Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14b


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more!1

Magee wrote

In the preceding section, I implicitly drew a distinction between two types of mysticism. One strain of mysticism emphasises the ineffable mystery of the coincidentia oppositorum, and stops there. The other strain, exemplified by Boehme, actually seeks positive knowledge of the nature of the divine, usually through some method of articulating the different ‘aspects’ of God.2

Six pages prior to this he had written

When Hegel discusses mysticism in the Encyclopaedia Logic, he is emphasising the coincidentia oppositorum as characteristic of mysticism3

These two quotes exemplify Magee’s confusion and problem.4 Not only have I shown, with quotations from the Hermetica, that, according to the key Hermetic texts, god is complete and perfect, that our consciousness and capacity to see the things that are in heaven are limited and our knowledge of god is ineffable, I have argued that the unity of opposites – what Cusanus named coincidentia oppositorum – is at the heart of Neoplatonic dialectics and is considered philosophically in a way and with a thoroughness that is entirely absent from the Hermetica. 

Further and again as I have argued (13.6.6), the cardinal Cusanus explored beyond the walls of paradise to the possibility of knowing God. Hegel rightly emphasised coincidentia oppositorum as ‘characteristic of mysticism’ – the mysticism of Neoplatonism – the current of which he was its consummate proponent.

Magee wrote that Böhme represented a crucial shift in Christian philosophy –

from the idea of all reality as moving toward God to the idea of God himself as part of the movement of reality as well. This is the core of Böhme’s Hermeticism: the conception of God not as transcendent and static, existing “outside” the world, impassive and complete, but as an active process unfolding within the world, within history.5

Not only is the god of the Hermetica complete – it is man who undergoes development in his return to divinity. But the process to which Magee refers is explained by my developmental account of Neoplatonism, built on a current of thought thinking itself which, as I have indicated Hegel subscribed to (12.3.3), runs from Aristotle through Neoplatonism, Christianity and the ‘modern’ philosophy of Descartes.

Proclus wrote of the second element of his triad Being, Life, Intelligence (Intellect)

While Intellect is only participated in by beings capable of cognition, life pertains even to those that have no share in knowledge whatsoever; for we say of plants that they are alive. Accordingly, beyond Intellect we need to place the plane of Life which gives rise to a greater number of effects, irradiating its own gifts into more beings than Intellect does.6

Those ‘gifts’ are irradiated into and unfolded in the world generally, and therefore in its history.

Magee continues, asking

What initiates this process in the first place? Böhme held that God is moved by the desire to reveal Himself to Himself, but that this self-revelation is psychologically impossible (my italics) unless an other stands opposed to Him7

Here is the key to understanding Böhme’s theosophical take on Neoplatonism – in addition to his interweaving it with the mythology of the Trinity, he further ‘psychologised’ the Trinity. He addresses the Devil as ‘blackguard’ and ‘detestable tormenter’8

Hegel quoted him on God

God is…an all powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing, all-smelling, all-tasting one who exists within himself as mild, cheerful, sweet, merciful, and joyful, indeed as joy itself9

wrote of his Son that he is

the emanation of the will, which makes the One peaceably divided. The Son is the heart pulsating in the Father, the kernel in all energies, the cause of the burgeoning joy in all10

and quoted him again on Spirit, that it is

an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-smelling, all-hearing, all-feeling, all-tasting spirit.11

Magee wrote that it

seems quite plausible that Hegel was positively influenced by Boehme, and in a significant way.12

and that

This Hermetic doctrine of the “circular” relationship between God and creation and the necessity of man for the completion of God is utterly original. It is not to be found in earlier philosophy. But it recurs again and again in the thought of Hermeticists, and it is the chief doctrinal identity between Hermeticism and Hegelian thought.13

The originality and recurrence in thought are Magee’s. He has all but ignored the relationship between Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, the interest that those who subscribed to one had in the other and therefore their influence on each other, particularly by the latter on the former, and he has ignored the influence of Christian Neoplatonists such as Pseudo-Dionysius and Eriugena on medieval and later German philosophy and Christian theosophy. Magee cannot excuse himself by writing

Hermeticism is the tradition that grew up around these texts (the Hermetica) over the course of centuries. Many different influences came together to create the Hermetic tradition, until, in fact, it had drifted considerably beyond the ideas expressed in the Hermetica.14

because not only did he note of his argument that Hegel was significantly influenced by Böhme that

Of course, there are serious difficulties with (it)15

he twice quoted the Corpus Hermeticum, both times in a misleading manner, to anchor his claim that God requires the philosopher for his ‘actualisation’, for his completion, and that he sent his Son into the world for that purpose.


1. ‘But there is more. Hermeticists not only hold that God requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a crucial role in God’s self-actualisation.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 9; ‘Shockingly, Boehme claims that apart from or prior to creation God is not yet God.’, Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 257.
2. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ op. cit., 277
3. Ibid., 271
4. When Hegel began reading Böhme is uncertain. Magee gave different periods – in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (2001) he wrote that Hegel appears to have become conversant with the works of Böhme, Eckhart and Johannes Tauler in the period 1793-1801 (when he tutored first at Berne then at Frankfurt) (3) and ‘Hegel could have encountered Böhme’s work as early as the mid to late 1790’s’ (48). In ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ (2009) he wrote ‘H.S.Harris is “inclined to believe in Boehme’s influence upon Hegel from 1801 onwards.”’ (257) and in ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’ (2014) he wrote ‘‘It seems likely that Hegel took up Boehme for the fist time in Jena in the period 1801-07.’ (529)
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 38
6. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, quoted in Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 97
7. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 38
8. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 96
9. Ibid., 98
10. Ibid., 100
11. Ibid., 103
12. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 596
13. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 10
14. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ op. cit., 278
15. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op, cit., 596

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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