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Panteism and Panenteism: a necessary Distinction


A radical and coherent cosmological vision holds that the ultimate subject of everything that happens is the universe itself. The universe causes the appearance of beings, complexities, biodiversity, consciousness, and the contents of that consciousness, of which we are a part.

Thus, before it arose as an idea in our heads, the reality of God was in the universe itself. Because the reality of God was in the universe, the idea of God could come forth in us. Starting from this concept, we can understand that God is inherent in the universe. God is mixed with all the processes, without being diluted by them. Better yet, God orients the arrow of time towards the formation of ever more complex and dynamic orders, (that, consequently, distance themselves from the equilibrium to seek new adaptations), that are filled with purpose. God appears, in the language of cross-cultural traditions, as the creative Spirit, and organizer of all that exists. God is mixed with all things, participating in their development, suffering with mass extinctions, feeling crucified with the impoverished, and happy with the advances towards more convergent and interrelated diversities, pointing towards an Omega end point.

God is present in the cosmos and the cosmos is present in God. The old theology expressed this mutual inter-penetration by the concept of «pericoresis» applied to the relationships between God and creation, and thereafter, to the Persons of the Divine Trinity. Modern theology has coined another expression, «panenteism» (in Greek: pan=all; en=in; theos=God). This is: God is in everything and everything is in God. This word was proposed by an Evangelical, Frederick Krause (l781-1832), who was fascinated by the divine splendor of the universe.

Panenteism must be clearly distinguished from panteism. Panteism (in Greek: pan = all; theos=God) affirms that all is God and God is all. It holds that God and the world are identical; that the world is not a creation of God, but the necessary mode of being of God. Panteism accepts no differentiation: heaven is God, the Earth is God, the rock is God and the human being is God. This lack of differentiation easily leads to indifference. All is God and God is all, consequently it makes no difference whether I concern myself for a girl abused in a bus of Rio, or about the Carnival, or the indigenous peoples facing extinction, or a law against homophobia. This is manifestly erroneous, because differences exist and persist.

Not all is God. Things are what they are: things. However, God is in things and things are of God, by reason of His act of creation. The creature always depends on God and without God the creature would return to the nothingness whence it came. God and the world are different, but they are neither separated nor closed, they are open one for the other. They are different so as to make possible mutual encounter and communion. Through it, transcendence and immanence, the contrasting categories of Greek origin, are left behind.
Immanence is this world, here. Transcendence is the world that is beyond this. Christianity, by the incarnation of God created a new category: transparence, that is the presence of the transcendence (God) within the immanence (world). When this happens, God and the world mutually make each other transparent. As Jesus said: \”who sees me, sees the Father\”. Teilhard de Chardin lived a moving spirituality of the transparence. In The Divine Milieu, an essay on the interior life, (Le milieu divin, 162), he said: «the great mystery of Christianity is not the apparition, but the transparence of God in the universe. Not only the ray that emerges, but the ray that penetrates. Not the Epiphany but the Diaphaneity».

The universe in cosmogenesis invites us to live the experience that underlies panenteism: in every minimal manifestation of being, in every movement, in every expression of life we are in the presence and action of God. Embracing the world we embrace God. Those who are sensitive to the Sacred and to the Mystery pull God out of anonymity, and give the Divine a name. They celebrate the Divine with hymns, songs and rites, through which they express their experience of God. They are witness to what Paul said to the Greeks from Athens: “We live, we move, we exist in God.” (17, 28).

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