Q: Why do you think Hegel’s relevance as a specifically Christian thinker has been downplayed over time?
A: There is a long-standing reticence to acknowledge Hegel as a Christian theologian. Controversy surrounding theChristian and orthodox content of the philosophy of Hegel has swelled since before Hegel passed from the world in 1831: Hegel had already in his lifetime been accused of denying a personal God, logizing the Holy Trinity, theologizing history, eleaticizing Spinozism, Pantheism, materialism, idealism, reactionary conservatism, radical republicanism, Prussian nationalism, liberal cosmopolitanism and Bonapartist imperialism. Some of these allegations may be more warranted than others, but even a cursory glance through the diversity of allegations and appropriations which have been made of the philosophy of Hegel during and after his life testifies to the bewilderment, excitement, and animosity stirred up by Hegel’s philosophy. There are, to my mind, three primary reasons for this medley of bamboozlement and controversy: First, like nophilosopher since Airstotle in the ageof Alexander the Great, Hegel claimed, in theageof Napoleon,theimperialcrown of sovereign philosophy bynegating the conclusions of all hitherto existing philosophicalsystems, as wellas asserting the superiority of his own doctrine – which simultaneously incorporatedand appropriatedthe philosophies which heassertedhimself to havesupersededin thought. Second, Hegel announced the messianic andworld-historical importance of his very own philosophy, which he held to have completed – as far as was possible in his own historicalmoment – the truth ofreligion and reason, thatwas only signified for imagination in theChristianGospel.Ordinarilysuch claims would result ineither confinement to a lunatic asylum or – aswithFriederich Nietzsche – a struggle with immovable reality to thecontrary thatmight wellprecipitateamentalcollapse, but Hegel’sextraordinary claims wereplausibly, as with those of Jesus Christ’s, fulfilled by extraordinary results.Third, there is the unmistakablecircuitousness, complexity, and gothic intricacy of Hegel’swritings, which belabor scholars foryears just as they baffle and frustratecasual readers. The consequenceis a generalunwillingness of most – even scholarly readers – todevote theconsiderablelaborof thoughtrequired to grasp the central ideas ofHegelian philosophy.The grandness ofHegel’s self-estimation combined with the difficulty of his texts contributes to the suspicionand hostility towards thephilosophy of Hegel among mostthinkers, but especially among Christians for whom Hegelrepresents both the potential forthe dialectical advancement, negation, andnullification of the central tenets of the Christian religion.
Q: What do you think is the key theological truth of Hegel?
A: There is nothing in Hegel’s philosophy ofAbsolute Idealismwhich is not implicitly related to the Absolute, to theology, and to God. God is present from the first moment of sense-certainty, as the “richest and poorest truth,” to the complete realization, in thought, of the Absolute Idea. In the introduction to the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences Hegel wrote: “The objects of philosophy, it is true, are upon the whole the same as those ofreligion. In both the object is Truth, in that supreme sense in whichGodand God only is theTruth. Both in like manner go on to treat of thefiniteworlds ofNatureand the humanMind, with their relation to each other and to their truth in God.” All thought from the barest manifold of intuition to the most majestic apprehension of the entire cosmos is ideal participation in the divine life of God. For Hegel as with Paul of Tarsus, God isHen Kai Pan- All in All -in whom we all”live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).In this regard, Hegel follows the ancient idealist tradition of Parmenides, Plato, Philo, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Proclus; as well as the medieval mystics from Augustine and John Scotus of Eriugena to Bonaventure, Meister Eckhart and Joseph Boehme; and finally the modern idealists of Spinoza, Kant and Schelling.
Since the 13th century nominalists had overturned the great medieval synthesis of theAngelic DoctorThomas Aquinas, theology had suffered from an ever-widening chasm betweensaecula (the sacred)andseculorum (theprofane),Deus(God) andmundi(the World),Caelo(Heaven) andTerra(Earth). This is Lessing’s Chasm which characterizes the dualisms of modern philosophy. In the theology of Thomas Aquinas this chasm results from the transcendence of God’s simple unity over the composite created world; in the theology of John Duns Scotus this chasm was the consequence of the division between God’s necessary and accidental attributes, or between those things which are rationally necessary by divine reason and those things which are merely possible according to divine will; in the philosophy of Descartes this is the dualism of the perfect infinite incorporal God and the mechanistic corporal universe; in the philosophy of Leibniz this is the dualism of theMonad of Monadsand the necessary cooperation of the infinite multiplicity of subordinate monads; in the philosophy of Spinoza, this is the dualism of thought and extension; and finally in the philosophy of Kant, this is the dualism of reason and intuition, concepts and percepts, and of the noumenal and the phenomenal realms. In every case, infinite Eleatic-Platonic simple transcendent One is opposed to finite multiple composite Milesian-Democritean atoms of material Nature. The ambition of the identity philosophy of Schelling and Hegel wasconceived to be a purgative corrective to modernity’s infiniterepetition of the antitheses of the infinite non-Ego with the finite self-positing of the Ego. Schelling writes:
The key contributions of Hegelian philosophy to Christian theology corresponds in a threefold way, to the persons of the Holy Trinity: First, the philosophy of Mind, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, is Christocentric as it aims at nothing less than the approach of the subject consciousness with the eternal reason of God: this culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the final moment of religious consciousness; the dark night of the soul; the speculative Good Fridayin whichGod is dead, that concludes the logical sequence of historical religions; dissolves all nature, objectivity, and natural religion into the subjective stages of consciousness; and reconstructs each and all according tothe Spirit of Pentecost, the apostolic Church, and the Gospel of speculative philosophy. Second, the philosophy of logic, in the Science of Logic, is theocentric as it deduces the three persons of the Holy Trinity from logical generation of the heavenly Father into the three moments of Being, Essence and Concept; which come to be manifested in the encyclopedic divisions of Logic, Nature and Spirit; and which are altogether united in the ceaseless eternal self-loving -immanent and economic- logical procession of the Holy Trinity. Third, the philosophy of history, in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History, is pnuematocentric as it illustrates the efflorescence and vital activity of the Holy Spirit as logic directs the sequence of events in history through the temporal realization of the eternal providence of God. The triadic division of Hegelian philosophy; into Father (Logic), Son (Mind) and Holy Spirit (History); is altogether integrally united in the Science of Logic, in which Hegel intends to demonstrate nothing less than the Trinitarian logic and essence of the Triune God. The result must, if correct, be at once theculminationand resolution of centuries of antitheses in theology, science and philosophy, and of no little interest to all speculative thinkers of some spiritual depth.
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