Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Panentheism and the Gnostic Reaction

Differing from pantheism (which is the belief that God and the physical universe are coextensive, that God and the universe are two sides of the same coin), panentheism states that everything we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell is divine but that God’s existence also extends beyond this universe. In other words, the physical universe is a part of God though not the whole of God. In this book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, the philosopher Peter Kreeft calls panentheism “clearly heretical.”

Sadly not all Catholics agree.

Panentheism bills itself as a compromise between the transcendent God of theism and the immanent god of pantheism. Now every good Christian recognizes that the physical universe (and for that matter, angels too) is sustained by God. Everything made by God was made from nothing and without His continual decision to sustain us, we would go back into the nothingness from which we came. Furthermore, everything that exists is good insofar as it exists. Panentheism, however, sadly fails to make the distinction between Creator and creation.

Nevertheless, there are those who argue that some Eastern Christian mystics and modern theologians have embraced a kind of panentheism that we, too, should accept.

But what really popularizes this among some Catholic theologians is perhaps an overreaction to the many forms of Gnosticism throughout the ages – especially one of its key tenants: the material universe is evil and made by an evil god. Catholics had to defend the faith against this heresy, and also against a rather Gnostic-sounding Protestant Christianity which denied that God could interact with us through material objects (i.e. sacraments, sacramentals, male priests, etc.).

Given the “Gnostic Reaction” and the belief in “ontological goodness” (that everything which exists is good insofar as it exists), there is a tendency among some Catholic theologians to drift dangerously close to panentheism and a universalism which can stem from it. We must not forget that evil really exists and that we have a duty to defeat it. It could be found in our own hearts, or it could be found in men like Stalin, Hitler, and bin Laden. In the end, there is a real heaven, a real hell, and a real judgment between good and evil.

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