Eric Voegelin’s ‘Leap in Being’


Andrew Hoffman, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Part 1: What Constitutes the Leap in Being?

Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men.
— Robert Hunter & The Grateful Dead, “Ripple”

We may think of Eric Voegelin as a philosopher’s philosopher, the quintessential lover of wisdom, a paragon of man pursuing the quest for truth, seeking the Holy Grail, the philosopher’s stone. Among his many brilliant and poetic and philosophical formulations, perhaps none is as mesmerizing as the mystical term, “leap in being.” While our species, Homo sapiens, remains biologically unchanged over the last 150,000 years or so, there can be little doubt of the evolution of our ability to symbolize and communicate the adventures and discoveries of consciousness in regard to our existence in this seemingly infinite cosmos. No symbol captures those revelations more profoundly than Voegelin’s “leap in being.”

Eric Voegelin took the term “leap” from Kierkegaard’s sprung but as Hollweck suggests “the notion of a ‘leap in being’ probably came to Voegelin in the course of a meditative process … to describe …that the source of cosmic order was not located within the cosmos itself but ‘beyond’ the cosmos …” For the first time man became conscious that his own consciousness was part of the structure of reality.[1] This is not simply a discovery about meaning but also a discovery about the very essence of being. It is the single most important aspect of the leap in being, but a great deal more follows from it.

Voegelin first speaks of the leap in being in Volume 1 of Order and History as a change “…in the order of being and existence itself.”[2] For Voegelin human beings have always experienced a sense of divinity. There has been a process of differentiation in that experience and its symbolization from primal societies to more “advanced” cosmological societies to societies predicated on Judeo-Christian and Greek thought. Only in the Judeo-Christian and Greek symbolic representations is the leap in being clearly articulated, although for Voegelin the fullest symbolic differentiation is achieved in its Pauline form.

Voegelin begins his magnum opus with the famous words: “God and man, world and society form a primordial community of being.” [3] As Maurice Hogan explains in his editor’s introduction To Israel and Revelation, for Voegelin primal societies experience this community as an “… experience of consubstantiality between the different partners in the community of being.” Consubstantiality refers to a powerful experience of participation in man’s partnership with the community of being. This experience of participation is consubstantial in the sense that all the partners are part of the same order or substance, and there is no “clear separation between them.” [4] For primal hunting-gathering societies, and for the Neolithic agricultural societies, God (a symbol which has become severely deformed, but I use it to refer to the genderless, non-anthropomorphic indescribable creative force which gave birth to the cosmos) was not fully differentiated from man, society and the world. For primal people living in nature, the “world” consisted of what we now call wilderness, and it was infused with the wonder and enchantment of the creation. What was so for primal societies was also true to a lesser extent for agriculturally based societies which had begun the civilizing process. There was a single order encompassing the natural world and all the realms of human experience. Human beings attuned themselves to this order through the symbolic creation of myth. Voegelin calls this order “cosmological.”

During what many thinkers refer to as the axial age (roughly the 8th to 3rd centuries BC), the understanding and symbolization of man’s participation in the community of being underwent a marked change. This gave rise to religious/philosophical systems such as Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Vedanta, Buddhism, Judaism and Greek philosophy. During this period, people in distinct geographic locations discovered that the cosmological understanding and the old mythic symbols no longer adequately expressed man’s partnership and participation in the community of being. Homo sapiens began to realize that he and his world were part of a creation, the cause of which could not be found in the cosmos. As Voegelin puts it:

“Only when the gulf in the hierarchy of being that separates divine from mundane existence is sensed, only when the originating, ordering, and preserving source of being is experienced in its absolute transcendence beyond being in tangible existence, will all symbolization by analogy be understood in its inadequacy and even impropriety.” [5]

So we may conclude that for Voegelin, the leap in being is the discovery of an absolutely transcendent creative ordering force “beyond being in tanglible existence.” There are two aspects of this discovery. The first aspect is the revelation of what we commonly call “monotheism,” or the realization that there is a single creative and ordering force which gave birth to the cosmos, and which made its Hebrew speaking “discoverers” the “chosen people,” chosen in the sense that they were the first to clearly articulate this discovery. The second aspect is the understanding that this one creative force absolutely transcends mundane existence. It is not a “thing” like the things in the cosmos, but rather a divine Mystery beyond the cosmos. This discovery has incredibly profound consequences for humanity, both positive and negative, as we shall see. On the one hand it leads to a conversion experience, an awakening, “…a turning around, the Platonic periagogé, an inversion or conversion toward the true source of order.”[6]  On the other hand this new and “emphatic partnership with God”   devalues “participation in mundane being,” which then “recedes to second rank.”[7] Man is separated from the consubstantiality of the Garden of Eden. I will expand upon these negative consequences later.

At the same time this earth shattering discovery creates what Voegelin refers to as a “new historical form” in which “the Either-Or of life and death divides the stream of time into the Before-and-After of the great discovery.”[8] Moreover, this discovery is not just the property of its discoverers, but it belongs to all human beings everywhere and unites them into a universal humanity under God.

This insight, however, establishes indeed a new aeon of history. For the God who has revealed himself as the first and the last, by blowing his breath on the flesh, is now revealed as the God of all mankind[9]

The discovery of a transcendent source of being beyond existence radically alters man’s understanding of his place in the cosmos from his previous experience of consubstantiality. No longer are the partners in being all part of the same unified order, because the original ordering force outside of worldly existence is recognized. Man now consciously finds himself in a tensional and existential middle, in between a creative force beyond worldly existence and the mundane existence which drives his concrete daily life. To describe this state of affairs Voegelin borrows the term “metaxy” (translated in between) from Plato. The conscious recognition and symbolic representation of this in between existence is a natural consequence of the leap in being, and its importance cannot be overstated. In volume 5 of Order and History, In Search of Order, we can no longer find the term “leap in being,” but there are innumerable references to the “metaxy.” It is as though Voegelin has already moved beyond the leap, which is now an accepted fact of existence, to investigate its existential consequences.

In his explanation of his use of the term “metaxy,” Voegelin notes the sad state of affairs that contemporary philosophy has basically ignored this essential aspect of human existence, and further elaborates the concept into his mystical-philosophical formulations of the structures of reality and consciousness. Life in between has profound implications for our understanding of human consciousness. Consciousness is not merely human; it is both human and human and divine at the same time: “The In-Between of existence is … the meeting-ground of the human and the divine in a consciousness of their distinction and interpenetration.”[10]

Voegelin notes the tension involved in metaxic existence, insisting that it is the locus of human knowledge and inquiry, and furthermore that we must approach it through dialectics: “The metaxy is the domain of human knowledge. The proper method of its investigation that remains aware of the In-Between status of things is called ‘dialectics…’”[11] By dialectics he refers to the critical, constructive sharing of thought marked by an attitude of openness which incorporates as many points of view as possible, striving to form a complete understanding, a big picture, a cosmology.

Finally when analyzing what the leap in being meant to Voegelin we must consider his account of the symbolic representation found in “The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected” in The Ecumenic Age.   Voegelin scholars often note that he believed that Christian symbolism achieved the fullest symbolic expression of the differentiated understanding discovered in the leap in being. Yet Voegelin clearly showed a preference for the Greek symbolic language in his final work, In Search of Order, which he saw as the key to all his other work.[12] This was not because the Greek representation was better or more truthful than the Judeo-Christian; both expressed the same truth. Most likely this was simply because Voegelin was at heart a philosopher and found the philosophical language of the Greeks more expressive of his thought than the revelatory language of the Bible. In “The Pauline Vision of the Resurrected,” however, Voegelin explains why he believes the Pauline account of the vision of the resurrected Christ achieves the fullest articulated differentiation of symbolic truth.

Whereas the Greek symbolization focused on the noetic faculty and man’s erotic ascent toward God, the Christian symbolization focused on the pneumatic experience of God’s descent toward man. This descent reaches its completion and culmination in the figure of Jesus Christ, God made flesh in human form; and after death resurrected and ascended into heaven where his humanity is fully reunited with his Creator, thus symbolizing both the descent and ascent. In essence the resurrection, transfiguration and ascension provide an eschatology, an articulated end to “the story the It reality wants to tell.”[13] The full story has been told, and even better, it has a happy ending. Of course it is not a final ending because it ends in a mystery that must always remain a mystery for man as long as he is alive. And that is why there can never be an end to history. The Greek symbolization has no such eschatology and in Voegelin’s eyes remains incomplete in that sense.[14]

So to summarize we may identify the following elements as markers of Voegelin’s leap in being:

  1. The differentiation or discovery of the One God, a single creative force which is at the same time an absolutely transcendent source of being beyond existence-this is clearly the single most important element. This discovery corresponds to some degree with what many thinkers refer to as the axial age. However this discovery is a process. Voegelin is very clear that the actual leap occurred fully only in in the Judeo-Christian and Greek traditions. We should remember though that while this ground of being is beyond existence it is always also manifested within When reality and the Beyond are separated, deformation begins.
  2. Participation in worldly being recedes to a second rank. This is perhaps a necessary but dislocating and disorienting result of the leap in being and the cause of what I call a corresponding “loss in being.”
  3. The desire of individuals and society to attune their worldly lives to this transcendent creative force, which provides an independent and original source of order, unconfused by the worldly things. When we discover this source, we naturally want to attune our lives to it and to the “story it wants to tell.”
  4. The creation of history as a form of existence, dividing history into a Before and an After. This new history is to become universal history, the history of all mankind, and especially a history united under one God.
  5. Human existence and consciousness is understood to be metaxic, existing in between the divine and the worldly, participating in both but fixed in neither. This aspect of the leap in being is first mentioned in Vol. 2 of Order and History, although not clearly articulated as an aspect of the leap in being, whereas the previous four aspects are clearly articulated in Volume 1. However, the idea of the metaxy is fully explored and elaborated in volume 5. Consciousness has been metaxic from the birth of homo sapiens since it participates in the two structures of reality, It Reality and thing reality in its two modes of luminosity and intentionality simultaneously, but was only consciously understood and symbolized as such with the leap in being.
  6. Recognition of both man’s ascent toward the creative force of being and the descent of the creative force toward man; the final union of man and God is fully symbolized in the Pauline vision of the transfiguration, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, providing a happy ending to “the story the It reality wants to tell.”
  7. The conscious quest for truth becomes the single most important concern, the most important reason for being for the individual seeker.

The Truth Quest and Voegelin’s Analysis of the Structures of Reality and Consciousness          

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

For Voegelin the truth quest consists of asking the questions that will lead him toward the cause of being. And this quest is itself created by that cause.[15] There is a “story the It reality wants to tell,” and that story is the story of man’s quest for the truth of a balanced state of existence which understands his place in the metaxy as a partner in the community of being who participates simultaneously in the It reality and thing reality through a consciousness structured by luminosity and intentionality. This consciousness experiences the divine ordering of the Beyond, the Parousia, as the ordering force in man, society and the world.[16]

In his analysis of consciousness, Voegelin points out that consciousness does not exist as a disembodied thing but is part of a related paradoxical complex he refers to as “consciousness-reality-language.” The paradoxical nature of consciousness is a paradox only when analyzed according to instrumental reason. As Voegelin shows the paradox dissolves when illuminated in the light of noetic reason. Consciousness paradoxically discovers itself to be part of an embodied individual with a unique personality, part of the reality we have created as human beings, as well as a participant in the already created reality into which we were born.

On the one hand we experience consciousness as embodied. We as individuals are conscious of things in the world, a chair, a feeling, a memory. He refers to this aspect of reality as the “thing reality.” The structure of consciousness that corresponds to this reality he calls “intentionality,” because it consists of “things” we are conscious of, give attention to, and have intentions towards. On the other hand we also experience consciousness as “the something in which consciousness occurs as an event of participation between partners in the community of being.” In this sense consciousness is no longer a subject intending an object; rather it takes on the linguistic character of a verb; it “is experienced as an event of participatory illumination in the reality that comprehends the partners to the event…” [17] Voegelin refers to this comprehending reality, which includes all four partners in being, as the “It reality.” The It reality is the reality we find ourselves born into, the reality that moves us, “the mysterious ‘it” that also occurs in everyday language in such phrases as ‘it rains.’ “ [18] This structure of reality corresponds to the structure of consciousness which Voegelin calls “luminosity.” It is luminous in the sense that it participates consciously in the mystery of being. When we watch a sunset, “reality itself seems to illuminate consciousness.”[19]

Furthermore, the It reality and thing reality are not separate realities as Carlos Castanda might contend. As Voegelin explains in his discussion of Kant’s symbol Ding-an-sich, “…it will not be improper to stress that ‘in-itself’ the thing is not

a ‘thing’ but the structure of the It-reality in consciousness[20] So the thing in itself  reflects the It reality in our consciousness. This corresponds directly with the Zen Buddhist emphasis on “just this,” which is used in koans to point to the fact that the thing in itself reflects Buddha nature. It is at this point the thing reality becomes luminous to the It reality as human consciousness participates simultaneously in both realities. This is full metaxic partnership in the community of being. As Voegelin puts it “All thing-reality, we may say, transcends into It reality, while the It-reality comprehends all thing-reality.”[21]

Part 2: The Loss in Being, Anoia, and Remembering Our Partnership in the Community of Being

“You who choose to lead must follow, but if you fall, you fall alone. If you should stand, then who’s to guide you? If I knew the way, I would take you home.” — Robert Hunter & The Grateful Dead, “Ripple”

Part 2 will first consider the problems associated with the leap in being, which led to what I will call a “loss in being.” This will be followed by some suggestions for recovering that loss—which will include a focus on (1) the Parousia , the experience of the presence of the formative force of the Beyond in worldly existence; and (2) the truth quest based on dialectics as the best method for pursuing that search within the metaxy.

If we think dialectically, there is no gain without a loss, no leap without a fall. Voegelin identifies several problems inherent in the leap, including what he referred to as the immanentization of the eschaton. The problem I want to focus on here is what Voegelin refers to as the forgetfulness of “our partnership in the community of being.” As the transcendent source of being and order is discovered to be separate from worldly existence and the experience of consubstantiality wanes, man’s sense of wonder at the creation also fades as his focus moves from the creation to the creator. The divine spirit which once infused the innumerable manifestations of creation recedes to the newly discovered transcendent ground beyond existence. Man finds himself caught between two worlds which were previously integrated, and a strong sense of anomie and alienation results. Voegelin notes the difficulty in accepting and maintaining the resulting tension of the metaxic state.

Consider Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Whereas man was previously at home in the world , when Adam and Eve become aware of  a separate God outside of their existence, consubstantiality is lost, everything falls apart and they are no longer at home in the garden but cast out into a world of alienation. For Voegelin “The metaxy is the domain of human knowledge.”[22] When Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they begin to exist in the metaxy, and fall from the grace of consubstantiality. Good and evil then became conscious choices. The partnership with God became more emphatic but the partnership with the world was forgotten. So the leap in being leads directly to a divided community of being. In order to repair this distortion in man’s consciousness, the community of being needs to be made whole.

There has been relatively little written about Voegelin’s identification and diagnosis of anoia as the spiritual disease of modern man. Voegelin borrows this term from Plato, and uses it to describe a disease of consciousness in which man has forgotten his partnership in the community of being. Specifically he has “managed to make himself unconscious of his consciousness of questing participation in the divine Beyond…”[23] I argue that this forgetfulness was primarily a result of the leap in being and mainly a loss of partnership with the world, the natural world from which man evolved; and that the cure for this disease must include a rediscovery of man’s partnership with and connection to the natural world from which he evolved. Man has forgotten the truth quest because he has separated God from the world, the creator from his creation. Pope Francis will help me make this argument.

Evolution, Consubstantiality and Consciousness in Prehistoric Homo Sapiens

It is perhaps most directly expressed in an explanation of the human relationship to “God” offered by the Bushmen of southern Africa: When one acknowledges the presence of a small bird, a tiny thread is formed. After many encounters with that bird, the thread becomes thicker until it becomes a rope. When there are many ropes to many animals and many people, then the rope to God is formed. These ropes are made of the material of love. — Louis Herman, Future Primal

We know that shortly before his death Voegelin began pursuing an interest in pre-agricultural societies which he was never able to complete.[24] Voegelin writes: “the permanence of the structure of human consciousness is now secure at least as far as the beginning of the Neolithic age, so that all the problems of evolution are now reinterpreted into genuine historical problems of differentiation of the compact consciousness.”[25] But beyond the Neolithic “Voegelin’s conclusions, based on such phenomena as abstract grids in the cave drawings preceding representations of sacred animals, result in the rejection of the notion of an evolution of consciousness in Homo sapiens.[26]  By this Voegelin simply means that there have been no mutations which have altered the intellectual-spiritual nature of man—it was there from the start.

Yet Voegelin did intimate a directional movement to the larger evolutionary process, although insisting that the end of movement must always be shrouded in mystery. While man and his consciousness have not evolved in a Darwinian sense, something is happening in the larger picture. In referring to the leap in being we are talking about differentiations in consciousness and the symbolization of its truth. The term evolution may be understood to have two different meanings. In its simplest sense, it refers to change. As commonly used it refers to the process by which living organisms developed and diversified from simple to more complex forms over hundreds of millions of years. This is the evolution Voegelin considers when he writes:

The various strata of reality with their specific time dimensions, furthermore, are not autonomous entities but form, through the relations of foundation and organization, the hierarchy of being that extends from the inorganic stratum, through the vegetative and animal realms, to the existence of man in his tension toward the divine ground of being…. When the historical dimension of humanity has differentiated, the Question thus turns back to the process of the Whole as it becomes luminous for its directional movement in the process of history. The Mystery of the historical process is inseparable from the Mystery of a reality that brings forth the universe and the earth, plant and animal life on earth, and ultimately man and his consciousness.[27] (emphasis mine)

Here Voegelin clearly attributes an historical directional evolutionary process that leads from inorganic matter to life as manifested in plants, animals and finally human consciousness, which then turns back to the Question of its creator and the whole community of being and ends in Mystery. One cannot help but notice a similarity to the thought of Tielhard de Chardin. It is here where Voegelin’s analysis of anoia becomes especially applicable in regard to the leap in being. As we have noted, the leap in being results in an “emphatic partnership with God,” which leads to a devaluing of worldly existence. As man leaves his hunting gathering life style, he forgets his partnership with the world, which has always been the natural world of wilderness. This results in a great loss in being, as men become alienated from what Pope Francis calls “our common home.” One of the big advantages of the consubstantial understanding is that man could not forget his partnership with the world because he was always immersed in the wilderness from which he evolved.

There is a general scientific consensus that modern homo sapiens originated between 160,000 and 120,000 years ago and that until roughly 12,000 years ago human beings lived as hunter-gathers when the agricultural revolution began. Now according to Voegelin the leap in being had not yet occurred for preliterate societies although that is impossible to prove since we do not have direct access to those societies and their symbolic representations. We do however have the representations of their descendants, who have come into contact with literate societies. And some of these representations clearly point to an understanding beyond consubstantiality. Of course we cannot know to what degree these representations may have been modified as the result of contact with more differentiated symbols. Nor should we necessarily assume that the use of more differentiated symbols by these descendants does not accurately express a more differentiated understanding than Voegelin previously credited to these societies.

Voegelin suggests that philosophical reflection itself is engendered by ”experiences that have impelled reflections because they have excited consciousness to the awe of existence.”[28] Of course consciousness is what enables us to experience awe. Certainly the miracle of consciousness itself inspires awe at its own existence. When I reflect on the nature of my own consciousness and its existence I become awestruck. When I reflect that 7 billion humans share this same structure of consciousness, the resulting awe silences the mind.

Certainly prehistoric homo sapiens felt this same sense of awe at existence, likely to a far greater extent than modern man since he participated far more in the cosmos which he experienced as wilderness. Laurens van der Post speaks of this sense of wonder and the “instinctive certainty of belonging” of the !Kung San bushman: “What drew me so strongly to the Bushman was that he appeared to belong to my native land as no other human being has ever belonged.”[29]

his knowledge of plants, trees and insects of the land [was] never just the knowledge of a consumer of food. On the contrary he knew the animal and vegetable life, the rocks and stones of Africa as they have never been known since…He knew these things in the full content and commitment of his life…He and they all participated so deeply in one another’s being that the experience could almost be called mystical. For instance he seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, a steenbuck, a lizard, a striped mouse, mantis, baobob tree…[30]

Let us assume that the structure of the complex of consciousness-reality-language has not basically changed since Homo sapiens first developed language and created mythical formulations to answer the questions which arose regarding the cause of his existence. Reality for conscious man has always consisted of the structures of It-reality and the thing reality, while man’s consciousness has always been structured by intentionality toward the thing reality and luminosity “when consciousness is experienced as an event of participatory illumination in the reality that comprehends the partners to the event.”[31] This is an irreducible aspect of what it means to be a human being:

…”that all men, qua men, are equal in essence, regardless of whether or not they experience their human essence in the clarity of differentiated consciousness. The knowledge of this premise…[comes] from a cosmic primary experience in which things are already experienced, through participation, as what they are—men as men and gods as gods…”[32]

Hunting gathering societies like the San Bushmen participated in the community of being to a far greater extent than modern man, even if that community had not been fully differentiated; in fact because that community had not been fully differentiated. The spirit of the creative force permeated every aspect of worldly existence as Van der Post describes, and man was at home in the cosmos which surrounded him as wilderness. This wilderness was not wild to hunter gatherers—it was simply home. So whether or not hunter gatherers discovered a single, separate creative force outside of worldly existence, it seems clear they developed a metaxic existence between these two poles. In fact Louis Herman demonstrates that the San Bushman not only understood the metaxic nature of existence but actually developed a balanced social and political life based on this metaxic understanding. Herman talks about the metaxic nature of the communal San trance dance and the long hunt in which a San hunter describes “…entering kudu mind . . . becoming kudu . . . feeling her blood boil . . . controlling her. ..‖tracking is like dancing . . . it makes your body happy . . . you are talking with God when you are doing these things.”[33]

Chief Luther Standing Bear, an Oglala Sioux chief, describes his tribe’s understanding of the divine–human drama as a life force breathed into creation by Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit or Great Mystery which leads to an understanding of the interrelatedness and divinity of all earthly things. He points out that this understanding was humanizing and led to love of the mystery of being.

From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery… This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; … “The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood, made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery.[34]


The Lakota loved the sun and earth, but he worshiped only Wakan Tanka, or Big Holy, who was the Maker of all things of earth, sky, and water. Wakan Tanka breathed life and motion into all things, both visible and invisible…

Lame Deer, a Northern Cheyenne holy man describes Wakan Tanka similarly:

Nothing is so small and unimportant but it has a spirit given to it by Wakan Tanka. Tunkan is what you might call a stone god, but he is also part of the Great Spirit. The gods are separate beings, but they are all united in Wakan Tanka. It is hard to understand — something like the Holy Trinity. You can’t explain it except by going back to the ‘circles within circles’ idea, the spirit splitting itself up into stones, trees, tiny insects even, making them all wakan by his ever-presence. And in turn all these myriad of things which make up the universe flowing back to their source, united in the one Grandfather Spirit.”[35]

Tatanga Mani, or Walking Buffalo, a Stoney Indian chief echoed this under-standing:

We saw the Great Spirit’s work in almost everything: sun, moon, trees, wind and mountains. Sometimes we approached him through these things…I think we have a true belief in the supreme being, a stronger faith than that of most whites who have called us pagans…[36]

Here we have 3 separate symbolic representations by Native Americans of different tribes in different geographic locations, articulating their understandings of the divine creative force, Wakan Tanka, and its presence in the world. While they certainly contain some elements of consubstantiality, it is not difficult to see a sophisticated differentiated understanding of both the One and the many and perhaps even a clear consciousness of the differentiated Parousia.

Voegelin insisted that cosmological societies had not yet differentiated the transcendent creative force existing beyond the mundane world. Although progress had been made in the process of that discovery, Voegelin is clear that the cosmological order was never fully broken. While that may be true on a societal level, I do not think it is true on an individual level, and in addition to the quotes above, offer the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching as evidence:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth

One cannot help but note the similarity here between the ancient Hebrew refusal o speak the name of God because that great mystery must remain nameless in essence, and the Taoist insistence that the spoken word cannot represent the eternal Tao. Compare this to Voegelin’s formulation: “Even when the divine Beyond reveals itself in its formative presence, it remains the unrevealed divine reality beyond its revelation.”[38] More importantly it is hard to look at the words “the nameless is the origin of heaven and earth,” and not sense the discovery of a transcendent creative force beyond the cosmos. Furthermore, there is a strong current of eco-philosophy running through Taoism,[39] so we may have an historical situation where the discovery of a transcendent creative force did not relegate the world to a second rank, or at least not to the degree we see in Western society.

The Parouisa, the Divine Presence Manifest in the Worldly Things

…there is no participation in “the divine” but through the exploration of “things” in which it is discerned as formatively present.

Eric Voegelin, In Search of Order

The term Parousia originates from the ancient Greek and can be best translated as “presence.” Voegelin defines ousia as the “reality of things,” and para can be translated as beyond or beside. So we can think of the Parousia as the reality of things which manifests the Beyond within the things themselves. For Voegelin this is the divine presence which manifests in the things of this cosmos. The Parousia is commonly referred to in the New Testament as the second coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the presence of God made flesh and consciousness, a symbol and a real person who joined man to the transcendent God, bringing the newly discovered transcendent God’s presence into worldly existence and human consciousness. In Voegelin’s usage the Parousia does not allude to the second coming of Jesus but refers to the “experienced presence of the It reality in all things.” This presence is not something which will come in the future. Rather it is always here and now and open to our experience and participation.

In this sense the divine presence is separated from its biblical eschatology and is present whenever the ordering force of the Beyond is experienced in worldly existence. In fact the Parousia is the only way in which we can experience the Beyond: “Above all, the Beyond is understood not to be a thing among things, but is experienced only in its formative presence, in its Parousia.”[40] To clarify, the symbol Beyond refers to the ground of being which is not a thing and which does not “exist,” at least in the way we understand existence.  Our experience and understanding of the Beyond occurs only through the experienced presence of the formative It reality within finite reality, the world of things. So the It-reality is really the manifestation of the Parousia, the formless Beyond taking form in our consciousness and in the worldly things. It is in that sense we are made in the image of God.

Pope Francis Invites the Parousaic Reintegration of God and the World

Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth…

Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home

Returning to the idea of a loss in being, we have seen that as the world recedes into second rank man tends to lose sight of the divinity in the world of things as intentionality overshadows luminosity. The holy spirit in the world becomes relocated in the creative ground of being beyond the world. Maintaining a balanced existence between a transcendent ground of being on the one hand and a world of things which has become devalued on the other hand grows increasingly difficult, even as our very survival depends on our worldly existence. There is the constant temptation among questors to deform the It-reality into a thing and give it a concrete and dogmatic ideological form in reality, to create a “second reality.”

This is what Voegelin’s calls “gnosticism” or “immanentization” in The New Science of Politics. He sees it as an especially virulent deformation of “the truth of the open soul,”[41] evident for example in the works of Hegel, Marx, Comte and various movements which distort the metaxic structure of existence. This distortion characteristically insists on a fixed and dogmatic existential worldview, envisions some sort of progressive end to history or embodies reductionist materialism. Voegelin includes Puritanism, secular humanism, Marxism, fascism, and positivist science in his list of second realities.[42] These “isms” have played major roles in creating severe imbalances in both the human and non-human ecologies. Rather than understanding and accepting his place as participating in both of the interpenetrating realities, man feels trapped in the middle, stuck between them, unable to integrate them.. As this schizophrenia takes hold we seek to escape from the inevitable Mystery of existence into the certainty of some form of dogma as the mystery of the final things beyond the world are imaginatively transferred into the world. As we have seen this was not the case for hunter gatherer societies like the San Bushmen or the Native American Lakota, Sioux and other tribes. They were able to find and maintain a balanced existence in the metaxy.

This very tendency may be noted in Voegelin himself who is immersed in textual analysis and rarely mentions such things as the world of wilderness or nature. While he identifies the “world” as one of the partners in being, one wonders if Voegelin’s world consists of anything besides man, society, and abstract notions of the “cosmos.” There is little mention of prehistory, the planet earth, the actual celestial bodies which populate the cosmos and no consideration of more modern ideas of ecology, biosphere, etc. Of course his background was not conducive to such interests, nor were these major concerns in the intellectual environment he frequented.

Still, this forgetfulness of the nearly 14 billion year history of the cosmos and the 4.5 billion year history of the earth which gave birth to man and his consciousness may be understood as a symptom of the very anoia which Voegelin identified. In light of the world threatening ecological crises we now face, it may constitute Voegelin’s (and humanity’s) greatest oversight. So when we consider anoia, the forgetfulness of man’s partnership in the community of being, I want to call special attention to the partner which Voegelin refers to as the “world.” When I speak of the world, I refer to the created cosmos which burst into existence with the Big Bang. This incredibly creative and mysterious event led to the formation of what we call planet earth and the history of its evolution, resulting in the species, homo sapiens and its consciousness, and ultimately the quest for truth which was Voegelin’s vocation. I believe that it is the forgetfulness of our partnership with the world, in particular, and the accompanying presence of the Beyond in the world that has most severely exacerbated our current crises. This oblivion has resulted in a species’ hubris and led to a state of affairs in which human extinction has become a real possibility.[43] And I want to suggest that by remembering and recovering our partnership with the world, and by experiencing and participating in the Parousia, we may begin to ease the symptoms of anoia and perhaps help inoculate future generations, while illuminating the way to what Louis Herman and Manfred Henningsen call “a new leap in being.”

The Roman Catholic Church has long been considered by many to be a stronghold of dogma, so it surprising to find an answer to the question of how to remember our partnership with world clearly articulated in the most recent Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. Despite the fame of St. Francis, this Pope is the first to take the name of Francis, the first and only Pope Francis. Certainly this is not a coincidence and illuminates a growing awareness of the ecological crises humanity now faces, crises which threaten its very existence.

It is also interesting to note that the Pope chose liberation theologist, Leonardo Boff, as his ecological advisor. This is all the more remarkable since Boff had been silenced by Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984, and was ultimately driven from the priesthood. In 1982 Boff wrote his remarkable St. Francis: A Model for Human Liberation, and he now proposes a theology of creation in which the Parousia, “the cosmic Christ is present in all reality,”[44] in a sense uniting the biblical second coming with the always present divine presence of Voegelin. For Boff the idea of liberation has expanded from a focus on the poor to include the whole of creation, the world. It seems the Pope shares this focus.

Pope Francis provides a pathway to creating a metaxic balance for integrating the illuminating It reality and the intentionalist thing reality by experiencing and remembering the Parousia. In his remarkable encyclical letter, Luadato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Francis brings together science, philosophy and religion, all different forms of the truth quest, and suggests a way to address both the existential and physical crises of modernity. Francis calls for an “ecological conversion,” a periogoge. “Eco” comes from  the Greek “oikos,” (ee-kos) meaning “home.” He begins his encyclical referring to the earth as our common home and insisting we must care for it as such.

The use of the word “common” is quintessential here, as it recalls the universal aspect of the leap in being. Voegelin insists that in order to reorder his existence the listener must recognize the story of the quest to be true: “…the appeal will have no authority of truth unless it speaks with an authority commonly present in everybody’s consciousness, however inarticulate, deformed, or suppressed the consciousness…unless the questioner finds in the course of his quest the word (logos) that indeed speaks what is common (xynon) to the order of man’s existence as a partner in the comprehending reality.”[45]

In remembering our forgotten partnership with the world what is common (xynon) is that the earth is our home and that we evolved from the wilderness of this earthly home. Francis’s focus on home is itself illuminating. The loss of home and the resulting alienation, the loss of the sense of wholeness, consubstantiality, and the fear of common universals is evident in the fragmentation described by the existentialists and poststructuralists. Heidegger’s quest for rootedness, his longing for belonging was after all a quest for feeling at home in the world. This feeling of being at home was a natural experience for prehistoric Homo sapiens, his birthright as the product of nearly 14 billion years of evolution, but became more remote with the development of civilization and largely forgotten with the leap in being. Only when modern man once again remembers his full partnership in the community of being, will his sense of belonging return.

In the following section I will quote from Laudato Si to point out correspondences between Voegelin’s and Francis’s thought, and to show how Francis’s formulations can be used to remember and heal our forgotten partnership with the world.

Below is the Pope’s interpretation of Genesis. It is truly remarkable and resonates fully with Voegelin’s thought, including an emphasis on libido dominandi and hubris. In the first sentence the Pope identifies the community of being as an intertwined God, man, society and world. He then defines sin as the loss of harmony among God, man and world. Could this sound any less like Voegelin’s identification of man’s spiritual disease as anoia, the forgetfulness of man’s partnership in the community of being and the resulting hubris? Here the Pope points the way toward remembering the original harmonious relationship between humans and nature as the healing of that rupture.

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis…suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself…This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth, to “till it and keep it.” As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual. It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture.[46]

Francis, like his namesake, focuses on the interdependence and interconnectedness of the worldly things, the participation and partnership of all the members of the community of being and the resulting experience of “awe,” which Voegelin has identified as a foundation of philosophical reflection.

“From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine…there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”(85)…Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other”(86)…When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.(87)… Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. (92)… It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. (220)[47]

Below the Pope defines the Parousia as he talks about presence, linking the contemplation of nature to the attentiveness inherent in the intentionality of the thing reality to the luminosity of love inherent in the It Realty. Through reflection on the natural world, the noetic faculty is awakened and we consciously recognize our participatory partnership in both It reality and thing reality.

We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift…Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air…He was completely present to everyone and to everything…[48]

And like Voegelin, the Pope admits to being a mystic, a mystic who has discovered the divine presence in creation, the “mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.”[49] The true vocation of the philosopher/mystic is understood to be the truth quest, searching for the first cause of being. We are reminded that this search should be a joyful one. “Let us sing as we go.”

…In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for “if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator.” Let us sing as we go…[50]

Voegelin reminds us that the “truth of the quest is not a true doctrine resulting from an intentionalist investigation of objects, but a balanced state of existence, formed in reflective distance to the process of meditative wandering through the paradoxic manifold of tensions.”[51] With the leap in being came the “emphatic partnership with God,” the loss of consubstantiality and a truncated participation in worldly being. Man was no longer at home in the world and lost his balanced state of existence. To regain this balance we must remember our partnership with the world. “There is no participation in ‘the divine’ but through the exploration of ‘things…’”[52] The divine is not something separate from us but can be experienced only through its presence in the “things” which are always all around us. The earth and all the things of the earth are our common home. We and they are related and interdependent. In caring for our common home, we are led to remember our balanced partnership in the community of being.

The evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme helps clarify the full natural interrelated and interdependent context of this worldly participatory partnership as he describes the reality of the forest.

“We put the dragonfly in our world because our world is the only world, and by doing that we close down the world into one tiny splinter of the world…What about the dragonfly’s forest? What about the soil bacteria’s forest? What about the deer’s forest? The forest is a rainbow of consciousness…a rainbow of worlds…our world is an interpenetrating symphony of consciousness where each one flows into the others. And it’s only actually in this flow of consciousness that the fullness of reality can even be approached…reality can only show itself in the community of being, in the community of consciousness.”[53]

Both Swimme and Pope Francis offer us a new understanding of what dialectics might mean in terms of expanding the truth quest. Dialectics as a way of investigating the truth quest in the metaxy should not be understood simply as a discussion among individuals. Rather it is a conversation among all the partners in the community of being, facilitated by human consciousness, in consideration of their myriad interdependence. It is by attending to our participation in this community that we may learn to converse with these voices and listen to what they tell us and respond in new ways that promote a balanced ecology of the entire community.

Eric Voegelin died before he could finish In Search of Order, but he really could never have finished that search because as he insisted, the truth quest has no end.


[1] Hollweck, Thomas, Cosmos and the “Leap in Being” in Voegelin’s Philosophy, Paper prepared for delivery at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 2-5, 2010. Available online

[2] Voegelin, Eric, CW 14, (University of Missouri Press): 47.

[3] Ibid: 37.

[4] Ibid: 3.

[5] Ibid: 47.

[6] Ibid: 47.

[7]Ibid: 48.

[8] Ibid: 172.

[9] Ibid: 172.

[10] Voegelin, Eric. CW 12: 233.

[11] Voegelin, Eric. CW 17: 244.

[12] Voegelin, Eric. CW 18: 13-14. As stated by his wife, Lissy

[13] Voegelin, Eric, CW 18: 50

[14] Voegelin, Eric. CW 17: 316-317.

[15] Voegelin, Eric. CW 12: 175-176.

[16] Voegelin, Eric CW 18: 117.

[17] Ibid: 29-30.

[18] Ibid: 30.

[19] McMahon, Robert, Eric Voegelin’s Paradoxes of Consciousness and Participation, The Review of Politics, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Winter, 1999), pp. 117-139.

[20] Voegelin, Eric. CW 18: 64.

[21] Ibid: 93.

[22] Voegelin, Eric. CW 17: 244.

[23] Voegelin, Eric. CW 18: 57.

[24] Hollweck, Thomas, (ed.) translated from the German by Sandy Adler, Thomas A. Hollweck and William Petropolus, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol 30: Selected Correspondence 1950-1984. See in particular Voegelin‘s letters to Marie Koenig.

[25] Voegelin quoted in Hollweck, op. cit, p.5.

[26] Hollweck, op. cit, p.5.

[27] Voegelin, Eric. CW 17: 408-410.

[28] Voegelin, Eric. CW 6: 36.

[29] Laurens van der Post. The Lost World of the Kalahari. (Orlando, Florida: Harvest/HBJ Publishers, l958). p.15.

[30] Ibid, The Lost World of the Kalahari, p. 14-15.

[31] Voegelin, Eric. CW 18: 30.

[32] Voegelin, Eric. CW 6: 349.

[33] Herman, Louis, Southern African Bushmen and Voegelin’s “New Science of Politics,” Paper Prepared for the American Political Science Association Convention August 31st to September 3rd 2011, Seattle WA. Quote on p.26. Available online at

[34] Chief Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978). p.193. Emphasis mine.

[35] Erdoes, Richard, Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions (New York, Touchstone, 1972), p.114.

[36] Fitzgerald, Michael, and Fitzgerald, Judith, Eds., Indian Spirit, (Bloomington, IN, World Wisdom, Inc., 2006) p.7.

[37] Lin, Derek, Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, (Woodstock, VT, SkyLight Paths, 2006.)

[38] Voegelin, Eric, CW 18: 114.

[39] Callicott, J Baird, Earth’s Insights, (University of California Press, 1994) pp 67-75.

[40] Ibid: 45.

[41] Voegelin, Eric, The New Science of Politics: an Introduction, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1952) p.163.

[42] Ibid: 130-132.

[43] Several respected climate scientists and ecologists are suggesting a climate collapse which would likely result in what they call “near term human extinction.” Professor Guy Mcpherson is a leading proponent. See Mcpherson, Guy, Going Dark, (Maryland, America Star Books, 2013)

[44] See

[45] Voegelin, Eric, CW 18: 40.

[46] Francis, The Holy Father, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, online version available at, paragraph 66.

[47] Ibid, paragraphs 85,86,87,92,220.

[48] Ibid, paragraph 226.

[49] Ibid, paragraph 233.

[50] Ibid, paragraph 224.

[51] Voegelin, Eric, CW 18: 117, emphasis mine.

[52] Ibid: 120.

[53] Swimme, Brian. Canticle to the Cosmos DVD, Feast of Consciousness, starting at 50 minutes, Center for the Story of the Universe, October 1, 1990. Emphasis mine.


 Andrew Hoffman is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and an independent scholar with a Masters in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy, both from the University of Hawaii. He has several years of lay Zen Buddhist practice.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Sep 2015.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Eric Voegelin’s ‘Leap in Being’, is included. Thank you.

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