the world is not cancelled out, and time retains its reality.

The world as sentient or insentient
      Every philosophy must take a stand somewhere on a spectrum running from a concept of things as unfeeling matter to one of things as psychic or sentient. Materialism holds to the former extreme, and panpsychism to the latter. Panpsychism offers a vision of reality in which to exist is to be in some measure sentient and to sustain social relations with other entities. Dualism, holding that reality consists of two fundamentally different kinds of entity, stands again between two extremes. A few of the simpler forms of pantheism support Materialism. Panentheism and most forms of pantheism, on the other hand, tend toward Panpsychism. But there are differences of degree, and though Classical Theism tends toward dualism, even there the insentient often has a tinge of Panpsychism.

God as absolute or relative
      God is absolute insofar as he is eternal, cause, activity, creator; he is relative insofar as he is temporal, effect, passive (having potentiality in his nature), and affected by the world. For pantheism and Classical Theism, God is absolute; and for many forms of pantheism, the world, since it is identical with God, is likewise absolute. For Classical Theism, since it envisages a separation between God and the world, God is absolute and the world relative. For panentheism, however, God is absolute and relative, cause and effect, actual and potential, active and passive. The panentheist holds that, inasmuch as they refer to different levels of the divine nature, both sets of claims can be attributed to God without inconsistency, that just as a man can have an absolute, unchanging purpose, which gains now one embodiment and now another, so God's absoluteness can be an abstract unchanging feature of a changing totality.

The world as real or illusory
      Panentheism, Classical Theism, and many forms of pantheism hold the world to be part of the ultimate reality. But for Classical Theism the world has a lesser degree of reality than God; and for some forms of pantheism, for which Hegel coined the term Acosmism, the world is unreal, an illusion, and God alone is real.

Freedom or determinism
      In those forms of pantheism that envisage the eternal God literally encompassing the world, man is an utterly fated part of a world that is necessarily just as it is, and freedom (free will) is thus illusion. To be sure, Classical Theism holds to the freedom of man but insists that this freedom is compatible with a divine omniscience that includes his knowledge of the total future. Thus the question arises whether or not such freedom is illusory. Panentheism, by insisting that future reality is indeterminate or open and that man and God, together, are in the process of determining what the future shall be, probably supports the doctrine of man's freedom more completely than does any alternative point of view.

Sacramentalism or secularism
      Insofar as God is the indwelling principle of the world and of man, as in pantheism, so far do these take on a sacramental character; and insofar as God is separated from the world as in 18th-century Deism, so far does it become secular, neutral, or even fallen. In contrast, Classical Theism, though basically sacramental, places this quality in an enclave, the church.

Diverse views of the relation of God to the world
      On the basis of the preceding characteristics, seven forms of pantheism can be distinguished in addition to Classical Theism and panentheism:

Hylozoistic pantheism
      The divine is immanent in, and is typically regarded as the basic element of, the world, providing the motivating force for movement and change. The world remains a plurality of separate elements.

Immanentistic pantheism
      God is a part of the world and immanent in it. Though only a part, however, his power extends throughout its totality.

Absolutistic monistic pantheism
      God is absolute and identical with the world. The world, although real, is therefore changeless.

Relativistic monistic pantheism
      The world is real and changing and is within God (e.g., as the body of God). But God remains nonetheless absolute and is not affected by the world.

Acosmic (acosmism) pantheism
      The absolute God makes up the total reality. The world is an appearance and ultimately unreal.

Identity of opposites pantheism
      The opposites of ordinary discourse are identified in the supreme instance. God and his relation to the world are described in terms that are formally contradictory; thus reality is not subject to rational description. Whether being is stressed or the void, whether immanence is or transcendence, the result is the same: one must go beyond rational description to an intuitive grasp of the ultimate.

Classical Theism
      God is absolute, eternal, first cause, pure actuality, an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect being. Though related to the world as its cause, he is not affected by the world. He is essentially transcendent over the world; and the world exists relative to him as a temporal effect of his action—containing potentiality as well as actuality and characterized by change and finitude. Since all of time is part of God's eternal “Now,” and since God's knowledge now includes the total future as though laid out before him like a landscape, it is not clear that, in this system, man can have freedom in any significant sense; for although foreknowledge does not of itself determine anything, it vouches for the existence of such determination. Nonetheless, human freedom is in fact asserted by Classical Theists.

Neoplatonic (Neoplatonism) or emanationistic (emanationism) pantheism
      God is absolute in all respects, remote from the world and transcendent over it. This view is like Classical Theism except that, rather than saying that God is the cause (causation) of the world, it holds that the world is an emanation of God, occurring by means of intermediaries. God's absoluteness is thus preserved while a bridge to the world is provided as well. In Plotinus (3rd century AD), the foremost Neoplatonist, the Nous (Greek, “mind”), a realm of ideas or Platonic forms, serves as the intermediary between God and the world, and the theme of immanence is sustained by positing the existence of a World-Soul that both contains and animates the world.

Panentheism
      In this alternative, both sets of categories, those of absoluteness and of relativity, of transcendence and of immanence, are held to apply equally to God, who is thus dipolar. He is the cause of the world and its effect; his essence is eternal, but he is involved in time. God's knowledge includes all that there is to know; since the future is genuinely open, however, and is not in any sense real as yet, he knows it only as a set of possibilities or probabilities. In this alternative man is held to have significant freedom, participating as a co-creator with God in the continuing creation of the world.

      With only slight attention being accorded to Classical Theism (which is covered in another article), the incidence of the preceding eight forms of pantheism and panentheism in cultural history remains to be explored.

Pantheism and panentheism in non-Western cultures

Hindu (Hinduism) doctrines
      The gods of the Vedas (Veda), the ancient scriptures of India (c.1200 BC), represented for the most part natural forces. Exceptions were the gods Prajāpati (Lord of Creatures) and Puruṣa (Supreme Being or Soul of the Universe), whose competition for influence provided, in its outcome, a possible explanation of how the Indian tradition came to be one of pantheism rather than of Classical Theism. By the 10th book of the Ṛigveda (Rigveda), Prajāpati had become a lordly, monotheistic figure, a creator deity transcending the world; and in the later period of the sacred writings of the Brāhmaṇas (Brāhmaṇa) (c. 7th century BC), prose commentaries on the Vedas, he was moving into a central position. The rising influence of this Theism was later eclipsed by Puruṣa, who was also represented in Ṛigveda X. In a creation myth Puruṣa was sacrificed by the gods in order to supply (from his body) the pieces from which all the things of the world arise. From this standpoint the ground of all things lies in a Cosmic self, and all of life participates in that of Puruṣa. The Vedic hymn to Puruṣa may be regarded as the starting point of Indian pantheism.

      In the Upaniṣads (Upanishad) (c. 1000–500 BC), the most important of the ancient scriptures of India, the later writings contain philosophic speculations concerning the relation between the individual and the divine. In the earlier Upaniṣads, the absolute, impersonal, eternal properties of the divine had been stressed; in the later Upaniṣads, on the other hand, and in the Bhagavadgītā (Bhagavadgita), the personal, loving, immanentistic properties became dominant. In both cases the divine was held to be identical with the inner self of each man. At times these opposites were implicitly held to be in fact identical—the view earlier called identity of opposites pantheism. At other times the two sets of qualities were related, one to the unmanifest absolute Brahman (brahma), or supreme reality (sustaining the universe), and the other to the manifest Brahman bearing qualities (and containing the universe). Thus Brahman can be regarded as exclusive of the world and inclusive, unchanging and yet the origin of all change. Sometimes the manifest Brahman was regarded as an emanation from the unmanifest Brahman; and then emanationistic pantheism—the Neoplatonic pantheism of the foregoing typology—was the result.

       Śaṅkara, an outstanding nondualistic Vedāntist and advocate of a spiritual view of life, began with the Neoplatonic alternative but added a qualification that turned his view into what was later called acosmic pantheism. Distinguishing first between Brahman as being the eternal Absolute and Brahman as a lower principle and declaring the lower Brahman to be a manifestation of the higher, he then made the judgment that all save the higher unqualitied Brahman is the product of ignorance or nescience and exists (apparently only in men's minds) as the phantoms of a dream. Since for Śaṅkara, the world and individuality thus disappear upon enlightenment into the unmanifest Brahman, and in reality only the Absolute without distinctions exists, Śaṅkara has provided an instance of acosmism.

      On the other hand, Rāmānuja, a prominent southern Brahmin who held to a qualified monism, argued strenuously against Śaṅkara's dismissal of the world and of individual selves as being mere products of nescience. In place of this acosmism he substituted the notion of world cycles. In the unmanifest state Brahman has as his body only the very subtle matter of darkness, and he decrees “May I again possess a world-body”; in the manifest state all of the things of the world, including individual selves, are part of his body. The doctrine of Rāmānuja approaches panentheism; he has certainly advanced beyond emanationistic pantheism. There are two aspects to the single Brahman, one absolutistic and the other relativistic. As in panentheism, the beings of the world have freedom. The only qualification is that, although it is Brahman's will to support the choices of finite beings, he has the power to prohibit any choice that displeases him. This power to prohibit indicates a preference for the absolute in Rāmānuja's thought, which is reflected in many ways: although God is the cause of the world, for example, and includes the world within his being, he is never affected by that world, and his motive in world creation is simply play. In sum, since the absolutistic categories were given the greater emphasis in his thought, Rāmānuja is representative of a relativistic monistic pantheism.

      The presence in the Hindu tradition of both absolutistic and relativistic descriptions of the divine suggests that genuine panentheism might well emerge from the tradition; and, in fact, in the former president of India, S. Radhakrishnan (Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli), also a religious philosopher, that development did occur. Although Radhakrishnan had been influenced by Western philosophy, including that of A.N. Whitehead, later discussed as a modern panentheist, the sources of his thought lie in Hindu philosophy. He distinguishes between God as the being who contains the world and the Absolute, who is God in only one aspect. He finds that the beings of the world are integral with God, who draws an increase of his being from the constituents of his nature.

Buddhist doctrines
      Some 600 years after Buddha, a new and more speculative school of Buddhism arose to challenge the 18 or 20 schools of Buddhism then in existence. One of the early representatives of this new school, which came to be known as Mahāyāna (Mahayana) (Sanskrit “Greater Vehicle”) Buddhism, was Aśvaghoṣa. Like Śaṅkara (whom he antedated by 700 years), Aśvaghoṣa not only distinguished between the pure Absolute (the Soul as “Suchness”; i.e., in its essence) and the all-producing, all-conserving Mind, which is the manifestation of the Absolute (the Soul as “Birth and Death”; i.e., as happenings), but he also held that the judgment concerning the manifest world of beings is a judgment of nonenlightenment; it is, he said, like the waves stirred by the wind—when the quiet of enlightenment comes the waves cease, and an illusion confronts a man as he begins to understand the world.

      Whereas Aśvaghoṣa treated the world as illusory and essentially void, Nāgārjuna (Nagarjuna), the great propagator of Mahāyāna Buddhism who studied under one of Aśvaghoṣa's disciples, transferred Śūnya (sunyata) (“the Void”) into the place of the Absolute. If Suchness, or ultimate reality, and the Void are identical, then the ultimate must lie beyond any possible description. Nāgārjuna approached the matter through dialectical (dialectic) negation: according to the school that he founded, the Ultimate Void is the Middle Path of an eightfold negation; all individual characteristics are negated and sublated, and the individual approaches the Void through a combination of dialectical negation and direct intuition. Beginning with the Middle Doctrine School, the doctrine of the Void spread to all schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism as well as to the Satyasiddhi (Sanskrit: “perfect attainment of truth”) group in Hīnayāna Buddhism. Since the Void is also called the highest synthesis of all oppositions, the doctrine of the Void may be viewed as an instance of identity of opposites pantheism.

      In the T'ien-t'ai (Tiantai) school of Chinese Buddhism founded by Chih-i, as in earlier forms of Mahāyāna Buddhism, the elements of ordinary existence are regarded as having their basis in illusion and imagination. What really exists is the one Pure Mind, called True Thusness, which exists changelessly and without differentiation. Enlightenment consists of realizing one's unity with the Pure Mind. Thus, an additional Buddhist school, T'ien-t'ai, can be identified with acosmic pantheism.

      Indeed, although a mingling of types is discernible in the Hindu and Buddhist strands of Oriental culture, acosmic pantheism would seem to be the alternative most deeply rooted and widespread in these traditions.

Ancient Middle Eastern (Syrian and Palestinian religion) doctrines
      Just as the early gods of the Vedas represented natural forces, so the Canaanite deities known as Baal and the Hebrew (Judaism) God Yahweh both began as storm gods. Baal developed into a Lord of nature, presiding with his consort, Astarte, over the major fertility religion of the Middle East. The immanentism of this nature religion might have sustained the development of pantheistic systems; but, whereas the pantheistic Puruṣa triumphed in India, the Theistic Yahweh triumphed in the Middle East. And Yahweh evolved not into a Lord of nature but into a Lord of history (history, philosophy of) presiding first over his chosen people and then over world history. The requirement that he be a judge of history implied that his natural “place” was outside and above the world; and he thus became a transcendent deity. Through much of the history of Israel, however, the people accepted elements from both of these traditions, producing their own highly syncretistic religion. It was this syncretism (religious syncretism) that provided the occasion that challenged certain men of prophetic consciousness to embark upon their purifying missions, beginning with Elijah and continuing throughout the Old Testament period. In this development, the absoluteness and remoteness of Yahweh came to be supplemented by qualities of love and concern, as in the prophets Hosea and Amos. In short, the categories of immanence came to supplement the categories of transcendence and, in the New Testament period, became overwhelmingly important. The transcendent Yahweh, on the other hand, had fitted more naturally into the categories of absoluteness. And, in the Christian (Christianity) West, it was the transcendent God who appeared in the doctrines of Classical Theism, while pantheism stood as a heterodox departure from the Christian scheme.

Pantheism and panentheism in ancient and medieval philosophy
      Early Greek religion contained among its many deities some whose natures might have supported pantheism; and certainly the mystery religions of later times stressed types of mystical union that are typical of pantheistic systems. But in fact the pantheism of ancient Greece was related almost exclusively to philosophical speculation. For this reason it is more rationalistic, possessing a style quite different from the Pantheisms thus far examined.

Greco-Roman doctrines
      The first philosophers of Greece, all of whom were 6th-century-BC Ionians, were hylozoistic, finding matter and life inseparable. The basic substances that they identified as the elements of reality—the water proposed by Thales (Thales of Miletus), the boundless infinite suggested by Anaximander, and the air of Anaximenes (Anaximenes Of Miletus)—were presumed to have the motive force of living things and thus to be a kind of life, a position here called hylozoistic pantheism.

      Impressed by the absolute unity of all things, the adherents of another philosophic position, that of Eleaticism (see Eleaticism), so-named from its centre in Elea, a Greek colony in southern Italy, found it impossible to believe in multiplicity and change. The first step in this direction was taken by Xenophanes, a religious thinker and rhapsodist, who, on rational grounds, moved from the gods and goddesses of Homer and Hesiod to a unitary principle of the divine. He believed that God is the supreme power of the universe, ruling all things by the power of his mind. Unmoved, unmoving, and unitary, God perceives, governs, and apparently contains, or at least he “embraces,” all things. So interpreted, Xenophanes provides an instance of monistic pantheism, inasmuch as, in this view, the Absolute God is united with a changing world, while the reality of neither is attenuated. This paradox may have encouraged Parmenides, possibly one of Xenophanes' disciples (according to Aristotle), to accept the changeless Absolute, eliminating change and motion from the world. Reality thus became for him a unitary, indivisible, everlasting, motionless whole. This position is basically that of absolutistic monistic pantheism in that it views the world as real but changeless. Insofar as the change and variety of the world are only apparent, Parmenides also approaches acosmic pantheism.

      A third fundamental position is that of the Ephesian critic Heracleitus, among whose cryptic sayings were many that stressed the role of change as the basic reality. Heracleitus continued the hylozoistic tendencies of the Ionian philosophers. fire, his basic element, is also the universal logos, or reason, controlling all things; and since fire not only has a life of its own but exercises control to the boundaries of the universe as well, the system is more complex than hylozoistic pantheism. In view of the circumstance that everything is either on the way from, or to, fire, this basic element is actually or incipiently everywhere. Since the divine works here from within the universe, indeed from within a single, but basic, aspect of it, the system is an instance of immanentistic pantheism.

      The philosopher Anaxagoras, one of the great dignitaries at Athens in the golden age of Pericles, approached the problem somewhat in the manner of Heracleitus. Nous (or Mind) he held to be the principle of order for all things as well as the principle of their movement. It is the finest and purest of things and is diffused throughout the universe. This, like the preceding system, is an instance of immanentistic pantheism.

      From the standpoint of the typology here employed, Plato may be regarded as the first Western philosopher to treat the problem of the absoluteness and the relativity in God with any degree of adequacy. In the Timaeus an absolute and eternal God was recognized, existing in changeless perfection in relation to the world of forms, along with a World-Soul, which contained and animated the world and was as divine as a changing thing could be. Although the material can be variously interpreted, panentheists hold that Plato has adopted a dual principle of the divine, uniting both being and becoming, absoluteness and relativity, permanence and change in a single context. To be sure, he envisioned the categories of absoluteness as situated in one deity, and those of relativity in another; but the separation seems not to have pleased him, and in the tenth book of the Laws, by invoking the analogy of a circular motion, which combines change with the retention of a fixed centre, he explained how deity could exemplify both absoluteness and change. Plato thus may be viewed as a quasi-panentheist.

       Aristotle, on the other hand, with his exclusivistic, transcendent God, exemplifying only the categories of absoluteness, anticipated the absolute God of Classical Theism, existing above and beyond the world.

       Stoicism, one of the foremost of the post-Aristotelian schools of thought, represents an immanentistic pantheism of the Heracleitean variety. First of all, the Stoics accepted the decision of Heracleitus that an indwelling fire is the principal element entering into all transformations and is also the principle of reason, the logos, ordering as well as animating all things, but that, second, there is a World-Soul, which is diffused throughout the world and penetrates it in every part. Rather than approximating Plato's spiritual World-Soul, the Stoic World-Soul is more like the Nous of Anaxagoras. The Stoics were Materialists, and their diffuse World-Soul is, thus, an extended form of subtle matter. That everything is determined by the universal reason is an unvarying theme in Stoicism; and this fact suggests that Stoic pantheism, despite its immanentism, stresses the categories of absoluteness rather than those of relativity in the relations holding between God and the world.

      The life of reason brings man into harmony with God and with nature and helps him to understand his fate, which is his place in the universal system. Although the view is an amalgam of several types of pantheism, this particular mixture has retained its identity. It is therefore useful to call this position, or any similar combination of themes, by the name Stoic pantheism.

       Plotinus, the creator of one of the most thoroughgoing philosophical systems of ancient times, may be taken to represent Neoplatonism, an influential modification of Plato's attempt to deal with absoluteness and relativity in the divine. Plotinus' system consists of the One—the absolute God who is the supreme power of the system—the intermediate Nous, and the World-Soul (with the world as its internal content). His World-Soul follows the Platonic model. The system really blends pantheism with Classical Theism, since the categories of absoluteness apply to the One, and the relativistic categories apply to the World-Soul. The doctrine of emanation, whereby the power of the One comes into the world, is a clear attempt to bridge the gap between absoluteness and relativity. For Plotinus, as for Classical Theism, there is immanent in man an image of the divine, which serves as well to relate man to God as does the divine spark in Stoic pantheism. Even Classical Theism may thus contain a touch of immanentistic pantheism. This view, or any similar combination of themes, is an instance of emanationistic or Neoplatonic pantheism.

Medieval doctrines
      Though Scholasticism, with its doctrine of a separate and absolute God, was the crowning achievement of medieval thought, the period was, nonetheless, not without its pantheistic witness. Largely through Jewish and Christian (Christianity) mysticism, an essentially Neoplatonic Pantheism ran throughout the age.

      The only important Latin philosopher for six centuries after St. Augustine was John Scotus Erigena (Erigena, John Scotus). Inasmuch as, in his system, Christ's redemptive sacrific helps to effect a Neoplatonic return of all beings to God, Erigena can be said to have turned Neoplatonism into a Christian drama of fall into sin and redemption from its power. When Erigena said that, even in the stage of separation from God, God in his superessentiality is identical with all things, he advanced beyond a strictly Neoplatonic pantheism to some stronger form of immanentistic or monistic pantheism.

      In the two principal writings of the esoteric Jewish (Judaism) movement called the Kabbala, known for its theosophical interpretations of the Scriptures, a mystically oriented system of 10 emanations is presented. A Spaniard, Avicebrón (Ibn Gabirol), a Jewish poet and philosopher, similarly presented a Neoplatonic scheme of emanations. And in Spain, Averroës, the most prominent Arabic philosopher of the period, represented an Aristotelian tradition that is heavily overladen with Neoplatonism. For Averroës, the active intellect in man is really an impersonal divine reason, which alone lives on when man dies.

      The German Meister Eckehart (Eckhart, Meister), probably the most significant of philosophical mystics, developed a markedly original theology. From his Stoic pantheism there arose his most controversial thesis—that there resides in every man a divine, uncreated spark of the Godhead, making possible both a union with God and a genuine knowledge of his nature. But Eckehart also distinguished between the unmanifest and barren Godhead and the three Persons who constitute a manifest and personal God. Thus, the system has similarities to both Stoic and Neoplatonic pantheism.

      Cardinal Nicholas Of Cusa, whose broad scholarship and scientific approach anticipated the coming Renaissance, continued the tradition into the 15th century. The “learned ignorance,” in which a man separates himself from every affirmation, can have positive results, in Nicholas' view, because man is a microcosm within the macrocosm (or universe), and the God of the macrocosm is thus mirrored in all of his creatures. He also held that, in reference to God, contradictions are compatible—his “coincidence of opposites” doctrine, in which God is at once all extremes. Clearly, Nicholas wished to ascribe to God both the categories of transcendence and those of immanence without distinction. But in fact he displayed some preference for the categories of the absolute, insisting, for example, that the creatures of the world can add nothing to God since they are merely his partial appearances. Despite this bias toward absolutism, and even to acosmism, Nicholas can be appropriately viewed as espousing an identity of opposites pantheism.

Pantheism and panentheism in modern philosophy

Renaissance and post-Renaissance doctrines
      The humanism of the Renaissance included an enlarged interest in Platonism and in its historical carrier, Neoplatonism, as well as influences from Aristotle and from Kabbalistic sources. The view of man as a microcosm of the universe was widespread. Marsilio Ficino (Ficino, Marsilio), one of the first leaders of the Florentine Academy, found the image and reflection of God in all men and anticipated the divinization of man and the entire cosmos. The humanist and syncretistic philosopher Pico della Mirandola (Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni, Conte Di Concordia), also a leading figure in the Academy, substituted for creation a Neoplatonic emanation from the divine.

      The most famous scholar of the Italian Renaissance was Giordano Bruno (Bruno, Giordano). Combining Copernican astronomy with Neoplatonism, Bruno thought of the universe as an infinite organism with monads (monad) as its ultimate constituents and world-systems as its parts. The universe, he held, is in a continual process of development and is infused with the divine life. Accepting Nicholas of Cusa's doctrine of the identity of opposites, he taught that contradictory ascriptions apply equally to God in particular and that claims concerning his immanence and transcendence are equally valid. More open to the categories of relativity than Nicholas, Bruno, however, exemplified a neatly balanced instance of identity of opposites pantheism.

      The next great innovator of mystical religious thought was Jakob Böhme (Böhme, Jakob), who, in developing the concept of the divine life, took a decisive step beyond mere absoluteness. God goes through stages of self-development, he taught, and the world is merely the reflection of this process. Böhme anticipated Hegel in claiming that the divine self-development occurs by means of a continuing dialectic, or tension of opposites, and that it is the negative qualities of the dialectic that men experience as the evil of the world. Even though Böhme, for the most part, stressed absoluteness and relativity equally, his view that the world is a mere reflection of the divine—apparently denying self-development on the part of creatures—tends toward acosmic pantheism.

      In the 17th century the foremost pantheist was a Jewish rationalist, Benedict Spinoza (Spinoza, Benedict de), whose training in the history of philosophy included both medieval Jewish philosophy and the Kabbala. He championed a rational rather than a mystical pantheism, so much so that all that remained of mysticism, in fact, was his concept of the intellectual love of God. The rationality (reason) of the system is suggested by Spinoza's argument that, since God is the infinite being, he must be identical with the world; for otherwise, God-and-world would be a greater totality than God alone. Also, since God is a necessary being and is identical with the world, the world must also be necessary in all its parts. It follows from this that human freedom is an impossible idea; and the sense that man has of such freedom is based on his ignorance of the causes that have determined (determinism) him. Spinoza distinguished between God and the world in three ways: first, by stressing God's activity in the active sense of natura naturans (“the nature that [creates] nature”; i.e., God) compared to the passive sense of natura naturata (“the nature that [is created as] nature”; i.e., the world); second, he related God to eternity and the world to time; and third, he distinguished God as self-existing substance, the whole, from the world, which he conceived as the attributes and modes of that substance. In terms of the present classification, Spinoza represents a monistic pantheism tending toward absolutism.

      Goethe (Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von), the incomparable German litterateur, claimed that he was a follower of Spinoza. In fact, however, his beliefs were rather different inasmuch as Goethe championed man's individuality; opposed mechanical necessity; and held a hylozoistic, or vitalistic, position in which nature was organic, a living unity. His personalistic pantheism mixes hylozoistic and Stoic types with a touch of relativism added to the mixture.

Nineteenth-century doctrines
      During the 19th century, pantheism and panentheism were sustained by various kinds of Idealism that developed during the period. In these systems the categories of relativity gained in prominence; God was conceived as entering history and as being more intimately related to processes of change and development.

German Idealism
      Although the philosophy of the German patriot J.G. Fichte (Fichte, Johann Gottlieb), an immediate follower of Kant, began in the inner subjective experience of the individual, with the “I” positing the “not-I”—i.e., feeling compelled to construct a perceived world over against itself—it turns out eventually that, at a more fundamental level, God, as the universal “I,” posits the world at large. The world, or nature, is described in organic terms; God is considered not alone as the Universal Ego but also as the Moral World Order, or Ground of ethical principles; and since every man has a destiny as a part of this order, man is in this sense somehow one with God. In the moral world order, then, man has a partial identity with God; and in the physical order he has membership in the organic whole of nature. It is not clear, however, whether in Fichte's view God as Universal Ego includes all human egos, and the organic whole of nature. Should he do so, then Fichte would be a representative of dipolar Panentheism, since in his final doctrine the Universal Ego imitates an Absolute deity who is simply the divine end of all activity, serving equally as model and as goal. In this interpretation God is conceived both as absolute mobility and absolute fixity. It is not entirely clear whether the doctrine is to be understood as referring to two aspects of a single God, the panentheistic alternative, or to two separate gods, the alternative imbedded in Plato's quasipanentheism. In either case, Fichte has enunciated most of the themes of panentheism and deserves consideration either as a representative or precursor of that school.

      A second early follower of Kant was F.W.J. von Schelling (Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von), who, in contrast to Fichte, stressed the self-existence of the objective world. Schelling's thought developed through several stages. Of particular interest to the problem of God are the final three stages in which his philosophy passed through monistic and Neoplatonic pantheism followed by a final stage that was panentheistic.

      In the first of these stages, he posits the Absolute as an absolute identity, which nonetheless includes, as in Spinoza, both nature and mind, reality and ideality. The natural series culminates in the living organism; and the spiritual series culminates in the work of art. The universe is, thus, both the most perfect organism and the most perfect work of art.

      In his second, Neoplatonic, stage he conceived the Absolute as separated from the world, with a realm of Platonic ideas interposed between them. In this arrangement, the world was clearly an emanation or effect of the divine.

      In the final stage of his thought, Schelling presented a theophany, or manifestation of deity, involving the separation of the world from God, and its return. In appearance this was quite like the views of Erigena or like the unmanifest and manifest Brahman of Indian thought. But, since the power of God continues to infuse the world and there can be no real separation, the entire theophany is clearly the development of the divine life. The Absolute is retained as the pure Godhead, a unity presiding over the world; and the world—having in measure its own spontaneity—is both his antithesis and part of his being, the contradiction accounting for progress. The positing within God of eternity and temporality, of being-in-itself and of self-giving, of yes and no, of participation in joy and in suffering, is the very duality of Panentheism.

      It was a disciple of Schelling, Karl Christian Krause (Krause, Karl Christian Friedrich), who coined the term panentheism to refer to the particular kind of relation between God and the world that is organic in character.

      The third, and most illustrious, early post-Kantian Idealist was G.W.F. Hegel (Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), who held that the Absolute Spirit fulfills itself, or realizes itself, in the history of the world. And in Hegel's deduction of the categories it is clear that man realizes himself through the attainment of unity with the Absolute in philosophy, art, and religion. It would appear, then, that God is in the world, or the world is in God, and that, since man is a part of history and thus a part of the divine realization in the world, he shares in the divine life; it would seem, too, that God is to be characterized by contingency as well as necessity, by potentiality as well as actuality, by change as well as permanence. In short, it would seem at first that the panentheistic dipolarity of terms would apply to the Hegelian Absolute. But this is not quite so; for Hegel's emphasis was on the deduction of the categories of logic, nature, and spirit, a deduction that provided the lineaments of Spirit-in-Itself (the categories of the intrinsic logic that the world, as Spirit, follows in its development), Spirit-for-Itself (nature as existing oblivious of its own context), and Spirit-in-and-for-Itself (conscious spiritual life, natural, and yet aware of its role in the developing world). This deduction, moving from the most abstract categories to the most concrete, is partly logical and partly temporal; it cannot be read either as a sheerly logical sequence or as a sheerly temporal sequence. As a logical sequence, it has the appearance of a Neoplatonic scheme turned on its head, since the Absolute Spirit that emerges from the deduction includes all of the steps of the preceding rich and multifarious deduction. As a temporal sequence, the system would seem to be a species of Stoic (i.e., Heracleitean) pantheism, qualified by a clear Parmenidean motif (see above Greco-Roman doctrines (pantheism)), which appears in its stress on an absoluteness that, from the eternal standpoint, cancels out time. This Parmenidean quality is to be found not only in Hegel but in most of the Idealists who were influenced by him. Time is real, on this view, and yet not quite real, having already eternally happened. And when Hegel spoke of the Absolute Spirit, this phrase held the internal tension of a near contradiction, for spirit, however absolute, must surely be relative to what is around it, sensitive to and dependent on other spirits. The fact that Hegel wished to give something like equal emphasis, however, both to absoluteness and to relativity in the divine being or process suggests that his goal is identical with that of the panentheists, even though he is perhaps more fairly regarded as a Pantheist of an ambiguous type.

Monism and panpsychism
      It is impossible for one to leave the 19th century without mention of the pioneering experimental psychologist Gustav Fechner (Fechner, Gustav Theodor) (1801–87), founder of psychophysics, who developed an interest in philosophy. Fechner pursued the themes of panentheism beyond the positions of his predecessors. A panpsychist with an organic view of the world, he held that every entity is to some extent sentient and acts as a component in the life of some more inclusive entity in a hierarchy that reaches to the divine Being, whose constituents include all of reality. God is the soul of the world, which is, in turn, his body. Fechner contends that every man's volitions provide impulses within the divine experience, and that God gains and suffers from the experiences of men. Precisely because God is the supreme being, he is in process of development. He can never be surpassed by any other, but he surpasses himself continually through time. He, thus, argues that God can be viewed in two ways: either as the Absolute ruling over the world, or as the totality of the world; but both are aspects of the same Being. Fechner's affirmations comprise a complete statement of panentheism, including the dipolar deity with respect to whom the categories of absoluteness and relativity can be affirmed without contradiction.

Twentieth-century doctrines
      The 20th century marks a decisive break with absolutism. In the first half of the century, panentheism gained in authority. The position of the Russian ex-Marxist Nikolay Berdyaye (Berdyayev, Nikolay Aleksandrovich)v, a religious metaphysician, with his emphasis on divine and human freedom, is a manifesto of panentheism. Even more impressive was the work of the eminent British-American philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (Whitehead, Alfred North). As in the case of Fechner, Whitehead came to philosophy from science and held an organismic view of the structure of the world. In Whitehead's view God has two natures: his primordial nature is abstract; his consequent nature is concrete and includes within itself the total history of the world. Whitehead was also a panpsychist and believed that feeling is present in some degree at every level of the world process. Whether or not he was, then, also a panentheist is in dispute. He held that the possible future and the total past are in God—in his primordial and consequent natures; but for Whitehead the present moment is relative, and contemporaries exclude each other. In the present moment of any entity, since it is the present of that entity, it is appropriate to say that God is in that entity, part of the data on which it acts; thus the Stoic spark of divinity has here a modern application. From the standpoint of God, on the other hand, all entities are part of God; they come from him and return to him in the passage of time, but they are not in God in the sense that their independence in the present moment is prejudiced.

      It was left to Charles Hartshorne (Hartshorne, Charles), one of Whitehead's followers, to provide the definitive analysis of panentheism. It is Hartshorne's suggestion that the organismic analogy, present in Whitehead as well as in many earlier thinkers, be taken seriously. For Hartshorne, God includes the world even as an organism includes its cells, thus including the present moment of each event. The total organism gains from its constituents, even though the cells function with an appropriate degree of autonomy within the larger organism.

Criticism and evaluation of pantheism and panentheism
      Panentheism is then a middle way between the denial of individual freedom and creativity characterizing many of the varieties of pantheism and the remoteness of the divine characterizing Classical Theism. Its support for the ideal of human freedom provides grounds for a positive appreciation of temporal process, while removing some of the ethical paradoxes confronting deterministic views. It supports the sacramental value of reverence for life. At the same time the theme of participation with the divine leads naturally to self-fulfillment as the goal of life.

      Many pantheistic and Theistic alternatives claim the same advantages, but their natural tendency toward absoluteness may make justification of these claims in some cases difficult and, in others, some argue, quite impossible. It is for this reason that a significant number of contemporary philosophers of religion have turned to panentheism as a corrective to the partiality of the other competing views.

William L. Reese

Additional Reading
Charles Hartshorne and W.L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God (1953), offers an extensive historical exploration of pantheism, panentheism, and classical theism. The fundamental basis of panentheism is discussed not only in the epilogue of the above volume, but in many other works by Charles Hartshorne, including The Divine Relativity (1948) and The Logic of Perfection (1962). For the relation of mysticism to pantheism, see W.T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (1960). For information concerning any of the philosophers mentioned, reference may be made to their individual entries in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vol., ed. by Paul Edwards (1967); the Enciclopedia filosofica, 6 vol., 2nd ed., ed. by G.C. Sansoni (1967); or the Diccionario de filosofía, 2 vol., ed. by Jose Ferrater Mora (1965).

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pantheism — is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.[1] Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek (pan) meaning all and the Greek (theos) meaning God . As… …   Wikipedia

  • Pantheism — • The false theory according to which God and the world are one Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Pantheism     Pantheism     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • pantheism — (n.) belief that God and the universe are identical, coined by Irish deist John Toland (1670 1722), from Gk. pan all + theos god (see THEA (Cf. Thea)). Toland s word was borrowed into French, which from it formed panthéisme (1712) which returned… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Pantheism — Pan the*ism, n. [Pan + theism.] The doctrine that the universe, taken or conceived of as a whole, is God; the doctrine that there is no God but the combined force and natural laws which are manifested in the existing universe; cosmotheism. The… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pantheism — ► NOUN 1) the belief that God can be identified with the universe, or that the universe is a manifestation of God. 2) rare worship that admits or tolerates all gods. DERIVATIVES pantheist noun pantheistic adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • pantheism — [pan′thē iz΄əm] n. [Fr panthéisme < panthéiste < E pantheist, coined (1705) by J. Toland, Ir deist: see PAN , THEO , & ISM] 1. the doctrine that God is not a personality, but that all laws, forces, manifestations, etc. of the universe are… …   English World dictionary

  • Pantheism — the view that there is one or more gods or goddesses.[13] More specifically, it may also mean the belief in God, a god, or gods, who is/are actively involved in maintaining the Universe. A theist can also take the position that he does not have… …   Mini philosophy glossary

  • pantheism —    Although pantheism may be characterised roughly as the view that God is everything, the word pantheism in fact refers to two separate positions: (1) everything is a part of God and God is identical with the totality of what exists; (2)… …   Christian Philosophy

  • pantheism — [[t]pæ̱nθiɪzəm[/t]] 1) N UNCOUNT Pantheism is the religious belief that God is in everything in nature and the universe. 2) N UNCOUNT Pantheism is a willingness to worship and believe in all gods …   English dictionary

  • pantheism — noun /ˈpæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ a) The belief that the universe is in some sense divine and should be revered. Pantheism identifies the universe with God but denies any personality or transcendence of such a God. b) The belief in all gods; omnitheism …   Wiktionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.