Immanence and Transcendence / Fabrice Mathy

Of course it would suffice to explain that immanence is what resides inside someone or something. For example, gravitation is immanent in terrestrial particles. Immanence is what comes from within each of us. Transcendence is what surpasses us, what comes from above. That’s it. Goal.

But that is not enough to answer the philosophical questions we ask ourselves. In fact, human finitude, human existence and its purpose, the consciousness of being, the contingency of the world, all this remains entire. Theogony and cosmogony bring us a first answer by proposing a just, beautiful and good world in which everyone is in his place, and he can not want to extricate himself from it, for fear of being punished where he has sinned, hubris (by excess, arrogance): Tantalus and the unstable rock above his head, Oedipus crushing his eyes, the sword of Damocles, the wings of Icarus melting in the rays of the sun, etc.

Religions try, for some, to deny this suffering engendered by the anguish of finitude. Others explain it by the caprices of the gods, which can be protected by sacrifices.

Let us quote, for the record, Buddhism which considers that everything is illusion (therefore no immanence or transcendence).

The monotheistic religions justify the finiteness of life by our responsibility to the creator, that is to say, an entity that surpasses us, which is transcendent to us. Philosophy (philo sophia: love of wisdom) allows us to overcome this test by reason, through different currents.

So let’s say: immanence is apparently simple (everything is interior to everything, our thought has its source in the world in which we live). It is a mode of interiority.

The second concept, transcendence, induces as many definitions as there are thinking beings, for transcendence is a personal relationship with what transcends us, whether we accept or refuse the idea.

As for philosophy, the concepts are almost as numerous as the authors.

For Spinoza, “God is nature”, i.e. immanence implies a proper logic of the created world ex deo which is not regulated by a superior and separate principle, but constitutes a self-sufficient substance. For Marx, transcendence is an invention of the ruling class to justify its domination: it is “the opium of the people”. Kant calls “immanent the principles whose application is wholly within the limits of possible experience, and transcendent those who must lift their flight above these limits”. For Heidegger, transcendence is horizontal: the reality of humanity is its existence, while its essence is what questions itself, as finitude. For Sartre, immanence is that which is interior to the being of a reality and refers, for its existence, for its explanation, for its value, to no external principle nor superior, that is to say to any transcendent principle: “The important thing is not what one does think of me, but what I do think of myself after what one thinks of me”.

Is transcendence in another plane or in the same plane as immanence? This is the problem of philosophers. For the Greek philosophers, it is above us (theogony and cosmogony already mentioned). It is the Principle governing the cosmos which is the absolute. For modern philosophers (existentialism), it is horizontal, in the same plane as ourselves. It is the Other that is the absolute.

Do we find transcendence outside man or in the soul of man? It can be said that the external transcendence is that of the philosophers. We can only submit to the decrees of the divine law or the laws of nature. The inner transcendence is that of revelation or that of the initiate. The believer believes he can intercede with God through prayer.

The function of a liturgy (any monotheistic religion confused) is to help each one, through a succession of codified practices, to find his answer beyond the illusion, to go beyond the contradiction, to cross the limit that separates the immanence, our concrete being, of transcendence, the Being as such to whose knowledge the practitioner aspires.

In my eyes, the question of immanence, my relationship to the world and to humanity is: Why all this rather than nothing? We will not respond now to this problem. But the liturgy can help us, it allows us to guide our steps in human community, through our actions that we try to accomplish in the place of worship.

It is our duty to regard Man as an end, never merely as a means, but a categorical imperative.

Fabrice Mathy is a French forensic practitioner involved in spirituality and a follower – maybe a worshipper? – of Emmanuel Kant.

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