A philosophical and theological form of pantheism, according to which all things emanate or flow forth from God as from a primal source or principle. It is opposed to the doctrine of creation and of participation, and also to world-formation and evolutionary theories. Whereas the doctrine of creation maintains that the world was formed from nothing (ex nihilo ), emanationism holds that all things (some immediately, others mediately) proceed from the single substance of God, and this by a type of natural necessity and not by a decree of the divine will. Whereas world-formation theories teach that there is some eternal matter or substrate from which the universe was formed, emanationism maintains that everything is contingent, matter included, and that matter itself emanates from the primal source. In most forms of evolutionism the world principle is regarded as itself undergoing transformation and development and as entering into the constitution of the universe; in emanationism, on the other hand, the primal source or principle remains unchanged as everything else proceeds from it. Again, the process of evolution, at least in its totality, is generally regarded as an ascent, a movement upward toward a greater perfection; emanation, however, is a descent, beginning with the infinitely perfect and yielding emanated beings that are increasingly less pure, less perfect, and less divine. The Infinite is postulated as a starting point, instead of being the goal that the universe continually strives to realize.
History. Vague indications of emanationism are found in ancient mythologies and religions, especially those of India, Egypt, and Persia. Thus in the upanishads things are said to issue from their eternal principle, as the web, from the spider; the plant, from the earth; and the hair, from the skin. Though these and other expressions may be interpreted in the sense of emanationism, however, they are not sufficiently explicit to serve as a basis for the assertion that such systems of philosophy or religion are emanationistic. The teaching of philo judaeus on this point is not much clearer. His thought was influenced by two distinct currents: Greek philosophy, especially platonism, and judaism. In his effort to reconcile their teachings, he sometimes falls into inconsistencies and it is difficult to ascertain his true position. According to Philo, God, who is infinitely perfect, cannot act on the world immediately but only through powers or forces (δυνάμεις) that are not identical with Him, but proceed from Him. The primitive divine force is the Logos. Whether the Logos is a substance or only an attribute is not clear in his teaching. From the Logos proceeds the Spirit (πνε[symbol omitted]μα), which is a type of world soul. Sometimes God is described as the efficient and active cause of the universe, sometimes also as immanent, as the one and the whole (ε[symbol omitted]ς καì τò π[symbol omitted]ν α[symbol omitted]τός ἐστιν).
Neoplatonism. The first clear and systematic expression of emanationism is to be found in the Alexandrian school of neoplatonism. According to plotinus, the most important representative of the school, the first principle of all things is the One. Absolute unity and simplicity is the best expression by which God can be designated. The One is a totally indetermined essence, for any attribute or determination would introduce both limitation and multiplicity. Even intelligence and will cannot belong to this primal reality, for these imply the duality of subject and object, and duality presupposes a higher unity. The One, however, is also described as the First, the Good, the Light, and the Universal Cause. From the One all things proceed; not by creation, which would be an act of the will and therefore incompatible with unity, and not by a spreading of the divine substance, since this would do away with the essential oneness. The One is not all things, but is before all things. Emanation is the process by which all things are derived from the One. The infinite goodness and perfection overflows, as it were; and while remaining within itself and losing nothing of its own perfection, it generates other beings, sending them forth from its own superabundance. Or again, as brightness is produced by the rays of the sun, so everything is a radiation (περíλαμψις) from the Infinite Light. The various emanations form a series, every successive step of which is an image of the preceding one, though inferior to it. The first reality that emanates from the One is the Nous, a pure intelligence, an immanent and changeless thought that effects no activity outside of itself. The Nous is an image of the One and, coming to recognize itself as an image, introduces the first duality, that of subject and object. The Nous includes in itself the intellectual world, or the world of Ideas of plato. From the Nous emanates the World Soul, which forms the transition between the world of Ideas and the world of the senses. The World Soul is intelligent, and in this respect similar to the ideal world, but it also tends to realize the Ideas in the material world. It generates particular souls, or rather plastic forces that are the forms of all things. Finally, these souls and their particular forces beget matter, which is of itself indetermined and becomes determined by its union with the forms.
With a few variations in the details, the same essential doctrine of emanation is taught by iamblichus and proclus. With Plotinus, Iamblichus identifies the One with the Good, but assumes an absolutely first One, which is anterior to the One and is utterly ineffable. From it emanates the One; from the One the intelligible world (Ideas); and from the intelligible world, the intellectual world (thinking beings). According to Proclus, from the One come the unities (ἐνάδες), which alone are related to the world. From the unities emanate the triads of the intelligible essences (being), the intelligible-intellectual essences (life), and the intellectual essences (thought). These again are further differentiated. Matter comes directly from one of the intelligible triads.
Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that from God, the Father, emanated numberless divine, supramundane Aeons, less and less perfect, which, taken all together, constitute the fullness (πλήρωμα) of divine life (see gnosis; gnosticism). Wisdom, the last of these, produced an inferior wisdom named Achamoth and also the psychical and material worlds. To denote the mode according to which an inferior is derived from a superior degree, basilides employs the term ἀπóρρια, meaning flowing from, or efflux; and valentinus, the term προβομή, meaning throwing forth or projection.
Christianity. The Fathers of the Church and Christian writers, especially when treating of the divine exemplarism or of the relations of the three divine Persons in the Trinity, and sometimes when speaking of the origin of the universe, use expressions that remind one of the theory of emanation. Such expressions, however, must be interpreted in light of the doctrine of creation to which they adhered. pseudo-dionysius follows Plotinus and the later Neoplatonists, especially Proclus, and frequently borrows their terminology. Yet he attempts to adapt their views to the teachings of Christianity. For him, God is primarily goodness and love, and other beings are emanations from His goodness, as light is an emanation from the sun.
john scotus erigena took his doctrine from Pseudo-Dionysius and interpreted it in the sense of pantheistic emanationism. For him, there is only one Being, who, by a series of substantial emanations, produces all things. Nature has four divisions, or, more precisely, there are four stages of the one nature: (1) The nature that creates but is not created, i.e., God in His primordial, incomprehensible reality, unknown and unknowable for all beings, even for Himself. God alone truly is, and He is the essence of all things. (2) The nature that is created and also creates, i.e., God considered as containing the ideas, prototypes, or primordial causes of things. This is the ideal world. (3) The nature that is created but does not create, i.e., the world of things existing in space and time. All of these flow, proceed, or emanate from the first principle of being. Creation is a "procession," and creatures and God are but one and the same reality. In creatures God manifests Himself—hence the term theophania, by which Erigena describes this process. (4) Nature that neither creates nor is created, i.e., God as the term toward which everything ultimately returns.
Arabian Philosophy. Influenced in many points by Neoplatonism, arabian philosophy generally holds much the same form of emanationism, viz, the emanation of the different spheres to which all things celestial and terrestrial belong. According to alfarabi, from the First Being, conceived as intelligent (and in this Alfarabi departs from Plotinus), the intellect emanates; from the intellect, the world soul; and from the world soul, matter. Avicenna teaches that matter is eternal and uncreated. From the First Cause comes the first intelligence, from which follows a series of processions and emanations of the various celestial spheres down to the earthly sphere on which man dwells. For Averroës, the intellect is not individual but is identical with the universal spirit, which is an emanation from God. A later Arab mystic, ibn ‘arabĪ, illustrates the process of emanation by comparison with a mirror, which receives the features of a man although the man and his features remain united.
Jewish Philosophy. In medieval jewish philosophy, influences of Neoplatonism are apparent in the teachings of Avicebron and maimonides. In the cabala, the doctrine of the Sephiroth, which was developed and systematized early in the 13th century, is essentially a doctrine of emanations. The Sephiroth are the necessary intermediaries between God and the universe, between the intellectual and the material world. They are divided into three groups, the first group of three forming the world of thought; the second group, also of three, the world of soul; and the last group of four, the world of matter.
Catholic Teaching. For Catholics, a discussion of emanationism can only take place in the context of the solutions proposed to the problem of God's nature, especially His simplicity and infinity (see god; infinity of god; simplicity of god). The doctrine of the Catholic Church is contained in the definition of the dogma of creation by the Fourth Lateran Council (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 800). vatican council i also expressly condemns emanationism and anathematizes those who hold "that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the divine substance" (Enchiridion symbolorum 3024; see also 3002).
See Also: monism.
Bibliography: c. a. dubray, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann et al., 16 v. (New York 1907–14) 5:397–99. t.p. roeser, "Emanation and Creation," The New Scholasticism 19 (1945) 85–116. g. faggin, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:1861–64. k. jÜssen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:841–42. h. dÖrrie, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 2:449–50.
[c. a. dubray/
w. a. wallace]