Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background

Hegel lived in what is called the Romantic period in European history, his contemporaries included Goethe and Beethoven. In general terms, thinkers in this period preferred the creative, imaginative and intuitive as opposed to the strictly abstract, conventional and intellectual. They tended to look to past ages with nostalgia. Still influential were the Enlightenment ideals of autonomous reason and human freedom and Hegel endorsed them. His receptivity to both Romantic and Enlightenment ideas was a source of tension within his thought. Also, it was a period of revolutions, wars and other political upheavals and these impinged on Hegel’s life. So, considering these various influences, it is not surprising to find within his writings such motifs as a search for a unity which underlies conflict and a confidence in reason.

Hegel was born on August 27, 1770 in Stuttgart. His father was a local revenue officer in the court of the Duchy of Württemberg. Though she died when Hegel was only eleven, his mother had a profound influence on him, teaching him the elements of Latin prior to his enrollment in grammar school. He later wrote, “in the early years it is education by the mother especially which is important, since ethical principles must be implanted in the child in the form of feeling.” (Scharfstein, p. 231) An avid student, he amassed a large personal collection of extracts and annotations on the Classics as well as mathematical and moral treatises. In 1788, Hegel entered the Stift (theological seminary) at the University of Tübingen and studied philosophy and Classics. Upon completion of this curriculum in two years, he pursued a course in theology, although his interest was primarily philosophical. As a student, Hegel did not distinguish himself for his oratory, but "the old man," as he was known to his friends, enjoyed a great deal of success in both his academic endeavors, as well as in his extracurricular activities among the young women of Tübingen. It was during this time that he became friends with Schelling and the Romantic poet Hölderin. The three shared a love of the Classics and interests in the French Revolution, Enlightenment philosophy and German mysticism.

After seminary, Hegel declined to enter ministry, but instead chose to pursue the study of philosophy. To this end, he moved to Bern and became a private tutor. During this time he had opportunity to study history as well as Kant’s writings on religion. After three years in Bern, Hegel became a tutor in Frankfurt int 1796. Three years later, his father died and left him a small inheritance. In 1801, Hegel became a lecturer in Jena where he published his first book, Phenomenology of Mind. Hegel achieved some minor success at Jena, but his career there was cut short by Napoleon who conquered the city in 1806. After this Hegel became a schoolmaster in Nuremberg and in 1811 married Marie von Tucher who was 22 years younger than he. They had two sons together in addition to Hegel’s illegitimate son from a previous relationship. 1812 saw the publishing of the first part of Science of Logic which was completed four years later. This book gave Hegel a philosophical reputation on the strength of which he was offered and accepted a professorship at Heidelberg. In 1817, Hegel published his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences which were used in his lectures and explicated his entire system. A year later, he became professor of philosophy at Berlin, a chair which he held until his death in 1831. It was here that he became quite successful and influential. He published the Philosophy of Right (1821) and gave lectures on aesthetic, history, and religion which were posthumously published by his editors.

In 1793, Hegel took a position as a private tutor for an aristocratic family in Berne. At this time Hegel first became deeply interested in and influenced by Kant’s philosophical work, particularly the moral philosophy of his Critique of Practical Reason. Such influence and interest are clearly demonstrated in his work of the period ("Das Leben Jesu" ("The Life of Jesus," 1795), and Die Positivität der Christlichen Religion (The Positivity of the Christian Religion, 1896)) which were posthumously published in 1907 in Hegels theologische Jungendschriften (Hegel’s Early Theological Writings). Hölderin secured another tutorship for Hegel in Frankfurt am Main in 1796. His theological work of this period, Der Geist des Christentums und sein Shicksal (The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, 1799, first published in ...Jungendschriften, 1907) demonstrates his growing ill-ease with a Kantian vision of religion and morality.

With the death of his father in 1799, Hegel was provided with an inheritance, which made possible his 1801 move to an unpaid position as Privatdozent at Jena. There, he was reunited with Schelling, and the two collaborated in editing the publication Kritisches Journal des Philosophie. That year, Hegel also published his first major essay, Differenz des Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie. Though an uninspiring lecturer, his popularity among students grew, as did respect for his philosophical and scientific endeavors. In 1805 he was appointed "extraordinary professor" at Jena. In 1806, Hegel completed his first major work, Phänomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Mind/Spirit, published 1807). The uneven nature of the work may be attributed to the historical and personal context of its completion. While in a letter to Schelling, Hegel claimed he finished the Phänomenologie at midnight on the eve of Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Jena, J. G. Baillie suggests that it was more likely that Hegel felt a great deal of financial pressure from his publisher to complete the manuscript (Hegel 1949, 17-19). The completion of the manuscript was undoubtedly further complicated by the author’s learning that he would soon be the proud father of a child with Christina Burkhard. (As of yet, he had never married.)

In 1807, he took a position as editor of a Bamberg newspaper, and the following year moved to Nürnberg to become rector at a local secondary school. The Nürnberg period proved quite productive for Hegel, both personally and intellectually: in 1811 he married Marie von Tucher, with whom he had two sons, Karl and Immanuel; he also published both parts of his Wissenscaft der Logik (Science of Logic), Die objektive Logik (1812-13) and Die subjektive Logik (1816). Hegel returned to higher education in 1816 with a professorship at Heidelberg. In 1817 he published Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundisse (Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline) as an overview of the system propounded in his lectures. The following year, Hegel assumed the chair of Philosophy at Berlin, previously held by Fichte.

It was at Berlin that Hegel achieved broad popularity and intellectual prominence. His major publications were Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundisse (Philosophy of Right, 1921; a second edition in 1833, edited by E. Gans, titled Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts) and a second, enlarged edition of the Encyklopädie in 1927. Yet, somewhat ironically for the poor orator, it was Hegel’s lectures which won him high acclaim in Germany and beyond. Indeed the manuscripts and outlines of and student’s notes upon these lectures would comprise the most influential of Hegel’s works: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, 1832), Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie (History of Philosophy, 1833-36), Vorlesungen über die Aesthetik (Philosophy of Art, 1835-38), and Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Philosophy of History, 1837). The collection and publication of these mature works, which elaborate and expand the philosophical system begun in the Phenomenology, Science of Logic, and Encyclopedia was left to his friends, students and family, for in 1831 Hegel perished amid a cholera epidemic.

Hegel was born on 27 August 1770 in Stuttgart as a son of a Württemberg official. In 1788, he entered the Stift Theological Seminary in nearby Tübingen to prepare for a career as a Protestant clergyman. F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1854) and F. Hölderlin (1770-1843) were his room-mates, and the intellectual exchanges with them influenced Hegel’s thought in many ways. Upon his graduation in 1793, Hegel did not enter ministry but became a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland. He remained there until 1796. Hegel moved to Frankfurt am Main in the following year and worked as a family tutor until the end of 1800. In 1801, Hegel went to the University of Jena, where the “Kantian” philosophy and the early Romantic Movement were flourishing since the 1790s. In Jena, Hegel worked closely with Schelling, who was teaching philosophy as a successor of J.G. Fichte (1762-1814). Together they published Critical Journal of Philosophy, a philosophical periodical, from 1802 until 1803, when Schelling left Jena. The close relationship with Schelling waned as Schelling took personally Hegel’s criticism in the preface of Phenomenology of Spirit (1807).

Later Schelling takes Hegel’s position at the University of Berlin after Hegel’s death. In the autumn of 1806, Hegel had to leave the University of Jena since it closed upon the occupation of Jena by Napoleon’s troops. Hegel faced financial difficulty without a professorship, and he started to work as an editor for a daily newspaper in Bamberg in 1807. To make his financial situation worse, Hegel had an illegitimate son with Christiane Charlotte Burkhardt whom Hegel never married (1807). In the following year (1808), Hegel became a rector and professor at a grammar school in Nuremberg, and served there until 1815. In 1811, Hegel married Maria Helena Susanna von Tucher and they had two sons together. The gentle and affectionate letters to his wife written during his travels testify to their happy marriage. In 1816 Hegel went to University of Heidelberg, and left there to take a chair at the University of Berlin in 1818. The Berlin years marked the height of Hegel’s academic and social life. He finally settled financially and gained fame and followers that he missed at Jena in the shadow of Schelling. The years at Berlin, however, were not without hardship. Hegel’s philosophical and political position was challenged by influential figures within the university such as Schleiermacher and Savingny. The accusations of atheism and pantheism were charges Hegel refuted enthusiastically. Hegel died in his sleep on 14 November 1831 after one day’s illness, possibly due to a Cholera epidemic of the time, or perhaps because of a chronic respiratory ailment. His funeral was that of a person of importance.

Not all of the Hegel’s works were published by Hegel during his life time. Among these posthumous works, Early Theological Writings (published in 1907) is particularly important. Some of the Hegel’s published works were neither written directly nor published by Hegel. They are based on partial manuscript and lecture notes complied by his students. These include Hegel’s influential lectures on philosophy of history, the history of philosophy and the philosophy of religion.

Hegel’s most influential works, written and published by him, include: Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), three volumes of Science of Logic (1812, 1813, and 1816), and Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1817).

2. Works (Selected List)

The Spirit of Christianity

With "The Spirit of Christianity" (1905/06?) we see a dramatic transition in Hegel’s thought. He no longer espouses the Kantian moral line. Rather, he sees those who rely on external authority and those, like Kant, who situate moral authority within the individual as cut from the same ecclesiastical cloth, "the difference is not that the former make themselves slaves, while the latter is free, but that the former have their lord outside themselves, while the latter carries his lord within himself, yet at the same time is his own slave" (Hegel 1948, 211). Hegel sees the essential spirit of Christianity as one of love, in which the realms of justice and injustice, the din of competing virtues and absolutes, are transcended in a harmonious unity. "The Spirit of Christianity" marks a significant turning point in Hegel’s thought. First, it demonstrates his growing suspicion of Kant’s morality and metaphysics; secondly, Hegel begins to view the positivity of religion, its historical contingency and determinacy, not as a negative perversion of the truth underlying religious sentiment, but rather as expressive of that truth; and thirdly, Hegel begins to elaborate his processive view of reality and truth, in which seemingly mutually exclusive absolutes are harmonized.

Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion

[Religion] is the loftiest object that can occupy human beings; it is the absolute object. It is the region of eternal truth and eternal virtue, the region where all the riddles of thought, all contradictions, and all the sorrows of the heart should show themselves to be resolved, and the region of the eternal peace through which the human being is truly human. (Hegel, 1827: 75)

Although Hegel is well known as a philosopher rather than a theologian, the lectures on the philosophy of religion clearly show that his philosophy can never be divorced from his theological thought. In fact, for Hegel, the “content” and “object” of philosophy and religion are same: “the eternal truth, God and nothing but God” (78). Criticizing Kantian thought that our cognition cannot grasp God, Hegel says that we can know not only “that God is” but also “what God is” (88). In fact, the problems of theology, as Hegel saw them, lay in its inability to yield any cognitive knowledge of God. Theology, in Hegel’s view, should investigate not merely “our relation” to God but God’s nature in God himself (89). But how can God be the object of our cognition? Can we really know God in essence? Yes, Hegel says, precisely because God is “absolute Spirit” (118) and spirit is only “for spirit” (90).  Put differently, we human beings, who are spirit, cannot but immediately cognize absolute Spirit (God), who presents God-self to our consciousness. In his own words, “God is revealed immediately in the consciousness of human beings” (85).  Thus, this “immediate knowledge” is the first element of the knowledge of God. Here, we are immediately aware of both God and the fact that God exists as an absolute being independent of my consciousness. Hegel calls this immediate certainty of God “faith” (136). But in so far as our certainty of God does not have objective grounds, it is still “subjective” and takes the form of “feeling” (138). Our knowledge has to consider the objective aspect, and the objective side of the feeling is “representation” (144). Representation concerns the “content” of religion, which is God, and it involves two forms: sensible and non-sensible or inner forms. Representation as sensible form presents itself in an empirical and concrete manner, such as “a series of actions and sensible determinations” (148). When religion takes a non-sensible form, it is presented in “its simple mode—an action, activity, or relationship in a simple form” (148). But this non-sensible form is not yet elevated to the level of thought that  conceptualizes the manifold determinations of the representation of God in relationship and universality. It is only in thoughts where the immediacy and the representation of God are universally unified and find their rational expressions, thus establishing the certainty of knowledge of God.

According to Hegel, Religion is “spirit that realizes itself in consciousness” (104). This realization is a movement or process in which finite human beings elevate themselves to the infinite and the infinite God comes to the finite human consciousness (104). Since philosophy arrives at certain knowledge through concept, we need to start from the concept of religion. As a concept, religion is universal and general, and it has no determinate character. Without any determination, religion in general enjoys the “substantial unity” (104), but at the cost of existence (105). In order for this concept of religion to be real, religion in general must become determinate. In other words, religion should enter existence (108). This activity of “self-determining” of religion in concrete time and space is diverse, producing historical and particular religions (109).

Hegel asserts that there are three stages in the determinate religions: Immediate or Nature religion (Religion of magic, Chinese Religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Persian Religion, Egyptian Religion), Elevation of the Spiritual above the natural (Greek Religion and Jewish religion), and Religion of Expediency (Roman religion, Universal and Purposive, but finite and Unspiritual—the absolute state religion). This categorization is based on the 1827 lectures, and Hegel slightly changes it in 1831. Here, it is notable that Hegel did not enjoy the scholarship of the world religions as we do now. He had limited sources, and seemed to be possibly biased in his understanding. One of the biases, Hodgson points out, is his dependence on “Western ontological categories” (45). What comes next to these three stages of determinate religion is absolute religion or consummate religion, which Hegel identifies with Christian religion. After going through all the necessary finite forms and determinations, spirit negates itself and finally becomes itself in Christian religion. In the stage of determinate religion, spirit went out of itself, putting on a “mode of finitude” (411). In this final stage, spirit finally returns to itself, becoming “infinite form” as an absolute subjectivity (411). For Hegel, the history of religion is the history of spirit’s self realization, “the becoming, the brining forth of spirit by itself” (411).

3. Themes


One of Hegel’s contributions to philosophy is his concept of the dialectic. In Plato’s writings, there are examples of dialogs in which thought moves to a conclusion. This idea is generalized and formalized by Hegel into a theory which permeates his system. The dialectic comes about when two conflicting theses are reflected upon and a unity is discerned which includes both of them, resulting in a synthesis. The term for this uniting is called sublation, or in German, Aufhebung which means a cancellation, preservation, and transcending. (Audi, p. 315) The resulting synthesis then becomes a new thesis (while still retaining vestiges of the previous theses). For Hegel, a thesis incorporates its own antithesis or complement (as in: A is non-A), so the dialectic movement can proceed by sublating the new pair of theses, thereby producing another synthesis, and so on. For an example of dialectic, consider “being” and contrast it with “non-being.” The synthesis that issues from these is “becoming.” However, there are cases in which the two theses are not logical negations of each other. For example, the ancient city-state (characterized by unity) is “negated” by modern individualism (characterized by fragmentation and alienation) and these are sublated by a state which preserves unity while at the same time affording freedom to the individual. (Inwood, p. 613) Hegel thought that all phenomena could be understood as exemplifying the operation of the dialectic and that this process moves toward an absolute. He also considered the historical process of development to be inevitable.


God is the one who as living spirit distinguishes himself from himself, posits an other and in this other remains identical with himself, has in this other his identity with himself (453).

Humanity is essentially and implicitly in unity with God. But humanity cannot fully realize this unless this unity becomes real and certain in history. The incarnation of God in one single person of Jesus history occurs precisely to give humanity this certainty (455). Incarnation means that infinite God negates his infinitude and universality and puts on finitude and actual existence. In Jesus, the idea of God (the ideal, the subjective) becomes real (the actuality, the objective) and the implicit unity of divine and humanity becomes explicit. This is why Christ is called “God-man”(457).

For Hegel, Christ’s death means that God became utterly other to God, taking upon the ultimate finitude (465). The resurrection of Christ means that God overcame the finitude and put death to the finitude of humanity (466-8). Christ’s death and resurrection attests to God’s infinite love, and restores the unity with God and humanity. We can comprehend the unity with God only spiritually. The church is the community that grasps this unity with the help of the outpouring of Spirit. In that it is Spirit who enables the community, the subject of the community is Spirit itself (469-73), and the members of the community are “the active expression of the Spirit” (475). Since the Spirit already revealed the truth of reconciliation in the community, the church now has task of sharing and teaching this truth. This truth is developed in the form of doctrines within the church, and the church is “essentially a teaching church” (476). Although doctrines have impurities because of they are developed within the human sphere and seem to be external to us, we are urged to “appropriate” the heart of doctrines (the presence of God) and make them genuinely internal to ourselves (481). The truth is at hand through revelation, and one needs to make this truth as “one’s volition, one’s object, one’s spirit” (479). According to Hegel, human beings are “born into the church” and they are “destined to participate in this truth” (477).

Although the Spirit is present in the church, the process of actualization of the sprit has not yet completed. Humanity as a whole has not yet realized their unity with Spirit, and the church has been corrupted (483). Reconciliation must occur on the universal and worldly level. According to Hegel, the reconciliation has three historical moments. The first moment occurs on the worldly level (482). It is the real moment of reconciliation and three stages constitute this. The first stage is the “stage of immediacy [or the heart]” (484) where the individual heart is reconciled with God (481). In the second stage the community of the reconciled heart, which is the church, becomes dominant over the worldly realm (483). In the third stage, the reconciliation occurs in the ethical realm. The freedom and eternal truth are prevalent in the worldly.

The second moment of reconciliation is the ideal moment where the religious consciousness emerges at the level of thinking (484). Enlightenment and pietism constitute this moment.  In the final moment, the unity of ideal and real, and “the reconciliation of God with himself and with nature” occur (489). Thus the subjectivity knows “the content of religion in accord with its necessity and reason” (487).

It is notable here that Hegel’s notion of subjectivity does not refer to an intention of God in classical theism. One can be easily misled by Hegel’s religious language and can think that the subjectivity as shown in God’s going out and returning is something similar to a personal intention of a transcendent being. But subjectivity for Hegel is the activity or creativity immanent in the world historical process (264). One should also not understand Hegel’s notion of God as that of traditional theism. God is not transcendent being apart from the world. Rather, God is dynamic process, and can be actualized only through human history. Thus, the life and the process of God’s unfolding in history is manifest in arts, religion, and philosophy. The human history is the history of human consciousness of God as well as the history of God’s own consciousness. In the domain of religion, one can observe the movement of Spirit through the history of religion. According to Hegel, Spirit, starting as a mere subjective or the universal, goes through the different forms and phases in the particular forms of various religions in history. This history of religion before Christianity is in a sense a preparation for Spirit’s consummation. As I already mentioned, Hegel asserts that Spirit finally achieves its unity of subject and object in Christianity. In Christianity, both the subjectivity and the objectivity of Spirit is negated and Spirit becomes Absolute. This unity of subject and object is well expressed in incarnation. Incarnation means that God negates himself and posits the other, while remaining same in the other (455). Although religion recognizes this truth, it only represents it rather than clearly grasping it. It is philosophy, Hegel’s philosophy to be more accurate, that grasps the movement of God more fully.

According to Hegel, philosophy investigates the life of Absolute Spirit or God as it unfolds throughout the history, and it does so by investigating concept or reason. Criticizing Kant who thought that mere concept without content (intuition) is empty (Calton, 21), Hegel asserts that subjective concepts are not necessarily empty or devoid of being (22). In fact, for Hegel, being is already pertained to concept and the transition from concept to being occurs in the word through action and movement (25). According to him, every concept has contradictions in itself, and this is not failure as Kant saw it in antinomies (55). Rather, we can arrive at a scientific metaphysical knowledge of being as well as concept by observing the contradictions and their necessary inner movement. Hegel argues that logical examination of concept tells us that any concept necessarily contains its opposites within it, and they pass over to the opposites producing the truth of the opposite which is the unity of the two. This is the process of dialectics, and this process of passing over is a dynamic movement.

To explicate this, Hegel investigates the concept ‘being.’  The concept of being is itself not different from nothingness. As a pure abstraction, the concept of being negates being completely, and thus becomes nothingness. The concept of nothing is implicit in the concept of being, and the being negates itself and passes over to nothing, and brings the truth of the becoming, which is the unity of being and nothing. As the two opposites of being and nothing exist in the concept of being, there is a fluctuation on both sides. This fluctuation of the concept is stabilized in determinate beings where the limits are set and the universal amalgam of the two becomes particular and determinate. So the contradiction leads to the movement of one’s negation to the other, and the constant movement of the two occurs until the fluctuation is settled in determinate beings and new concept (52-55). Thus the dialectics entails new concepts, and they are connected by the internal necessity which leads us to the complete scientific system of ideas. (56) Through this process of dialectics and elaboration of concepts, human reason is elevated to the level of God. Indeed, our thinking or Reason sees its own inward movement not only conceptually but also really in the world history. Our Reason penetrates the inner essence of God, and God can be self-conscious or know God’s own self only through finite human mind and history.  In this sense, human Reason is itself the Absolute Spirit or God, and the human history itself is the history of God’s becoming human or human’s becoming God. God is Spirit immanent in the world and comes to self-consciousness in human Reason. Our idea of God reveals the being of God, and in fact Reason itself becomes God. The spiritual consciousness attains the universality in thought and realizes that the worldly is indeed the divine.

Representation, Appearance

In God’s act of primal division God brings the other to exist by positing something independent and other than God: the World. Although the world is not wholly other than God, but intrinsically one with God, humanity elevated itself to the level of God, eating the forbidden fruit. What the story of the Fall means is not that this event actually happened. Rather, it conveys the truth that humanity acquired “cognition.” Cognition, Hegel says, is the source of evil because it enables humanity to judge and divide oneself. Acquiring this cognition, humanity now knows the good and the evil. This awareness of good and evil gives rise to “ongoing anguish” (446), and the sense of “cleavage” to God: “This is the deepest depth. Human beings are inwardly conscious that in their innermost being they are a contradiction, and have therefore an infinite anguish concerning themselves” (447). If anguish arises from the relation to God, but, of course, this needs to be understood in a special way, unhappiness comes from the dissatisfaction with the external world (450). Both anguish and unhappiness call for the need for reconciliation.

The Idea of God In and For itself

Hegel asserts that we cannot speak of God with attributes since those determinate predications often create unsolvable conflicts and contradictions with one another. Thus we need to start from the “idea” of God, which is “itself the resolution of the contradictions posited by it” (420). According to Hegel, God, in his absolute idea, is essentially triune. He states that spirit differentiates itself and begets Son. Yet Son is not utterly other than God, but he is God. Holy Spirit is love, which is the whole activity of this differentiation and reconciliation. Thus God is eternally in and for itself Trinity (426).

The Absolute

Hegel uses the term “Absolute” in a number of ways. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel traces the historical development of forms of consciousness. The idea behind this work has been compared to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in which a soul journeys from an initial state in the cave of ignorance, through stages of greater understanding, until it emerges in the sunlight with the ability to contemplate the Forms and The Good. Hegel uses a similar theme, but instead of focusing on an individual, he envisions this process taking place throughout history involving mankind as a whole. The ultimate state that is reached is called Absolute Knowledge. Hegel believed he had acquired this knowledge which enabled him to discern the pattern of the historical development of consciousness. (Patterson)

In his system of logic, the dialectic is seen to generate the categories of experience such as Being, Essence, and Concept. The culmination is the Absolute Knowing which is “the Concept which has itself for object and content and consequently is its own reality.” (Hegel 1986, p. 122) In other words, it overcomes the distinction between subject and object.

Hegel said that religion “consists in the employment or exercise of feeling and thought in forming an idea or representation of the Absolute Being” and that “God is the Absolute Spirit, i.e. he is the pure Being that makes himself his own object and in this contemplates only himself, or who is, in his other-being, absolutely returned into himself and self-identical.” (Hegel 1986, p. 53) An individual, can through the use of his freedom, seek to become absolute for himself and separate himself from God. But Grace informs the individual that his nature is in reality not alien to the divine nature. Once this is grasped, the individual can be reconciled to God. (Hegel 1986, p. 54) Religion’s “main function is to raise the individual to the thought of God, to bring him in to union with God and to assure the individual of that union.” (Hegel 1986, p. 168) This conception of God as Absolute Spirit developed out of Hegel’s philosophical system and so it meets the requirement of rationality and this conception of religion meets the criteria previously mentioned for an adequate religion.

Hegel tries to treat the problem of evil by giving philosophical support to the idea that history is the process of the development of Geist which is moving toward a good result. Thus he attenuates some of God’s attributes, making God less than transcendent, but by doing do so, he makes room for hope.

Hegel’s Logic

In his discussion of logic, both in the Science of Logic and in the Encyclopedia, Hegel offers his greatest rejection of Kantian thought. He firmly rejects the supposition that concepts and categories are static, and that knowledge is constructed by their interrelation and application. To view the categories and individual concepts as static entities is to deny the very nature of thought itself. Thought is dynamic. At every point, thought overturns the bases from which it proceeds, for each basis is itself conflictual and incomplete (Hegel 1975, xiii). For example, one may posit A. In the very positing of A, there emerges the thought of that which is not-A. That is, A, as a concept or category, contains in itself the very concept of its negation, an element of conflict. Logically, therefore, one proceeds from A to not-A. Thus thought, specifically, dialectical thought, contains in it the element of negation. To the Understanding, which seeks to categorize and separate, dialectic appears as solely negative and destructive (Hegel 1975, xvi). Yet it also contains the element of inclusion, for in A, and not-A, there exists implicitly its opposite. Logical thought, therefore, is not merely the negation of static categories, of immediate things, but a making explicit what is implicit in each of its elements. Thus, not-A, by its very difference, aids the expression of A. The purpose of dialectic, of the transition from immediacy (the given category or concept) to a mediate stage (wherein the immediate is negated in the assertion of its opposite), is a full, harmonious, concrete and synthetic expression of that which was contained abstractly in immediacy. This third stage is the stage of Reason, wherein the Notion - the truth present in thesis and antithesis, though only particularly and imperfectly - is most fully articulated. This Notion is present, though only implicitly in the first stage, the thesis. Through negation and differentiation, an antithesis is posited. In Reason, thesis and antithesis are harmonized in a synthesis which is a fuller expression of the Notion. Thus the thought process has a directionality: it aims toward the increasingly refined articulation of the Notion. Through the narrowing of the variations and their negation, there arises precision in definition. Furthermore, the Notion is concrete, as it is ever that which drives forward the logical process and which is also its concrete result.

Each Notion in itself, however, is not an isolated and static thing. Rather, every notion is necessarily related to all other Notions. Thought seeks to articulate this fundamental connection, and in so doing, arrives at the Idea. As each notion is itself the synthesis of competing and apparently contradictory instances of its expression, so the Idea is the ultimate synthesis of the "competing absolutes" which are the Notions themselves.

Thus, for Hegel, logic is necessarily a dynamic. To affirm static categories and ideas is artificially cut short the inherent process, and thereby sever the means by which one arrives at truth , or, more appropriately, the means by which truth finds its fullest expression and apprehension. Each finite and static expression of the truth is, of itself, necessarily true. But, as static, it falls short of final expression. It holds within itself its negation, its relative falsehood. The goal of logic, therefore, is not the construction of truths from static Notions, but rather the explicit expression of the truth implicit in them, and the synthesis of these notions into the Idea. Flux and dynamism are therefore not only attributes of the world of appearances, but the nature of that which orders those appearances (Hegel 1975, xvi).

Critique of Religion

From his classical studies, Hegel had developed a deep appreciation for ancient Greek culture. (After Hegel, scholarly interest in ancient history burgeoned in Germany.) He saw within it an integrated, harmonious society whose citizens enjoyed self-determination. This sharply contrasted with his own culture which was marked by individual alienation and political discord. To differentiate between these two types of culture, Hegel used the terms understanding (Verstand) and reason (Vernunft). As Hegel saw it, his contemporary culture sought understanding which is theoretical and lifeless, an external authority, while the Greeks used reason to gain knowledge which enabled individuals to direct their own lives.

At seminary, Hegel was exposed to rational theology against which he reacted in his posthumously published, Early Theological Writings. For Hegel, religion has a crucial influence on the character of a culture. When he examined the Christian church of his time, he found it to have a negative effect. Christianity seemed to be little more than a collection of creeds, rituals and dogmas. This religion, which was imposed upon individuals, did not arise from the people’s experience and was therefore alien and irrelevant. Using his terms, it was a religion of understanding, not reason. As Hegel reflected on the Greeks, he conceived of an ideal religion which taught that the good life could be achieved through wisdom and virtue, a religion that could be embraced from the heart. Such a religion touches the spirit of people and Hegel believed that culture could be improved if it had a new understanding of religion along such lines. (Williamson, pp. 13, 14)

At this point in the development of his thought, Hegel had come to consider religion to be essentially and primarily internal, a matter of the heart. In addition, religion must not only accommodate the needs of the individual, but also those of the entire population. Thus Hegel identifies community as an important dimension of religion. These considerations gave rise to requirements that any adequate religion must satisfy. Hegel recommended that the doctrines of religion be grounded on universal reason, not just authority; that they be understandable by the general public; and that they not contain moral demands which are beyond their reach . In other words, religion should not be a repressive burden. (Williamson, pp. 16,17)

4. Outline of Major Works

Critique of Kant

Kant’s philosophical thought was prominent during Hegel’s career. Hegel considered Kant to be his principle disputant and he diverged from Kant in a number of ways. For example, Kant held that the categories of thought that structure our experience are static, but Hegel considered them to be dynamic, to have developed over history according to the dialectic process.

In his Critique, Kant concluded that knowledge of the thing-in-itself was impossible since the objects of experience are modified by our cognition of them. Hegel considered this to be an undesirable type of scepticism and wanted to overcome it. Kant had modeled cognition as an instrument for mediating knowledge and Hegel believed that this assumption inevitably leads to the noumenal/phenomenal gap. But Hegel reasoned that if we have no conception of the thing-in-itself, then it lacks content and can have no meaning. Hence, the putative thing-in-itself is not, in principle, something about which we can have knowledge. Hegel can still accept a theory of truth in which thought corresponds to the object, but the object corresponded to is not the thing-in-itself, but rather the thing that is thought. So knowledge for Hegel is modeled as a kind of reflective self-consciousness, a thinking about thought. (Berthold-Bond, pp. 42-46)

Two of Hegel’s critiques of Kant can be summarized as follows.

1) For Kant, the noumenal is needed to account for the phenomenal, but Hegel disputes this, claiming the noumenal is an unnecessary postulate. Since we have no knowledge of the noumenal realm, we don’t know that such can be the cause of thought. Hegel moves to a pure idealism: phenomena result strictly from the mind.

2) Kant’s attempt to critique reason is self-defeating. In order to detect the limits of reason, you must be on higher ground, but where is such a ground? There can be no transcendent vantage point from which can we judge human reason because reason itself is our only means of judgment. But in reply, Kant could say that some limits, such as a horizon, can be detected from an immanent vantage point, so the possibility of determining limits depends on the type of limit in question.

Phenomenology of Spirit

On the title page of the first edition of the Phenomenology, Hegel introduces the volume as "Science of the Experience of Consciousness" and later terms it his "voyage of discovery." It is, indeed both, for in it, Hegel’s attempts to examine the varieties of experience of consciousness, while at the same time to uncover that which underlies and unifies all experience. The Phenomenology, wherein Hegel articulates the "science of philosophy," was to be the first part of a system which would be completed in the Encyclopedia, wherein the philosophical sciences as a whole - those of nature, logic and mind - are examined. Nevertheless, Hegel writes with some notion of the full system in mind. His argument is often circular, and one has to have to have some conception of the scope and end of the project in order to understand its course. Further, it is necessary to have a sense of the intellectual context of the work. Hegel seeks to overcome the limits of reason set by Kant, and to arrive at Absolute Truth. His system is a concerted effort to "intellectualize Romanticism," affirming the ultimate unity of the world, and respecting its fundamental vitality and beauty, and to "spiritualize the Enlightenment," affirming the primacy of reason while restoring its dynamic element (cf. Hegel 1948, 20-21). (With regards to religion, Hegel was also responding to the popularity of Schleiermacher, whose notion of dependency as the foundation for religion he rebuked with the comment that if a sense of absolute dependency were indeed the font of religion, then the dog would be the most religious of creatures.) With Schelling, Hegel affirmed that above the diversity of experience and the competing antinomies of reason, there was a higher unity. However, he rejected Schelling’s leap to poetry and intuition to arrive at this unity, and, moreover, he disdained Schelling’s vision of a unity in which all difference was simply void (i.e., "the night in which all cows are black")(Hegel 1948, 21-22).

In seeking to find a basis for a more synthetic unity of the variety of experience, Hegel focuses upon human consciousness. The human mind is confronted with a variety of experiences, which it manages to analyze and classify. It dissects experience. Yet the human mind is also capable of synthesizing such variety into a persisting unity, the unity of its consciousness. By examination of the human consciousness, one can arrive at a vision of an ultimate unity of experience which is fundamentally rational, as it is necessarily based in the human thought process. He outlines the "historical" development of human consciousness, arising from a primordial insensibility, to a recognition of self as subject amidst a world of alien objects. The human mind seeks to take in this world of variety, to categorize and codify. In so doing, it transforms the world mentally. The mind also effects physical transformation of the world, through the development of culture and civilization. From this stage of differentiation, it moves into a stage of increasing recognition of an identity of the subject with the object. This can clearly be seen in the work of the Enlightenment, and in Kant in particular, for in the latter’s writings,we see the contemplation of the human mind as itself an object, yet an object which is wholly identified with the contemplating subject.

It should here be noted that in his discussion, Hegel treats not only the individual mind, but the human mind as manifest on a societal level. Consciousness, in its collective form, also passes through such a recognition. Indeed, each individual may come to a realization that the society, or people (Volk) into which he or she is born, is not an alien and external force, but rather the manifestation of human mind and spirit of which the individual is a particular manifestation. The historical and societal context and the individual influence one another, and share a common spirit. There is, as ever, and underlying unity.

Through examination of the human mind/spirit, Hegel arrives not at empirical psychology or sociology alone. The workings of the human spirit are not isolated operations, but rather the finite manifestations of a universal process. The differentiation and integration which take place in human reason bespeaks a broader force at work in and through the world. By examination of human consciousness and human reason, one gains access to that force. This force, as understood by Hegel, is Geist, Spirit. (While there is much debate over the appropriate translation of this multifaceted German term, for the purposes of this paper I have elected to use the term Spirit as opposed to mind, for while Geist is eminently rational, it contains within itself, as a process, that which transcends reason.) Spirit is at work in the world, in natural history and in the history of social groups, as a process of emerging determinate self-consciousness and integration. It proceeds from an ideal, totally abstract state, a state of immediacy without self-consciousness, through a realization of difference, to a self-conscious unity, wherein difference is not obliterated, but harmonized in a greater rationality.

Thus, the world’s history is not a random association of discordant events and competing philosophies, but the often painful though ultimately glorious self-realization and self-integration of the Absolute. "The life of God and the divine intelligence, then, can, if we like, be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative" (Hegel 1948, 81). The dark elements of history and the pain of existence are not excluded in this view; indeed, conflict is necessary, and never overlooked by Hegel’s keen historical eye. Such conflict, however, is subsumed into the abiding unity of the divine life.

The Philosophy of Religion

In understanding the positivity of religion there are two things to take into consideration, first how one can verify the spiritual, and second, how external features display religion. According to Hegel verifying the spiritual cannot be done externally, but occurs when spirit bears witness to spirit, "The spiritual as such cannot be directly verified by the unspiritual, the sensible" (Hegel 1827, 396). For example, in the case of miracles, there is no need to investigate their truth because it cannot be obtained in the finite sphere in which miracles occur. The spiritual for Hegel can only be witnessed through itself. Since miracles occur externally there is no criteria in them for truth. Hegel asserts that there is no need to either verify or attack miracles because they are not the way to know truth. The spirit is what bears witness to the truth ( Hegel 1827, 397).

Absolute religion is described as "manifesting of itself according to its concept, taking its former, initial manifestation back into itself, sublimating it, coming to its own self, becoming and being explicitly the way it is implicitly" (Hegel 1827, 103) Christianity fits this definition, by Christ’s incarnation consciousness occurs, and his death and resurrection are the returning to self. God made himself known in consciousness, and through this reconciliation can then occur, "God made himself known not in just an external history, but in concsiousness" (Hegel 1827, 392).

Even thought there is one universal spirit there are two aspects to it, the human spirit and the universal spirit. The two spirits cannot be separated from each other because the universal spirit works in the human spirit, "however, the latter is not an autonomous singular activity but the inner working of the holy and universal spirit" (Hegel 1827, 397). Our spirit responds to the universal spirit/ God’s spirit, "In history, all that is noble, lofty , and divine speaks to us internally" (Hegel 1827, 397). Everything stems from the spirit, the spirit is the foundation, and it is through this foundation then that reasoning and understanding can occur. According to Hegel philosophy embodies spirit because it has insights into its own truths. Truth is innate in an individuals spirit, and so the universal spirit awakens that spirit in an individual. Hegel points out that truth is not only revealed through philosophy, but also in a second handed nature through "authority and testimonies" (Hegel 1827, 60).

Universality, particularity, and singularity, make up Hegel’s system of the consumate religion. God is the universal idea and the foundation for all thought. God creates a finite world which he separates himself from, and at the same time plans to be reconciled with, which is the particularity. The process of reconciliation occurs in such a way that the spirit returns to itself which is singularity (Hegel 1827, 62). God makes himself present in nature, therefore the eternal spirit recognizes God in this finite existence. There must be both a finite spirit and an infinite spirit so that reconciliation can take place: "The concrete spirit, the finite spirit defined as finite, is therefore in contradiction to its object or content, and this gives rise above all to the need to sublate this contradiction and separation that appear in finite spirit as such - in other words, the need for reconciliation" (Hegel 1827, 414).

God comes in the form of finite so that the finite spirit can know the infinite. Spirit is both finite and infinite, and that this distinction must be made between the infinite spirit and the spirit of essence:

Consciousness is precisely the mode of finitude of spirit: distinction is present here. One thing is on one side, another on the other side; something has its limit or end in something else, and this way they are limited. Finite is this distinguishing which in spirit takes the form of consciousness (Hegel 1827, 405) The finite and the infinite have to come work together for truth to be revealed.

The process by which the concept of religion becomes absolute spirit occurs in different moments of the concept. Religion begins as a concept, and then moves to determinateness, and from there to absolute religion,

the moments of pure conceptuality (universality), self determination (differentiation, particularity), and self determination (differentiation, particularity), and self - reunification (reestablishment, consummation, subjectivity), which serve as the logical, rational basis for the actual appearance of religions and the division of the subject into three parts (Hegel 1827, 100). The universal is the seed of all truth. Self-determination is the finite state. If reconciliation is to occur the finite has to acknowledge this separation, and then it is possible for it to return.

According to Hegel one can never know God, but only know our relation to Him. And it is through consciousness that this knowledge of God occurs at all. This knowledge is at the same time God’s self-knowledge. Hegel says that our spirit bears witness only by its connection to the universal spirit. Absolute spirit is found in consciousness, "our conviction about it rests on the assent of our own spirit, on our consciousness, that spirit finds this content within itself" (Hegel 1827, 88). In consciousness we find knowledge which is God, therefore consciousness and spirit cannot be separated.

In Hegel’s model of the universal it seems that consciousness is philosophy. For Hegel philosophy makes religion the object of its conversation. The impetus for knowledge can be external, but the way one knows is only by the spirit which is manifested in consciousness. Spirit manifests what is already present in both philosophy and religion. This same spirit of consciousness that holds together philosophy is in Religion:

"According to the philosophical concept God is spirit, concrete; and if we inquire more precisely what spirit is, it turns out that the basic concept of spirit is the one whose development constitutes the entire doctrine of religion" (Hegel 1827, 90). Philosophy actually occurs in religion, and in this sense is said to be above religion.

Hegel’s model of universality, consciousness and reconciliation are exemplified in the Christian religion. In Christianity God is revealed to the world through history - so we have come to the level of consciousness. Through the Christian religion Hegel expressed his theology by suggesting that what has been revealed in History (Jesus) now needs to be conceived in thought (Livingston, 150). This is the system being displayed in Christianity. The incarnation and death represents for Hegel the finitude and the resurrection of Christ represents the return of spirit to itself. In Hegel’s model estrangement and then reconciliation must occur therefore, Jesus crucifixion and death fulfill this. Christ’s death and resurrection represent the finitude and reconciliation Hegel describes, "But what God’s death on the cross symbolizes is that God’s finitude is only a transitional moment in the emergence of Absolute spirit" (Livingston 153-154) After the death and resurrection of Christ is the emergence of a spiritual community - the Holy Spirit or Universal Spirit (Livingston 154).

In Hegel’s earlier writings he said that Christianity was lacking and did not reflect the intelligence of people (Livingston, 149) Hegel’s later view of Christianity was one that suggested, "Historical Christianity had grasped the truth in representational form, but philosophy grasps this same truth in its rational necessity" (Livingston 1971, 150). Therefore, Christianity becomes the manifestation of the spirit in history.

In his closing lines to the 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (From this point on Lectures), Georg W. F. Hegel described his approach to religion as “the philosophical cognition of religion” (Hegel, [1827]1988). This statement brings forth the fundamental relationship that Hegel posited between philosophy and religion. For Hegel philosophy elucidates religion. That is philosophy penetrates religious representations in order to bring forth their true content. However, before going into a detailed discussion of Hegel’s  Lectures a few words about their context and their formation are in order.

According to Peter C. Hodgson, Hegel lectured on the topic of philosophy of religion in the years 1821, 1824, 1827, and 1831 at Berlin (Hodgson, ed., [1827]1988). Hegel made modifications to the Lectures as he saw the need to respond to the philosophical and theological climate of his day. Hodgson points out that Hegel’s  Lectures were initially conceived in anticipation of the intended union of the Lutheran and Reform Churches of Prussia. Merklinger, on the other hand, argues that Hegel’s understanding of the interplay between philosophy and religion was shaped by his conflict, initially, with F.D. Schleiermacher, and later, with Pietism (Merklinger 1993). It is also worth noting that although Hegel assumed Kant’s “transcendental turn”, he reacted against the limits placed upon religious knowledge by Kant’s critique. Yet, Hegel’s reaction did not amount to, in the words of Robert R. Williams, a return to “precritical modes of thought” (McGrath, ed., 1993). Instead, Williams argues, Hegel sought to bridge the post-Enlightenment gap between philosophy and theology by transforming religious representations (Vorstellungen) into philosophical concepts (Begriffe). Indeed, Hegel introduced his Lectures by arguing that his contemporary intellectual climate was propitious for a “linkage” between philosophy and theology (Hegel, p. 81).

For Hegel religion describes a dynamic thought process, which embraces the absolute idea and humanity. According to Hegel religion is the “relation of human consciousness to God” (Hegel, p. 76). This relation has two poles, namely God as absolute idea, and humanity. This relationship is progressive and can be accounted for from each of its poles (Hegel, p. 90, 203).

For Hegel the progressive unfolding of the absolute idea has three moments. First the absolute idea is wholly enclosed within itself (Hegel, p. 117). The absolute idea has no internal differentiation. In the second moment, as Hegel articulates it in his idealist reformulation of the doctrine of God, the absolute idea or God is “conscious of its own self” (Hegel, p. 104, 118). God’s consciousness of its own self means that God has introduced a “judgment”, a “division”, a “distinction” within its own self, for consciousness always entails such distinction (Hegel, p. 443). Finally, God is reconciled to God’s own self. God is reconciled when the initial distinction brought about by consciousness is overcome. This happens when God as subject has God’s own self as object (Hegel, p. 103). Furthermore, although the internal life of God as absolute idea can be organized for analytical purposes into these three moments, Hegel sustains that the absolute idea is this dynamic process for eternity (Hegel, p. 102-103).

On the other side of the equation, on the side of humanity, religion reflects a historic progression through three stages. The first one is the moment of religion in general. Here human consciousness is related to God as absolute idea. The concept of religion contains all its possible determinations. However, the content of the concept is not yet developed. The nature of religion is in the concept as potentiality but has not yet come out into existence (Hegel, p. 101).

The second moment is the moment of determinate religion. Here human consciousness is related to God in its self-consciousness. God as absolute idea enters the historic realm, the realm of existence and is confronted with the finite, with its negation. Determinate forms of religion are already part of the content of the general concept of religion. However, determinate religion does not yet embody the realization of the concept of religion. Determinate religion is religion “implicitly” but not “explicitly” (Hegel, p. 107-109).

Finally, the last stage of the progression is consummate religion. Hegel identifies Christianity as the consummate or absolute religion. Here humanity is related to the absolute idea in its own reconciliation. According to Hegel, humanity suffers the anguish caused by the cleavage of self-consciousness. Humanity experiences this cleavage as “evil” or the “antithesis vis-à-vis God” and as “misery” or the “antithesis vis-à-vis nature” (Hegel, p. 447). Hence, humanity is in dire need of reconciliation.

God’s reconciliation or the absolute idea’s overcoming of the cleavage brought about by consciousness occurs when it can have its own self as object. Likewise, humanity can only be reconciled when it knows itself in its realization. Because humanity does not know how it ought to be it exists in a state of untruth (Hegel, p. 437). It is in freedom that humanity is able to pursue the contradiction of self-consciousness to its limit, at the point where it learns itself in need of reconciliation (Hegel, p. 216-217). Humanity’s freedom is the movement towards the cognitive realization of what humanity ought to be. The fundamental act of freedom is thought (Hegel, p. 446). Precisely because of its inner cleavage from God, from itself, and from nature, humanity is driven by freedom to know the truth (Hegel, p. 458). Thus, reconciliation is finally achieved when God, absolute reason, becomes flesh. At that point humanity, by an act of sensible cognition overcomes its contradiction. The consummate religion or the absolute religion is hence the revealed religion where spirit is self-manifesting.

An essential category within Hegel’s idealist approach is that of religious representations. According to Hegel, religious representations are images that give expression to an inner meaning (Hegel, p. 144-151). Religious representations may give expression to religious feelings and they may as well evoke such feelings. Hegel stresses the point that religion is grounded in thought, that religious knowledge is above feeling. Yet, he is also arguing that religious knowledge finds expression in representations that ought to be interpreted in light of the concept of God as absolute idea. In a way Hegel is positing the speculative concept of God as a hermeneutical principle able to crack open religious representations found in the form of texts, dogma, and even in history (Hegel, p. 146-147). All religious representations, in particular those of the absolute religion give expression to the dynamic thought process of spirit by means of which it moves from its self-enclosedness through its self-limiting and up to its self-reconciliation. This is no other than the trajectory of human consciousness towards its absolute realization.

By means of this method, Hegel is able to establish the linkage between philosophy and religion, or theology. Hegel approaches different points of Christian dogma and renders them into new forms, in agreement with his speculative concept of God as absolute idea. Hegel sees no obstacle in thus proceeding since, he argues, Christian dogma is only the representation of the absolute concept of God. To the contrary, Hegel feels that he is only bringing forth the true content of dogma (Hegel, p. 144-151).

The doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Church, represent two clear instances where Hegel applied his, if I may, “hermeneutics of the spirit.” As I have already observed, the central idea in Hegel’s rendering of the doctrine of God is that of God’s self-consciousness. This idea posits a cleavage within God that needs to be overcome and is indeed overcome. Hegel states that “God is love”, where love is that ability to be “outside myself and in the other” (Hegel, p. 418). Hence, the Son is other to the Father, but not absolutely other. Because God is “love”, the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. However, Hegel’s rendering of the Trinity seems to be deficient as it fails to clearly articulate the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. One could infer that Hegel’s notion of “love” could stand for the Holy Spirit. Yet, this is not clear.

Nevertheless, Hegel does not entirely neglect the Holy Spirit. Hegel’s rendering of the doctrine of the Church presents it as the community of the Spirit (Hegel, p. 470-489). According to Hegel the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as depicted in Acts 2, starts the community of the Spirit. Moreover, for Hegel the community is the “existing Spirit” (Hegel, p. 473). This community subsists as the Church by means of authority, doctrine, repentance, and penitence. The spirituality of the community is realized when its members embrace their vocation for freedom. The Spirit of reconciliation moves the community to bring forth the true knowledge of what humanity ought to be (Hegel, p. 482). Hence, the community of the Spirit is the final realization of the concept of religion, where human consciousness of God and God’s self-consciousness are identical.

Perhaps, one of the most problematic aspects of Hegel’s philosophy of religion was his attempt to classify world religions along a progression. His classification and categorization of determinate religions was one of the most unstable aspects of his lectures. For instance, what he termed the “Greek religion” was in his original manuscript classified as the “religion of necessity”. Yet, in 1824 the “Greek religion” was classified as the “religion of beauty”. No doubt that Hegel’s was an effort to incorporate the, in his time, growing amount of information on world religions to a comprehensive comparative framework.

Another area that may be subject to criticism was the prominent place that Hegel gave to Christianity as the absolute religion. No doubt that Hegel was consequent with his system in arriving at his conclusion. However, in light of our contemporary knowledge of world religions it is very unlikely that were we to proceed as Hegel did, we would arrive at the same conclusion.

5. Relation to Other Thinkers

Early Theological Writings

Hegel’s early theological writings reflect his fascination with Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. His "Life of Jesus" and "Positivity of the Christian Religion" show his early endorsement of the Kantian supposition of the autonomy of the individual and the primacy of the categorical imperative. In these works, Jesus is recast as a fully human proto-Kantian moralist, struggling against the external, ecclesiastical and repressive authority of the Judaism of the Pharisees. He "was the teacher of a purely moral religion, not a positive one" (Hegel 1948, 71). Moreover, Jesus, according to Hegel, was given to say such things as, "Act on the maxim which you can at the same time will to be a universal law among men. This is the fundamental law of morality - the content of all legislation and of the sacred books of all nations" (Hegel 1948, 6). The ecclesiastical aspect of Christianity was never part of Jesus’ mission, but rather arose out of the religious and political context in which the faith grew.

Philosophy and Religion

In Hegel’s study of philosophy and religion his aim was to come to terms with the relation between knowledge and experience. Religion is the way by which truth is revealed experientially, and philosophy is the way by which truth is revealed in thought. Hegel describes truth as an eternal spirit which manifests itself in religion externally and in philosophy internally in thought. In the History of Philosophy Hegel describes this spirit as the universal spirit of the times that is present in all things and knows itself by its own consciousness. For Hegel philosophy stands above religion in the sense that philosophy has direct access to the spirit which is knowledge. This same spirit is described in the History of Religion, except the spirit is manifest first in matter, and then in spirit. In this process the finite has to be reconciled with the infinite, and this happens in such a way that spirit returns to itself. Christianity is called the absolute religion because God reveals himself through history - in Christianity the incarnation of Christ is the external manifestation of God, where the finite becomes spirit through Christ’s death and resurrection.

The History of Philosophy

"Philosophy first commences when...a gulf has arisen between inward strivings and external reality" (Hegel 1840, 52). According to Hegel there is an eternal Spirit that all things come from, which is the spirit of time. The function of philosophy in this is, "It is one determinate existence, one determinate character which permeates all sides and manifests itself in politics and in all else as in different elements" (Hegel 1840, 54). The spirit of the time is a direct result of the history preceding it. Knowledge is the finite spirit Hegel refers to in the History of Religion. It is that consciousness which makes reconciliation possible. Philosophy is where all knowledge comes from. It is part of the process that makes religion absolute. Hegel describes philosophy as a move away from external reality toward true reality, such as thought, mind and knowledge, "Philosophy is the reconciliation following upon the destruction of that real world which thought has begun" (Hegel 1840, 52). Religion is limited because it does not encompass knowledge in the same way philosophy does. In religion the universal works through the external before the truth is revealed. In philosophy truth is revealed directly through knowledge (Hegel 1840, 77)

Hegel suggests that in religion truth is discovered from outside of it, meaning that it is understood through ritual (Hegel 1840, 71). In the definition of positive religion the source of truth is unknown. The messenger is not what is important for Hegel, but it is the truth revealed that he is concerned with, "through whatever individual the truth may have been given, the external matter is historical, and this is indifferent to the absolute content and to itself, since the person is not the import of the doctrine" (Hegel 1840, 71). For Hegel what matters is that Christ was someone in history.

Whatever is revealed in historical form must become spirit for it is the connection between the human spirit and the universal spirit where truth is found, "We must know God in spirit and in truth’ "(Hegel 1840, 72). The spirit in each human reacts to the universal spirit, "the spirit alone comprehends Spirit, the miracle is only a presentment of the Spirit; and if the miracle be the suspension of natural laws, spirit itself is the miracle in the operations of nature" (Hegel 1840, 72). It is not so much the event which occurs that needs to be investigated, but how it is received by the spirit. The importance lies in how the human spirit comprehends the universal spirit. There is one spirit with two aspects to it. It is actually a spirit which becomes spirit to itself, "Spirit in itself is merely this comprehension of itself"(Hegel 1840, 72). Spirit manifests itself differently in religion than in philosophy. In philosophy spirit is knowledge, it is this consciousness that becomes spirit for spirit. "A division is formed in the understanding of itself, and the Spirit is the unity of what is understood and the understanding person" (Hegel 1840, 72).

This universal spirit is enmeshed in everything. It is universal in that it encompasses everything, and it is particular in that it is its own. That is why knowledge occurs through a consciousness of self, because spirit in itself completes itself (Hegel 1840, 72)

For Hegel Philosophy develops away from all that is external and by separating itself from the external is able to reconcile itself and discover truth, "Then it is the Mind takes refuge in the clear space of thought to create for itself a kingdom of thought in opposition to the world or actuality, and philosophy is the reconciliation following upon the destruction of that real world which thought has begun" (Hegel 1840, 52) For Hegel truth is not present in the material world, but is only manifest in spirit. In the one universal spirit there is a subjective spirit and an objective spirit. The subjective spirit, by comprehending the objective or divine spirit returns to itself (Hegel 1840, 73). In coming to this understanding of spirit faith occurs (Hegel 1840, 73). Hegel points out that the Christ’s presence in history is this consciousness.

The Effect of Philosophy on Religion

Spirit must reach a radical’ self-estrangement before reconciliation can occur. Christ’s crucifixion and death reveal God’s love. Through this estrangement love occurs, and this estrangement must take place for reconciliation to occur, "it is shown how this terrible abnegation by God is in fact the ultimate measure of the divine love, is in fact love itself become absolute" (Crites, 257). Death and resurrection reveal the finitude and the eternal universality of God. Christ’s resurrection becomes the concrete universality’ estrangement is overcome (Crites, 257). Philosophy and religion both contain absolute truth as their "common content" (Crites, 260). Since philosophy is the knowledge which religion only has access to in the finite, according to Hegel, it stands above religion because it embraces everything, "but while Religion grasps this truth in representational form, philosophy grasps it in its own absolutely adequate form, of thought" (Crites, 260). Religion is lacking in the knowledge which philosophy already grasps.

Estrangement has to occur in this model in order for knowledge to be grasped. As is demonstrated in Christ’s death, there is a moment of complete separation, "The death of Christ symbolizes the destruction of finitude, so that in the crucifixion we see in sensible form the yielding up of , all that is peculiar to the individual’" (Livingston, 153) Hegel suggests that the trinity in the Christian faith is representative of the dialectical process of spirit (Livingston 153). The result of this estrangement is a reconciliation which takes place when the absolute spirit realizes itself and then a spirit of community results (Livingston 153). In order for Christianity to match Hegel’s system entirely it would need to give up its theistic view, because as is noted once consciousness, and reconciliation occur there is nothing that divides God from man( Livingston, 153). However, Christianity still holds that there is a separation between God and Man and Christ is the mediation. According to Hegel’s model the incarnation was the complete bridging of that gap.

6. Bibliography and Works Cited


Primary Sources

Hegel, Georg Wihelm Friedrich. 1948. Early Theological Writings. Translated by T. M. Knox. With introduction and fragments translated by Richard Kroner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hegel, Georg W. F. [1827]. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. One volume edition. Edited by Peter C. Hodgson. Translated by R. F. Brown, P. C. Hodgson, and J.M. Stewart. Berkley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1988.

_______. 1949 [1807] The Phenomenology of Mind. Translated and with introduction and notes by J. B. Baillie. Revised second ed. New York: The Macmillan Co.

_______. 1954.The Philosophy of Hegel. Edited by Carl J. Friedrich. New York: The Modern Library.

_______. 1975 [1830]. Hegel’s Logic: Being Part One of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830). Translated by William Wallace. Foreword by J. N. Findlay. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

_______. 1997. G. W. F. Hegel: Theologian of the Spirit. Edited by Peter C. Hodgson. In the series The Making of Modern Theology. John W. de Gruch gen ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

_______. 1995 [1840].Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Trans. E.S. Haldane. Lincoln and London. University of Nebraska Press.

Works Cited—Secondary Sources

Crites, Stephen D. 1966. "The Gospel According to Hegel." Journal of Religion 46: 246-63.

Dudeck, C. V. 1981. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind: Analysis and Commentary. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.

Fackenheim, Emil L. 1967. The Religious dimension in Hegel’s Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kojève, Alexandre. 1969. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Assembled by Raymond Queneau. Edited by Allan Bloom. Translation by James H.

Livingston, James. 1971. Modern Christian Thought. New York: The Macmillan Company. Nichols, Jr. New York: Basic Books.

Secondary Sources

Audi, Robert, ed. 1995. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.

Berthold-Bond, Daniel. 1989. Hegel’s Grand Synthesis, Albany: State University of New York.

Calton, Patricia Marie Hegel’s Metaphysics of God Aldershot, Burlington USA, Singapore, Sydney: Ashgate, 2001

Crities, Stephen, "The Gospel According to Hegel," in Journal of Religion 46/2 (April, 1966): 246-63.

Inwood, Michael. 1996. The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Livingston, James. 1971. Modern Christian Thought. New York: The Macmillan Company. Nichols, Jr. New York: Basic Books.

Merklinger, Philip M. Philosophy, Theology, and Hegel’s Berlin Philosophy of Religion: 1821-1827. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Patterson, William. 1998.

Rockmore, Tom. 1993. Before and After Hegel. University of California Press.

Scharfstein, Ben-ami. 1980. The Philosophers - Their Lives and the Nature of their Thought. Oxford University Press.

Smith, John. “Hegel’s Reinterpretation of the Doctrine of the Spirit and the Religious Community”. In Darrel E. Christensen, ed. Hegel and the Philosophy of Religion: The Wofford Symposium. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff (1970), 157-177.

Welch, Claude. 1972. Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Werkmeister, W.H. “Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind as a Development of Kant’s Basic Ontology”. In Darrel E. Christensen, ed. Hegel and the Philosophy of Religion:  The Wofford Symposium. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff (1970), 93-110.

Williams, Robert R. “Hegelianism.” In Alister E. McGrath, ed. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Chistian Thought. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. (1993), 250-259.

Williamson, Raymond Keith. 1984. introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion. State University of New York Press.

Published Books

Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

The Science of Logic (1812, second volume 1816)

Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817, revised 1827, 1830)

Philosophy of Right (1821)

Published Lectures

Philosophy of History

History of Philosophy


Philosophy of Religion

Other Publications

Hegel, G. W. F. [1840]. The Philosophical Propaedeutic. A. V. Miller, trans. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1986.

Early Theological Writings (1907)

7. Internet Resources


8. Related Topics


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