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emanation

emanation (ĕmənāˈshən) [key] [Lat., = flowing from], cosmological concept that explains the creation of the world by a series of radiations, or emanations, originating in the godhead. It is characteristic of Neoplatonism and of Gnosticism and is frequently encountered in Indian metaphysics. In the history of Western thought it has been to some extent, as in Neoplatonism, opposed to the Judeo-Christian conception of creation, in which the eternal God makes all from nothing. To explain the relation of a totally transcendent God to a finite and imperfect world, the belief in emanation denies that God directly created the world but maintains rather that the world is the result of a chain of emergence through emanations. From God (the One, or the Absolute), the one prime principle, flows the divine substance; his own substance never lessens. As the flow proceeds farther from God, however, its divinity steadily decreases. When a stone is dropped into water, the circles ever widening from the point (God) where the stone fell are emanations, becoming fainter and fainter. Emanation never ceases, the whole process moving continuously outward from God. In the 3d cent. A.D., Plotinus and other Neoplatonists developed a clear system of emanation. The Neoplatonists ascribed to Plato an emanative concept in his Idea of the Good as being supreme, the lesser ideas being in some way related to the Idea of the Good. The concept, in modified form, influenced the development of medieval Christian theology through the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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