Studies in Hegelian Cosmology. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart 1901
206. My object, in the present chapter, is more purely historical than in the rest of this work. I shall endeavour principally to determine the relation in which Hegel actually stood to the Christian religion, and not the relation which logically follows from the main principles of his philosophy.
I believe it will he found, however, that, on this question at least, his conclusions are quite consistent with his fundamental premises.
In the course of this enquiry I shall quote with some frequency from Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion. But I would ask the reader to look on these quotations rather as illustrations of my interpretation than as attempts to prove that it is correct. For such a purpose isolated quotations must always be inadequate. In the first place, Hegel’s views on this subject are not so much expressed in distinct propositions, as in the tendency and spirit of page after page. if I were to quote all that is relevant in this way, I should have to transcribe at least half of Part III of the Philosophy of Religion. And, in the second place, isolated passages which support one view may perhaps he balanced by others supporting the opposite view still more clearly. Whether I am right in supposing that this is not the case with the theory I shall advocate can only be determined by each enquirer through his own study of the text. In short, if this chapter is of any utility to the student of Hegel, it must he by suggesting to him a point of view which is to be judged by his own knowledge of Hegel’s works, and especially of the Philosophy of Religion.
207. Hegel repeatedly speaks of Christianity as the highest of all religions, as the Absolute Religion, and as true. This is a fact of the first importance to our study of the question before us. But it is not, as is sometimes supposed, a sufficient answer to it. We must ask two preliminary questions. First – did even the highest religion express, according to Hegel, absolute truth? Second – was Hegel using the word Christianity in a sense which bears any similarity to the ordinary signification of the word? Most of this chapter will be employed in investigating the second of these questions, and the perplexities in which our answer may involve us will perhaps be solved by considering the first.
Christianity is a word of ambiguous meaning. By such as count themselves Christians it is, of course, applied especially to that system of religion which each of them, since he holds it to be true, holds to be truly Christian. But it is also applied, both by Christians and others, in a wider sense. It is used as a general name for various systems, more or less differing from one another, but having a general resemblance. No reasonable person would refuse the name of Christian either to Calvinists or to Arminians, either to the Church of Rome or to the Church of England.
The precise limits of theological belief, however, within which the word is applicable, are very uncertain. No one, indeed, would deny that Berkeley ought to be called a Christian, and that Spinoza ought not. But what amount of variation from the more common forms of Christianity is compatible with a proper application of the term? This is a question on which not many Christians seem to be certain, and on which still fewer seem to be agreed. Any attempt on the part of outsiders to determine the question would be not only arduous, but impertinent. I shall therefore confine myself to an endeavour to show what views Hegel entertained on certain theological subjects of cardinal importance, without venturing an opinion as to the propriety of calling such a religious system by the name of Christian.
208. The points on which Hegel’s system appears to have, prima facie, the most striking resemblance to Christianity are three: the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of Original Sin. In connection with each of these we have to discuss a second. With his belief as to the Trinity of God is closely connected his belief as to God’s personality.
His treatment of the Incarnation as a general truth will compel us to enquire also into his view of Jesus as a historical person. And his doctrine of Original Sin will suggest the question of the similarity of his ethical system to that generally associated with Christianity. We have thus six points to determine.
209. With regard to the Trinity and Personality of God, the most significant point in Hegel’s philosophy of religion is his analysis of reality into a triad of which the first member is again analysed into another triad. Of these categories of the primary triad he says, “According to the first of these, God exists in a pure form for the finite spirit only as thought... This is the Kingdom of the Father. The second characteristic is the Kingdom of the Son, in which God exists, in a general way, for figurative thought in the element of mental pictures... Since, however, the Divine comes into view, and exists for Spirit in history of this kind, this history has no longer the character of outward history; it becomes divine history, the history of the manifestation of God Himself. This constitutes the transition to the Kingdom of the Spirit, in which we have the consciousness that Man is implicitly reconciled to God, and that this reconciliation exists for Man." The importance of this primary triad is mainly for the doctrine of the Personality of God, and we must therefore postpone it till we have dealt with the doctrine of the divine Trinity. This is connected by Hegel with the secondary triad into which he analyses the Kingdom of the Father. “Within this sphere or element,” he says,
“(1) Determination is necessary, inasmuch as thought in general is different from thought which comprehends or grasps the process of Spirit. The eternal Idea in its essential existence, in-and-for-self, is present in thought, the Idea in its absolute truth.
“For sensuous or reflective consciousness God cannot exist as God, i.e., in His eternal and absolute essentiality. His manifestation of Himself is something different from this, and is made to sensuous consciousness.... Spirit exists for the spirit for which it does exist, only in so far as it reveals and differentiates itself, and this is the eternal Idea, thinking Spirit, Spirit in the element of its freedom. In this region God is the self-revealer, just because He is Spirit; but He is not yet present as outward manifestation. That God exists for Spirit is thus an essential principle.
“Spirit is what thinks. Within this pure thought the relation is of an immediate kind, and there exists no difference between the two elements to differentiate them. Nothing comes between them. Thought is pure unity with itself, from which all that is obscure and dark has disappeared. This kind of thought may also be called pure intuition, as being the simple form of the activity of thought, so that there is nothing between the subject and the object, as these two do not yet really exist. This kind of thought has no limitation, it is universal activity, and its content is only the Universal itself; it is pure pulsation within itself.
“(2) It, however, passes further into the stage of absolute Diremption. How does this differentiation come about? Thought is, actu, unlimited. The element of difference in its most immediate form consists in this, that the two sides which we have seen to be the two sorts of modes in which the principle appears, show their difference in their differing starting-points. The one side, subjective thought, is the movement of thought in so far as it starts from immediate individual Being, and, while within this, raises itself to what is Universal and Infinite.... In so far as it has arrived at the stage of the Universal, thought is unlimited; its end is infinitely pure thought, so that all the mist of finitude has disappeared, and it here thinks God; every trace of separation has vanished, and thus religion, thinking upon God, begins. The second side is that which has for its starting-point the Universal, the result of that first movement, thought, the Notion. The Universal is, however, in its turn again an inner movement, and its nature is to differentiate itself within itself, and thus to preserve within itself the element of difference, but yet to do this in such a way as not to disturb the universality which is also there. Here universality is something which has this element of difference within itself, and is in harmony with itself. This represents the abstract content of thought, and this abstract thought is the result which has followed from what has taken place.
“The two sides are thus mutually opposed or contrasted. Subjective Thought, the thought of the finite spirit, is a Process too, inner mediation; but this process goes on outside of it, or behind it. It is in only so far as subjective thought has raised itself to something higher that religion begins, and thus what we have in religion is pure motionless abstract thought. The concrete, on the other hand, is found in its Object, for this is the kind of thought which starts from the Universal, which differentiates itself, and consequently is in harmony with itself. It is this concrete element which is the object for thought, taking thought in a general sense. This kind of thought is thus abstract thought, and consequently the finite, for the abstract is finite; the concrete is the truth, the infinite object.
“(3) God is Spirit; in His abstract character He is characterised as universal Spirit which particularises itself. This represents the absolute truth, and that religion is the true one which possesses this content ."
210. It is this triple nature in God which Hegel identifies with the triple nature expounded in the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus he says, “This eternal Idea, accordingly, finds expression in the Christian religion under the name of the Holy Trinity, and this is God Himself; the eternal Triune God.” And, in the next paragraph, “This truth, this Idea, has been called the dogma of the Trinity. God is Spirit, the activity of pure thought, the activity which is not outside of itself, which is within the sphere of its own being." And certainly the two doctrines have something in common. Both of them make God’s nature to be triune, and both of them make each member of the triad to be vitally and inherently connected with the other two. And thus Hegel is certainly right when he points out that his philosophy resembles Christian orthodoxy in rejecting the Deistic conception of God as an undifferentiated unity. And, again, he is justified when he ranks his system together with Christianity as possessing a deeper notion of the triplicity of God than the Hindoo religion. For in the latter (at any rate as expressed by Hegel) the relation of the three moments of the Godhead towards one another is comparatively external.
211. But it must be noticed that the three moments of the divine nature form, for Hegel, a triad in a dialectic process. The division into the three moments is not the external judgment of an external observer as to something intrinsically undivided. It is, on the contrary, the deepest nature of God. Nor are the three moments merely juxtaposed or externally combined in God. Each has only meaning in relation to the others, and the existence of one of the three presupposes the existence of the other two. From the existence of one, that is, we can deduce a priori the existence of the others. Now the only way in which our thought can reach, a priori, a conclusion which is not contained in the premises from which it starts, is, according to Hegel, the dialectic method.
The following passages may serve to illustrate the fact that Hegel regarded the three moments of the Godhead as the terms of a dialectic triad. Immediately after giving the account of the three moments quoted above, he continues, “Spirit is the process referred to; it is movement, life; its nature is to differentiate itself, to give itself a definite character, to determine itself; and the first form of the differentiation consists in this, that Spirit appears as the universal Idea itself." Here the process from moment to moment of the divine nature is identified with the movement of Spirit as a whole, and this movement can, for Hegel, be nothing else but a dialectic process.
Again he says that God “is the eternal Process.. .that this should be consciously known as the entire and absolute truth, the truth in-and-for itself, is, however, just the work of philosophy, and is the entire content of philosophy. In it is seen how all that constitutes Nature and Spirit presses forward in a dialectic form to this central point as to its absolute truth. Here we are not concerned to prove that the dogma, this silent mystery, is the eternal Truth. That is done, as has been said, in the whole of philosophy." The “eternal Process” in question had been explained just before to be that of Father, Son, and Spirit. Now if this is “the entire content of philosophy,” and to it all Nature and Spirit “presses forward in a dialectic form,” the process must be dialectic.
Still speaking of the Trinity, he says, “It is characteristic of the logical sphere in which this shows itself that it is the nature of every definite conception or notion to annul itself, to be its own contradiction, and consequently to appear as different from itself, and to posit itself as such." This is a description which exactly corresponds with the description of the dialectic process to be found in the Logic.
Once more, when speaking of the objections brought by the understanding against the triplicity of the divine nature, he says “If... we regard the matter from the point of view of logic, we see that the One has inner dialectic movement, and is not truly independent." (The italics are Hegel’s.) The Trinity, therefore, is for Hegel a dialectic process. It is not one of the chain of triads which form the Logic. A dialectic process can begin wherever pure thought asserts an inadequate idea – in this case, the idea of God the Father – of reality. And this particular inadequate idea is not one of those through which we pass from Being to the Absolute Idea. But all dialectic processes, if complete, must have the same end. For there is only one Absolute Idea, and none but the Absolute Idea is free from contradiction. And accordingly we can see that the third moment of the Trinity – the Synthesis – is identical with the Absolute Idea, which is the final Synthesis of the Logic. (The Philosophy of Religion as a whole does not stop where the Logic does. It proceeds to more concrete forms. But it does this in the Kingdoms of the Son and of the Spirit. The Kingdom of the Father, which contains the abstract ideas of all three moments of the Trinity, is, like the subject matter of the Logic, pure thought only.)
212. In every dialectic triad it is certain that the Synthesis contains all the truth which there is in the triad at all. The Thesis and Antithesis are not devoid of all truth. But then the Thesis and Antithesis are transcended and reconciled in the Synthesis. In so far as they are true, they are contained in the Synthesis. In so far as they assert themselves to be any- thing more than moments in the Synthesis, in so far as they claim to be independent terms, only externally connected with the Synthesis – in so far they are false. There can be no doubt, I think, that this was Hegel’s view, and that, on any other view, the dialectic process is invalid. 
213. According to Hegel’s exposition, the Father and the Son are the Thesis and Antithesis of a triad of which the Holy Ghost is the Synthesis. It will follow from this that the Holy Ghost is the sole reality of the Trinity. In so far as the Father and the Son are real, they are moments in the nature of the Holy Ghost. In so far as they are taken as correlative with the Holy Ghost, and as on the same level with the latter, they are taken wrongly and are not real. In other words, the Father and the Son are simply abstractions which the thinker makes from the concrete reality of the Holy Ghost.
This may be the correct doctrine of the Trinity, but it is not the usual one. It must be noticed that it does not merely place the Holy Ghost above the other two members of the Trinity, but merges these latter in the Holy Ghost, which is therefore not only the supreme reality, but the sole reality of God. And, again, the doctrine is more than the assertion that the relation of the members of the Trinity is not merely external.
Doubtless it is not merely external, but internal and essential. But the point is as to the particular sort of relation. The Father and the Son are related to the Holy Ghost as something which is they, and more than they. But the Holy Ghost is related to the Father and the Son – if it is to be called a relation – in a very different manner. Each of them, so far as it is real at all, is the Holy Ghost. But each of them is less than the Holy Ghost. And so are both of them taken together.
The fact is that, although the movement of the dialectic is properly described as triple, its results are not. The result of a triad is a single truth in which two complementary moments can be distinguished. To call this triple is incorrect, as it places the whole and its parts on the same level. It would be absurd to say that the nature of Parliament was quadruple, on the ground that it consisted of Sovereign, Lords, Commons, and Parliament. And although the Synthesis of a triad is more independent of its moments than Parliament is of its three parts, yet those moments are less independent of the Synthesis than the parts are of Parliament, so that the impropriety of counting whole and parts in one aggregate is as great in one case as in the other. In all this there is nothing, I think, which makes Hegel at all inconsistent with himself. But it takes us a good way from the ordinary doctrine of the Trinity.
214. We now pass to our second question – the Personality of God. We must begin by considering the nature of the primary triad, of the Philosophy of Religion, which we temporarily postponed. Of this Hegel says,” We have, speaking generally, to consider the Idea as the divine self-revelation, and this revelation is to be taken in the sense indicated by the three categories just mentioned.
“According to the first of these, God exists in a pure form for the finite spirit only as thought. This is the theoretical consciousness in which the thinking subject exists in a condition of absolute composure, and is not yet posited in this relation, not yet posited in the form of a process, but exists in the absolutely unmoved calm of the thinking spirit.
Here, for Spirit, God is thought of, and Spirit thus rests in the simple conclusion that He brings Himself into harmony with Himself by means of His difference – which, however, here exists only in the form of pure ideality, and has not yet reached the force of externality – and is in immediate unity with Himself. This is the first of these relations, and it exists solely for the thinking subject which is occupied with the pure content only. This is the Kingdom of the Father.
“The second characteristic is the Kingdom of the Son, in which God exists, in a general way, for figurative thought in the element of mental pictures or ideas. This is the moment of separation or particularisation in general. Looked at from this second standpoint, what in the first place represented God’s Other or object, without, however, being defined as such, now receives the character or determination of an Other. Considered from the first standpoint, God as the Son is not distinguished from the Father, but what is stated of Him is expressed merely in terms of feeling. In connection with the second element, however, the Son is characterised as an Other or object, and thus we pass out of the pure ideality of Thought into the region of figurative thought. If, according to the first characterisation, God begets only one Son, here he produces Nature. Here the Other is Nature, and the element of difference thus receives its justification. What is thus differentiated is Nature, the world in general, and Spirit which is related to it, the natural Spirit. Here the element which we have already designated Subject comes in, and itself constitutes the content. Man is here involved in the content. Since Man is here related to Nature, and is himself natural, he has this character only within the sphere of religion, and consequently we have here to consider Nature and Man from the point of view of religion. The Son comes into the world, and this is the beginning of faith. When we speak of the coming of the Son into the world we are already using the language of faith. God cannot really exist for the finite spirit as such, for in the very fact that God exists for it is directly involved that the finite spirit does not maintain its finitude as something having Being, but that it stands in a certain relation to Spirit and is reconciled to God. In its character as the finite spirit it is represented as in a state of revolt and separation with regard to God. It is thus in contradiction with what is its own object and content, and in this contradiction lies the necessity for its abolition and elevation to a higher form. The necessity for this supplies the starting-point, and the next step in advance is that God exists for Spirit, that the divine content presents itself in a pictorial form to Spirit. Here, however, Spirit exists at the same time in an empirical and finite form, and thus what God is appears to Spirit in an empirical way.
Since, however, the Divine comes into view, and exists for Spirit in history of this kind, this history has no longer the character of outward history; it becomes divine history, the history of the manifestation of God Himself This constitutes the transition to the Kingdom of the Spirit, in which we have the consciousness that Man is implicitly reconciled to God, and that this reconciliation exists for Man."
215. These three stages, like the three subdivisions of the Kingdom of the Father, which we have considered above, are for Hegel a dialectic process. For he clearly holds that the movement from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, is intrinsically necessary, and can be deduced a priori. And, as was remarked above, the dialectic method is for Hegel the only way in which our thought can reach a priori to a conclusion which is not contained in the premises from which it starts.
The following passages will illustrate the view which Hegel takes of the connection between the three “Kingdoms.” “The Notion as well as Being, the world, the finite, are equally one-sided determinations, each of which changes round into the other, and appears at one time as a moment without independence, and at another as producing the other determination which it carries within itself." Again, when he is speaking of the transition from the Kingdom of the Son to the Kingdom of the Spirit, he says, “These are the moments with which we are here concerned, and which express the truth that Man has come to a consciousness of that eternal history, that eternal movement which God Himself is.
“This is the description of the second Idea as Idea in outward manifestation, and of how the eternal Idea has come to exist for the immediate certainty of Man, i.e., of how it has appeared in history. The fact that it is a certainty for man necessarily implies that it is material or sensuous certainty, but one which at the same time passes over into spiritual consciousness, and for the same reason is converted into immediate sensuousness, but in such a way that we recognize in it the movement, the history of God, the life which God Himself is." The fact is that the triad we are considering is identical with the triad of Logic, Nature, and Spirit which forms the whole content of the Encyclopaedia, and this triad is unquestionably dialectic.
216. Now if this triad is a dialectic process which exhibits the nature of God, it will follow that if God is really personal, He must be personal in the Kingdom of the Spirit. For that is the Synthesis, and in that alone, therefore, do we get an adequate representation of God’s nature. If He were personal as manifested in the first and second Kingdoms, but not in the third, it would mean that He was personal when viewed inadequately, but not when viewed adequately – i.e., that He was not really personal.
In support of the statement that God is only adequately known when He is known in the Kingdom of the Spirit, we may quote the following passages, “In the Ego, as in that which is annulling itself as finite, God returns to Himself, and only as this return is He God. Without the world God is not God." And again, “God regarded as Spirit, when He remains above, when He is not present in His Church as a living Spirit, is Himself characterised in a merely one-sided way as object." Again, “It is not in immediate Appearance or manifestation, but only when Spirit has taken up its abode in the Church, when it is immediate, believing Spirit, and raises itself to the stage of thought, that the Idea reaches perfection." And, again, “Spirit is infinite return into self, infinite subjectivity, not Godhead conceived by means of figurative ideas, but the real present Godhead, and thus it is not the substantial potentiality of the Father, not the True in the objective or antithetical form of the Son, but the subjective Present and Real, which, just because it is subjective, is present, as estrangement into that objective, sensuous representation of love and of its infinite sorrow, and as return, in that mediation. This is the Spirit of God, or God as present, real Spirit, God dwelling in His Church."
217. It is in the Kingdom of the Spirit, then, that we must look for an adequate representation of God’s nature. Now is God represented here as personal? The Kingdom of the Spirit, according to Hegel, is the Church. Thus he says, “The third stage is represented by the inner place, the Spiritual Community, existing at first in the world, but at the same time raising itself up to heaven, and which as a Church already has” God “in itself here on earth, full of grace, active and present in the world.” And in the next paragraph, “The third element is the present, yet it is only the limited present, not the eternal present, but rather the present which distinguishes itself from the past and future, and represents the element of feeling, of the immediate subjectivity of the present spiritual Being. The present must, however, also represent the third element; the Church raises itself to Heaven too, and thus the Present is one which raises itself as well and is essentially reconciled, and is brought by means of the negation of its immediacy to a perfected form as universality, a perfection or completion which, however, does not yet exist, and which is thereupon to be conceived of as future. It is a Now of the present whose perfect stage is before it, but this perfect stage is distinguished from the particular Now which is still immediacy, and it is thought of as future." The Kingdom of the Spirit, then, consists in the Spiritual Community, or Church (Die Gemeinde). Of course, the Church as we have it now and here is far too imperfect to be considered as an adequate representation of God. But then this Church is only, Hegel tells us, an imperfect form of that perfected Community, which from one point of view is eternally present, while from another point of view it must be conceived as being in the future. It is this perfect community which is the true Kingdom of the Spirit. But in becoming perfect it does not, for Hegel, cease to be a community.
218. God, then, if represented adequately is a community. Can a community be a person? Surely the answer to this is certain. A community is composed of persons. A perfect community may be as complete a unity as any person. But a community cannot be a person, and the fact that it is a perfect community, and a perfect unity, does not make it at all more possible for it to be a person. There is no reason to doubt that Hegel saw this. For he never speaks of the Community in such a way as to suggest that it is a person. And his choice of words is significant. For his vocabulary was rich with terms for a unity, which would suggest, or at least not exclude the suggestion of, a personal unity. He chose, however, a word – Gemeinde – whose ordinary meaning quite excludes any idea of personal unity. It is surely a fair inference that he wished to exclude that idea.
Again, in speaking of the unity by which the individuals who compose the Community are united, he always calls it Love. Now, if the Community, besides being a unity of persons, was itself a person, its members, though they might be connected by love, would also be connected by something very different – a personal unity. And the fact that no bond but love is mentioned is therefore in favour of the theory that he did not conceive the Community as a person.
219. It is to be noticed in connection with this, that Hegel, unlike many philosophers and theologians, uses the word love, in his philosophical writings, in the same sense in which he and other men use it elsewhere. It may be useful to quote what he says on this subject. In the first place, since love is what unites men into the Community which is God, as God really is, we shall get a more definite notion of the Community by seeing precisely what is meant by love. In the second place, we may be able to get some fresh light on the charge against Hegel of substituting cold and impersonal abstractions for the vivid and personal realities of popular religion..
“Love thy neighbour as thyself. This command,” says Hegel, “thought of in the abstract and more extended sense as embracing the love of men in general, is a command to. love all men. Taken in this sense, however, it is turned into an abstraction. The people whom one can love, and for whom our love is real, are a few particular individuals; the heart which seeks to embrace the whole of humanity within itself indulges in a vain attempt to spread out its love till it becomes a mere idea, the opposite of real love." What, then, is this love which the individuals of the Community feel for one another? This love, he tells us later, “is neither human love, philanthropy, the love of the sexes, nor friendship. Surprise has often been expressed that such a noble relationship as friendship is does not find a place amongst the duties enjoined by Christ. Friendship is a relationship which is tinged with particularity, and men are friends not so much directly as objectively, through some substantial bond of union in a third thing, in fundamental principles, studies, knowledge; the bond, in short, is constituted by something objective; it is not attachment as such, like that of the man to the woman as a definite particular personality. The love of the Spiritual Community, on the other hand, is directly mediated by the worthlessness of all particularity. The love of the man for the woman, or friendship, can certainly exist, but they are essentially characterised as subordinate; they are characterised not indeed as something evil, but as something imperfect; not as something indifferent, but as representing a state in which we are not to remain permanently, since they are themselves to be sacrificed, and must not in any way injuriously affect that absolute tendency and unity which belongs to Spirit."
220. It may seem at first sight rather difficult to tell what this love can be, since it must be for particular individuals, and yet is neither to be friendship nor sexual love. But we must notice that Hegel gives a curiously narrow definition of friendship, excluding from it all affection which is fixed on the friend himself, and not on his qualities and relations – that affection which neither finds nor seeks any justification beyond its own existence. This, which many people would call friendship, is, I think, the love which Hegel regards as the bond which holds God together. It is, of course, compatible at present with friendship, in the Hegelian sense, as it is compatible at present with sexual attraction, but it has, as Hegel remarks in the last quoted passage, a significance sub specie aeternitatis which does not extend to them.
221. It will be remembered that in the first of these two passages it is said that a man can only love “a few particular individuals” (einige Besondere), while in the second he states love to be “mediated by the worthlessness of all particularity” (die Werthlosigkeit aller Besonderheit). The inconsistency is, I think, only apparent. In the first passage he was differentiating true love from the spurious universality of a love for humanity, and here he seems to use “Besonderheit” simply as generally opposed to “alle Menschen.” His object is to point out that the love of each man must be for this and that other man, and that the number of these for each of us is limited. It is impossible that he should have meant that our love is real only when we love men in their particularity, in the special sense in which he uses Particularity in the Logic.
For Particularity in that sense is always used by Hegel to denote inadequacy and error. It would be equivalent to saying that the only real love was love of men as they really are not.
In the second passage, however, he appears to use Particularity in this more definite sense, according to which it is distinguished, not only from Universality, but also from Individuality. In this sense, to regard a person as particular is to regard him as contingently and externally determined, not as a self-determining unity with an immanent universality.
In this sense of the word, all real love would have to be mediated by the worthlessness of Particularity. But the result attained would be the conception of every person as a true Individual – a conception which unites and transcends Universality and Particularity. And this agrees with the previous assertion that true love can only be for another person as that person.
222. To return from this digression. We have thus come to the conclusion that Hegel holds that view as to the personality of God which I endeavoured (Chapter III) to show was the logical consequence of his views on the general nature of reality. God is not personal. For God is identical with Absolute Reality, and Absolute Reality can only be adequately conceived as a society of persons, which itself is a perfect unity, but not a person.
Several circumstances have combined to prevent this interpretation of Hegel’s meaning being generally accepted. The first of these is his use of the word God to designate Absolute Reality. In ordinary language, we mean by God a person. We most emphatically do not mean a society. And there is a vague idea, which has not been without influence on the interpretation of Hegel, that a man who talked so much about God must have believed God to be a person. But this error is gratuitous.
For Hegel tells us plainly and repeatedly that by God he means simply Absolute Reality, whatever that may be. And it is our own fault if we take his language as implying a particular theory about the nature of Absolute Reality.
223. There is a similar, but less obvious mistake, which often leads enquirers into a similar error. If God is simply Absolute Reality, then, it is said, everything which exists must be God. But such pantheism is a belief against which Hegel continually and most emphatically protests.
We must, however, make a distinction. The pantheism against which Hegel protests is that which deifies the mass of our everyday experience, taken as a mere aggregate of separate units, and taken in the inadequate and contradictory forms in which it presents itself in everyday experience. This is certainly not Hegel’s conception of God. God, according to him, is a perfect unity, and is Spirit. God is certainly not the aggregate of “facts” of uncritical experience. But it does not follow that God is Not identical with the whole of Absolute Reality. For Absolute Reality is by no means, for Hegel, the aggregate of these facts. Such facts arc merely a mistaken and inadequate view of Absolute Reality, not devoid, of course, of all truth, but requiring enormous transformation and reconstruction before they can be fully true. And therefore the undoubted truth that God is not identical with them, when they are taken in this way, is no argument against the identity of God with Absolute Reality.
224. Again, it is supposed that if Hegel holds God to be Spirit – which he unquestionably does – he must also consider God to be a person, or else hold that Spirit – at any rate in its highest form – is not personal. But this is not an exhaustive dilemma. For, as I have endeavoured to show, Hegel regards God as a unity of persons, though not as a person. All Spirit is personal, but it is many persons, not one person, although it is as really one Spirit as it is many persons.
In illustration of this we may quote the following passages: “We have now reached the realised notion or conception of religion, the perfect religion, in which it is the notion itself that is its own object. We defined religion as being in the stricter sense the self-consciousness of God. Self-consciousness in its character as consciousness has an object, and it is conscious of itself in this object; this object is also consciousness, but it is consciousness as object, and is consequently finite consciousness, a consciousness which is distinct from God, from the Absolute.
The element of determinateness is present in this form of consciousness, and consequently finitude is present in it; God is self-consciousness, He knows Himself in a consciousness which is distinct from Him, which is potentially the consciousness of God, but is also this actually, since it knows its identity with God, an identity which is, however, mediated by the negation of finitude. It is this notion or conception which constitutes the content of religion. We define God when we say, that He distinguishes Himself from Himself, and is an object for Himself, but that in this distinction He is purely identical with Himself, is in fact Spirit. This notion or conception is now realised, consciousness knows this content and knows that it is itself absolutely interwoven with this content; in the Notion which is the process of God, it is itself a moment.
Finite consciousness knows God only to the extent to which God knows Himself in it; thus God is Spirit, the Spirit of His Church in fact, i.e., of those who worship Him. This is the perfect religion, the Notion becomes objective to itself ." I should like to point out in passing that this passage forms the best comment on the definition of the Absolute Idea in the Smaller Logic. (Encyclopaedia, Section 236.) Again, “Man knows God only in so far as God Himself knows Himself in Man. This knowledge is God’s self-consciousness, but it is at the same time a knowledge of God on the part of Man, and this knowledge of God by Man is a knowledge of Man by God. The Spirit of Man, whereby he knows God, is simply the Spirit of God Himself."
225. The third question which we have to consider is Hegel’s treatment of the Incarnation. It is the nature of the Absolute Spirit to manifest itself in a multiplicity of individuals, each of whom is a self-conscious person. This is an eternal and adequate characteristic of Spirit.
But, besides this, Spirit, Hegel tells us, manifests itself in the form of finitude. It must be remembered that finitude, for Hegel, does not merely mean that the finite thing has something else outside it, and is not unlimited.
It means that its limits are imposed on it from without, and are not a consequence of its own nature – that it is determined by another, and not determined by self. This is an inadequate and untrue description of reality, and accordingly the manifestation of God in this form of finitude is not to be found in the Kingdom of the Spirit – the sphere in which God’s true nature is known. It finds a place in the Kingdom of the Son. “We thus,” Hegel says, “enter the sphere of determination, enter space and the world of finite Spirit. This may be more definitely expressed as a positing or bringing into view of the determinations or specific qualities, as a difference which is momentarily maintained; it is an act of going out on the part of God into finitude, an act of manifestation of God in finitude, for finitude, taken in its proper meaning, implies simply the separation of that which is implicitly identical, but which maintains itself in the act of separation. Regarded from the other side, that of subjective Spirit, this is posited as pure thought, though it is implicitly a result, and this has to be posited as it is potentially in its character as the movement of thought, or to put it otherwise, pure thought has to go into itself, and it is in this way that it first posits itself as finite."
226. This view certainly has striking resemblances to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. For it rejects, in the first place, the view that matter, while created by God and subordinate to God, is completely alien to God’s nature, so that God can never be incarnate in it. Then it also rejects the two contrary heresies which arise out of lingering traces of the last mentioned view. For, while Hegel admits that God when known as incarnate is not known in His perfection, he maintains on the other hand that it is the true and perfect God who is incarnated, and thus rejects all suggestion that the Son is inferior to the Father. On the other hand he asserts that God is really incarnate in matter – in so far as matter can be said to be real at all – and so excludes the Docetic theory that the body of the incarnate God was only a phantasm imitating matter.
Here, as always, Hegel reconciled opposites by uniting them in a higher reality which included and transcended both. He saw the inadequacy of trying to bridge over a difference which, so far as it existed at all, was qualitative, by quantitative concessions. To hold that the incarnate God was not fully God, or not really incarnate, was to destroy all the significance of the incarnation, while removing none of its difficulties.
It is as hopeless as the similar attempt to bridge over the gulf between God and Nature by the length of a chain of emanations.
As against such views Hegel asserts the incarnation of very God in very Man. “In the Church Christ has been called the God-Man. This is the extraordinary combination which directly contradicts the Understanding; but the unity of the divine and human natures has here been brought into human consciousness and has become a certainty for it, implying that the otherness, or, as it is also expressed, the finitude, the weakness, the frailty of human nature is not incompatible with this unity, just as in the eternal Idea otherness in no way detracts from the unity which God, is.... It involves the truth that the divine and human natures are not implicitly different."
227. But there are other characteristics of Hegel’s doctrine of the Incarnation which are not unimportant. God is incarnate not in one man only, nor in men only, but in everything finite. (Men are not intrinsically finite, in Hegel’s sense of that word. But men are finite in so far as they appear in the Kingdom of the Son which is the sphere of finitude, and in which God only exists as incarnate.) The world of finitude is nothing but God in one moment of the dialectic process of His nature, and to say that a thing is finite, and to say that it is the incarnation of God, are identical. For there is no reality but God, and if the reality has the imperfect form of finitude, this can only mean that it is God in the imperfect form of incarnation.
228. It is true that Hegel is very far from holding that God is equally incarnate in all finite objects. In proportion as the finitude is overcome, the incarnation is to be considered more perfect. God is more perfectly incarnate in a dog than in a stone, more perfectly again in a wicked and foolish man, still more perfectly in a wise and good man. But if God is less incarnate in some finite things than in others, this is only because those things are less real. All the reality in each thing is only in the incarnation of God. For Hegel’s view is not that matter was first created as something else than the incarnation of God, and that afterwards God became incarnate in it. There is no such priority, whether logical or temporal. For the matter is nothing else than the incarnation of God.
Defects, error, sin, are for Hegel only imperfectly real. But nothing which is evil is pure and unmixed abstract evil, and therefore all evil things have some reality. And in so far as they are real they are incarnations of God. It is only of pure abstract evil that you could say that it was not a form of God. And pure abstract evil is non-existent. (All sin, for example, is for Hegel relatively good.) Here, again, we may say that whatever truth Hegel’s view of the Incarnation may have, it presents not unimportant differences from the ordinary idea. The Incarnation is identical with the Creation. To say that God is incarnate in the finite is misleading. We should rather say that the finite is the incarnation of God.
229. Now for the Christian religion the incarnation of God in one particular human body is of unique significance. This leads us to our fourth question. What does Hegel think as to the divinity of Jesus? It is clear that, on Hegel’s theory, he must have been God incarnate, since he was a man. It is equally clear that he was not the sole incarnation of God. Yet Hegel does not reject the special prominence of Jesus in historical Christianity as a simple error. We must examine his treatment of it.
He points out that there are two separate questions to be considered.
“The question as to the truth of the Christian religion directly divides itself into two questions: 1. Is it true in general that God does not exist apart from the Son, and that He has sent Him into the world? And 2. Was this man, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, the Son of God, the Christ? “These two questions are commonly mixed up together, with the result that if this particular person was not God’s Son sent by Him, and if this cannot be proved to be true of Him, then there is no meaning at all in His mission. If this were not true of Him, we would either have to look for another, if indeed, one is to come, if there is a promise to that effect, i.e., if it is absolutely and essentially necessary, necessary from the point of view of the Notion, of the Idea; or, since the correctness of the Idea is made to depend on the demonstration of the divine mission referred to, we should have to conclude that there can really be no longer any thought of such a mission, and that we cannot further think about it.
“But it is essential that we ask first of all, Is such a manifestation true in-and-for-itself?" We have already seen what is Hegel’s answer to the first question – that which relates to the general truth of the doctrine of Incarnation. But the second question divides into two. (a) In what way, and for what reasons, is it necessary to take the incarnation of God in one particular man as possessing a special significance? (b) Why should the particular man taken be Jesus?
230. To the first of these new questions Hegel’s answer is that the selection of the incarnation in one particular man has reference, not to anything in the nature of the incarnation of God, but to the inability of mankind in general to grasp the idea of that incarnation in its truth. “If Man is to get a consciousness of the unity of divine and human nature, and of this characteristic of Man as belonging to Man in general; or if this knowledge is to force its way wholly into the consciousness of his finitude as the beam of eternal light which reveals itself to him in the finite, then it must reach him in his character as Man in general, i.e., apart from any particular conditions of culture or training; it must come to him as representing Man in his immediate state, and it must be universal for immediate consciousness.
“The consciousness of the absolute Idea, which we have in thought, must therefore not be put forward as belonging to the standpoint of philosophical speculation, of speculative thought, but must, on the contrary, appear in the form of certainty for man in general. This does not mean that they think this consciousness, or perceive and recognise the necessity of this Idea; but what we are concerned to show is rather that the Idea becomes for them certain, i.e., this Idea, namely the unity of divine and human nature, attains the stage of certainty, that, so far as they are concerned, it receives the form of immediate sense-perception, of outward existence – in short, that this Idea appears as seen and experienced in the world. This unity must accordingly show itself to consciousness in a purely temporal, absolutely ordinary manifestation of reality, in one particular man, in a definite individual who is at the same time known to be the Divine Idea, not merely a Being of a higher kind in general, but rather the highest, the Absolute Idea, the Son of God."
231. “Man in general” cannot rise to the philosophical idea that all finitude is an incarnation of God. He requires it in the form of “immediate sense-perception.” This sense-perception must take the form of one single man, and not of several men. For it more than one were taken, they would have some common quality which was not common to all other men, and it would be thought that it was in virtue of that quality that they were incarnations of God. But if only one individual is taken, then the very particularity and immediacy of that individual, if taken in his own right, forces on us the conviction that he is not taken in his own right, but only as an example of a truth which is absolutely universal.
This seems to be what Hegel means when he says, “This individual, ... who represents for others the manifestation of the Idea, is a particular Only One, not some ones, for the Divine in some would become an abstraction. The idea of some is a miserable superfluity of reflection, a superfluity because opposed to the conception or notion of individual subjectivity. In the Notion once is always, and the subject must turn exclusively to one subjectivity. In the eternal Idea there is only one Son, and thus there is only One in whom the absolute Idea appears, and this One excludes the others. It is this perfect development of reality thus embodied in immediate individuality or separateness which is the finest feature of the Christian religion, and the absolute transfiguration of the finite gets in it a form in which it can be outwardly perceived."
232. We have thus seen the reason why the universal incarnation of God should be presented in the form of a particular man. It is not a reason which would induce Hegel to treat this particular presentation as anything of great worth or significance. It is due to no characteristic of the incarnation, but only to the failure of the unphilosophic majority to fully comprehend that incarnation. And Hegel had very little respect for the philosophic difficulties of the unphilosophic man. Anyone who is familiar with his language knows that he is using his severest terms of condemnation when he says that this particular form of the doctrine comes from the necessity of abandoning “the standpoint of speculative thought” in favour of “the form of outward existence.” The philosopher may recognise the necessity that his doctrine should be transformed in this way, but he will regard the change as a degradation. Nothing is further from Hegel than the idea that the highest form of a doctrine is that in which it appeals to the average man. If he admits that some glimpse of the kingdom of heaven may be vouchsafed to babes, he balances the admission by a most emphatic assertion of the distorted and inadequate character of the revelation.
233. We see then why a particular man is to be taken as the type of the incarnation. But why Jesus more than any other particular man? To this question also Hegel supplies an answer. According to Hegel, as we have seen, different men are incarnations of God differing in their perfection. One man is more of an incarnation of God than another. Is this the explanation? Was Jesus the most perfect man – and therefore the most perfect incarnation of God – who has lived on earth, or at any rate who has been known to history? And is he the fitting representative of the incarnation, for those who need a representation, because he is, in truth and intrinsically, the most perfect example of it? This is not Hegel’s view. It would be improbable, to begin with, that he should have thought that Jesus was the most perfect man of whom history tells us. His conception of human nature was not one which would lead him to accept as his ideal man one who was neither a metaphysician nor a citizen.
But whatever may. have been Hegel’s opinion on this point, it is quite certain that it was not in the perfection of the character of Jesus that he found the reason which made it appropriate to take Jesus as the type of the incarnation. For it is not the life, but the teaching on which he lays stress. Not in the perfection of his character, but in the importance of the teaching expressed in his words, or implied in his life, consists the unique importance of Jesus to the history of religious thought.
Hegel treats of the Passion at some length. But he says nothing of courage, of gentleness, of dignity – qualities which he would have been the last to ignore if they had been relevant. He is entirely occupied with the metaphysical significance of the “death of God."
234. But it was not in the truth and purity of his moral precepts that, according to Hegel, the importance of Jesus’ teaching was to be found. His precepts, like his life, would have appeared one-sided to Hegel – and one-sided in the direction with which Hegel had least sympathy.
On this point we are not left to conjecture. It has been explained that the unity of God and man “must appear for others in the form of an individual man marked off from or excluding the rest of men, not all individual men, but One from whom they are shut off, though he no longer appears as representing the potentiality or true essence which is above, but as individuality in the region of certainty.” He then continues, “It is with this certainty and sensuous view that we are concerned, and not merely with a divine teacher, nor indeed simply with morality, nor even in any way simply with a teacher of this Idea either. It is not with ordinary thought or with conviction that we have got to do, but with this immediate presence and certainty of the Divine; for the immediate certainty of what is present represents the infinite form and mode which the “Is” takes for the natural consciousness. This Is destroys all trace of mediation; it is the final point, the last touch of light which is laid on. This Is is wanting in mediation of any kind such as is given through feeling, pictorial ideas, reasons; and it is only in philosophical knowledge, by means of the Notion only in the element of universality, that it returns again."
235. The special significance of Jesus, then, is that he bears witness to a metaphysical truth – the unity of God and man.
But he bears witness to this not as a metaphysical truth – not as a proposition mediated and connected with others in a reasoned system – but as a “certainty and sensuous view,” as the “immediate presence and certainty of the Divine.” Nor is he, as Hegel remarks, in the strictest sense a teacher of this Idea. It is rather that this immediate certainty of the unity of God and Man runs through all his teaching, than that it is often explicitly enunciated.
The speeches of ‘Jesus, which are presented by Hegel for our admiration, are those which imply this immediate certainty of unity with God. For example, “Into this Kingdom” of God “Man has to transport himself, and he does this by directly devoting himself to the truth it embodies. This is expressed with the most absolute and startling frankness, as, for instance, at the beginning of the so-called Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Words like these are amongst the grandest that have ever been uttered. They represent a final central point in which all superstition and all want of freedom on Man’s part are done away with." Again, he says, “The fact that this possession of this life of the spirit in truth is attained without intermediate helps, is expressed in the prophetic manner, namely that it is God who thus speaks. Here it is with absolute, divine truth, truth in-and-for-itself, that we are concerned; this utterance and willing of the truth in-and-for-itself, and the carrying out of what is thus expressed, is described as an act of God, it is the consciousness of the real unity of the divine will, of its harmony with the truth. It is as conscious of this elevation of His spirit, and in the assurance of His identity with God, that Christ says ‘Woman, thy sins are forgiven thee.’ Here there speaks in Him that overwhelming majesty which can undo everything, and actually declares that this has been done.
“So far as the form of this utterance is concerned, what has mainly to be emphasised is that He who thus speaks is at the same time essentially Man, it is the Son of Man who thus speaks, in whom this utterance of the truth, this carrying into practice of what is absolute and essential, this activity on God’s part, is essentially seen to exist as in one who is a man and not something superhuman, not something which appears in the form of an outward revelation – in short, the main stress is to be laid on the fact that this divine presence is essentially identical with what is human." And again, “The Kingdom of God, and the idea of purity of heart, contain an infinitely greater depth of truth than the inwardness of Socrates."
236. The appropriateness of the selection of Jesus as the typical incarnation of God is thus due to the way in which his teaching implied and rested on the unity of the human and the divine. This, Hegel says, is a great truth. But is it the only fundamental truth of religion? According to Hegel it is not, and according to his exposition, the principle as exemplified by Jesus had two cardinal errors. Each of these may be defined as an excess of immediacy. It was a merely immediate assertion of a merely immediate unity.
That the assertion is merely immediate, is evident from what has been already said. There is no metaphysical system; there is no dialectic process leading from undeniable premises to a conclusion so paradoxical to the ordinary consciousness. It is simply an assertion, which needed no proof to those who felt instinctively convinced of its truth, but which had no proof to offer to those who asked for one.
Such a method of statement is, for Hegel, altogether defective. No philosophical error is more deadly, he teaches, than to trust to our instinctive belief in any truth – except, of course, one whose denial is self-contradictory.
On this, indeed, he lays a rather exaggerated emphasis, impelled by his opposition to the advocates of “immediate intuition” who were his contemporaries in German philosophy. Again and again, through all his writings, recur the assertions that an instinctive conviction is just as likely to be false as true; that between the false and true only reason can discriminate; that the “humility” which trusts the heart instead of the head is always absurd and often hypocritical; and that the form and content of truth are so united that no truth can be held in a non-rational form without being more or less distorted into falsehood.
237. Moreover, the unity thus asserted was a purely immediate unity.
“There is no mention of any mediation in connection with this elevating of the spirit whereby it may become an accomplished fact in Man; but, on the contrary, the mere statement of what is required implies this immediate Being, this immediate self-transference into Truth, into the Kingdom of God."
Now such an immediate unity is, for Hegel, only one side of the truth. It is true that man is eternally one with God, or he could never become one with God. But it is equally true that man is not one with God, unless he becomes so by a process of mediation, and that a man who rests in his immediacy would, so far as he did rest in it, not he divine, but simply non-existent. (We shall see how vital this side of the truth was for Hegel when we come to consider his treatment of Original Sin.) The reconciliation of these two aspects of the truth lies in the recognition that the unity of man and God is a unity which is immediate by including and transcending mediation. And this leaves the mere immediacy which ignores mediation as only one side of the truth.
238. Why then – the question recurs – is Jesus taken as the typical incarnation of God? True, he bore witness to the unity of man and God, but in such a way that both the form and the content of his testimony were inadequate, and, therefore, partially false.
As to the inadequacy of the form, the answer has been given already. If the form of his testimony had been more adequate, Jesus would have been a less fitting type of the incarnation. For a type, as we have seen, is only required for “men in general,” who cannot attain to the “standpoint of speculative thought.” For speculative thought no type is required, since it is able to see the incarnation in its universal truth. But without rising to the standpoint of speculative thought it is impossible to see the unity of God and man as a necessary and demonstrated certainty. “Men in general,” therefore, can only accept it as a matter of simple faith, or, at most, as demonstrated by external proofs, such as tradition or miracles, which do not destroy the intrinsic immediacy of the result. In proportion as men rise above the immediate reception of the doctrine, they rise above the necessity of a typical representative of it. And therefore no teacher for whom the doctrine is not immediate can be taken as a fitting type.
239. And we can see also that only a teacher whose immediate assertion was an assertion of a merely immediate unity could be taken as a type. For, as Hegel points out, a unity which is immediately asserted can only be an immediate unity. “The fact that this possession of the life of the spirit in truth is attained without intermediate helps, is expressed in the prophetic manner, namely, that it is God who thus speaks." Form and content, in other words, are not mutually indifferent. A merely immediate assertion cannot express the true state of the case – that man’s unity with God is both mediate and immediate. If this truth is put as an immediate assertion it appears a mere contradiction. It can only be grasped by speculative thought.
And thus a teacher speaking to men in general cannot embody in his teaching the whole truth as to the relation between man and God. He must teach the one side or the other – the immediate unity of Man and God, or their immediate diversity. It is not difficult to see why it should be a teacher of the first half-truth, rather than of the second, who should be selected as the typical incarnation of God.
In the first place, it was the doctrine of man’s unity with God which was demanded by the needs of the time. “Jesus appeared at a time when the Jewish nation, owing to the dangers to which its worship had been exposed, and was still exposed, was more obstinately absorbed in its observance than ever, and was at the same time compelled to despair of seeing its hopes actually realised, since it had come in contact with a universal humanity, the existence of which it could no longer deny, and which nevertheless was completely devoid of any spiritual element – He appeared, in short, when the common people were in perplexity and helpless." Elsewhere he tells us that the rest of the world was also, at this time, in a state of alienation from self, and of spiritual misery. It was useless to preach to such a world that it was separated from God. Of that fact it was conscious, and hence came its misery. What was wanted was to give it hope by insisting on the other side of the truth – that it was just as vitally united with God.
There is another reason, which is sufficiently obvious. A man who taught the immediate separation of man from God would be teaching a doctrine as true as the immediate unity of man with God, but he would be teaching a doctrine which could never suggest that he should be taken as a typical incarnation of God. On the other hand, we can see how easy it is to consider the teacher of the unity of man and God as a typical example of that unity, or even as the only example.
240. We are now able to reconcile two statements of Hegel’s which might at first sight appear contradictory. On the one hand, he speaks of the position of Jesus as typifying the incarnation of God, as if that position had been determined by the choice of the Church. (By the Church here he does not mean the Spiritual Community of the future, or of the eternal present, which is found in the Kingdom of the Spirit, but the Church of the past, in the ages in which Christian dogma was formulated, which is still part of the Kingdom of the Son. In the Kingdom of the Spirit the unity of God and man would be seen in its full truth, and no longer in the inadequate form of sensuous certainty.) On the other hand he speaks of the typification of the incarnation in Jesus as necessary. “It was to Christ only that the Idea, when it was ripe and the time was fulfilled, could attach itself, and in Him only could it see itself realised." There is nothing really contradictory in this. It is, as we have seen, the case that Jesus is only the special incarnation of God for the Church – for men in general who cannot rise to speculative thought. And, as we have also seen, the quality which renders it particularly fitting that Jesus should be taken as typical, is not any objective perfection in his incarnation of God, but is just the special manner in which his teaching meets the special needs, which are also the defects, of the Church militant on earth. Thus there is no reason for speculative thought to treat the incarnation of God in Jesus as anything of peculiar significance, except the fact that the Church regards it as of peculiar significance. And thus it may be said that it is nothing but the choice of the Church which has attributed a specially divine character to Jesus.
But we must not regard that choice as capricious or accidental. No other man would have been so appropriate to choose – indeed, the choice could scarcely have been at all effective if it had fallen on anyone else.
That a man should be accepted by men in general as God incarnate, it was necessary that his teaching should be penetrated by the idea of the unity of God and man, and that his teaching should have become prominent in the world in that age when the world felt, more intensely than it has ever felt at any other time, that it was alienated from its true reality, and when it required, more urgently than it has ever required at any other time, the assurance of its unity with the divine. No other man in history would answer to this description, and thus Hegel was justified in saying that in Jesus only could the Idea see itself realised.
241. Whether Hegel is altogether right in his analysis of the principles implicit in the teaching of Jesus we need not now enquire. Our object at present is not to determine the truth about Christianity but about Hegel’s views on Christianity. And, to sum up his views as to the relation of Jesus to the incarnation of God, he holds (1) that Jesus was not the sole incarnation of God, nor an incarnation in a different sense to that in which everything is such an incarnation, (2) that his significance is that in him the Church symbolises, and appropriately symbolises, that universal incarnation which the Church has not sufficient speculative insight to grasp without a symbol. (3) that his appropriateness for this purpose does not lie in his being a more perfect incarnation of God, but in his being specially adapted to represent the divine incarnation to people who were unable to grasp its full meaning. In proportion as the incarnation is adequately understood, all exceptional character disappears from the incarnation in Jesus. Here again we must say that this doctrine may be true, and it may possibly deserve the name of Christian. But it does not much resemble the more ordinary forms of Christianity.
242. The fifth point which we had to consider was Hegel’s doctrine of Original Sin, and of Grace. He asserts that there is a profound truth in the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. This truth is to be found in the following proposition: “Man is by nature evil; his potential (an sich) Being, his natural Being is evil.” But how does he interpret this? “In man,” he says, we “meet with characteristics which are mutually opposed: Man is by nature good, he is not divided against himself, but, on the contrary, his essence, his Notion, consists in this, that be is by nature good, that he represents what is harmony with itself, inner peace; and – Man is by nature evil....
“To say that man is by nature good amounts substantially to saying that he is potentially Spirit, rationality, that he has been created in the image of God; God is the Good, and Man as Spirit is the reflection of God, he is the Good potentially. It is just on this very proposition and on it alone that the possibility of the reconciliation rests; the difficulty, the ambiguity is, however, in the potentiality.
“Man is potentially good – but when that is said everything is not said; it is just in this potentiality that the element of one-sidedness lies.
Man is good potentially, i.e., he is good only in an inward way, good so far as his notion or conception is concerned, and for this very reason not good so far as his actual nature is concerned.
“Man, inasmuch as he is Spirit, must actually be, be for himself, what he truly is; physical Nature remains in the condition of potentiality, it is potentially the Notion, but the Notion does not in it attain to independent Being, to Being-for-self. It is just in the very fact that Man is only potentially good that the defect of his nature lies.
“What is good by nature is good in an immediate way, and it is just the very nature of Spirit not to be something natural and immediate; rather, it is involved in the very idea of Man as Spirit that he should pass out of this natural state into a state in which there is a separation between his notion or conception and his immediate existence. In the case of physical nature this separation of an individual thing from its law, from its substantial essence, does not occur, just because it is not free.
“What is meant by Man is, a being who sets himself in opposition to his immediate nature, to his state of being in himself, and reaches a state of separation.
“The other assertion made regarding Man springs directly from the statement that Man must not remain what he is immediately; he must pass beyond the state of immediacy; that is the notion or conception of Spirit. It is this passing beyond his natural state, his potential Being, which first of all forms the basis of the division or disunion, and in connection with which the disunion directly arises.
“This disunion is a passing out of this natural condition or immediacy; but we must not take this to mean that it is the act of passing out of this condition which first constitutes evil, for, on the contrary, this passing out of immediacy is already involved in the state of nature. Potentiality and the natural state constitute the immediate; but because it is Spirit it is in its immediacy the passing out of its immediacy, the revolt or falling away from its immediacy, from its potential Being.
“This involves the second proposition: Man is by nature evil; his potential Being, his natural Being is evil. It is just in this his condition as one of natural Being that his defect is found; because he is Spirit he is separated from this natural Being, and is disunion. One-sidedness is directly involved in this natural condition. When Man is only as he is according to Nature, he is evil.
“The natural Man is Man as potentially good, good according to his conception or notion; but in the concrete sense that man is natural who follows his passions and impulses, and remains within the circle of his desires, and whose natural immediacy is his law.
“He is natural, but in this his natural state he is at the same time a being possessed of will, and since the content of his will is merely impulse and inclination, he is evil. So far as form is concerned, the fact that he is will implies that he is no longer an animal, but the content, the ends towards which his acts of will are directed, are still natural. This is the standpoint we are concerned with here, the higher standpoint ac cording to which Man is by nature evil, and is evil just because he is something natural.
“The primary condition of Man, which is superficially represented as a state of innocence, is the state of nature, the animal state. Man must (soll) be culpable; in so far as he is good, he must not be good as any natural thing is good, but his guilt, his will, must come into play, it must be possible to impute moral acts to him. Guilt really means the possibility of imputation.
“The good man is good along with and by means of his will, and to that extent because of his guilt. Innocence implies the absence of will, the absence of evil, and consequently the absence of goodness. Natural things and the animals are all good, but this is a kind of goodness which cannot be attributed to Man; in so far as he is good, it must be by the action and consent of his will."
243. Hegel’s doctrine of Original Sin, then, is that man in his temporal existence on earth has in his nature a contingent and particular element, as well as a rational and universal element, and that, while his nature is good in respect of the second, it is bad in respect of the first.
From this follow three corollaries. The first is that it is unsafe to trust to the fact that all or some men have an instinctive conviction that a proposition is true or a maxim binding. Such a conviction shows that the proposition or the maxim is agreeable to some part of human nature, but it proves nothing as to its truth or obligation. For it may be the contingent and particular side of human nature in which the conviction arises, and a conviction which springs from this can only be right by accident. Indeed, since form and content are not completely separable, it cannot be more than approximately right.
Again, since the rational and universal part of our nature is, to a large extent, merely latent until developed by thought, education, and experience, it follows that the old and educated are more likely, caeteris paribas, to be in the right than the young and ignorant. It is, therefore, illegitimate to appeal to the unsophisticated natural instincts of the plain man. Whatever presents itself simply as a natural instinct of a plain man presents itself in a form of contingency and particularity. It can only be right by chance, and it can never be quite right. From reason erroneous and sophisticated there is no appeal but to reason’s own power of correcting its own errors.
And, again, each generation does not start fresh in the work of evolving its rational and universal nature. The world shows a steady, though not an unbroken, advance in this respect. It is therefore illegitimate to appeal to the opinions of the past, as if it were a golden age when the true and the good were more easily recognized. We are doubtless wrong on many points, but we are more likely to be right than simpler and less reflective ages.
244. Now all this may be true. It may be quite compatible with Christianity. It is possible that no other view on this subject is compatible with Christianity. But it is by no means a view which is exclusively Christian, or which originated with Christianity, or which involves Christianity, and the fact that Hegel accepts it does nothing towards rendering his position a Christian one. Human nature often leads us astray. Many men have had instinctive convictions of the truth of what was really false, and of the goodness of what was really bad. In spite of the many errors of the wise and prudent, it is safer to adopt their opinions than those of babes. The world had not to wait for Christianity to discover these truths. It would not cease to believe them if Christianity was destroyed.
Indeed, when they have been denied at all, it has generally been in the supposed defence of Christianity. Hegel may be right when he points out that such a defence is suicidal. But he can scarcely be brought nearer to Christianity by holding a belief which hardly any one denies except one school of Christians.
The extreme emphasis which Hegel lays on this doctrine is polemic in its nature. Among his contemporaries there was a party of Intuitionists, who based their philosophy on various propositions which were asserted to be fundamental convictions of mankind. And he tells us that there was also a Pietist school who held that we could not know God, but must be content to adore him in ignorance. Both these views in different ways involved a trust in our own natures, without criticism or discrimination, simply because they are our own natures. And it was his opposition to these views which urged Hegel into an iteration of his doctrine of Original Sin, which at first sight seems somewhat inexplicable.
245. There is another feature of Hegel’s treatment of Original Sin which we must mention. He regards conscious and deliberate sin as evil. But he regards it as less evil than that mere Innocence (Unschuldigkeit) which has its root, not in the choice of virtue, but in ignorance of vice.
As compared with the deliberate choice of the good, the deliberate choice of the bad is contingent and particular – and therefore evil. But to make a deliberate choice even of the bad implies some activity of the reason and the will. And so it has a universality in its form, which Innocence has not. It is true that Innocence has a universality in its content, which Sin has not. So far they might seem to be on a level. But Sin is so far superior that it has advanced one step nearer to the goal of Virtue. The man who has sinned may not have mounted higher in doing so. But he has at any rate started on the only road which can eventually lead him upwards.
And the advance from Innocence to Virtue can only be through Sin.
Sin is a necessary means to Virtue. “Man must (soll) be culpable; in so far as he is good, he must not be good as any natural thing is good, but his guilt, his will, must come into play, it must be possible to impute moral acts to him."
246. This relative superiority of Sin is evident in the passage which I quoted above It is also evident in the whole of Hegel’s treatment of the story of the Fall. Of this I will quote one extract. “It is knowledge which first brings out the contrast or antithesis in which evil is found.
The animal, the stone, the plant is not evil; evil is first present within the sphere of knowledge; it is the consciousness of independent Being, or Being-for-self relatively to an Other, but also relatively to an Object which is inherently universal in the sense that it is the Notion or rational will. It is only by means of this separation that I exist independently, for myself, and it is in this that evil lies. To be evil means in an abstract sense to isolate myself; the isolation which separates me from the Universal represents the element of rationality, the laws, the essential characteristics of Spirit. But it is along with this separation that Being-for-self originates, and it is only when it appears that we have the Spiritual as something universal, as Law, what ought to be." Later in the book he says, “What is devoid of Spirit appears at first to have no sin in it, but to be innocent, but this is just the innocence which is by its very nature judged and condemned." After all this it is only to be expected that Hegel, while he considers that the story of the Fall embodies a great truth, considers also that the Fall was in reality a rise. In this respect the Devil only told the truth.
“The serpent says that Adam will become like God, and God confirms the truth of this, and adds His testimony that it is this knowledge which constitutes likeness to God. This is the profound idea lodged in the narrative.”  And again, “The serpent further says that Man by the act of eating would become equal to God, and by speaking thus he made an appeal to Man’s pride. God says to Himself, Adam is become as one of us. The serpent had thus not lied, for God confirms what it said." If this is to be counted as Christianity, then it must be compatible with Christianity to hold that the lowest state in which man ever existed was in Paradise before the entrance of the serpent, and that Adam and Eve, in yielding to the temptations of the Devil, were in reality taking the first step towards realising the truest and highest nature of Spirit.
247. Hegel’s doctrine of Grace is the correlative of his doctrine of Original Sin. In the latter we were reminded that man’s temporal nature is infected with contingency and particularity. In the doctrine of Grace the emphasis is laid on the rationality and universality of man’s eternal nature.
“The very fact that the opposition” inherent in the nature of Spirit “is implicitly done away with constitutes the condition, the presupposition, the possibility of the subject’s ability to do away with it actually. In this respect it may be said that the subject does not attain reconciliation on its own account, that is, as a particular subject, and in virtue of its own activity, and what it itself does; reconciliation is not brought about, nor can it be brought about, by the subject in its character as subject.
This is the nature of the need when the question is, By what means can it be satisfied? Reconciliation can be brought about only when the annulling of the division has been arrived at; when what seems to shun reconciliation, this opposition, namely, is non-existent; when the divine truth is seen to be for this, the resolved or cancelled contradiction, in which the two opposites lay aside their mutually abstract relation.
“Here again, accordingly, the question above referred to once more arises. Can the subject not bring about this reconciliation by itself by means of its own action, by bringing its inner life to correspond with the divine Idea through its own piety and devoutness, and by giving expression to this in actions? And, further, can the individual subject not do this, or, at least, may not all men do it who rightly will to adopt the divine Law as theirs, so that heaven might exist on earth, and the Spirit in its graciousness actually live here and have a real existence? The question is as to whether the subject can or cannot effect this in virtue of its own powers as subject. The ordinary idea is that it can do this. What we have to notice here, and what must be carefully kept in mind, is that we are dealing with the subject thought of as standing at one of the two extremes, as existing for itself. To subjectivity belongs, as a characteristic feature, the power of positing, and this means that some particular thing exists owing to me. This positing or making actual, this doing of actions, etc., takes place through me, it matters not what the content is; the act of producing is consequently a one-sided characteristic, and the product is merely something posited, or dependent for its existence on something else; it remains as such merely in a condition of abstract freedom. The question referred to consequently comes to be a question as to whether it can by its act of positing produce this. This positing must essentially be a pre-positing, a presupposition, so that what is posited is also something implicit. The unity of subjectivity and objectivity, this divine unity, must be a presupposition so far as my act of positing is concerned, and it is only then that it has a content, a substantial element in it, and the content is Spirit, otherwise it is subjective and formal; it is only then that it gets a true, substantial content. When this presupposition thus gets a definite character it loses its one-sidedness, and when a definite signification is given to a presupposition of this kind the one-sidedness is in this way removed and lost. Kant and Fichte tell us that man can sow, can do good only on the presupposition that there is a moral order in the world; he does not know whether what he does will prosper and succeed; he can only act on the presupposition that the Good by its very nature involves growth and success, that it is not merely something posited, but, on the, contrary, is in its own nature objective. Presupposition involves essential determination.
“The harmony of this contradiction must accordingly be represented as something which is a presupposition for the subject. The Notion, in getting to know the divine unity, knows that God essentially exists in-and-for-Himself, and consequently what the subject thinks, and its activity, have no meaning in themselves, but are and exist only in virtue of that presupposition."
248. Hegel’s doctrine of Grace, then, comes to this, that man, as considered in his subjectivity, – that is, in his mere particularity – cannot effect the improvement which he needs. That improvement can only be effected through the unity of subjectivity and objectivity, “this divine unity.” And, as this unity is itself the goal to which the improvement aspires, this means that the goal can only be reached, sub specie temporis, because, sub specie aeternitatis, the runners have been always there.
But this divine unity of the subjective and objective is just the manifestation of God in man, which is the whole nature of man. And, therefore, this eternal reality, on whose existence depends our temporal progress, is nothing outside us, or imparted to us. It is our own deepest nature – our only real nature. It is our destiny to become perfect, sub specie temporis, because it is our nature to be eternally perfect, sub specie aeternitatis. We become perfect in our own right. It is true that our perfection depends on God. But God, viewed adequately, is the community of which we are parts. And God is a community of such a kind that the whole is found perfectly in every part. Whether this doctrine is compatible with Christianity or not, is a question, as I have already explained, which is not for our present consideration.
But it can, at any rate, give us no grounds for calling Hegel a Christian, for it is by no means exclusively or especially Christian. All mystical Idealism is permeated by the idea that only the good is truly real, and that evil is doomed to be defeated because it does not really exist. In Hegel’s own words – “the consummation of the infinite End...
consists merely in removing the illusion which makes it seem yet unaccomplished."
249. Hegel’s doctrine of Grace, it will be noticed, is identical with the assertion of the immediate unity of the human and divine, which he tells us is the fundamental thought in the teaching of Jesus. But the doctrine of Grace is only the complement of the doctrine of Original Sin. It should seem, then, that Hegel’s view was that the Christian Church remedied the one-sided character of its founder’s teaching, by putting Original Sin by the side of Grace, and thus emphasising both the unity and the separation of the human and the divine. But the Church would not be able to see the true reconciliation and unity of these doctrines, since it could never rise to the full height of speculative thought. It could only hold them side by side, or unite them by some merely external bond.
250. We now pass to the sixth and last point on which we have to compare the system of Hegel with Christianity – his views on morality.
There is no doubt that Hegel’s judgments as to what conduct was virtuous, and what conduct was vicious, would on the whole agree with the judgments which would be made under the influence of Christianity.
But this proves nothing. Fortunately for mankind, the moral judgments of all men, whatever their religious or philosophical opinions, show great similarity, though not of course perfect coincidence. Different systems of religion may lead to different opinions, on the exact limits of virtue and duty in such matters as veracity or chastity. And they may, on the authority of revelation, introduce additional positive duties, such as to observe the seventh day, or to abstain from beef. But the great mass of morality remains unaffected in its content by dogmatic changes.
Different religions, however, may lay the emphasis in morality differently.
They may differ in the relative importance which they attach to various moral qualities. And it is here that Hegel separates himself from Christianity. It is just that side of morality on which Christianity lays the most stress which is least important for Hegel. This appears in several ways.
251. (a) Christianity habitually attaches enormous importance to the idea of sin. The difference between vice and virtue is absolute, and it is of fundamental importance. It is unnecessary to quote examples of this, or to enlarge on the way in which the sense of sin, the punishment of sin, the atonement for sin, have been among the most prominent elements in the religious consciousness of the Christian world.
This idea is entirely alien to Hegel. I do not wish to insist so much on his belief that all sin, like all other evil, is, from the deepest point of view, unreal, and that sub specie aeternitatis all reality is perfect. It might be urged that this view was logically implied in any system which accepted the ultimate triumph of the good, and that Hegel had only developed a doctrine which was involved in Christianity, even if it was imperfectly understood by many Christians.
But the real difference lies in Hegel’s treatment of sin as something relatively good, which we noticed above. Sin is for Hegel not the worst state to be in. Virtue is better than sin, but sin is better than innocence.
And since, as we saw in dealing with Original Sin, the only path from innocence to virtue is through sin, it follows that to commit sin is, in some cases at least, a moral advance. I have tried to show in a previous chapter that such a belief does not obliterate the distinction between vice and virtue, or destroy any incentive to choose virtue rather than vice. But such a belief is clearly quite incompatible with an assertion that the distinction between vice and virtue is primal, and of supreme importance from the standpoint of the universe at large.
252. (b) Again, Christianity was the first religion to lay paramount stress in morals on the individual conscience of the moral agent. The responsibility of each man’s actions was no longer taken – it was not even allowed to be shared – by the state or the family. And thus the central question for ethics became more subjective. The important point was not whether an action tended to realise the good, but whether it was inspired by a sincere desire to realise the good.
An unbalanced insistence on the duties and rights of the individual conscience may produce very calamitous results. This Hegel tells us with extraordinary force and vigour. But he goes so far in his effort to avoid this error, that his system becomes defective in the reverse direction.
For, after all, it must be admitted that, although a man may fall into the most abject degradation with the full approval of his conscience, yet he cannot be really moral without that approval. The subjective conviction is by no means the whole of morality, but it is an essential part.
Nor is morality altogether a social matter. It is very largely social.
To live in a healthy society gives important assistance, both by guidance and by inspiration, to the individual. Nor would a completely healthy moral life be possible in a diseased society. And yet it is possible to be better than the society you live in. It is even possible to be in fundamental opposition to it – to strive with all your might Eastwards when society is pushing towards the West – and yet to be in the right.
Such considerations as these Hegel ignores in his recoil from the morality of conscience. The great ethical question for him is not How shall I be virtuous, but What is a perfect society? It is an inadequate question, if taken by itself, but it is inadequate by reason of a reaction from the complementary inadequacy. And it is in the direction of this complementary inadequacy – of excessive subjectivity – that the morality of Christianity has always diverged in so far as it diverged at all.
253. (c) The exclusively social nature of Hegel’s morality comes out in another way – in its limitation to the society of our present life. It may be doubted if this is to be attributed to a disbelief in individual immortality, or if – as I believe to be the case – he believed in our immortality but felt no great interest in it. But whatever may be the cause, the fact cannot be doubted. It would be difficult, I believe, to find a word in Hegel which suggests that our duties, our ideals, or our motives are in the least affected by the probability or possibility of our surviving the death of our bodies. And this is the more striking since a life in time could, according. to Hegel, only express reality very inadequately, and could never be fully explained except by reference to something beyond it.
Here, again, the characteristic tendency of Christian morality is to over-emphasise the side which Hegel ignores. Whenever the Christian Church has failed to keep the balance true between time and eternity it has always been in the direction of unduly ignoring the former. Not content with treating temporal existence as imperfect, it has pronounced it intrinsically worthless, and only important in so far as our actions here may be the occasions of divine reward and punishment hereafter. I am not asserting, of course, that the Christian Church has always held such a view as this, but only that, when it did depart from the truth, it was into this extreme that it fell – exactly opposite to the extreme adopted by Hegel.
254; (d) Another form of the specially social character of Hegelian ethics is the preference which he gives, when he does consider individual characters, to social utility over purity of motive. A man’s moral worth for Hegel depends much more on what he does, than on what he is. Or – to put it less crudely – he is to be admired if what he does is useful, even if he does it for motives which are not admirable. For Hegel the man who takes a city is better than the man who governs his temper, but takes no cities. And this consideration of result rather than motive is of course quite alien to the morality of conscience which is specially prominent in Christianity.
255. (e) Connected with this is the relative importance of morality as a whole. The Christian Church has always had a strong tendency to place virtue above all other elements of human perfection, not only as quantitatively more important, but as altogether on a different level. If a man is virtuous, all other perfections are unnecessary to gain him the divine approbation. If he is not virtuous, they are all useless. There is nothing of this to be found in Hegel. He does not show the slightest inclination to regard right moral choice as more important than right intellectual judgment. And moreover he was firmly convinced of the unity of human nature, and of the impossibility of cutting it up into unconnected departments. Within certain limits, no doubt, one man might be stronger morally, another intellectually. But it is impossible for failure in one direction not to injure development in another. Hegel would not only have admitted that every knave is more or less a fool – which is a fairly popular statement with the world in general. He would have insisted on supplementing it by a proposition by no means so likely to win general favour – that every fool is more or less a knave.
Christianity, again, is often found to hold that, in the most important department of knowledge, truth can be attained without great intellectual gifts or exertions, by the exercise of a faith the possession of which is looked on as a moral virtue. Sometimes the further assertion is made that the exercise of the intellect is not only unnecessary for this purpose, but useless, and sometimes it is pronounced to be actually harmful. The more you reason about God, it has been said, the less you know.
This theory, even in its mildest form, is absolutely alien – indeed, abhorrent – to Hegel. The Kingdom of God may be still hidden in part from the wise and prudent. But of one thing Hegel is absolutely certain.
It is not revealed to babes. You cannot feel rightly towards God, except in so far as you know him rightly. You cannot know him rightly, except in so far as you are able and willing to use your reason. If you arrived at the right conclusions in any other way, they would be of little value to you, since you would hold them blindly and mechanically. But in truth you cannot arrive at the right conclusions in their fulness in any other way. For all irrational methods leave marks of their irrationality in the conclusion.
256. (f) There is no trace in Hegel of any feeling of absolute humility and contrition of man before God. Indeed, it would be scarcely possible that there should be. Sin, for Hegel, is so much less real than man, that it is impossible for man ever to regard himself as altogether sinful.
Sin is a mere appearance. Like all appearance, it is based on reality. But the reality it is based on is not sin. Like all reality, it is perfectly good.
The sinfulness is part of the appearance.
Man’s position is very different. God is a community, and every man is part of it. In a perfect unity, such as God is, the parts are not subordinate to the whole. The whole is in every part, and every part is essential to the whole. Every man is thus a perfect manifestation of God. He would not be such a manifestation of God, indeed, if he were taken in isolation, but, being taken in the community, he embodies God perfectly. Such a being is perfect in his own right, and sin is superficial with regard to him, as it is with regard to the Absolute. Sub specie aeternitatis he is sinless. Sub specie temporis he is destined to become sinless, not from any external gift of divine grace, but because he is man – and God.
It is true that Hegel speaks of man as sinful, while he does not ascribe sin to God. But this is merely a question of terminology. He uses man to describe the individuals who constitute reality, whether they are viewed in their real and eternal perfection, or their apparent and temporal imperfection. But he only speaks of reality as God when he speaks of its eternal and perfect nature. So man is called sinful and not God. But in fact both, man and God, part and whole, are in the same position.
Neither, in truth, is sinful. Both are the reality on which the appearance of sin is based. And sin really only belongs to us in the same way that it belongs to God.
Again, as we have seen, sin is for Hegel not the absolutely bad. It is at any rate an advance on innocence. A man who knows himself to be a sinner is ipso facto aware that there are heights to which he has not reached. But Hegel tells him that it is equally certain that there are depths which he has left behind. No one who has sinned can be altogether bad.
I have tried to show in Chapter VI that these conclusions do not destroy our incentives to virtue, nor diminish that relative shame and contrition – the only species which has influence on action – which we feel when we realise that our actions have fallen short of our own ideals, or of the practice of others. But they certainly seem incompatible with any absolute shame or contrition – with any humiliation of ourselves as evil before an all-good God. It is impossible for me to regard myself as absolutely worthless on account of my sins, if I hold that those sins are the necessary and inevitable path which leads from something lower than sin up to virtue. Nor can I prostrate myself before a God of whom I hold myself to be a necessary part and an adequate manifestation, and who is only free from sin in the sense in which I myself am free from it.
“Hegel,” it has, not unfairly, been said, “told the young men of Germany that they were God. This they found very pleasant.”
257. Let us sum up the results to which we have attained. They are as follows. (a) According to Hegel’s doctrine of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost is identical with the entire Godhead. The Father and the Son are either aspects in, or illegitimate abstractions from, the Holy Ghost. (b) God is not a person, but a community of persons, who are united, not by a common self-consciousness, but by love. (c) All finite things are incarnations of God, and have no existence except as incarnations of God.
(d) The special significance of Jesus with regard to the incarnation is merely that he bore witness to that truth in a form which, while only partially correct, was convenient for popular apprehension. (e) Hegel’s doctrines of Original Sin and of Grace are doctrines which do not belong especially to Christianity, even if they are compatible with it. (f) Hegel’s morality has as little resemblance to that of the Christian Church as the morality of one honest man could well have to that of other honest men of the same civilization and the same epoch.
258. Such a system as this may or may not properly be called Christianity. But it is at any rate certain that it is very different from the mere ordinary forms of Christianity, and that a large number of Christians would refuse it the name. This was still more universally true in Hegel’s time. The question remains why Hegel chose to call such a system Christian.
259. It is impossible to believe that it was a deliberate deception, prompted by a desire for his own interest. There is nothing whatever in Hegel’s life which could give us any reason to accuse him of such conduct.
And, moreover, if it were for such a purpose that the Philosophy of Religion was arranged, it was arranged very inadequately. It might possibly make people think that its author was a Christian. But it could not possibly conceal from them that, if so, he was a very unorthodox Christian. And unorthodoxy attracts persecution nearly as much as complete disbelief. If Hegel had been lying, he would surely have lied more thoroughly.
It might be suggested that the deception was inspired by a sense of duty. The Philosophy of Religion is not in itself a work for general reading. But its contents might become known to the general public at second-hand. And Hegel, it might be supposed, did not wish to upset the belief in Christianity of such people as were unable to rise to the heights of speculative thought.
But this seems rather inconsistent with Hegel’s character. He has been accused of many things, but no one has accused him of underestimating the importance of philosophy, or of paying excessive deference to the non-philosophical plain man. It is incredible that he should have consented to distort an academic exposition of some of his chief conclusions for the plain man’s benefit. Nor, again, is there anything in his writings which could lead us to suppose that he thought that the plain man ought to have lies told him on religious matters. The eulogies which he passes on the work of the Reformation point to a directly contrary conclusion.
It is, no doubt, not impossible that Hegel may have been determined by the thought of the non-philosophical majority to use the terminology of Christianity, provided that he really thought it to some degree appropriate.
But it is impossible to suppose that he used, either from benevolence or from selfishness, language which he held to be quite inappropriate. And we are left with the question – why did he hold it appropriate to call his system Christian?
260. It has been suggested that every man should be called a Christian who fulfils two conditions. The first is, that he believes the universe as a whole to be something rational and righteous – something which deserves our approval and admiration. The second is, that he finds him self in so much sympathy with the life and character of Jesus, that he desires to consecrate his religious feelings and convictions by associating them with the name of Jesus.
Of all the attempts to define the outer limits within which the word Christian may be applied, this is perhaps the most successful. Few other interpretations, certainly, stretch those limits so widely. And yet even this interpretation fails to include Hegel. For there are no traces in his writings of any such personal sympathy with the historical Jesus. We find no praise of his life and character – which indeed did not present the civic virtues by which Hegel’s admiration was most easily excited.
And of his moral teaching we find at least as much criticism as praise. It is perhaps scarcely going too far to say that it is difficult to conceive how any reasonable and candid man could write about the Christian religion with less personal sympathy for its founder than is shown by Hegel.
261. We must return to the first of the two questions stated in Section 207. For the explanation of Hegel’s use of the word Christianity lies, I believe, in this – that, according to him, not even the highest religion was capable of adequately expressing the truth. It could only symbolise it in a way which was more or less inadequate. This is partly concealed by the fact that in the last division of his Philosophy of Religion he treats of Absolute truth in its fulness, no longer concealed by symbols. But the subordinate position of religion is beyond all doubt.
In the Philosophy of Spirit, the last triad is Art, Religion, and Philosophy.
Philosophy, then, is the synthesis of an opposition of which Religion is one of the terms. There must, therefore, be some inadequacy in Religion which is removed by Philosophy. Philosophy, says Hegel, “is the unity of Art and Religion. Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production, and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a total, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought. Such consciousness is thus the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessary as free." And, in the Philosophy of Religion, “Religion itself is this action, this activity of the thinking reason, and of the man who thinks rationally, – who as individual posits himself as the ‘Universal, and annulling himself as individual, finds his true self to be the Universal. Philosophy is in like manner thinking reason, only that this action in which religion consists appears in philosophy in the form of thought, while religion as, so to speak, reason thinking naively, stops short in the sphere of general ideas (Vorstellung).
262. There can therefore be no question whether Christianity is the absolute truth. For there is no question that Christianity must be counted as religion, according to the definition of religion given in the passage quoted above from the Philosophy of Spirit. And therefore it cannot be completely adequate to express the truth.
But, on the other hand, all religions express the truth with more or less adequacy, and the degree of this adequacy vanes. It increases, Hegel tells us, as we pass along the chain of religions given in the Philosophy of Religion, from the lowest Magic up to the religion of Ancient Rome.
One religion only (according to Hegel’s exposition, which practically ignores the inconvenient fact of Islam) succeeds to the Roman. This is the Christian. Of all the religions of the world, therefore, this is to be held the least inadequate to express the truth.
When Hegel calls Christianity the absolute religion, therefore, this cannot mean that it expresses the absolute truth. For, being a religion, it cannot do this. He means that it is as absolute as religion can be, that it expresses the truth with only that inaccuracy which is the inevitable consequence of the symbolic and “pictorial” character of all religion.
Does he mean, however, to limit this assertion to the past, and only to say that no religion has come so near to absolute truth as Christianity does? Or would he go further, and say that it would be impossible that any religion, while it remained religion, should ever express the truth more adequately than Christianity? I am inclined to think that he would have been prepared to make the wider assertion. Nothing less would justify the strength of his language in calling Christianity the absolute religion. Moreover in all the applications of his philosophy to empirical facts, he shows a strong tendency to suppose that the highest manifestation of Spirit already known to us is also the highest which it is possible should happen – although the degree in which he yields to this tendency has been exaggerated. This more sweeping assertion we must pronounce to be unjustified.
We cannot be certain of the future except by an argument a priori, and arguments a priori can only deal with the a priori element in knowledge.
No conclusion about the nature of the empirical element in knowledge can be reached a priori. Now the degree of adequacy with which a religion can express absolute truth depends on the precise character of its symbolism. And the precise character of the symbolism of any religion is an empirical fact, which cannot be deduced a priori.
It is therefore impossible to be certain that no religion will arise in the future which will express the truth more adequately than Christianity.
It may be said, indeed, that such a religion would be improbable. It might be maintained that Christianity gets so near to absolute truth, that if people got any nearer they would have reached the truth itself, and require no symbols at all. But of this it is impossible to be certain. New religions cannot be predicted, but it does not follow that they are impossible.
263. The truth of Hegel’s statement however, if it is confined to the past, cannot be denied. No religion in history resembles the Hegelian philosophy so closely as Christianity. The two great questions for religion – if indeed they can be called two – are the nature of the Absolute and its relation to the finite. The orthodox Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are not, as we have seen, compatible with Hegel’s teaching. But they are far closer to that teaching than the doctrines of any other religion known to history.
In this way, and this way, I believe, alone, the difficult question of Hegel’s relation to Christianity admits of a solution. The difficulty is increased by a change in Hegel’s method of exposition when he reaches the Absolute Religion. In dealing with the lower religions, he had described those religions in the form in which they were actually held by those who believed them – or, at any rate, in what he believed to be that form – and had’ then pointed out in what degree they fell short of absolute truth. But, when he came to Christianity, he did not expound the Christian doctrines themselves, but that absolute truth which, according to him, they imperfectly symbolised. This not unnaturally produced the impression that the doctrines of Christianity not only symbolised the absolute truth, but actually were the absolute truth. But closer examination dispels this, for it shows, as I have endeavoured to show in this Chapter, that Hegel’s doctrines are incompatible with any form of Christianity which has ever gained acceptance among men.
264. Thus the result is that Hegel does not regard his system as Christian but holds Christianity to be the nearest approach which can be made to his system under the imperfect form of religion. And that he is right in both parts of this – the positive and the negative – may be confirmed from experience.
Christian apologists have not infrequently met the attacks of their opponents with Hegelian arguments. And so long as there are external enemies to meet, the results are all that they can desire. Against Scepticism, against Materialism, against Spinozistic Pantheism, against Deism or Arianism – nothing is easier than to prove by the aid of Hegel that wherever such creeds differ from orthodox Christianity, they are in the wrong. But this is not the end. The ally who has been called in proves to be an enemy in disguise – the least evident but the most dangerous.
The doctrines which have been protected from external refutation are found to be transforming themselves till they are on the point of melting away, and orthodoxy finds it necessary to separate itself from so insidious an ally.
This double relation of Hegelianism to Christian orthodoxy can be explained by the theory which I have propounded. If orthodox Christianity, while incompatible with Hegelianism, is nevertheless closer to it than any other religion, it is natural that Hegelianism should support Christianity against all attacks but its own, and should then reveal itself as an antagonist – an antagonist all the more deadly because it works not by denial but by completion.