With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Note on Neoplatonic Champagne

Neoplatonic emanation has traditionally been a sticking point for Christianity. Despite some of its unifying metaphysical strengths, it seems to render created being necessary, as though God's nature requires that the diversified chorus of finitude pours forth from his lips. Suddenly, a core aspect of the created/uncreated distinction is trivialized.

The big players in the Christian tradition who sought to reap the fruits of Neoplatonism have dealt with this apparent conflict.

To put it simply, when it comes to intentionality or necessity: we must not conceive of the emanation of finite being the way a great and mighty waterfall trickles down into a river below that branches off into countless tributaries and streams. The waterfall would not be what it is if gravity did not exact this necesssity on its emanation. Or rather, it would be like every time you bought a bottle of champagne, it burst open and poured out onto everything, as you speedily try to plug the top in your unexpected panic.

God's emanation is far more like when one, celebrating an acheivement in great joy (perhaps celebrating one's own beautiful nature), shakes a giant bottle of champagne and pops the cork, allowing its bounty to flow forth into the countless and variously shaped glasses of one's guests, held out at different heights below it. And imagine, of course, that somehow this giant bottle of champagne never runs out....

Pax Christi,


  • At 5/31/2009 9:43 PM, Anonymous Ethan said…

    I appreciate the care with language in your first paragraph (emphasizing "seems"). Plotinus goes out of his way to show that emanation from the One is in no way necessitated after the manner some finite being may be necessitated by an external other or by one's received essence. Not that there is no difference between creation ex nihilo, or more especially de novo, and Plotinian emnanation, but too often Christians do "pagan" philosophers an interpretive injustice in order to show "our" unique possession of some truth. Aquinas seems to think the difference was more in de novo than ex nihilo and thus shows greater care and charity in his reading than many a contemporary theologian.

    Of course I appreciate the whole post as well and sense that your careful reading of Desmond is bearing fruit.



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