Hegel, Mystic: Part Two

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), Anonymous, Museum der Westlausitz, Kamenz

Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), Anonymous, Museum der Westlausitz, Kamenz

Edited transcript of my presentation at the Department of Philosophy ‘mini-conference’ at the University of Sydney 12.09.14 Part two

For the Hermeticist, we too require diremption: ‘Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.’1 Redding wrote ‘Each recognises himself not simply in the other but in the recognition/acknowledgement of the other – that is, in the other’s act.2

Hegel’s philosophy functions on the armature of the Christian Trinity (he was obsessed with the triune and its dialectical potential) clothed in Neoplatonic Hermeticism. Hegel scoured Western philosophy for those currents which best suited his purpose – to capture in philosophy the contradictory dynamism and processes of the world as consciousness. Just as he wove into the dense tapestry of his philosophy the dialectical potential of the Trinity together with the Neoplatonic process of emanation and return, so he also wove in the Hermetic notion of ‘othering’ and its potential.

Cusanus is of greatest interest to me – not only because I believe that Hegel was indebted to him in so many ways but, and more particularly, because of what I think Hegel’s silence regarding him indicates about Western self-perceptions and how this silence – replicated over and again since (by others with regard to the impact of mysticism on their work and on Western culture generally) – and these cultural perceptions profoundly detract from the potential of philosophy.

Cusanus was more widely known about and read than is recognised. He was discussed in a 1652 Dutch study of skepticism, being referred to as a ‘modern skeptic.’3 Buhle cites three editions of his works, one from Basel in 1565 in three volumes.4 Jasper Hopkins wrote that Kepler, Descartes and Leibniz mention Cusanus.5 Magee wrote that Schelling, whose ‘use of “Absolute” is remarkably similar to Cusa’s’6 read him. (Inwood wrote that the concept ‘Absolute’ was first used as a noun by Cusanus).

Both Cusanus and Hegel sought to develop a new method for doing philosophy and theology – Cusanus in reaction against scholasticism, Hegel in reaction against the mere ‘understanding’ of the Enlightenment and religious belief that held that God cannot be cognised.

As Böhme gave Hegel the spiritual potential for knowledge through ‘othering’, Cusanus, of all that he gave Hegel, particularly gave him the means of ‘cognising‘ God non-predicatively – coincidentia oppositorum. It is through this concept that Hegel’s philosophy can be appreciated. Just as God is known through the process of contradiction (God is this process) so Hegel (as Magee wrote) ‘talked around’ his concepts – their meaning being found in that dialectical process of a unity of opposites. Cusanus wrote ‘when we look by way of a mirroring symbolism, as the Apostle says – we can have knowledge-of-God’.7 For Hegel, when we know the science of logic, we know God. Another way of putting this is that for Hegel, the science of logic is God. For Proclus, that which is divine (but not the First Principle) can be apprehended and known from the existents which participate it(The Elements of Theology Prop. 123)

Buhle wrote of Cusanus:

‘In my opinion his idea of the human cognitive faculty can be best grasped from the following passage, which I quote here in his own words ‘It must be the case that speculations originate from our minds, even as the real world originates from Infinite Divine Reason. For when, as best it can, the human mind [which is a lofty likeness of God] partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, which are made in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a speculated rational world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world. …In order that you may recognise that the mind is the beginning of speculations, take note of the following: just as the First Beginning of all things, including our minds, is shown to be triune (so that of the multitude, the inequality, and the division of things there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth), so our mind (which conceives only an intellectual nature to be creative) makes itself to be a triune beginning of its own rational products. (mw: thus, for Hegel, being, nothing, becoming) For only reason is the measure of multitude, of magnitude, and of composition. Thus, if reason is removed, none of these will remain. …Therefore, the mind’s oneness enfolds within itself all multitude, and its equality enfolds all magnitude, even as its union enfolds all composition. Therefore, mind, which is a triune beginning, first of all unfolds multitude from the power of its enfolding-oneness. …’8

I will quote from two of Cusanus’ most important treatises to give a sense of what I think Hegel drew on:

1) De Deo abscondito (‘On the Hidden God’)

On the relation between being and not-being:

‘He (God) makes not-being pass into being and makes being pass into not-being.’

‘God is not the foundation of contradiction but is Simplicity, which is prior to every foundation.’

Christian: He is the Source and Origin of all the beginnings of being and of not-being.

Pagan: God is the Source of the beginnings of being and of not-being?

Christian: No.

Pagan: But you just said this.

Christian: When I said it, I spoke the truth; and I am speaking the truth now, when I deny it. For if there are any beginnings of being and of not-being, God precedes them. However, not-being does not have a beginning of its not being but has only a beginning of its being. For not-being needs a beginning in order to be. In this way, then, He is the Beginning of not-being, because without Him there would not be not-being.’9

2) De li non aliud (‘On [God As] Not-Other’)

‘ABBOT: You have led me, Father, unto a Spirit which I see to be the Creator of all – just as was seen by the prophet who said to the Creator: “Send forth Your Spirit, and they will be created.”  … And you have led me to see that the mental spirit is an image of this Spirit.  For, indeed, this mental spirit – which of its own power goes forth unto all things – examines all things and creates the concepts and likenesses of all things. I say “creates” inasmuch as this spirit makes the conceptual likenesses of things from no other thing – even as the Spirit which is God makes the quiddities of things not from another but from itself, i.e, from Not-other. And so, just as the Divine Spirit is not other than any creatable thing, so neither is the mind other than anything which is understandable by it. And in the case of a mind which is more free of a body, I clearly see a spirit shining forth more perfectly as creator and creating more precise concepts.’10

Part two/to be continued…



1. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 111 (#178). Hegel continued ‘The Notion of this its unity in its duplication embraces many and varied meanings.’

2. Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 112

3. Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, 162. Also ‘Prior to the period I shall deal with, there are some indications of a sceptical motif, principally among the antirational theologians, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian. This theological movement, culminating in the West in the work of Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century, employed many of the sceptical arguments in order to undermine confidence in the rational approach to religious knowledge and truth.’ xix.

4. In her 1935 essay on Montaigne and Melville, Camille La Bossière stated that Montaigne owned a copy of the 1576 edition of Cusanus’s single most important treatise De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance). Camille R. La Bossière, ‘The World Revolves Upon an I: Montaigne’s Unknown God and Melville’s Confidence-Man’

5. Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, Renaissance and Early Modern Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 26 (2002), pp. 13-29, 28 (‘Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel never mention him, although Kepler, Descartes, and Leibniz do.’)

6. Glenn Alexander Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, Continuum, London, 2010, 18

7. Nicholas of Cusa, De Beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, pp. 792-827, 798

8. Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in 6 vols., Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, vol. 2, 341-353

9. In Jasper Hopkins, A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 303-304

10. In Jasper Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa on God as Not-Other: A Translation and an Appraisal of De Li Non Aliud, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1999, 1160-1161

Image sources: Plotinus/Cusanus/Hegel/Böhme

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