Nietzsche, Western mysticism and philosophy’s concealed priesthood

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Philosophy, rather than some abstract ‘love of wisdom,’ should be a critical practice – of never accepting ‘at face value’ a person’s statements (particularly those of a philosopher) but of always analysing those statements, looking for the inconsistencies, for what is really being argued, seeking to understand how it is being argued – and of developing one’s own argument in response.

This should be all the more so in the case of Nietzsche, who was a master rhetorician, and more broadly, with regard to the impact of mysticism on Western culture. Mysticism (its primary Western form Neoplatonism) has provided the theoretical justification and tools both for what philosophers have presented as the achievements of the most rigorous thought, the most punctilious ‘reason’ and for an attack on that.

Nietzsche is exemplary of what happened in philosophy, particularly after the late eighteenth century, in response to the rise of science. In a nutshell, God was brought from heaven and placed – concealed – within. Nietzsche himself identified a concealed priesthood in philosophy1 – a priesthood Hegel overtly argued for in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.2 Nietzsche and Hegel themselves were of that priesthood.

Unless one is familiar with mysticism (how it is expressed, its theory and developments on it) one cannot fully appreciate its pervasive influence. Nietzsche’s philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy (in which he repeatedly referred to the Primal Oneness and paraphrased the core simile of the sculptor in The Enneads) to his final published work The Will to Power (which contains, in its final ‘aphorism,’ a synopsis of The Enneads) is suffused with the influence of mysticism – particularly Neoplatonism.

Nietzsche was through and through a man of ‘god’ (he came from a family of Lutheran pastors and was referred to when he was young as ‘the little pastor’). This bowerbird told us that the Christian God (which he hated, not least, because he was so damaged by it) was dead (he got the ‘death of god’, as did Hegel, from a Lutheran hymn) only so his god, a Dionysian Übermensch, similarly tortured and sacrificed like Christ (whom Nietzsche loved), could appear centre stage.

He, like many before and after on this matter, feared the disapproval of his fellow educated. Safranski wrote that, wanting to read the writing of Max Stirner (Johann Caspar Schmidt – Marx and Engels referred to him in The German Ideology as ‘Saint Max’), Nietzsche sent one of his students (Adolf Baumgartner) to the Basel library in 1874 to get it. On another occasion, Safranski reports, he was quoted by his friend Ida Overbeck as saying that she would not let on that he was familiar with Stirner’s writing.

Nietzsche was accused of not only having been influenced by Stirner but of having plagiarised him. Safranski quotes one contemporary of Nietzsche’s having written that Nietzsche would have been ‘permanently discredited in any educated milieu if he had demonstrated even the least bit of sympathy for Stirner’. (Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography, Trans., Shelley Frisch, Granata Books, London, 2002, 126)

Similarly, the lyricism, the centrality of creativity and the progression towards unity in the philosophy of Plotinus (and developments on it) became absorbed into Nietzsche’s philosophy (as it had been into Hegel’s) as an anchor for a Romanticism that had outlived its time, against the rising tide of the Common Man.

Once the learned and deep thinkers who had so thoroughly rejected the Neoplatonic vitalism of the outcast Nietzsche’s philosophy came to appreciate its usefulness (as they did Bergson’s equally vitalist Neoplatonism around the same time) against the rise of science, against the acknowledgement that we can and do know the world and particularly against materialism with its recognition of the primacy of objective reality (‘matter’) over consciousness and thought – their response changed and Nietzsche’s ascent – in memoriam – was underway.

Other examples: the same secrecy and denial was held by many with regard to their avid study of the writing of Spinoza and by Schelling, likewise, with regard to Swedenborg. And it is all in the same area – of ‘subjectivism’ (‘pantheism,’ mysticism etc.)’.

In hiding and denying this influence, academic philosophers – who have arrogated behind cloistered walls what Socrates practised on the streets of Athens and gave his life for – have utterly failed in both social and intellectual responsibility.

I have set up this blog to contribute to exposing and addressing their failure. I should also add that with the passing of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘modernism’ and increasingly, ‘postmodernism’, some academics are slowly coming to acknowledge and engage with this ‘unpleasant’ – and dangerous ‘subjectivism’ (‘dangerous’ because to do so threatens to expose not only so much dishonesty – particularly by career philosophers – but the central cultural arrogance they serve – that we in the West are the bearers of Reason and it is this reason that has enabled us to achieve all that we have).

To recognise the immense contribution mysticism has inspired in Western culture, to understand its ‘reason’ and to stop appropriating achievements made on that basis to a Reason foreign to it – I refer to the Neoplatonic distinction between the reason of dynamic unity and that of static analysis, between that which was for Hegel ‘speculative’ and that which separates, which pulls apart – would only be to the great benefit of philosophy.

Magee wrote ‘an appreciation of the role of mystical ideas in the thought of Hegel and other modern thinkers opens new vistas, new paradigms for the history of modern philosophy and for the philosophy of history. Modernity is a project, a social and historical movement with a linear trajectory: from unreason to reason, superstition to science, domination by nature to dominion over it, mastery and slavery to universal freedom, darkness to light.’3

I strongly recommend Stephen MacKenna’s magnificent translation of The Enneads (abridged) and William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot be Said, which exemplifies the extent to which mysticism has shaped and continues to shape Western culture and its reason.

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Notes

1. ‘The decisive sign that reveals that the priest (-including the concealed priest, the philosopher) has become master not only within a certain religious community but in general is that décadence morality, the will to the end, counts as morality in itself, is the unconditional value everywhere accorded to the unegoistic and the hostility accorded the egoistic.’
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo 1908, Trans. R.J.Hollingdale, Introduction Michael Tanner, Penguin, 2004, 66-67

2. ‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.
Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’
G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

Plotinus wrote ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’
Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

3. Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 253-280, 280

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Hegel, mystic, and the ‘Reason’ of the ‘master’ race

The Abduction of Europa, Rembrandt, 1632. Oil on oak panel, Getty Centre, Los Angeles.

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 45

*

What comprises the reason that this European master of ‘Reason’ and ‘the rational’ asserts? He rightly looks past the propositional but adheres to the linguistic and conceptual. Is it not philosophic to question beyond these as well? Does not his own life and work provide ample justification?

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How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).


The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…

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Note

1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

Hegel on contradiction: part four

 

…internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing.


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 440-441

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Part four/to be continued…

On philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’

Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C.Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

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From my thesis ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’: ‘there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa’ (Magee, quoting Walsh)

 

In his Introduction in Volume I of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-1826 (Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009), Hegel named nine of his sources (pp. 99-101).

In that order (I use the details from the Bibliography), I exemplify references to Cusanus below the title:

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie für den akademischen Unterricht, 3rd edn., ed. Amadeus Wendt (Leipzig, 1820) 

tennemann_grundris_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_contents

From Contents

Thomas Stanley, Historia philosophiae vitas opiniones resque gestas et dicta philosophorum sectae cuiusuis complexa… (Leipzig, 1711) (Latin translation from English)

Hegel wrote ‘Its dominant viewpoint is that there are only ancient philosophies, and the era of philosophy was cut short by Christianity. So this treatise only contains the ancient schools…’

Jacob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae, 4 vols. (Leipzig, 1742-4). (Hegel owned the 1756 edn.)

brucker_historia_critica_philosophiae_vol-4-1

From page 360 of vol. 4.1

Dieterich Tiedemann Geist der spekulativen Philosophie  6 vols. (Marburg, 1791-7). (Hegel owned vols. i-iii)

tiedemann_geist_der_spekulativen_philosophie_vol-5

Page 321 of vol. 5

Dieterich Tiedemann Dialogorum Platonis argumenta, expounded and illustrated 12. vols. (Zweibrücken, 1786)

This text, as its title indicates, is a study of the Platonic dialogues.

Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie und einer kritischen Literatur derselben, 8 pts. in 9 vols. (Göttingen, 1796-1804)

buhle_lehrbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-6-1

From page 101 of vol. 6.1

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, 11 vols. (Leipzig, 1798-1819)

tennemann_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-9_contents

Contents of vol. 9

Friedrich Ast, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie (Landshut, 1807)

 

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From page 315

Thaddä Anselm Rixner, Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie zum Gebrauche seiner Vorlesungen, 3  vols. (Sulzbach, 1822-3)

Hegel wrote ‘Most worth recommending is Rixner’s Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie in 3 volumes (Sulzbach, 1822-3)…he is a man of intelligence who provides a particularly useful selection of key passages…the accuracy of the citations and the other features make it highly commendable.’

rixner_handbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-2

From page 164 of vol. 2

Most importantly, Hegel did not name the other history by Buhle that he usedGeschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, 6 vols. (Göttingen, 1800-4). Brown, the editor, showed in his Notes that Hegel paid close attention to it with regard to his writing on Bruno (see vol. III, The Second Period: Medieval Philosophy, Notes 102, 104, 126, 129).

The most thorough discussion of Cusanus’ philosophy in comparison to Hegel’s sources above is in volume 2.1 of this history by Buhle, between pp. 341-353 (the Notes refer to both 2.1 and 2.2).

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-2

From page 342 of vol. 2.1

Cusanus’ texts referred to in volume 2 of Buhle’s History

De concordantia catholica (On Catholic Concordance, 1434)

De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance, 1440 – Buhle discusses)

De coniecturis (On Surmises, 1441-2 – Buhle discusses)

De Ignota Litteratura (On Unknown Learning, 1442-3 – Johannes Wenck)

De quaerendo Deum (On Seeking God, 1445)

De dato patris luminum (On the Gift of the Father of Lights, 1446)

Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (A Defence of Learned Ignorance from One Disciple to Another, 1449)

(Idiota) de sapientia (The Layman of Wisdom, 1450 – Buhle discusses)

Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles Against the Bohemians/Hussites, 1452)

De visione Dei (On the Vision of God, 1453)

De mathematica perfectione (On Mathematical Perfection, 1458)

Cribrationes Alchorani (Cribratio Alkorani, A Scrutiny of the Koran, 1461)

De venatione sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom, 1463)

De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation, 1464 – Cusanus’ last work)

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-6

From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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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.

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Notes
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

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14f

 

14.3 The influence of Neoplatonism

On the profound influence Neoplatonism has had and continues to have on Western culture, Wildberg wrote

It is an undeniable fact, although nowadays rarely acknowledged, that the general outlook and the principal doctrines of the Neoplatonists proved exceedingly influential throughout the entire history of western philosophy. …During the Renaissance, ancient Greek learning, and Neoplatonism in particular, experienced a dramatic revival in the West in the wake of the work of Gemistus Plethon (1355–1452), Bessarion (1403–1472) and, above all, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), whose translation and interpretation of Plato and Plotinus in the second half of the 15th century influenced not only the philosophy, but also the art and literature of the period. It may even be true to say that even more than the writings of Plato and Aristotle themselves Neoplatonic ideas have continued to influence Western thinkers of the idealist persuasion, such as the Cambridge Platonists (who were really Neoplatonists), Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin, to name but a few.1

With regard to the influences on the Hermetica, van den Broek wrote

the philosophical Hermetica were all written in the first centuries of our era, under a strong influence of Greek philosophy and Jewish and Egyptian mythological and theological speculation.2

Chlup expanded

The distinction between the highest principle and Intellect as the first hypostasis derived from it originally appeared in Speusippus, re-surfacing in Platonism around the first century AD possibly under the influence of Neopythagorean speculations (cf. Whittaker 1969 and 1973). Extensive, though thoroughly unsystematic use of this idea was made by the platonising Hermetic treatises (e.g. Corp. Herm. II 14; XI 4; XII 1; XII 14), most of which probably originated in the second century AD.3

In Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper we read

the Hermetica attributed to (Hermes Trismegistus) are certainly of late Alexandrian origin, dating from the time of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics (i.e., the second to the fourth century A.D.). This correct dating of the Hermetica, accomplished by Isaac Casaubon in 1614, accounts for the heavily Platonic and Neoplatonic tone of the Hermetic corpus.4

Magee also acknowledged a significant influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism

(Plotinus claimed) that we possess an astral or aetherial body, which was to become a major tenet of the later Hermetic philosophy and of the contemporary “New Age.”5

In An Introduction to Jacob Boehme there are a number of references to the influence of Neoplatonism on Böhme and theosophy

‘These resonances, in conjunction with perceived pantheistic elements, have prompted suggestions that Boehme drew ultimate inspiration from an ancient theology that embraced currents of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Christian adaptations of the Jewish Kabbalah.’6

‘Taken together, these mediated and directly encountered textual and oral sources explain the other-wise problematic presence in the corpus of a non-university educated shoemaker of sophisticated mystical, apocalyptic, alchemical, astrological, and seemingly Gnostic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic ideas’7

‘Just as writings under the name Paracelsus may have been a conduit for Gnostic vestiges, so too did they channel streams of Neoplatonism. Running from Plotinus through the Florentine Platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), this Neoplatonic current may, in its appropriation and adaptation, partially account for Boehme’s elaboration of a process of emanation during the creation as well as what certain commentators regard as a pantheistic imbued conception of nature.’8

‘The notion of divine powers in nature is Neo-Platonic and patristic. …Nor are Boehme’s multiple worlds new. Nicholas of Cusa, Johannes Reuchlin and Agrippa von Nettesheim could have served as precedents’9

‘It is clear that his (Böhme’s) writings can be located within broader currents: alchemy and alchemical medicine; apocalypticism and prophecy; astrology; heterodox writings; utopian literature; mystical theology, with a particular emphasis on Neoplatonic authors; and spiritual contemplation.’10

On the subject of Hegel’s Idea ‘freely releasing itself’, Magee quotes Schelling having implied that the inspiration for this came from Böhme

most amusingly, we must note the words of Schelling. In a lecture given in the 1830s, Schelling remarks disdainfully, “Jacob Boehme says: divine freedom vomits itself into nature. Hegel says: divine freedom releases nature. What is one to think of this notion of releasing? This much is clear: the biggest compliment one can pay to this notion is to call it ‘theosophical.’”11

Surely less amusing for Magee if he were to consider it – given the singular force of his argument – should be his own view that we must equally note

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.12

Redding recognised the importance and long-standing influence of Neoplatonism in Germany prior and up to Hegel’s time. He writes of a commentary by the nineteen-year old Schelling on Plato’s Timaeus

This work, only recently discovered, has added weight to the thesis of the importance of Platonism and Neoplatonism for the development of the post-Kantian idealism of Schelling and Hegel. …popular forms of Christianity in the German states had long had a deep-running Neoplatonic pantheistic-tending stream which had found expression in heterodox thinkers like Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Jacob Böhme (1575-1624)… In the 1780s Böhme had been taken up by the Catholic philosopher Franz von Baader, and in the 1790s Plotinus himself was being read under the urging of Novalis, who had stressed the proximity of Plotinus’ views to those of Kant and Fichte (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-88).13

On the relationship between Romanticism and Neoplatonism Hannak wrote

In their search for a deeper dimension of being not beyond but rather within reality itself, the Romantics were fascinated by Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic  texts as well as by contemporary Mesmerism.14

red-star

Notes
1. Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/
2. Roelof van den Broek, ‘Hermetism and Gnosticism’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit. 201
3. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., Note, 14
4. Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner in Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), op. cit., 105
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit.,, 118
6. Ariel Hessayon and Sarah Apetrei, ‘Introduction: Boehme’s Legacy in Perspective’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 30-79, 33
7. Ariel Hessayon, ’Boehme’s Life and Times’, Ibid., 80-178, 146
8. Ibid., 150
9. Andrew Weeks, ’Radical Reformation and the Anticipation of Modernism in Jacob Boehme’, Ibid., 179-262, 197-198
10. Ariel Hessayon, ’Jacob Boehme’s Writings During the English Revolution and Afterwards: Their Publication, Dissemination, and Influence’, Ibid., 344-434, 374
11. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 1024
12. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 266
13. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 126
14. Kristine Hannak, ’Boehme and German Romanticism’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 701-776, 726

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14a

 

14. Magee on Hermeticism, Böhme and Hegel

14.1 Magee’s misrepresentation of the Hermetica

My writing in this section is premised on my thesis to this point – that Neoplatonism underwent significant development and adaptation within both pagan and Christian cultures and that the most complex and thorough manifestation of that development and adaptation is the philosophy of Hegel.

Prior to my reading the Hermetica1 I have given Magee high praise for arguing that Hegel was not only influenced by mysticism – the evidence abundant and the influence decisive2 – but that he was a mystic. Magee correctly wrote that it should no longer be possible to treat Hegel as an arch-rationalist, ‘let alone to read him in a non-metaphysical or anti-theological manner.’3 His discussion of Hegel’s mytho-poetic circumscription is insightful and accurate. Magee’s philosophical position is all the more notable given that he is an academic – the great majority of philosophy academics still dutifully parrot the ideological line that Hegel is the patriarch of conceptual reason.

The evidence Magee details of Hegel’s interest in Hermeticism4 throughout his career is undeniable, long-overdue and excellent but the very charge that he makes of other academics, that they wilfully distort and misrepresent that evidence, seeing what they want to see5 applies equally to him in his argument that Hegel’s mysticism is Hermeticist. Magee’s writing on the subject exemplifies the academic ignorance of and hostility towards Neoplatonism and the developments within it, deliberately and grossly misrepresents the Hermetica in order to shoehorn Hegel into the status of ‘Hermeticist’ and fails to recognise the deeply ethical aspect of the philosophies of both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism.

Magee begins Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition with a simple, striking and challenging assertion

Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom – he believes he has found it. …Hegel claims to have arrived at Absolute Knowledge, which he identifies with wisdom. Hegel’s claim to have attained wisdom is completely contrary to the original Greek conception of philosophy as the love of wisdom, that is, the ongoing pursuit rather than the final possession of wisdom6

He states dramatically

Hegel’s thought is not a part of the history of philosophy. It represents an altogether different standpoint, one that represents completed wisdom, not the search for wisdom. Hegel is a wise man offering not Philosophie but Wissenschaft, scientia, episteme. He calls this science of wisdom “speculation” and opposes it to reflection (Reflexion).7

and

Hermeticism replaces the love of wisdom with the lust for power. As we shall see, Hegel’s system is the ultimate expression of this pursuit of mastery.8

There are a number of problems in the above for Magee. Not only has he repeatedly referred to ‘Hegel’s philosophy’ and Hermeticism as philosophy in his writing,9 Magee fails to recognise that the Greek ‘love of wisdom’ was never the arcane abstract divorced from the world so beloved of modern philosophy academics, but that it was centred on their thinking about the world. The ‘first Greek philosopher’ Thales modelled this – the root of ‘wisdom’ is ‘knowledge’.

To lay claim to ‘absolute knowledge’ – capitalised or not – is a philosophical position no less than is a claim to be pursuing ‘wisdom’ or to be the proud possessor of it. Each must be defended. According to his argument, Magee not only implies that one philosophical school – Hermeticism – is the mere expression of a lust for power, he also rejects Neoplatonism, according to my argument and with parallels to Hermeticism from the history of philosophy – a school described by Hegel as the consummation and culmination of Greek philosophy.10

By implication, Magee is denying that what Hegel wrote reflecting the ‘world within’ of consciousness is a complex and deeply subtle philosophical enquiry – a position I do not believe he holds. Again, Magee fails to appreciate the ethical nature of both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism – both of which are focused on the Good as a fundamental principle and a pinnacle of their systems. Both schools contain reflections on the physical world in relation to their world of consciousness.

Magee argues that what he claims is Hermeticism describes Hegel’s system. That he charged Hegel with replacing philosophy with theosophy is particularly noteworthy

Hegel displays the essential characteristic of Hermeticism: the doctrine that God alone is not complete, that He lacks self-knowledge, and that He therefore creates the world as the mirror in which he recognises Himself, specifically through the speculative activity of the Hermetic adept, who by knowing God, allows God to know himself. Hegel claims to be such an adept, having replaced the love of wisdom with the possession of wisdom, philosophy with theosophy.11

Magee repeats this claim over and again12 But in doing so, he deliberately and grossly distorts Hermeticism – specifically, the philosophy in the Hermetica (both the Corpus Hermeticum which he quotes and the Asclepius to which he referred). The following quotation summarises why Magee thinks Hegel was an Hermeticist

Hermeticists not only hold that God requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a crucial role in God’s self-actualisation. Hermeticism holds that man can know God, and that man’s knowledge of God is necessary for God’s own completion. Consider the words of Corpus Hermeticum 10: “For God does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of God. It is ascent to Olympus.” Corpus Hermeticum 11 asks, “Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him.” As Garth Fowden notes, what God gains from creation is recognition: “Man’s contemplation of God is in some sense a two-way process. Not only does Man wish to know God, but God too desires to be known by the most glorious of His creations, Man.” In short, it is man’s end to achieve knowledge of God (or “the wisdom of God,” theosophy). In so doing, man realises God’s own need to be recognised. Man’s knowledge of God becomes God’s knowledge of himself. Thus the need for which the cosmos is created is the need for self-knowledge, attained through recognition. Variations on this doctrine are to be found throughout the Hermetic tradition.13

According to the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, God does not require creation for his completion – he is complete (which is expressed in several ways). Mankind plays no role in God’s ‘self-actualisation’; mankind’s knowledge of God is necessary for mankind’s ‘completion’ – return to divinity. Magee’s partial quotations from Corpus Hermeticum X and XI deliberately misrepresent Hermetic philosophy. Regarding the first quotation, God does not ignore mankind and wishes to be recognised because of his goodness, not from need. ‘Recognition’ (knowledge) of God is mankind’s only deliverance – from evil. The full, substantiating quote reads

For god does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of god. It is ascent to Olympus. A soul becomes good only in this way, (my italics) though it is not good [forever] but becomes evil. By necessity it becomes so.’

“What do you mean, O Trismegistus?”

“Envision the soul of a child, my son, which has not yet accepted its separation from itself; its body has not yet attained its full bulk, {of which it has only a little as yet}. How beautiful it is to look at, from every point of view, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still depending closely from the soul of the cosmos. But when the body gets its bulk and drags the soul down to the body’s grossness, the soul, having separated from itself, gives birth to forgetting, and it no longer shares in the beautiful and the good. The forgetting becomes vice.14

Likewise with Magee’s second quote – the full text, echoing the point of my first quotation reads

And do you say, “god is unseen”? Hold your tongue! Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him. This is the goodness of god, this is his excellence (my italics): that he is visible through all things.15

Magee has quoted from the Corpus Hermeticum in such a way as to incorrectly identify a basis for Böhme’s theosophy and on the back of that, to define Hegel’s mysticism as Hermetic.

The parallels between Neoplatonism and Hermeticism are several. Neoplatonism and Hermeticism are both built on emanation from and return to a source. In both the Enneads and the Asclepius that source is ‘motion motionless’. Where the Enneads have the three hypostases (the One, Intellectual-Principle and All-Soul) and Proclus’ more developed triad within the second hypostasis comprising Being, Life and Intelligence reflected, as I have argued, in the structure of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia and then Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, the Corpus Hermeticum speaks of God, the cosmos as son and human. In both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism there is that same move from first principle to existence to intellect which is the means of return again to a ‘community’.

The potential for the One, which Plotinus described as ‘that self-intellection which takes place in eternal repose’,16 to be known is resolved in Proclus’ triad in which Being is fully a part of the process of knowledge. Cusanus, following him, theorised the knowing of God (13.6.6). Furthermore and again contrary to Magee’s distinction between Plotinus’ One and Hermeticism’s God – a most important point – the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius speak of the knowledge of God as ineffable, the latter of the limited capacity of our consciousness to see ‘great things’.

Both philosophies recognise the centrality of contradiction and change, the fundamental difference overall between them being that Hermeticism is philosophy as myth and aphorism and Neoplatonism philosophy as analysis and argument.

In order to show how and the degree to which Magee misrepresented Hermeticism and the Hermetica (I include here as did Copenhaver in his translation both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius) and to illustrate the parallels between Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, I include quotations from those texts, with my summarising points in italics. I have used two translations for each, the first two by Copenhaver, the second two in turn by Everard (published twenty six years after Böhme’s death) and Mead’s, published in 1906.

Hermetica, Brian P. Copenhaver, 2000

Corpus Hermeticum

I

Concerns how to be saved

II

God gives everything and receives nothing

‘“God has one nature – the good. In god and the good together there is but one kind, from which come all other kinds. The good is what gives everything and receives nothing; god gives everything and receives nothing; therefore, god is [the] good, and the good is god.”’

III

The divine (without mention of ‘human’) is wisdom, a beginning and completion

‘God is the glory of all things, as also are the divine and the divine nature. God, as well as mind and nature and matter, is the beginning of all things that are since he is wisdom meant to show them forth. The divine is also a beginning, and it is nature and energy and necessity and completion and renewal.’

The gods created humans to contemplate and know (not complete) divine power

‘…The gods sowed the generations of humans to know the works of god…And through the wonder-working course of the cycling gods they created every soul incarnate to contemplate heaven, the course of the heavenly gods, the works of god and the working of nature; to examine things that are good; to know divine power…’

IV

God sent man to earth because god is good; man recognised, in astonishment, its maker

‘Because he is good, it was [not] for himself alone that he wished to make this offering and to adorn the earth; so he sent the man below, an adornment of the divine body, mortal life from life immortal. …The man became a spectator of god’s work. He looked at it in astonishment and recognised its maker.’

If a man develops his mind he will be drawn up to god

V

Pray to the father for the grace to enable you to understand god (i.e. god gives one the grace to understand him)

‘You then, Tat, my child, pray first to the lord, the father, the only, who is not one but from whom the one comes; ask him the grace to enable you to understand so great a god, to permit even one ray of his to illuminate your thinking.’

There is nothing that god is not – god gives everything and takes nothing

‘so great is the father of all. …there is nothing in all the cosmos that he is not. He is himself the things that are and those that are not. …There is nothing that he is not, for he also is all that is…You give everything and take nothing. For you have it all, and there is nothing that you do not have. …you are whatever I am; you are whatever I make; you are whatever I say. You are everything, and there is nothing else; what is not, you are as well. You are all that has come to be; you are what has not come to be; you are the mind who understands, the father who makes his craftwork, the god who acts, and the good who makes all things.’

VI

God, the good, is perfectly complete

‘The good, Asclepius, is in nothing except in god alone, or rather god himself is always the good. If this is so, the good must be the substance of all motion and generation (for nothing is abandoned by it), but this substance has an energy about it that stays at rest, that has no lack and no excess, that is perfectly complete, a source of supply, present in the beginning of all things. When I say that what supplies everything is good, I also mean that it is wholly and always good.’

God lacks for nothing
‘God lacks for nothing…Nothing is stronger than god…[nothing is more beautiful] to cause desire in him…nothing is wiser, to make him jealous.’

God is the good

‘The good is in god alone, then, or god himself is the good.’

We need to be reverent and to know god – we have need of the good and the beautiful – of what god is – i.e., we need god, not he us

‘Only one road travels from here to the beautiful – reverence combined with knowledge. …Such, Asclepius, are the good and the beautiful for humans, things we can neither shun nor hate. Hardest of all to bear is that we have need of them and cannot live without them.’

VII

The greatest evil in mankind is ignorance concerning god

God wishes to be seen

‘The greatest evil in mankind is ignorance concerning god’

‘seek a guide to take you by the hand and lead you to the portals of knowledge. There shines the light cleansed of darkness. There no one is drunk. All are sober and gaze with the heart toward one who wishes to be seen…But first you must rip off the tunic that you wear, the garment of ignorance…Such is the odious tunic you have put on. It strangles you and drags you down with it so that you will not…look up and see the fair vision of truth and the good that lies within’

VIII

‘god begins, contains, and composes all things.’

X

God wishes to be seen because he is good but we are not strong enough to open our minds’ eyes and look

‘the good can come to be in none other than him alone who receives nothing but wills all things to be.’

‘god also wishes this seeing to happen…For being recognised is characteristic of the good. …the vision of the good…illuminates to the extent that one capable of receiving the influence of intellectual splendour can receive it. …we are not yet strong enough to open our mind’s eyes and look on the incorruptible, incomprehensible beauty of that good. In the moment when you have nothing to say about it, you will see it, for the knowledge of it is divine silence and suppression of all the senses.(my italics)’

When soul has looked on the beauty of the good it is drawn upwards and deified.

God wants to be recognised so that we may acquire knowledge and become divine

‘The vice of soul is ignorance. …The virtue of soul, by contrast, is knowledge; for one who knows is good and reverent and already divine.’

Everything is the result of contradiction

‘everything must be the product of opposition and contrariety, and it cannot be otherwise.’

The human, too, is not good and because he is mortal, he is evil as well.

There are three – god, the cosmos (son) and the human

‘There are these three, then: god the father and the good; the cosmos; and the human. And god holds the cosmos, but the cosmos holds the human. And the cosmos becomes the son of god, but the human becomes the son of the cosmos, a grandson, as it were.’

God wishes to be recognised so that mankind may be delivered (may ascend) from evil through his knowledge of god

‘For god does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of god. It is ascent to Olympus. A soul becomes good only in this way, though it is not good [forever] but becomes evil. By necessity it becomes so.’

“What do you mean, O Trismegistus?”

“Envision the soul of a child, my son, which has not yet accepted its separation from itself; its body has not yet attained its full bulk, {of which it has only a little as yet}. How beautiful it is to look at, from every point of view, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still depending closely from the soul of the cosmos. But when the body gets its bulk and drags the soul down to the body’s grossness, the soul, having separated from itself, gives birth to forgetting, and it no longer shares in the beautiful and the good. The forgetting becomes vice.”

‘the human, because he moves and is mortal, is evil.’

‘when mind has entered a reverent soul, it leads it to the light of knowledge. Such a soul as this never has its fill of hymning and praising, always blessing all people and doing them good in every deed and word, in memory of its father.

Therefore, my child, one who gives thanks to god must pray to acquire a good mind. …There is a community of souls: the souls of the gods commune with souls of humans, those of humans with souls of unreasoning things. The greater take charge of the lesser…God stands above all things and watches over them.’

Mind unites humans to the gods and all things exist by action of the one

‘The greater take charge of the lesser: gods of humans, humans of living things without reason, and god takes charge of them all. For he is greater than all of them, and all are less than he. Thus the cosmos is subject to god, mankind to the cosmos and unreasoning things to mankind. God stands above all things and watches over them. And energies are like rays from god, natural forces like rays from the cosmos, arts and learning like rays from mankind. Energies work through the cosmos and upon mankind through the natural rays of the cosmos, but natural forces work through the elements, and humans work through the arts and through learning. And this is the government of the universe, dependent from the nature of the one and spreading through the one mind. Nothing is more godlike than [mind], nothing more active nor more capable of uniting humans to the gods and gods to humans; mind is the good demon. Blessed is the soul completely full of mind, wretched the soul completely empty of it.”’

‘we must dare to say that the human on earth is a mortal god but that god in heaven is an immortal human. Through these two, then, cosmos and human, all things exist, but they all exist by action of the one.”’

XI

God’s power does not come from humans, humans exist because of him – they are images of him

‘god’s energy is an insuperable power, not comparable to anything human or divine. …Because he is an energetic power, his autonomy does not come from things that come to be; those that come to be exist by his agency.’

‘God…is what he makes. …All things come to be by the agency of god’

The human is, ultimately, an image of god.

God makes the good necessarily because it is god’s life and movement

‘Just as a human cannot live apart from life, neither can god exist without making the good. For in god this making is life and movement’

‘All things are in god’

‘And do you say, “god is unseen”? Hold your tongue! Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him. This is the goodness of god, this is his excellence: that he is visible through all things.’

XII

(because of mind and reason) ‘humans are mortal gods’

‘And god, who is energy and power, surrounds everything and permeates everything’

God is all and the all permeates everything and surrounds everything

‘in the all there is nothing that he (god) is not. …For god is all. And the all permeates everything and surrounds everything.’

XIII

Concerned with the means for purification and rebirth. It discusses the singing of a hymn of praise to god the one.

XIV
God is all-powerful, not impotent

‘we must understand these two things: what comes to be and who makes it. Between them there is nothing, no third thing.’

‘(Those who do not know god) profane him greatly by imputing to him conditions of disdain and impotence. …in god there is only one condition, the good, but one who is good is not contemptuous or impotent. This is what god is, the good, all power to make all things.’

XVI

God is master, maker, father and container. He is one

‘I shall open the discourse by invoking god, the master, maker, father and container of the whole universe, the all who is one and the one who is all. For the plenitude of all things is one and is in one, not because the one duplicates itself but because both are one.’

Permanence is change

‘the permanence of every body is change’

God is all things and his making is ceaseless

‘all things are parts of god. But if all things are parts of god, then all things are god, and he makes himself in making all things. His making can never cease because he is ceaseless. And as god has no end, so his making has neither beginning nor end.’

XVIII

We praise god to confess our father’s limitless power

‘Moreover, this very fact contributes to god’s renown: that he is greater than his own progeny, and that the preface, beginning, middle and end of our praises are to confess our father’s limitless power and limitless extent. Praising god is in our nature as humans because we happen to be in some sense his descendants’

______

Asclepius

Why were humans put in the world?

In the reply to the question ‘Why then, Trismegistus, should humans have been put in the world?’ is the reply: ‘so great and so good was (god) that he wanted there to be another to admire the one (another god) he had made from himself, and straightaway he made mankind, imitator of his reason and attentiveness. God’s will is itself perfect achievement since willing and achievement are complete for him at one and the same moment of time. After he [had made] mankind ousiōdēs (a divine likeness) and noticed that he could not take care of everything unless he was covered over with a material wrapping, god covered him with a bodily dwelling and commanded that all humans be like this, mingling and combining the two natures into one in their just proportions. Thus god shapes mankind from the nature of soul and of body, from the eternal and the mortal, in other words, so that the living being so shaped can prove adequate to both its beginnings, wondering at heavenly beings and worshipping them, tending earthly beings and governing them.’

‘god…has two images, world and mankind.’

Spirit supplies the world and is subject to the will of god

‘Spirit supplies and invigorates all things in the world; like an instrument or a mechanism it is subject to the will of the supreme god.’

The one, the supreme governor, always begets what he wishes

‘And the whole of it complies with that supreme governor, the master, so that really there are not many, but rather one. In fact, all depend from one and flow from it…he is one and all…god, the only and the all…ever pregnant with his own will, always begets whatever he wishes to procreate.’

God is completely full of all things and wills all that he has

‘God wills nothing in excess since he is completely full of all things and wills what he has. He wills all that is good, and he has all that he wills. All things are good that he considers and wills. Such is god, and the world is his image – [good] from good.’

God is everywhere and surveys everything

‘seated atop the summit of the highest heaven, god is everywhere and surveys everything all around.’

God shows himself by illuminating people with the understanding of mind

‘the father and master of all, who alone is all, shows himself freely to all – not where as in a place nor how as through some quality nor how much as in a quantity but by illuminating people with the understanding that comes only through mind.’

Nothing is stable or fixed other than god who is whole and perfect

‘Nothing in this situation is stable, nothing fixed, nothing immobile among things that come to be in heaven and earth: the lone exception is god, and rightly he alone, for he is whole, full and perfect in himself and by himself and about himself.”’

Our consciousness and capacity to see the things that are in heaven are limited

we humans see the things that are in heaven as if through a mist, to the extent that we can, given the condition of human consciousness. When it comes to seeing great things, our concentration is quite confined, (my italics) but once it has seen, the happiness of our awareness is vast.’

God is everything – all things are from and in him

‘god is everything; everything comes from him; everything depends on his will. …Without god there was nothing, nor is, nor will be, for all things are from him, in him and through him’

Here below, it is the gods who help US

‘here below our gods render aid to humans as if through loving kinship’

The Asclepius concludes with a prayer to god

‘Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to god?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad. To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat god smacks of sacrilege. For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are. (my italics) Rather let us worship him by giving thanks, for god finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

“We thank you, supreme and most high god, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy name that must be honoured, the one name by which our ancestral faith blesses god alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason and understanding…”’

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The Corpus Hermetica, John Everard, 1650

I

v ‘First, God; Secondly, the World; Thirdly, Man.’

vi ‘God is good, Man is evil.’

viii ‘Things upon Earth do nothing advantage those in Heaven, but all things in Heaven do profit and advantage the things upon Earth’

‘What is God? The immutable or unalterable Good. What is Man? An unchangeable Evil.’

II

xxi ‘Holy art Thou Whom Nature hath not Formed. Holy art Thou that art Stronger than all Power. Holy art Thou, that art Greater than all Excellency. Holy art Thou, Who art Better than all Praise. …’

III

xxiii ‘For there were in the Chaos, an infinite darkness in the Abyss or bottomless Depth, and Water, and a subtle Spirit intelligible in Power; and there went out the Holy Light, and the Elements were coagulated from the Sand out of the moist Substance.’

IV

xxvi ‘it is the property of Good to be known’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

xxvii ‘for the present we are less intent to the Vision, and cannot yet open the eyes of our minds to behold the incorruptible, and incomprehensible Beauty of that Good; But then shall we see it, when we have nothing at all to say of it. For the knowledge of it, is a Divine Silence, (my italics) and the rest of all the Senses; For neither can he that understands that understand any thing else, nor he that sees that, see any thing else, nor hear any other thing, nor in sum, move the Body.’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

xxviii ‘For God, and the Father, and Good, is neither spoken nor heard.’ (my italics)

xxxi ‘For God is not ignorant of man, but knows him perfectly, and will be known by him. This only is healthful to man; the Knowledge of God: this is the return of Olympus; by this only the Soul is made good, and not sometimes good, and sometimes evil, but of necessity Good.’

xxxvi ‘Wherefore we must be bold to say, That an Earthly Man is a Mortal God, and That the Heavenly God is an Immortal Man. Wherefore, by these two are all things governed, the Word and Man; but they and all things else, of that which is One.’

V

There is nothing that God has or is not

xli ‘all things are in thee; all things from thee, thou givest all things, and takest nothing; for thou hast all things and there is nothing that thou has not.’

xlii ‘thou art what I am, thou art what I do, thou art what I say. Thou Art All Things and there is Nothing Else Thou art not. Thou Art Thou, All that is Made, and all that is not Made.’

VI

God wants for nothing

xliii ‘And this Essence hath about or in himself a Stable, and firm Operation, wanting nothing, most full, and giving abundantly.’

‘the Good…is present to none, but God alone; for he wanteth nothing, (my italics) that he should desire to have it, nor can anything be taken from him…’

It is mankind that needs

xlvi ‘Mankind has need of the Good (i.e. of god) and cannot live without it.’

VIII

The Eighth Book. ‘That The Greatest Evil In Man, Is The Not Knowing God.’

X

lxxix ‘it is the greatest evil, not to know God.’

XIII

From God comes the World and from the World comes man

‘God is the Father of the World, but the World is the Father of things in the World. And the World is the Son of God, but things in the World are the Sons of the World.’

XVII

cxxi ‘He (God) is stronger, and One, and only knowing all things indeed, as not having any thing more ancient than himself.’

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The Perfect Sermon (The Asclepius), George Robert Stowe Mead, 1906

VIII

God made man to contemplate the world and the things in heaven

xvii

‘(God made the second god [the world/his son]). Accordingly, in that He (God) was so mighty and so fair, He willed that some one else should have the power to contemplate the One He had made from Himself. And thereon He made man, – the imitator of His Reason and His Love.’

‘The Will of God is in itself complete accomplishment; inasmuch as together with His having willed, in one and the same time He hath brought it to full accomplishment.’

xviii

‘(God made man so that he could) admire and worship things in heaven, and cultivate and govern things on earth.’

xix ‘’Tis in the admiration, adoration [and] the praise of men, and [in their] acts of worship, that Heaven and Heaven’s hosts find their delight.’

X

The three Gods of Hermeticism

xxi ‘The Lord of the Eternity is the first God; the second’s Cosmos; man is the third.’

XX

God is all-complete

xl ‘He (God), then, alone, yet all-complete in the fertility of either sex, ever with child of His own Will, doth ever bring to birth whatever He hath willed to procreate.’

XXII

God helps man to hope and effort

xliv ‘as for man, He (God) doth distinguish him from all the other animals by reason and by discipline alone; by means of which men can remove and separate their bodies’ vices, – He helping them to hope and effort after deathlessness.’

XXX

God is full and perfect

lxi ‘Immoveable [is] God alone, and rightly [He] alone; for He Himself is in Himself, and by Himself, and round Himself, completely full and perfect. (my italics) He is His own immoveable stability.’

XXXI

lxii ‘God, then, hath [ever] been unchanging…’

God is motion motionless

lxiii ‘For that (God’s) stability is in His vastness motion motionless; for by His vastness is [His] law exempt from change.’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

For where, and when, and whence, and how, and what, He is, – is known to none. (my italics) …His stability is in Himself [alone]

XXXII

We perceive the things in heaven as through a mist

lxvi And thus it comes to pass for men, that we perceive the things in Heaven, as it were through a mist, as far as the condition of the human sense allows. (my italics)

XLI

God has need of nothing

lxxx …naught is there of which He (God) stands in need, (my italics) in that He is all things, or all are in Him.

XLI

lxxxi (in a prayer addressed to God) ‘Sire, who (endowed us)…with reason that we may track Thee out from the appearances of things; with means of recognition that we may joy in knowing Thee. Saved by Thy Power divine, let us rejoice that Thou hast shown Thyself to us in all Thy Fullness. …For this is the sole festival of praise worthy of man – to know Thy Majesty. …For in the whole of this our prayer in worship of Thy Good, this favour only of Thy Goodness do we crave; – that Thou wilt keep us constant in our Love of knowing Thee, and let us ne’er be cut off from this kind of Life.’

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Notes

1. ‘before the eleventh century…there is no sign of the Corpus as such, although individual treatises were evidently in use as early as the third century CE.’, Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., 70; ‘The Greek Perfect Discourse (Logos teleios) that became the Latin Asclepius…seems to have been written in the latter part of the period in which scholars generally locate the theoretical Hermetica, 100 to 300 CE; most would put C.H. I toward the beginning of that time.’, Ibid., 73
2. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 253
3. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 17
4. Magee quoted Antoine Faivre having written that ‘Hermeticism’ has come to be used ‘to designate the general attitude of mind underlying a variety of traditions and/or currents beside alchemy, such as Hermetism (the religion of the Corpus Hermeticum), Astrology, Kabbalah, Christian Theosophy, and philosophia occulta or magia’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., Note, 8
5. ‘Scholars seize on the negative things Hegel says about Boehme (e.g. that he was a “barbarian”) and assert that Hegel “decisively rejects” him. This really amounts to a wilful distortion. It’s an instance of seeing what one wants to see.’, Magee in an interview by Stanislav Panin, posted 28.12.16, https://academia.fzrw.info/archives/1107; Magee begins an essay by making the point that Hegel scholars have often been eager to minimise Hegel’s strong interest in Böhme ‘and have, in some cases, misrepresented the available evidence’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 527
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 1
7. Ibid., 120
8. Ibid., 8
9. ‘Hegel’s major objection to Boehme is that he expresses ideas in “sensuous” form. In Hegel’s philosophy, this is called Vorstellung (or das vorstellende Denken), often translated into English as “picture thinking”’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 540; ‘The divisions of Hegel’s philosophy follow a pattern that is typical of many forms of mystical and Hermetic philosophy.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 4
10. ‘The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it. Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 202
11. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 255

12. ‘As a Hermeticist…Hegel regards God before creation as incomplete. To complete himself, God must know himself, and the immediate self-cognition God possesses before creation is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge requires mediated re-cognition. It requires that the self see itself reflected in another and recognise itself there.’, Ibid., 257
13. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 9-10
14. Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., 234-235
15. Ibid., 252
16. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xciv, V.4.2

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13w

 

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (concluded)

Cusanus’ contribution to Neoplatonism, as discussed (13.6.2), was based on his overlay of the Trinitarian myth across Proclus’ triad, which triad and adaptation Hegel used in his philosophy to both disguise and illustrate the stages of the Neoplatonic process, better anchoring Neoplatonism in the world, to maximise the mytho-poetic potential of his philosophy1 for the optimal conveyance of its content and to fully explore its potential in conceptual, representational and logical language.

Just as Hegel discussed the syllogism in his Science of Logic, Cusanus did so in De venatione sapientiae

This art [of the syllogism] the master-inventor handed down to an obedient student and gave instruction that he construct syllogisms in accordance with all the modes set before him. To some extent, perhaps, the artistry of the world is like this.2

It would appear from this that Cusanus subscribed to ratio – Hegel’s Verstand. Further, Hopkins wrote in a note to this

Every complete syllogism consists of three propositions: two premises and a conclusion. Each of the propositions has both a subject-term and a predicate-term. The two premises must have one term in common (either both subject-terms or both predicate-terms or the subject-term of one and the predicate term of another) so that altogether there are only three different terms. …3

Yet in the second last paragraph of the final chapter – Chapter 39, ‘Summarising conclusion’, Cusanus indicated how different from academic analysis was the nature of his reasoning

All men, not unjustifiably, praise the great Plato, who ascended [inferentially] from the sun unto wisdom by way of a likeness. Thus too [proceeded] the great Dionysius, who ascended [inferentially] from fire unto God, and from the sun unto the Creator, by means of likenesses-of-properties which he expounds. Likewise also Gregory the Theologian, in his theological orations against the Eunomians, urges that [this ascent] be made, because in this present world—where we know in part and prophesy in part—we must ascend by means of a mirror and a symbolism, as the divine Paul reports.4

Cassirer correctly wrote that

(To formal logic Cusanus objected that the absolute and unconditioned can never be caught in the net of syllogistic logic. …On this basis) every kind of ‘rational’ theology is refuted – and in its place steps ‘mystical theology’.5

Weeks’ point that the tri-unity of God is fundamental to German mysticism6 can be seen in Cusanus’ triad – modelled on that of Proclus

Divinity is Infinite Oneness, Infinite Equality, and Infinite Union—in such a way that in the Oneness there are Equality and Union, in the Equality there are Oneness and Union, and in the Union there are Oneness and Equality.7

The triads of Proclus, Cusanus and Hegel – as does Plotinus’ Intellectual-Principle in its working – all conclude in a perspectival cultus. While absolute truth is beyond one person’s grasp, an infinity of finite ‘minds’ embodies it. It is not we ourselves who know, but rather it is God who knows in us. Cusanus wrote towards the end of De docta ignorantia

Therefore, this union is a church, or congregation, of many in one—just as many members are in one body. each member existing with its own role. (In the body, one member is not the other member; but each member is in the one body, and by the mediation [my italics – cf. Hegel] of the body it is united with each other member. No member of the body can have life and existence apart from the body, even though in the body one member is all the others only by the mediation [my italics] of the body.) Therefore, as we journey here below, the truth of our faith can exist only in the spirit of Christ—the order of believers remaining, so that in one Jesus there is diversity in harmony. …The church cannot in some other way be more one. For “church” bespeaks a oneness of many [members]-— each of whom has his personal truth preserved without confusion of natures or of degrees; but the more one the church is, the greater it is; hence, this church—[viz.J the church of the eternally triumphant— is maximal, since no greater union of the church is possible. …8

Hegel wrote towards the end of his Encyclopaedia Logic

Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea…It is only in (individuals) altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised.9

Of the Idea he wrote

The idea as a process runs through three stages in its development. The first form of the idea is Life: that is, the idea in the form of immediacy. The second form is that of mediation or differentiation; and this is the idea in the form of Knowledge, which appears under the double aspect of the Theoretical and Practical idea. The process of knowledge eventuates in the restoration of the unity enriched by difference. This gives the third form of the idea, the Absolute Idea: which last stage of the logical idea evinces itself to be at the same time the true first, and to have a being due to itself alone.10

Being, Life, Intellect. Science of Logic (Being, Essence, Concept), Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics, Physics, Organics), Philosophy of Mind/Spirit (Subjective Mind/Spirit, Objective Mind/Spirit, Absolute Mind/Spirit). Emanation, perspectival development and return. The roots of the ‘syllogism’ of the German Proclus are not traced through any structure of validity but through Cusanus’ Trinity and Proclus’ triad of triads to Plotinus’ contemplation on the relation between Being, Intellectual-Principle and Living Form.11

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Notes

1. Magee wrote: ‘Hegel claims that the results of theology (true theology) turn out to be indistinguishable from those of philosophy: God is revealed to be the Absolute, and the Christian Trinity to be a figurative way of speaking about the three moments of the Absolute: Logic (or the account of the Absolute Idea), nature and Spirit.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 245-246; again, ‘The Trinity, for Hegel, is a kind of mystic representation of the three moments of speculative philosophy.’, Ibid., 52. ‘Hegel conceives the first moment, the Christian “Father,” as “God in-Himself,” in potentia. God is the eternal Logos; hence, Logic. Exactly as do Eckhart, Cusa, Böhme, and Goethe, Hegel conceives the second moment, the “Son,” as Nature. Through the third moment, Spirit, God achieves full actuality as “objective” and “absolute” Spirit…Spirit is the most adequate “embodiment” of God.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 122. Magee joins Hegel in disguising the influence of Proclus’ triad, of Neoplatonism – in Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, the ‘second moment’ is not the Son (‘Christ’ doesn’t even occur in Book II) but the universe into which is contracted the Trinity (see De docta ignorantia II,127,7 [‘The trinity of the universe’] 75), Christ being the subject of the third book. Hegel’s distortion, as I have discussed (13.6.2.4), is in his wordplay ‘Nature is the son of God, but not as the Son, but as abiding in otherness’ (my italics), Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14. Understood literally, these words are neither Neoplatonic nor Christian. ↩
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 10,4, 1286. The Chapter title is ‘How one is aided by an example from the art of logic.’ ↩
3. Ibid., n. 25, 1359-1360 ↩
4. Ibid., 115,39, 1349 ↩
5. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 12-13 ↩
6. Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 34 ↩
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II,173,17, 252 ↩
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,256,12, 146 ↩
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275 ↩
10. Ibid., 279 ↩
11. Of Hegel’s ‘divine triangle fragment’ of 1804-5 Magee wrote: ‘It seems clear that in this fragment…Hegel is developing the outlines of his philosophical system. And to do so, he is employing the language and style of Boehme. Hegel’s first triangle, “God the Father,” is analogous to the later Logic (with its threefold structure of Being-Essence-Concept), while the second triangle, of the Son or earth (my italics), corresponds to the Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics-Physics-Organics). And the relationship between the two triangles is strikingly similar to the relationship between Hegel’s Logic and Nature: it is the telos of Idea to become embodied as the natural world. (In Hegel’s words, the “Idea of God” becomes “the universe of God.”) In the third triangle, God intuits the Son, or earth (my italics), as himself, and achieves self-consciousness, a moment that approximates the role played by Spirit in Hegel’s mature system. Spirit—human Spirit—brings the system, and reality itself, to completion when it recognises that it itself is the embodiment of Idea, and that all of nature (as well as history) is intelligible as a kind of progressive unfolding of its own being.
What is particularly odd about the triangle fragment is that it is so close to Hegel’s own description in the Lectures of Boehme’s Trinity. We know that during roughly the same period in which he wrote the triangle fragment, Hegel altered his philosophical system from four divisions to the familiar triad of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit—the same triad seemingly depicted in mythic, Boehmean style in the fragment. I would like to suggest the possibility that Hegel’s study of Boehme’s Trinity played a role in helping him to formulate his system as tripartite. I do not mean that Hegel got from Boehme merely the idea of a three-part system. Rather, I am suggesting that it may have been Boehme’s peculiar interpretation of the Trinity that helped Hegel to see specifically how his own system could be unified in a tripartite form.
To put things in the starkest possible terms (and at the risk of repetition), the tripartite system that Hegel eventually arrived at in Jena:
1. begins with the Logic, which expresses a self-related Idea that is nevertheless mere Idea; an inchoate reality (“God in himself”), which then,
2. “freely releases itself” as nature, a scale of forms (described in The Philosophy of Nature), imperfectly expressing or embodying Idea, culminating in,
3. Spirit (the subject of The Philosophy of Spirit), which understands itself as the final flower of all that has gone before—as the fully adequate embodiment of Idea; self-related Idea made flesh in the form of living, human self-awareness.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit. Magee’s description of Hegel’s triangle fits the order and philosophical development of both Proclus’ triad and Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia – both of which Neoplatonic parallels Magee, in his determination to argue the influence of Böhme on Hegel, ignored. I will discuss Magee’s views regarding Hegel, Böhme and Hermeticism next. ↩

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