Hegel: Calvinist Saint?

File:Hegel.jpg(autobiographical nonsense purged)

Three notions are whizzing about in my head that seem inescapably connected:

1. Calvinists, in the course of defining Sola Scriptura, state: “The authority of Scripture was not through rational argumentation or proofs, but through the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

2. Hegel, in his Logic, states, among  other monstrosities varied and fell:

“A comparison of the forms to which spirit has raised itself in the practical and religious sphere and in every branch of science both physical and mental, with the form presented by logic which is spirit’s consciousness of its own pure essence, reveals so vast a difference that the utter inadequacy and unworthiness of the latter consciousness in comparison with the higher consciousness displayed in those other spheres cannot fail to strike the most superficial observer.” Science of Logic, Introduction, § 58.

Translation: traditional logic sucks because it’s old-fashioned.

3. On the other hand, Aquinas states:

Well, something like that:

What is natural cannot be changed while nature remains.* But contrary opinions cannot be in the same mind at the same time: therefore no opinion or belief is sent to man from God contrary to natural knowledge. And therefore the Apostle says: The word is near in thy heart and in thy mouth, that is, the word of faith which we preach (Rom. x, 8). But because it surpasses reason it is counted by some as contrary to reason, which cannot be. To the same effect is the authority of Augustine (Gen. ad litt. ii, 18) : ” What truth reveals can nowise be contrary to the holy books either of the Old or of the New Testament.” Hence the conclusion is evident, that any arguments alleged against the teachings of faith do not proceed logically from first principles of nature, principles of themselves known, and so do not amount to a demonstration; but are either probable reasons or sophistical; hence room is left for refuting them.
Aquinas, Thomas Summa Contra Gentiles. Book I, Chapter 7.

So, we have Thomas stating, in the 13th century, that there is one Truth, that it is not possible to refute Revelation by logic – nor is it possible to refute logic by Revelation.  Insofar as they are both true, they are one.

At first, the Calvinist position seems reasonable enough – certainly, the truth of Scripture is based on something more than mere human reason. But this notion also places Scripture beyond the reach of reason – how could it be anything short of blasphemy to try to understand Scripture with the human intellect? Are you putting your mind in the place rightly occupied by the Spirit?  What could you possibly hope to attain by applying your mind to Scripture? It is to be read in faith – I am tempted to add: it is to be read in Faith Alone. It’s the Will that is engaged, not the Mind.

I contend that the intellectual gravity of this particular idea, unless counterbalanced by something else – say, a statement like Thomas’ about the value and appropriateness of human reason in understanding, even understanding Scripture – inexorably leads to simply disparaging logic and reason, especially when they appear to contradict Scripture.

Is this not what we see all the time? The almost laughable dismissal by many Evangelicals of all geologic and biologic evidence for an ancient earth is merely this idea finding its natural place, settling down in its moment of least potential;  that truth is vouchsafed by the Spirit, which trumps anything we, in our infinite depravity, could come up with. Rather, do we not say, with Thomas:

The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.


All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit.

What we have here, historically, is Calvin, using a highly selective appeal to Augustine, attempting to undo the authority of the Catholic Church, an authority that uses Thomas as its logical point man.  Since human reason (and the facts on the ground, such as how any general reading of Augustine leads one to conclude that he was remarkably Catholic and not much at all like Luther and Calvin) had been drafted and successfully integrated with Catholic teaching, it becomes the enemy. The Reformers do not seem to ever really address Aquinas on his own terms, but rather dismiss him on their terms. If I’m an intellectual flyweight, my best survival strategy is to refuse to get into the ring with the intellectual heavyweight champion of the world.*

This anti-intellectualism has two ugly children: a physical science that dismisses out of hand what it correctly sees as the overreach of Protestant claims on its turf, and a philosophic history that evades and denigrates and compartmentalizes the human intellect.

This bastard child of science – Science! – is what we here on this blog pillory. It is science with its feelings hurt, that wants to get even with capital t TRVTH for dissing it back in the 16th century. But we cover this elsewhere.

The other bastard child is the philosophic tradition that runs through Descartes, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel and on through Nietzsche and modern nihilists. The defining characteristic of this tradition is bifurcation: either stated as the mind-body problem, or as the separation of Intellect and Will (with Will getting to drive) or as the simple denial that human reason has anything to say about truth.

Descartes throws down the gauntlet by trying to found philosophy on certain 1st principles, axioms that can be known certainly without the aid of sense impressions. This was a conscious attempt to get away from Aristotle and Aquinas. But his approach was dead on arrival: the same ‘demons’ that destroy his certainty about sense impressions could also poison any other thought he might have – an obvious eventuality that goes unacknowledged.

Hume picks it up, and in his adolescent way, carries Descartes’ ideas much farther, and introduces the radical doubt in the form the world knows it today. Kant comes along and attempts an integration: what if we used pure logic on Descartes’ ideas while accepting his radical doubt? Thus we end up with a tightly proscribed world of the mind,  where a crippled but perfect certainty can live, while leaving everything else to faith of one kind or another.

Now comes Hegel: he sees the Spirit working directly everywhere. All of Philosophy and History (and Art and Science and everything else) is the Spirit unfolding itself through time, and precipitating and resolving dialectical states. Because this is an ontological truth revealed by the Spirit to those enlightened few Hegelians, human reason as understood by Aristotle and Aquinas and their followers has nothing to say about it. True philosophy looks at reason’s protests that such up-to-date notions are irrational and self-contradictory with a condescending smile. Reason has no standing in the court of philosophy.

Hegel’s philosophy is the logical (in the old-school sense Hegel rejects) result of the Calvinistic statement that the revelations of the Spirit trump and obviate mere human reason. He is the Patron Saint of Protestant Philosophy: in him, the Spirit’s utter domination of human reason finds its purest, fullest expression. He passes the theological test, in that he always considered himself an orthodox Lutheran. All that’s left is to establish his feast day.

Could there possibly be a downside to this? Well, what if lowly reason finds something it cannot square with what the will has chosen to believe Scripture says? In keeping with the nature of this philosophical stream, the options are 2: reject the findings of the mind and believe, despite the evidence, that the world is 6,000 years old. Or flat. Or has corners. Or that the man with 2 coats is damned to Hell. There’s really no logical limit, it’s all a matter of taste – or rather, what it is we have chosen to believe the Spirit is telling us.

Or we can reject Scripture, as many scientists and all Unitarians and most mainline Protestants have done.

There is third option: reject the untenable ground Hegel stands upon – reject Calvin’s teachings. Embrace the unity of truth with Emerson Cod and Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church.

* Check out, for example, On the Bondage of the Will. Here’s what one Protestant apologist says, which is just the first thing that pops up on Google:

Luther loved the truth of God’s Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation. Therefore Luther wanted true reformation in the church, which would be a reformation in doctrine and practice. Erasmus cared little about a right knowledge of truth. He simply wanted moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not want to leave the church, but remained supportive of the Pope.

This fundamental difference points out another difference between the two men. Martin Luther was bound by the Word of God. Therefore the content of the Scripture was of utmost importance to him. But Erasmus did not hold to this same high view of Scripture. Erasmus was a Renaissance rationalist who placed reason above Scripture. Therefore the truth of Scripture was not that important to him.

What actually occurs in the dialogue between these two men is that Erasmus (with one notable exception) refrains from name calling and ad hominem attacks, and instead tries to explore what Luther’s ideas mean in practice. Erasmus was a brilliant Renaissance scholar and writer, fully versed in logic and rhetoric. Luther comes off as the pedantic, bitter, crass bumpkin he actually was.  He makes no attempt to engage Erasmus’ arguments, because, as the comment quoted above indicates, his understanding of Scripture was pure Spirit-infused goodness beyond the reach of reason, so that to disagree with him was simple heresy.

Luther’s refusal to allow for *any* role for human reason is spun as a holy reliance on “the truth of God’s Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation.” Riiight.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Hegel: Calvinist Saint?”

  1. Believe it or not, St. Thomas foresaw the creation of Yard Sale of the Mind. He wrote in his defense of Church teaching against anyone who maintained that certain teachings could be “true according to philosophy, but not according to the Catholic faith” –

    “He shall find me here confronting him, and not only my negligible self, but many another whose study is truth. We shall do battle with his errors, and bring a cure to his ignorance!”

    Pretty nifty to have the Angelic Doctor count you among his brothers-in-arms!

    1. If Thomas is a “negligible self”, I’m something so far below negligible that you can’t see it without a microscope. But hey, that’s the team I want to be on, even if I’m picked last.

      This is the tip of an iceberg: by separating that which is known by faith from that which is known by reason, we get every ill that afflicts current philosophy and science, and because ideas have consequences, the crippled shadow of philosophy that’s left has been put to use as a wide highway to perdition (which is, I think, just outside of Newark, New Jersey).

      Operating principle for analysis of the modern world I’m still waiting to find an exception to: What cannot be blamed on Sagan can be blamed on Luther and that crowd.

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