Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14d


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

Magee asserted that Böhme, along with Eckhart, Cusanus and Hegel thought that nature is the equivalent of the Son.1 In mysticism, such an apparently simple equation is anything but. In the writing of the above, four meanings of ‘nature’ are used

  • the natural world or universe and its phenomena
  • the ‘inner’ world
  • different qualities (divine nature, human nature, intellectual nature)
  • the body of God

The equivalence between son and cosmos is Hermetic – it is stated in both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, as I have quoted above.2 The Hermetica clearly distinguishes between the three gods (god the father, his son as cosmos, and man3) and there is no requirement in it either for the son to return to his father or for god to be completed by mankind as Magee claims. It is neither Neoplatonic nor Christian – irrespective of whether one defines ‘nature’ as either the natural or ‘inner’ world. Neither Eckhart nor Cusanus as I will show and again contrary to Magee, used it. Hegel, as I have quoted,4 used it in his Philosophy of Nature and it is plausible that his source for this may have been Böhme.

Magee wrote

In his tenth sermon, Eckhart preached that just as a son requires a father to give him existence, so the father is not father without the son. Similarly, God would not be God without creation: God must create to actualise His nature. (This is one of the innovations of the Hermetica.) Just as in Hegel more than five hundred years later, God the Father is conceived as “abstract” and “incomplete” apart from nature. Nature or creation is the Son. The “return” of the Son to the Father is the Holy Spirit and, again as in Hegel, this specifically denotes mankind.5

But there is no hint of God being incomplete or his Son being nature in Eckhart’s words

St. John says, “God’s love was disclosed to us in this, that He sent His Son into the world that we should live through him,” and with him. And thus our human nature has been immeasurably exalted because the Highest has come and taken on human nature.6

Of the world to which God sent his Son, Eckhart wrote

“God sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” You should not take this to mean the external world, as when he ate and drank with us, but you should understand it of the inner world. As surely as the Father in His simple nature bears the Son naturally, just as surely He bears him in the inmost recesses of the spirit, and this is the inner world. Here God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground.”7

Eckhart counterposed the ‘inner world’ to the natural world

Whatever of the soul is in this world or looks into this world, whatever is attached to her and looks out, that she should hate. A master says that the soul at her highest and purest is above the world. …A master says the soul in her own nature has as little to do with all that is in the world as the eye has to do with song, or the ear with colour.8

He echoed Plotinus’ metaphor of the sculptor hewing his soul

A man who wants to make a pot takes a little clay; that is the material he works with. Then he gives it a form, which is in himself, and is finer in him than the material. By this I mean that all things are immeasurably nobler in the intellectual world, where the soul is, than they are in this world.9

In Chapter 25 of Book I of De docta ignorantia – titled ‘The pagans named God in various ways in relation to created things’ – Cusanus wrote that

(one of the names the pagans gave God was) Cupid because of the unity of the two sexes (for which reason they also called Him Nature, since through the two sexes He conserves the species of things).10

yet he still did not take this opportunity to equate the Son with nature and give his reason for doing so. The structure of De docta ignorantia shows why. Book I deals with God, the Absolute uncontracted Maximum, Book II with the world – the contracted Maximum, and Book III (not book II) with the Absolute and contracted Maximum – Christ. Not only did Cusanus believe Christ and the world to be qualitatively different and not only did he believe Christ to be God and man (the union of divine and human natures)11 not God and cosmos, the cosmos for him as was everything, was comprised of a Trinity based on Proclus’ triad of triads – Böhme was not the first to think that the Trinity is in everything, which Magee accepts that he was and which, as I believe Hegel knew very well, he wasn’t

…[in the case of the universe] the three mutual relationships—which in God are called persons—have actual existence only collectively in oneness.

We must consider the foregoing points carefully. For in God the perfection of Oneness, which is Trinity, is so great that the Father is actually God, the Son actually God, and the Holy Spirit actually God, the Son and the Holy Spirit are actually in the Father, the Son and the Father [are actually] in the Holy Spirit, and the Father and the Holy Spirit [are actually] in the Son. But in the case of what is contracted, a similar thing cannot hold true; for the mutual relationships exist per se only conjointly. (my italics) Therefore, it cannot be the case that each distinct relationship is the universe; rather, all the mutual relationships [are] collectively [the universe]. Nor is the one [of them] actually in the others; rather, they are most perfectly contracted to one another (in the way in which the condition of contraction permits this), so that from them there is one universe, which could not be one without that trinity. For there cannot be contraction without (1) that which is contractible, (2) that which causes contracting, and (3) the union which is effected through the common actuality of these two.12

Cusanus defined ‘nature’: ‘nature is the enfolding (so to speak) of all things which occur through motion.’13

Magee described the position of Böhme and Hegel on the creation of nature in Neoplatonic terms

Böhme holds that nature is an unfolding of the dynamic “eternal nature” contained within God14

The Philosophy of Nature shows how the Absolute Idea or “God before creation” is “embodied.” Notoriously, Hegel employs Neoplatonic emanation imagery to describe the transition from Logic to Philosophy of Nature, saying that the Idea “freely releases itself.” This sort of approach is to be found in Eckhart as well.15

Hegel’s own description begins with the Hermetic notion of nature as the son of God and merges this with Christian Neoplatonism

Nature is the son of God, but not as the Son, but as abiding in otherness – the divine Idea as held fast for a moment outside the divine love…in Nature, Spirit lets itself go (ausgelassen), a Bacchic god unrestrained and unmindful of itself…God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity, in which otherness has only a transient being16

Plotinus wrote most highly of nature, almost giving it the status of an hypostasis in his tractate ‘Nature, contemplation, and the One’, translated by Creuzer in 180517

And Nature, asked why it brings forth its works, might answer if it cared to listen and to speak: “It would have been more becoming to put no question but to learn in silence just as I myself am silent and make no habit of talking. And what is your lesson? This; that whatsoever comes into being is my vision, seen in my silence, the vision that belongs to my character who, sprung from vision, am vision-loving and create vision by the vision-seeing faculty within me. The mathematicians from their vision draw their figures: but I draw nothing: I gaze and the figures of the material world take being as if they fell from my contemplation.”’18

The relation between nature and divinity is one (and most important) aspect of the issue, the other was embodied by Proclus in his triad Being, Life and Intelligence reflected in the organisation of the Books of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia (God/World/Christ) and those of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia (Logic/Nature/Spirit). Being by itself is abstract and for there to be Intelligence, there must be ‘Life’. For all three, the first element must posit the second so that it, in turn, can posit the third – the means of return.

Magee writes of Hegel’s application of this with a Christian patina

Hegel states in the Philosophy of Nature, “God as an abstraction is not the true God; His truth is the positing of His other, the living process, the world, which is his Son when it is comprehended in its divine form” (PN #246). …On its own, logic (or the logos) is formal and one-dimensional. To be fully realised, the Idea must “express itself” in the world of space and time. Thus, the Logic must be supplemented by the Philosophy of Nature.19

Hegel used Proclus’ triad of triads (which is in neither Hermeticism nor Böhme’s theosophy) as his philosophical basis, and, following Cusanus, overlaid the Trinity across it, matching the key elements of the triad with those of the Trinity in the same sequence of outflow and return and also made, for a richer and more anchored mytho-poetic purpose, the Hermetic notion of son as cosmos the conjunction between Being and Intelligence, God and Spirit.


1. ‘(Böhme believed that) Nature is the “body of God”…Along with Eckhart, Cusa, and Hegel, Böhme reads the second person of the Trinity, the “Son,” as equivalent to nature.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 39
2. Copenhaver, Corpus Hermeticum, X; Everard, The Corpus Hermetica, XIII; Mead, The Asclepius, VIII
3. Mead, The Asclepius, X; Being, Life and Intelligence are the three gods of Proclus’ triad.
4. See 11.3.7,, 13.6.6
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 24-25
6. Sermon 13 (a), Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, op. cit., 104
7. Sermon 13 (b), Ibid., 109
8. Sermon 21, Ibid., 149
9. Ibid., 150
10. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,25,83
11. Chapter 4 of Bk III is titled ‘Blessed Jesus, who is God and man, is the [contracted maximum individual].’
12. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,7,127-128 (‘The trinity of the universe’)
13. Ibid., II,10,153
14. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 168
15. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 266
16. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14
17. Plotinus used ‘Absolute’ repeatedly as a noun in this tractate). ‘the All has its One, its Prior but not yet the Absolute One; through this we reach that Absolute One, where all such reference comes to an end.’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.8.10. Inwood and Magee are incorrect in claiming that Cusanus was the first to apply it to the ultimate principle.
18. Ibid., III.8.4; Magee wrote of Hegel ’By showing humanity a God who expresses Himself (in part) in nature, (Hegel) hoped to reconnect science with the experience of the divine, and specifically with the concrete presence of the divine. …Hegel’s system is an attempt to “re-enchant” the world, to re-invest nature with the experience of the numinous lost with the death of the mythical consciousness.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 97
19. Ibid., 190

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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