Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14h


14.4 If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process? (concluded)

At every stage of god as process, what is recounted and asserted in the Hermetica and theosophised by Böhme is speculatively philosophised in Neoplatonism.1 Magee wrote ‘“Nothing may be revealed to itself without opposition,” Boehme tells us.’2 Hegel quoted Böhme

You should know that all things consist of Yes and No, that the One as the Yes is energy and life – it is the energy of God and is God himself. But this truth would itself be unknowable without the No. The No is a counterstroke to…the eternal love. Nevertheless the Yes is not sundered from the No; they are not two things alongside one another, but only one thing. …Without them both, all things would be nothing and would stand still. Without them there is no understanding, for understanding originates in distinctiveness within multiplicity.3

But Hegel knew that someone else had not only told us this but had discussed it in a detailed, speculative manner in his tractate ‘The Knowing Hypostases and the Transcendent’, 1300 years before Böhme. Plotinus begins by asking a question

Are we to think that a being knowing itself must contain diversity, that self-knowledge can be affirmed only when some one phase of the self perceives other phases, and that therefore an absolutely simplex entity would be equally incapable of introversion and of self-awareness?4

He then states the problem

Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition.5

and, after consideration, wrote

The intellective power, therefore, when occupied with the intellectual act, must be in a state of duality, whether one of the two elements stand actually outside or both lie within: the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity, and in the same way its characteristic objects (the Ideas) must stand to the Intellectual-Principle as at once distinct and identical.6

In this discussion is not only the basis of Böhme’s and Hegel’s ‘distinctiveness within multiplicity’ (which Plotinus expanded into thought on subjectivity7) and of their casting of a tripartite theme into many forms8 but the source of mystical negation and speculative development.

Hegel placed great importance on ‘speculative’, thinking this of his philosophy and defining it as

the positively rational (apprehension of) the unity of the determinations in their opposition, the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and in their transition.9

As previously stated, he equated it with ‘mystical’. He also used the concept in relation to the philosophies of Plato10 and Aristotle11 – the same influences of equal importance to his own philosophy as to Plotinus’ – and in relation to the Neoplatonists.12 Conceptual philosophical speculation, however, was what he thought Böhme’s ‘crude’, ‘barbaric’ theosophy reflected a profound craving for.13

Hegel believed that speculative logic in its dialectical, conceptual unfolding is the true vehicle for the account of the Absolute and therefore of self-knowledge. Magee wrote of this ‘science’

(Hegel’s) Logic requires a new form of conceptual thought that even avoids ‘applying‘ concepts to real-word examples, striving instead to understand concepts and their relations in as pure a manner as possible.14

That Hegel believed reason is both a faculty of ‘mind’ and objective in the world has its most abstract expression in this ‘system of pure reason, the realm of pure thought’15 which can be summarised as ‘the conceptual development of God within, manifest in his world without’. As Cusanus wrote in Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’)

The Divine Mind’s Conceiving is a producing of things; our mind’s conceiving is a conceptualising of things. …If all things are present in the Divine Mind as in their precise and proper Truth, then all things are present in our mind as in an image, or a likeness, of their proper Truth. That is, they are present conceptually, for knowledge comes about on the basis of [conceptual] likeness (my italics).16

Hegel’s linking of ‘philosophy’, ‘science’, ‘theology’, ‘religion’ and ‘reason’, finding its culminating expression in the closing quotation from the Metaphysics in his Encyclopaedia17 and his seamless move from a focus on ‘substance’ to one on ‘subject’18 reflects the influence of Aristotle within Neoplatonism, and comparatively very little – primarily the illustrative use of son as nature – that of the Hermetica and the theosophy of Böhme.

Hegel’s structuring his philosophy on Proclus’ triad of triads within a school always open to development, the equal significance to him and Neoplatonism of ‘speculative’ philosophy and the equal significance, again, to him and Neoplatonism of Plato and Aristotle all identify him as of that school, not, as Magee argues, of Hermeticism.

Even Hegel’s description in his Encyclopaedia Logic of his system as one of conceptual circles of reason

Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles.19

echoes Plotinus’ description of his own system

The total scheme may be summarised in the illustration of The Good as a centre, the Intellectual-Principle as an unmoving circle, the Soul as a circle in motion, its moving being its aspiration: the Intellectual-Principle possesses and has ever embraced that which is beyond being; the Soul must seek it still20

Hegel, again echoing Plotinus, with his ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’, believed that ‘nobler natures’ should ‘flee into ideal regions’21 and practise in a religious community of philosopher priests, apart from the world (see 9.8). Magee wrote

Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel concerns the (Hermetic) initiation process…(whereby) initiation seems to fall into two parts, one dealing with self-knowledge, the other with knowledge of God. It can easily be shown, simply on a theoretical level, that these two are intimately wedded. To really know one’s self is to be able to give a complete speech about the conditions of one’s being, and this involves speaking about God and His entire cosmos.22

But here, too, Chlup puts the Neoplatonic position, writing that the main function of their theurgy was initiatory.23 Of Proclus’ Platonic Theology he stated

One scholar (Rappe 2000: 170-1) has even attributed an initiatory quality to the text: ‘the system that it supposedly conveys is more like a ritual invocation or theurgic rite than a handbook of metaphysics…Like the statues of the theurgists, this text is meant to become enlivened through the invocations of the gods that form its itinerary.’24

Why has Magee argued as he has, misrepresenting the Hermetica and utterly refusing to consider the possibility that Hegel may have been other than an Hermeticist, a Neoplatonist? Hegel’s philosophy, though (as Magee wrote) mytho-poetic, is far more than myth – its range and the Logic are evidence of this. It fully develops and fleshes out the system of conceptual artistry that is the Enneads, drawing on the same Greek philosophical tradition of detailed rationality.

Magee’s use of the time-worn description of Marxism as Hegel’s ‘bastard’ points to a motive – that Neoplatonism always was the school that best explicates the world of change – prior to Marx, that in consciousness and after, in objective reality. I will pass, Magee will pass, the bourgeoisie that employs him will pass – individually and as a class. Nothing remains but material change…and nothing can stop it.

The heyday of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘Modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’ (equally aimed at undermining our trust in our senses and our belief that we know the world) have passed and the ideologues of the bourgeoisie have been forced, under the very pressure of change that produced Hegel and saw the absorption of his philosophy into materialism, now dialectical, to address mysticism. Hermeticism and other similar ‘esoteric’ belief systems25 offer them yet another way out – philosophy as myth, as account, as subjectivity, as sacred, ancient authority – philosophy still suffused with ‘God’, still focussing on consciousness, on what is secondary.


1. ‘unlike the ancient theologians of Israel and Egypt, the Neoplatonists did not think that the universe could spring from the deity directly and in a way that surpasses all understanding, for example by being thought and spoken into existence. Their more refined view was that reality emerged from “the First” in coherent stages, in such a way that one stage functions as creative principle of the next.’, Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/ op. cit.; ‘the Plotinian path is indeed a philosophy, and not only a form of mysticism, insofar as this process of purification is an arduous intellectual and ethical path’, Gwenaëlle Aubry, ‘Plato, Plotinus, and Neoplatonism’, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 191-222, 209-210
2. Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 532
3. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 102
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.1
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., V.3.10
7. ‘Then, again, in the assertion “I am this particular thing”, either the “particular thing” is distinct from the assertor – and there is a false statement – or it is included within it, and, at once, multiplicity is asserted: otherwise the assertion is “I am what I am”, or “I am I”.’, Ibid. See 8.4.2. Magee relayed Hegel’s discussion of Böhme’s theology on this point: ‘The Son is the great Separator, who takes the qualities and powers that are bound into one within God the Father and “separates” them so that God comes face-to-face with himself. …(quoting Hegel) “This is the highest profundity of thought of Jacob Boehme. …Indeed Boehme has here penetrated into the entire depth of the divine being; evil, matter, or however it is called, is the I=I, the being-for-self – this is the true negativity.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, 587-588; Magee wrote ‘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.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 257; again, ‘Fichte, in his Foundations of Natural Right (1797), argued that opposition is a necessary condition of self-consciousness—specifically the opposition of other self-conscious human beings. So, it is unlikely that Hegel derived this view from Böhme’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 586-587. Magee elsewhere claimed that Fichte and Hegel ‘are merely Böhme’s followers in this regard’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 138
8. ‘Boehme says: “Heaven and Hell are as far from each other as are Ichts and nothing (ens and non ens), as day and night.” He casts this theme into many forms’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 101. The Note adds ‘Hegel…probably has in mind Philo and Plotinus’, Ibid., Note 46
9. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 268
10. ‘Plato’s speculative dialectic – something that originates with him – is the most interesting but also the most difficult [element] in his work; those who study Plato’s writings often do not become versed in it.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 198
11. ‘this is where Aristotle becomes properly philosophical and at the same time highly speculative.’, Ibid., 233; ‘This, then, is the pinnacle of the Aristotelian metaphysics – the most speculative thought there can be.’, Ibid., 254
12. When discussing the philosophy of Proclus Hegel wrote ‘In its proper sense “mystical” means “speculative”. The mystical or speculative [task] consists in comprehending as a unity these distinctions (i.e. Proclus’ three triunities) that are defined as totalities, as gods. The expression “mystical” does in fact occur frequently in the Neoplatonists for whom (Greek word) means none other than “to consider speculatively”. The religious mysteries too are secrets to the abstract understanding, and it is only for rational, speculative thinking that they are object or content.’, Ibid., 344-345; ‘Hegel here has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80.
13. ‘we cannot fail to see the profound craving for speculation which existed in this man.’, quoted in Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589; ‘Hegel…stated in print that he and Baader shared the goal of translating Böhme’s eccentric, sensualistic theosophy into “scientific” terms.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 48
14. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit,. 189
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 50
16. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 72, 543
17. ‘Hegel speaks of Absolute Idea as ‘the Idea that thinks itself’ (EL #236), and he explicitly likens it to Aristotle’s concept of God. ‘This is the noesis noeseos [thought thinking itself] which was already called the highest form of the Idea by Aristotle (EL #236 A).’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 100
18. ‘In Absolute Knowing the drive to totally grasp the object, and to annul the subject-object distinction will be realised. Absolute Knowing will be the total grasp of the only true, unique individual there is: the Absolute. In Aristotelian terms, it is the grasp of true being or substance. But in Hegel’s thought substance has become subject: “what seems to happen outside of [the self], to be an activity directed against it, is really its own doing, and substance shows itself to be essentially subject” (MIller, 21; PG, 28).’, Ibid., 171
19. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., §15
20. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.16
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
22. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 10-11
23. ‘Conspicuous as the external theurgic operations might have been, for the Neoplatonists they were the less significant part of their hieratic art. Its main function was transformative and initiatory. Theurgy played a part in the ascent of the soul, allowing the induction of higher states of consciousness unattainable by pure philosophy.’, Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 173
24. Ibid., 38
25. ‘“Esotericism” refers to a number of theories, practices, and approaches to knowledge united by their participation in a premodern, largely pagan worldview. …Further, esotericists typically believe that (their) truths and practices are of the greatest antiquity – perhaps once widely disseminated and openly proclaimed, but now (and for a great many centuries) hidden and preserved by a few special individuals or schools. Discovery in esotericism is almost always rediscovery.’, Magee, Editor’s Introduction, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 19-83, 57-58

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14g


14.4  If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process?

There are five approaches to ‘god’ under discussion in this thesis: the Neoplatonic, that of the Hermetica, the Christian, the Böhmean and the Hegelian. I have shown through my use of quotations (14.1, 14.2) that the gods of the Hermetica and Christianity (of Eckhart and Cusanus) are complete – that although in these belief systems god creates process – the means of our acquiring knowledge and of our return to divinity – he, perfect and requiring nothing, is not part of that process other than being its desired goal. But the god of Böhme and Hegel is not only part of that process, he is the process. My argument in this thesis is that the source for this in Hegel’s philosophy (as in Böhme’s theosophy) could only be Neoplatonism, which itself was always a work in progress.

One reason for warranting its recognition as the greatest school of Greek philosophy is both the willingness and capacity of those who subscribed to it to absorb into and unite with it the thought of other schools and philosophers from across the breadth of Greek philosophy and beyond and to rework that philosophy itself. In addition to the primary influences of Plato and Aristotle1 on Plotinus (as on Hegel), Henry tells us

From all his adversaries, Peripatetics, Stoics, Middle-Platonist eclectics, even from the Gnostics, (Plotinus) borrows what he is perhaps overconfident in thinking that he can accommodate within his own restrained and concordant system.2

Hegel also recognised this willingness to absorb, describing Plotinus equally as a Neoplatonist and a Neoaristotelian3 and Neoplatonism as an ‘eclectic school’.4 While Neoplatonism was itself absorbed into Christianity,5 particularly, as Dodds noted, in the form of Proclus’ triad,6 it never lost its Greek rationality, retaining a key conceptual difference between the first element of that triad (Being) and the God of Christianity – where the sub-triad of the former is only completed at the end of the process of emanation and return, the latter is always the eternally perfect and complete goal of the process which He created.

Magee, implicitly recognising the developmental nature of Neoplatonism7 then wrote that

(For Plotinus) the One is in no way completed by the return. Proclus, however, follows the Hermetica in teaching that the One must emanate creation in order to be complete.8

Neither any requirement for god’s completion nor even mention of Proclus’ triad (of triads) is in the Hermetica – both these points exemplify Proclus’ obsession with and use of triadic conceptual structure (which Hegel retained) and the influence, as Chlup has argued, of the eastern Neoplatonists. Again, Magee repeats Hegel’s error in his discussion of Proclus on the one and the many9 – an error which, as I have argued (7.ff.), indicates what Hegel did in his own Neoplatonism (repeatedly referring to Being as the One and God and making it not merely the primary creative element in the second hypostasis as did Plotinus but, by conflating the first hypostasis into the second, the primary creative element in his all-encompassing system of knowledge). Proclus, however, followed Plotinus in keeping the first hypostasis distinct from the second, the One distinct from the many, as I have shown (7.2).

Even though Magee wrote both that Hegel (correctly) believed he had not modelled his philosophy on the Trinity, it being a ‘sensuous image’ and anticipation of true philosophy, as Böhme’s theosophy also was to him, and that Hegel ‘saw much of himself in Proclus’10 (as did Feuerbach11), he still weakly concluded

Of course, this may be an instance (of which there are many) of a philosopher failing sufficiently to understand himself.12


1. ‘(Plotinus) followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle’s Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire. …At the Conferences he used to have treatises by various authors read aloud – among the Platonists it might be Severus or Cronius, Numenius, Gaius, or Atticus; and among the Peripatetics Aspasius, Alexander, Adrastus, or some such writer, at the call of the moment.’, Porphyry, ‘On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of His Work’ in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., cii-cxxv, cxii. Porphyry tells a tale exemplifying Plotinus’ strong disagreement with the position that a student of philosophy should unreservedly submit to their teacher, Ibid., cxiii
2. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., lxxv
3. ‘We can call Plotinus a Neoplatonist and, with equal justification, call him a Neoaristotelian. With him we find multiple elucidations of one and the same main idea, quite in the Aristotelian manner. …The main thing is that we must not take him as being opposed to Plato and Aristotle. He also drew upon the thinking and the logos of the Stoics.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 334
4. ‘It is customary to use the name ‘eclectic school’ expressly for this Alexandrian school. …Neoplatonic or Alexandrian philosophy does not constitute one particular school over against the others; instead it united all principles within itself, but in a higher, authentic, way.’, Ibid., 330; ‘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
5. ‘At the same time (Plotinus) is a mystic, and as such perhaps a greater inspiration for Western philosophy and for the Christian religion than even Plato himself. His whole oeuvre is infused with the powerful dynamism of “the desire of the soul for God”. This he may owe to the strong religious ethos of the time, partly to Near-Eastern influence, partly again to the pantheistic and “devout” trends in Stoicism…It was left to the Christian Church, the authentic heir to what is best in Plotinus’ teaching, to combine harmoniously in reflective thought the Biblical revelation, Plato’s interest in man as a member of society, and Plotinus’ interest in him as a person proceeding from God and striving towards oneness with the One.’, Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., lxxv
6. ‘The triad immanence – procession – reversion had a considerable history. Ps. Dion. applies it to the divine love (Div. Nom. 4. 14); Psellus to the Christian Trinity (C.M.A.G. VI. 165. 36 ff.)’, Dodds’ commentary to Prop. 35, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 221. Prop 35 reads ‘Every effect remains in its cause, proceeds from it, and reverts upon it. For if it should remain without procession or reversion, it will be without distinction from, and therefore identical with, its cause, since distinction implies procession. And if it should proceed without reversion or immanence, it will be without conjunction or sympathy with its cause, since it will have no communication with it. …’
7. ‘Hegel admires Proclus as a “profoundly speculative man” and states that with him the Neoplatonic philosophy “has at last reached a more systematic order” (LHP 2:434, 435; Werke 19:468, 469). What Hegel seems to admire chiefly in Proclus is his use of the dialectic and the triadic form.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 21
8. Ibid.
9. ‘Proclus attempts to demonstrate, according to Hegel, “the many as one and the one as many,”’, Ibid.
10. ‘In short, Hegel sees much of himself in Proclus.’, Ibid.
11. ‘What is imagination and fantasy with the neo-Platonists, Hegel has merely transformed into the concept, or in other words, rationalised. Hegel is not the “German or Christian Aristotle”; he is the German Proclus. “Absolute philosophy” is the reborn Alexandrian philosophy. According to Hegel’s explicit characterisation, it is not the Aristotelian nor the ancient pagan philosophy in general, but that of the Alexandrian school that is absolute (although still resting on abstraction from concrete self-consciousness) and Christian philosophy (albeit mixed with pagan ingredients).’, Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of Philosophy of the Future, 1843, Part II: Critique of Hegel, §29 Abstract and Concrete, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/feuerbach/works/future/future1.htm
12. ‘Hegel believed that he himself had not modelled his philosophy on the Trinity. He held that the true form of philosophy resembles the Trinity simply because the Trinity is an anticipation of true philosophy, in the form of a sensuous image. Of course, this may be an instance (of which there are many) of a philosopher failing sufficiently to understand himself.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit. 584

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14e


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

Hegel not only gave very high praise to Böhme for his recognition of the Trinity as a universal principle and of the necessity of ‘contrariety’, he also repeatedly made the strongest criticisms of his theosophy, for two fundamental reasons – Böhme’s failure and inability to appreciate the conceptual nature of philosophy, manifest in his dependence on sensory imagery1 – a claim which could equally be made of Hermeticism

(Böhme’s articulation of his main thoughts) is unmistakably barbarous, and in order to put his thought into words he employs powerful, sensuous images such as Salitter, Tincture, Essence, Qual, Schrack, and the like.2

and, on this conceptual basis, Böhme’s primitive grasp of the nature of contradiction

Böhme grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion3

Magee, following Hegel, also made the same fundamental criticisms of Böhme,4 further writing

Hegel treats the parallels between his thought and Boehme’s as merely, it would seem accidental: Boehme anticipates much in modern, speculative philosophy. But Hegel never once says anything that would indicate that he is indebted to Böhme or that Böhme in some way influenced him.5

Despite these criticisms and Hegel’s never once acknowledging any debt to Böhme, Magee persists in arguing for that debt and, as he sees it, its extent, but completely fails to explore and expand on his most significant references to Cusanus – another whom Hegel not only never expressed any debt to but even knowledge of, despite the far greater number of parallels between their work (see 13.6 for a summary of them), including their equal emphasis on the abstract, conceptual nature of philosophy, their exploration of contradiction on that basis, their equal regard for Proclus and their Trinitarian triad of triads, none of which are Hermetic or in Böhme’s theosophy.

Magee cites Rosenkranz having pointed out Hegel’s interest in medieval German Christian mystics, starting from his time in Berne,6 and Magee over and again positions Schelling as the link of influence between Böhme and Hegel

Schelling was, of course, an enthusiastic reader of Böhme and Oetinger and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest in theosophy.7

But with regard to the relationship between Schelling and Cusanus, and the possibility of a far greater significance to Hegel of Cusanus than Böhme, Magee, simply quoting Beck,8 made this extraordinary comment

‘Schelling…we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas (my italics).’ Beck also makes the claim that the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as theosophy and Protestant mysticism, have their roots in Cusa.9

Other than Beck and Magee, all the academics tell us that neither Hegel nor any of the German idealists knew of Cusanus – then suddenly, en passant, Magee tells us that Schelling not only knew of him and read him, but was influenced by him! How, logically, might his then close friend Hegel and their intellectual milieu which Schelling was at the centre of have been influenced as a result of Schelling’s reading of Cusanus? Magee doesn’t even question this – he only offers us a further enticement in a footnote.10 Simply…nothing more. Why so profuse on Böhme and so brief on Cusanus?

It should have been all the more pressing for Magee to investigate this relationship between Schelling and Cusanus since he named Cusanus in his discussion of speculation – a core concept for Hegel – writing not only that Cusanus associated the word with the Latin ‘speculum’, for mirror,11 that ‘Schelling and Hegel…picked up the term (from whom?) and both use it in a positive sense’,12 but that in his use of the concept, Hegel

has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.13

Likewise, Cusanus’ use of Absolute in his philosophy

Schelling’s use of ‘Absolute’ is remarkably similar to Cusa’s. For Schelling, the Absolute is the ‘indifference point’ beyond the distinction of subject and object, or any other distinction.14

It is as though Schelling’s (and Hegel’s) use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun is nothing but a ‘remarkable’ coincidence to Cusanus’ use of it. Despite incorrectly attributing the first use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun, in reference to the ultimate principle, to Cusanus (instead of Plotinus),15 Magee himself implies a continuum from Cusanus through Schelling to Hegel

Hegel accepts Schelling’s conception of the Absolute as beyond the subject–object distinction16

Of Hegel’s approach to ‘Absolute’ Magee wrote

I believe that Hegel was aware of the fact that Boehme’s doctrine was unique in the history of mysticism, precisely in its rejection of God as an ineffable Absolute.17

This rejection of the ultimate principle as an ineffable Absolute had been explored throughout the long, developmental history of Neoplatonism, from Plotinus onwards, as I have shown. Cusanus was one who had done this and I have argued that Hegel was well-acquainted with his work. It would be far easier for such a supremely ambitious and political (as Magee has shown, both re- Hegel’s interest in Hermeticism and in his discussion of Hegel’s relations with Baader) person as Hegel was to acknowledge and focus attention on one of far lesser ability (Böhme) than on another also of genius (Cusanus) – to whom, given the parallels in their philosophies, he knew he was greatly indebted.18

Magee compounds his errors in his discussion of ‘the true is the whole’

Immediately after writing “The true is the whole,” Hegel states: “But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development.” The developmental, organic understanding of the nature of the Absolute was, as far as Hegel and the other idealists knew, original with Jakob Boehme and his school.19

If he has any concern for historical accuracy and giving credit where it is due – particularly with regard to one of the West’s greatest and most influential philosophers, rather than constructing a fanciful moat of uneducated Teutonic purity around one of Plotinus’ countless derivatives,20 Magee should make the time to study the Enneads. Not only, as I have indicated, did Plotinus repeatedly use ‘Absolute’ in reference to the ultimate principle – which Hegel called both ‘God’ and ‘the One’ – in his tractate ‘Nature, Contemplation, and the One’, translated by Creuzer in 1805, he wrote of Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind, Divine-Intellection), 1300 years before Böhme took first breath

(In) the true and first universe (of Intellect)…each part is not cut off from the whole; but the whole life of it and the whole intellect lives and thinks all together in one, and makes the part the whole and all bound in friendship with itself, since one part is not separated from another and has not become merely other, estranged from the rest; and, therefore, one does not wrong another, even if they are opposites. And since it is everywhere one and complete at every point it stays still and knows no alteration; for it does not make as one thing acting upon another. For what reason could it have for making, since it is deficient in nothing?21

Armstrong wrote

Plotinus’s World of Forms is an organic living community of interpenetrating beings which are at once Forms and intelligences, all “awake and alive,” in which every part thinks and therefore in a real sense is the whole; so that the relationship of whole and part in this spiritual world is quite different from that in the material world, and involves no sort of separation or exclusion. This unity-in-diversity is the most perfect possible image of the absolute unity of the One22

Magee cites Böhme and Hegel using other Cusan and Neoplatonic terminology – ‘Böhme holds that nature is an unfolding of the dynamic “eternal nature” contained within God’,23 “Böhme wrote of the ‘contracted being’ of God”;24 Magee quotes Hegel using the expression ‘point of contraction’ – “the Ego is ‘contracted’ into its primordial self-relation” adding “This brings to mind the doctrine of the ‘coincidence of opposites’ in Eckhart, Cusa, and other mystics”25

Magee is continually pushing for his claim to be accepted:

The 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion introduce a doctrine of the ‘immanent Trinity’ clearly inspired by Böhme’s initial triad of ‘source-spirits.’ …In sum, all the evidence indicates that Hegel’s Hermeticism was no mere folly of youth, abandoned with maturity (my italics).26

What is so striking (in his early writing) is how indebted Hegel obviously is to Hermeticism. The chief debt is clearly to Böhme (my italics).27

Hegel did go on to employ some Boehmean expressions and now and then what can be characterised as a vaguely Boehmean ‘style’ (my italics).28

But of the full details, nature and extent of the direct influence Magee tells us Cusanus had on Schelling, he shows not the least interest in pursuing.


1. Magee commented on both of these – ‘(Hegel believed) Philosophy is purely conceptual, whereas religion uses “picture-thinking”: myths, allegories, images, and the like.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 580 and ‘Hegel is unambiguous in sharply rejecting Boehme’s “picture thinking.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 258
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 103
3. Ibid.
4. ‘Böhme does not present philosophical arguments.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 45; ‘Boehme’s methodology is to argue by analogy from human psychology to theology’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, 539
5. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 106; “David Walsh writes that Jena in Hegel’s day ‘had become the focal point of the German Romantic movement, and many of its greatest figures were assembled there, including Tieck, Novalis, Schelling, F. Schlegel, and A.W. Schlegel. Within that company an intense centre of interest was formed by their rediscovery of the German mystical tradition. For the first time the works of the great medieval and Reformation mystics were becoming widely available within their native land.’”, Ibid., 133
7. Ibid., 134; ‘Schelling himself was an avid reader of Böhme and Oetinger, and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest.’, Ibid., 3 etc.; Magee’s stance, revelatory of his class perspective, on the degree of parental significance he attributes to Böhme – both with regard to a resulting bastardy and modernity – is exemplified by the following: ‘Boehmean ideas were communicated to Hegel by Schelling in Jena, and they exercised a strong influence on him. Arguably it is through Hegel – whose bastard children include Marxism, existentialism, and certain strains of modern conservatism – that Boehme has had his greatest influence: not just on the history of ideas, but on the formation of the modern world.’, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 525-526
8. ‘(Cusanus’) theory of the polarity but unity of man, God, and nature is elaborated by Schelling (who, we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas).’, Beck, Early German Philosophy, op. cit., 71. Also, as previously quoted, ‘when Nicholas of Cusa made God the coincidence of opposites, (he) set a pattern which Böhme accepted and Hegel rationalised (my italics) by seeing the Absolute as itself a dialectic process, not an Eleatic product of dialectic.’, Ibid., 156. Beck’s position on the influence of theosophy and Protestant mysticism directly contradicts Magee’s: ‘theosophy, and Protestant mysticism…this stream did not lead to the most significant work in philosophy.’ Ibid., 71
9. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
10. ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno. See Walsh, Boehme and Hegel, 326.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
11. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid., 221
14. Ibid., 19
15. ‘Like Eckhart, Cusa would teach that God is the coincidence of opposites. (He was also the first author to refer to God as Absolutum.)’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 26
16. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 273
17. Ibid., 272
18. I will address the influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism and Böhme soon.
19. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 276
20. ‘(Böhme’s) thought is, as Hegel observed, genuinely Germanic and (as Faivre points out) owes nothing to classical sources. It is thoroughly Teutonic in character; earnest and unsophisticated, utterly lacking in irony or literary pretensions of any kind.’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 526
21. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. III, III.2.1
22. Ibid., vol. I, xxi
23. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 168
24. Ibid., 163
25. Ibid., 82
26. Ibid., 256
27. Ibid., 110
28. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 590

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14b


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

Magee wrote

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

Six pages prior to this he had written

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magee continues, asking

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

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

Hegel quoted him on God

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

wrote of his Son that he is

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

and quoted him again on Spirit, that it is

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

Magee wrote that it

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

and that

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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


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


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


Concerns how to be saved


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.”’


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…’


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


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.’


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.’


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’


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


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.”’


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.’


(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.’


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

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.’


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.’


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’



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…”’


The Corpus Hermetica, John Everard, 1650


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.’


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. …’


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.’


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.’


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.’


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.’


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


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


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.’


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


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


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


‘(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.’


‘(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.’


The three Gods of Hermeticism

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


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.’


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.’


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.’


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]


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)


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.


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.’



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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13p


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

Neoplatonism, from its outset, was a school of amalgamation and development.1 The same explicative process that the relation between infinity and finitude underwent can be seen in conceptual development – from Plotinus’ ‘impressions’ (a term Cusanus also used) to Cusanus’ concepts in their coincidental relationships to Hegel’s full development of concepts in their dialectical relationships and in the degree to which God/Absolute Truth can be known. Where Plotinus emphasised the One’s unknowability by normal cognition Proclus, while consistent with him also more systematically explored the potential for knowledge up to the first hypostasis with his henads, beginning with Being (Prop. 138), the first element of his secondary triad.

Cusanus, despite Hopkins’ assertion that he believed ‘human minds…will never—not even in the next life—be able to discern God’s nature as it is in itself’2 was ambivalent about the extent to which we can acquire knowledge (which I will soon address) while Hegel claimed to have closed the gap of cognition, reducing the One to a prose-poetic device that functioned entirely within the Proclean triad. Differences between Hegel and his predecessors are not fundamental but developmental.

Again, particularly in relation to what can be known/cognised, the language of Neoplatonism, redolent with prose-poetic devices, should never be taken literally. Hopkins himself gave three examples where it appears Cusanus contradicted himself but, from his mystical point of view, was consistent

Nicholas’s terminology is quite fluid. No example of this fluidity is more striking than is his language of coincidentia oppositorum: (1) God, says Nicholas, is the Coincidence of opposites; (2) opposites coincide in God; and (3) God is beyond the coincidence of opposites. However, Nicholas does not understand different things by these three different statements. On the contrary, he regards them as interchangeable. Accordingly, their apparent surface-meaning is not the same as their deeper true-meaning. Because God is the Coincidence of opposites, He may be called by opposing names, as in the case of Motion and Rest. Because opposites coincide in God, there is no opposition in Him, and, thus, all names to which other names are opposed may be denied of Him. Because God is beyond the coincidence of opposites, He is ineffable, and no names, whether positive or negative, at all befit Him.3

The same mystical reasoning applies to Cusanus’ assertion that we can’t know absolute truth and Hegel’s that we can. They were ultimately arguing the same thing – their philosophies describe Neoplatonic emanation and return, from infinite unity to division and finitude, to return and resolution in the unity of an infinity of finite perspectival minds in a cultus.

Rather than being, as Buhle wrote of Cusanus’ God, a logical concept4, or as Jaspers wrote, an ‘intellectual object’ that can only be seen ‘without seeing’5, it is, for both Cusanus and Hegel a ‘logical’, Neoplatonic process

the process of constituting…distinctions within himself. It is his nature and his concept eternally to make these distinctions and at the same time to take them back into himself6

Of ‘logical’, Redding wrote

it is clear that Hegel means something quite different by the term ‘logic’ than is meant in the ‘formal’ logic dominant in contemporary philosophy, but exactly what it is committed to beyond that is far from clear.7

In fact, it is quite clear that its meaning and what is committed to are theological – neither Cusanus nor Hegel separated faith from reason (an obvious contradiction in terms blithely accepted in academic philosophy) and for both, God is what God does.8

For the Neoplatonist, ‘mind’ (not only the power of perception, understanding and reasoning but of imagining) performs its operations in order to know itself. In performing those operations it not only knows itself but, as an image of eternal unfolding Being, as the mirror of God’s ‘Mind’, it knows the immanent God itself

when, as best it can, the human mind (which is a lofty likeness of God) partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, [which are made] in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a surmised [rational] world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world.9

and, for the Neoplatonist

the more subtly the mind contemplates itself in and through the world unfolded from itself, the more abundantly fruitful it is made within itself, since its End is Infinite Reason. Only in Infinite Reason will the mind behold itself as it is10

For Cusanus, our ‘minds’, again as images of God, are not only an Absolute Oneness, but triune

just as the First Beginning of all things, including our minds, is shown to be triune (so that of the multitude, the inequality, and the division of things there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth), so our mind (which conceives only an intellectual nature to be creative) makes itself to be a triune beginning of its own rational products.11

Hegel rebadged this

We know, in terms of our own spirit, that first of all we are able to think without this antithesis or cleavage within us, that secondly we are finite spirit, spirit in its cleavage and separation, and that thirdly we are spirit in the state of sensibility and subjectivity, of return to self – [which is] reconciliation, innermost feeling. Of these three, the first is the realm of universality; the second, the realm of particularity; the third, that of singularity. These three realms are a presupposition that we have taken up as our definition.12

Hegel wrote that Böhme had the idea that the Trinity is in everything13, which Magee repeated14 – although he also wrote that Hegel never expressed indebtedness to Böhme15 and, most importantly, that Böhme’s Trinity functions differently to that of Hegel16. I contend that developments in Neoplatonism on this subject were the inspiration for both Böhme and Hegel17.

The nature of the relationship between ‘mind’ and God, embodied in the concluding and culminating words in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia – his quotation from the Metaphysics 1072b18-30 resonates in the words of Cusanus

mind uses itself insofar as it is the image of God. And God, who is all things, shines forth in mind when mind, as a living image of God, turns to its own Exemplar and assimilates itself thereto with all its effort. In this way the mind beholds all things as something one and beholds itself as an assimilation of that one. By means of this assimilation it makes concepts of that one thing which is all things. (In this way it makes theological speculations.) In the one thing which is all things it very tranquilly finds rest as in the goal of all its concepts and as in the most delightful true being of its life. About this mode [of being], enough could never be said18.



1. ‘Heir to the great philosophies of the ancient world, those of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, (Plotinus) borrowed from all of them the insights which he needed, but without surrendering at any point the dominant influence of Platonism. Eclectic in appearance but powerfully unified by the strength of a single pervading impulse, his system has, by various channels often obscure and often indirect, come to be and remained one of the guiding forces in the thought of the West, whether Christian or secular, from Augustine and Scotus Eriugena to Dean Inge and Bergson. He is the last great philosopher of antiquity, and yet in more than one respect, and notably in the stress which he places on the autonomy of spirit, he is a precursor of modern times.’ Henry, in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xlii
2. Hopkins in De Deo abscondito (‘On the Hidden God’), op. cit., Note 1, 308
3. Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: volume two, op. cit., 59-60
4. See 13.4.1
5. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 139
6. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 171
7. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 150
8. Hegel famously wrote that philosophy is the service and explication of God – ‘philosophy is theology, and one’s occupation with philosophy…is of itself the service of God.’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 153, 152, 84; ‘(The subject of the theology of coincidence) is God’s activity – by telling what God does, it tells what God is, for God is hidden except as God reveals Godself.’, Bond in Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, op. cit., 35
9. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,1,5, 164-165
10. Ibid., 1,1,5, 165
11. Ibid., 1,1,6, 165. ‘In God all things are present in a trinity – and so too in our mind. Our mind is composed of modes of apprehending.’, Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., Chapter title, 532. ‘Modes of apprehending’ is one of Cusanus’ expressions Hegel used: ‘the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth. It is the sole subject matter and content of philosophy. Since it contains all determinateness within it, and its essential nature is to return to itself through its self-determination or particularisation, it has various shapes, and the business of philosophy is to cognise it in these. Nature and spirit are in general different modes of presenting its existence, art and religion its different modes of apprehending (my italics) itself and giving itself an adequate existence. Philosophy has the same content and the same end as art and religion; but it is the highest mode of apprehending (my italics) the absolute Idea, because its mode is the highest mode, the Notion.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824. To repeat the point made at 11.3.11, this quotation exemplifies Hegel’s application of the Neoplatonic metaphor of ‘shape’ to the ultimate category in his Science of Logic.
12. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 273
13. ‘(Böhme’s) sole thought is the Trinity: it is the universal principle in which and through which everything is, and it is indeed that principle in such a way that everything has this Trinity within it, not just as a Trinity of representation but as real. The rest of his thought is then the explication of the Trinity…For him this trinity is the universal life, the wholly universal life in each and every individual; it is the absolute substance.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 96.
14. ‘(In writing of Böhme, Hegel wrote that he perceived the Trinity in everything and) not as a Trinity pertaining to the ordinary conception, but as the real Trinity of the Absolute Idea. (LHP 3:196) Hegel notes that Böhme regards the Trinity as “the absolute Substance” (LHP 3:212)’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 49
15. ‘Hegel never once says anything that would indicate that he is indebted to Böhme or that Böhme in some way influenced him.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589
16. ‘As we shall see, Böhme’s Trinity works differently from Hegel’s’, Ibid., 550. I will soon more thoroughly discuss Magee’s position on the relationship between Hegel, Böhme and Hermetism.
17. Beck implied that Böhme and Hegel knew of or were at least influenced by Cusanus: ‘When Meister Eckhart ascribed (in accordance with his view of the Trinity) a tension within the Godhead to which God himself owes his being, when Nicholas of Cusa made God the coincidence of opposites, they set a pattern which Böhme accepted and Hegel rationalised by seeing the Absolute as itself a dialectic process’, Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, op. cit., 156; ‘There is general agreement among scholars as to the intellectual streams that coalesce to form theosophy: medieval German mysticism, alchemy, Paracelsism, and Kabbalism.’, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, Glenn Alexander Magee, Chapter 16, in Glenn Alexander Magee, Ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2016, 1012
18. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 7,106, 560

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11a

Hegel, prose poet

11.1 Language is the ‘mind’s’ perfect expression

In his Philosophy of Mind Hegel wrote that the body is only the ‘mind’s’ first appearance, while language is its perfect expression.1 In his Science of Logic he wrote

The forms of thought are, in the first instance, displayed and stored in human language.2

He believed we cannot think without words (although as previously noted, he also wrote we are thinking all the time, including in sleep3) and that words give our thoughts their highest and truest existence which only becomes definite when we objectify them

(The existence of words) is absolutely necessary to our thoughts. We only know our thoughts, only have definite, actual thoughts, when we give them the form of objectivity4

For Hegel, what cannot be expressed in language has no reality. Such is the power of ideology and so strong the Siren call of possible joys in pandering to it that Hegel’s assertion regarding the necessity of language to thought and reality itself has been accepted almost unanimously.

But Hegel’s equating expression in language with reality is no less flawed than was his philosophical forebear’s banishing of poets from his ideal state in defence of fundamentally the same ‘rational principles’ – Plato, one of the most influential poets in the West being among those to suffer exclusion.

I will argue that Hegel was, as the consummate Neoplatonist, a great prose poet, that he employed a range of poetic devices to convey the content and meaning of his philosophy which always functions beyond the separation and definition of the Verstand he was so critical of and that Hegel’s philosophy can be neither fully understood nor appreciated without according it that recognition.

Not only did Lauer write

it is no more strange to entertain the notion of Hegel as poet than it is to consider the harsh things that Plato had to say about poetry and the poets and at the same time to claim that Plato himself is to be numbered among the greatest of the poets5

Hegel noted that

Plato philosophised in a mythological way. People praise him for making many things accessible in the form of representational images.’6

Franke wrote of Hegel’s philosophy

Since the rational is coextensive with language and all it can express, this means that what is not expressible in language simply has no reality. Yet Hegel’s writings also provocatively show the limits of this position and point to another possibility, a possibility of infinite difference, of something…that would remain forever inexpressible to Logos.7

11.1.1 The German language has many advantages

Benz wrote that the German language of the High Middle Ages did not reflect

the scholastic development of philosophy, theology, and the sciences – (it) was essentially poetic. …a language of images, allegories, parables (and) not a language of abstract concepts and philosophical and logical  terms.8

He stated that the great spiritual revolution in Germany was provoked by the ignorance of Latin of the German Dominican nuns to whom Eckhart, as the prior of the Dominican order, had to give sermons – he was compelled either to attempt to translate his abstract theology in Latin into the poetic imagery of the German of his time or to create a new terminology of abstraction improvised in German.

It was to this poetic richness of the German language that Hegel referred in his Preface to the second edition of his Science of Logic

German has many advantages over other modern languages; some of its words even possess the further peculiarity of having not only different but opposite meanings so that one cannot fail to recognise a speculative spirit of the language in them: it can delight a thinker to come across such words and to find the union of opposites naïvely shown in the dictionary as one word with opposite meanings, although this result of speculative thinking is nonsensical to the understanding.9

a thought he repeated

It is a delight to speculative thought to find in the language words which have in themselves a speculative meaning; the German language has a number of such.10

Central to his dialectic and exemplifying the above is the verb aufheben and its noun Aufhebung – concepts rich in contradictory meaning (to sublate, to lift or raise up, to seize, to retain, to preserve, to reverse [a judgement], to put an end to) and he drew on these meanings, in relation to both concepts and things, at the same time.

He wrote of sublation

To sublate, and the sublated (that which exists ideally as a moment), constitute one of the most important notions in philosophy. …‘To sublate’ has a twofold meaning in the language: on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. …what is sublated is at the same time preserved; it has only lost its immediacy but is not on that account annihilated. …Something is sublated only in so far as it has entered into unity with its opposite11

11.1.2 The sound of speech

Hegel regarded poetry as the most perfect art because it is the means for the richest expression of spiritual freedom. He thought of poetry as the articulation of inner life and ideas in language, particularly when spoken – the art of sound as speech.

When the poet attended to ‘the choice, placing, and sound of words,’12 the result would be the most perfect art given expression by ‘the freest, and in its sound the most perfect instrument the human voice, which unites in itself the character of wind and string instruments’.13 Küng quoted Bloch – ‘Hegel’s language proves to be Luther’s German set to music’14

Hodgson wrote

(With regard to his speculative philosophy, Hegel) is not offering empirical descriptions but imaginative constructions. For this purpose the medium of oral lectures was ideally suited, and it is notable that Hegel was reluctant to constrain the fluidity of speech through publication.15

11.2 On the importance of feeling to philosophy

Hegel criticised the Enlightenment for its lack of ‘old fashioned’ religious feeling and he argued for the importance of ‘feeling.’ In ‘The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason’ (1822) he wrote ‘Only in the region of feeling can the impulse to truth take refuge.’16 In Lectures on the Philosophy of World History he wrote

the Christian…worships truth in symbolic form…the philosopher…immerses himself in eternal truth through rational thought. …the feelings themselves are one and the same.17

Hegel would have endorsed Lauer’s words

philosophy cannot dispense with emotion, not only in the sense that the human spirit’s relation to truth is emotional but also in the sense that only when significant truth is allied to beauty is it genuinely compelling, because authentic philosophy is an activity of whole human persons18

I will argue in this chapter that Hegel built his use of words and language so that a feeling for the Absolute becomes knowledge of it – as did Plotinus.



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 147
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 31
3. ‘it is also inadequate to…(say) vaguely that it is only in the waking state that man thinks. For thought in general is so much inherent in the nature of man that he is always thinking, even in sleep. In every form of mind, in feeling, intuition, as in picture-thinking, thought remains the basis.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 69
4. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 221
5. Quentin Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ in History and System: Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Ed., Robert L. Perkins, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1984, pp. 1-14, 1
6. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 284
7. William Franke, A Philosophy of the Unsayable, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014, 26
8. Ernst Benz, The Mystical Sources of German Romantic Philosophy, Trans., Blair R. Reynolds and Eunice M. Paul, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2009, 8. Eckhart introduced new philosophical and theological terms into German. Benz wrote that it was with him that philosophical speculation in German began, further developed by Jakob Böhme. ‘All the ontological terms, for example, Sein, Wesen, Wesenheit, das Seiende, das Nichts, Nichtigkeit, nichtigen, all the terms such as Form, Gestalt, Anschauung, Erkenntnis, Erkennen, Vernunft, Vernünftigkeit, Verstand, Verständnis, Verständigkeit, Bild, Abbild, Bildhaftigkeit, entbilden, all the concepts such as Grund, Ungrund, Urgrund, ergründen, Ich, Ichheit, Nicht-Ich, entichen, Entichung, are the creations of German mystical speculation’ Ibid., 10
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 32
10. Ibid., 107
11. Ibid.
12. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 969
13. Ibid., 922
14. Hans Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, Trans., J.R.Stephenson, Crossroad, New York, 1987, 193
15. Peter C. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 230-252, 232
16. Hegel in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 164
17. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 45
18. Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ in History and System: Hegel’s Philosophy of History, op cit., 13

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Plotinus’ subject and object and the activity of self-knowing

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

The One generates the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind) which in turn gives birth to the world of reflexive consciousness with its activity of self-knowing, and to Soul.

Knowledge by Intellectual-Principle – a unity-in-multiplicity – requires an object. ‘Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition. To abandon the belief is not possible in view of the many absurdities thus entailed’ (The Enneads, V.3.1)

On the division necessary for the creation of philosophical (conceptual, spiritual) objects Plotinus asks ‘How is the self to make the partition? The thing cannot happen of itself. …The intellectual object is itself an activity, (my italics) not a mere potentiality; it is not lifeless…’ (V.3.5)

For Divine Mind, knowing its objects in their ‘life’, in their movement, equates to knowing itself. Plotinus asks ‘Now, can (Intellectual-Principle) know those objects alone or must it not simultaneously (my italics) know itself, the being whose function it is to know just those things? Can it have self-knowledge in the sense (dismissed above as inadequate) of knowing its content while it ignores itself? Can it be aware of knowing its members and yet remain in ignorance of its own knowing self? Self and content must be simultaneously present…’ (V.3.1)

Plotinus continues ‘Unless there is something beyond bare unity, there can be no vision: vision must converge with a visible object. …If there be no distinctions, what is there to do, what direction in which to move? An agent must either act upon the extern or be a multiple and so able to act upon itself: making no advance towards anything other than itself, it is motionless, and where it could know only blank fixity it can know nothing. …the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity…If (the Intellectual-Principle) had to direct itself to a memberless unity, it would be dreasoned: what could it say or know of such an object? …In sum, then, a knowing principle must handle distinct items: its object must, at the moment of cognition, contain diversity; otherwise the thing remains unknown…Similarly the knowing principle itself cannot remain simplex, especially in the act of self-knowing…’ (V.3.10)

The ‘knowing principle’ is the activity of self-knowing – Intellectual-Principle and intellectual activity are the same. That activity is driven by contradiction1 and is known perspectivally.2

Divine Mind gives birth to objects as the embodiment of its outgoing creative power and in its contemplative recollection of and desire to unite with the One. This very activity means that it is incomplete. But the conceptual and spiritual development of its multiplicity (deepening self-knowledge rising from the particular to the general) brings it back to the One, enabling union with (vision/knowledge of) it.

‘Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.’ (V.3.11)

Here, prior to the fertilisation of Christianity by Neoplatonism and the conflation of the hypostases by the Christian mystic Böhme and the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel is their source for God’s requiring diremption from himself in the world through his other, Christ, to enable the process and completion of his self-knowing and its resolution in a unified perspectival cultus of the Spirit.


1. ‘In that Intellectual Cosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: it is identity and difference, movement and rest, the object moving and the object at rest, essence and quality.’ (V.9.10)

2. ‘…since the object of vision has variety (distinction within its essential oneness) the intuition must be multiple and the intuitions various, just as in a face we see at the one glance eyes and nose and all the rest. But is not this impossible when the object to be thus divided and treated as a thing of grades is a pure unity? No: there has already been discrimination within the Intellectual-Principle; the Act of the Soul is little more than a reading of this.’ (IV.4.1)


 Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991