Kenosis, from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσις (kénōsis), is the "self-emptying" of one's personal will to become entirely receptive to divine will, often referred to as the will of God or Allah, or the way of Brahman, Nirvana, Tao, Dharma, Cosmos or the All. Concepts involving it are prominent in some forms of Christian theology, Stoicism, Sufism and many other forms of mysticism, and considered controversial or even heretical in others. The word ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) is used in Philippians 2:7, "Jesus made himself nothing" (NIV) or "he emptied himself" (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω (kenóō) "to empty". See also Strong's G2758.
- We are, the great spiritual writers insist, most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away, and it is egotism that holds us back from that transcendent experience that has been called God, Nirvana, Brahman, or the Tao.
What I now realize, from my study of the different religious traditions, is that a disciplined attempt to go beyond the ego brings about a state of ecstasy. Indeed, it is in itself ekstasis. Theologians in all the great faiths have devised all kinds of myths to show that this type of kenosis, or self-emptying, is found in the life of God itself. They do not do this because it sounds edifying, but because this is the way that human nature seems to work. We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.
- Karen Armstrong, in The Spiral Staircase : My Climb Out of Darkness (2004)
- Given that only the religion of pervasive kenosis can be truly universal, no single historical individual can exhaust its fullness by virtue of his redemptive acts, and no religious institution can grasp and articulate its meaning by means of dogmatic or doctrinal teachings. In the last resort, it is in the name of religious universalism that Simone Weil calls for a reversion of historical Christianity to its origins as a religion of kenosis.
- J. Edgar Bauer, in "Simone Weil: Kenotic Thought and "Sainteté Nouvelle" in The 2002 CESNUR International Conference : Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience (June 2002)
- Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints.
- History, is a conscious, self-meditating process — Spirit emptied out into Time; but this externalization, this kenosis, is equally an externalization of itself; the negative is the negative of itself. This Becoming presents a slow-moving succession of Spirits, a gallery of images, each of which, endowed with all the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just because the Self has to penetrate and digest this entire wealth of its substance. As its fulfilment consists in perfectly knowing what it is, in knowing its substance, this knowing is that withdrawal into itself in which it abandons its outer existence and gives its existential shape over to recollection. Thus absorbed in itself, it is sunk in the night of its self-consciousness; but in that night its vanished outer existence is perserved, and this transformed existence — the former one, but now reborn of the Spirit's knowledge — is the new existence, a new world and a new shape of Spirit. In the immediacy of this new existence the Spirit has to start afresh to bring itself to maturity as if, for it, all that preceded were lost and it had learned nothing from the experience of the earlier Spirits. But recollection, the inwardizing, of that experience, has perserved it and is the inner-being, and in fact the higher form of the substance. So although to bring itself to maturity, it is none the less on a higher level that it starts. The realm of Spirits which is formed in this way in the outer world constitutes a succession in Time in which one Spirit relieved another of its charge and each took over the empire of the world from its predecessor.
- In all great poetry there is a kind of “kenosis” of the understanding, a self-emptying of the tongue. Here language points away from itself to something greater than itself.
- Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or by thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements. It is between these two elements that the short circuit exists on which she carries on her principal business, while the ideas and symbols and other institutions form loop-lines which may be perfections and improvements, and may even some day all be united into one harmonious system, but which are not to be regarded as organs with an indispensable function, necessary at all times for religious life to go on. This seems to me the first conclusion which we are entitled to draw from the phenomena we have passed in review.
- William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), Lecture XX, "Conclusions"
A term derived from the discussion as to the real meaning of Phil. 2:6: "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied [ekenosen] himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as man."
- Strange as it may seem to our Western egoism, the prospect of sharing in the general, impersonal immortality of the human soul kindles in the Sufi an enthusiasm as deep and triumphant as that of the most ardent believer in a personal life continuing beyond the grave. Jalaluddin, after describing the evolution of man in the material world and anticipating his further growth in the spiritual universe, utters a heartfelt prayer — for what? — for self-annihilation in the ocean of the Godhead.
- Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, in The Mystics of Islam (1914) edited by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, p. 124
- Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
- Paul of Tarsus, in the Epistle to the Philippians 1:27 - 30 and 2:1 - 8 (KJV)
- Variant translations:
- Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.