Panentheism, (Gr. παν, all; εν, in; θεος, God) in its simplest form, is the view that the world is in God, but God is not the world. In metaphysics, it utilizes a real distinction between the essence of God and God's existence, or considers God as having accidents really distinct from God's nature. Panentheism stands as a kind of surrelativism holding for a mutuality in relationship between God and the world not only is the world dependent upon God, but God also is to some extent dependent upon the world. It regards the world as an actual fulfillment of God's creative possibility.
The term panentheism seems to have been introduced by Karl C. F. Krause (1781–1832) to distinguish his doctrine from contemporary forms of pantheism and emanationism. The term was used also by Friedrich Jacobi and by a few members of the theological faculty at Tübingen, though not so pointedly. Today it describes the views of those who introduce a polarity in the notion of God as both eternal and temporal, and as including yet transcending the world.
Panentheism is rooted in a conviction that the world as possible in the mind of God becomes actualized and thereby adds to God's actuality. It opposes the Thomistic view of God as pure act. Panentheists give special importance to what they call a logic of polarity, which has a close affinity to Hegelian dialectics, as the only means of escaping ultimate dilemmas arising from the use of categories.
Historical Survey. In one sense, the present forms of panentheism can be traced to plato, who discussed both being and becoming in a manner that could imply a dipolar view of ultimate reality. His "One" seems to have contained individual beings even as it remained indivisible.
Medieval Thought. john scotus eriugena viewed creation as the production of Ideas in the World, and designated a stage of completion for such productivity in quite the same manner as do present-day panentheists. Moreover, his distinction of God as Creator and God as the End of all things implies fulfillment, and reads much like Whitehead's primordial and consequent natures of God.
Ramanuja (1017–1137) tempered the impersonal Hindu panentheism of his day with a personalistic notion of brahman as cause of all things, but he also maintained that all the things of this world formed the body of Brahma. His doctrine of nonduality with differences (vishistadvaita ) seems more in line with modern polaristic views than with either panentheistic monism or theistic dualism.
Although John duns scotus insisted on freedom in the act of creation, traces of panentheism may be seen in his view of God as being necessitated to will the ideas of things, and in his doctrine of the univocity of being. Further, his ideas of infinity and his insistence upon the limitations of metaphysics imply a polarity.
Meister eckhart emphasized the transcendence of God and maintained that one could not affirm anything of God in such a way as to rule out its opposite—an idea similar to the later notion of polarity.
Renaissance and Modern Thinkers. nicholas of cusa leaned even further towards panentheism. He held that the world is explication of what is implication in God and conceived of the infinite as including and reconciling all opposites. Such ideas not only established ground for the doctrine of dipolarity, but also emphasized the theme of fulfillment that was presented by later panentheists.
Friedrich schelling described the absolute as the identity of all differences. For Schelling, God will "be" only when the Absolute has fully revealed itself. His God is in process in somewhat the same manner as Whitehead's consequent God.
Accepting the complexity of the concept of God, Gustav Fechner (1801–87) proposed the view of an inclusive eternal-temporal deity. He maintained that such opposing descriptions are partial truths that can be reconciled through proper re-interpretation or completion, thus harmonizing them with the more general conception of God.
The triadic doctrine of the Absolute Spirit proposed by Hegel considers nature as an externalization of the Absolute, and portrays the Absolute itself as a never-ending process that implies eternity and temporality.
Two Russian thinkers, Vladimir solov'ev and Nikolai berdyaev, emphasized the incarnational aspect of panentheism. Solov’ev presented God as polarized and developed this view through the notions of man-Godhood and God-manhood. Berdyaev looked to a transfigured world as the ultimate expression of God and wrote, in a rather mystical fashion, of a divine history, a divine becoming, a divine need, and above all, a divine suffering. For Berdyaev we are creatively responsive to God, and we enrich God's life.
Contemporary Directions. Alfred N. whitehead offered a dipolar God by distinguishing between the socalled primordial and consequent aspects of the divine nature: the primordial aspect is God considered as the first cause of all things; the consequent aspect is God as the end of all things. Arguing from the relativity of all things, he held for a reaction of the world upon God to the extent that the whole of the created order stands as a fulfillment of God's concrete actuality, though not of God's abstract nature.
Muḥammad Iqbal (1875–1938) described God's creative life as an organic whole existing as an open possibility, so that God is ever being completed by the world without changing God's essential nature.
The interpretation of participated being given by Pierre teilhard de chardin seems to have concluded with the placement of all things in God by what he calls Muh a unitive transformation. While insisting that this infusion of the one and the many does not add anything essential to God, he implied that it does add something accidental to the divine being.
Paul tillich's approach to ultimate reality through symbolization used the notion of polarity to overcome the tendency to impose limitations upon God. It fit in well with the basic approach of panentheism.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975) made a distinction between divine being and divine action, rejecting the idea of confining the illimitable to a single form or perfection. He held that abstract possibility and concrete realization are both contained in the one reality, which he identified as the Absolute-God. Although he said that this distinction is only logical, he seemed to use it as a real distinction; thus it gave his thought a panentheistic polarity.
Charles hartshorne did the most to give panentheism formal expression as a view of God. He developed a dipolar concept of God, resting on a fundamental distinction between his concrete actuality and his abstract existence. He attributed the traditional categories of absoluteness, infinity, immutability, and so on to God's abstractness while maintaining that his concreteness makes God truly related, finite, mutable, and so on, just like any other actuality. Hartshorne explained what it means to say that God is truly in the world and yet is not identical with it. He developed more fully than the other panentheists the logic of panentheism, arguing that the predication of contrary predicates of God makes better philosophical and religious sense than classical theism.
Critical Evaluation. Critics of panentheism have charged that it involves erroneous understandings of logic, causality, and analogy. The focal point of criticism has been the logic of dipolarity, on which panentheism rests. Hartshorne consistently argued that, despite attributing contrary predicates of God (e.g., transcendent-immanent, absolute-relative, infinite-finite), panentheism does not violate the principle of non-contradiction since these are predicated of God under different aspects. Furthermore the relationship between the pairs of contraries is asymmetrical: one set includes the other but not the other way around. Contrary to traditional philosophies of being, Hartshorne maintained that God's absoluteness is explainable as contained in God's relativity rather than vice versa.
Critics have also questioned whether the distinction between God and the world is really sufficiently delineated since panentheists deny the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. In panentheism, God's being Supreme Cause does not require that he have the kind of independence of the world reflected in the traditional doctrine of creation.
For Christian theists panentheism needs to be developed further if it is to be reconcilable with the doctrine of the Trinity. While dipolarity can be useful in explaining how God can be transcendent and immanent in the world or in shaping a new kind of Christology, it still remains unclear as to how it can support the doctrine of a triune God.
Bibliography: c. hartshorne and w. l. reese, eds. Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago 1953). c. hartshorne, Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Chicago 1941).
[e. r. naughton/
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