Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion

Part III. The Absolute Religion
C.iii The Kingdom of the Spirit

(c.) The Realisation of the Spiritual culminating in Universal Reality.

This directly involves the transformation and remodelling of the Spiritual Community.

Religion is here the spiritual religion, and the Spiritual Community exists primarily in what is inward, in Spirit as such. This inner element, this subjectivity which is present to itself as inward, not developed in itself, is feeling or sensation; the Spiritual Community has also as an essential part of its character, consciousness, ordinary thought or mental representation, needs, impulses, a worldly existence in fact, but this brings with it disunion, differentiation; the divine objective Idea presents itself to consciousness as an Other outside of it which is given partly through authority and is partly appropriated in acts of devotion – to put it otherwise, the moment of communion is merely a single moment, or the divine Idea, the divine content is not actually seen, but is only represented in the mind. The Now or actuality of communion as thus represented is transferred partly to a region beyond, to a heaven beyond the present, partly to the past and partly to the future. Spirit, however, is above all things present, and demands a real and complete presence; it demands more than love merely, than sad ideas or mental pictures, it demands that the content should itself be present, or that the feeling, the sensation experienced should be developed and expanded.

Thus the Spiritual Community, in its character as the Kingdom of God, has standing over against it, objectivity in general. Objectivity in the shape of an external immediate world is represented by the heart with its interests; another form of objectivity is the objectivity of Reflection, of abstract Thought, of the Understanding and the third and true form of objectivity is that of the Notion; and we have now to consider how Spirit realises itself in these three elements.

1. In religion the heart is implicitly reconciled; this reconciliation has thus its place in the heart, it is spiritual – is the pure heart which attains this enjoyment of the presence of God in it, and consequently reconciliation, the enjoyment of being reconciled. This reconciliation is, however, abstract; the self, the subject, that is to say, represents at the same time that aspect of this spiritual presence according to which a worldly element in a developed form is actually found in the self, and thus the Kingdom of God, the Spiritual Community, has a relation to the worldly element.

In order that the reconciliation be real, it is necessary that in this development, in this totality, the reconciliation should also be consciously known, be present, and be brought forward into actuality. The principles which apply to this worldly element actually exist in this spiritual element.

The truth of the worldly element is the Spiritual, or, to put it more definitely, it means that the subject as an object of divine grace, as a being who is reconciled with God, has an infinite value by the very character which is essentially his, and which is further developed in the Spiritual Community. In accordance with this its essential character, the subject is accordingly recognised as being the infinite certainty of Spirit itself, as the eternity of Spirit.

So far as this subject which is thus inherently infinite is concerned, the fact of its being determined or destined to infinitude is its freedom, and just means that it is a free person, and thus is also related to this world, to reality as subjectivity which is at home with itself, reconciled within itself, and is absolutely fixed and infinite subjectivity. This is the substantial element; this specific character which thus belongs to it must form the basis in so far as it brings itself into relation with this world.

The rationality, the freedom of the subject means that the subject is this something which has been freed and has attained to this condition of freedom through religion, that it is essentially free in virtue of its religious character. What we are concerned with is to see how this reconciliation takes place within the worldly sphere itself.

(1.) The first form of reconciliation is the immediate one, and just because of its being immediate it is not yet the true mode of reconciliation. This reconciliation shows itself as follows. At first the Spiritual Community as representing the fact of reconciliation, the Spiritual, the fact of reconciliation with God in itself, stands aloof from the worldly sphere in an abstract way; the Spiritual renounces the worldly sphere by its own act, takes up a negative relation to the world, and consequently to itself; for the world in the subject shows itself as the impulse to Nature, to social life, to art and science.

The concrete element in the self, namely, the passions, is not able to justify itself in reference to the religious element by the fact of its natural; while ascetic withdrawal from the world implies that the heart does not get a concrete expansion and is to remain undeveloped, or, in other words, that the spiritual element, the state of reconciliation, and the life in which this reconciliation is to show itself, is to be, and is to continue to be, concentrated in itself and undeveloped. It is, however, the very nature of Spirit to develop itself, to differentiate itself until it reaches the worldly sphere.

(2.) The second form of this reconciliation implies that the interests of the world and religious interests continue to be external to one another, and that still they ought to come into relation to each other. Thus the relation in which both stand is merely an external one, and it means that the one prevails over the other, and thus there is no reconciliation: the religious element, it is felt, should be the ruling element; what has been reconciled, the Church namely, should rule the secular element, which is unreconciled.

There is a union with the worldly element which is unreconciled, the worldly element in its purely crude state, and which in its purely crude state is merely brought under the sway of the other; but the element which thus holds sway absorbs this worldly element into itself, all tendencies, all passions, everything, in short, which represents worldly interests devoid of any spiritual element, make their appearance in the Church owing to the position of sovereignty thus attained, because the secular element is not reconciled in itself.

Thus a sovereignty is reached by means of what is unspiritual, in which what is external is the ruling principle, and in which Man is in his general relationships directly outside of himself; it is, in fact, the relation or condition of want of freedom. The element of disunion enters into everything that can be called human, into all kinds of impulses, and into all those relationships which have reference to the family, to active life, and life in the State; and the ruling principle is that man is not at home with himself, is in a region foreign to his nature.

Man, in fact, in all these forms is in a condition of servitude, and all those forms which his life takes are held to be worthless, unholy, and he himself, by the very fact of his connection with them, is essentially something finite, disunited, and thus has no valid worth, since what possesses validity is an Other.

This reconciliation is connected with worldly interests and with Man’s own heart in such a way that it becomes the direct opposite of reconciliation. The further development of this condition of rupture in reconciliation itself, is accordingly what takes the form of the corruption of the Church – the absolute contradiction of the Spiritual within itself.

(3.) The third characteristic is that this contradiction cancels itself in Morality, that the principle of freedom has forced its way into secular life; and since secular life so constructed is itself in conformity with the Notion, reason, truth, eternal truth, it is a freedom which has become concrete, the rational will.

It is in the organisation of the State that the Divine has passed into the sphere of reality; the latter is penetrated by the former, and the existence of the secular element is justified in-and-for-itself, for its basis is the Divine Will, the law of right and freedom. The true reconciliation whereby the Divine realises itself in the region of reality is found in moral and legal life in the State; this is the true disciplining of the secular life.

The institutions of morality are divine, are holy, not in the sense in which what is holy is opposed to what is moral, as when it is held that celibacy represents what is holy as opposed to family life, or voluntary poverty as opposed to active acquisition by one’s own efforts, to what is lawful. In the same way blind obedience passes for being something holy; while, on the contrary, what makes morality is obedience in freedom, free, rational will, the obedience of the subject in respect of what is moral. In morality the reconciliation of religion with reality, with the secular life, is an actual and accomplished fact.

2. The second point is that the ideal side now emerges here on its own account. In this state in which Spirit is reconciled with itself, what is inward knows itself as being within the sphere of its own nature, knows that it is together with itself, and this knowledge that it is together with itself, not outside of itself, is just Thought, which is the state of reconciliation, the being together with self, the being at peace with self, but in a wholly abstract undeveloped condition of peace with itself. There thus arises the infinite demand that the content of religion should verify its truth for Thought as well, and this is a necessary requirement which cannot be set aside.

Thought is the Universal, the active expression of the Universal, and stands in contrast to the concrete in general, which represents the external.

It is the Freedom of Reason which has been won in religion, and which knows itself in Spirit as existing for itself. This freedom accordingly opposes itself to the purely unspiritual externality, to servitude; for servitude is directly opposed to the conception of reconciliation and liberation, and thus thought enters in and destroys and bids defiance to externality in whatever form it may appear.

This represents the negative and formal act which in its concrete form has been called the “Enlightenment,” and which implies that thought sets itself to oppose externality, and that the freedom of Spirit, which is involved in reconciliation, is asserted. This thought, when it first appears, appears in the form of this abstract Universal, and sets itself against the concrete in general, and consequently against the Idea of God, against the theory that God is the Triune God and not a dead abstraction, but a Being related to Himself, who is at home with Himself and returns to Himself. Abstract thought attacks this doctrinal content, as held by the Church, with its principle of identity; for this concrete content is in contradiction with this law of identity. In the concrete there are determinations, differences; since abstract thought turns against externality in general, it is also opposed to difference as such, the relation of God to Man, the unity of the two, divine grace and human freedom; for all this is the union of opposed determinations. The rule, however, for the Understanding, for this abstract thought, is abstract identity this kind of thought thus aims at dissolving all that is concrete, all determinations, all content in God, and accordingly reflection has as its final resultant merely the objectivity of identity itself, this, namely, that God is nothing but the Supreme Essence, without definite character or determination, empty; for every determination makes what is determined concrete. He is for cognition something beyond the present, for cognition or reasoned knowledge is knowledge of a concrete content. Reflection in this its complete form is the antithesis of the Christian Church; and as everything concrete in God is destroyed, this fact is expressed somewhat in this fashion – Man cannot know God; for to know God is to know Him in accordance with His attributes or determinations, but according to this view He remains a pure abstraction. This formula certainly contains the principle of freedom, of inwardness, of religion even; but it is, to begin with, conceived of in a merely abstract way.

The Other, by means of which determination enters into this universality which exists alongside of this abstraction, is nothing but what is contained in the natural inclinations, the impulses of the subject. Regarding the matter from this standpoint, it is accordingly said that man is by nature good. Inasmuch as this pure subjectivity, this ideality, is pure freedom, it is certainly brought into connection with the essential character of the Good, but the Good itself must in this case equally remain an abstraction.

The determination of the Good here is the arbitrariness, the accidental nature of the subject in general, and this latter is thus the extreme or culminating point of this subjectivity, the freedom which renounces its claim to truth and to the development of truth, which thus moves within itself and knows that what it considers as having validity is simply its own determinations, and that it has the mastery over all that is called good and evil.

This is an inner self-enclosed life which may indeed coexist with calm, lofty, and pious aspirations, but may as readily appear as hypocrisy or as vanity in its most extreme form. It is what is called the pious life of feeling, to which Pietism also restricts itself. Pietism recognises no objective truth, sets itself in opposition to dogmas, to the content of religion, and though it does indeed preserve the element of mediation, and still maintains a certain relation to Christ, yet this relation is supposed to remain in the sphere of feeling, in the sphere of inner sentiment. Each person has thus his own God, Christ, &c. The element of particularity in which each has his own individual religion, his own theory of the Universe, &c., does undoubtedly exist in Man; but in religion it is absorbed by life in the Spiritual Community, and for the truly pious man it has no longer any real worth and is laid aside.

On this side of the empty essence of God there thus stands a finitude which is free on its own account and has become independent, which has an absolute value in itself, e.g., in the shape of the righteousness of individuals. The further consequence is, that not only is the objectivity of God thus put in a sphere beyond the present and negated, but all other objective characteristics which have validity in-and-for-themselves, and which have appeared in the world as Right, as what is moral, &c. absolutely disappear. Since the subject thus retreats to the extreme point of its infinity, the Good, all that is right, &c., are contained only in it, it takes all this as constituting its own subjective character, it is only its thought. What gives body to this Good is accordingly taken from natural caprice, from what is accidental, from passion, &c. This subject is further the consciousness that objectivity is shut up within it itself, and that this objectivity has no permanent existence; it is only the principle of identity which has for it validity; this subject is something abstract, it can be filled up with any kind of content, since it has the power to subsume every content which is thus planted in the heart of Man. Subjectivity is thus caprice itself, and is, in short, the knowledge of that power belonging to it whereby it produces objectivity or the Good and gives it a content.

The other development of this point of view, accordingly, is that the subject has no independent existence, is not for itself in reference to the unity which it has reached by emptying itself, it does not preserve its particularity as against it, but has for its specific aim self-absorption in the unity of God. The subject has thus no particular end, nor any objective end beyond simply the glory of the one God. What we have here is religion; there is in it an affirmative relation to its Essence which is constituted by this One, in it the subject yields itself up. This religion has the same objective content as the Jewish religion, but the relation in which men stand to one another is broadened; there is no particularity left in it, the Jewish idea of national value which establishes the relation in which Man stands to the One, is wanting here. Here there is no limitation, Man is related to this One as a purely abstract self-consciousness. This is the characteristic of the Mohammedan religion. It forms the antithesis of Christianity, because it occupies a like sphere with the Christian religion. It is, as it were, the Jewish spiritual religion, but this God exists for self-consciousness in Spirit which has merely abstract knowledge, and occupies a stage – which is one with that occupied by the Christian religion, inasmuch as in it no kind of particularity is retained. The man who fears God is acceptable to Him, and Man has value only in so far as he finds his truth in the knowledge that this God is the One, the Essence. There is no recognition of the existence of any wall of partition between believers themselves or between them and God. Before God all specific distinction of the subject according to his standing or rank is done away with; rank may exist, there may be slaves, but this is to be regarded as merely accidental.

The contrast between the Christian and Mohammedan religions consists in the fact that in Christ the spiritual element is developed in a concrete way, and is known as Trinity, as Spirit, and that the history of Man, the relation in which he stands to the One, is a concrete history. It takes its start from the natural will, which is not as it ought to be, and the yielding up of this will is the act whereby it reaches this its essence by means of this negation of itself. The Mohammedan hates and proscribes everything concrete, God is the absolute One, and as against Him Man retains for himself no end, no particularity, no interests of his own. Man as actually existing does undoubtedly particularise himself in his natural inclinations and interests, and these are here all the more savage and unrestrained that reflection is wanting in connection with them; but this again involves something which is the complete opposite, namely, the tendency to let everything take its course, an indifference in respect of every kind of end, absolute fatalism, indifference in respect of life, while no practical end is regarded as having any essential worth. Since, however, Man is as a matter of fact practical and active, the end to be pursued can only be to bring about the worship of the One amongst all men, and accordingly the Mohammedan religion is essentially fanatical.

Reflection, as we have seen, occupies the same standpoint as Mohammedanism in so far as it maintains that God has no content, is not concrete. Thus the manifestation of God in the flesh, the exaltation of Christ to the position of Son of the God, the transfiguration of the finitude of the world and of self-consciousness until they appear as the infinite self-determination of God, have no place here. Christianity is held to be a system of teaching or set of doctrines, and Christ an ambassador from God, a divine teacher, and so a teacher like Socrates, only a still more distinguished teacher, since he was without sin. This, however, is to go only half way, it is a compromise. Christ was either merely a man, or he was the “Son of Man.” There would thus be nothing left of the divine history, and Christ would be spoken of as he is in the Koran. The difference between this standpoint and Mohammedanism consists merely in the fact that the latter, the conceptions of which are bathed in the ether of illimitableness, and which represents this infinite independence, directly gives up all particular interests, enjoyment, position, individual knowledge, all “vanity” in short. On the other hand, rationalistic Enlightenment gives Man an abstract standing on his own account, since for it God is beyond this world and has no affirmative relation to the subject, so that Man recognises the affirmative Universal only in so far as it is in him, and yet has it in him in a merely abstract way, and accordingly what gives it body or substance is taken only from what is accidental and arbitrary.

Still we must recognise the presence of reconciliation in this last form too, and thus this final manifestation is also a realisation of Faith. Since, in fact, all content, all truth perishes in this particular subjectivity which knows itself infinitely in itself, the principle of subjective freedom has as a consequence come to be consciously known. What is called in the Spiritual Community the inner life, is now developed in itself; it is not only something inward, conscience, but it is subjectivity which differentiates itself makes distinctions within itself, is concrete; it appears as its own objectivity, it knows the Universal as being in itself, as something which it produces out of itself, it is the subjectivity which is independent, for itself, self-conscious, determines itself within itself, and is thus the complete development of the subjective extreme until it has reached the Idea in itself. The defect here is that this is merely formal, that it misses having true objectivity, it represents the extreme point of formal spiritual development without inner necessity.

If the Idea is to get a truly complete form, it is necessary that the objectivity should be set free, should be the totality of objectivity in itself. The result of this objectivity, therefore, is that every thing in the subject is refined away, without objectivity, without fixed character, without development in God. This final and culminating point thus reached by the formal culture of our day is at the same time the most extreme crudeness, because it possesses merely the form of culture.

We have so far recognised the presence of these two mutually opposing extremes in the development of the Spiritual Community. The one was that unfreedom, that servitude of the Spirit in the absolute region of freedom; the other was abstract subjectivity, subjective freedom, without content.

3. What we have finally still to consider is, that subjectivity develops the content out of itself, but does this in accordance with necessity – knows and recognises the content to be necessary and that it is objective, that it has an essential existence of its own, is in-and-for-itself. This is the standpoint of philosophy, according to which the content takes refuge in the Notion and by means of thought gets its restoration and justification.

This thought is not merely the process of abstraction and determination which is governed by the law of identity; this thought is itself essentially concrete, and thus it is comprehension, grasping in the Notion, it means that the Notion so determines itself as to take on the form of totality of the Idea.

It is free reason which has an essential existence, is in-and-for-itself, which develops the content of truth and justifies it in knowledge, recognises and cognises one truth. The purely subjective standpoint, the volatilisation of all content, the Enlightenment of the Understanding, together with Pietism, do not recognise any content, and consequently no truth.

The Notion, however, produces the truth – this is subjective freedom – but at the same time recognises this content to be something not produced, to be something which is inherent and essentially true, true in-and-for-itself. This objective standpoint is alone capable of expressing and attesting the witness of the Spirit in a way which betokens intellectual training and thought, and it is involved in the position taken up by the better kind of dogmatic theology of our day.

This standpoint consequently supplies us with the justification of religion, and in particular of the Christian or true religion it knows the content in accordance with its necessity, in accordance with its reason, and so, too, it knows the forms also in the development of this content.

What these forms are we have already seen, namely, the manifestation of God, that representation for the sensuous, spiritual consciousness which has arrived at universality, at thought, that complete development which exists for Spirit.

In the act of justifying the content and the forms, in getting a rational knowledge of the specific character of the manifestation, thought at the same time also knows the limits of the forms. Enlightenment knows only of negation, of limit, of determinateness as such, and because of this is unjust to the content.

Form or determinateness is not merely finitude, or limit, but rather the form, as totality of the form is itself the Notion, and these forms are necessary and essential.

Owing to the fact that reflection has invaded the domain of religion, thought or reflection takes up a hostile attitude to the ordinary or popular idea in religion and to its concrete content. Thought, when it has thus begun, never pauses again, but goes on its way, empties feeling, heaven, and the knowing mind, and the religious content accordingly takes refuge in the Notion. Here it must get its justification, here thought must conceive of itself as concrete and free, preserving the differences not as if the were only posited or dependent on something, but allowing them to appear as free, and consequently recognising the content as objective. It is the business of philosophy to establish the relation in which thought stands to the two preceding stages. Religion, the need felt by the pious mind, can take refuge in “experience,” in feeling as well as in the Notion, and limit itself to this, and thus give up the search after truth, renounce the possibility of knowing any content, so that the Holy Church has no longer any communion in it, but splits up into atoms. For what communion there is is in doctrine; but here each individual has a feeling of his own, has his own sensations or experiences, and his particular theory of the universe. This form does not answer to Spirit which also wishes to know what its relation is to doctrine. Philosophy thus stands opposed to two points of view. On the one band, it appears to be opposed to the Church, and has this in common with culture and reflection, that in comprehending the popular religious idea it does not keep to the forms of the popular idea, but has to comprehend it in thought, though in doing this it recognises that the form of the popular idea is also necessary. But the Notion is that higher element which also embraces within it different forms and allows their right to exist. The second way in which it takes up an attitude of opposition is when it appears in antagonism to Enlightenment, to the theory which holds that the content is of no consequence, to opinion, to the despair which renounces the truth. The aim of philosophy is to know the truth, to know God, for He is the absolute truth, inasmuch as nothing else is worth troubling about save God and the unfolding of God’s nature. Philosophy knows God as essentially concrete, as spiritual, real universality which is not jealous but imparts itself. Light by its very nature imparts itself. Whoever says that God cannot be known, says He is jealous, and so makes no earliest effort to believe in Him, however much he may speak of God. Enlightenment, that conceit, that vanity of the Understanding is the most violent opponent of philosophy, and is displeased when the latter points to the element of reason in the Christian religion, when it shows that the witness of the Spirit, of truth, is lodged in religion. Philosophy, which is theology, is solely concerned with showing the rationality of religion.

In philosophy, religion gets its justification from thinking consciousness. Piety of the naive kind stands in no need of this, it receives the truth as authority, and experiences satisfaction, reconciliation by means of this truth.

In faith the true content is certainly already found, but there is still wanting to it the form of thought. All forms such as, we have already dealt with, feeling, popular ideas, and such like, may certainly have the form of truth, but they themselves are not the true form which makes the true content necessary. Thought is the absolute judge before which the content must verify and attest its claims.

Philosophy has been reproached with setting itself above religion; this, however, is false as an actual matter of fact, for it possesses this particular content only and no other, though it presents it in the form of thought it sets itself merely above the form of faith, the content is the same in both cases.

The form of the subject as an individual who feels, &c., concerns the subject as a single individual; but feeling as such is not rejected by philosophy. The question merely is as to whether the content of feeling is the truth, whether it can prove itself to be true in thought. Philosophy thinks what the subject as such feels, and leaves it to the latter to settle with its feeling. Feeling is thus not rejected by philosophy; on the contrary, it simply gets through philosophy its true content.

But, in so far as thought begins to place itself in opposition to the concrete, the process of thought then consists in carrying through this opposition until it reaches reconciliation. This reconciliation is philosophy; so far philosophy is theology, it sets forth the reconciliation of God with Himself and with Nature, and shows that Nature, Other-Being is divine, that it partly belongs to the very nature of finite Spirit to rise into the state of reconciliation, and that it partly reaches this state of reconciliation in the history of the world.

This religious knowledge thus reached through the Notion is not universal in its nature, and it is further only knowledge in the Spiritual Community, and thus we get in reference to the Kingdom of God three stages or positions: the first position is that of immediate naive religion and faith; the second, the position of the Understanding, of the so-called cultured, of reflection and Enlightenment; and finally, the third position, the stage of philosophy.

But if now, after having considered the origin and permanent existence of the Spiritual Community, we see that in attaining realisation in its spiritual reality it falls into this condition of inner disruption, then this realisation appears to be at the same time its disappearance. But ought we to speak here of destruction when the Kingdom of God is founded eternally, when the Holy Spirit as such lives eternally in its Spiritual Community, and when the gates of Hell are not to prevail against the Church? To speak of the Spiritual Community passing away is to end with a discordant note.

Only, how can it be helped? This discordant note is actually present in reality. Just as in the time of the Roman Empire, because universal unity in religion had disappeared, and the Divine was profaned, and because, further, political life was universally devoid of principle, of action, and of confidence, reason took refuge only in the form of private right, or, to put it otherwise, because what was by its very nature essential, what existed in-and-for-itself was given up, individual well-being was elevated to the rank of an end, so, too, is it now. Moral views, individual opinion and conviction without objective truth, have attained authority, and the pursuit of private rights and enjoyment is the order of the day. When the time is fulfilled in which speculative justification, justification by means of the Notion, is what is needed, then the unity of the outer and inner no longer exists in immediate consciousness, in the world of reality, and in the sphere of Faith nothing is justified. The rigidity of an objective command, an external direction, the power of the State can effect nothing here; the process of decay has gone too deep for that. When the Gospel is no longer preached to the poor, when the salt has lost its savour, and all the foundations have been tacitly removed, then the people, for whose ever solid reason truth can exist only in a pictorial conception, no longer know how to assist the impulses and emotions they feel within them. They are nearest to the condition of infinite sorrow; but since love has been perverted to a love and enjoyment from which all sorrow is absent, they seem to themselves to be deserted by their teachers. These latter have, it is true, brought help to themselves by means of reflection, and have found their satisfaction in finitude, in subjectivity and its virtuosity, and consequently in what is empty and vain, but the substantial kernel of the people cannot find its satisfaction there.

For us philosophical knowledge has harmonised this discord, and the aim of these lectures has just been to reconcile reason and religion, to show how we know this latter to be in all its manifold forms necessary, and to rediscover in revealed religion the truth and the Idea.

But this reconciliation is itself merely a partial one without outward universality. Philosophy forms in this connection a sanctuary apart, and those who serve in it constitute an isolated order, of priests, who must not mix with the world, and whose work is to protect the possessions of Truth. How the actual present-day world is to find its way out of this state of disruption, and what form it is to take, are questions which must be left to itself to settle, and to deal with them is not the immediate practical business and concern of philosophy.

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