April 25, 2013

Hegel On God, Religion, And Eckhartian Mysticism

Related: Glenn Alexander Magee - Goethe the Alchemist.

Below is an excerpt from Glenn Alexander Magee's book, "Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition." 2001. Cornell University Press: Ithaca. Pg. 224-27.
"In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel states that "The content of religion is absolute truth, and consequently the religious is the most sublime of all dispositions" (Knox, PR 270; 165-66). Speculative philosophy, Hegel insists, is not hostile to religious belief: "nothing is further from its intention than to overthrow religion, i.e., to assert that the content of religion cannot for itself be the truth." In other words, religion on its own, without the "assistance" of philosophy is absolute truth. Hegel states that "religion is precisely the true content but in the form of representation, and philosophy is not the first to offer the substantive truth. Humanity has not had to await philosophy in order to receive for the first time the consciousness or cognition of truth" (LPR 1:251). Humanity, then, can receive the truth through religion alone, without the need for philosophy. "Religion is for everyone," Hegel claims, unlike philosophy which is for the few (LPR 1:180). Philosophy and religion have the same content. Hegel explicitly identifies the moments of the Idea---Being, Essence, Concept---with the Holy Trinity. The fact that religion expresses truth in the form of representation does not mean that Hegel denigrates or rejects it. Nevertheless, Hegel holds that in philosophy the truth is expressed in a more adequate form, the form of pure thought.

Hegel believed that the truth has always been an unconscious possession of mankind. It has expressed itself in different forms, at different times, and through different thinkers. The philosopher "recollects" this unconscious wisdom and expresses it in a fully adequate form. This interpretation is supported by Hegel's remarks in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Hegel refers to religion as "sprouting up fortuitously, like the flowers and creations of nature, as foreshadowings, images, representations, without [our] knowing where they come from or where they are going to" (LPR 1:196; VPR 1:106). Hegel states that "Religion is a begetting of the divine spirit, not an invention of human beings but an effect of the divine at work, of the divine productive process within humanity" (LPR 1:130; VPR 1:46).

Hegel does not, however, regard all religions as equally adequate expressions of eternal truth. He claims that Christianity is the "Absolute Religion" (e.g., LPR 1:112; VPR 1:29). Hegel claims that "God has revealed Himself through the Christian religion; that is, he has granted mankind the possibility of recognizing his nature, so that he is no longer an impenetrable mystery" (Nisbet, 40; VIG, 45). Christianity has penetrated the mystery of God by revealing his nature as triune. Hegel takes issue with theologians and clergy who hold that mankind cannot know God, or who consider the attempt to know God as impious or hubristic. Hegel claims not only that such knowledge is possible, but that it is our highest duty to obtain it (Nisbet, 36; VIG, 40; also LPR 1:88). "God does not wish to have narrow-minded and empty-headed children," Hegel states (Nisbet 42; VIG, 47).

For Hegel, knowing God is our highest duty because God only fully exists in the community of worshippers. Hegel holds that "God's Spirit is essentially in his community; God is Spirit only insofar as God is in his community" (LPR 1:164; VPR 1:74). And: "The concept of God is God's idea, [namely,] to become and make Himself objective to himself. This is contained in God as Spirit: God is essentially in His community and has a community; He is objective to Himself, and is such truly only in self-consciousness [so that] God's very own highest determination is self-consciousness. Beforehand, God is "incomplete," Hegel says (LPR 1:186-87; VPR 1:96). He refers to the community of worshippers as the cultus. "In the cultus," Hegel writes, "the formal consciousness frees itself from the rest of its consciousness and becomes consciousness of its essence; the cultus consists in the consciousness that God knows Himself in the human being and the human being knows itself in God" (LPR 1:181; VPR 1:90). Hegel refers to the cultus as involving "the mystical attitude, the unio mystica" (LPR 1:180; VPR 1:89). He describes the cultus in his lecture manuscript as "the eternal relationship, the eternal process [of knowing] in which the subject posits itself as identical with its essence" (LPR 1:193; VPR 1:102).

Hegel's claim that God is dependent on the cultus, and his view of the union of God and man in the cultus, are strikingly similar to Meister Eckhart's mysticism. In fact, the only place Hegel quotes Eckhart is in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: "The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see Him; my eye and His eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and He in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would He. But there is no need to know this, for there are things that are easily misunderstood (and that can be grasped only in the concept)" (LPR 1:347-48; VPR 1:248). As noted before, this is actually a "quilt quotation" made up of lines from several of Eckhart's sermons (certainly the reference to "the concept" looks suspiciously like an Hegelian interpolation). In sermon 12---which seems to be one of the texts Hegel was drawing from---Eckhart remarks that "When all creatures pronounce His name, God comes into being."

In the winter of 1823-24, Hegel was actively discussing Eckhart's ideas with Franz von Baader. Baader himself has left us a record of what was perhaps the first of the occasions on which they met: "I was often with Hegel in Berlin. Once I read him a passage from Meister Eckhart, who was only a name to him. He was so excited by it that the next day he read me an entire lecture on Eckhart, and at the end said: 'There, indeed, we have what we want!' [Da haben wir es ja, was wir wollen]" In 1823-24, Hegel was, of course, preparing his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, in which the Eckhart reference appears. As I have said, Hegel offers only one quote from Eckhart and discusses him very briefly, so the "entire lecture on Eckhart" mentioned by Baader probably refers to the entire Hegelian discussion of religion in which the Eckhart passage occurs, and which Baader apparently mistook (not surprisingly) for a lecture on Eckhartian Mysticism. 

As further evidence of the "Eckhartianism" of Hegel's philosophy of religion, consider the following quotations. In the Encyclopedia Hegel states that "God is God only insofar as he knows Himself: this self-knowledge is, further, a self-consciousness in man and man's knowledge of God, which becomes man's self-knowledge in God" (PS 564; Wallace, 298). Elsewhere, Hegel remarks that "Insofar as the individual man is at the same time received into the unity of the divine essence, he is the object of the Christian religion, which is the most tremendous demand that may be made upon him" (PN 247; Petry 1:205-6). Finally, Rosenkranz quotes a fragment from Hegel's manuscripts (probably written not later than 1804) in which Hegel states that "the history of God is the history of the whole race." Hegel's philosophy of religion is from the beginning indebted to Eckhart's mysticism.

Hegel does not consider his views to be so "mystical" or "speculative" as to be alien to the ordinary believer, however. In fact, he holds that his way of looking at God and religion are much closer to real religion than to what was called in his time "rational theology" (LPR 1:129; VPR 1:45). We have seen that Hegel does not believe religion to be dependent on philosophy, but he does claim the reverse, that philosophy depends on religion. He writes that "It is the distinctive task of philosophy to transmute the content that is in the representation of religion into the form of thought; the content [itself] cannot be distinguished" (LPR 1:333; VPR 1:235). The philosopher first encounters the content of absolute truth in religion. Indeed, Hegel holds that before Christianity arrived on the scene it would have been impossible for philosophy to present absolute truth in a fully adequate or complete form.

The philosopher depends, then, not only on the community but specifically on the religious community. Speculative philosophy cannot be done in a vacuum: it requires a certain social and historical context. All his life Hegel claimed to be a pious Lutheran. The temptation is to take this claim as disingenuous, as the heretical philosopher attempting to cover his tracks to avoid the fate of Fichte and many others. Once it is realized, however, that Hegel's philosophy of religion originates out of the Eckhartian, Bohmean, Oetingerite-influenced Lutheranism of Wurttemberg, his claim can be seen as sincere. Hegel's brand of Lutheranism would have been nothing unusual to his fellow Swabians."