Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13o The use to an absolute idealist of the historical Christ and of Christianity

For Cusanus and Hegel, Christ signifies the necessary connection of the infinite and finite

Every happy spirit sees the invisible God and is united, in You, Jesus, to the unapproachable and immortal God. And thus, in You, the finite is united to the Infinite and Ununiteable 1

But where Cusanus discussed Christ’s incarnation and death in a manner consistent with Christian belief

Blessed is God, who by His own son has redeemed us from the darkness of such great ignorance in order that we may discern to be false and deceptive all the things which are somehow done by a mediator other than Christ, who is truth, and by a faith other than [faith] in Jesus.2

Hegel emphasised God’s requirement that Christ be made incarnate and the worldly physicality of Christ’s experience as a subject

for God to be spirit he must appear as man, as an individual subject – not as ideal humanity, but as actual progress into the temporal and complete externality of immediate and natural existence. …as an actual individual subject, he enters difference as opposed to both unity and substance as such; in this ordinary spatial and temporal existence he experiences the feeling, consciousness, and grief of disunion in order to come, through this opposition and likewise its dissolution, to infinite reconciliation.3

both for the purpose of illustrating through God’s appearance in history Neoplatonic division into subject and object and the process of the development between them

Because the concept of religion entails the unity of subjective consciousness and its object, namely God as absolute essence or spirit, when the concept of religion becomes objective to itself, this unity of finite and infinite consciousness comes fully to expression. For this reason, Christianity is the ‘consummate’ or ‘absolute’ religion4

and, again through the profound historical experience of god-as-man, for the purpose of objectifying his Neoplatonism, of anchoring it in the lived world and of making it a lesson for everyman.

In his Philosophy of Mind he wrote

even (the Greeks) did not attain, either in philosophy or in religion, to a knowledge of the absolute infinitude of mind…It was Christianity, by its doctrine of the Incarnation and of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers, that first gave to human consciousness a perfectly free relationship to the infinite and thereby made possible the comprehensive knowledge of mind in its absolute infinitude.5

Hegel knew this to be incorrect. He followed Cusanus in bringing the first hypostasis into the second, making it the first element in his Proclean, not Christian triad. Now the One was also one Being – enabling, for Hegel, complete knowledge of the entire process of emanation and return, including ‘knowledge of the absolute infinitude of mind’ – sans Christianity.

Further, as Chlup wrote of the ‘late’ Neoplatonists’ interest in religion

If in the sixth to fifth centuries BC philosophy emerged out of religion as an independent cultural phenomenon, in the fifth to sixth centuries AD she in turn received religion into her womb.6

He expanded

though late Neoplatonists do not see the boundaries between levels of reality as penetrable from below upward, they do see them as permeable in the opposite direction. In other words, while we certainly cannot climb upward, higher beings may easily send their irradiation downward. If we cannot ascend to them directly, we may at least open up and tune in to the beneficent power that they constantly keep on sending down towards us. …Eastern Neoplatonists strive to achieve a balance between…seeing our dependence on the free will of higher beings as no less important than philosophical practice. …As a result, eastern Neoplatonists take great interest in religion.7

Where the Catholic cardinal freely acknowledged his debt

Hence, as Proclus reports, the Platonists—viewing this infinite and boundless possibility-of-being-made—asserted that all things derive from the finite, or determinate, and the infinite: the Platonists related the finite to [a thing’s] determinate essence, and they related the infinite to [its] power and [its] possibility-of-being-made.8

Hegel wrote of consciousness in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion

It is I who produce that beyond; the finite and the infinite are equally my product, and I stand above both of them, both disappear in me. I am lord and master of this definition: I bring it forth. They vanish in and through me – and thus the second position is established: that I am the affirmation which at first I placed outside in a beyond; the infinite first comes into being through me. I am the negation of negation, it is I in whom the antithesis disappears; I am the reflection that brings them both to naught.9

These are clearly not the words of a Christian. Rather, they are those of one whose ‘absolute’ and ‘consummate’ are Neoplatonic.



1. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 21, 94
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III, 11, 253
3. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 435
4. Editor in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 163
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 2
6. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 32
7. Ibid., 30-31
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 29, 88
9. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 295

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