Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13i

13.6.3 Their philosophies are the world-valuing, intellectual mysticism of Neoplatonism

For Cusanus and Hegel, the ascent to God is above all an intellectual process. Moffitt Watts wrote

It is the intellect, the seat of learned ignorance, which enables man to transcend the limitations of discursive reasoning and to speculate more accurately concerning the nature of God…Cusanus argues…that man is able, through his intellect, to go beyond the oppositions that govern his senses and reason – at length in the De docta ignorantia.1

For both, this ‘way of the intellect’ is a necessary condition for approaching God mystically.

Both denied the centrality of feeling and asserted the centrality of knowledge. Cassirer wrote that in this denying, Cusanus went beyond the traditional conception of mysticism. In fact both the denying and the assertion are Neoplatonic. What both presupposed is a

self-movement of the mind as well as an original force in the mind itself that unfolds in a continuous process of thought.2

Just as Hopkins wrote that Cusanus is not reporting on mystical experiences but

is reflecting dialectically upon the relationship between God’s vision of man and man’s vision of God3

so Hegel philosophised likewise on that same relationship between man and God, finite and infinite, seer and seen, knower and known, subject and object, quoting in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion4 Eckhart’s use of the same Neoplatonic trope that Cusanus used in De visione Dei.

The philosophies of both Hegel and Cusanus are fundamentally neither apophatic nor kataphatic, and where Cusanus’ philosophy explores profound subtleties of coincidence5, Hegel’s, a great development on this, brings out fully though still in idealist form the subtleties and the driving dynamism and power of the dialectical and creative negation of Plotinus’ system.

As I have stated, both embodied the wonder of the Neoplatonist towards the world – Cusanus describing it as ‘a noble star’6, Hegel describing its aspects in detail

vast tracts of sea break out into phosphorescent light…the whole surface of the sea, too, is partly an infinite shining, partly an immeasurable, immense sea of light which consists purely of points of life lacking any further organisation. …each drop of water is a living globe of infusoria…Earth, like water, displays infinite, universal fecundity7

For them, from their Neoplatonic perspective, the world is not only a worthy but a necessary object of study, because God is its centre and all creation is the emanation from oneness to otherness.8 Their mysticism is not reflective but of the world. Plotinus, not Hegel objectified the inner mystical world.

Cusanus and Hegel believed that for theology to be authentic, it must be based in experience. When Marx stood their epistemology on its feet by incorporating it into materialism, he made experience as praxis the basis of his epistemology.



1. Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op, cit., 45
2. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 14
3. Hopkins in Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialectical Mysticism, Text, Translation and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei, op. cit., v
4. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 347-348. See 8.5, Notes
5. ‘Cusa also later characterises the theological position that he first worked out in On Learned Ignorance as an alternative to both negative and affirmative methods….Negative and affirmative theology (Cusa believed) are limited in what they can say; neither attains the divine obscurity directly. …A theology that penetrates the divine obscurity must press beyond even the via negativa. We find in (Dionysius’) The Mystical Theology, especially, the kind of theological method that Cusa sees himself as pursuing – not disjunctive, neither affirmative nor negative, but coincident.’ Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, trans., H. Lawrence Bond, Paulist Press, New York, 1997, 32-33; ’Cusa…employs coincidence of opposites in On the Vision of God to generate an iconic and a mystical theology. He proposes this as his alternative to the apophasis and silence of the via negativa, as well as to the less worthy descriptions of predication and analogy. …Cusa offers the coincidence of opposites as the central and unifying logical model in order to depict an appropriate likeness between metaphors and the divine reality. …coincident models…cause the mind the leap across to divine mystery.’, Ibid., 55
6. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,12,166
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 297-298
8. Beck wrote of Cusanus ‘Nicholas teaches a hypostatic union of nature itself with God. The near-deification of the world brings with it a deification of the soul.’ Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, op. cit., 60

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