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Hegel's Absolute: Transcendent or Immanent?

Author(s): Anselm K. Min

Source: The Journal of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 61-87
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Journal of Religion.
Hegel's Absolute: Transcendent or
Anselm K. Min

What precisely Hegel's view was of the relationship between the Abso-
lute and the finite still remains very much a matter of controversy.
Nevertheless, there are two extreme positions which it seems safe to rule
out at the outset as clearly un-Hegelian. One position would consider
Hegel's Absolute to be wholly unrelated to and unmediated by the finite;
the other would equate the Absolute with finite beings in their empirical
immediacy. It is well known that for Hegel an infinite being which is
merely external to and "beyond" the finite is a "spurious" infinite, the
infinite of the "understanding"; such an infinite in fact would be itself as
finite as the finite beings to which it would remain external, sheer unsub-
lated (unaufgehobene)externality always implying for Hegel limitation
and finitude.1 In this respect Findlay seems quite right in saying that
"there never has been a philosopher by whom the Jenseitige, the merely
transcendent, has been more thoroughly 'done away with' " than by
Hegel.2 It is equally clear that Hegel also rejected both Indian pantheism
and Spinozistic acosmism, the former for holding all things to be im-
mediately divine, the latter for holding God alone to be real or to be all.3
This point is admitted even by Gregoire, who would consider Hegel a

1See Logik, 1: 132-38; Enz., sec. 95; BR, p. 150; AR, pp. 6-7. For Hegel's own works I use
the following abbreviations: AR: Die absolute Religion, ed. G. Lasson (Hamburg: Felix
Meiner, 1966); Beweise: Vorlesungeniuberdie Beweisevom Dasein Gottes,ed. G. Lasson (Ham-
burg: Felix Meiner, 1966); BR: Begriffder Religion, ed. G. Lasson (Hamburg: Felix Meiner,
1966); EGP: Einleitung in die Geschichteder Philosophie, ed. J. Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Felix
Meiner, 1966); Enz.: Enzyklopiidieder philosophischenWissenschaftenim Grundrisse, ed. F.
Nicolin and 0. P6ggeler (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1959); ETW: Early TheologicalWritings,
trans. T. M. Knox (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971); GW: Glaubenund
Wissen, ed. G. Lasson (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1962); Hist. Phil.: Lectureson the History of
Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane and F. H. Simson, 3 vols. (London: Kegan Paul, 1896);
Logic: Hegel's Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969);
Logik: Wissenschaftder Logik, ed. G. Lasson, 2 vols. (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1969-71);
Phiin.: Phiinomenologiedes Geistes, ed. J. Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1952); and
Phil. Hist.: The Philosophyof History, trans. J. Sibree (New York: Dover Publications, 1956).
2J. N. Findlay, The Philosophy of Hegel: An Introductionand Reexamination (New York:
Collier Books, 1966), p. i6.
3See Enz., secs. 88, 95, 573; BR, pp. 59-61, 195-99, 254-57-
The Journal of Religion

pantheist in another sense.4 Neither the infinite which is merely the

negation of the finite nor the infinite which is immediately identifiable
with the finite, nor yet the infinite which alone is real, it seems, can
justifiably be equated with Hegel's Absolute.
The controversy seems to concern rather the mode of relation-not
the lack of it, as in these preceding positions-between the Absolute and
finite beings. The central question is whether the Absolute, which is
indeed immanent in and mediated by the finite, is immanent and
mediated in such a way that immanence and mediation are "necessary"
to the very "being" of the Absolute as Absolute, and whether this "neces-
sity" implies "external dependence" and "lack of freedom" on the part of
the Absolute. Perhaps there should be no doubt concerning the first
aspect of the question: it clearly seems to be Hegel's position that the
Absolute is "necessarily" related to the finite. Regarding the second as-
pect the answer is not clear, and opinion is divided. Many commentators,
however, do identify "necessity" with "external necessity," "causal de-
pendence," and thus "lack of freedom," concluding that the Absolute
has no reality of its own, its reality being exhaustively definable in terms
of the totality of finite beings even if it could not be identified with any
one finite being or even with all finite beings as an aggregate, and that it
has no proper self-consciousness except insofar as it is mediated by the
self-consciousness of finite spirits.
It is precisely to this sort of interpretation, which for the purpose of
this discussion I will call "immanentist," that I propose to provide an
alternative reading in this paper. I shall begin by presenting certain
immanentist views, with reference not so much to the details of their
position as to certain characteristic tendencies of this group and the
conceptual categories which seem to dominate their reading of Hegel.
The purpose is merely to indicate certain broad characteristics of their
position as the negative background of my alternative reading, in full
awareness that these commentators by no means form a homogeneous
group and fully allowing for the fact that they would deserve a far more
extensive examination than is here attempted, were it my purpose to
discuss their positions in their individual differences and integrity. I
shall express some fundamental reservations about these views and then
present my alternative reading on the disputed matters. To anticipate,
my conclusion will be that Hegel's ultimate concern was not so much
with either the infinity-transcendence or the finitude-immanence of God
as with what he considered to be the ontologically prior condition for the
possibility of both infinity and finitude, this condition being the primor-
dial but at the same time self-unfolding unity of finite and infinite in the
Absolute. This sort of Absolute, in my view, is clearly irreducible to the
4See F. Gregoire, Etudes higeliennes (Paris: Beatrice-Nauwelaerts, 1958), p. 16o.
Gregoire's view will be commented on in the course of this discussion.

Hegel's Absolute
dimensions of immanence to which the immanentist interpreters tend to
reduce it. My reading will be based on a reexamination of such relevant
key concepts as "being," "finite-infinite," "necessity," "freedom," and
"spirit." Whether Hegel's Absolute is transcendent enough to be accept-
able to Christian theism will not be the concern of this paper.


One of the ablest proponents of the immanentist position is Gregoire,

who seems convinced that Hegel's Absolute produces the world through
"necessity," which means, not "contingently," not "freely." Does not
Hegel say that it is the very nature of God to manifest himself, that the
creation of the world is "contingent" for "representation" but "neces-
sary" for "conceptual thought," and that "God is not God without the
world?" Moreover, to think otherwise would be to posit an exception to
the chain of the dialectical, logical "necessity" which governs Hegel's
whole system precisely at its most crucial point. True, Hegel does speak
of the Absolute Idea "freely" deciding to posit nature (as at the end of
the Logic), but this freedom need not imply "free choice" but only a
mode of Beisichsein or self-possession; besides, such language may very
well be one of Hegel's frequent concessions to religious metaphors.5
Furthermore, in Gregoire's view the Absolute cannot be said to have a
consciousness of its own, whatever self-consciousness it may have being
totally conditioned and mediated by the consciousness that finite beings
have of it. It is not distinct from, but is constituted by, finite spirits and is
in fact the ensemble of such finite spirits." In short, the least difficult
interpretation seems to be that the Absolute Idea is "a unique center of
thought,devoidof its own consciousnessand constitutingat once the substrateand
the cause of the universe," that is, "a real, tendential and active potential-
ity of the universe, totally relative to it and which is primordially the
potentiality of the Absolute Spirit."7
Among similar immanentist interpreters may be included Coreth,
Copleston, Kojeve, Findlay, and Kaufmann. While quite aware of the
complexity of Hegel's thought, Coreth maintains that Hegel's position
may be considered, among other things, as a "realistic monism of being"
in the sense that the Absolute is so radically immanent in the world that
it has no proper content or reality of its own-all content being determi-
nate, thus limited and finite-and is ultimately reducible to a merely
formal law dialectically operative in the world.8 According to Copleston,

5Ibid., pp. 154-61.

6See ibid., p. 210.
7Ibid., pp. 205-6. The translation is my own, as are all other translations from non-
English commentators throughout this paper.
"See E. Coreth, Das dialektischeSein in Hegels Logik (Vienna: Herder & Co., 1952), p. 162.

The Journal of Religion

Hegel clearly rejects the doctrine of "free creation" as belonging to the

standpoint of religious representation: "From the strictly philosophical
point of view the Absolute in itself manifests itself necessarily in Nature.
Obviously, it is not constrained to do so by anything external to itself.
The necessity is an inner necessity of nature. The only freedom in the
Logos' self-manifestation is the freedom of spontaneity."g The Absolute
is actually existent and conscious of itself only in and through finite
spirits and is neither a "subsistent" reality "distinct" from the world nor
its "external efficient cause." "There is no room in [Hegel's] system for
an efficient cause which transcends the world in the sense that it exists
independently of it."'1
Similarly, Kojeve is convinced that it is "absolutely" impossible to in-
terpret the Absolute Spirit as a transcendent God. As he argues, perhaps
all too neatly: "If the Phenomenologyhas any meaning, the Spirit there in
question is none other than the human Spirit: there is no Spirit outsidethe
world, and the Spirit within the world,-this is Man, humanity, universal
History.""1 The Absolute Wesen that Hegel speaks of, then, is not God
but Man himself, not indeed as individual but as "humanity taken in its
spatio-temporal totality."12 Likewise Findlay, while refusing to identify
Hegel's Absolute with an individual or group of individuals and call
Hegel a mere humanist, insists that the Absolute Idea is nothing more
than "the conceptual 'blue-print,' or notional possibility," of the world,13
while "God's creation of the world is merely that exemplification without
which He, as an abstract notional possibility, could have no sort of
being."14 What is fundamental is that "it is only through the medium of
individual human Spirit that his Absolute can be at all."15 As to the
self-consciousness of the Absolute: "The self-conscious Spirit which
plays the part of God in [Hegel's] system is not the complex, existent
person, but the impersonal, reasonable element in him, which, by a
necessary process, more and more 'takes over' the individual, and be-
comes manifest and conscious in him."'" The assertion that "Geistis the
truth of everything" "is not to be metaphysically understood," for "it
does not mean that Geist engineered the world, or was causally responsi-

9F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy,8 vols. (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1962-67), 7,
pt. 1:236-37-
10Ibid., p. 238. Much the same criticism that Hegel's Absolute is not "distinct" from the
world, that it is not "a transcendent Being apart from the world," is also voiced by F. La T.
Godfrey ("Hegel's Absolute and Theism," in New Studies in Hegel's Philosophy, ed.
W. E. Steinkraus [New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971], pp. 168-70).
11A. Kojeve, Introductionai la lecturede Hegel (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1947), p. 198.
13Findlay, pp. 16-17.
14Ibid., p. 152.
15Ibid., P. 353-
16Ibid., p. 143-

Hegel's Absolute
ble for it.""17In fact, in Findlay's later view, Hegel "is more nearly a
dialectical materialist than most Hegelians have realized."'8 In comment-
ing on the much controverted section 564 of the Encyclopedia, where
Hegel identifies God's self-knowledge in man with man's self-knowledge
in God, another commentator, Kaufmann, asks: "What does this mean if
not that God does not know himself until man knows him; and since
'God is only God insofar as he knows himself,' God comes into being only
when man 'knows' him."19 Despite their disagreement in other matters,
then, Kaufmann is fully persuaded that Findlay's "non-supernatural in-
terpretation is certainly right."20
There are many passages in Hegel's texts which, when isolated from
the fundamentally "speculative" context of his thought, seem to lend
plausibility to these interpretations or at least admit of a variety of
conflicting interpretations.21 It is not surprising that the very same pas-
sages which led people such as Gregoire, Copleston, Findlay, and Kauf-
mann to the conclusion that God requires the finite world both to be and
to be consciousof himself have led others to the opposite conclusion: that
it is not so much God as finite man who loses his integrity and distinct-
ness in Hegel's theory. Thus, according to Donceel, "the trouble with
Hegel is not that he fails to establish the existence of God but that he
seems to endanger the existence of man as a being distinct from God."22
Commenting on the Encyclopediapassage in which Hegel identifies man's
knowledge of God with God's self-knowledge in man, Donceel goes on to
question "how, if my most intimate activity is God's activity, my being too
would not be God's being."23 The same passage also led Hyppolite to
wonder whether Hegel is not here echoing the mysticism of Eckhardt
and Boehme, although Hegel himself is clearly not a mystic even if he
does reflect on mystical experience. For Hyppolite Hegel's Absolute is
neither reducible to human nature in Feuerbachian fashion nor
identifiable with an Urgrund in the sense of an "unconscious" foundation
of reality as Gregoire seems to suggest. The Absolute is no doubt a "self "
conscious of itself or a "person." Nevertheless, while it is clear that the
Absolute by its very nature involves both unity and duality, in
17J.N. Findlay, "The Contemporary Relevance of Hegel," in Hegel: A Collectionof Critical
Essays, ed. A. MacIntyre (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1972), p. 16.
"'Ibid., p. 14.
19W. Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation(New York: Doubleday & Co., 1966), p. 273-
The passage in question reads: "God is God only insofar as he knows himself; his self-
knowledge is moreover self-consciousness in man and the knowledge of man byGod, which
proceeds toward self-knowledge of man in God" (Enz., sec. 564).
20Kaufmann, p. 273.
21Among such passages are Phiin., p. 530; Enz., sec. 564; BR, pp. 146-48; Beweise, p. 49.
22J. Donceel, "Can We Still Make a Case in Reason for the Existence of God?" in God
Knowableand Unknowable,ed. RobertJ. Roth (New York: Fordham University Press, 1973),
p. 176.
23Ibid., p. 177.

The Journal of Religion

Hyppolite's view Hegel's position on the relation between the Absolute

and the finite seems sufficiently obscure to admit of a variety of



My first reservation about the immanentist line of interpretation is that it

renders Hegel's position unduly ambiguous, obscure, and even inconsis-
tent. If the Absolute, as has been claimed, depends, and this "necessar-
ily," not "freely," on finite beings in order to be and on finite spirits in
order to be consciousof itself, one may certainly wonder in what significant
sense the Absolute could be said to be "absolute," "universal," and
"Spirit," as Hegel never tires of calling it. Would not the Absolute, in that
case, instead be "relative," "finite," and "particular" because limited by
finite beings from outside? How could it "posit" the world as "its" world
when it presumably depended so totally on the world? How could the
world be, as Hegel repeats, the "externalization" of the Absolute when
this latter had no interiority of its own so to externalize? If its self-
manifestation were "necessary" only in the sense of "external" necessity,
"necessity of nature," or were "free" with at best the "freedom of spon-
taneity," would not man be in a sense superior to the Absolute since man
would certainly be granted the much higher "freedom of choice"? Could
this sort of Absolute serve as the metaphysical ultimate Hegel obviously
intends it to be and render reality intelligible, offenbar? What would
happen to Hegel's repeated assertion that spirit is "free," that the Abso-
lute Spirit is absolutely free, and that to "conceive" the Absolute as Spirit
has been the goal of all human endeavor?25
Furthermore, if it could be conscious of itself "only" in and through
finite spirits, what or where would the Absolute have been, say, before
the emergence of man in the evolutionary process? How could a being
unconscious in itself be "the unique center of thought" (Gregoire) or
"the reasonable element in man" (Findlay) when, for Hegel, "thought"
or "reason" would be nothing if it did not imply "self-consciousness,"
and how could such an unconscious being "take over" the individual and
"become" conscious in him when even human self-consciousness, as the
Phenomenologyamply showed, presupposes at least implicit "conscious-
ness" and indeed "self-consciousness"? Could an essentially unconscious
being ever be even "mediated" to self-consciousness any more than a
stone or an ashtray could be made self-conscious by purely external
mediation? If, as Kaufmann makes Hegel say, the Absolute "comes into
24See J. Hyppolite, Genese et structure de la phinomenologie de l'esprit de Hegel, 2 vols.
(Paris: Montaigne Aubier, 1946), 2:522-25.
25See Enz., sec. 384-

Hegel's Absolute

being" only when man "knows" it, is this not attributing to man the
function and power which Thomists traditionally attribute to God,
namely, that of "causing" the existence of something-in this case, God
himself-through thought? Is this sort of Absolute the "content" for
which Hegel had to wait until the penultimate chapter of the
Phenomenology,the content without which even the modern moral "spirit
certain of itself'"26 as infinite was declared to be merely finite and ab-
stract and in which alone the infinite spiritual dynamism of human
reason could find itself? Would it not have been quite sufficient to stop at
the stage of modern moral certainty, since, as far as the "form" is con-
cerned, it would be identical with absolute knowing?27 Again, if the
Absolute were merely the "formal" law (Coreth) and the "conceptual
blue-print" of the world (Findlay), how could Hegel say that it is the
"self-thinking Thought," "self-determining Concept," the Idea which
"alone is Being, imperishable Life, self-knowingTruth, and is all truth"?28If
the meaning of section 564 of the Encyclopediawere so simple as Kauf-
mann seems to make it out to be, why would Hegel preface that very
statement with the warning that "to grasp properly in thought what God
is as Spirit, this requiresfundamental [griindliche]speculation"?29
Such, in my view, are some of the difficulties which immanentist in-
terpretation cannot avoid. Indeed, because these commentators are
aware of this, some, such as Kojeve, Kaufmann, and Findlay, in order to
avoid reading such inconsistencies into Hegel, seem compelled to turn
him into an outright atheist, naturalist, or even "dialectical materialist"
and read all his references to "God," "Trinity," "Infinite," etc., as mere
"concessions" to the prevailing religious orthodoxy.30 Yet one can do
only so much violence to the numerous, explicit references Hegel makes
to the infinity of the Absolute, while to blame them all on his accommo-
dation to prevailing religious convention for fear of censorship and
damage to his reputation seems, to say the least, too easy a way out of
these difficulties. This seems well recognized by Copleston and Hyppo-
lite, who therefore end up, after arguing as they do, by pleading the
ambiguity and obscurity of Hegel's texts and their consequent openness
to a variety of interpretations.31

26That the merely "formal" infinity of the self-conscious reason of the Enlightenment is
inadequate is, of course, one of the central themes in Hegel's thought and as such reiter-
ated throughout his writings (see GW, pp. 4-13, 39, 122; Phan., pp. 378-85, 414-22; Enz.,
sec. 571; BR, pp. 133-41; Hist. Phil., 3:424-30, 459-61; AR, pp. 221-28).
27In both modern "moral self-certainty" and "absolute knowing" the "form" remains the
same, namely, that of the "self," "concept," the self-conscious unity of oneself and one's
Other or reason knowing itself to be all reality (see Phan., pp. 553-54)-
28Logik,2:484. All translations from Hegel's texts are my own except where indicated
29Enz., sec. 564; emphasis added.
30See Kaufmann, pp. 272-73, and Findlay, The Philosophyof Hegel, p. 347.
31See Copleston, p. 239-

The Journal of Religion

I do not maintain that Hegel is not serious-for he is dead serious

-when he says that "God is not God without the world,"32 that God is
"necessarily" related to the world, and that he knows himself "in" man's
activities of knowing him (although this "necessity," as I shall try to show,
need not mean "external" dependence or lack of freedom). Rather, I
base my reservation on the fact that the immanentists seem to be apply-
ing to Hegel's "speculative" thought the categories of "understanding"
which he so often dismissed as one-sided and unspiritual. This seems
best illustrated throughout their commentary by their repeated ques-
tioning whether Hegel could be classified under eitherone or the other of
the traditional categories. Thus, Kojeve argues that, since Hegel's Abso-
lute is obviously not "outside" the world, it must therefore be "inside"
the world, where of course the only spirit to be found is the "human"
spirit, with which Kojeve consequently identifies the Absolute. Findlay
likewise argues that, since the Absolute is not a "transcendent" cause of
the world, it must be exhaustively dependent on the "immanent" ac-
tivities of the human spirit. Both Findlay and Copleston ask whether the
Absolute Idea could be said to exist "apart" from or quite "indepen-
dently" of the world and be its "external efficient cause" or its "en-
gineer," and, since Hegel apparently denies both, they conclude that the
Idea is merely a "conceptual blue-print" (Findlay) and that Hegel is
"ambiguous" (Copleston). Similarly, Copleston and Gregoire ask
whether the Absolute posits the world "necessarily," and, since Hegel's
answer is clearly affirmative, they conclude that the Absolute does not
therefore act "freely" or "contingently" but that it acts with at best the
"necessity of nature" or the "freedom of spontaneity." Kaufmann argues
that, since Hegel is obviously not a "supernaturalist," he must be a
"humanist" or "naturalist." Thus also Donceel asks how my inmost activ-
ity of knowing God could be God's activity without "my being" itself
being "God's being," concluding that Hegel "seems to endanger the
existence of man as a being distinct from God."


What these commentators generally fail to do justice to, in my view, is

the "speculative" unity which Hegel posits between finite and infinite,
between man and God-a relationship which seems indeed to require
"griindliche Spekulation." The best starting point for an appreciation of
this unity is perhaps Hegel's frequent, emphatic reference to the no-
thingness of the finite as finite, a reference which, despite its frequency
and emphasis, seems hardly noticed by the commentators. For Hegel,
32BR, p. 148.

Hegel's Absolute
neither "enlightened" humanism nor traditional theism33 seems to make
complete sense, and this for the same reason, namely, their common
failure to appreciate the nothingness of the finite and their consequent
absolutization of the finite in its very finitude. True, neither humanists
nor theists do this explicitly or consciously. On the contrary, both would
affirm that the finite as finite is transitory, contingent, not real in and for
itself, lacking absolute being or independent actuality. In the same
breath, however, in Hegel's view, they deny this very nothingness by
affirming the finite-the humanists by claiming with a show of intellec-
tual "modesty" that the finite cannot be transcended, that finite man
cannot know the infinite, and the theists by trying to keep the infinite as
much "beyond," external to, and "distinct" from the finite as possible,
presumably in order to preserve the "pure" transcendence of the
infinite. In this respect Hegel considers doubly contradictory the Kant-
ian claim that man cannot know the infinite. On the one hand, to know
the finite as finite, as limited, is already to have transcended the limit of
finitude, and only because of this transcendence can man know the finite
as finite at all. In the assertion that the finite cannot be transcended,
Hegel points out, "lies the mindlessness [Bewusstlosigkeit]that precisely in
the fact that something is determined as limit, this limit has already been
transcended. For a determinateness, limit, is determined as limit at all
only in opposition to its Other as its Unlimited."34 The Begriff of the
infinite is the a priori condition for the very Begriff of the finite, and any
expression about the finite involves a "co-expression" (Mitaussprechung)
about the infinite, and vice versa.35 To "absolutize" the finitude of
human knowing, then, would entail the contradiction of denying the
condition-a supremely "objective," not merely "subjective,"
condition-for the very possibility of both its own act of affirming and
the content affirmed.
Likewise, the assertion that the infinite is beyond finite human
knowledge may sound very "modest" and "humble," but on Hegel's
analysis it turns out to be, paradoxically, merely "pride" and "vanity" in
disguise, absolutizing implicitly the much protested finitude of finite
being and finite knowing. To say that the finite is finite but to stop short
of affirming the reality of the infinite, which alone, after all, makes the
finite possible, would be in fact to affirm the finite itself as the ultimate,

33I introduce theism and humanism into the discussion here solely to illustrate Hegel's
point; whether his critique is justifiable is not my present concern.
34Logik, 1:122.
35See ibid., pp. 122-23, 132; Enz., sec. 6o. In Karl Rahner's language this might be
expressed by saying that the Vorgriff of the infinite is the a priori condition for the knowl-
edge of the finite as finite and that any affirmation of the finite entails the co-affirmation
(Mitbejahung)of the infinite (see Rahner, Horer des Wortes, rev. ed. J. B. Metz [Munich:
K6sel-Verlag, 1963], PP- 76-84).

The Journal of Religion

self-sufficient reality and thus to infinitize the finite itself.36 For Hegel,
this absolutization of the finite is not merely a "logical" contradiction (in
the sense of "abstract" logic), which would be harmless enough; it also
inevitably leads to the most profound "existential," "moral" contradic-
tion among finite individuals, each absolutizing his own finite particular-
ity as elaborated, in the Phenomenology,in the dialectic of the modern
"spirit certain of itself." The assertion that one cannot "know" the
infinite is not merely a cognitive, theoretical act; it is rooted in and
expresses the profounder, existential refusal to recognize and submit to
the exigency of the infinite and thus to sacrifice one's own finite particu-
larity. "Such modestyof thought which turns the finite into something
simply fixed, an Absolute, is rather the worst of virtues, and to remain in
what does not have its ground in itself, the most ungrounded of knowl-
edges.... The modesty referred to holds fast this emptiness, the finite
against the true, and is thereby itself empty and vain.""' Such modesty is
in fact no more than a convenient excuse for preferring and justifying
man's own vanity, egotism, and caprice, and in this sense "this humility is
sin-the sin against the Holy Ghost."38
Hegel considers the theistic separation of infinite and finite as likewise
self-contradictory, resulting in the same absolutization of the finite. He
accepts the theistic intention to preserve and safeguard the "true" or
"pure" transcendence of the infinite over the finite, but also insists that
the proper way of doing so is not by stressing the otherness, externality,
or mere distinctness between finite and infinite. To do this would be
merely to "finitize" the infinite itself: "The dualism which makes the
opposition of finite and infinite insuperable fails to make the simple
reflection that in that way the infinite is at once merely one of the two, that
it thereby becomes a mere particular, with the finite as the other particu-
lar. Such an infinite which is only a particular, which is alongside of the
finite and thus has its limit or boundary in the finite, is not what it should
be, the infinite, but is merelyfinite."39
Ironically enough, this finitization of the infinite ends up in the
"infinitization" or "absolutization" of the finite itself: "In such a relation-
ship where the finite is placed over here and the infinite over there, the
former on this side and the latter on the other side, an equal value of
subsistence[Bestehen] and independenceis ascribed to the finite as to the
infinite; the being of the finite is turned into an absolute being; it stands
fast on its own [festfir sich] in such a dualism."40 The separation which
"understanding" posits between finite and infinite cannot be absolute

36See Logik, 1:117-18; Enz., sec. 95; BR, p. 148; AR, p. 7; Beweise, pp.
37Enz., sec. 386; see also Beweise, pp. 48-49.
38Hist.Phil., 2:73; see also Phil. Hist., p. 14.
39Enz., sec. 95; see also Logik, 1:133, 138.
40Enz., sec. 95.

Hegel's Absolute
without at the same time destroying both the finitude of the finite and
the infinity of the infinite and thus also the much cherished "distinct-
ness" of each from the other. For Hegel, it is not the case that "because"
the finite is, the infinite therefore "also" is; on the contrary: "The being
of the finite is not its own being but rather the being of its Other, the
infinite. Put in another way, the being which is determined as finite has
this determination only in the sense that it does not remain independent
over against the infinite but is rather ideal [ideell], a moment of the
In the light of Hegel's intention to preserve the "true" infinity of God
and his refusal to absolutize the finite as such, then, his famous assertion
that God could not dispense with the finite if he is to remain God need
not mean, it seems to me, either the practically atheistic declaration of
sheer immanence or the "blasphemous" reduction of God to helpless
dependence upon the finite at which theist interpreters seem to take so
much offense. It is no doubt true that for Hegel "God is not God without
the world," but the sense in which it is true requires a much more
sophisticated interpretation than is immediately suggested by the first
reading of the statement. In my view it does not mean at all that God
"needs" the world because he is finite, nor does it mean that God and the
world are both finite, each needing the other. On the contrary, the true
meaning is that God is infinite and the world finite, and that God cannot
be "truly" infinite, "truly" independent, "truly" transcendent so long as
he has the world as an independent, external reality over against him-
self. "God is not God without the world" precisely because to be without
the world is contrary to the "logic" of "true" infinity, which is to include
the finite from within as a moment of itself. In any case, the difference
should be clear: it is one thing to say that God needs the world because
he is finite, and quite another to say that God needs the world because he
is God, that is, infinite. In the first case the relation to the world is an
expression of God's finitude; in the second, it expresses God's infinity.
How God can be both infinite and at the same time in need of the world
will be discussed later in this paper.
Thus presented, Hegel's concept of the "true" infinite appears quite
vulnerable to criticism from another direction, such as Donceel's objec-
tion that it seems to endanger the existence of man as a being distinct
from God. Hegel, in my view, is most willing to accommodate the "truth"
of this position: the distinction between finite and infinite and thus the
ontological integrity of the finite must indeed be preserved. His point,
however, is not that this distinction is unreal but only that it cannot be
absolute. Such a distinction, while wholly real, could not mean sheer
"separation," "unrelatedness," or complete "independence" from the

41Beweise,p. 153-

The Journal of Religion

infinite, which would only render the finite itself infinite, something no
Thomist-neither Copleston nor Donceel-would ever allow. One must
also preserve the ontological link between God and the finite and fur-
thermore regard this bond as ontologically more primordial and more
fundamental than their mutual distinction, since it is the bond which
makes, and keeps, such distinctness itself possible at all. Hegel's prob-
lem, then, is similar to the problem that has faced Thomism and the
theistic tradition in general: how to reconcile the "total" ontological de-
pendence of the finite on the infinite with their mutual "distinctness."
Thomists say that creation adds nothing to the infinite being (esse) of
God, and yet it is said to posit more beings (entia) if not more being. At
the same time the esse of finite beings is understood to be bothintrinsic to
the finite beings themselves and totally derived from the creative causal-
ity of God. How does one, then, go about squaring this fundamental
unity of being with the multiplicity of beings?42


In order to solve this question it seems incumbent on Hegel to establish

two things: (1) that the finite is both itself, that is, finite, other than the
infinite, and at the same time totally dependent on its Other, the infinite;
and (2) that the infinite too is both itself, that is, infinite, other than the
finite, and at the same time inclusive of its Other, the finite, and this
without prejudice to its true infinity. It is precisely with these require-
ments in mind that Hegel worked out his speculative concepts of
"being," "necessity," "freedom," "spirit," and the "Absolute."
First of all, it is clear that Hegel never doubted that the finite is finite,
that it is not infinite. It is particular, contingent, and perishable. Under
what conditions, however, could the finite be particular, contingent,
perishable, in short, finite? Could the finite even be finite by itself, in
isolation, without an intrinsic reference to an Other beyond itself ? To
say that it could would be to turn the finite itself into a self-sufficient
being and absolutize what is by definition finite and relative. For Hegel,
the finite could not even be finite by itself but requires for its very
finitude an intrinsic "ontological" reference to an Other by which it is
limitedand thus finite. The particular is a particular only in reference to
an Other, a "not-this" which limits and thereby determines it as "this."
The contingent is contingent only in reference to its ground, a necessary
Other upon which it is dependent. The perishable can perish only by

42In posing the question in Thomistic terms I do not mean to say that the notion of being
or the solution to the question is identical in both Hegel and Aquinas. My only point is that
the question posed here and often directed to Hegel in criticism by Thomists is by no
means unique to Hegel but equally applicable to Thomism itself, and that the structureof
the question is identical in both.

Hegel's Absolute
and into an Other. Finite beings indeed are, but their being is not their
own but that of an Other. They are themselves, that is, finite, but this
self-identity is an identity thoroughly mediated by negativity, nonbeing,
or otherness. They are finite, then, not in and for themselves but only in
negating, relating, and transcending themselves to an Other.
For Hegel, however, this Other is not "merely" other, indifferent and
external to the finite, for it is what limits the finite and, in limiting,
constitutes the finite as finite. It is an "internal" determination of the
finite itself and as such not an external Other but an Other whose exter-
nality has been aufgehobenby the very being which it limits. The deter-
mination of the finite as finite, in other words, is not merely an external
or contingent determination, as though without this external limitation
it would cease to be finite. The finite is indeed contingent, but that it is
contingent is not itself a contingent fact; the finite is contingent not
contingently but necessarily. It is the very nature of the finite as such to
determine itself to be finite, contingent, and thus inclusive of an Other
from within in the very definition of its own being. This is to say that the
finite not only negates, relates, and transcends itself to an Other and is
thus mediated by an Other, but also negates the first negation, relates to
itself the first relation to an Other, and returns to itself by transcending
the first transcendence toward an Other, thus mediating itself to itself by
canceling the otherness of the Other which limits it. Only thus is the
finite truly finite, truly itself. This means, however, that the finite is not
merely itself but contains an Other of itself in its very being. The finite is
both itself and its Other, the infinite, and can be finite only as this unity
of itself and its Other, of nonbeing and being. It is this "ontological"
self-reference to the infinite, a reference which is internally constitutive
of the finite, which alone, in Hegel's view, renders the finitude of the
finite possible.
To think of the finite merely in itself, to oppose the finite to the
infinite and thus sever the ontological bond or community of being
between them, is for Hegel in fact to deny that the finite is finite. To
think of the finite at all rationally is to think of it as internally related to
the infinite and thus to think of the infinite at the same time. The infinite
is the a priori, internal condition for the very possibility of the finite as
finite and is in this sense the "truth," the "affirmative" or "positive"
determination of the finite.43 The finite is truly finite only in this move-
ment of self-transcendence to the infinite, only in its
being-for-the-infinite-Other, which is at the same time its own internal
determination or true being-in-itself.
43It is in this sense that for Hegel the truth of the finite lies not so much in its empirical
"reality" as in its "ideality"; this ideality of the finite constitutes the Hauptsatz of philosophy,
and every philosophy is true only insofar as it is "idealism" (see Logik, 1:145-46; Enz., sec.

The Journal of Religion

It is the very nature of the finite to transcenditself, to negate its negation and to
become infinite. Thus the infinite does not stand as something finished and
complete above or superior to the finite, as if the finite had an enduring being
apartfrom or subordinate to the infinite. Neither do we only, as subjectivereason,
pass beyond the finite into the infinite; as when we say that the infinite is the
Notion of reason and that through reason we rise superior to temporal things,
though we let this happen without prejudice to the finite which is in no way
affected by this exaltation, an exaltation which remains external to it. But the
finite itself in being raised into the infinite is in no sense acted on by an alien
force; on the contrary,it is its nature to be related to itself as limitation,-both
limitation as such and as an ought-and to transcend the same, or rather, as
self-relationto have negated the limitationand to be beyond it. It is not in the
sublatingof finitude in general that infinity in general comes to be; the truth is
rather that the finite is only this, through its own nature to become itself the
infinite.The infiniteis itsaffirmative determination,that whichit trulyis in itself.44
This also means that the infinite being cannot be thought of as some-
thing "merely" other than, external to, or alongside of (neben) finite
beings. To think so would be to convert the infinite into the finite and to
deny that it is infinite, not finite. This reductive conversion would occur
whenever the infinite is treated as the final term of an infinite series, a
term to be arrived at only at the end and in no way present and imma-
nent in the series itself, or as the sheer "beyond" of the finite, a "beyond"
simply unrelated and opposed to the here and now. In either case, the
infinite forfeits its true infinity because it has something external to itself
which at the same time limits it from outside, a process which, ironically,
grants autonomous being to the finite and thereby infinitizes it. The
infinite, then, precisely because it is infinite, not because it is finite, must
relate itself to the finite,45 while this self-relating of the infinite to the
finite cannot be construed as a going "outside" of itself-for there is
nothing outside or prior to the infinite-but only as the self-
differentiating and self-finitizing of the infinite itself. The true infinite,
then, itself, that is, infinite only as the "internal" unity of itself and its
Other, the a
finite, unity which is not static but dynamic, a movement of
self-othering and self-externalizing in which the infinite does not cease
to be itself but remains "concretely" identical with itself. This is only to
say that the infinite is truly infinite or absolute only as a living, spiritual
This is also Hegel's "speculative" interpretation of the religious doc-
trine of "creation." To create is to determine, but since there is nothing
44Logik,1:126 (Logic, p. 138).
45In this respect it seems relevant to note that for the Thomists, who insist that God is not
related to us although we are to him, "relation" implies "external dependence," whereas
for Hegel it need not; for the former it is a sign of weakness, for the latter a sign of
strength (at least in the case of God).
46For the concept of finite and infinite discussed so far, see Logik, 1:103-46; Beweise, pp.

Hegel's Absolute
other than God either to determine or to be determined-there is no
preexisting matter-God determines only himself by thinking him-
self. He posits an Other of himself by differentiating himself from him-
self and grants relative independence to his Other. This Other, then, is
the finite, the Other of God and to that extent distinct from God. At the
same time, however, this otherness or distinction could not be absolute,
for it is itself posited by God and by God as his Other, as his self-
expression. God is not external to this Other but "knows himself therein,
whereby he maintains himself as a result of his own through himself."47
For Hegel, God is a living God only as this movement of self-alienation
and self-possession: "God is movement towards the finite and thereby, as
the sublation of the finite, movement into himself."48 God is indeed
infinite being (Sein), then, the only true being there is, but this being of
God is not static self-identity or mere "subsistence" but a dynamic, living,
spiritual movement of self-identification in and through otherness.
This integral view of the infinite also solves or, perhaps, dissolves, for
Hegel, the age-old question often posed with great perplexity and em-
barrassment, namely, the question of how the infinite can ever "become"
finite. As long as one holds on to the opposition of finite and infinite as
something fixed and absolute, the question seems insoluble, even unin-
telligible. For Hegel, however, what is unbegreiflichis not the living union
of finite and infinite but precisely their separation. The question im-
plicitly but illegitimately assumes that the infinite is on one side and the
finite on the other, each real in and for itself in this mutual separation,
and thereby at once infinitizes the finite and finitizes the infinite. The
proper answer to the question, then, is "that thereis not an infinite which
is first of all infinite and only subsequently has need to become finite, to
go forth into finitude; on the contrary, it is on its own account just as
much finite as infinite."49
On Hegel's view, then, the relation of infinite and finite is a
thoroughly internal, spiritual relation, and this without prejudice to their
relative, mutual otherness and independence. Each is the Other of the
other, but this otherness is no mere brute otherness but an internally
sublated one. In this sense, it is an "infinite" relation as distinguished
from the "finite" relations which prevail among merely finite beings, for
whom, after all, otherness remains more or less unsublated and in fact
defines their very finitude.50 It is precisely this mutual interiority and
infinity of the finite-infinite relation which renders all application of
finite, dualist categories-such as "cause" and "effect," "contingency"

47BR, p. 147.
49Logik,1:143 (Logic, p. 153)-
50For Hegel's identification of finitude with unsublated otherness, see Logik, 1:75;

The Journal of Religion

and "necessity," "substance" and "relation"-to this realm one-sided and

ultimately invalid.51
Thomists such as Copleston and Gregoire ask whether Hegel's God
may be considered to be an "external," "transcendent," "efficient cause"
of the world, a "subsistent" reality existing "quite independently" of it.
From Hegel's point of view, however, this mode of posing the question
would be guilty of the "category mistake," to use Ryle's phrase. Not, of
course, in the sense that Hegel would simply deny that God is a "cause,"
"transcendent" of the world and ontologically self-sufficient. God is in-
deed the only ens a se there is, but the proper way to safeguard this divine
aseity, Hegel would insist, is not by separating it from the finite in an
external relation of cause and effect but rather by conceiving it as inter-
nally constitutive and inclusive of the finite. In this regard Hegel would
not, it seems to me, hesitate to endorse the Augustinian assertion that
God is "intimior intimo meo," an assertion which has never been accused
of pantheism. For Hegel, the proper category for the Begriff of the
fundamental relation of finite and infinite is not the immediate identity
of being with itself but the movement of self-mediation through other-
ness; not the simple necessity opposed to contingency but the absolute
necessity which is freedom; not external, efficient causality but the in-
ternal spiritual activity of positing and self-differentiating; in short, not
"substance" but "spirit."52


What has been said thus far, I believe, also clears the way for an accurate
interpretation of the "necessity" with which the Absolute is said to posit
the world as its Other and to know itself in and through finite spirits.
Insofar as the finite is not external to the Absolute as an autonomous
reality over against the latter but is thoroughly dependent on the Abso-
lute as its true being and affirmative determination, it seems quite clear
that the Absolute is not "externally" dependent on the world and that
the necessity with which it is said to posit the world, consequently, could
not be a necessity external to itself. There is nothing external to the
Absolute and hence no external necessity to compel the Absolute to posit
the world.
For Hegel, externality is always a sign of finitude, and to hold external
necessity or constraint as the ultimate would be to commit the error of
50On the inadequacy of these finite categories in reference to the fundamental, specula-
tive, "absolute" relation of infinite and finite, see the respective sections in Hegel's Logik
and also Beweise, pp. 88-135.
521Inan earlier article I tried to bring out the dynamic, teleological character of the
relationship between finite and infinite in Hegel's thought (see Anselm K. Min, "Hegel on
the Foundation of Religion," International Philosophical Quarterly 14, no. 1 [March 1974]:

Hegel's Absolute
the infinite regress, destroy the fundamental unity of being, and finitize
the infinite while at the same time infinitizing the finite. If God is not
externally compelled to posit the world, and yet he does posit the world,
then should we say that he does so purely contingently, arbitrarily, or
capriciously? Is whim, caprice, contingency the only alternative to exter-
nal necessity? This plainly is not Hegel's position either; his frequent and
emphatic condemnation of empty, capricious subjectivity, as well as his
reference to the Absolute as concrete "reason," clearly forbids this sort
of interpretation. To think of God as positing the world out of caprice
would reduce God to the absolute "despot" so universally rejected as
unworthy of rational man by modern thinkers from Hume to
Whitehead, as it would render the world, as the externalization of divine
whim, radically contingent, unintelligible, meaningless, and empty of all
seriousness. One cannot without contradiction, it seems, rationally ele-
vate irrationality to infinity and place it at the very foundation of reality.
In short, to say that God posits the world with caprice would be simply to
make nonsense of both God and the world.
The true or "absolute" negation of external necessity, for Hegel, is not
contingency but inner, rational necessity, that is, freedom. God deter-
mines himself, for there is nothing either to determine God or to be
determined by God except God himself. God determines himself ratio-
nally, for he is infinite Spirit or reason, the ground of all rationality. The
"necessity" with which God is said to posit the world is the inner necessity
of divine reason itself, a necessity which is not external but internal to
God, a necessity in which he is free, for it is his own necessity. God posits
the world as his Other, but this Other is not a brute Other imposing itself
as an alien obstacle on the inner freedom of God. The world is his Other,
his self-expression, in which, therefore, he is wholly bei sich, free, unlim-
ited, and thus infinite. In God and in God alone necessity and freedom
What, then, is to be made of Gregoire's objection that to say that God
posits the world "freely" is to make an exception to the chain of the
dialectical "necessity" which links the various moments of the Hegelian
universe at its most crucial point, namely, at its very origin? This objec-
tion, in my view, is based on the unfortunate confusion of "necessity"
with "external" necessity and the simple opposition of "necessity" to both
"contingency" and "freedom." For Hegel, contingency means depen-
dence on an Other and is possible as contingency only insofar as it is
internally related to and expresses that on which it depends, that which is
necessary in itself or independent. In this sense, necessity is the "truth"
of contingency. By the same token nothing can be said to be truly neces-
sary so long as it remains merely other than, external to, and thus con-
ditioned by the very being which is supposed to depend on it as its
ground. The infinite which is simply "beyond" the finite or attainable
The Journal of Religion

only at the end of an infinite regress is not a truly necessary being

precisely because it is itself limited by finite beings which are allowed to
remain external to and over against the infinite.
True or absolute necessity, on Hegel's view, consists in containing all
finite, contingent beings from within as its Other, as its self-expression. It
is necessary in itself insofar as it does not depend on contingent beings.
It is "absolutely" necessary insofar as it does not remain external to but
includes all finite beings as itself. It includes contingent beings not be-
cause it is itself contingent and dependent on them as on something
external to itself but because it is its own inner necessity or self-
determination to do so. In this way it is bei sich in its very otherness, a
perfect synthesis of subjectivity and objectivity, and free. For Hegel,
freedom is the "truth" of necessity as necessity is the "truth" of contin-
gency. Freedom is the a priori condition of the very possibility of neces-
sity as necessity is the a priori condition for the very possibility of contin-
It is precisely for this reason that Hegel considers both the "necessary
being" of the cosmological argument and the "author of nature" of the
teleological argument as inadequate conceptions of God. The former
remains external to the finite, contingent world which it grounds and is
not yet posited as a self-determining end or spirit. The latter is indeed
posited as a self-determining end or spirit but still remains external to
the order of nature of which it is supposed to be the author. It is in the
ontological argument that both conceptions-necessity and freedom
-are united and transcended in the Begriff of God as Spirit who is
internal to the finite and yet beisich or free in it as the concrete identity of
being and thought.53
This ultimacy of freedom, for Hegel, is a "logical" necessity, the neces-
sity of reason and as such also the inner logos or Begriff of reality itself. It
is at once a necessity which reason cannot escape and a necessity in which
alone reason can find itself and, in finding itself and its own rational
dynamism fulfilled, be truly "free." Finite reason, of course, cannot be
wholly free, for otherness remains between itself and its Other, and it is
precisely for this reason that Hegel considers the long and laborious
journey of the Phenomenologyto be a prerequisite in educating finite
reason to accept this "logical" necessity and therein also find its own
freedom.54 For divine reason, however, this necessity is its own, an ex-
pression of its freedom. Thus conceived, divine freedom, it seems, need
53For Hegel's conception of "contingency," "necessity," and "freedom," see Beweise, pp.
88-99. The whole of the Logic may be viewed as an extended attempt to show that only the
freedom of the spirit can be the metaphysically ultimate category.
54It is an open question, of course, whether all bearers of finite reason would be willing
to undertake this sort ofjourney and whether such ajourney would necessarily lead to the
promised land of "absolute knowing." The answer of contemporary Existentialism has
been no to both.

Hegel's Absolute

not, as Gregoire claims, break the chain of intelligible necessity which

constitutes the unity of being but, rather, makes it possible and fulfills it.
In the same way, Hegel's assertion at the end of the Logic that the
transition of the Idea to nature and finite spirits "is therefore rather to
be understood in this way, that the Idea freely releases itself, absolutely
sure of itself and resting in itself"55 is not, as Gregoire, Copleston,
Findlay, and others claim, a mere concession to religious representation;
it is itself a "logical" consequence of his speculative thought which views
freedom as the ultimate foundation of reality.56 To be is to be free, and
the Absolute Spirit is absolutely free. As Hegel puts it: "It is only the
Absolute Idea which determines itself and which, in determining itself,
is secure in itself as absolutely free in itself. Thus, in determining itself it
releases what is determined in such a way that the latter exists as some-
thing independent, an independent object. What is free is present only
for the free. It is the absolute freedom of the Idea that in its determina-
tion, in its judgment [Urteil], it releases the Other as something free and
independent. This Other, released as something independent, is the
world in general."57


Hegel's view that the creation of the world is a function of God's inner,
spiritual exigency in his very freedom may strike some as rather unintel-
ligible, self-contradictory, and even evasive of the real problem. If God
has no external need of the world, why should he nevertheless have an
internal need of it? Would this inner necessity be compatible with real
freedom? By positing divine freedom as the ultimate raison d'etreof the
world, has Hegel really made the world any more intelligible than it
otherwise is? Does not Hegel merit, in this respect, the comment of
Kroner? namely: "Why this pure and purely onto-theological Idea 're-
solves,' as Hegel points out, to 'determine itself as an external idea,' ...
remains as much a secret as God's decision to create the heavens and the
earth. Hegel simply states in terms of an unfathomable spontaneous act
what the Bible ascribes to the will of the Highest. . . . It is amazing that
the great thinker here submits thought to faith. In the struggle between
faith and thought it is faith which wins at the end of the logic."58 These
questions, I believe, strike at the very heart of Hegel's metaphysics and
indeed of all theistic metaphysics.
Hegel's way out of this apparent dilemma is to say that God is "love."
56See E. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (Boston: Beacon Press,
1970), pp. 103, 219-
57AR, P. 94-
58Richard Kroner, BetweenFaith and Thought(New York: Oxford University Press, 1966),
pp. 141-42.

The Journal of Religion

If one could not rationally say that God posits the world from external
necessity without finitizing the infinite, and if likewise one could not say
that God posits the world out of sheer caprice without emptying the
world of all its meaning and existential seriousness, then, in Hegel's
view, one could only say that God posits the world at once freely and
with an inner, spiritual necessity of his own; that is, God posits the world
because he "loves" it. Love alone could unite and at the same time tran-
scend necessity and freedom. Love externally compelled would not be
true love; love is free. In love one is bei sich in his Other. Likewise, love
indifferent to the loved Other would not be true love; love seeks union
with its Other. In love one seeks to find his very subjectivity in his Other.
Love, then, is both free and necessary; it at once needs and does not
need its Other. Love sublates both the mere externality of necessity and
the mere subjectivity of freedom into a mutual union in which unity does
not exclude duality and duality does not exclude unity but each finds its
own fulfillment in the Other. For Hegel, this is the "speculative" mean-
ing of love, and as such love is "the very concept of spirit itself,""59the
fulfillment of the integral, trinitarian structure and dynamism of spirit
in its inner, free exigency (Forderung)of an Other as its own.
Finite spirits, of course, remain more or less subject to a necessity
whose externality is not wholly sublated, and it is for this reason that
finite love always remains more or less unfree and impure, often de-
generating into mere "immediacy" or "feeling" asserting itself as particu-
lar over against the universal.60 God, however, is infinite Spirit with no
external necessity to limit him, and his love, therefore, is completely
free. For Hegel, God is this eternal love, the Holy Spirit of love."6 God
posits the world by communicating himself freely, out of love, and this is
the very nature of God, just as it is the very nature of light to communi-

59AR,p. 18o. This statement may come to some as a surprise: one is not used to thinking
of Hegel as a philosopher of "love." For most he seems to remain the philosopher of
"thought," "knowledge," "freedom," the "State," and "spirit," but rarely of "love." Yet it
seems clear to me that "love"-in the sense of the union of subject and object in which
otherness is aufgehoben, i.e., both preserved and transcended, in communion-is not only
not foreign to but essentially constitutive of the very nature of spirit which Hegel takes to
be the ultimate foundation of reality. He did use this metaphysical or speculative concept
of love (as opposed to a merely subjective or psychological concept) as early as his Early
Theological Writings, where he equated love with the "spirit" of Christianity, love alone
being infinite or unlimited in the sense of being able to overcome the limit imposed by alien
objectivity which still persists in both the Jewish conception of God as "lord" and "power"
and the Kantian ethics of duty and obligation (see ETW, pp. 213-16, 236-37, 241, 247,
253, 264-65, 277-78, 305). While it is true that Hegel did not use the term "love" in his
later works as often as in his earlier ones, it seems no less true that the "concept" of love in
ETW, as Kroner points out in the introduction (p. 12), "has all the characteristics of his
future metaphysics" and was integrated into the concept of spirit of his mature years (see
AR, pp. 72-79, 140, 18o, 197; Beweise, p. 28).
60See BR, pp. 83-126; Beweise, pp. 25-41.
61See AR, p. 75.

Hegel's Absolute
cate itself 62 or as, to use a Scholastic expression quite appropriate in this
context, it is the very nature of the good (bonum)to be "sui diffusivum."63
From this point of view, then, the creation of finite spirits is not a mere
accident; it is an expression of God's inner need for the kind of Other to
whom he can communicate himself as Spirit and, in so communicating
himself, also return to himself. Hegel's frequent assertion that spirit is
spirit only in relation to another spirit merely indicates this inner need of
spirit for an Other like itself, an Other which it can love and, in loving
that Other, love itself.
For Hegel, then, love is the ultimate, and only on this basis does it
seem possible to safeguard both the true infinity of God and the dead
seriousness of finite existence. In saying this, of course, Hegel seems
convinced that he is merely explicating the content of the Christian
experience.64 Kroner, I believe, is right in saying that Hegel is here
"submitting thought to faith," although the faith to which he submits
thought is not faith in its immediacy but faith in its mediated immediacy
or faith as rationally mediated and reflected on. The Christian God does
not need the world, and yet he needs the world seriously enough to
create and die for it. In Fackenheim's lucid exposition, which I quote
here despite its length:
The preworldlytrinitarian play is complete, apart from its worldly manifesta-
tion; yet this latter-no mere repetition of the play-is as real for philosophic
comprehension as it is for Christian faith. The trinitarian God is wholly real
apart from the world and wholly real in it, and only because of His preworldly
reality can His worldly manifestationbe complete. Thetwo Trinitiesof Christian
faith, then,donotreducethemselves, in oneof twoopposite
ways[i.e., either the dissipa-
tion of the worldly trinitarianincursion into a timeless trinitarianplay, or the
reduction of Idea and Spirit to worldly finitude], to one: theyremaintwo,for
philosophicthoughtas muchasfor Christian faith. Andphilosophyacceptswhatfaith has
asserted:thattheirrelationis Love.
This love, then, remains in one decisive respect unchanged in nature by the
philosophicaltransfiguration.For faith, divine Love is a gift to the human other
unneeded by the divine Giver.For philosophicthought, divine Loveremainssuch
a gift even though it is a divine self-othering. This Love does not shrink into a
divine unconcern with the worldly and human, nor into a concern necessitated
62See ibid., p. 225; Beweise, p. 48. See also Hegel's endorsement of Plato's conception of
God as the Good devoid of jealousy and generous in making all things like himself (Hist.
Phil., 2:73).
63For this insight into the similarity between the Scholastic notion of the good as "sui
diffusivum" and Hegel's conception of spirit I am indebted to Professor Quentin Lauer of
Fordham University.
64Whether Hegel's speculative justification of Christianity is consonant with the self-
understanding of the Christian tradition is not the proper concern of this paper. For
Hegel's numerous references to the identity of content between his philosophy and Chris-
tianity, see Phian., pp. 532, 549; Enz., secs. i, 384, 573; Logik, 2:484; EGP, pp. 167, 171,
185-86, 191-92; BR, pp. 29, 295; AR, p. 8o.

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by divine need. Divine Love, therefore, is the ultimatefactof faith whichremains

fact evenfor thefinal philosophy,
and onlybecausephilosophyacceptsthisfact can it attain
absolutefinality. 65


If, therefore, it is in some sense true to say that God cannot be apart from
the world and that God knows himself in and through the world, the
sense in which it is true is not that God's very being and self-knowledge
are totally mediated by the world as by some agent external to himself
but, rather, that he freely mediates himself to himself by positing an
Other of himself as his Other. God's "dependence" on the world for his
being and self-knowledge, in Hegel's view, is itself a function of his own
primordial love, freedom, and independence as Spirit and in no way an
"external" dependence. It seems quite relevant here to point out that
Hegel's emphasis on the self-relating of and by God to the world, espe-
cially to the community of finite spirits, is directed to those of his con-
temporaries who would maintain that we are related to God but that God
is not related to us, that our knowledge of God is a mere postulate or
mere belief, which, for Hegel, is tantamount to the denial of God's love
and his ability to relate and reveal himself to man.66 For Hegel, it is the
very inner exigency of God as Spirit to reveal himself freely, and, if God
is present to me, a finite spirit as his Other, then this presence of the
self-revealing Spirit to my spirit is not like the mutual presence of two
unconscious beings-like two pieces of rock side by side-but is itself a
mode of mutual communion in which one knows oneself in the Other, a
mode of mutual self-revelation, an affair at once of divine "grace" and
human activity.67
To deny that God knows himself in man as his Other to which he is
present as Spirit would be to deny that God is Spirit. Even finite man can
know himself in and through another as in love, friendship, and other
forms of social life, and this capacity of self-knowledge in and through
an Other certainly cannot be denied of God without denying his reality
as Spirit. As Hegel so often repeats, it is the very nature of Spirit "to
overreach [iibergreifen]the Other and find itself therein, to unite itself
with itself in it and to have and enjoy itself therein."68 Finite spirit cannot
indeed wholly sublate the otherness between itself and other beings, and
its self-knowledge, consequently, is not absolute; man remains more or
less opaque, obscure, not wholly offenbar to himself. For God, however,
there is no unsublated Other, every Other being his Other posited by
himself. God is wholly offenbar to himself in man.
65Fackenheim, pp. 205-6.
66See Beweise, pp. 46-49; Hist. Phil., 2:73.
67See BR, pp. 256-58; AR, p. 207.
68EGP, p. 176.

Hegel's Absolute

True, one might argue that man not only can know himself in and
through an Other but also needs this Other to know himself. This media-
tion by an Other remains for finite man an "external" necessity to a great
extent, although it is not "merely" external."9 This, however, only shows
that for God, who is not subject to any alien, external necessity, his
self-possession and self-knowledge in and through finite spirits are at
once absolute and free, a function of his self-mediation to himself. In this
sense, then, Hegel could say, without any "concession" to religious or-
thodoxy, "that it belongs to the nature of God in his complete, absolute
[an undfiir sich seiender] independence to be for [fiir] the spirit of man
and communicate himself to it. .... God is and gives himself a relation to
Hegel's statement, then, that man's self-knowledge in God is God's
self-knowledge in man perhaps need not be such a scandal. Given
Hegel's trinitarian account of the nature of spirit, it is, I believe, the only
true statement he could have made. In this respect Hegel could be held
as echoing at the level of speculation the Christian doctrine of the mysti-
cal body and the mystical union among its members as evident in such
Pauline statements as that "it is not I but Christ who lives in me," that it is
the Holy Spirit who cries "Abba!" in us.71 Hegel's interpretation of"mys-
tical" and "mystery," of course, is peculiar. He distinguishes between the
mystery of "understanding" and that of "speculative" thought. The un-
derstanding takes the God-man relation to be a mystery in the sense of
something hidden, opaque, and unintelligible, and it does this because it
clings to the opposition between finite and infinite, enslaved as it is by the
categories of space and number. Speculation, on the other hand, takes
the God-man relation to be a mystery in the sense of the "rational" or the
"spiritual," whose very nature is to reveal itself and which for Christian-
ity has already revealed itself as a self-revealing, triune God dwelling in
the human community of finite spirits. Speculation seeks only to grasp
the mode of the divine presence in the human community in terms of
the mutual communion of distinct beings proper to the relation of one
spiritual being to another. Taken in the "speculative" sense, then, "mys-
tery" is not something hidden, opaque, and unintelligible; in fact, it is
the most intelligible, the most manifest (offenbar), where Hegel equates
intelligibility and manifestness with the Aufhebung of otherness, that is,
mutual externality, foreignness, and obscurity. An object is offenbar in
proportion as it reveals itself to me as a being in which I can find myself.
69It is relevant to note here that for Hegel "mediation" is not necessarily identical with
"dependence" (see John McTaggart and Ellis McTaggart, Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic
[New York: Russell & Russell, 1964], p. 39)-
70Beweise,p. 46; see also AR, pp. 174-75-
71Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:15. Hegel is quite convinced that this "indwelling" of the divine in
the finite spirit is what the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit and "grace" is all about (see
AR, pp. 196-215)-

The Journal of Religion

In this sense God is the most offenbar because he reveals himself to me

not as a "thing," a brute Other, but as a "self," a "spirit," in fact as
Absolute Spirit, in which therefore I can find my self, my sprit, absolutely.
In the Christian religion, which Hegel calls "manifest" religion in this
sense, God manifests himself and becomes offenbar, and this self-
manifestation of God to me is at the same time my self-manifestation to
myself in which my true Wesenbecomes offenbarto myself. Both manifes-
tations are one and the same, for as the unity of myself and my Other my
self-knowledge and my knowledge of the Other are mutually correlative
and dependent. From this point of view, then, it is not without sense that
Hegel identifies God's self-knowledge in man and man's self-knowledge
in God.72
Because of this "speculative" identification Hegel has been subject to
the charge of mysticism and pantheism. What is at stake in this
identification, however-and what many commentators seem to fail to
appreciate-is the mutually interior relation proper to spiritual beings in
their very otherness, a relation to which the categories of understanding,
for Hegel, are not quite applicable. At the level of material objects the
only possible relationship between two distinct beings is that of external
juxtaposition; presence to an Other at this level necessarily entails the
loss of self-identity and self-destruction. At the level of spirit, on the
other hand-and only at this level-it is possible to preserve the distinct
identity of each as well as the mutual presence of each in the other.
Hegel's identification presupposes precisely this sort of immanence of
the Absolute in the spirit of man and of man in the Absolute where the
human spirit is united with his Absolute Other yet remains his inmost
self.73 Whether or not this sort of spiritual immanence-which preserves
otherness--can rightly be said to be pantheistic, it clearly does not lend
itself to the charge of pantheism in the usual sense of undifferentiated
identity." In any case it is precisely to preserve both difference and
community that Hegel specifically requires "grfindliche Spekulation" in
"conceiving" the God-man relationship. As Hegel elaborates:
The object, the community of God and man with each other, is a community
[Gemeinschaft]of spirit with spirit;it contains the weightiestquestions in itself. It
is a community;therein alreadylies the difficultyboth to maintaindifference in
it and so to determine the difference that community is also preserved. That
man knows of God is, accordingto the essentialcommunity, a communal know-
ing [gemeinschaftliches Wissen]-that is, man knows God only insofar as God
knows himself in man; this knowing is the self-consciousness of God, but also as

72For Hegel's identification of revelation with the Aufhebung of otherness, see AR, p. 70;
Beweise, p. 117; Phdin., p. 482.
73See EGP, pp. 175-83-
74See Hegel's discussion and rejection of pantheism in BR, pp. 254-57-

Hegel's Absolute

much the knowledge of God by man, and this knowledge of God by man is
knowledgeof man by God. The spiritof man which knows God is only the Spirit
of God himself.75


One more question-perhaps the most decisive question from certain

theistic points of view-still remains to be asked. Granted the existence
of the world, some might be willing to admit-at least for the sake of
discussion-that God cannot be apart from the world, that the ontologi-
cal bond between them cannot be severed without both finitizing God
and infinitizing the world. One might nevertheless insist on asking
whether Hegel's God can be said to have any content or interiority of his
own apart from his Dasein in the world, apart from his self-
externalizations in and through the finite. Does Hegel have anything to
say about God-in-himself apart from his being-for-the-world, apart from
his internal unity with the finite? What would God be like "outside"this
relation to the world?
Hegel's answer, I believe, is quite clear. The question would make at
once as little sense and, by the same token, as much sense as the Kantian
question concerning the "thing-in-itself." Just as nothing rational can be
said about something which is merely "in-itself' and in no way "for-
another" or "for-consciousness," so the question concerning the being-
in-himself of God who is in no way "for-the-world," not even "for-the-
questioner" who is asking that question, would be a mindless, unintelligi-
ble question naively unconscious of its own presuppositions. And just as
the "thing-in-itself" would make sense only as the "thing-in-itself-for-
consciousness," so "God-in-himself" would be intelligible only as "God-
in-himself-for-the-world," especially for man. This is why, for Hegel, all
talk about God who is merely "beyond" the world is an unintelligible
"abstraction." The only God whose reality we can rationally affirm is the
God manifesting himself in the world, and the reality of this kind of God
we cannot indeed not affirm without turning the world into an au-
tonomous, infinite reality.7" The very question about the being-in-itself
of God presupposes and implicitly affirms his being-for-the-questioner
and thus his being-for-the-world in which the questioning subject has his
Just as the thing-in-itself would not forfeit but rather attain and main-
tain its objective reality when conceived as the thing-
75Beweise,pp. 116-17.
76In this respect it is significant to note that Hegel uses Dasein, or manifested being,
rather than simply Sein whenever he speaks of the proofs of God's "existence," as, for
example, in the very title of his Lectureson the Proofs of God'sExistence [Dasein].
77See Beweise, pp. 46-48.

The Journal of Religion

in-itself-for-consciousness,78 neither would God's being-in-himself lose

its sovereign objectivity when conceived as God-in-himself-for-the-
world. God has his Dasein in the world, and the world expresses his
being-in-himself. This does not mean, however, that this being-for-the-
world "exhausts" his being-in-himself, his interiority or subjectivity as
Spirit. Just as that which appears for an Other is what the thing is in
itself, and yet this being-in-itself is never wholly identifiable with any one
of its external appearances or being-for-another, the thing being the
speculative unity-dialectical, not static--of its being-in-itself and its
being-for-another, so the world as God's Other does indeed externalize
what he is in himself, and yet the world does not exhaust God's subjectiv-
ity any more than my particular activities exhaust mine, for God's being
consists in the eternal, trinitarian movement of externalizing himself,
interiorizing what has been externalized, and remaining in all these
identical with himself.
This also means, for Hegel, that, contrary to the assumptions of naive
understanding, the dichotomy of transcendence and immanence is not
absolute but only relative, secondary, and derived from the more
primordial unity of God and the world. God indeed "transcends" the
world insofar as no particular state of the world exhausts his trinitarian
spirituality. The distinction between God and the world, between his
being-in-himself and his being-for-the-world, remains sufficiently objec-
tive and real to forbid any simple identification of his subjectivity with
any one of his finite self-expressions or with any one state of the world as
a whole.79 God is also "immanent" in the world insofar as the world is
itself possible only in its internal relatedness to, and as the externaliza-
tion of, its infinite Other, and insofar as this infinite Other of the world is
knowable at all as such only to the extent that it does so externalize itself
in the world.
The notion of a "merely" transcendent and in no way immanent God
is, in Hegel's view, a contradiction in terms. Such a God would be simply
unknowable, and, insofar as one nevertheless claimed to affirm such a
God, one would also be implicitly affirming the immanence of God, at
least in and for him who does the affirming. The notion of a merely
immanent and in no way transcendent God is likewise contradictory, for
such a notion would implicitly absolutize the finite itself. Neither tran-
scendence nor immance, neither God nor the world, neither God's
being-in-himself nor his being-for-the-world is possible each by itself, for
each presupposes as its own condition the more primordial unity of God
and the world or the trinitarian unity of God in his being-in-himself-
for-the world. It is precisely ignorance of this condition which leads the
78See Phiin., pp.
79See Heinz Heimsoeth, Metaphysikder Neuzeit (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1967), p.

Hegel's Absolute

"unhappy" consciousness to reject the "here below" and flee into the
"beyond," as it also leads the this-worldly "insight" to simply reject the
other-worldly "belief" and absolutize its own finite subjectivity.
Thus far I have tried to show that Hegel's rejection of sheer transcen-
dence and the conventional conception of God based thereon does not
mean, as the "immanentist" interpreters seem to claim, espousal of sheer
immanence, naturalistic humanism, or pantheism in the ordinary sense.
If my interpretation is correct, what Hegel tried to do through his
"speculative" approach, it seems, was to provide the ontological founda-
tion for the very possibility of both transcendence and immanence and
thereby also to sublate and transcend the rigid opposition often posited
between them. This he did, I believe, not by denying either the finitude
of the finite or the infinity of the infinite but, rather, by probing into the
very conditions under which alone, in his view, the finite could be truly
finite and the infinite truly infinite. This condition is the primordial,
internal unity of infinite and finite in the true (wahrhafte) infinity and
true transcendence of the Absolute Spirit which is itself and yet posits
and "overreaches" its Other out of love.