The term “omnipresence” has become cold and abstract, rattled off in a chain of impressive-sounding predicates, like a used car salesman hyping up a luxury model. It is usually defined as the property of being present everywhere at once. But what does “present” really mean? Present in what way? How does omnipresence work?
As it turns out, attempting to answer this question takes us in some pretty interesting directions, from Philip K. Dick to the feminine hypostasis Sophia.
Notice how I said “attempting to answer” and not “answer,” for I make no claim of truly understanding any of this. Explaining how the Divine “works” in words intelligible to the human mind is a fool’s errand. My aim is not to explain, but to gesture towards, to wave my harms in the general direction of what I am experiencing.
Furthermore, my thesis is that the term “omnipresence” and how it’s usually discussed as some kind of “superpower” of God gives us the completely wrong idea. By not pausing to dwell on the spiritual and specifically Christian implications of omnipresence, Christians are at risk of losing touch of its metaphysical significance.
“Omnipresence” risks becoming something impersonal like the omnipresence of the Law of Gravity.
But God’s actual omnipresence is deeply personal. It is the omnipresence of the Logos itself, the Universal Christ-Person, the Ultimate Principle of Meaning and Purpose that connects the entire Cosmos, the Unus Mundus or One World, into a holistic, intelligible reality, with the psychic(Soul-ish) and physical layers of reality interpenetrating at a fundamentally deep, archetypal level that really escapes the power of the English language.
Since Descartes, the modern Western conceptual scheme seems to have trouble thinking of this interpenetration outside of the binary of Mind and Body. As Jeff Kripal argues, we need a new “philosophy of the hyphen” whereby it is not Mind and Body but Mind-Body and Body-Mind with an emphasis on the connecting hyphen.
The same goes for God being “present” through the Cosmos. We can say it is not God and Cosmos, but “God-Cosmos,” with an emphasis on the hyphen.
Indeed, I think “holistic presence” better captures the personal nature of Christ as Logos than does “omnipresence.” For God is omnipresent as not just a merely permeating field of abstract divinity, absent-mindedly touching physical reality but essentially being a purely nonpsychic or soulless process.
The omnipresence of Christ in the cosmos through the principle of incarnation is deeply intelligent and alive.
It is indeed a Living Intelligence, an Active Mind. The ancient Greeks called it the Anima Mundi or World-Soul.
Thus, then, in accordance with the likely account, we must declare that this Cosmos has verily come into existence as a Living Creature endowed with soul and reason […] a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.
In our modern times, perhaps no other recent writer has better captured the intensity in which the Logos is alive and active than Philip K. Dick, who wrote semi-autobiographically in his VALIS trilogy of his encounters with Logos or what he called the Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS).
I think DIck’s term VALIS is powerfully evocative in its emphasis. Vast, as in cosmic in scale. Active, as in not a passive and distant God. Living, as in having a Soul, indeed, being the Soul of the Cosmos. Intelligent, acting as Nous, or Logos, a universal principle of Ultimate Reason. System, suggesting that God is systematic in Her organizing power, affecting everything on all scales.
The Gospel of John famously declared the Logos to be a powerful organizing principle playing a critical role in the Creation and ultimate logic of the Cosmos:
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:1)
We see a possible antecedent of this Johannite Logos in Psalm 33:6:
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jew, described the Logos beautifully, saying “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated.” Accordingly, I think the term “omnibinding” is much more apt than “omnipresence,” because it suggests that the presence and incarnation of God is an active rather than static principle.
Although in the Gospel of John the Logos is masculinized in the figure of Jesus Christ, I believe one can see the proto-hypostatis of Sophia, the Feminine Principle of Wisdom, as a sister-concept and legitimate Hebrew precursor of the Christian Logos. Consider “Wisdom’s Part in Creation” described in Proverbs 8:22:
Wisdom’s Part in Creation
22 The Lord created me at the beginning[b] of his work,[c]
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,[d]
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;[e]
and I was daily his[f] delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
In this telling verse, we see that the feminine aspect of the Logos, The Divine Feminine recognized in Hebrew as Chokmah.
We see in the Hebrew text Sirach Chapter 1 great praise given to Wisdom as a hypostasis of God, the first hypostasis “created before all other things,” who is Herself “pour her out upon all his works.”
In Praise of Wisdom
1 All wisdom is from the Lord,
and with him it remains forever.
2 The sand of the sea, the drops of rain,
and the days of eternity—who can count them?
3 The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth,
the abyss, and wisdom[d]—who can search them out?
4 Wisdom was created before all other things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.[e]
6 The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties—who knows them?[f]
8 There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared,
seated upon his throne—the Lord.
9 It is he who created her;
he saw her and took her measure;
he poured her out upon all his works,
10 upon all the living according to his gift;
he lavished her upon those who love him.[g]
Verse 9 is especially important because when it says God “poured out Wisdom [Logos] upon all his works” this is a theological precedent for the universal and cosmic incarnation of not only the Johannite Logos but also Paul’s vision of a Universal Christ that “is all and in all.”
Or in Wisdom 9:9-11:
With you is wisdom, she who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
she understands what is pleasing in your sight
and what is right according to your commandments.
10 Send her forth from the holy heavens,
and from the throne of your glory send her,
that she may labor at my side,
and that I may learn what is pleasing to you.
11 For she knows and understands all things,
and she will guide me wisely in my actions
and guard me with her glory.
Here, Wisdom was “present when God made the world” and “knows and understands all things” and is the basis upon which actions can be wisely guided. In other words, Sophia as Feminine Wisdom is a Divine Emanation of God the Eternal One who is an intelligent blueprint from which we can make intelligible the very reasonableness of our experiences of the world.
Last, in the famous passage in Wisdom 7 describing the Nature of Sophia, we can see the true extent to which a Feminine Logos is the logical counter-part to the Masculine Logos in the Gospel of John, which also “was there in the beginning” and “becomes flesh” in the same way as Sophia, who we “poured out into all the works of God.”
The Nature of Wisdom
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
25 For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
26 For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
27 Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
28 for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
29 She is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
30 for it is succeeded by the night,
but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
In 1 Corinthians 1:24 Paul identifies Christ with the Wisdom of God, who he would almost certainly be familiar with as the Feminine Hypostasis Sophia:
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Based on Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians, the Church Fathers came to identify Christ as the Wisdom of God, with the Feminine Sophia being an aspect of Christ as Logos.
However, some Christian mystics have taken this appreciation of the Feminine Wisdom much further in giving Her a more elevated position in the Divine Dance of the Godhead, sometimes elevating her as almost a fourth person of the Trinity.
Wikipedia has some interesting material on Sophia:
In Russian Orthodox mysticism, Sophia became increasingly indistinguishable from the person of the Theotokos (rather than Christ), to the point of the implication of the Theotokos as a “fourth person of the Trinity”.
Such interpretations became popular in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, forwarded by authors such as Vladimir Solovyov, Pavel Florensky, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov. Bulgakov’s theology, known as “Sophianism“, presented Divine Wisdom as “consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity”, operating as the aspect of consubstantiality (ousia or physis, substantia or natura) or “hypostaticity” of the Trinity of the three hypostases, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, “which safeguards the unity of the Holy Trinity”. It was the topic of a highly political controversy in the early 1930s and was condemned as heretical in 1935.
Thomas Merton, the great 20th century Catholic Trappist monk and controversial mystic, studied the Russian Orthodox mystics and recognized deep wisdom in the idea of a Feminine Principle of Wisdom. His poem Hagia Sophia is a beautiful ode to the feminine power available within Sophia as Logos:
There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden whole-ness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom,the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in word-less gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.
We do not see the Blinding One in black emptiness.
He speaks to us gently in ten thousand things, in
which His light is one fullness and one Wisdom.
Thus He shines not on them but from within them.
Such is the loving-kindness of Wisdom.
All the perfections of created things are also in God;
and therefore He is at once Father and Mother. As
Father He stands in solitary might surrounded by
darkness. As Mother His shining is diffused, embracing
all His creatures with merciful tenderness and light.
The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia.
We call her His “glory.” In Sophia His power is
experienced only as mercy and as love.
Merton makes a subtle reference to Taoism with his line about the “ten thousand things,” which represent the manifest multiplicity and particularity of God’s emanated reality which is intelligible and categorizable by our Minds only via the power of the Logos, The Word, or God’s Wisdom, Sophia, the Mother of All Things.
Merton recognizes, like all great occultists and mystics and esoterics, that if one is going to personify the cosmic emanations of God at all through the limitations of gender as a guiding archetypal metaphor, then one must include both the Masculine and the Feminine, both the Active and the Passive, both the Father and the Mother.
Every ancient system of wisdom has recognized the essential androgyny of Mother-Father-ness built into the Godhead. It has been the great poverty of the orthodox Christian tradition to have completely masculinized the Godhead by turning the Logos of Christ into a strictly masculine principle with no sight of the feminine anywhere except his human mother Mary, who Catholics have always seen as holy and maybe even divine but never as full-member of the Trinity worthy of actual worship.
While it is true that the Incarnation of Christ-as-Logos in Jesus of Nazareth was masculine insofar as Jesus was an ordinary man, the Christ-as-Logos itself is beyond the limitations of masculinity and in fact both encompasses and gives rise to the logic of all genders.
Paul sees the implications of the Universal Christ clearly in his statement in Galatians 3:28 that “28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Merton also recognizes the importance of Sophia for understanding the Mother Principle in theology by connecting Wisdom to Mary, the Mother of God:
Now the Blessed Virgin Mary is the one created being
who enacts and shows forth in her life all that is hidden in Sophia.
Because of this she can be said to be a personal manifestation
of Sophia, Who in God is Ousia rather than Person.
Natura in Mary becomes pure Mother. In her, Natura
is as she was from the origin from her divine birth. In Mary Natura
is all wise and is manifested as an all-prudent, all-loving, all-pure person:
not a Creator, and not a Redeemer, but perfect Creature, perfectly
Redeemed, the fruit of all God’s great power, the perfect expression
of wisdom in mercy.
There we have it. How omnipresence works. Clear as mud, right? I hope you enjoyed this journey of thought as much as I did writing it.