Reading Scripture with the Fathers (Hall, review).

Before people jump to the conclusion, “He’s just a Protestant so what does he know?” please let me finish the review then you can start throwing objections and seeing what sticks.








The book turned out much better than I expected it to be. The author avoided anachronisms and the scope of the text, while very limited, skillfully outlined the Church Fathers’ (more on that elusive term later) handling of Scripture.

Christopher Hall argues that Evangelicals should make the Church Fathers routine conversation partners in our interpretation of Scripture. Not to make them the last word, since much of their exegesis is rather forced, but because a regular *re*reading of the Church Fathers provides an important epistemological service: it forces us to examine our own presuppositions and culture as we come to the text.

What is a Church Father? Admittedly, any definition of this term is somewhat arbitrary. Hall summarizes the definition along the lines of someone who has received traditional teaching (Hall 50; cf Irenaeus) and faithfully preserved conciliar conclusions. A Church father must have antiquity, holiness of life (although this can be stretched when it comes to things like temper and gentleness) and orthodox doctrine. Granted, a number of questions are begged at this point, but we must move on.

Hall then survey eight fathers: four Eastern (Athanasius, Nazianzus, Basil, and Chrysostom) and four Western (Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great) and points the reader to certain works. Much of this section is a summary of what you would find in textbooks on the Nicene and post-Nicene period. I won’t go into it here.

He then contrasts the allegorizing of Alexandria with the more literal approach of Antioch.  And while I know that men like Chrysostom rejected the allegorizing approach, I didn’t know how widespread such a rejection was.  Hall gives the standard reasons why all allegories (possibly excluding Paul’s unique usage) are doomed to failure:  allegories by definition are impossible to falsify.

What can we take from the Church Fathers? Unlike modern academic tendencies, they did not divorce the reading of Scripture and the doing of theology from liturgy (happily, with the coming demise of the German-based post-graduate system in America, we might be approaching a period when this is possible).

Even more, the Fathers had mnemonic powers that Americans can only dream of. This allowed them to be remarkably sensitive to motifs in Scripture that a concordance might miss. While Hall doesn’t cover this, to be a bishop in the ancient church one must have memorized the entire Psalter. (And later, to be a Cossack warrior in Russia one must also have memorized the Psalter. When you get captured by Muslimists chanting the Psalter would help you endure torture).

And to be honest, if you want to memorize large chunks of Scripture, you probably need to chant it. Not recite it nor re-read it, but chant it. That’s likely why John Chrysostom had the entire Bible memorized.

As a whole the book is outstanding. Some repetition and for those who have read widely on the Nicene debates, parts of the book can be skipped. On the other hand, this is probably the best introduction to the Church Fathers.

Should the church fathers determine our conclusions about what Scripture means?  No, for a number of reasons:
  1. More often than not they are not asking the same questions–and this is a historical inevitability that cannot be helped.
  2. With the exception of Chrysostom and a few others, most did not go systematically through the Bible.  This means if you want an exposition of your favorite verse, odds are it won’t be there or it won’t be developed in any real length.
  3. I also believe that the church fathers would have rejected this quasi-infallibility that we place on them.  Yes, they themselves tended towards it in their hagiography (interesting side note:  Gregory Nazianzus called Athanasius the Pope of the entire world.   Boy, that has ecumenical ramifications! LOL).

So again, what point the church fathers?

  1. They can teach humility in reading past theology.  Of course, Orthodox interlocutors will call foul at that point since I don’t seem like the most humble person.  Fair enough, but I am only sharp when people advance theologies that attack my hope in Christ’s saving me.  If anyone denies that Yeshua gave me his Holy Spirit as a down payment and that my sacraments are graceless, well then…
  2. What I mean by the above is that we should be careful of throwing heresy charges because people don’t believe what we believe at a later date.  Be careful of calling heresy what would condemn earlier fathers of heresy.


Letham’s Westminster Assembly

With this volume Letham has established himself as the leading English-speaking Reformed theologian.


Letham gives the basic Reformed understanding of Scripture.


It’s there, albeit in a mild form.  Letham notes that William Bridge, George Gillespie, and John Knox received (or claimed they did; or others claimed they did) prophetic revelation.  Letham is quick to point out this is only “providential” illumination of Scripture (127).  Letham is correct that the Assembly felt no need to deal with this issue (nor would they have affirmed it), but other studies clearly demonstrate that the Scottish Reformation (both in its First and Second phases) saw manifestation of prophetic gifts beyond that of simply “illuminating” Scripture.  When Cargill and Cameron prophcied the deaths of certain (specific) wicked men, they weren’t merely “applying” the general sense of Scripture.  If “prophecy” means illumination, then every pastor is a prophet!  In which case prophecy is still valid today, but nobody reasons that way.

Part of the Reformed world’s problem here is the presupposition that every prophetic utterance necessarily carries the full binding of God with it.   In another place Wayne Grudem shows that is simply not the case.

God the Holy Trinity

Without passions…

Letham is aware that a hard division on God’s not having passions must take into account the fact that the Incarnation brought into true union with humanity.  Jesus experiences human thoughts, human emotions, etc (162).  Letham is certainly on the correct path, but the problem is much deeper (and this isn’t a slam against Reformed Christology;  all Christological traditions hailing from the Chalcedonian definition must face this problem:  does our definition of what it means to be a person today include self-reflection?  If it does, then we are on the road to Nestorianism. If it doesn’t, is it really coherent to speak of person anymore?)

Letham gives a competent discussion on Creation, though one that will annoy many.  He admits, contra many Klineans, that the divines likely held to six solar days, yet he points out that the more pertinent goal was to reject Augustine’s view of instantaneous creation.  Further, what we must also admit, no matter where we land on this discussion, is that the divines did presuppose a geocentric cosmology which saw theology in spatial terms.  Indeed, one wonders if George Walker even knew that the world is spherical (Letham 191 n.50).

Christ and covenant


  • Makes the Klinean meritorious reading strained.
  • CoW, while perhaps the correct reading, is not necessary to maintain Reformed theology.  It was developed over time and if Kline’s reading is correct, then huge swathes of Reformed theology would have proved defective before Westminster (233).

Covenant of Redemption?

Letham highlights a number of problems.  While he doesn’t note the problem of person, if person does not include mind (which is usually subsumed under nature), then does it make sense to speak of three individuals who all share the same mind making an agreement?  I’m not saying it is a wrong idea, and the CoR certainly preserves a few key values, but it does have problems.


Great section on assurance and he places these (sometimes) painful discussions in their pastoral context, which context is often lost on critics of Reformed assurance.  For the record, I agree with Goodwin pace Owen on the Spirit’s sealing.

Law, Liberty, Church and Eschatology

Great section on Law and Liberty–and he avoids getting involved in the painful theonomy disputes.  Letham shows how the RPW should be read and interpreted in light of the Laudian imprisonment and persecution of Reformed believers.  On another note, he points out how the Presbyterians really failed on clinching and continuing the “liberty of conscience” victory it justly won.   I will elaborate:

Did the Solemn League and Covenant bind the consciences of those who didn’t vow it?  Said another way, was Cromwell later on obligated to establish Presbyterian government?  If he was, how does this square with what (Covenanter) Samuel Rutherford said, “It is in our power to vow, but not in the church’s power to command us to vow” (quoted in Letham 299)?  Maybe the two points don’t contradict each other, but the tension is certainly strained.

And it appears the Presbyterians couldn’t maintain this tension.  They chose to deal with the tyrant Charles I and supported (to their fatal regret later) the pervert Charles II.  Cromwell’s victory at Dunbar is fully justified.


This isn’t a commentary on the Confession.  It is a theological exploration of the historical circumstances behind it.  Letham’s scholarship is judicious, measured, and quite frankly awe-inspiring.

Notes on Ricoeur

I am not going to do a chapter by chapter analysis of Figuring the Sacred.  Not every chapter was equally good.   Some of his musings on Heidegger and Kant were interesting but not germane to narrative theology.

“Philosophy and Religious Language”

Understanding a text is always something more than the summation of partial meanings; the text as a whole has to be considered as a hierarchy of topics” (Ricoeur 38).

This makes me think of chiasms.  The structure of a chiasm reinforces meaning.  Meaning unfolds from narrative.

“Not just any theology whatsoever can be tied to narrative form, but only a theology that proclaims Yahweh to be the grand actor of a history of deliverance.  Without a doubt it is this point that forms the greatest contrast between the God of Israel and the God of Greek Philosophy” (40).

I’ve long expected the above paragraph to anger Anchorites.  I was surprised when it started angering Reformed folk.

Manifestation and Proclamation

This is the most important essay in the book and the one that causes much offense.   Ricoeur opposes a philosophy of manifestation (ontotheology) with a philosophy of proclamation (Yahweh speaks).


The “numinous” element of the sacred has nothing to do with language (49).  Another key element is theophany–not moments in the biblical narrative, but anything by which the sacred shows itself (icons, relics, holy places).   This means that reality is something other than itself while remaining itself.

There is a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm (54).  This brings to mind the Luciferian “as above, so below” dictum.  In short, ontologies of manifestation always focus on “reality/grace/etc” emanating from the thing or the place.


There is a rupture–violent in the case of the prophets’ war against Baalism–between manifestation and proclamation.  The word outweighs the numinous (56).  Israel’s whole theology–and identity–was formed around discourses.

Per idols and icons:  “We may say that within the Hebraic domain they (hierophanies) withdraw to the extent that instruction through Torah overcomes any manifestation through an image.  A Theology of the Name is opposed to any hierophany of an idol…Hearing the word has taken the place of vision of signs” (56).  God’s pesel is the Ten Words. It is the only pesel he commanded.

Communal Readings

In “The ‘Sacred’ Text and the Community” Ricoeur gives a neat deconstruction of the concept “sacred,” especially when applied with a book.

For us, manifestation is not be necessity linked to language.  The word ‘sacred’ belongs to the side of manifestation, not to the side of proclamation, because many things may be sacred without being a text (71)

Ricoeur the Hermeneut

His reading of Genesis 1:1-2:4a is interesting, but more for the method than the conclusions. His essay on the Imagination is quite valuable in showing what “goes on” in a narrative.   Many narratives in the Bible, particularly Jesus’s parables, employ intertextuality which always forces an expansion of meaning from the text. In other words, it is “an object with surplus value” (152).  Assuming that the Holy Spirit didn’t write chaotically and randomly, isolated texts are now seen in a pattern and signify something else, something more (161).

Ricoeur then moves to a section on biblical time, which is useful for meditation.  He summarizes von Rad, Cullman, and others.  I won’t belabor the point.

His essay “Interpretive Narrative” offers his famous distinction between “idem” identity (the god of sameness, the god of Greek metaphysics) and ipse identity (the God who is constant to the Covenant).  He expands this motif in “Naming God.”  God’s identity is seen in his historic acts.


While magnificent, it is in many ways a difficult read.  He assumes a familiarity with Continental Philosophy (itself a daunting task) and even then some essays don’t seem to have a point.  But when he unloads on narrative he truly delivers.

Convict Conditioning 2 (review)

by the eponymous Paul Wade, whether he exists or not.


Wade’s first book, Convict Conditioning, was an awe-inspiring classic.  Because of his teachings, I can do things now at 32 than I could at 18 when I was bench pressing almost 300 lbs (not a lot, I know, but I’m a little guy).  This book is awesome, too, but not in the same way.

In the first CC Wade taught you how to work the big muscle groups using body weight training.  This book focuses on the unseen, yet in some ways more important aspects like tendon strength, vertebrates, joints, and smaller and harder to train muscle groups.


And he succeeds.  

Yet a few warnings:

1)  In the first CC if you were already reasonably strong at the beginning (say, you could easily do ten chin ups or even a one arm push up), you could skip the intermediate steps.   With these exercises you can’t do it.  I have strong arms and a strong back, yet I tried some of the advanced forearm exercises without building the tendons up first and I tore some fibers in my forearms.   When he says you need to build up your tendons he means it.

Should one get this book or C-Mass?  This book gives you more specific advice on some exercises, and C-Mass assumes you have read this book.  C-Mass will help you build towards mass, but CC2 has some invaluable advice as well.  I would probably say get this book.  Among other things, this book teaches you how to build up to a flag post, which may be the apex of strength training.

Wade ends the book with some mental coaching.  This was the neatest part of the book because he describes what it takes to mentally survive prison and how to apply that to training.  

De-hellenizing the Old Testament

Walter Eichrodt was a mainline German Protestant who nevertheless wrote an outstanding theology of the Old Testament.  The first fifty pages or so was sheer excitement.  I was floored.  Here was one of the world’s leading Old Testament authorities saying everything about Hebrew Thought and God that I had been saying, except he has tenure.

This is only the first two hundred pages of Old Testament theology.  These deal more with covenant and doctrine of God.   The second half deals with covenant leaders, which is important but not relevant to my studies at the moment.  Key here is the contrast between covenant religion and magic (ontology) religion.

“Real God becoming manifest in history to which the SCriptures of the OT bear witness” (15).

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he  molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken.  Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature.  Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.”  “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character.  Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).


“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being int he metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.


A literary detour

One of my projects is to read through Jane Austen’s major works.  I read a few in high school, but I really can’t remember what they were about except for some vague reference to a Keira Knightley film, I think.  I finished Pride and Prejudice a few weeks ago.   I am reading Peter Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals alongside it.  Sure enough, Leithart finds a way to bring chiasms into it!   I think it works.


A.  Mr and Mrs Bennet
B.  Bingley and Darcy arrive in Netherfield; hopes for Jane
C.  Collins;  hopes for Elizabeth
D.  Wickham
C’  Collins proposes; Dashes hopes for Elizabeth
B’   Bingley and Darcy leave; dashes hopes for Jane
A’ Mr and Mrs Bennet

(Leithart 52)

Someone could object, “He’s projecting that chiasm onto Austen.”   But the response is simple, “Is it there or not?”   Anyway, fun.

Notes on Hegel

Taylor frames his book in order of several of Hegel’s main works. He does an excellent job outlining difficult terminology and highlighting key points which will serve as hermeneutical loci later.

Front Cover

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel’s “identity of difference and identity.” Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of “overcoming oppositions.” Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle’s self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel’s other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the “dialectic” in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the “synthesis” (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, “In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Taylor has much more to say but that will suffice for now. Of course, I radically disagree with Hegel’s conclusions. That does not mean Hegel is value-less. On the contrary, one can see key Augustinian and Origenist points in his outlook.

Taylor seems to structure his discussion of Hegel along the following lines: Phenomenology of Geist is a sort of preparatory stage for the Logic. At the end of the last discussion, Hegel said that Spirit (Geist) comes to know himself, and that finite spirits are the vehicles of this self-knowledge. This is partly why Hegel says that Geist must be embodied.

We start off with an inadequate notion of the standard involved; but we also have some basicaly correct notions of what the standard must meet. However, we see the inadequacy of both when we try to realize it. Obviously, Hegel is simply following Plato on this point.

What if we are just arbitrarily positing some standard of knowledge? No big deal, for upon reflection we will find out that said standard is likely faulty and we will have to “re-think it.” When we re-think it we get closer to the truth. Thus, “the test of knowledge is also its standard” (136).

Hegel ends this discussion with the suggestion that consciousness inevitably posits self-conscious, which will be taken up in the next chapter.

I’m skipping the section on “self-consciousness” because I really didn’t understand it.

One thing I do appreciate about Hegel is that his worldview really is unified. His discussions on “ontology” (the study of essence) are directly connected to his politics and views on religion (and to show how “real-life” this really is: when Karl Marx read Hegel he kept a few elements but mainly despised the man and his system. He negated Hegel–pun intended. Following his negation, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao took this negation of Hegel and murdered 200 million people. Philosophy really does matter).

In the Formation of Spirit Taylor notes that Hegel idealized the ancient Greek polis: he saw a complete unity between citizen and society (171). Unfortunately (or inevitably) this had to break down. Spirit cannot become universal if it is confined to the walls of one particular city. This is an important, if somewhat abstract point. I will develop it further in my final reflections on Hegel.

Taylor remarks, somewhat side-tracking the discussion, that sin is necessary for salvation in Hegel’s view (174). Of course, as a Christian this is completely unacceptable, but it also shows my appreciation for Hegel. Hegel can be seen as the consistent high-point of a certain strand of Western thought. We saw the same type of thinking in Origen (for God to be Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord “over”).
Essentially, what Hegel is saying is that men feel a basic attitude of alienation–their substance lies outside them and they can only overcome it by overcoming their particularity (donum superadditum? 179). Unfortunately, that is what Hegel calls a “contradiction.”

This part of Hegel’s Phenomenology is dealing heavily with social life, which I will cover in greater detail in the chapters on politics.

This next section of the book, and presumably the logical outflowing of Hegel’s thought, deals with “manifest religion.” I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, partly because it is the most atrocious aspect of Hegel’s thought, and partly because I want to get to the politics. However, Hegel is nothing if not consistent, and it is important to see how one section implies the next (which is exactly how his later Logic is set up). And as always, even when wrong Hegel has some excellent insights on the human dynamic.

Building on Hegel’s premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend “the universal,” but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

What do we make of this?

Like anything Hegel says, much of the surface-level language is quite good, but once you get beyond that you see the truly bizarre theology. Hegel has a strong emphasis on community and will say that is where the true Christian expression is found. From our perspective, this sounds a lot like saying Christ is found in the church, and that is true. Unfortunately, Hegel was not using that in the same way we are.

At this point in the narrative we are beginning the discussion of Hegel’s two-volume Logic. While this is the hardest of his works to understand (and I certainly don’t understand them beyond a fourth-grade level), it will be easy to discuss them. His main points are clear and tied together.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with “Being” then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel’s idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

In developing the above contradiction, Hegel assumes the Plotinian dialectic: a Something can only be defined by referent to another with which it is contrasted (236).

Hegel says a lot more on these topics, but I will not. Throughout Taylor’s analysis he reveals interstesting facets of Hegel’s thought, showing him to be a true heir of Augustine and Plotinus. We’ll discuss these topics later. The next discussion, Lord willing, will focus on the Essence.


Most right-wing bloggers think that Hegel’s view is the Illuminati finding its ultimate expression in world-government. Actually, what Hegel means is that communities become vehicles of the “Spirit.” This can (and has) been taken in numerous ways. I see it as communities organically expressing a common spirit, common values (see Augustine, City of God Book 19.4).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man’s subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel’s credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by “state” is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the “politically organized community” (387). Let’s explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against “abstractions,” by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man’s telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.

Reason and History

Given Hegel’s commitment about the fulfillment of spirit, it follows that communities grow. As seen above, Hegel’s applies to history the problem of self-fulfillment. How does man realize the fulfillment of the Idea?

Jews: realization that God is pure, subjective Spirit. Ends up negating finite reality.

Greek: opposite of Jewish mentality. Harmonizes God with “natural expression.” Ends up with idolatry. Greek polis is pariochial. Each state his its own God. A universal realization of spirit is thus impossible. Men were identified with Greek state. Democracy natural expression. There is a necessary contradiction within the Greek polis: only represents a part of finite reality.

Romans: Origin of the idea as “Person,” bearer of “abstract right” (397).

Christianity: the finite subject and absolute spirit can be reconciled. The task of history is to make this reconciliation public–this is the Church.

Germans: they were to take it to the next stage.

The rest of European history is a working out these processes, a transformation of institutions. It is hear that we see feudalism, etc. At this point we need to correct a mistake about Hegel: Hegel is not saying that world history climaxes with Prussian Germany. There is no sensible way he could have believed that. Germany was weak and defeated when he wrote (it would have been interesting and perhaps more perceptive to say that Russia was the bearer of the World Spirit). Nonetheless, as Hegel notes and as his critics routinely miss, history did take an interesting turn in the 19th century and the force of ideas does not simply stop because the historian wants them to stop.

The Foundations of the Modern State

Monarchy as the Representative Individual: consistent with his earlier points, Hegel notes that there must be some way for the individual to retain his subjective right, yet at the same time freely and fully identify with the community (Staat). This happens by way of monarchy. Beneath the monarchy are Estates, who mediate the King to the people. Nowhere does Hegel mean representation according to our usage today. The King does not “represent” the will of the people, but through his kingly majesty allows the people to identify (399).

The French Revolution: Political Terror

Hegel defines it as “absolute, unlimited freedom.” Complete freedom means that outcome should be decided by me. Of course, since I am in society it is not decided by me alone. Therefore, complete freedom is decided by the strongest individual.

Charles Taylor is embarrassed by Hegel’s rejection of the principles of the French Revolution. I think the reason is that if Hegel is right and one should view the Modern Narrative as a continuation of the French Revolution, then the only moral alternative is to reject said narrative. He notes (if not likes) Hegel’s challenge to modernity: the modern ideology of equality and of total participation leads to a homogenization of society. This shakes men loose from their traditional communities but cannot replace them as a focus of identity” (414).

Translation: all natural societies organically flow from a unified belief system/ethnos (cf. Augustine, City of God, 19.4). Modernity is the negation of this. Without this unified system of belief, men cannot “connect” to one another. Thus, no real community. Thus, no real unity and society is held together by force (ala Hegel on Rome) and terror (ala Hegel on France).

Modernity is nominalism of politics.

Hegel’s conclusion, which Taylor rejects, is a rationalized monarchy. Hegel was a monarchist but he was not a traditionalist, and for that reason he was not a conservative. He agreed with the older conservatives that society must be founded on authority, estates, and a strong monarch; Hegel, however, based these spheres, not on divine right or tradition, but on reason. In this sense Hegel stands firmly in the Enlightenment.

According to Hegel France is utterly lost in terms of a political future. England is better, but she is not far behind in spiritual rot, for England (like America today) is run riot with an excess on particular rights. And in this chaos of individualism, special interest groups backed by powerful elites have taken control (like America today).

Taylor notes that for Hegel,

“The only force which could cure this would be a strong monarchy like those late medieval kings which forced through the barons the rights of the universal. But the English have crucially weakened their monarchy; it is powerless before Parliament which is the cockpit of private interests (454).

I first found this line of reasoning from Fr. Raphael Johnson’s take on Russian history. I guess Johnson got it from Hegel himself since he wrote his Master’s thesis on Hegel.

Taylor continues to the conclusion,

Hence the vehicle by which rational constitution could best be introduced and made real was a powerful modernizing monarchy…Hegel had hopes for the future based on the climate of his times. Germany had been shocked into reform by the Napoleonic conquest. It consisted of societies founded on law in which principles of rational Enlightenment had already gone some way and seemed bound to go further. It had a Protestant political culture and hence could achieve a rational constitution unlike the benighted peoples of Latin Europe, and it was not too far gone in rot like England. It held to the monarchical principle and the monarchs retained some real power unlike England, and yet the societies were law societies (454-455).

This paragraph warrants some reflection:

  • Although I am a traditionalist, and Hegel is not, I agree that a modernizing monarchy is much preferred than unreflected claims to “Throne and Altar.” Many monarchists today naively think that “restoring a king” will return the land to justice. Ironically, this tends to lead to the same problems that Republican government leads: you have the vision of a few determining the fate of the whole. Rather, a strong monarch who enforces Republican structures in the land, arising from the will of the ethnos (shades of Johann Herder), existing primarily to reign in the excesses of the free market, is one who is both authoritarian yet the people are still free.
  • while we are at it, I actually encourage one to read the thoughtful positions by N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan on monarchy. However, most Protestant political forces have been confessedly thoroughly anti-monarchist, and it is no surprise there are few Protestant Monarchies left. Happily, though, there are examples of good, Protestant monarchies.


In many ways Taylor’s book is essential. One has to know how Hegel is using terminology and Taylor is a reliable guide in that regard. Taylor cannot square himself with Hegel’s politics, though, since Hegel is a rejection (negation?) of modernity.