Hegel – Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III (Part II)

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G.W.F. Hegel, probably more than for any particular aspect of his philosophy (even his simplified dialectic), is most famous for his abstruse and difficult – some would even say obscurantist – style of writing. These complaints of Hegel’s writings may be exaggerations (I am always suspect of people who judge someone by their style of writing), but there is no denying that Hegel is certainly one of the most difficult philosophers to read. Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, argues, in fact, that Hegel is the single most difficult philosopher to understand.  I shall not presume to disagree.

The edition of Hegel’s Lectures that I read included his 1824 and 1827 lectures, as well as Hegel’s own lecture manuscript from his 1821 lectures. I will be focusing in this blog post on Hegel’s idea of the “Death of God.” (Indeed, it was Hegel, not Nietzsche, who first proclaimed the death of God in a systematic manner).

There is, Hegel notes, an old Lutheran hymn that “is a monstrous, [recall the Žižek / Milbank conversation] fearful picture, which brings before the imagination the deepest abyss of cleavage” (125).

O Great woe!

God himself lies dead.

On the cross he has died;

And thus he has gained for us

By love the kingdom of heaven.

– “O Traurigkeit, O Herzelied” by Johannes Rist (1641).

For Hegel, Christ is not some spiritual or ethical teacher who has brought a universal message of goodness or ethical efficacy, like perhaps a Socrates. In Jesus Christ the unity between God and man is made explicit in an actual historical personage – made explicit in Jesus Christ, the man who was God. In passing through to the particular, the universal spirit (God) has achieved concrete specificity in the person of Jesus Christ. When the spirit becomes united with finitude, it must experience finitude fully, and therefore must also experience the vicissitudes of suffering and death, which is the manifestation of human finitude. Jesus’ death is not to be interpreted as the death of a mere individual only, but rather that “God has died, that God himself is dead. God has died: this is negation, which is accordingly a moment of the divine nature, of God himself” (219).  Death is the proof of humanity finitude. Christ death on the cross – in all its abject humiliation – is the ultimate and decisive demonstration of Christ’s humanity. It is thus God, in the form of a man, who was most human. “In him [Christ], humanity was carried to its furthest point” (323). As Hegel continues, “this is the most frightful of all thought, that everything eternal and true is not, that negation itself is found in God” (323). This death is not a final eventuation; God maintains himself in this process. God’s death, then, is not only the death of the transcendental God of theism, but the very death of death. God becomes transfigured into the absolute spirit, and only thus comes to full historical actualization.

I could be idiosyncratic in my reading of his theology, but my reading of Hegel’s doctrine of of the incarnation is that Hegel evinces a theology that is thoroughly anti-docetic. Hegel emphasis the particularity of Christ and does not shy away from develop a thorough-going theology of the cross, if you like (I don’t mean that his theology is similar to Luther’s). For Hegel, God has died. Is this not monstrous?

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7 Responses to “Hegel – Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III (Part II)”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for articulating the anti-docetic nature of Hegel’s Christology. That really nicely expressed my appreciation for his Christology.

    Last week I was reading Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, and I was amazed at how glibly he passed over the God-man’s death. Relying on the two-nature Christology, he simply relegated death to Christ’s human nature becaues God (by nature of Her immutability) cannot experience death. I think THAT is my real anxiety with two-nature Christology. It doesn’t seem to take seriously sometimes the humanity of the God-man (or the divine nature is kept protected and uncontaminated from the human nature). This sort of argument ultimately seems to be flirting with Nestorianism. I have always favored the Lutheran emphasis ( and its flirtation with Eutychianism) on the inseparability of the two natures, which is exactly why I think Lutherans (not Reformed) could proclaim God is dead!

    • A.J. Smith Says:

      Ya, what I appreciated most about Hegel’s theology was his extremely anti-docetic theology of the incarnation and his, if you like, Theologia Crucis. He tried to think the incarnation not in terms of Caledonian limitations – which really seems to me to make Christ’s death bearable, saying Christ didn’t wholly die, only the human part died. In other words, that Christ only half-died) – but to truly emphasize the true horror of the event.

  2. Jonathan Post Says:

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  4. c. stirling bartholomew Says:

    I singed up for a course in modern theology which I didn’t need to graduate, after the first day hearing the professor was discussing Hegel I marched right over to the registrars office and changed from credit to audit. Saved my GPA. It was high level seminar class with only four students. Two of them had four years of 4.0 averages before entering the class but not after the class.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for sharing.

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