Is God Transcendent or Immanent in Hermeticism?

Many religions or spiritual traditions see God as either fully immanent (“the totality of the cosmos is God”) or fully transcendental (“God exists outside of the Cosmos”). Hermeticism does not choose between these two, but says that God is both.

This is a difficult concept for our rational minds to grasp, so even among followers of Hermes, we see that some people unnecessarily choose between one and the other.

That God is both transcendent as well as immanent is emphasized in the beautiful Holy Trisagion:

Holy art thou of whom all Nature became an image. Holy art thou whom Nature has not created.

Corpus Hermeticum – Book I

Book V of the Corpus Hermeticum is maybe the most important text regarding this subject because Hermes explains to Tat what God is; that God is both unseen and the most seen:

This teaching also I shall fully expound to you, O Tat, so that you are not shut off from God who is too great for a name.

The tractate ends in a beautiful hymn, where Hermes proclaims:

This is God, greater than a name. He is unmanifest, yet He is most manifest; He can be perceived by Nous; He can be seen by the eyes. He is bodiless, yet He has many bodies or rather every body. Nothing is which He is not.


… why shall I praise you? Because you are of my own nature? Because you have what is your own? Because you are other? But you are whatsoever I am; you are whatever I do; you are whatever I speak. You are all things and there is nothing else.

That we can know God directly is also emphasized in the Holy Trisagion:

“Holy is God who wills to be known and is known by those that are his own.

This is also taught by Hermes in Book X.15:

God does not ignore man, He knows him fully, as God also wishes to be known. This is the only salvation for man: knowledge of God.

This is why God Himself – Nous – says that there are no other gods:

Who else could give living creatures a soul, but the one God? Therefore God is one. It is quite ridiculous that you acknowledge the cosmos to be everlasting, the sun to be one, the moon to be one, and the divine nature to be one, yet you think God to be one of a series? This one God makes everything; a plurality of gods would be absurd.

Corpus Hermeticum Tractate XI, 11-12

There are of course gods, but nothing else – no other gods or god – decides or acts, but God. Nothing else makes things manifest or unmanifest than He. Nothing wills but He. This is also emphasized in the Holy Trisagion:

Holy is God whose will is accomplished by his own powers.

That God is transcendent but becomes immanent as He acts through the gods is also explained by Tat in Book XVI of the Corpus Hermeticum:

Thus the spiritual world depends upon God and the physical world on the spiritual, and through the spiritual and physical world the Sun receives from God a flow of consciousness, that is of creative power [tau agathou). Around the Sun are the eIght spheres, who depend on it; first is the sphere of the fixed stars, then the six of the planets and the one that encircles the earth. The spiritual powers depend on the spheres, and men upon the spiritual powers. Thus all things and all men are dependent upon God.
Wherefore the Father of all is God, the Creator is the Sun, and the cosmos is the instrument of his creative power.
His spiritual substance governs the heavens, the heavens govern the gods, and the powers, which are appointed by the gods, govern men. This is the host of gods and powers.
Through these instruments God by Himself creates all this, and all things partake of God; since this is so, they are God. Therefore in creating all things, he creates Himself; and He can never cease to create, for He Himself never ceases to be. As God has no end, so His handiwork has neither beginning nor end.

Corpus Hermeticum XVI

      In Book X.23 Hermes teaches that we reach the gods through His mind/nous:

      This is the governance of the all, depending on the nature of the One, governing through the Nous of the One. Nothing is more divine or effective or more able to unite men to the gods and the gods to men than this Nous. This is the spirit of the Supreme Good. Blessed is the soul which is wholly filled with it, wretched is the soul which is devoid of it.

      God is not outside our reach. In the Hermetica the reverse is true. God is not so distant from us that we cannot reach Him or need mediators, like the gods, to bridge that distance. The reverse is true, God/Nous is our bridge to the gods.

      Saying that a distance is too far for God is placing a limit on the limitless. If you maybe experience God as too distant for you, that distance only exists in your own head. It is an extra veil you put between you and God. But there are enough veils already, so why create a new one?

      How can we experience God directly? Through our (spiritual) heart of course…

      Read more: How God is both transcendent and immanent

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