The divine attribute of omnipresence is the theological interpretation of God's hiddenness, whose presence in history is unlimited and transcends local space. Concepts like transcendence, immanence, agency, knowledge, indwelling, place, and spiritual substance are basic to omnipresence. God's omnipresence is an active presence, which means that creation and providence find their place within God's creative presence. Classical theology distinguishes omnipresence by virtue of power, knowledge, and being. Divine power fills everything and God's being is by nature wholly present in all things, therefore God's place is where the divine power and activity manifests itself as dynamic omnipresence. Divine presence by virtue of knowledge means that every entity is created in accordance with divine ideas and is thus mentally present to God.
After the demythologization of "heaven above," the question is how to imagine the relation between the divine sphere and the world of human experience. Is God's presence spatial or nonspatial? An answer to this question depends on the theory of space people handle. One can distinguish idealistic, realistic, and relational theories. An idealistic theory of space denies the independent existence of space, but holds that one's observing capacity arranges objects spatially. A realistic theory holds that space exists independently of the objects therein or of any observer. A relational theory claims that space is given with objects in their mutual relations, as the order of coexistent things.
Three theories interpret God's omnipresence by means of a realistic theory of space. Absolute monism imagines that God and created reality coincide (Baruch Spinoza: Deus sive natura ). Organic monism interprets the relation between God and the world as a psychosomatic unity, thus the world is God's body. God is both present in and all over the world and transcends the world at the same time (Grace Jantzen; process theology). Spatial dualism conceives God's omnipresence as extended in absolute space without coinciding with the created world. God is thought of as active everywhere and therefore God is also substantially present everywhere as an omnipresent non-material substance (no actio in distans, Isaac Newton).
Traditionally theologians have thought of God's active presence as the universal, nonspatial, sustaining principle that prevents disintegration (Anselm of Canterbury), or as the nonspatial, spiritual cause of the hierarchy of created causes (Thomas Aquinas). Because God is "simple" or nondivisible, God is, as a whole, in every place (Augustine). Although these theologians presuppose a realistic theory of space, their view appears to be compatible only with idealistic theory.
Given the scientific picture of the world, God's omnipresence is imagined as God's own space (Karl Barth). With reference to mathematical conceptuality in natural science one can picture three-dimensional space as a subspace of an infinitely higher dimensional space in which God exists (Karl Heim). Now omnipresence means that within God's own space of an infinite number of dimensions, God is present in every position in three-dimensional space. Thus, God is simultaneous with all objects in three-dimensional space, without being contained by this three-dimensional space or four-dimensional space-time (Luco van den Brom).
See also Augustine; God; Monism; Newton, Isaac; Thomas Aquinas
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luco j. van den brom
The infinite and omnipotent God is in all things everywhere. Such, briefly, is the teaching of Scripture and tradition. Omnipresence is an attribute of God, the infinite and first cause of all, who is actually present in all existing places and things. This presence is not to be interpreted as dimensional or spatial, since God is utterly simple and infinite and thus free of all spatial limitations. Rather He is present as an agent to His effects. So God is everywhere, for He is the source of the being and action in all places and things. Moreover, since in God power and action are one, He is substantially present in all existing things through His power and operation.
God's omnipresence has a relationship to divine immensity of actuality to aptitude. For immensity is the infinite plenitude of subsistent being that is free from all spatial limitations and, thus, is able to be present in all things. Immensity implies the power to be everywhere. Omnipresence is the actual exercise of the power to be everywhere. Whereas immensity is an essential, absolute, and eternal attribute in God, omnipresence is relative to created being.
Omnipresence is implicit in those scriptural texts that speak of God's immensity. But Scripture is explicit also. In earlier books the notion of omnipresence remains undefined, although God's presence is known not to be confined to one place (Gn 12.4–9; 14.20). Later, the idea of God's omnipresence is more definitely expressed: God is everywhere by His nature, for He transcends and permeates all things (Dt 4.39; Wis 8.1) and sees them as they are [Ps 112 (113).5–9; 101 (102).20–21; Prv 5.21; 15.3]; no one can escape His presence [Ps 138 (139).7–12; Am9.2; Is 43.2]. Christ calls attention to the presence of the "Father, who sees in secret" (Mt 6.6) and who is present in heaven and on earth (Mt 6.9–13; 5.35). God is everywhere, as St. Paul explains to the Athenians (Acts 17.24–28; cf. Eph. 4.6).
Patristic teaching distinguishes God's omnipresence from His immensity (e.g., St. Cyril of Alex., In Jn. 1.9) and explicitly states that God is everywhere and wholly everywhere (e.g., St. Hilary, De Trin. 2.6). Theologians maintain this patristic doctrine and commonly distinguish how God is present in all things: He is present to them by His essence and power, and all things are open to His knowledge; while in the just, God is present in a special way through His grace (St. Thomas, Summa theologiae, 1a, 8.3). The immensity of God is a defined dogma (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3001).
See Also: indwelling, divine; jesus christ.
Bibliography: e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951) 4.1:948–1023. x. le bachelet, ibid. 1023–1152. m. chossat, ibid. 1152–1243. j. m. dalmau, Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. Fathers of the Society of Jesus, Professors of the Theological Faculties in Spain, 4 v. (Madrid), v. 1 (1962), v. 2 (1958),v. 3 (1961), v. 4 (1962); Biblioteca de autores cristianos (Madrid 1945) 2.1:126–134. y. m. j. congar, The Mystery of the Temple, tr. r. f. trevett (Westminster, Md. 1962). j. daniÉlou, The Presence of God, tr. w. roberts (Baltimore 1960). l. reypens, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. Paris (1932) 3:883–929.
[m. f. morry]
476. Omnipresence (See also Ubiquity.)
- Allah supreme being and pervasive spirit of the universe. [Islam: Leach, 36]
- Big Brother all-seeing leader watches every move. [Br. Lit.: 1984]
- eye God sees all things in all places. [Christian Symbolism: O.T.: Proverbs 15:3]
- God transcendant over and immanent in the world. [Christianity and Judaism: NCE, 1098–1099]