- Hegel’s Theology or Revelation Thematized by Stephen Theron
Hegel maintains that philosophy may be understood as the activity of transforming representations into thoughts. He also holds that religion, whose consummate form is Christianity, presents the most fundamental and comprehensive possibility of representational thinking. The task of philosophy, therefore, very essentially involves conceptualizing the religious representation, particularly in its Christian manifestation. Fulfilling this task results in a truthful understanding of the meaning that religion conveys. For this reason, Stephen Theron maintains, Hegel’s philosophical considerations of religion and in particular Christianity, just inasmuch as they are philosophical, result not simply in a philosophy of [End Page 613] religion but a theology. Hegel’s philosophy and theology appropriate in important ways positions developed by Aristotle and Aquinas, among many others. At the same time, Hegel develops an absolute idealism that one should understand very much along the lines that J. M. E. McTaggart suggests. McTaggart explicitly espouses an atheistic position. But his understanding of Spirit and historical intersubjectivity coincides nicely with the conception of God that absolute idealism in fact presents. Thus God is at once the absolute idea and absolute spirit, othering itself in nature and finite spirit for the sake of its own self-recovery. Creation, as this is called, is both necessary and free, as self-othering follows from the very nature of the absolute idea. Nature and finite spirit, inasmuch as these stand over against the absolute idea, are evil. The commission of evil, therefore, is an act of self-discovery on the part of finite spirit, which relativizes and surpasses the opposition of good and evil in a way that anticipates Nietzsche. The fall is necessary for the sake of human self-understanding, and it is the condition of the possibility of the fullness of that understanding, which religion calls redemption. That condition comes about in virtue of what Christianity calls the Incarnation, which is presented as the unity of divine nature and human nature in a single individual. This depiction signifies the self-related unity of Absolute Spirit with itself in its self-othering connection with finite spirit and nature. The consequence of this is an understanding of the illusory nature of nature and finite spirit insofar as these are these are taken as standing over against Absolute Spirit, and of evil as conceived on the basis of that understanding.
These remarks sketch only in an abstract way the position Theron develops in this book. It is important to understand that he does not take himself to be presenting only an interpretation of Hegel on the content and consequences of a philosophical consideration of religion and Christianity. He maintains that philosophical thinking reaches the fullness of its possibilities in absolute idealism, and that one can attain those possibilities for oneself through a thoughtful appropriation of Hegel’s achievement. He maintains that the task of conceptualizing the representational thinking of religion, or “picture thinking” as he also calls it, is an essential philosophical task. The outcome of that task, successfully undertaken, is a true understanding of the meaning the historical religious discourse and practice convey, and at the same time the truth about thought and being, about human existence and reality. One finds anticipations of this truth throughout the religions of the world, which is to be expected because Christianity is not just one religion that differs from others but the consummation of religious possibilities. Other ways of stating this truth appear in mystical literature, especially Meister Eckhart, as Hegel recognized and Theron points out. Since the meaning of historical religious discourse is most truly expressed in the philosophical discourse of absolute idealism, religious discourse points beyond itself to philosophical thinking as necessary for a fully truthful statement of that meaning. In turn, philosophy is, as Hegel again acknowledged, the highest form of divine service. [End Page 614]
One may raise at least two questions about the argument of this book and similar arguments. Hegel is well known for saying that a philosophical conceptualization of the religious representation alters the form but...