Hierarchy of Being dan Emanasi Al-Farabi

169956The Chain of Being is composed of a great number of hierarchical links, from the most basic and foundational elements up through the very highest perfection, in other words, God.[2]

God, and beneath him, the angels, both existing wholly in spirit form, sit at the top of the chain. Earthly flesh is fallible and ever-changing: mutable. Spirit, however, is unchanging and permanent. This sense of permanence is crucial to understanding this conception of reality. It is generally impossible to change the position of an object in the hierarchy. (One exception might be in the realm of alchemy, where alchemists attempted to transmute base elements, such as lead, into higher elements, either silver, or, more often, gold—- the highest element.)

In the natural order, earth (rock) is at the bottom of the chain: this element possesses only the attribute of existence. Each link succeeding upward contains the positive attributes of the previous link and adds (at least) one other. Rocks, as above, possess only existence; the next link up, plants, possess life and existence. Animals add not only motion, but appetite as well.

Man is both mortal flesh, as those below him, and also spirit as those above. In this dichotomy, the struggle between flesh and spirit becomes a moral one. The way of the spirit is higher, more noble; it brings one closer to God. The desires of the flesh move one away from God. The Christian fall of Lucifer is especially terrible, as angels are wholly spirit, yet Lucifer defied God, the ultimate perfection.

The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals.


Each link in the chain might be divided further into its component parts. In medieval secular society, for example, the king is at the top, succeeded by the aristocratic lords, and then the peasants below them. Solidifying the king’s position at the top of humanity’s social order is the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. In the family, the father is head of the household; below him, his wife; below her, their children.

Just as Milton’s Paradise Lost ranked the angels (c.f. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite‘s ranking of angels), so Christian culture conceives of angels in orders of archangels, seraphim, and cherubim, among others. Amongst animals, subdivisions are equally apparent. At the top of the animals are wild beasts (such as lions), which were seen as superior as they defied training and domestication. Below them are domestic animals, further sub-divided so that useful animals (such as dogs and horses) are higher than docile creatures, such as sheep. Birds are also sub-divided, with eagles above pigeons, for example. Fish come below birds and are sub-divided between actual fish and other sea creatures. Below them come insects, with useful insects such as spiders and bees and attractive creatures such as ladybirds and dragonflies at the top, and unpleasant insects such as flies and beetles at the bottom. At the very bottom of the animal sector are snakes, which are relegated to this position as punishment for the serpent’s actions in the Garden of Eden.

Below animals comes the division for plants, which is further sub-divided. Trees are at the top, with useful trees such as oaks at the top, and the traditionally demonic yew tree at the bottom. Food-producing plants such as cereals and vegetables are further sub-divided.

At the very bottom of the chain are minerals. At the top of this section are metals (further sub-divided, with gold at the top and lead at the bottom), followed by rocks (with granite and marble at the top), soil (sub-divided between nutrient-rich soil and low-quality types), sand, grit, dust, and, at the very bottom of the entire great chain, dirt.

The central concept of the chain of being is that everything imaginable fits into it somewhere, giving order and meaning to the universe.


At once at the top of the Chain of Being, but also external to creation, God was believed to stand outside the physical limitations of time. He possessed the spiritual attributes of reason, love, and imagination, like all spiritual beings, but he alone possessed the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. God serves as the model of authority for the strongest, most virtuous, most excellent type of being within a specific category (the “primate”).

Angelic Beings

Beings of pure spirit, angels had no physical bodies of their own. In order to affect the physical world, angels were thought to build temporary bodies for themselves out of particles of air. Medieval and Renaissance theologians believed angels to possess reason, love, imagination, and—like God—to stand outside the physical limitations of time. They possessed sensory awareness unbound by physical organs, and they possessed language. They lacked, however, the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God, and they simultaneously lacked the physical passions experienced by humans and animals. Depending upon the author, the class of angels was further subdivided into three, seven, nine, or ten ranks, variously known as triads, orders or choirs. Each rank had greater power and responsibility than the entities below them. The most common classification is that of St. Thomas Aquinas:

  • Angelic Primate: Seraphim
    • Seraphim
    • Cherubim
    • Thrones (Ophanim)
    • Dominations
    • Principalities
    • Powers
    • Virtues
    • Archangels
    • Angels


For Medieval and Renaissance thinkers, humans occupied a unique position on the Chain of Being, straddling the world of spiritual beings and the world of physical creation. Humans were thought to possess divine powers such as reason, love, and imagination. Like angels, humans were spiritual beings, but unlike angels, human souls were “knotted” to a physical body. As such, they were subject to passions and physical sensations—pain, hunger, thirst, sexual desire—just like other animals lower on the Chain of the Being. They also possessed the powers of reproduction unlike the minerals and rocks lowest on the Chain of Being. Humans had a particularly difficult position, balancing the divine and the animalistic parts of their nature. For instance, an angel is only capable of intellectual sin such as pride (as evidenced by Lucifer‘s fall from heaven in Christian belief). Humans, however, were capable of both intellectual sin and physical sins such as lust and gluttony if they let their animal appetites overrule their divine reason. Humans also possessed sensory attributes: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Unlike angels, however, their sensory attributes were limited by physical organs. (They could only know things they could discern through the five senses.) The highest-ranking human being was the King.


Animals, like humans higher on the Chain, were animated (capable of independent motion). They possessed physical appetites and sensory attributes, the number depending upon their position within the Chain of Being. They had limited intelligence and awareness of their surroundings. Unlike humans, they were thought to lack spiritual and mental attributes such as immortal souls and the ability to use logic and language. The primate of all animals (the “King of Beasts”) was variously thought to be either the lion or the elephant. However, each subgroup of animals also had its own primate, an avatar superior in qualities of its type.

  • Mammalian Primate: Lion or Elephant
    • Wild Animals (large cats, etc.)
    • “Useful” Domesticated Animals (horse, dog, etc.)
    • “Tame” Domesticated Animals (housecat, etc.)

Note that avian creatures, linked to the element of air, were considered superior to aquatic creatures linked to the element of water. Air naturally tended to rise and soar above the surface of water, and analogously, aerial creatures were placed higher in the Chain.

  • Piscine Primate: Whale
    • Aquatic Mammals (We know a whale or dolphin is not a fish; back then people did not)
    • Sharks
    • Fish of various sizes and attributes

The chart would continue to descend through various reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The higher up the chart one went, the more noble, mobile, strong, and intelligent the creature in Renaissance belief. At the very bottom of the animal section, we find sessile creatures like the oysters, clams, and barnacles. Like the plants below them, these creatures lacked mobility, and were thought to lack various sensory organs such as sight and hearing. However, they were still considered superior to plants because they had tactile and gustatory senses (touch and taste).


Plants, like other living creatures, possessed the ability to grow in size and reproduce. However, they lacked mental attributes and possessed no sensory organs. Instead, their gifts included the ability to eat soil, air, and “heat.” (Photosynthesis was a poorly understood phenomenon in medieval and Renaissance times.) Plants did have greater tolerances for heat and cold, and immunity to the pain that afflicts most animals. At the very bottom of the botanical hierarchy, the fungus and moss, lacking leaf and blossom, were so limited in form that Renaissance thinkers thought them scarcely above the level of minerals. However, each plant was also thought to be gifted with various edible or medicinal virtues unique to its own type. The primate of plants was the oak tree.

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Bushes
  • “Crops” (corn, wheat, etc.)
  • Herbs
  • Ferns
  • Weeds
  • Moss
  • Fungus


Creations of the earth, the lowest of elements, all minerals lacked the plant’s basic ability to grow and reproduce. They also lacked mental attributes and sensory organs found in beings higher on the Chain. Their unique gifts, however, were typically their unusual solidity and strength. Many minerals, in fact, were thought to possess magical powers, particularly gems. The Mineral primate is the Diamond.

  • Minute Particles (gravel, sand, soil, etc.)



a.      Teori Emanasi al-Farâbî

Perumusan teori emanasi al-Farâbî  dilatari oleh kekecewaan al-Farâbî  terhadap buku Metafisika Aristoteles, karena ternyata kita metafisik itu tidak terlalu banyak berbicara tentang Tuhan, yang dalam pandangan Islam, merupakan tema pokok dalam metafisika. Ringkasnya, emanasi diadopsi untuk mengisi ruang kosong yang dirasakan al-Farâbî ditinggalkan oleh Aristoteles dalam kajiannya mengenai metafisika yang juga termasuk masalah teologi atau ilmu Ilahi, yang di dalamnya relasi-relasi kausal antara mawjud-mawjud natural dan Ilahi berlangsung terus.[1]

Dikatakan, hanya dalam kitab Lambda, Aristoteles berbicara tentang Tuhan. Namun, ketika berbicara tentang Tuhan, tidak ada keterangan yang memuaskan tentang bagaimana Tuhan menciptakan alam. Lebih persisnya lagi bagaimana dari Tuhan Yang Esa muncul alam semesta yang beraneka ragam.[2]

Karena kekecewaan ini maka al-Farâbî bekerja keras untuk mencari jalan keluarnya. Dan ketika al-Farâbî mengenal teori emanasi Plotinus, pendiri aliran Neo-Platonik ini, ia menjadikannya sebagai solusi bagi persoalan itu. Karena menurut al-Farâbî, teori emanasi ini telah dapat menjawab pertanyaan mendasar, yaitu, bagaimana dari Tuhan Yang Esa, bisa muncul dunia yang tunggal juga, yang disesusaikan dengan teori astronomis yang berkembang saat itu, yang didominasi oleh teori Ptolemius, seperti yang dijabarkan di dalam kitabnya Almagest, maka al-Farâbî  menghasilkan teori emanasi yang lebih canggih dari teori asli Plotinus, seperti gambar[3] di bawah berikut ini:

Gambar 2.1

Teori Emanasi Al-Farâbî

Allah = The First (al-Awwâl)


Akal Pertama = Yang Kedua (al-Tsâni)





Akal Kedua            Jiwa & Badan Langit Pertama (as-Samâ’ al-Ulâ)




Akal Ketiga            Bintang-bintang Tetap (al-Kawâkib ats-Tsâbitah)



Akal Keempat                    Saturnus (Zuhal)



Akal Kelima                       Jupiter (­al-Mustari)



Akal Keenam                     Mars (al-Marrikh)



Akal Ketujuh                      Matahari (asy-Syams)



Akal Kedelapan                 Venus (az-Zuhara)



Akal Kesembilan              Merkuri




Akal Kesepuluh                                                      Bulan (al-Qamar)

(Akal Aktif/al-‘aql al-fa’al)





Mengaktualkan                Memberi Bentuk                     Materi

Akal Manusia

Manusia, dll

Gambar 2: dikutip dari Ian Richard Netton, Allah Trancendent, (Survey: Curzon Press, 1994), 1st Edition, hal.

Al-Farâbî menempatkan Yang Pertama sebagai Sebab Pertama bagi segala sesuatu, Dia sempurna, niscaya, mandiri, abadi, tidak diciptakan, immaterial, tanpa sekutu dan lawan, dan tidak bisa didefiniskan.[4] Di samping sifat-sifat itu, Yang Pertama adalah Esa, Mahatahu, dan hidup, tetapi sebagai sifat-sifat yang berbeda yang ditambahkan kepada essensi-Nya, tetapi sebagai bagian dari essensi-Nya. Yang membedakannya dengan entitas-entitas yang lain adalah merupakan konskeuensi dari tauhid essensi-Nya, yang dengannya Dia eksis. Dan karena Dia bukan materi dan tidak terkait dengan materi, maka secara essensial Dia adalah intelek. Materi adalah yang menghalangi intelek aktual untuk mewujud, sehingga apa yang terlepas dari materi adalah secara essensial akal aktual.

Di samping itu, Yang Pertama juga adalah sebagai objek dari pemikiran,[5] karena dia tidak memerlukan perantara yang dengannya dia bisa memikirkan essensi-Nya, sehingga dia bisa terus dalam kontemplasi secara abadi. Karena itu, Dia dianggap memikirkan diri-Nya sendiri, intelectus intelligens intellectum.[6]

Kemudian al-Farâbî menjelaskan emanasi dari Wujud Pertama secara sangat sistematik, yaitu bahwa Yang Pertama—dalam keadaan kelimpahan wujud dan kesempurnaan—menggenerasi seluruh tatanan wujud dari alam semesta yang merupakan ‘keniscayaan sifat’, yang sepenuhnya independen dari pilihan dan iradah-Nya. Alam semesta ini tidak menambah apapun terhadap kesempurnaan wujud-Nya dan  tidak mendudukkannya pada sebuah tujuan final atau teleological apapun. Sebaliknya, ini adalah dampak dari kedermawanan sponan dari diri-Nya. Di samping itu, dalam proses kelimpahan ini, Yang Pertama tidak memerlukan agen perantara, aksiden, atau instrumen yang dengannya tujuan  penciptaan utama-Nya akan terpenuhi. Dan pada sisi yang lain, ada penghalang, baik internal maupun eksternal, bisa menghalangi keberlangsungan proses limpahan abadi ini.

Emanasi pertama dari Wujud Pertama ini adalah akal pertama,[7] yang mampu memikirkan baik penciptanya dan dirinya sendiri. Dengan memikirkan penciptanya maka lahir akal pertama, dan dengan memikirkan dirinya sendiri, maka lahir langit pertama. Kemudian akal kedua memikirkan sumbernya sehingga lahir akal ketiga dan dia memikirkan dirinya sendiri sehingga lahir bintang-bintang tetap. Proses ini terus berlangsung, sehingga melahirkan akan keempat, kelima, keenam, ketujuh, kedelapan dan kesembilan, dan akal kesepuluh, begitu dia berbarengan dengan lahirnya bintang Saturnus, Mars, Matahri, Venus, Merkuri, dan bulan, secara berurutan. [8]  Dengan akal kesepuluh, serial intelek kosmik sempurna, dan dengan bulan yang berada di alam langit, yang gerak memutarnya ditentukan oleh akal kosmik sepanjang waktu. Alam langit selalu aktual karena itu mereka selalu sempurna.

Di bawah area langit terletak alam bumi (terrestrial), yang di dalamnya proses perkembangan berjalan, sehingga dari yang tidak sempurna menjadi lebih sempurna, dari yang sederhana menjadi kompleks, sesuai dengan pola kosmologisnya. Di level terendahnya terletak materi pertama, yang diikuti dengan empat elemen, mineral, tumbuhan, binatang dan akhirnya manusia. Manusia menduduki puncak dari spiral meningkat dari objek-objek ciptaan ini di area bumi.



[1] Deboral L. Black, Al-Farâbî , in Seyyed Hossen Nasr [ed], (Qum: Ansariyan Publication, 1993), hal. 188.

[2] Mulyadhi Kartanegara, Gerbang Kearifan: Sebuah Pengantar Filsafat Islam, (Jakarta: Lentera Hati, 2006), hal. 32.

[3] Ian Richard Netton, Allah Trancendent: Studies in the Structure and Semiotic of Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Cosmology.

[4] Al-Farâbî , Ara’ Ahla al-Madinah al-Fadhilah, (Beirut: Dar & Maktabah al-Hilal, 1995), 1st Edition, hal. 25-41.

[5] Eksistensi Allah, seperti eksistensi immaterial murni lainnya (di dalam filsafat Islam dipersepsi) sebagai mengambil bentuk rasional (‘aql atau ruh). Manusia, misalnya, jika dia dipisahkan dari tubuh materinya dan hanya wujud immaterialnya, juga identik dengan bentuk akal.

[6] Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, hal. 117.

[7] Karena Tuhan itu Esa maka dari-Nya hanya akan muncul satu akal saja, sebagai akibatnya, yang kemudian disebut akal pertama. Sampai di sini belum terjadi keanekaan pada alam. Tetapi ketika akal pertama terbentuk maka potensi keanekaan pada selain Tuhan (yang disebut alam) sudah terbentuk. Mengapa bisa begitu? Karena akal pertama, menurut al-Farâbî, telah bisa berfikir bukan hanya tentang Tuhan tetapi juga tentang dirinya sendiri, sementara Tuhan hanya memiliki satu objek pemikirannya yaitu diri-Nya sendiri. Di sinilah kita bisa melihat bahwa akal pertama memiliki dua jenis prinsip, pertama prinsip keesaan, yang bisa menghasilkan akal berikutnya, dan kedua prinsip keanekaan, karena dia memikirkan dirinya—sebagai objek non Tuhan—muncul benda-benda samawi. Hal ini juga terjadi pada akal-akal selanjutnya. Lihat Mulyadi Kartanegara, Gerbang Kearifan: Sebuah Pengantar Filsafat Islam, hal. 34.


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