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 14c


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

Magee wrote ‘Hegel’s philosophy of religion is from the beginning indebted to Eckhart’s mysticism’1 – a mysticism which conceived God as the coincidence of opposites2 – and that ‘No one has demonstrated direct Hermetic influences on Eckhart, but his thought exhibits certain “Hermetic” features’.3 Magee exemplifies what he thinks is a key feature of Eckhart’s Hermeticism

At one point in the Lectures, in fact, (Hegel) quotes the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1328): ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and he in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would he’ (LPR 1, 347-348)4

He quotes Eckhart and adds

“If I had not been, there would have been no God” (Sermon 4). Human self-reflection is the actualisation of God.5

Having dismissed ‘the ineffable mystery of the coincidentia oppositorum’, Magee approves of the mutual vision between and common existence of God and philosopher as symbolising ‘positive’ Hermetic knowledge of the divine.

But although sight and vision are fundamental to both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, they are addressed differently in the two systems – in the former, seer and seen are philosophised abstractly as a unity and in a way that minimises reference to the material world

Now comes the question: what sort of thing does the Intellectual-Principle see in seeing the Intellectual Realm and what in seeing itself?

We are not to look for an Intellectual realm reminding us of the colour or shape to be seen on material objects: the intellectual antedates all such things…In the pure Intellectual…the vision and the envisioned are a unity; the seen is as the seeing and seeing as seen.6

In the Corpus Hermeticum, that relationship is set out as a mythical narrative which uses the material world for context and illustration

Poimandres said to me, “Have you understood what this vision means?”

“I shall come to know,” said I.

“I am the light you saw, mind, your god,” he said, “who existed before the watery nature that appeared out of darkness. The lightgiving word who comes from mind is the son of god.”

“Go on,” I said.

“This is what you must know: that in you which sees and hears is the word of the lord, but your mind is god the father; they are not divided from one another for their union is life.”7

“Such then, Tat, is god’s image, as best I have been able to sketch it for you. If your vision of it is sharp and you understand it with the eyes of your heart, believe me, child, you shall discover the road that leads above or, rather, the image itself will show you the way. For the vision of it has a special property. It takes hold of those who have had the vision and draws them up, just as the magnet stone draws iron, so they say.”8

Eckhart’s Christianity is redolent not with Hermeticism, but Neoplatonism – God is One, perfect, infinite and complete

‘God is one.’…God is infinite in his simplicity and simple in his infinity. Therefore he is everywhere and is everywhere complete. He is everywhere on account of his infinity, and is everywhere complete on account of his simplicity. Only God flows into all things, their very essences. Nothing else flows into something else. God is in the innermost part of each and every thing, only in its innermost part, and he alone is one.9

all things are contained in the One, by virtue of the fact that it is one, for all multiplicity is one and is one thing and is in and through the One. …note that the One in its most proper sense refers to perfection and to the whole, for which reason, again, it lacks nothing.10

(God) is perfect in knowledge and power, he is perfect too in his speaking.11

Eckhart believed that energised by his Neoplatonic abundance, God sent his Son to the world because of his Christian love for mankind, not for his own ‘actualisation’ and completion

Scripture says: ‘Before the created world, I am’ …The Father gives birth to the Son and derives such peace and delight from this birth that the whole of his nature is consumed within it. For whatever is in God, moves him to give birth; the Father is driven to give birth by his ground, his essence and his being.12

All that God does and all that he teaches, he does and teaches in his Son. All that God does he does in order that we may become his only begotten Son. When God sees that we are his only begotten Son, then God presses so urgently upon us and hastens towards us and acts as if his divine being were about to collapse and become nothing in itself so that he can reveal to us the whole abyss of his Godhead, the abundance of his being and his nature. God urgently desires that this should become ours just as it is his.13

…martyrdom and death of our Lord Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, which he suffered for our salvation.14

To rise up to the intellect, subordinating ourselves to it, is to be united with God. To be united, to be one, is to be one with God. …in the domain of the intellect where, in so far as they are intellect and nothing else, all things are without doubt in all things.15

Magee appropriated Cusanus to Hermeticism in the same way he did Eckhart, writing ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) is another mystic whose influence on the Hermetic tradition was important.’16 Magee again bypassed Neoplatonism to write

In De Visione Dei (1453) Cusa takes advantage of the ambiguity of the phrase “the vision of God” to make a truly mystical point, very much in line with Eckhart and also with the Hermetic tradition.17

But the thought of Cusanus, too, bore that same tension between God as perfect and complete and an ultimate principle Being, which functioned within a developing Neoplatonic system

just as an infinite sphere is most simple and exists in complete actuality, so the Maximum exists most simply in complete actuality. And just as a sphere is the actuality of a line, a triangle, and a circle, so the Maximum is the actuality of all things. Therefore, all actual existence has from the Maximum whatever actuality it possesses; and all existence exists actually insofar as it exists actually in the Infinite. Hence, the Maximum is the Form of forms and the Form of being, or maximum actual Being.18


1. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 226
2. ‘Like so many mystics, Eckhart conceived God as the “coincidence of opposites.”’, Ibid., 24
3. Ibid., 23
4. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 250
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 25
6. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.8
7. Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., Corpus Hermeticum I, 177
8. Ibid., Corpus Hermeticum IV, 209-210
9. Latin Sermon 2 (Deus unus est), Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, Trans., Oliver Davies, Penguin, London, 1994, 258
10. Ibid., 259
11. German Sermon 12, Ibid., 156
12. German Sermon 10, Ibid,. 147
13. German Sermon 16, Ibid., 176
14. Sermon 10, Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Trans. and Ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe, Herder and Herder, New York, 2009, 92
15. Latin Sermon 2, Meister Eckhart, Selected Writing, op.cit., 262
16. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit. 26
17. Ibid., 27
18. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,23,70

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

‘To hold fast to the positive in its negative…’


‘Take a burning coal and put it on my hand. If I said the coal burnt my hand, I would do it injustice. Were I to say truly what burns me, it is negation, for the coal contains something that my hand has not. It is this not that burns me. But if my hand contained all that the coal has or can effect, it would be all of the nature of fire. Then, if anyone were to take all the fire that ever burnt, and poured it out on to my hand, that could not hurt me.’

From Sermon 13 (b) in Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Trans. and Ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe, Crossroad, New York, 2009, 109



Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel – part four

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 341-353 continued

Nicholas of Cusa’s system is once again a pantheism which was at the same time intended as a theism, and thereby destroys itself. It betrays a bizarre mixture of mathematical and logical concepts. The divinity to Nicholas, as to Ficino, was really the logical concept of the highest order, conceived through the mathematical concept of the absolute (not relative) maximum, which precisely because it excluded all plurality therefore coincided with the concept of the absolute minimum, the absolutely simple and, insofar as it must include the highest being, absolute perfection; yet it was no more and no less than a purely logical concept, to which nothing objective corresponded. Hence the concern that Nicholas expresses that we may not understand his concept of the maximum in sufficiently pure and abstract terms; hence too his advice first to purge ourselves of all circles and spheres, that is, of all material attributes. He must surely have suspected that notwithstanding all his purges, the understanding yet cannot conceive the maximum bereft of material attributes as something real, for without them the concept dissolves into nothingness. But for Nicholas this suspicion did not really crystallize in a clear form. As long as he expresses his concept of God and his identity with the world in mathematical terms, his theology sounds even more pantheistic than Ficino’s; in essence, his and Ficino’s system are the same, as one can see from the relation in which he places God to the world—an equally theistical one. Thus the same errors underlie his system and Ficino’s.

Nicholas’ ideas as presented here also dominate the other works mentioned above. Some clarifications of them can be found in the Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (Defence of learned ignorance by a student to a student), appended to Nicholas’ De docta ignorantia (On learned ignorance).1 It is addressed by a student of Nicholas to a fellow-student, against a work published by Wenck under the title Ignota literatura (Unknown learning), which argued with great passion against the nature of Nicholas’ conceptions. We may regard it as a production of Nicholas himself, as the author merely relates to his fellow-student Nicholas’ reaction to Ignota literatura and his judgements on the objections it contains. Possibly it is in fact Nicholas’ work, in which case it is the form in which he chose to defend himself.

De coniecturis, in two books, is not, as one might expect, concerned with speculations or with probabilities and their bases, but contains a theory of the human cognitive faculty in general, considered from the viewpoint which Nicholas adopted, appropriate to his metaphysical system. Absolute truth is unattainable to man; praecisio veritatis inattingibilis, as Nicholas puts it; thus all human knowledge is merely probable, a speculation; and an investigation of the principle of speculation in the human mind is therefore an investigation of the cognitive faculty in general. Here too Nicholas’ philosophical language is the same mathematical–mystic language as in De docta ignorantia. In my opinion his idea of the human cognitive faculty can be best grasped from the following passage, which I quote here in his own words: Coniecturas a mente nostra, uti realis mundus a divina infinita ratione, prodire oportet. Dum enim humana mens, alta Dei similitudo, fecunditatem creatricis naturae ut potest participat, ex se ipsa, ut imagine omnipotentis formae, in realium entium similitudinem rationalia exerit. Coniecturalis itaque mundi humana mens forma existit, uti realis divina.—Ut autem mentem coniecturarum principium recipias, advertas oportet, quomodo ut primum omnium rerum atque nostrae mentis principium unitrinum ostensum est, ut multitudinis, inaequalitatis, atque divisionis rerum unum sit principium, a cuius unitate absoluta multitudo, ab aequalitate inaequalitas, et a connexione divisio effluat; ita mens nostra, quae non nisi intellectualem naturam creatricem concipit, se unitrinum facit principium rationalis suae fabricae. Sola enim ratio multitudinis, magnitudinis ac compositionis mensura est; ita ut ipsa sublata nihil horum subsistat. — Quapropter unitas mentis omnem in se complicat multitudinem; eiusque aequalitas omnem magnitudinem; sicut et connexio compositionem. Mens igitur unitrinum principium; primo ex vi complicativae unitatis multitudinem explicat; multitudo vero inaequalitatis atque magnitudinis generativa est. Quapropter in ipsa primordiali multitudine ut in primo exemplari magnitudines et perfectiones integritatum, et varias et inaequales, venatur; deinde ex utrisque ad compositionem progreditur. Est igitur mens nostra distinctivum, proportionativum, atque compositivum principium. — Rationalis fabricae naturale quoddam pullulans principium numerus est. Mente enim carentes, uti bruta, non numerant. Nec est aliud numerus, quam ratio explicata.2 (It must be the case that speculations originate from our minds, even as the real world originates from Infinite Divine Reason. For 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 speculated rational world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world. …In order that you may recognise that the mind is the beginning of speculations, take note of the following: 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. For only reason is the measure of multitude, of magnitude, and of composition. Thus, if reason is removed, none of these will remain. …Therefore, the mind’s oneness enfolds within itself all multitude, and its equality enfolds all magnitude, even as its union enfolds all composition. Therefore, mind, which is a triune beginning, first of all unfolds multitude from the power of its enfolding-oneness. But multitude begets inequality and magnitude. Therefore, in and through the primal multitude, as in and through a first exemplar-multitude, the mind seeks the diverse and unequal magnitudes, or perfections, of each thing as a whole; and thereafter it progresses to a combining of both multitude and magnitude. Therefore, our mind is a distinguishing, a proportioning, and a combining beginning. …Number is a certain natural, originated beginning that is of reason’s making; for those creatures that lack a mind, e.g. brute animals, do not number. Nor is number anything other than reason unfolded.) — We see here the reason why Nicholas chose to describe his philosophical system in mathematical terms: he found in numbers and numerical relations the principles of the cognitive faculty itself. It would take up too much space here to detail the manner in which he developed these principles. In doing so, too, Nicholas often loses himself so deeply in his mathematical mysticism that his theory, at least to me, becomes quite incomprehensible. However, anyone who wishes to study Nicholas’ system in its full internal detail and relations must regard De coniecturis as preparatory to it, even though Nicholas himself places it after his metaphysics and to some extent bases it on the latter.

Part four/to be continued…



1. Nic. Cus., Opera (Works), Vol. 1, p. 35

2. Nic. Cus. de coniect. Book I, ch. 3.4, Works Vol. I, fol. 42

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel – part two

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 80-81

Another ardent anti-scholastic was Nicholas from Cusel [Cusa in Latin], a village in the district of Trier (Treves), where he was born in the early fifteenth century. He so distinguished himself by his brilliance, erudition and taste that he was made a doctor of theology, bishop of Brixen, and also a cardinal. In his De docta ignorantia praecisionis veritatis inattingibilis (On learned ignorance of the unattainability of exact truth) he attacked in particular the craze of the scholastics for debating any subject even if it utterly transcended the bounds of human reason. In his own philosophising he was closer to a skeptical attitude. In another work, De coniecturis (On speculation), he declared that any human proposition with real content was no more than a probable assumption. He also dealt with more particular metaphysical questions in other works.

pp. 341-353

The history of the Platonists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as described up to now, contains far more that is worthy of note than that of those of their contemporaries who were true Aristotelians. The latter were for the most part mere Latin translators of and commentators on Aristotle’s writings. What was particular to them, such as George of Trebizond, Gennadius Georgius Scholarius etc. in their dispute with the Platonists, has already been mentioned in the historical discussion of this dispute, where I also touched on the most important circumstances of their lives.

More attention is due to Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, not so much as a true Aristotelian, but as an original writer who had educated himself by the methods of Aristotelian philosophy. He had primarily occupied himself with the study of mathematics and hence applied his mathematical concepts to metaphysical subjects, in particular theology. But his mathematical concepts are just as incomprehensible in themselves as is his metaphysical application of them, and for this reason Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy, insofar as it is original, might be termed a kind of mathematical mysticism. Apart from writings specifically devoted to mathematics and theology, his most important philosophical works are the following: De docta ignorantia liber I (On learned ignorance [three books]); Apologia doctae ignorantiae liber I (Defence of learned ignorance [one book]); De coniecturis libri duo (On speculation [two books]); De sapientia libri III (On wisdom [three books]).1 The contents of the first of these are quite different from what one would expect from its title. A metaphysic is constructed on the idea of the absolute maximum, which is simultaneously absolute oneness, from which Nicholas ultimately seeks to explain also the positive dogmatics of religion and the mysteries of the Trinity and the Redemption. The docta ignorantia (learned ignorance) consists in the recognition that the absolute maximum or absolute oneness is unknowable per se, because all knowledge must be mediated through a number, yet this maximum is greater than any number. Hence the result of this recognition is a learned ignorance.2 Nicholas does not here undertake to investigate how we attain to the idea of the maximum or absolute oneness; he merely assumes that it is presupposed by all men and is the end of their rational endeavour. Only an imperfect, symbolic knowledge of the maximum is possible; the symbol is drawn from mathematics. The maximum is absolute oneness and thus coincides with the minimum; it is absolutely necessary, eternal, and the eternal foundation of the world.3 It passes first into the Trinity. The maximum as absolute Oneness is God; this oneness repeats itself or begets equality with itself (the divine Son), and the union of oneness with its equality constitutes the third person of the divinity (the Holy Spirit). Ab unitate gignitur unitatis aequalitas; connexio vero ab unitate procedit et ab unitatis aequalitate.4 (Equality of oneness is begotten from oneness, but union proceeds from oneness and from equality of oneness.)

Part two/to be continued…



1. Besides the above-mentioned edition of the works of Nicholaus of Cusa (Basel 1565, 3 folio volumes), two other editions exist. The first was published in Germany, probably at Basel, and is lacking several of Nicholas’ works. See Hamberger’s Nachrichten von den vornehmsten Schriftstellern, vol. IV, P. 768. The second is more complete. As the dedicatory letter shows, it was prepared by Jacob Faber of Estaples. Its description reads: Haec accurata recognitio trium voluminum operum clarissimi P. Nicolai Cusae Card. ex officina Ascensiana recenter emissa est; cuius universalem indicem proxime sequens pagina monstrat. Vaenundantur cum caeteris eius operibus in aedibus Ascensianis; III Voll. fol. (This careful revision of three volumes of the works of the famous Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, was recently issued by the Ascensian Press, of which a complete catalogue appears on the next page. They are available together with the rest of his works from the Ascensian Publishing House; Three folio volumes), with no indication of the year and place of printing. At the end of De mathematica perfectione (On mathematical perfection) in volume 3 there is a note that the entire collection was printed at Paris in 1514. To this work in volume 3 is appended the De concordantia catholica (On Catholic concordance). This edition is the one I have before me.

2. Nicol(aus) Cus(a), De docta ignor(antia), Book 1, ch. 1–3, Vol. 1, fol. 2

3. Ibid. Book I, ch. 4–8

4. Nicholas also expresses this as follows: Quemadmodum generatio unitatis ab unitate est una unitatis repetitio; ita processio ab utroque est repetitionis illius unitatis, sive mavis dicere, unitatis et aequalitatis unitatis ipsius unitio. Ibid. Book II, ch. 6. Vol. I fol. 4. (Just as generation of oneness is one repetition of oneness, so the procession from both is oneness of the repetition of this oneness—or, if you prefer the expression – is oneness of oneness and of the equality of this oneness. [Trans. The reference is incorrect, which is the reason I was at first unable to identify this quote: the source is De docta ignorantia, Book I, ch. 9])

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel


What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?

No direct connection has ever been established between Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel. It has been accepted that Hegel did not know of him.1 In fact, there is clear evidence that Hegel knew of Cusanus, and in detail. Not only did Bruno twice specifically refer to him, and with the highest praise, Buhle, whose history Hegel read, discussed Cusanus at length, citing all of his most important works.

In the first volume of his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel quoted Eckhart from one of his sermons – ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him.’2 In volume III of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel discussed Böhme – ‘the first German philosopher’ the reading of whose works was ‘wondrous,’ over eleven pages,3 giving five pages in the same volume to Bruno, yet he never even mentioned Cusanus – a figure in the German mystical tradition between Eckhart and Böhme.

But the ‘divine’ Cusanus who Bruno named, ‘the inventor of geometry’s most beautiful secrets,’ is Bruno’s guide in Cause, Principle and Unity,4 in which Bruno referred to key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy. Bruno again named and referred to Cusanus as ‘divine’ in The Ash Wednesday Supper, citing his single most important treatise, De Docta Ignorantia.5

Particularly, in the same volume of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel wrote simply of Bruno ‘The fullest information about him is to be found in Buhle’s history of philosophy.’6 In that extremely interesting work (not only because of the sections on Cusanus but because in it Buhle discusses the impact of Neoplatonism, Kabbalism and Hermeticism in general on German philosophy) Buhle wrote on Cusanus in detail, naming his most significant treatises.7

Why did Hegel never even name Cusanus, in any of his writing – a man who was far more philosophical, and in the ‘Hegelian manner,’ than either Eckhart and particularly Böhme, of whom Hegel also wrote that his articulation was ‘unmistakably barbarous’ and that he ‘grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion’?8

My contention in my thesis will be that Hegel never named Cusanus, not only because he was so indebted to one who was known to be a Christian mystic/Neoplatonist (I have identified more than thirty points in the philosophy of Cusanus which occur in that of Hegel), but because to do so would immediately open to question the nature of Hegel’s vaunted concepts (several of which, I will contend, came directly from Cusanus), the apparent intellectual rigour of his philosophy, and particularly, the meaning of his ‘reason’ – his claims to and for it.

In denying through his utter silence the significance of Cusanus and the foresight of his genius, Hegel was emblematic not only of the German intellectuals of his time (with regard to Spinoza then Swedenborg and Oetinger and later, Nietzsche with regard to ‘Saint Max’ Stirner) but of Western culture as a whole – suppressing key elements of our history, of what has made us, so that we may perceive ourselves, as Hegel did, the bearers and masters of ‘Reason.’9

We of the West believe it has been our ‘reason’ – understood as linguistic, conceptual and particularly propositional – that has enabled us to achieve so much and attain global domination. Mysticism, the myth goes, was only a stage that was shed long ago.

What if ‘reason’ were understood to function not only linguistically, conceptually and propositionally (the reason of patriarchy) but in a manner that has been relegated to and powerfully utilised in the mystical, in ‘the feminine’?

What if philosophers were to be materialists (Heaven forbid!) and recognise, consistent with science, that our brains function wholistically in relation to the world – and philosophise honestly about ‘reason’ on that material basis?

What would happen to our belief in our supremacy then – even as Asia rises?

And what new areas for philosophy might be opened up?

Part one/to be continued…

In subsequent posts I will publish a translation of Buhle’s writing on Cusanus.



1. ‘…Nicholas of Cusa (whom Hegel surprisingly never mentions)…’ Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, 140. Magee, citing Beck, wrote ‘we know that Schelling was influenced by reading Nicholas (Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969, 71)…However, Hegel never mentions Cusa anywhere in his published writings or in his lectures.’ In the footnote to this Magee (who otherwise writes excellently on the relationship between Hegel, mysticism and Hermeticism, arguing that Hegel was an Hermetic mystic) expressed a standard view ‘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.’ Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 28. Redding wrote ‘In Hegel’s case, Spinozistic and Cusan elements (were) reflected through the speculative thought of Schelling,’ Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 31, also ‘Jacobi had not only introduced the German reading public to Spinoza but also to Giordano Bruno, and thereby, indirectly to Nicholas of Cusa.’ Paul Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, Routledge, London, 2009, 126. Hodgson wrote ‘Hegel was familiar with Bruno through Schelling’s work as well as that of J.G.Buhle and F.H.Jacobi,’ Peter C. Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 274. Jasper Hopkins wrote ‘Nicholas does not anticipate, prefigure, foreshadow, etc., Kant, so also he does not anticipate Copernicus or Spinoza or Leibniz or Berkeley or Hegel. …In retrospect, Nicholas must be regarded as a transitional figure some of whose ideas (1) were suggestive of new ways of thinking but (2) were not such as to conduct him far enough away from the medieval outlook for him truly to be called a Modern thinker. Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel never mention him, although Kepler, Descartes, and Leibniz do. …Nicholas’s intellectual influence on his own generation and on subsequent generations remained meager.’ Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, Renaissance and Early Modern Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 26 (2002), pp. 13-29, 28-29.

2. The editor wrote that Hegel was familiar with the writing of Eckhart from 1794. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion vol. I, Ed. Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 347

3. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III Medieval and Modern Philosophy, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, p. 95

4. Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity (De la causa, principio e uno, 1584), Trans. and Ed., Robert de Lucca and Essays on Magic, Trans. and Ed., Richard J. Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 96-7

5. Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), Ed. and Trans., Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1995, pp. 139, 150

6. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 62

7. Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Widerherstellung der Wissenschaften, vol. 2, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, p. 81 and p. 342ff

8. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 103

9. Plotinus wrote his phenomenology of consciousness rising not through its ‘shapes’ or (with a Christian patina) ‘stations’ but hypostases one and a half thousand years before Hegel’s.

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins