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Interview with a Right Hegelian: A Summary of Hegel's Christian Philosophy

by Ryan Haecker

[The following text is the compilation of an e-mail interview of Mr. Ryan Haecker conducted by Mr. Derick
Varn between March and April of 2013.]

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 the Christian 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 no philosopher since Airstotle in the age of
Alexander the Great, Hegel claimed, in the age of Napoleon, the imperial crown of
sovereign philosophy by negating the conclusions of all hitherto existing
philosophical systems, as well as asserting the superiority of his own doctrine - which
simultaneously incorporated and appropriated the philosophies which
he asserted himself to have superseded in thought. Second, Hegel announced the
messianic and world-historical importance of his very own philosophy, which he held
to have completed - as far as was possible in his own historical moment - the truth
of religion and reason, that was only signified for imagination in
the Christian Gospel. Ordinarily such claims would result in either confinement to a
lunatic asylum or - as with Friederich Nietzsche - a struggle with immovable reality to
the contrary that might well precipitate a mental collapse, but Hegel's extraordinary

claims were plausibly, as with those of Jesus Christ's, fulfilled by extraordinary


results. Third, there is the unmistakable circuitousness, complexity, and gothic intricacy
of Hegel's writings, which belabor scholars for years just as they baffle and
frustrate casual readers. The consequence is a general unwillingness of most - even
scholarly readers - to devote the considerable labor of thought required to grasp the
central ideas of Hegelian philosophy. The grandness of Hegel's self-estimation
combined with the difficulty of his texts contributes to the suspicion and hostility
towards the philosophy of Hegel among most thinkers, but especially among Christians
for whom Hegel represents both the potential for the dialectical advancement, negation,
and nullification 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 of Absolute Idealism which 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 of religion. In both the object is Truth, in that supreme sense in which God and
God only is the Truth. Both in like manner go on to treat of the finite worlds
of Nature and the human Mind, 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 is Hen 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
the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, theology had suffered from an ever-widening

chasm between saecula (the sacred) and seculorum (the profane), Deus (God)
and mundi (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 the Monad of Monads and
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 was conceived to be a purgative corrective to modernity's infinite repetition of
the antitheses of the infinite non-Ego with the finite self-positing of the Ego. Schelling
writes:
"The genuinely speculative question remains: how may the absolutely One, the
absolutely simple and eternal Will from which all things flow, expand into
multiplicity and be reborn as a unity, i.e. into the moral world... The question
would be an indispensable and unavoidable problem if this philosophy [of
Fichte] actually made what is for it the Absolute into a principle as well - but it
rather carefully guards against this and lets the whole of finitude be given to it,
very conveniently along with the... common dogmatism that the Absolute is a
result and something that needs a justification... What is the characteristic of this
philosophy [of Fichte] is just that it has given new form to the age-old dichotomy
between the infinite and the finite; but such forms may be legion - none lasts, and
each carries impermanence within itself. It cannot found anything permanent.
An enthusiasm that fancies itself to be great if it sets its own Ego up in its
thoughts against the wild storms of elements, the thousand thousand suns and
the ruins of the whole world, makes this philosophy popular; and also makes it

dumb and hollow otherwise - a fruit of the age whose spirit has for a time
exalted this empty form, until the age sinks back as its own ebb sets in, and the
fruit along with it. What abides is only what supersedes all dichotomy; for only
that is in truth One and unchangeably the same... Only what proceeds from the
absolute unity of the infinite and finite is immediately and essentially capable of
symbolic presentation; capable of true philosophy; of becoming religion, or an
objective and eternal source of new intuition; a universal model of everything in
which human action endeavors to portray the harmony of the universe." - F. W. J.
Schelling, On the Relationship of the Philosophy of Nature to the Philosophy in
General, Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, I, no. 3, 1802
The philosophy of Spirit of G.W.F. Hegel can be conceived of as a dialectical
reconciliation of the finite world of our ordinary experience with the infinite ideal life of
the Absolute, which is God's infinite being. The success of this reconciliation is meant to
fulfill the promise, in thought, of the Christian religion and restore the august throne of
speculative philosophy, or metaphysics, as the sovereign science: "The germ of
Christianity was the feeling of separation of the world from God; its aim was the
reconciliation with God -not through a raising of finitude to the infinite, but through the
infinite's becoming finite, or through God's becoming man... All the symbols of
Christianity exhibit the characteristic that they represent the identity of God with the
world in images" (ibid.). The genuinely gnostic ambition of German Idealism is
salvation, neither through faith or works alone, but through both together in the
theoretical and fideistic praxis of philosophy, which is both devotion to God and love of
holy wisdom - Hagia Sophia. Hegel considered himself a religious reformer. Yet unlike
Luther, Hegel did not endeavor to widen but to reconcile the opposition of faith and
reason; church and state; and man with God. He brought the sword of negativity down
upon only those philosophies which maintained themselves in self-certain fixidity,
refused to "tarry with the negative," and thereby "blasphemed against the Holy Ghost."
Like Kant, Hegel's purpose was irenic: to pacify the endemic strife of thought that
tossed into ceaseless tumult the Republic of Letters - "Blessed are the Peacemakers for
they shall be called sons of God." (Mt. 5:9)
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 Friday in which God 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 to the 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 the culmination and resolution of centuries of
antitheses in theology, science and philosophy, and of no little interest to all speculative
thinkers of some spiritual depth.

Q: Do you think reading Hegel without this Christian background has led to a
profound misunderstanding of his work? If so, what are the key misunderstandings?

A: There is both an interpretation of the philosophy of Hegel in which his "Christian


background" is denied, as well as an interpretation in which his "Christian
background" is acknowledged and yet considered inessential to his philosophy. In
every case, the genuine question must be, not whether Hegel is acknowledged to have
believed in Christianity or to have lived in a largely Christian nation, but rather
whether his philosophy is essentially Christian. Hegel did not understood philosophy

to be Christian because he himself was a Christian, any more than he held philosophy
to be German because he was himself a German (although he once remarked that he
would teach philosophy to speak German). Rather Hegel held religion to be essentially
reasonable, and reason to be essentially religion, just as Christianity is essentially
philosophical, and philosophy is essentially Christian. The opposite categories are
altogether united in the speculative identity of the Absolute Idea. Hegel writes in the
Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion:
"The human spirit, in its innermost nature is not something so divided up that
two contradictory elements might subsist together in it. If discord has arisen
between intellectual insight and religion, and is not overcome in knowledge, it
leads to despair. This despair is reconciliation carried out in a one-sided manner.
The one side is cast away, and the other left alone held fast; but man cannot win
true peace in this way. The one alternative is, for divided spirit to reject the
demands of the intellect and try to return to simple religious feeling. To this,
however, the spirit can only attain by doing violence to itself, for the
independence of consciousness demands satisfaction and to renounce
independent thought is not within the power of a healthy mind. Religious feeling
becomes yearning hypocrisy, and retains the moment of non-satisfaction. The
other alternative is a one-sided attitude of indifference toward religion, which is
either left unquestioned, or ultimately attacked and opposed. That is the course
followed by shallow spirits."
Thus, it is a misunderstanding to suppose that Christianity is somehow capriciously
attached to the philosophy of Hegel, as an afterthought brought in through the window.
Schelling and Hegel wrote:
"We do not even recognize as philosophy any view which is not already religion
in its principle, [and] we reject any cognition of the Absolute which emerges
merely as a result - we reject any view which thinks of God in himself in some
empirical connection; precisely because the spirit of ethical life, and of
philosophy, is for us one and the same; we reject any doctrine according to which
the object of the intellect must, like nature, be just a means to the ethical life, and

must on that account be deprived, in itself stripped of the inner substance of that
life." (Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, 1804)
In his celebrated three critiques of reason, Immanuel Kant believed himself to disclose
the essence, potential and limits of reason itself. Following the Late-Medieval
nominalist opposition between faith and reason, Kant held faith (glauben) to consist in
beliefs that were wholly unsupported by reason (wissen). Hence, the limits of reason
fenced in rational understanding just as much as they fenced out irrational belief, so
that true religion, like true philosophy, must remain within the secure battlements of
self-critical reason - the limits of reason alone. Kant defined the limits of reason to be the
antinomies, or paralogisms of reason, which he held to necessarily arise from the
uncritical speculation of 'metaphysics' beyond the sure lighthouses of analytic
deduction and the safe harbors of sensory intuition: inferences of synthetic apriori
concepts that, qua synthetic, contain the content of sensory intuition and yet purport to
describe objects which are properly supersensible (e.g. the soul, the cosmos and God)
cannot be reliably trusted: for every dogmatic supersensible inference, any equally valid
yet contradictory inference may be affirmed; and the possibility of affirming valid
contradictions results in antinomies, or a contradictions in the valid exercise of the laws
of logic; such that reasoning which trespasses beyond self-critical boundaries
ineluctably obliterates itself in self-contradictory paralogisms. In this way, Kant
anticipated the Verification Principle of A.J. Ayer and the Analytic Positivists in holding
that consistent, i.e. non-contradictory, synthetic a priori truths of reason must be either
analytically self-evident or empirically observable. This Kantian prohibition rendered
knowledge of supersensible a priori concepts (e.g. the soul, the cosmos and God) totally
inadmissible as theoretical knowledge, even while they were necessary for practical
reason of ethics, politics and religion.
The consequence of the Kantian prohibition on supersensible a priori concepts was a
series of dualisms, between reason and intuition, concepts and percepts, theory and
practice, a priori and a posteriori truths, and the noumenal and phenomenal realms.
Kant struggled to reconcile these dualisms in the Critique of Judgment, in which the
faculty of aesthetic judgment was intended to mediate between reason and intuition,
yet only succeeded in producing many more speculative paradoxes. The task of Kant's
immediate successors; e.g. Reinhold, Jacobi, Niebuhr, and Fichte; was to systematize the

prolific yet disconnected medley of concepts expounded in Kant's critical philosophy.


This required a single axiom, or ur-form, to carry the weight as a cornerstone for the
whole edifice of Kantian philosophy. Imagination, faith, practical reason, consciousness
and the transcendental Ego were all proclaimed as sovereign axioms in a furious
succession which culminated in the 1796 Wissenschaftslehre of J.G. Fichte. F.W.J.
Schelling's decisive contribution was to oppose the self-positing Ego of Fichte with the
Absolute non-Ego of Spinoza's Nature - Deus sive Natura - and unite both together in the
speculative identity of the Absolute Ego, the idea of God. Thus did post-Kantian
idealism return to St. Anselm of Canterbury's "highest idea... than which nothing
greater can be conceived." (the Proslogion, 1078)
After Schelling's departure from Jena in 1804, G.W.F. Hegel carried his erstwhile
mentor's Identitie-Philosophie even further in his drafted speculative systems. This
formative activity culminated in the 1807 publication of the Phenomenology of Spirit,
which departed from Schelling in two important respects: the Absolute Idea was placed
at the conclusion, rather than at the beginning, of the speculative system; and the
deduction of the concepts was dialectical and paraconsistent rather than analytic and
consistent. The Kantian antinomies of reason compelled post-Kantian philosophers to
choose between reason that was limited to empiricism and analyticity, or somehow
embrace the self-contradictoriness of the antinomies. Hegel departed from Fichte and
Schelling; for whom the resolution of the antinomies was either simply self-posited or
an ineffable aesthetic intuition; and boldly affirmed that all speculative reasoning must
be self-contradictory, paraconsistent and dialectical. The operative principle of dialectic
is contrary propositions (i.e. contra-diction). In the philosophy of Hegel, however,
'contradiction' does not simply refer to the affirmation and denial of the same
proposition; for there can be no 'fixed propositions' at all; but rather to the contrary
opposition of the conflicting properties of concepts which results in their mutual
negation; and this negativity imparts dynamic self-movement to concepts. Just as Plato
conceived the cosmos as a world-soul in the likeness of an animal organism in the
Timaeus, so does Hegel conceive of concepts as ideal organisms in the full negativity of
dynamic self-motion. The Absolute Idea is consequently, like Plato's world-soul and
Schelling's Weltgeist, the self-contradictory concept of concepts - Forma Formarum which absolutely envelops and supercedes all possible concepts, all thought and being,
as that Reason (nous) which rules the world.

Reading Hegel without consideration of his 'Christian context' results in a profound


misunderstanding because such readings neglect, dismiss, or diminish the essential role
of Christianity in Hegel's mature philosophical system. This essential role can be
illustrated by describing how the Christian religion uniquely anticipated the particular
philosophical contributions of Hegel in post-Kantian idealism and the history of
philosophy in general. In the mature writings (1807-1831) of Hegel, Christianity is
explicitly dealt with in three places: the final part of C.C. Religion in the Phenomenology
of Spirit, the third part (3.3.2.3.) of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, and the third
part of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: of these, the lectures on the philosophy
of religion constitute a more detailed exposition of the Encyclopedia; the Phenomenology
of Spirit presents Christianity in from the standpoint of the self-development of human
consciousness in history as the culmination of a dialectical sequence of absolute picturethinking, or religion; and the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences presents religion as the
concept which mediates between the concepts of art and the philosophy, and
Christianity as the absolute religion which subsumes natural and finite religions within
itself. The place of the concept of the Christian religion in the Phenomenology and
Encyclopedia systems of Hegelian philosophy signifies its relations to other concepts,
both as they are subordinated, superordinated, and sublated. In the Phenomenology of
Spirit, the Hegelian christology of the hypostatic union lies at the very pinnacle of the
system as the completion of the dialectic of religion; which guarantees, through
revelation from the Absolute to itself in mankind, the completion of the preceding
dialectical movements, and the ultimate possibility of knowledge of the Absolute. In the
Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, the Christian religion is the 'absolute religion'
through which aesthetic imagination becomes philosophy of the truth. The differing
places of Christianity in the Phenomenology and Encyclopedia systems can be
explained according to the differing systematic roles of the two works: while the
Phenomenology of Spirit presents the successive dialectical movements of naive
consciousness in relation to the Absolute, the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences
outlines the relation of the Absolute to itself in the successive dialectical movements of
its own self-development. Thus, Christianity makes knowledge of the Absolute (C.DD.
Absolute Knowledge) possible for-consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit, while
Christianity mediates between art and philosophy, intuitions and concepts, in the
absolute self-becoming of concepts in the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences.

Hegel distinguishes Christianity from all dialectically prior revealed religions (e.g.
Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam etc.) according to the uniqueness of the incarnation and
the 'death of God' on the cross. The incarnation of Christ is not merely an act of divine
intervention but a world-historical event that, when believed to be true, radically
transforms our collective self-understanding; for we then acknowledge our self-same
absolute freedom, sacrality, and divinity through the image of the God-man. The
deeper meaning of Ecce Homo, "behold the man", is precisely this; that man sees his own
absoluteness in the person of Christ, in which the Absolute Idea of God is uniquely and
substantially united with the essence of mankind. Through this revelation, the nature of
man comes to be acknowledged as potentially absolute, and hence potentially sharing
in the freedom, sacrality and divinity of God. For this reason, the gospels of Christ,
through which the Absolute is imagistically revealed, is also an anthropology of man.
Hegel held this Christian theological-anthropology to have world-historical importance
for the development of reason itself, which is the spirit of the world - der Weltgeist. Faith
in the hypostatic union of the dual natures of God and man in the person of Christ is the
crucial presupposition that enables the reason to develop with complete confidence in
knowing the objective world of the non-Ego and the Absolute. So long as subjective
consciousness was opposed to an alien objective non-Ego, there could be no condition
for the identity and synthesis of knowledge of things for-us and the things-inthemselves, and scientific knowledge of the cosmos could, with the ancient Skeptics, be
assumed to be ultimately unknowable.
This problem is represented by Plato in the sixth and greatest difficulty (133a134e) of
the dialogue the Parmenides: Parmenides argues against Socrates that, according to the
Platonic epistemology, forms may only be related to other forms just as sensible things
may only be related to other sensible things; humans cannot know forms just as the
gods cannot know human affairs; so that there can never be knowledge of forms or
relations of the gods to men. The problem of the greatest difficulty is the problem of
mediating the dualist cosmology - the divided line - of Plato's Middle-Period dialogues
(e.g. Phaedo, Republic, Symposium) and resolving opposite ontic categories of form
and matter into a consistent unity. This problem of dualism is represented in religious
consciousness in the Messianism of the Jews after the Babylonian Exile (582-538 BC).
Bereft of the anointed monarchy of the House of David and the Ark of the First Temple,

the Jews groaned in agony and expectation for their salvation from invasion,
contamination and occupation by foreign peoples (e.g. the Greeks and Romans). The
unnamable God - the tetragrammaton 'YHWH' - beyond the world was expected to
directly intervene as a champion Messiah to shepherd Lord's people Israel to true
freedom and everlasting majesty. The 71st Psalm petitions:
"Give to the king thy judgment, O God, and to the king's son they justice... He
shall judge the poor of the people, and he shall save the children of the poor, and
he shall humble the oppressor, and he shall continue with the Sun and before the
Moon, throughout all generations... In his day shall justice spring up, and
abundance of peace, till the Moon be taken away. And he shall rule from sea to
sea and from the river unto the ends of the Earth... And all kings of the Earth
shall adore him; all nations shall serve him."
Thus, both Jews and Gentiles - Jerusalem and Athens - awaited the absolute mediation
of God with man at the conclusion of the political development of the antique world, in
which the universal Roman Empire united all nations, and:
"All the conditions for its production [were] present... These forms [of
personality, legal right, of Stoicism and Skepticism] compose, the periphery of
the forms, which attend round the birthplace of Spirit as it becomes selfconsciousness. Their center is the yearning agony of the unhappy despairing selfconsciousness, a pain which permeates all of them and is the common birth-pain
of its production the simplicity of the pure notion, which contains those forms
as its moments... The incarnation of the Divine Being, its having essentially and
directly the shape of self-consciousness, is the simple content of Absolute
Religion. Here the Divine Being is known as Spirit; this religion is the Divine
Being's consciousness concerning itself that it is Spirit... Spirit is known as selfconsciousness, and to this self-consciousness it is directly revealed, for it is this
self-consciousness itself. The divine nature is the same as the human, and it is
this unity which is intuitively apprehended." - Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
the Phenomenology of Spirit, C.CC. Religion C. Revealed Religion, par. 754-759

The Incarnation of Christ reveals the identity of consciousness and the Absolute
through the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ:
"I and my Father are one." (Jn. 10:30) This revealed identity speculatively reconciles and
mediates, for religious consciousness, between the dualities of reason; e.g. Ego and nonEgo, subject and object, sensible and supersensible, Man and God. Through the
incarnation, Christianity affirms an indissoluble identity between the reason of man and
the reason of God so that we may potentially come to know all things just as God
knows himself. Jesus told his disciples: "If you had known me, you would have known
my Father also: and from henceforth you know him, and have seen him." (Jn. 14:7); "For
nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be
known and come to light." (Lk. 8:17); and "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall
make you free." (Jn. 8:32). Hegel writes, in the Introduction to the Lectures on the Philosophy
of History, "In the Christian Religion God has revealed God - that is, God has given us to
understand what God is; so that God is no longer a concealed or secret existence. And
this possibility of knowing God, thus afforded us, renders such knowledge a duty..."
The speculative centrality of Christianity in the essential development of reason and the
history of world-spirit is this speculative identity of God and Man in Christ; of all
thought and being in the "Absolute Middle" that unites absolutely opposed categories
of the subjective Ego and the objective non-Ego; and makes a philosophical science of
absolute knowledge possible.
It is sometimes objected that Christianity cannot be the 'absolute religion' for this reason
because the incarnation of God is not an element that is unique to Christianity:
incarnations are also present, for example, in the ten Dashavatara, or avatars of Vishnu,
such as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. While other religious traditions affirm that God
has been incarnated, only Christianity describes the passion, death and resurrection of
the God-man Jesus Christ. Hegel describes the 'death of God' in both Faith and
Knowledge and the Phenomenology of Spirit from the standpoint of religious
consciousness. Religious consciousness views God the Father and Christ the Son as
indivisibly united in Jesus of Nazareth. The death of Jesus is thus viewed as the 'death
of God' for both are united in the self-same appearance known through the logical
sequence of these appearances. Hegel writes at the conclusion of section C.CC.III.
Revealed Religion in the Phenomenology of Spirit:

"This [religious] self-consciousness does not therefore really die, as the particular
person [of Jesus] is pictorially imagined to have really died; its particularity
expires in its universality, i.e. in its knowledge, which is essential Being reconciling
itself with itself. That immediately preceding element of figurative thinking is
thus here affirmed as transcended, has, in other words, returned into the self,
into its notion. What was in the former merely an (objective) existent has come to
assume the form of Subject... When the death of the mediator is grasped by the
self, this means the sublation of his factuality, of his particular independent
existence: this particular self-existence has become universal self-consciousness....
The death of this pictorial idea implies at the same time the death of the
abstraction of Divine Being, which is not yet affirmed as a self. 'That death is the
bitterness of feeling of the unhappy consciousness, when it feels that God
Himself is dead. This harsh utterance is the expression of inmost
self knowledge which has simply self for its content; it is the return of
consciousness into the depth of darkness where Ego is nothing but bare identity
with Ego, a darkness distinguishing and knowing nothing more outside it. This
feeling thus means, in point of fact, the loss of the Substance and of its objective
existence over against consciousness... This knowledge is thus spiritualization,
whereby Substance becomes Subject, by which its abstraction and lifelessness
have expired, and Substance therefore has become real, simple, and universal
self-consciousness." (PhG 785)
With the death of the God-man for religious consciousness, the concept of the universal
essence of the "objective existence over against consciousness" (PhG 162) is lost and
shattered even as "bare identity" of the Fichtean self-positing Ego continues in lonesome
cognition. Hegel suggests that the 'death of God' phenomenologically reveals, for
religious consciousness, the immediate self-certainty, self-subsistence and infinite
freedom of the Ego in a way that had formerly been obscured by "the objective
existence", "abstraction and lifelessness" of the non-Ego "over against consciousness."
The positive result of the 'death of God' is the absolute dynamism and spiritualization
of all thought. Thus the concept of the absolute Spinozist substance is baptized as the
divine subject. Hegel first describes this in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit:

"The living substance is that being which is truly subject, or, what is the same
thing, is truly realized and actual (wirklich) solely in the process of positing itself,
or in mediating with its own self its transitions from one state or position to the
opposite. As subject it is pure and simple negativity... True reality is merely this
process of reinstating self-identity, of reflecting into its own self in and from its
other, and is not an original and primal unity as such, not an immediate unity as
such. It is the process of its own becoming, the circle which presupposes its end
as its purpose, and has its end for its beginning; it becomes concrete and actual
only by being carried out, and by the end it involves." (PhG 18)
For religious consciousness, revealed Christian theology is revealed anthropology. The
new conception of the God-man Jesus Christ constitutes a new Christian conception of
man: human nature is affirmed to participate in divine reason and divine grace. The
final end and highest good of human life is, no longer as with Aristotle magnanimity
within a merely human political community (Zoon Politikon), but rather participation in
the divine life of the Absolute being through the superabundant grace and beatitude of
the Kingdom of Heaven. This echoes St. Paul of Tarsus's description, in the Epistle to
the Romans, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: just as
Hegel affirms that Ego becomes certain of itself through the 'death of God', so St. Paul
affirms that we die, are buried, and are resurrected with Jesus Christ, to establish a
hitherto unknown relationship between man and God:
"we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up
from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in
newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death,
we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old
man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that
henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if
we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing
that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more
dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he
liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed
unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom 6:4-11)

The 'death of God' in Hegel, like the death of Christ in St. Paul, signifies the selfnegation of the Absolute. For the Christian religious consciousness, the self-negating
loss of "objective existence" is just as much the death of our objective bodily existence as
"we are crucified with [Christ]" so that we might "liveth unto God." Christianity is thus
distinguished from other incarnational religions by, not merely the absolute
reconciliation of opposite categories through the incarnation, but also by the absolute
self-negation of objective being through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. Hegel's 'speculative Good Friday' is the self-negation of all concepts in the
Absolute idea:
"Infinity is the pure nullification of the antithesis or of finitude; but it is at the
same time also the spring of eternal movement, the spring of that finitude which
is infinite, because it eternally nullifies itself. Out of this nothing and pure night
of infinity, as out of the secret abyss that is its birthplace, the truth lifts itself
upward... the pure concept or infinity as the abyss of nothingness in which all
being is engulfed, must signify the infinite grief [of the finite] purely as a
moment of the supreme Idea, and no more than a moment... Thereby it must reestablish for philosophy the Idea of absolute freedom and along with it the
absolute Passion, the speculative Good Friday in place of the historic Good
Friday. Good Friday must be speculatively re-established in the whole truth and
harshness of its God-forsakenness... the highest totality can and must achieve its
resurrection solely from this harsh consciousness of loss, encompassing
everything, and ascending in all its earnestness and out of its deepest ground to
the most serene freedom of its shape." (Faith and Knowledge, 1802)
The "absolute freedom" of the "pure concept" results from the absolute self-negation
signified of the 'death of God' in religious consciousness. The drama of the Christian
religion and the history of reason are united in the "absolute passion" of the 'speculative
Good Friday', through which the totality of concepts are altogether negated in "infinite
grief" and posited anew - resurrected from Hell and "ascending in all earnestness and
out of its deepest ground" - of the Absolute Idea.
Hegel's trinitarian theology confers the crown of absoluteness upon the Christian
religion. Hegel describes at the conclusion of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences

(575 - 577), how the dialectical moments may be read in three different sequences, with
three different subjects, and from three different beginnings: (i) Logic - Nature - Spirit;
(ii) Nature - Spirit - Logic; and (iii) Spirit - Logic - Nature. The divine persons of the
Holy Trinity within the triune God are mutually and recursively related, just as the
conceptual moments of God are mutually and recursively related: Logic corresponds to
God the Father, Nature to God the Son, and Spirit to the Holy Spirit. The major
divisions and subdivisions of Hegel's work must correspond to the persons of the Holy
Trinity because Hegel's dialectical logic is essentially trinitarian, and Hegel's conception
of the Holy Trinity is essentially logical: the simplest seminal first moment (i.e. thesis) is
the Father, the second self-alienated opposed moment (i.e. antithesis) is the Son, and the
third reconciling dynamic moment (i.e. synthesis) is the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the
Holy Trinity is an absolute self-contradiction: 'God is one' and 'God is three'. Hegel
absolutizes contradiction in his Logic by affirming that the Holy Trinity is the absolute
contradiction of three divine persons in one God and the eternal universal and living
essence of all logic, consistency and contrareity: the contrariness of the Trinity is also
Hegel's dialectical principle of identity in difference, through which he holds contrary
opposite concepts to be resolved into the self-identical unity of a master concept [i.e. (A
= A)&(A A)]. Subsumption (Aufhebung) is this process of resolution, which is
simultaneous supercession, negation and preservation of differing and opposed
concepts within a fuller and richer conceptual unity. The triadic relations of the
concepts that pervade and dynamize the philosophy of Hegel instantiate these
trinitarian logical relations. The conceptual moments of God may relate to one another,
as that which is sublated and that which sublates, in as many ways as there are relations
between the divine persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, Hegel's Christian trinitarian
conception of logic and contrareity informed his philosophical contributions to postKantian idealism. Hegel's elliptical axiom "Alles was vernnftig ist ist wirklich, und
alles was wirklich ist ist vernnftig" ("All that is rational is real, and all that is real is
rational"), can just as well be logicized as the axiom 'All logic is theological, and all
theology is logical.' The revelation, intelligibility, and divination of universal reason in
Christ the Logos was long ago acknowledged by Christian Neo-Platonists such as
Clement and Origin of Alexandrian. The Thirteenth Century Dominican mystic Meister
Ekhart describes this in the sermon on the Self Communication of God:
"The Father is a revelation of the Godhead, the Son is an image and countenance

of the Father, and the Holy Ghost is an effulgence of that countenance, and a
mutual love between Them, and these properties They have always possessed in
Themselves."
Dynamic movement is the result of the negative activity of potentiality in actuality, or
of some recurring absence within the fullness of substance. Thus negation begets
dynamic movement within a self-moving substance. For Hegel and Schelling, the
substances of concepts are dynamic when self-negated by contrary opposite concepts:
"The Concept is what is alive, is what mediates itself with itself. One of its
determinations is also Being... This is the Concept as such, the Concept of God, the
Absolute Concept; this is just what God is. As Spirit or as Love, God is this Selfparticularizing." (G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion p. 436)
Christianity is the most dynamic concept of religion because, for religious
consciousness, the 'death of God' is the total negation the concept of the objectified
Absolute. St. Paul writes: "Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God... emptied
himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men... humbled
himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:5-8) The
absolute self-negation of Christianity in the 'death of God' is also the most extreme selfalienation and opposition of concepts in the sacred history of God's children Israel. The
dark night of the soul of Good Friday, in which Christ calls out "'Eli, Eli, lama
sabachthani?' that is 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'" (Mt. 27:46),
historically recalls the grief of the 22nd Psalm over the ostensible abandonment of God's
covenant with Israel during the sack of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity; but
also speculatively anticipates the apocalyptic opposition of all concepts, in the moment
of our most heart-rending despair, when the essential coherency and self-identity of
absolutely everything seems lost: when "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ mere
anarchy is loosed upon the world" (William Butler Yeats, the Second Coming).
The dynamism of Christianity propels Christian religious consciousness into an
expectation of future reconciliation - the Second Coming of Christ - in which the
covenantal promise of sacred history is expected to be fully realized. The absolute
antithesis of the crucifixion demands an absolute resolution and finale. Any opposed
pair of contrary concepts logically demands some third concept to mediate and
reconcile each into a coherent self-identity. As (C.CC.) Religion completes (C.) Reason
for-consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit, so does the teleological end of religion

superordain and determine the end of the (C.BB.) Spirit of history. The hopes of the City
of Man are informed by the City of God, and the absolute expectations of Christian
sacred history inform the expectations of secular philosophies of history, or theories of
historicism. The future horizon of sacred history is the theological origin, in revealed
religion, of all subsequent progressivist historicism. The ancient pagan Greeks and
Roman acknowledged no absolute progress in history. The epics of Homer and the
theogony of Hesiod depict a lengthy historical regress from the resplendent reign of the
immortal gods to the pygmy age of mortal men. Likewise did the Jews count
themselves to be lesser men than their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Christian's
affirmed history to be progressive because Christians trust in the promised atonement
of their savior, Jesus Christ, by whose death and resurrection God is believed to have
conquered sin and death, and restored the pilgrim Church in the progress of faith
towards the highest good of eternal beatitude: this hope for the restoration of the world
in the eternal goodness of God is signified in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come/
thy will be done/ on Earth as it is in Heaven." In the Lectures on the Philosophy of History
Hegel described the logical and theological origin of this eschatological orientation that
is common to all progressivist historicism:
"The truth, then, that a Providence of God presides over the events of the World consorts with the proposition in question; for Divine Providence is Wisdom,
endowed with an infinite Power which realizes its aim in the absolute rationaldesign of the World... the world is not abandoned to chance and external
contingent causes, but that a Providence controls it... The insight to which
Philosophy is to lead us is that the real world is at it ought to be; that the truly
Good - the Universal Divine Reason - is not a mere abstraction, but a vital
principle capable of realizing itself. This Good, this Reason, in its most concrete
form, is God... The World Spirit corresponds to the Divine Spirit, which is the
Absolute Spirit."
History is providential simply because God is universal reason, all that is real is rational
("alles was wirklich ist ist vernnftig"), and reality is obedient to God. Hegel's
progressivist historicism is the direct consequence of his trinitarian dialectical logic, in
which thesis begets its opposite and opposites are reconciled into a richer unity, and the
Absolute is placed at the end as the product rather than the axiom of philosophy. The
Lectures on the Philosophy of History should be read as an illustration of historicism

determined by the eternal forms of reason described in the Science of Logic. As Karl
Rahner would later elaborate, this picture of the self-development of Spirit in history is
essentially the dynamic efflorescence of God's grace, a "universal pnuematology", and a
"salvation history" (Geist in Welt,1939, and Hrer des Wortes, 1944). In the drama of
sacred history, the proto-evangelium of the Old Testament is the first act, the Gospels of
the New Testament are the second act, and the Acts of the Apostles begin the third and
final act, which is prophesied to be completed by the Apocalypse of St. John. The order
of the Mass re-presents this trinitarian drama of sacred history as well in the three parts;
the Service of Prayer, Service of Instruction, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice; in which the
priest assumes the sacramental role as the person of Christ to reenact the sacrifice of the
Last Supper, the Passion and the Resurrection. The celebration of the Mass can thus be
understood as a ritual re-presentation of the Hegelian themes of progressivist
historicism, reason in history, and our eternal and eschatological salvation through our
liturgical and sacramental participation in the self-giving Logos of Jesus Christ.
Interpretations of Hegel vary widely, not merely because of the gothic-intricacy of
Hegel's prose, but more especially because readers of Hegel's texts ineluctably interpret
his speculative glosses as re-affirming their own preconceptions. One of literary masterstrokes of Hegel was, like Plato, to favorably present opposed theses while neighter
affirming nor denying any definite conclusions. By this artifice, Hegel retained for
himself a veil of vagaries that elicited from his students a perpetual self-reciprocating
dialectic of opposed questions and answers. Consequently, an interpretation of Hegel
which purports to show that God is can with no less plausibility be opposed by an
interpretation that God is not; just as the interpretation that the philosophy of Hegel is
Christian can be opposed by the interpretation that Hegel is not a Christian, but
perhaps a crypto-Feuerbachian. The opposed interpretations of the philosophy of
Hegel; which were first publicly manifested in the conflict between the so-called old
'Right Hegelians' and the young 'Left Hegelians'; has continued to this day in Christian
transcendentist and Marxian immanentist interpretations. It is plausible that my own
Christian and 'Right Hegelian' interpretation of Hegel has been pervasively conditioned
by the preconceived categories of Christian religious consciousness, just as the
interpretations of those who may disagree have been conditioned by some rejection of
religious consciousness. The formal relation of the concepts in Hegel's system may
frame, but not resolve, the dispute over the importance of the content of religion. The

key misunderstanding is then to simply entirely reject the importance of religion in


philosophy. As philosophy, like religion, purports to describe the truth, a true reading
of true philosophy may only be judged according to the self-legislated norms of reason
itself. In this way, confessional conflicts of religious faith are reintroduced into
philosophical hermeneutics. The genuine question of whether the philosophy of Hegel
is essentially Christian must therefore remain disputed so long there remain doubts
about Christianity.

Q: What do you make of philosophers like Zizek trying to deal with Christianity of
Hegel without just dismissing it as incidental while also trying to reconcile it with the
materialism of Marx?

A: The most Hegelian approach to the procession of ideas in history is the synthesis of
all differentia and opposites within the Absolute Idea. There is, for this reason, nothing
contrary to the spirit of Hegel in working to speculatively reconcile ostensibly opposed
concepts such as Christianity with Marxism, or religion with historical materialism: this
speculative enterprise can, perhaps, be understood more generally as the synthesis of
transcendent supersensible forms revealed in religious consciousness with the natural
operations of the material world observe through sensation; as a return to the Platonic
project of reconciling the purely actual Being of Parmenides with the ever-changing
conflux of Heraclitus; or as the return to the Kantian project of reconciling the
immutable windowless monads of Leibniz with the extended and self-developing
substance of Spinoza. In every case, speculative philosophy endeavors to unify the
dualistic opposition of pure thought and intuition in an absolute concept that envelops
and subsumes the true concepts of all reality. The project of reconciling Christian
transcendence with socialist justice has in the past been undertaken from the standpoint
of Christian theology; for example in the Franciscan Fraticelli, the Christian Socialism of
Dorothy Day, and the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutirrez; and from the
standpoint of Marxist theory; as in the writings of Ernst Bloch who wrote in The
Principle of Hope "Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem" and "the Bolshevist fulfillment of
Communism is part of the age-old fight for God."

For either Christian theology or Marxist theory to be fully explanatory of the world, it
would seem that each must offer some account of the pervasive appeal of the other:
Christian theology must account for the Socialist contests against the social iniquities of
modern capitalist economies, just as Marxist theory must account for the spiritual
conditions of Christian religious consciousness: Marxists must explain the persisting
desire for self-transcending faith and devotion, for which "religion is the sigh of the
oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions",
just as Christians must explain how they are to bring justice to the present material
conditions of society, for which they are commanded to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
Hegel is the key to open each concept for the other. Hegel is not only a seminal thinker
for Marxist theory, but also a great modern Christian theologian. In Hegelian terms,
both Christian theology and Marxist theory must endeavor to speculatively sublate,
negate, and preserve the other, so as to unlock, open, and take possession of all of the
riches of Pharaoh from the land of Egypt.
Although I have some suspicions about Prof. iek's interpretations of Hegel, it would
be irresponsible for me to comment on an author's whose publications I am largely
ignorant of. Some interpreters of Hegel are tempted by their preconceptions to deny
Hegel's exuberant Christian confessions as little more than pious nods to the
Restoration-era faith of the Kingdom of Prussia. For example, Prof. Robert Solomon
interprets Hegel as "essentially an atheist" (In the Spirit of Hegel, 1983, p.582). Such
esoteric interpretations, which maintain that Hegel was a writer who deliberately
deceived his readers regarding his Christian faith, are (while not indubitably false)
demanding of a much more conniving interpretation of Hegel than his fiercely
independent and outspoken tone would seem to suggest. In his book review, Prof.
Michael Rosen called Prof. Solomon's interpretation "extremely disappointing" and
"bizarre" (The Philosophical Review, pp.115-117, 1986). Thus, leaving aside these
interpretations, there appear to be three major ways in which Marxist theoreticians may
seek to "deal with the Christianity of Hegel" by de-Christianizing the philosophy of
Hegel to be more amenable to an ostensibly irreligious Marxist theory: by re-conceiving
of (i) the formal relations of the system, (ii) the metaphysics, and (iii) the sociology of
Hegel.
(i) Christian interpreters of Hegel have earnestly and decisively emphasized the
systematic place and function of the concept of Christian revealed religion in the system

of Hegel (e.g. James Sterling, Emil Fakenheim, William Wallace etc.). Christianity is not
only acclaimed as the 'absolute religion' which subsumes all prior religions in religious
consciousness, but furthermore as the concept that superordinately determines the
essence of the subordinate concepts: in the Phenomenology of Spirit, for instance, the
concept of (C.CC.III) Christian revealed religion is the apex of the concept of (C.CC)
Religion which subordinates and subsumes, in (C) Reason, the concepts of (C.AA) Free
Concrete Mind and (C.BB) Spirit; which in turn subsumes (A) Consciousness and (B)
Self-Consciousness. Thus, the crowning concept of Christian subsumes all other
concepts within itself. Although Christianity is enthroned at the zenith of the system of
the Phenomenology of Spirit, it is not itself (C.DD) Absolute Knowing but merely the
handmaid of the philosophical-theology of Absolute Idealism. The Phenomenology of
Spirit is merely a prolegomena, for historically alienated consciousness, of the system of
philosophy which Hegel begins in the Science of Logic and outlines in the Encyclopedia of
Philosophical Sciences.
As the Phenomenology of Spirit stands in the relation of the Absolute to consciousness as a
mediating prelude to Hegel's mature philosophical science, it may be mystically
envisaged to assume the filial role of Christ the Son in relation to the seminal role of
God the Father in the Science of Logic, and the dynamic efflorescence of the Holy Spirit in
the Berlin Lectures on the History of Philosophy and the Philosophy of History.
Consequently, the sovereign concept of (C.CC.III) Christian Revealed Religion in the
Phenomenology of Spirit must be understood, like Jesus Christ, to be the mediating
concept between human consciousness and the Absolute Idea of God, just as (3.3.2)
Religion appears again in the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences as the mediating
concept between (3.3.1) Art and (3.3.3) Philosophy (e.g. S-M-P or Father-Son-Holy
Spirit). Religion mediates between art and philosophy in the Absolute Idea because
Hegel, with Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, held all formal concepts to require the content
of intuition: the universal philosophical concept is constructed from the content of
aesthetic intuition related to the absolute truth of religion and yet formally purified of
the content any particular intuition. The majestic tradition of Christian art, from the
earliest hymns to the cantatas of Mozart, is for Hegel the spiritual flowering of the
concerted imaginations of the children of God to manifest the Absolute Idea through
the variegated forms aesthetic intuition. In the oldest systematic fragment on German
Idealism describes the centrality of art to philosophy:

"the idea which unites all, the idea of beauty, the word taken in the higher
platonic sense. I am convinced that the highest act of reason, which, in that it
comprises all ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness are united
like sisters only in beauty - the philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic
power as the poet. The people without aesthetic sense are our philosophers of the
letter. The philosophy of the spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. One cannot be
clever in anything, one cannot even reason cleverly in history - without aesthetic
sense."
Interpreters who wish to de-Christianize Hegelian philosophy may allege that the
subordinate and mediating role of religion in the system of Hegel means that the
Christian religion is suppressed by the superior concept of (C.DD) Absolute Knowing
and (3.3.3) Philosophy: just as the universal concept purifies philosophy of the
particular content of intuition, so does it seem to exorcise philosophical reason of
religion. However, this interpretation confuses the Hegelian principle of subsumption
(Aufhebung), which preserves the subordinate concepts, with bad skepticism, which
suppresses and rejects the subordinate concepts. Hegel describes the difference between
subsumption and skepticism in the Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit:
"For this view is skepticism, which always sees in the result only pure
nothingness, and abstracts from the fact that this nothing is determinate, is the
nothing of that out of which it comes as a result... The skepticism which ends
with the abstraction nothing or emptiness can advance from this not a step
farther, but must wait and see whether there is possibly anything new offered,
and what that is in order to cast it into the same abysmal void. When once, on
the other hand, the result is apprehended, as it truly is, as determinate negation,
a new form has thereby immediately arisen; and in the negation the transition is
made by which the progress through the complete succession of forms comes
about of itself." (PhG 79)
Lest we fall into the most abysmal skepticism which cannot advance a step further,
thinking must incorporate the determinate negations of all concepts to "progress
through the complete succession of forms": rather than being cast into the void, the

Christian religion is denied merely as absolute knowledge just as it is preserved as a


concept that is essential to this knowledge, viz. the negation of negation or the
determinate negation (determinatio est negatio): the concept of Christianity is negated as
containing the fullness of purely conceptual truth even while it is affirmed, viz. this
negation, to be altogether necessary for the emergence of philosophical truth. In the
(3.3) Absolute Idea of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, (3.3.2) Religion objectifies
the varied aesthetic imaginings into a sacred drama of the self-revelation of the
Absolute to consciousness.
The Christian religion is essential as the most synthetic and dynamic form of religion
which, through divine revelation, uniquely allows consciousness to imagine and know
philosophical science. If religious consciousness were, on the contrary, consigned to the
abysmal void of unthought, then there could be no warranted claim to scientific
knowledge. This problem of the doxastic foundations of science in religious belief
continues to resurface in anti-realist and anti-foundationalist critiques of natural science
and scientific naturalism, such as Paul Feyerabend's Against Method (1975), Alvin
Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (1993), and Thomas Nagel's
recent book Mind and Cosmos (2012). The necessity of the mediating concept of Religion
in the philosophy of Hegel thus inverts the common understanding of the relation of
faith and reason: faith is not the ghostly shadow of reason the necessary precondition of
reason itself. So Hegel may affirm, with St. Anselm, that we must have faith seeking
understanding (Credo ut Intellegam), and with the proverbs that the "fear of the Lord is
the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Pr. 9:10)
(ii) Hegel's fundamental metaphysical commitments can perhaps be radically
reconceived as materialist and anthropocentric rather than absolute idealist and
theocentric. This approach was first pursued by the disenfranchised students of
Hegelian philosophy who wished to weaponize the Hegelian dialectic against the
alliance of altar and throne in the Kingdom of Prussia and the Holy Alliance (c.18151848).These radical critics of the established order of the world were called by David
Strauss the 'Young Hegelians', in contrast to the doctrinaire former students of Hegel, or
the 'Old Hegelians'. They counted among themselves such future luminaries as Ludwig
Andreas Feuerbach, Max Stirner, Bruno Bauer, Friederich Engels and Karl Marx.
Feuerbach interpreted Hegel's Absolute Idea to be no more Platonic and real than an

idea in the human mind. The idea of God and the Absolute should, on this account,
become the absolute knowledge and power of mankind. Marx and Engels followed
Feuerbach in juxtaposing critical, realist, and empirical dialectical materialism to
Hegel's purportedly spiritualist, speculative and phantasmagoric absolute idealism. In
each case, the Young Hegelians sought to unravel the unity of the systemic tapestry of
the philosophy of Hegel, and then to re-conceive its formal relations and basic
constituents in a way more suitable to the achievement of their social and political
ambitions. Yet, as their aims differed as wildly as their re-conceptions, the Young
Hegelians could produce no consistent school or system of philosophy. Each and all
stand in relation to the speculative empire of Hegel as, what Marx once memorably
described as, the successor generals (diadochi) of the spirit tearing and rending the
corpse of their world-conquering great-king Alexander.
Feuerbach denied the subjectivity of the Absolute to be anything other than the
subjectivity of man, and consequently re-centered the Absolute Idea into the mind of
man rather than the mind of God. Feuerbach's anthropocentrism rejected the
Schellingian identity between the knowledge of the finite human Ego and the absolute
divine Ego, the Berkeleyan subsistence of the universe in the perception of God, and the
whole Platonic inheritance of preternatural transcendent forms. The consequence was
not only the rejection of the priority of the pure forms of logic to the extended matter of
nature but the implicit denial of the very possibility of a science of true philosophy:
absolute knowledge requires an absolute knower as the subject which knows the object
of truth, just as the truth of the particulars is the universal in which they are altogether
united. The rejection of God, Platonic universals, and Logic from the metaphysics of
Hegel, viz. the anthropocentric reduction, consequently makes true, universal and
scientific knowledge impossible. The Absolute is the truth. To deny that there is truth is
just as much to deny that this denial of truth is itself true, which is to affirm, viz. the
Law of Excluded Middle, that this denial is false. Thus any denial of the truth selfcontradictory. This is the problem of any anthropocentric reduction of absolute truth
that relativizes truth to the human mind. Therefore, according to classical logic,
Feuerbach cannot affirm an anthropocentrism or naturalism that excludes the Absolute,
universals, and logic, without also contradicting himself.
Marx and Engels re-conceived of Hegel's Absolute as the immanent dynamic selfdevelopment of nature which they called dialectical materialism, in opposition to the

transcendent spiritualist idealism which they attributed to Hegel. This materalistsidealist juxtaposition reiterates Aristotle's abstract opposition of form and matter in
concrete substance, Spinoza's two attributes of thought and extension in divine nature
(Deus sive Natura), Kant's division of concepts and intuition in the apperceptive unity of
thought, and Schelling's realism and idealism in the self-identity of the Absolute; for in
each case the materialist-idealist juxtaposition seeks to subordinate form to matter, the
thought to extension, the concept to the intuition, and the ideal to the real, so as to
affirm, against the purportedly mystical spiritualism of Hegel, that dialectical
materialism stands upright on the firm metaphysical ground matter. The motivation is
to ground an ontologically and epistemological foundation in sensible material reality.
Kantian criticism quickly exposes the untenability of this one-sided opposition of
foundational matter to epiphenomenal form. What is the essence of matter? How is the
essence of matter deduced without dogmatic presuppositions? Where is matter to be
sensibly intuited? How is matter without form dialectical? Can the ground of
materialism be turtles all the way down? These embarrassing questions soon reveal that
dialectical materialism simply subordinates one side of each conceptual dichotomy to
the other, to suppress and banish the turtle from the shell, and affirm nature as the
armored panoply of certain knowledge. Not only does the promised foundation of
material nature prove to be no foundation at all, but materialism poisons philosophy
with its essential finitude, closure, and finality. The essence of matter is simply the selflimited and self-subsisting atomic particles of Democritus. No whole can arise from the
agglomeration of many merely self-related parts. Neither can any set of formal relations
join together totally self-enclosed particles. The consequence of materialism is, then,
either a tower of material bricks which reaches to the heavens but crumbles like the
Tower of Babel under the weight of its own antinomies, or a spiritualized matter that is
indistinguishable from Fichte's intellective being within Schelling's identity-philosophy.
Fichte's ideal being for-consciousness that is identical to the reality of the Absolute initself is simply the phenomenological movement of what Hegel calls Spirit: where
materialism affirms a pre-critical mechanistic relation of static material particles, the
Hegelian spirit of properly critical dialectical materialism affirms a dynamic selfparticularizing totality of all thought and being in Logic, Nature and Spirit. With the
rejection of the mechanistic materialism, viz. the disjunctive inference, Hegelian Spirit is
must be affirmed as the very substance becoming subject of the Absolute.

(iii) The (i) systematic and the (ii) metaphysical re-conceptions of the philosophy of
Hegel are together united in the (iii) interpretation of Hegelianism as sociology. In this
way, the negative re-conceptions of Hegel constitute a sort of negative dialectical triad,
in which the dialectical reconciliation of opposites produces a more false and discordant
rather than a more true and harmonious concept, in a way reminiscent of the negative
dialectic of modern philosophy of subjectivity in Glauben und Wissen (Faith and
Knowledge, 1802). The sociological re-conception affirms that the philosophy of Hegel
can only be interpreted as the historical development of the self-understanding of
society, and denies that any 'metaphysical', idealist, or platonizing interpretation is
possible. Prof. Terry Pinkard summarizes this interpretative approach in the Successor to
Metaphysics: Absolute Idea and Absolute Spirit (Monist, July 1991, Vol. 74, Issue 3). Prof.
Pinkard conflates Kant's term 'metaphysics' with the term 'dogmatism' and
simplistically presumes that all metaphysical reasoning is dogmatic and rejected by
post-Kantian idealists. Thus, Pinkard's non-metaphysical interpretation simply purports
to be critical philosophy without dogmatic assumptions about the reality or structure of
being. The conflation of metaphysics with dogmatism leads Pinkard to reject all of the
reality of all supra-physical and supersensible entities of theology and logic as the relics
of a pre-critical metaphysics of substance. This is the occamist razor which shaves Logic
from Pinkard's sociology of Spirit.
With Feuerbach, Pinkard interprets the philosophy of Hegel from the anthropocentric
perspective of a historical human community, and rejects the pure Platonic forms of
preternatural and pre-human logic which are posited by God's seminal reason (rationes
seminales, or logoi spermatikoi) rather than man. With Marx and Engels, Pinkard must
assume a naturalistic cosmology reminiscent of dialectical materialism. This becomes
even clearer when the presuppositions of sociology are investigated: sociology is the
logic of human society, which is inter-subjectively constituted by social human actors,
who are each themselves either the formal apperceptive unity of transcendental selfconsciousness or the empirical composite of material nature; sociology thus
methodologically assumes Kantian empiricism; rejects the self-subsistence of the
transcendental self-conscious and affirms only empirical and material composition;
therefore, sociology reduces to materialism which reduces to absurdity. In this way, the
(iii) sociological interpretation inherits the errors of the (i) systematic and the (ii)
metaphysical re-conceptions of the philosophy of Hegel: the sociological interpretation

dogmatically assumes that (i) society may subsist by itself or through the activity of
social actors without any further mediation of society, and (ii) assumes the selfsubsistence of society and persons to be supported by the real ground of material
nature. However, the (i) unmediated self-subsistent society is merely assumed as a
concept of (3) Spirit that floats alone as a postulate of thought wholly indifferent to any
mediating conceptual relation to the (1) Logic and (2) Nature, which are the very
necessary conditions of its conceptual possibility. Philosophy is for Hegel an absolute
and all-encompassing science which cannot tolerate dogmatic postulates of wholly
unmediated concepts, any more than the human body can tolerate gangrene infection.
The (ii) materialist self-subsistence of society thus equally succumbs to materialist
poison of finitude, closure, and finality, which threatens to collapse upon itself as soon
as it is erected. The whole edifice is either unsupported and simply postulated, or
closed in upon itself like a windowless castle of so many finite material bricks.
In suppressing the pure forms of theology and logic, these interpretations (i, ii & iii)
construct a locked and irreformable system. All of the concepts of nature and society are
enclosed in finite vessels from which none can interact and none can escape. The castle
that was intended to reach to the heavens becomes a god-forsaken dungeon in which,
with the messianic yearning of the Jews in exile, mankind ceaselessly awaits an
unforeseeable eschatological emancipation. No freedom of the spirit is possible for such
an interpretation of the philosophy of Hegel according to the letter of the fixed
proposition, in which propositions are understood simply by-themselves as the
predicate of a subject and are (i) not mediated within and through the selfparticularizing Absolute; (ii) exclude or suppress the pure forms of Logic; and assume
an (i) unmediated and (ii) materially subsisting (iii) merely postulated society. Every
de-Christianizing interpretation, that intends to unravel the system of Hegel, either
returns safely to the harbor of the speculative Absolute Idea or crashes upon the rocks
of its own dogmatic presuppositions. The stumbling-block for all of these impious
interpretations is what Slavoj iek has called the monstrosity of Christ: it is putatively
absurd to believe that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; was
crucified; died; and was resurrected. Thus Tertulian confessed "Credo quia absurdum"
("I believe because it is absurd"). Christianity seems to be the most absurd religion of all
because it absolutely negates itself through the self-negation of the Absolute. However
this absolute self-negation is, in the philosophy of Hegel, the very unsurpassed

dynamism and spiritual vitality of Christianity. There could be no greater self-negation,


and no greater dynamism, than the visible self-annihilation of the God-man in the
'death of God' for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends." (Jn. 15:13)

Selected Bibliography of Works on Hegel's Christian Philosophy:


Altizer, T.J.J. (1991) Hegel and the Christian God, Journal of the American Academy of
Religion 59(1)
Altizer, T.J. J. (1993) The Genesis of God: A Theological Genealogy, ch. 2
Butler, C. (1977) G.W.F. Hegel
Butler, C. (1985) Hermeneutic Hegelianism, Idealistic Studies 15
Calton, P.M. (2001) Hegels Metaphysics of God: The Ontological Proof as the Development of
a Trinitarian Divine Ontology
Christensen, D.E. (ed.) (1970) Hegel and the Philosophy of Religion
Desmond W. (2003) Hegels God: A Counterfeit Double?
Dickey, L. (1993) Hegel on religion and philosophy, in F.C. Beiser (ed.) The Cambridge
Companion to Hegel
Fackenheim, E.L. (1967) The Religious Dimension in Hegels Thought
Flay, J. (1981) Religion and the absolute standpoint Thought 56, pp. 316-327
Hallman, J. (1991) The Descent of God: Divine Suffering in History and Theology, last chapter
Hodgson, P.C. (2005) Hegel and Christian Theology: A Reading of the Lectures on the
Philosophy of Religion
Hodgson, P.C. (2005) Hegel and Christian Theology: A Reading of the Lectures on the
Philosophy of Religion
Hodgson, P.C. (2005-06) Hegel: theologian of freedom, The Owl of Minerva 37(1)
Houlgate, S. (1991) Freedom, Truth and History, ch. 5
Houlgate, S. (1993) A reply to Joseph C. Flays Hegels metaphysics, The Owl of Minerva
24(2)
Houlgate, S. (1994) Hegel and Fichte: recognition, otherness and absolute knowing, The Owl
of Minerva 26(1)

Houlgate, S. (2005) An Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth and History (2nd ed. of his
Freedom, Truth and History, 1991), ch. 2 Thinking without presuppositionsHoulgate, S. (1991)
Thought and being in Kant and Hegel, The Owl of Minerva 22(2)
Hyppolite, J. [1946] Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, part 6 ch. 3
Jaeschke, W. (1991) The history of religion and absolute religion, in J. Walker (ed.) Thought
and Faith in the Philosophy of Hegel
Jaeschke, W. (1992) Philosophical theology and the philosophy of religion in D. Kolb (ed.) New
Perspectives on Hegels Philosophy of Religion
Jaeschke, W. [1986] Reason in Religion: The Foundations of Hegels Philosophy of Religion
Jamros, D.P. (1990) The appearing God in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, Clio 19
Jamros, D.P. (1994) The Human Shape of God: Religion in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit
Jamros, D.P. (1995) Hegel on the incarnation: unique or universal? Theological Studies
Kojve, A. (1970) Hegel, Marx and Christianity, Interpretation
Kolb, D. (ed.) (1992) New Perspectives on Hegels Philosophy of Religion
Kng, H. [1970] The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegels Theological Thought as a
Prolegomena to a Future Christology, tr. 1987
Lauer, Q. (1970) Hegel on the identity of content in religion and philosophy in D.E. Christensen
(ed.) Hegel and the Philosophy of Religion
Lauer, Q. (1982) Hegels Concept of God, esp. introduction and ch.
McCarthy, V.A. (1986) Quest for a Philosophical Jesus: Christianity and Philosophy in
Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Schelling, ch. 3 Hegel and the Jesus of consummate religion
McGrath, A.E. (1994) The Making of Modern German Christology, 1750-1990
McTaggart, J.M.E. (1901) Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, ch. 7
Merklinger, P.M. (1993) Philosophy, Theology and Hegels Berlin Philosophy of Religion 18211827
Olson, A. (1992) Hegel and the Spirit: Philosophy as Pneumatology
ORegan, C. (1994) The Heterodox Hegel
ORegan, C. (1994) The Heterodox Hegel
ORegan, C. (2006-06) Philosophy of religion in the context of Hegels philosophy, The Owl of
Minerva 37(1)
Pinkard, T. (1994) Hegels Phenomenology, ch. 6 sec. 1
Plant, R. (1997) Hegel: On Religion and Philosophy, The Great Philosophers, esp. pp. 30-49
Reardon, B.M. (1977) Hegels Philosophy of Religion

Rocker, S. (1995) Hegels Rational Religion: The Validity of Hegels Argument for the Identity in
Content of Absolute Religion and Absolute Philosophy
Rocker, S. (1995) Hegels Rational Religion: The Validity of Hegels Argument for the Identity in
Content of Absolute Religion and Absolute Philosophy
Schickler, J. (2005) Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel
to Steiner
Schlitt, D.M. (1984) Hegels Trinitarian Claim: A Critical Reflection
Shanks, A. (1991) Hegels Political Theology
Solomon, R. (1983) In the Spirit of Hegel, ch. 10
Taylor (1975) ch. 3 secs. 2,3,5 (reprinted as Taylors Hegel and Modern Society, ch. 1 secs.
2,3,5 ), esp. pp. 87-90, and ch. 18 secs. 1-2
Taylor, C. (1975) Hegel, ch. 7
Taylor, C. (1975) Hegel, ch. 18
Walker, J. (ed.) (1991) Thought and Faith in the Philosophy of Hegel
Westphal, M. (1979) History and Truth in Hegels Phenomenology, ch. 7
Whittemore, R.C. (1960) Hegel as panentheist, Tulane Studies in Philosophy 9
Williamson, R.K. (1984) Introduction to Hegels Philosophy of Religion
Yerkes, J. (1978) The Christology of Hegel
Yerkes, J. (1978) The Christology of Hegel