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The Word Became Flesh or The Orthodox Hegel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

John W. Burbidge*
Trent University
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Certain men, rejecting the truth, are introducing among us false stories and vain genealogies, which serve rather to controversies than to God's work of building up in faith. By their craftily constructed rhetoric they lead astray the minds of the inexperienced, and take them captive, corrupting the oracles of the Lord, and being evil expounders of what was well spoken.

Thus did Irenaeus of Lyons initiate his treatise on the Refutation and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So-called, commonly called Adversus Haereses. The targets of his polemic were the Gnostics: Valentinus, Marcion, Cerinthus and Basilides; among whom, for our purposes, we shall concentrate simply on Valentinus. According to Irenaeus, the Valentinians held that “neither was the Word made flesh, nor Christ, nor the Saviour who was made out of all the Aeons. For they allege that the Word and Christ never came into this world, and that the Saviour was neither incarnate nor suffered, but that he descended as a dove [that is, at his baptism] upon that Jesus who was made by dispensation, and when he has proclaimed the unknown Father ascended again into the Pleroma [that is, when Jesus said, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’] It is important to notice the distinction Valentinus draws between Christ, the divine Son (who simply appropriates the human Jesus for a time), and the Jesus who was born of Mary and died on Calvary. They are not to be simply identified.

Hegel and Religion
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 2002

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1 Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, I, 1:1 Google Scholar as found in the translation of Hardy, Edward Rochie, Early Christian Fathers, ed. Richardson, Cyril C.. Library of Christian Classics, I, (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1953), 358 Google Scholar.

2 Adv. Haer. III, 11:3, 379 Google Scholar. O'Regan, Cyril in The Heterodox Hegel (Albany: State University of New York, 1994) 232ffGoogle Scholar. tries to shield Valentinus from the attacks of Irenaeus by claiming that recently discovered texts cite all the details of Jesus' suffering and death. However, when he admits that this suffering had “no salvific force,” he concedes Irenaeus's critical thrust, that the divine son of God did not suffer (as he had left Jesus' person just before the crucifixion). Indeed since Irenaeus does credit the Valentinians with an acceptance of Jesus's suffering and death, O'Regan is not justified in saying that this was a new discovery.

3 Adv. Haer. III, 4:2, 375 Google Scholar.

4 Hegel, G.W.F., Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, edited by Garniron, Pierre and Jaeschke, Walter, Teil 3. [Volume 8 of G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen] (Hamburg: Meiner, 1996) 173–4Google Scholar. Henceforth this edition will be cited as V, with the volume number within the complete series. A similar discussion can be found in Hegel's manuscript for the 1821 lectures on the philosophy of religion. See V5, 22ff, and Hegel, G.W.F., Gesammelte Werke (Hamburg: Meiner, 1968-) [henceforth HGW] 17, 228–9Google Scholar.

5 V9, 16

6 V9, 15.

7 So in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion he contrasts the singular actuality of the Christian incarnation with the incarnations in Indian religions (Indra, Vishnu and the Dalai Lama) and in Greek religion (Heracles). “In those oriental forms, the humanity is only a mask, nothing essential; at its base lies the conception that the spirit has thrust itself down into an alien matter ('υλη) and its embodiment is an incarceration.” [D.F. Strauss's copied notes from the 1831 Lectures.] F5, 283. In F4a, 517-8 [1827] he spells out why he calls these incarnations masks by saying that the negativity of death does not really inhere in the subject. “The thousandfold dying of Indra, the resurrection of Krishna is of another type from the death of a subject: the substance remains one and the same. In the death of the Lama the negation does not apply to the substance; it abandons only the body of the one Lama, has however immediately chosen for itself another.”

8 Die Schriften zu J.G. Fichte's Atheismus-streit can be found in a volume edited by Lindau, Hans (München: Georg Müller, 1912)Google Scholar.

9 This discussion is a digest of the logical development as found in the larger Logic. For a more detailed exposition that follows Hegefs argument paragraph by paragraph, see my On Hegel's Logic, (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities, 1981), 5258 Google Scholar.

10 For a more detailed exposition of this argument, see The Necessity of Contingency,” in Hegel on Logic and Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 3951 Google Scholar.

11 This is a very brief summary of a lengthy argument. The detailed exposition can be found in On Hegel's Logic, 111-124.

12 V8, 174.

13 Phenomenology of Spirit, paragraph 758 (my translation); HGW 9, 404.33ff (Hegel's emphasis).

14 Adv. Haer. III, 3:4, 373 Google Scholar.

15 Tertullian, De Carne Christi, Chapter V; as found in the Ante Nicene Fathers.

16 This is where O'Regan's thesis is radically flawed. On the one hand, he suggests that Hegel's reference to the crucified God was a swerve from Luther, and thus unorthodox, despite the fact that, as we have noted above, Tertullian at the beginning of Chapter V of De Carne Christi stresses against Marcion and the Gnostics that God not only was born, but died. Indeed he uses the term “crucified God.” This is not a 19th century construct derived from Hegel, but a fundamental element of any orthodoxy that maintains against the Arians that the whole Jesus was fully God as well as fully human. On the other hand, despite the fact that the newly discovered texts show that Valentinius took the sufferings and death of Jesus seriously, O'Regan has to admit that it was accorded no salvific significance. It was not the action of God by which he reconciled the world to himself. If Hegel, as O'Regan himself admits, affirms that God himself died, and if, as he also says, Valentinus denies any salvific significance to Jesus' suffering, the argument that he is implicitly a Valentinian Gnostic is flawed to its very core. Any argument that a swerve from Luther must render Hegel heretical is suspect. One needs to recall John Henry Newman's comment: “Luther and the rest, men of original minds, spoke as no one before them; St Augustine, with no less originality, was content to minister to the promulgation of what he had received.” (Lectures on Justification,” to be found in The Oxford Movement, edited by Fairweather, E.R. [Library of Protestant Thought, New York: Oxford University Press, 1964], 217 Google Scholar.)

17 Adv. Haer. I, 10:1, 360 Google Scholar.

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