Immanence Vs Transcendence Essay

Not to be confused with Transcendentalism.

In religion, transcendence refers to the aspect of a god's nature and power which is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws. This is contrasted with immanence, where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it. This is typically manifested in prayer, séance, meditation, psychedelics and paranormal "visions".

It is affirmed in various religious traditions' concept of the divine, which contrasts with the notion of a god (or, the Absolute) that exists exclusively in the physical order (immanentism), or indistinguishable from it (pantheism). Transcendence can be attributed to the divine not only in its being, but also in its knowledge. Thus, a god may transcend both the universe and knowledge (is beyond the grasp of the human mind).

Although transcendence is defined as the opposite of immanence, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some theologians and metaphysicians of various religious traditions affirm that a god is both within and beyond the universe (panentheism); in it, but not of it; simultaneously pervading it and surpassing it.

View by religion[edit]

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable god, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe.[1] In the Bahá'í tradition, god is described as "a personal god, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty."[2] Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a mind, will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.[3] In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, nor to create a complete and accurate image.[4]


In Buddhism "transcendence", by definition, belongs to the mortal beings of the formless realms of existence. However, although such beings are at 'the peak' of Samsara, Buddhism considers the development of transcendence to be both temporary and a spiritual cul-de-sac, which therefore does not eventuate a permanent cessation of Samsara. This assertion was a primary differentiator from the other Sramana teachers during Gautama Buddha's own training and development.[5]

Alternatively, in the various forms of Buddhism—Theravada, Mahayana (especially Pure Land and Zen) and Vajrayana—the notion of transcendence sometimes includes a soteriological application. Except for Pure Land and Vajrayana, the role played by transcendent beings is minimal and at most a temporary expedient. However some Buddhists believe that Nirvana is an eternal, transcendental state beyond name and form, so for these Buddhists, Nirvana is the main concept of transcendence. The more usual interpretation of Nirvana in Buddhism is that it is a cessation—a permanent absence of something (namely suffering), and therefore it is not in any way a state which could be considered transcendent.

Primordial enlightenment and the dharma are sometimes portrayed as transcendent, since they can surpass all samsaric obstructions.


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The Catholic Church, as do other Christian Churches, holds that God transcends all creation.[6] According to Aquinas, "...concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him."[7] Anthropomorphic depictions of God are largely metaphorical and reflect the challenge of "human modes of expression" in attempting to describe the infinite.[8]St. Augustine observed "...[I]t is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home."[9] The "sense of transcendence" and therefore, an awareness of the "sacred", is an important component of the liturgy.[10] God is recognized as both transcendent and immanent.


Transcendence is described and viewed from a number of diverse perspectives in Hinduism. Some traditions, such as Advaita Vedanta, view transcendence in the form of God as the Nirguna Brahman (God without attributes), transcendence being absolute. Other traditions, such as Bhakti yoga, view transcendence as God with attributes (Saguna Brahman), the Absolute being a personal deity (Ishvara), such as Vishnu or Shiva.

In the Bhagavad Gita transcendence is described as a level of spiritual attainment, or state of being which is open to all spiritual aspirants (the goal of yoga practice), the state at which one is no longer under the control of animalistic, base desires and is aware of a higher spiritual reality.

When the yogī, by practice of yoga, disciplines his mental activities and becomes situated in transcendence — devoid of all material desires — he is said to be well established in yoga.[11]

The exact nature of this transcendence is given as being "above the modes of material nature", which are known as gunas (ropes) which bind the living entity to the world of samsara (repeated rebirth) in Hindu philosophy.[12]


Main articles: Tawhid and Tanzih

Tawhid is the act of believing and affirming that God (Arabic: Allah) is one and unique (wāḥid). The Qur'an asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; a unique and indivisible being who is independent of the entire creation.[13] According to the Qur'an:[13]

"Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." (Sura 112:1-4, Yusuf Ali)
Thy Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy: if it were God's will, God could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom God will as your successors, even as God raised you up from the posterity of other people." (Sura 6:133, Yusuf Ali)

According to Vincent J. Cornell, the Qur'an also provides a monist image of God by describing the reality as a unified whole, with God being a single concept that would describe or ascribe all existing things:"God is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; God is the Knower of everything (Sura 57:3)"[13] All Muslims have however vigorously criticized interpretations that would lead to a monist view of God for what they see as blurring the distinction between the creator and the creature, and its incompatibility with the radical monotheism of Islam.[14]

In order to explain the complexity of unity of God and of the divine nature, the Qur'an uses 99 terms referred to as "Most Beautiful Names of Allah" (Sura 77:180)[12]. Aside from the supreme name "Allah" and the neologism al-Rahman (referring to the divine beneficence that constantly (re)creates, maintains and destroys the universe), other names may be shared by both God and human beings. According to the Islamic teachings, the latter is meant to serve as a reminder of God's immanence rather than being a sign of one's divinity or alternatively imposing a limitation on God's transcendent nature.

Tawhid or Oneness of God constitutes the foremost article of the Muslim profession.[15] To attribute divinity to a created entity is the only unpardonable sin mentioned in the Qur'an.[16] Muslims believe that the entirety of the Islamic teaching rests on the principle of Tawhid.[17]


Jewish theologians, especially since the Middle Ages, have described the transcendence of God in terms of divine simplicity, explaining the traditional characteristics of God as omniscient and omnipotent. Interventions of divine transcendence occur in the form of events outside the realm of natural occurrence such as miracles and the revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

In Jewish Kabbalisticcosmology, God is described as the "Ein Sof" (literally, without end) as reference to God's divine simplicity and essential unknowability. The emanation of creation from the Ein Sof is explained through a process of filtering. In the Kabbalistic creation myth referred to as the "breaking of the vessels," filtering was necessary because otherwise this intense, simple essence would have overwhelmed and made impossible the emergence of any distinct creations. Each filter, described as a vessel, captured the emanation of this creative force until it was overwhelmed and broken by the intensity of God's simple essence. Once broken, the vessel's shards, full of absorbed "divine sparks," fell into a vessel below. This process ultimately continued until the "light" of Godliness was sufficiently reduced to allow the world we inhabit to be sustained without breaking. The creation of this world, however, comes with the consequence that Godly transcendence is hidden, or "exiled" (from the immanent world). Only through the revelation of sparks hidden within the shards embedded in our material world can this transcendence be recognized again. In Hasidic thought, divine sparks are revealed through the performance of commandments or "mitzvot," (literally, the obligations and prohibitions described in the Torah). A Kabbalistic explanation for the existence of malevolence in the world is that such terrible things are possible with the divine sparks being hidden. Thus there is some urgency to performing mitzvot in order to liberate the hidden sparks and perform a "tikkun olam" (literally, healing of the world). Until then, the world is presided over by the immanent aspect of God, often referred to as the Shekhinah or divine spirit, and in feminine terms.


Waheguru (Punjabi: ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ, Vāhigurū) is a term most often used in Sikhism to refer to God, the Supreme Being or the creator of all. It means "Wonderful Teacher" in the Punjabi language, but in this case is used to refer to the Sikh God. Wahi means "wonderful" (a Middle Persian borrowing) and "Guru" (Sanskrit: गुरु) is a term denoting "teacher". Waheguru is also described by some[according to whom?] as an experience of ecstasy which is beyond all descriptions.

Cumulatively, the name implies wonder at the Divine Light eliminating spiritual darkness. It might also imply, "Hail the Lord whose name eliminates spiritual darkness." Earlier, Shaheed Bhai Mani Singh, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, gave a similar explication, also on the authority of Guru Nanak. Considering the two constituents of "Vahiguru" ("vahi" + "guru") implying the state of wondrous ecstasy and offering of homage to the Lord, the first one was brought distinctly and prominently into the devotional system by Guru Nanak, who has made use of this interjection, as in Majh ki Var (stanza 24), and Suhi ki Var, sloka to pauri 10.[citation needed]

Sikh doctrine identifies one panentheistic god (Ek Onkar) who is omnipresent and has infinite qualities, whose name is true (Satnam), can do anything (Karta purkh), has no fear (Nirb hau), is not the enemy of anyone (Nirvair), is beyond time (Akaal), has no image (Murat), is beyond birth and death circulation (Ajunee), is self-existent (Sai Bhang) and possesses the grace of word guru (eternal light) we can meet him (Gurprasaad). Sikhs do not identify a gender for Ek Onkar, nor do they believe it takes a human form. In the Sikh tradition, all human beings are considered equal regardless of their religion, sex, or race. All are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.[18]

The "death of God" and the end of transcendence in secular culture[edit]

See also: God is dead and Richard L. Rubenstein

In 1961, Christian theologian Gabriel Vahanian's published The Death of God. Vahanian argued that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose or sense of providence. He concluded that for the modern secular mind "God is dead", but he did not mean that God did not exist. In Vahanian's vision a transformed post-Christian and post-modern culture was needed to create a renewed experience of deity.

Paul Van Buren and William Hamilton both agreed that the concept of transcendence had lost any meaningful place in modern secular thought. According to the norms of contemporary modern secular thought, God is dead. In responding to this denial of transcendence Van Buren and Hamilton offered secular people the option of Jesus as the model human who acted in love. The encounter with the Christ of faith would be open in a church-community.

Thomas J. J. Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry in which the immanence (presence) of God could be encountered in faith communities. However, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming his belief in a transcendent God. Altizer concluded that God had incarnated in Christ and imparted his immanent spirit which remained in the world even though Jesus was dead. It is important that such ideas are understood as socio-cultural developments and not as ontological realities. As Vahanian expressed it in his book, the issue of the denial of God lies in the mind of secular man, not in reality.

Critiquing the death of God theology, Joseph Papin, the founder of the Villanova Theology Institute, noted: "Rumbles of the new theology of the 'Requiem for God," (theologians of the death of God) proved to be a totally inadequate foundation for spanning a theological river with a bridge. The school of the theology of the "Requiem of God," not even implementing a "Requiem for Satan," will constitute only a footnote to the history of theology. . . . 'The Grave of God,' was the death rattle for the continuancy of the aforementioned school without any noticeable echo." [19] Professor Piet Schoonenberg (Nijmegen, Netherlands) directly critiqued Altizer concluding: "Rightly understood the transcendence of God does not exclude His immanence, but includes it." [20] Schoonenberg went on to say: "We must take God's transcendence seriously by not imposing any limits whatsoever, not even the limits that our images or concepts of transcendence evoke. This however occurs when God's transcendence is expressed as elevated over the world to the exclusion of his presence in this world; when his independence is expressed by excluding his real relation and reaction to the world; or when we insist upon his unchangeable eternity to the exclusion of his real partnership in human history."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^The Bahá'í Faith. Britannica Book of the Year. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 1988. ISBN 0-85229-486-7. 
  2. ^Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 139. ISBN 0-87743-020-9. 
  3. ^Hutter, Manfred (2005). "Bahā'īs". In Ed. Lindsay Jones. Encyclopedia of Religion. 2 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 737–740. ISBN 0-02-865733-0. 
  4. ^Cole, Juan (1982). "The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings". Bahá'í Studies. monograph 9: 1–38. 
  5. ^Ariyapariyesana Sutta - "'This Dhamma (of Alara Kalama) leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to Awakening, nor to Unbinding, but only to reappearance in the dimension of nothingness (one of the four states of formlessness).'"
  6. ^Catechism of the Catholic Church §§42, 212
  7. ^Aquinas, Thomas. SCG I, 30
  8. ^CCC §43
  9. ^Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 15, 25
  10. ^Conley, James D., "Reflecting on Transcendence in the Liturgy", southern Nebraska Register
  11. ^BG 6.18
  12. ^BG 14.22-25
  13. ^ abcVincent J. Cornell, Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol 5, pp.3561-3562
  14. ^Roger S. Gottlie (2006), p.210
  15. ^D. Gimaret, Tawhid, Encyclopedia of Islam
  16. ^Asma Barlas (2003-2007) Believing Women in Islam. University of Texas Press, p.96
  17. ^Tariq Ramadan (2005), p.203
  18. ^Taoshobuddha (22 Aug 2012). Ek Onkar Satnam: The Heartbeat of Nanak. AuthorHouseUK. p. 438. ISBN 1-4772-1426-7. 
  19. ^Papin, Joseph (1970). "Post-Conciliar Perspectives," The Dynamic in Christian Thought. Villanova University Press. p. 3. 
  20. ^Schoonenberg, Piet (1972). "The Transcendence of God, Part I," Transcendence and Immanence, Reconstruction in the Light of Process Thinking, Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Papin, ed. Joseph Armenti. Abbey Press. p. 161. 
  21. ^Schoonenberg, Piet (1976). "From Transcendence to Immanence, Part II," Wisdom and Knowledge, Essays in Honor of Joseph Papin, ed. Joseph Armenti. Villanova University Press. p. 273. 

External links[edit]

One of the most misunderstood concepts in Vico’s speculation is that of Providence, yet it remains the sine qua non for presenting an undistorted Vico. Within Vico’s concept of Providence there are two complementary poles, namely transcendence and immanence. Some have misguidedly attempted a resolution of the antinomy by searching for the right rational middle ground, much the same as some physicists attempted to discover the elusive middle ground between the corpuscular and the wave theory of light without arriving at a resolution of the paradox of light. Ultimately quantum mechanics showed the way.

The way lies in returning to origins, for as Vico points out, doctrines must begin at the beginning of the matter of which they treat. It is conceivable that when the scientist has climbed the last arduous cliff of unified theory he will find the mystic on the top of the mountain waiting for him. Intuitive knowledge is surely one approach to truth just as valid as rationality. It is not trendy in the relativistic times in which we live to speak of ultimate beliefs and values, or of the autonomy of truth from power and human volition. On the other hand it is not in vogue to oppose to an abstract rational vision or reality the concrete world of art, music, poetry, history. The power of abstract reasoning, since the Enlightenment, is still seen as the supreme achievement of Man. And yet it is precisely this cold, calculating reason that needs to be humanized by harmonizing it to the passions, the sentiments, intuition, myth, imagination. Some have seen the solution in the Nietzschean alternative but, as already argued, such a road goes around in circles and leads nowhere.

Vico was in the middle of two views: one about to die, and the other yet to be born. Croce had intuited at the beginning of the 20th century that Vico was the hinge between ancient and modern aesthetics. Where Croce erred was in reducing Vico to idealism and Hegelianism and then subsuming him under his own theory of aesthetics. He misses the fact that Vico was the first to understand the function of myth in history and its importance for human creativity. It is Vico who discovered that myth is the first form which truth assumes in revealing itself. It is nothing less than the first historicization of the Eternal. From this historical event understood philosophically issue logic, morality, economy, politics. For Vico myth is the sign of the first transition from the bestial to the rational and contains religious reverberations even when it appears contrary to religion. It is the veil of transcendence appearing under the form of the particular in a concrete historical moment and in which the whole of reality manifests itself.

For Vico myth is an “imaginative universal” which expresses historically the development from poetic wisdom to rational wisdom. It is a religious truth manifesting itself as a “perturbed imagination.” What is at work here is a complementary movement of the Divine coming down into the human and, vice versa, of the human aspiring to the Divine; finitum quod tendit ad infinitum, that is to say, the principle of complementarity: two seemingly contradictory poles paradoxically related and complementary of the same reality. At its primordial origins Being confronts primitive man (that Vico calls the bestione, a wild creature with little if any reflexive mode of thought) who becoming aware of the phenomenon reacts in fear with a gesture or a scream. Something is born with that scream! A scream, in fact, usually heralds human birth. Nobody is born philosophizing. Next, the “bestione” articulates words to express a vision and a myth is born. Within that myth resides the primordial objective voice of Providence to which the bestione had originally reacted.

Thus we have reached the crux of the paradoxical complementarity of transcendence/immanence in Vico’s concept of providence to which are assigned two complementary poles: pole n. 1, transcendence: God understood as a transcendent reality with ontological existence underpinning the whole of creation, including Man’s nature. Pole n. 2, immanence: the representation (arrived through fantasia and reason) of a providential divinity operating in human affairs through chance and accident. Those poles are complementary. A useful metaphor for the elucidation of complementarity within such a concept is that of the olive tree: depending on the direction of the wind the tree will appear either green or silver. Actually it is both green and silver since its leaves are green on one side and silver on the other. To perceive only one color is indeed to miss half of the reality of the olive tree. Donald Phillip Verene also uses the metaphor of a tree to characterize Vico’s dialogic language. In his Vico’s Science of Imagination he writes that “Vico’s ‘New Science’ demonstrates the importance of a language that can preserve opposition without resolution. In this sense it is a true language of humanity whose actual life is not that of the category…What is lost in the fatigue of history…is the language that can speak in two ways at once, that can produce both the mute imitation and the monosyllabic interjection. This language that originally give life to the whole is not monologic. It is dialogic, reflecting the opposition of the branches of the tree which themselves reflect the duality of mind” (p. 219). Verene is saying that in a rational era like ours, when imagination is weakest, this dialogic character of language (that is to say, a language that can encompass opposite and even contradictory statements) is usually lost sight of. Imagination is then narrowed to the mere aesthetic, as Croce did with Vico’s fantasia.

Examining more closely those two complementary poles we notice that in the first place the immanent pole of the concept of providence produces two effects: 1) it reveals the mental level reached by primitive man, and 2) it is a means (named guisa by Vico) used by Providence to persuade man to return to his natural good, i.e., social life. If we keep in mind the distinction we have pointed above between cause and occasion, it follows that this idea of divinity (i.e., the second immanent meaning of providence) could not possibly have arisen in primitive man’s conscience unless God had been at the origin of man’s being and had placed within man’s conscience a religious structure which, even when corrupted, remains alive as fire under the ashes. Thunder is this occasion which allows the reemergence of the idea of divinity. In Biblical language they are called chance and accident. When Providence as a transcendent ontological reality operates through man’s conscience, it avails itself of the common notions of eternal truth, namely the idea of a providential divinity. Those are two poles of the same concept which to the logical mind appears as a paradox. What needs to be done is to reorient one’s thinking and see the two poles as complementary of the same reality: while it is true that through chance and accidents the idea of providence brings man back to God, it is equally true that Providence uses this providential idea immanent within human history to bring man back to his own good.

While providence operates through natural ways and means and reveals itself immanent within human reality, it nevertheless remains a sign of divine order even within such an immanent revelation, for as Vico renders it “without order (which is to say, without God) human society cannot stand for a moment” (SN, 1100). In Vico there is always the presupposition of a creation prior to the mind. Man is never the exclusive protagonist of history as Croce and other idealists and/or positivists logically assert after jettisoning the pole of the transcendent from Vico’s concept of providence. Within idealism, in fact, more often than not Vico’s concept of providence is reduced to nothing more than a sort of Hegelian human rationality or “natural necessity” or merely impersonal forces branded as “the irony of history.” In effect, Vico is distorted subsumed under what is purported to be a more advanced idealistic paradigm. What is lost sight of is the complementarity inherent in Vico’s dialogic language.

Vico sees within history a ceaseless effort to lower the transcendent within the human and to raise the human to the transcendent. There is no assigning of priority and no ultimate synthesis. Throughout the New Science oppositions are preserved without any resolution. Man’s mind remains both a symbol and an instrument of God’s mind. Therefore, the idea of providence as generated by Man’s mind is both the idea he has of it (immanence) and the revelation through this idea of something, better still, of Someone who transcends that idea (transcendence). In Vico there is Plato (the universal) on one end of the pole of providence, but there is also Tacitus (the contingent facts of history) on the other end held together in a complementary relationship.

Vico’s providence operates through the human heart and human events and is not dissimilar from the Biblical concept of providence as revealed in Joseph’s story. In fact, Western man’s historical consciousness of which Vico is the father, issues from Biblical historical consciousness. The transcendent Being who is the ground of the human mind is the same Being who made the nature from which the human mind evolves. Sagan is correct in that respect: we are made of the stuff of the stars. Where he wholly misses the point is in not being able to discern, as Dante certainly could, that God made those stars in the first place and that his loving care keeps them moving; that as Vico points out, since the human world of nations has not come about by mere chance (it being an occasion utilized by Providence), being is none other than God.

It can be concluded that Vico is the precursor of a tradition that, while remaining grounded in Platonism, searches for the relation between absolute values (Plato’s Republic) and the world of contingency (which Vico calls rather descriptively “the feces of Romulus”). Transcendence is to be located in the immanence of the temple of the human conscience. The Cartesian scientific paradigm insists in seeing this nexus as an unbridgeable antinomy, as a paradox of sort. But it is precisely this paradox that appeals to contemporary man, disillusioned as he is with neat dispassionate theories of knowledge and ideologies reducing Man to a cog in economic-social schemes. This man is acutely aware that what is urgently needed is a mode of thought that is both more human and more existentially related to life’s experiences and the transcendent concerns of his humanity.

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