The first period embraces a space of one thousand years — from Thales, 550 B.C., to Proclus, who died 485 A.D., and until the disappearance of pagan philosophy as an outward institution, 529 A.D. The second period extends to the sixteenth century, and thus again embraces a thousand years, to pass over which we must provide ourselves with seven-leagued boots. While Philosophy has hitherto found its place in the religion of the heathen, from this time on it has its sphere within the Christian world; for Arabians and Jews have only to be noticed in an external and historic way.
Through the Neo-Platonic philosophy we have come into quite familiar acquaintance with the Idea of Christianity, as the new religion which has entered into the world. For the Neo-Platonic philosophy has as its essential principle the fact that the Absolute is determined as spirit in a concrete way, that God is not a mere conception. Although the Absolute is Thought, it must, in order to be true, be concrete in itself and not abstract; in what we have just seen we have, then, the first appearance of the absolutely existent spirit. But in spite of their profound and true speculation, the Neo-Platonists still had not proved their doctrine that the Trinity is the truth, for there is lacking to it the form of inward necessity. The Neo-Platonists begin from the One that determines itself, that sets a limit to itself from which the determinate proceeds; this, however, is itself an immediate method of presentation, and it is this that makes such philosophers as Plotinus and Proclus so tiresome. Undoubtedly dialectic considerations enter in, in which the opposites which are conceived as absolute are shown to be null; but this dialectic is not methodical, but occurs only disconnectedly. The principle of retroversion and comprehension found with the Neo-Platonists is that of substantiality generally, but because subjectivity is lacking, this idea of Spirit is deficient in one moment, the moment of actuality, of the point which draws all moments into one, and which thereby becomes immediate unity, universality, and Being. To them spirit is thus not individual spirit; and this deficiency is made good through Christianity, in which spirit is found as actual, present spirit, immediately existent in the world here and now, and the absolute spirit is known in the immediate present as man.
In order to grasp and apply the Idea of Christianity, the philosophic Idea of which we have already spoken in connection with the Neo-Platonists must have been comprehended for itself; but within Christianity the basis of Philosophy is that in man has sprung up the consciousness of the truth, or of spirit in and for itself, and then that man requires to participate in this truth. Man must be qualified to have this truth present to him; he must further be convinced of this possibility. This is the absolute demand and necessity; the consciousness must be arrived at that this alone is true. The first point of interest in the Christian religion thus is that the content of the Idea should be revealed to man; more particularly that the unity of the divine and human nature should come to the consciousness of man, and that, indeed, on the one hand as an implicitly existent unity, and, on the other, in actuality as worship. The Christian life signifies that the culminating point of subjectivity is made familiar with this conception, the individual himself is laid claim to, is made worthy of attaining on his own account to this unity, which is to make himself worthy of the Spirit of God — Grace, as it is called — dwelling in him. Hence the doctrine of reconciliation is that God is known as reconciling Himself with the world, i.e. as we have seen in the Neo-Platonic philosophy, that He particularizes Himself and does not remain abstract. Not external nature alone, but the whole world pertains to the particular; above all must human individuality know itself in God. The interest of the subject is itself involved, and here it plays an essential rôle in order that God may be realized and may realize Himself in the consciousness of individuals who are spirit and implicitly free. Thus through the process these accomplish that reconciliation in themselves, actualize their freedom; that is to say, they attain to the consciousness of heaven upon earth, the elevation of man to God. Thus the true intellectual world is not a beyond, but the so-called finite is an element in it, and no division exists between this side and that. The real concrete in regard to the absolute Idea is the knowing of the mundane, the ‘other’ in God, as implicitly divine, as universal, as the world of intellect, as having its root in God, but only the root. In God man is accepted only in his truth, and not in his immediacy, and thus this doctrine is not what we call Pantheism, for that leaves the immediate just as it is. Man then has himself to accomplish the process of reconciliation in himself in order to attain to his truth. We have thus seen that man possesses the determination and attributes of God as the first begotten son, Adam Kadmon, the first man; we may call this unity the concrete Idea, which, however, is still only implicit.
But the fact that because man is capable of the divine, the identity of the divine and human nature must likewise be present for him, has in an immediate way become known to him in Christ, as one in whom the divine and human nature are implicitly one. In the world what has come to pass is that the Absolute has been revealed as the concrete, and, further, not only in thought in a general way as intelligible world, but because it has in itself proceeded to its ultimate point of intensity. Thus it is an actual self, an “I,” the absolute universal, the concrete universal, that is God; and also the absolute opposite of this determination, the clearly finite as it exists in space and time, but this finite determined in unity with the eternal as self. The Absolute comprehended as concrete, the unity of these two absolutely different determinations, is the true God; each of them is abstract, and either of them taken by itself is thus not the true God. The fact that the concrete is thus known to men in this perfection as God, brings about the whole revolution that has taken place in the world’s history. The Trinity is thereby not only present in conception, which would not yet constitute the perfect concrete, but actuality is perfectly united to it. In the consciousness of the world it has consequently broken in upon men that the Absolute has attained to this “culminating point” of immediate actuality, as Proclus says; and that is the manifestation of Christianity. The Greeks were anthropomorphic, their gods were humanly constituted; but the deficiency in them is that they were not anthropomorphic enough. Or rather the Greek religion is on the one hand too much, and, on the other hand, too little anthropomorphic — too much, because immediate qualities, forms, actions, are taken up into the divine; too little, because man is not divine as man, but only as a far-away form and not as ‘this,’ and subjective man.
Thus man reaches this truth, because for him it becomes a sure intuition that in Christ the λόγος has become Flesh. We thus first have man through this process attaining to spirituality, and in the second place we have man as Christ, in whom this original identity of both natures is known. Now since man really is this process of being the negation of the immediate, and from this negation attaining to himself — to a unity with God — he must consequently renounce his natural will, knowledge, and existence. This giving up of his natural existence is witnessed in Christ’s sufferings and death, and in His resurrection and elevation to the right hand of the Father. Christ became a perfect man, endured the lot of all men, death; as man He suffered, sacrificed Himself, gave up His natural existence, and thereby elevated Himself above it. In Him this process, this conversion of His other-being into spirit, and the necessity of pain in the renunciation of the natural man is witnessed; but this pain, the pain of feeling that God Himself is dead, is the starting point of holiness and of elevation to God. Thus what must come to pass in the subject — this process, this conversion of the finite — is known as implicitly accomplished in Christ. This constitutes the great leading Idea of Christianity.
From what has been said it follows, in the second place, that the world must not be left in its immediate naturalness. The original, implicitly existent, is found only in the strictest conception of mind, or as its determination: immediately, man is only a living being, who has indeed the capacity to become actual spirit — but spirit does not pertain to nature. Man is thus not by nature this particular in which the spirit of God lives and dwells: man is not by nature what he ought to be. The animal is by nature what it ought to be. But what has to be noticed in this respect is that natural things merely remain in their implicit Notion, or their truth does not enter into their sensuous life, for this their natural individuality is only a fleeting fact that cannot look back on itself. The misfortune in natural things is that they get no further, that their essential nature is not for itself and independent; from this it follows that they do not attain to infinitude, to liberation from their immediate individuality, i.e. they do not attain to freedom, but only remain in the necessity which is the connection of the “one” with an “other,” so that when this other unites itself to natural things, these last perish because they cannot bear the contradiction. But because the truth exists for man as consciousness, and in it he has the qualities necessary for freedom, he is capable of perceiving the Absolute, of placing himself in a relation to the same, and having knowledge as an end; and the liberation of mind depends on the fact that consciousness does not remain in its natural condition, but becomes spiritual, i.e. that for it the eternal, that is the reconciliation of the finite as this subject with the infinite, exists. Thus consciousness does not signify remaining in the sphere of nature, but the existence of the process whereby the universal becomes object or end to man. Man makes himself divine, but in a spiritual, that is to say not in an immediate way. In the ancient religions the divine is also united to the natural or human; but this unity is no reconciliation, but an immediate, undeveloped, and thus unspiritual unity, just because it is merely natural. But because mind is not natural but only that into which it makes itself, the spiritual is first met with in this very process of producing unity. To this spiritual unity pertains the negation of nature, of the flesh, as that in which man must not rest; for nature is from the beginning evil. Man is likewise naturally evil, for all the wickedness that man does proceeds from a natural desire. Now because man is in himself the image of God, but in existence is only natural, that which is implicit must be evolved, while the first natural condition must be abrogated. So much the more is it true that man first becomes spiritual, and attains to truth through rising above the natural, inasmuch as God Himself is a spirit only in that He transformed the hidden unity into the other of Himself, in order from this other to turn back again into Himself.
Now the fact that this is given as, or asserted to be the fundamental Idea of Christianity, implies on the one hand an historic question; at different times this idea has been grasped in different ways, and now, for example, men again have their particular conceptions of it. In order to bring about the conclusion that this is the historic idea of Christianity, we should have to enter upon an historic disquisition; but because we cannot deal with this here, we must accept it as an historic axiom. On the other hand, in so far as this question falls within the history of Philosophy, the assertion that this is the idea of Christianity has another ground to stand on than that of history, and this constitutes the third point of interest. In connection with the preceding forms it has been shown that this Idea of Christianity must have now come forth, and indeed become the universal consciousness of the nations. The fact that it has come forth as the world-religion, is the content of history; it is this necessity in the Idea which has to be expounded more clearly in the philosophy of history. To this end the conception of mind must be made fundamental, and it must now be shown that history is the process of mind itself, the revelation of itself from its first superficial, enshrouded consciousness, and the attainment of this standpoint of its free self-consciousness, in order that the absolute command of mind, “Know thyself,” may be fulfilled. The recognition of this necessity has been called the à priori construction of history; there is no good in decrying it as inadmissible, and indeed as arrogant. The development of history may be represented as contingent. Or, if the providence and government of God are seriously accepted, these are represented as though Christianity were so to speak ready made in the mind of God; then, when thrust into the world, it appears to be contingent. But the rationality and likewise the necessity of this decree of God’s has now to be considered, and this may be called a theodicy, a justification of God, i.e. a vindication of our Idea. It is a demonstration that, as I have just said, things have happened rationally in the world, and it implies the fact that the world-history represents the process of mind partially as the history of mind, which has to be reflected into itself in order to come to a consciousness of what it is. It is this which is shown forth in temporal history, and as history, indeed, just because mind is the living movement, proceeding from its immediate existence to beget revolutions in the world, as well as in individuals.
Since it is hereby presupposed that this Idea must necessarily become universal religion, there is, in the fourth place, present in it the source of a method of knowledge proper to the particular consciousness. That is to say, the new religion has made the intelligible world of Philosophy the world of common consciousness. Tertullian hence says: “Even children in our day have a knowledge of God, which the wisest men of antiquity alone attained to.” But in order that all may know the truth, this Idea must come to them as an object, not for the thinking, philosophic and cultured consciousness, but for the sensuous consciousness which still adheres to uncultured methods of regarding things. If this Idea were not to receive and to retain this form of outward consciousness, it would be a philosophy of the Christian religion; for the standpoint of Philosophy is the Idea in the form of the merely universal thought, and not the Idea as it is for the subject and directed to the subject. That through which this Idea appears as religion, belongs, however, to the history of religion, and this development of its form must here be passed over. Through these forms we must however not mistake the content, much less reject it altogether, for we must rather recognize its presence more completely; the forms must likewise not be held to be absolute, and we must not try to maintain the doctrines in this form alone, as was at one time done by an orthodoxy “of straw.”
Only one example will here be given. The so-called doctrine of original sin implies that our first parents have sinned, that this sin has thus descended to all mankind as an hereditary disorder, and has come upon posterity in an external way as something inherent in their nature, which does not pertain to freedom of the mind, nor has its ground therein. Through this original sin, it is further signified, man has drawn upon himself the wrath of God. Now if these forms be adhered to, we have in the first place there the first parents in time, and not in thought; but the thought of these first parents is none other than man as he is in and for himself. What is said of him as such, what every member of the human race really is in himself, is represented here in the form of the first man, Adam; and in this first man sin manifests itself as something contingent, or, more particularly, in his allowing himself to be enticed into eating of the apple. But it is again not merely represented that he simply partook of the fruit, but that he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; it is as man that he must partake of it, and not as beast. The fundamental characteristic, however, through which he distinguishes himself from the animal, is the very fact that he knows what good and evil are. For God likewise says, “Behold, Adam has become as one of us, to know good and evil.” But it is only through man’s having the power of thinking that he can make this distinction between good and evil; in thought alone is there thus the source of good and evil, but the healing of the evil which is brought about through thought is also there. The second point is that man is by nature evil and transmits the evil. On the other hand, it is said: “Why should the sinner suffer punishment seeing that there is no responsibility for what is inborn in him?” As a matter of fact the statement that man is implicitly or by nature evil would seem to be a hard saying. But if we set aside this hard saying, and do not speak of a divine punishment, but make use of milder general expressions, in this idea of original sin the fact remains for us that man as he is by nature is not what he ought to be before God, but has the power of becoming explicitly what he only is implicitly; and the fact that this rests in the determination of man as such is represented as inheritance. The abrogation of mere naturalness is known to us simply as education, and arises of itself; through education subjection is brought about, and with that a capacity for becoming good is developed. Now if this appears to come to pass very easily, we must recollect that it is of infinite importance that the reconciliation of the world with itself, the making good, is brought about through the simple method of education.
What concerns us now is to make the Principle of Christianity, which has been explained at considerable length, into the principle of the world; the task set before the world is to bring this absolute Idea within itself, to actualize it in itself, and thereby to reconcile itself to God. This task once more falls into three separate divisions.