What is Emanation?

Religious thinkers and philosophers have usually maintained that emanation has neither beginning nor end in time. It originates in a perfect and transcendent source that is not diminished by the process. The things emanated are less perfect than the source. The process of emanation is often likened to the giving off of light or heat by a fire.

In religious thought, the Gnostics used emanationist notions to describe the origin of their fantastic hierarchies of beings. Some Christians spoke of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) in emanationist terms. It is in Neoplatonic philosophy, however, that the idea reaches its most sophisticated form. Plotinus, the greatest Neoplatonist, held that the transcendent One in its perfection spontaneously overflows, giving rise to Intellect. From Intellect emanates Soul, and so on down to matter, the lowest level of reality. Moreover, each level aspires to turn back to its source, the One. Plotinus sometimes criticized emanationism and was always aware of the inadequacy of sense imagery to describe spiritual reality. His successors were not so cautious. One, Proclus, gives the most systematic exposition of the doctrine in his Elements of Theology.

In ancient and medieval thought emanationism competed with creationism, which denies that the things created are made from the substance of the creator. In modern thought emanationism has been largely replaced by the idea of evolution, which denies a transcendent source and affirms the increasing perfection of the outcome of the process.

More by this Author

  • Who are Adventists?

    Belief in the nearness of the Second Coming of Christ is the essential and distinctive tenet of Adventists. By this definition, Adventists are found in large numbers in most Christian denominations, especially in those...

  • What is Karma Marga?

    Karma Marga, in Hinduism the way to Self-realisation through selfless action. The disciple surrenders his life to brahman (also called God), the Source of the manifest world; he acts in the consciousness that God is the...

  • Theories of the Origin of Religion

    The origin of religion has been a primary concern of the following sciences; comparative philology, sociology, and psychology. Each of these disciplines has developed its own theories, and within each discipline...


No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article