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.

Christology Revelation

Summary of notes from McCormack’s Orthodox and Modern.

God is indirectly identical with the creaturely medium of his revelation, the creaturely medium being Jesus’s flesh (110).   If revelation is Self-revelation, then it involves the “whole” God, albeit his whole being is hidden in a creaturely veil.  McCormack is clear there is no impartation of divine attributes to Jesus’s flesh.

  • Principal consequence of indirect revelation: God is both the subject and object of revelation.

  • Two moments:  objective (God veils himself in a creaturely medium) and subjective (God gives us faith to know and understand).  “The objective moment is Christological; the subjective moment is pneumatological” (111).

A word on Kant’s epistemology:

  • a subjective foundationalism

  • Barth was willing to grant this insofar as it dealt with empirical reality.   However, Barth said that God entered into the Phenomenal (143).

Critical Realism

“Critical:”  Going beyond Kant, this would see God as an object to human knowledge without ceasing to be Subject.  “In other words, it is the hiddenness of God who is fully present in revelation which calls into question the constructive activities of the human knower” (159).

“Realism:”  the being of God is something complete, especially in the revelation-process, yet it is only indirectly identical (159).

Theses on Barth’s Theological Epistemology (McCormack 168-180)

Thesis 1:  Trinitarian structure of God’s Self-Revelation

  • The subject of the knowledge of God is the Triune God

  • Revelation proceeds from the Father, is objectively fulfilled in the Son, and is subjectively  fulfilled in us by the Spirit

Thesis 2:  Revelation is a rational event that occurs through the normal processes of human cognition (CD I/1: 135)..

Thesis 3:  If the above thesis is true, then the charge that Barth posits a distinction between “propositional” and “person” revelation must be dismissed.   The Word of God (Jesus Christ) is inherently verbal.  (Evangelicalism gets it wrong by hysterically overacting against Barth, thinking he is denying the Bible.  They forget that Jesus was Logos before the Word of God was conventionally understood as “Bible.”  Anchoretism gets it wrong because they forget the Jesus is inherently verbal, not a wooden two-dimensional figure).

Thesis 4:  Because revelation is inherently verbal, its primary witness will take the form of text.

Skipping Thesis 5

Thesis 6:  God’s revelation is surrounded by an external and internal limitation:  The external limitation is the hiddenness of God in his self-revelation.  The internal is the ultimate inadequacy of human thought to bear witness.

  • Here I add a cautious critique of Barth.  If human thought is inadequate to bear witness to God’s revelation, then what’s the point of even trying?  Even more, Barth himself will reject this line of thought in other theses.

Theses 7-8:  God’s hiddenness is a hiddenness in Revelation.

Thesis 9:  The hiddenness of God in revelation is the hiddenness of the whole God in revelation.  There is no “behind the back” of God when God reveals himself.  He doesn’t hold back.

Thesis 17:  The dialectic of veiling/unveiling is not static.  Veiling is ordered towards unveiling.  The stand together in an “ordered history” (179).

Barth and the End of Classical Metaphysics

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth.  Baker.

Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus.  Interestingly, this dialectic solves the postmodern problem of “Presence-Absence.”

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140).  This view is particularly susceptible to Heidegger’s critique of “Being.”  It is also susceptible, particularly in its Cappadocian form, to Tillich’s critique:

The Cappadocian “Solution” and Further Problem

According to the Cappadocians, the Father is both the ground of divinity and a particular hypostasis of that divinity.  Taken together, we can now speak of a quaternity.  Secondly, the distinctions between the relations are empty of content.  What do the words “unbegotten,” “begotten,” and “proceeding” mean when any analogy between the divine essence and created reality is ruled illegitimate, as the Cappadocians insist (Tillich 77-78)?  The Augustinian-Thomist tradition at least tried to move this forward, even if its solution was equally unsatisfactory.

Further, with regard to the Person of Christ, essentialism connotes an abstracted human nature which is acted upon (McCormack 206).  Further, in essentialist forms of metaphysics the idea of a person is that which is complete in itself apart from its actions and relations (211).  A wedge is now driven between essence and existence.  Christologically, this means that nothing which happens in and through the human nature affects the person of the union, for the PErson is already complete anterior to these actions and relations.

Election and the Trinity

Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?

For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race” (ibid.)

Participation, not Theosis

Barth’s actualist ontology allows him to affirm the juridicalism within the Scriptures (which is markedly absent from many Eastern treatises) and the language of participating in the divine but without recourse to the theosis views so dependent on classical metaphysics.

Barth is historically-oriented, not metaphysically.  The divine does not metaphysically indwell the human so as to heal the potential loss of being.  Rather, the exaltation occurs in the history of Jesus Christ.  “The link which joins the human and divine is not an abstract concept of being, but history” (230).

For Barth, God’s ontology is the act of determining to enter human history (238).  God’s essence and human essence can be placed in motion–they can be actualized in history.

Exaltation, not indwelling

The terms describing Jesus’s history are agreement, service, obedience–they speak of the man Jesus standing before God, not being indwelt.

Reworking the Categories

If Barth’s criticisms of classical ontology hold, then a humble reworking of some categories is in order.  Instead of hypostasis, Barth uses the term “identification.”  The identification in question is an act of love.  Jesus is God, but God as self-differentiation.

This may seem obscure, but it bears great promise.  Both East and West have struggled with defining “person.”  A good Eastern theologian will not even define it, since, as John Behr notes, you cannot give a common definition to something which is by definition not-common.  Eastern Orthodox like to say how “personal” their theology is, yet ask them to define “person.”   The West actually does define it, but the problems aren’t entirely gone.  If person = relation, then how come the relations between the persons are not themselves persons, and ad infinitum all the way back to Gnosticism?  Given these huge problems, we should not so quickly dismiss Barth’s proposal.

Absolute Simplicity: Q & A

This is from an older blog, but I thought it worth reposting here.  I hold to the doctrine of simplicity virtualiter, ala Charles Hodge.   The below is more of an attack on the Thomist doctrine of simplicity.  My original interlocutor was a rabid fan of Ron Paul.  I don’t feel like switching the names for time reasons.

Plato’s works are more popular, if longer, than Aristotle’s because they are written in conversational format. I will give it a try.

Ron Paulite for the Republic (RPR): I don’t get why you always talk about “absolute divine simplicity” when we could be exposing the FED and beating up on Arminians.

Triadic: (Tr): Priorities. If there is a problem in our Triadology and understanding of reality, then it will manifest itself in every area of life.

RPR: You said “Triadology.” What do you mean by that?

Tr: Triadology is a specific way to speak about the Trinity. More importantly, it explores the implications of Trinitarian belief.

RPR: Could you expound on that?

Tr: Sure. St Gregory of Nazianzus, a man whom all Christian traditions hold as either a great saint and/or a great teacher, said that if you make a mistake in one area of Trinitarian belief, it will come out in every area, including those of politics and culture.

RPR: That makes sense, I guess. Since we are having this conversation, you seem to think I have a mistake in my Triadology?

Tr: That’s for you to find out. My point is that trying to have the better government or economics, without fixing the problems within, is pointless.

RPR: Care to elaborate?

Tr: It does no good to “rail against the evils of the Hegelian dialectic” when you have just as robust a dialectic within your own system.

RPR: That’s an argumentum ad elenchio!

TR (to himself): ???? (To RPR): Don’t use Latin words unless you know what they mean. We’ll see if I can demonstrate step by step what I am saying. First of all, do you know what absolute divine simplicity (ADS) is?

RPR: Isn’t it the doctrine that God isn’t made up of parts?

TR: That’s the doctrine of simplicity, which all Christian traditions uphold. The doctrine of ADS says that God is so simple, his essence is simple and one to the degree, that it admits, not only of no parts, but of no distinctions. In other words, God’s essence is his power, his will, his love, his wrath.

RPR: Meaning…

TR: Think of simplicity as a big “=” sign. God’s essence = God’s love = God’s wrath.

RPR: That’s not a big problem. Isn’t God so holy that his wrath is pure, like his love, and so can’t they function similarly?

TR: That’s an interesting suggestion, but we’ll have to discuss it later. My argument is that given ADS, God’s simplicity is so strong that it admits of no distinctions; yet, the Christian faith argues for three persons in the Godhead. My question is whether ADS can sustain this.

RPR: You’ve thrown out a lot of philosophical jargon. I want to see if you can back it up.

TR: Okay. The Western tradition is Augustinian, right?

RPR: Okay.

TR: Augustine drew from Plotinus, right (City of God, Book VIII)?

RPR: Yes, Augustine did say that.

TR: Didn’t Plotinus posit the One as a completely Simple Entity that is all there is (Enneads, 1:3:1; 6:9)

RPR: Yes, it seems Plotinus did say that.

TR: Here we have a problem. On one hand we have “The One” as unity throughout with all philosophical categories not applying to it; yet, on the other hand we find ourselves talking about it. How can we speak of the One–know the one–if it is utter unity?

RPR: You tell me.

TR: Plotinus says we know The One by means of the dialectic, which is clarifying a term by comparing it to its opposite (Enneads 1:10).

RPR: I told you not to read Hegel back into Augustine!

TR: I just quoted from Plotinus. If you are seeing Hegelian connections, well and good. We’re not done with the One, yet. While Plotinus knows the One by dialectic, the One’s simplicity and unity is so strong that it swallows up these distinctions.

RPR: So?

TR: this was the problem Aquinas saw when he dealt with Augustine’s triadology. He saw that Augustine’s view of simplicity was so strong that he couldn’t logically posit three persons of the Godhead (see Augustine’s letter to Nebridius, found in Letham on page 164, I think ). Therefore, Aquinas, in good neo-platonic tradition (see Milbank), identifies and distinguishes the persons as “relations of opposition.”

RPR: Well, who cares what Augustine says? I follow the Bible!

TR: No tradition, eh? So you’re a Baptist?

RPR: That’s uncalled for? There is no point insulting people in a debate? Let’s not say things we can’t take back.

TR: My apologies. The baptist remark was unnecessary. However, you want to define sola scriptura, you do realize that everyone draws upon a tradition, and even if this tradition is not authoritative like the Bible, it cannot merely be dismissed, either.

Corpus Mysticum

Review of de Lubac. Henri Cardinal. Corpus Mysticum:  The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

De Lubac outlines the origins and evolution of the “three-fold Body of Christ,” particularly as its known by the term “corpus mysticum,” the mystical body.   It is tempting to read earlier phrases for the church—such as “the body of Christ”—back into the phrase “mystical body,” and define it that way.  De Lubac warns against that move, since either the phrase “mystical body” (hereafter MB) is either rare in the Fathers or is not used in the later medieval sense.  The threefold body is the Eucharist, the Church, and the historical body born of the Virgin Mary.

The problem with MB is its ambiguity.  Pre-9th century writers used it as a helpful way to bring together many of the nuances in Eucharistic theology (de Lubac 79).  However, intellectual moves would harden these nuances, place them in opposition with one another, and eventually see a body, or bodies of Christ, different from the one given to us in the Eucharist (162). 

The Dialectic Breaks Down

Besides the relative scarcity of the term (MB) in the Fathers and early Middle Ages, it could still work as a Eucharistic term provided it was carefully defined.   The problem arose when later theologians read current meanings back into the term.  When that happened, the ambiguities in MB hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions broke the synthesis.   De Lubac notes in the older sense of the word (mystery, mystical), the word conveys an action (49).   The Eucharist brings unity to the church.  This is contrasted with later developments:  given the truth of Eucharistic realism (which no one would deny), the problem of “real presence” substituted itself for the real action accomplished in the Eucharist (164).  No longer was the Eucharist seen as bringing unity to the church and uniting us to Christ, but it was seen as something for itself.

Why did Eucharist Realism bring about this problem?  In one sense it did not.  Rather, the nature of the terms were newly redefined, and this redefinition forced other equally valid definitions pertaining to the Eucharist into opposition with one another.  As a result, theologians found themselves forced to choose between St Augustine and St Ambrose (and the rest of the Greek Church).   The later medievals—just like today’s modernists—saw “real” as necessarily opposed to “mystery.”   But for the ancients, mystery simply meant “conveyed an act” (49) and revealed the secrets of heaven (41). It did not mean “not-physical” or “not-real,” thus it did not see itself opposed to realism.   However, men like Berengar and Ratramnus forced this opposition onto Augustinian texts.   Their opponents, while rightly challenging their false doctrine, did not challenge the starting points of their presuppositions.

But what of the ancients that did speak of a “spiritual” body?  Much like the word “mystical,” spiritual simply denoted supernatural or miraculous (141).

The End Result

The ambiguities hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions hardened into dialectics.    Ancients saw the Eucharist as how the church was brought together into Christ.  There could be no separation between the Eucharist, the Church, and the Historical Body for the ancients.  But for the later medieval, per de Lubac’s gloss, it was hard to see how the separation would not have happened.


The book is a landmark book.  It is a fresh discovery of older Patristic readings that were squeezed out by later Scholastic controversies.  While much of de Lubac’s insight into Vatican II proved disastrous for the Catholic Church, one cannot fault his energy and passion for resurrecting the Greek fathers and early Latins, and giving them an equal place at the table.  (A valuable project would be to investigate why de Lubac’s patristic project destroyed much of Vatican II liturgy afterwards, yet the Eastern Churches, using the same fathers, did not face that difficulty, at least not as acutely).

The book is not perfect, though.  Like many of de Lubac’s books, the reader is usually unsure of de Lubac’s point.  De Lubac rarely defines his thesis in clear terms, or if he does, it is only in passing.   The book could have been one hundred pages shorter and much clearer had he removed a lot of extraneous material and sharpened his thesis.  Secondly, and per the above point, it seems de Lubac’s method is to quote as many ancient texts as possible while avoiding integrating them into his argument.  One feels like one is often reading a junior high term paper:  the relevant sources are there, but it is difficult to see how they advance the argument.   Other than that major problem, this book deserves a wide dissemination.

The King’s Two Bodies

Review of The King’s Two Bodies

Ernst Kantorowicz analyzes the development in later medieval political thought by isolating one aspect of it:  the King’s Two Bodies.   By this phrase he means the conjunction of the king’s own natural body with that of the “body politic” (9).   It is not entirely clear exactly what “body politic” denotes, and Kantorowicz’s ambiguity is deliberate:  the phrase shifted in meaning throughout the Middle Ages.   It is Kantorowicz’s further claim that this shift in meaning had theological roots.

Kantorowicz argues, somewhat counter-intuitively, that “The King’s Two Bodies” is a monophysite construction—while purporting to be an analogy between the King and the divine, it actually takes the form of a heretical Christology (14-15; see also p.18).   The charge of monophysitism is somewhat difficult to follow, but Kantorowicz claims it resulted from the indifference (and inability) to properly distinguish the body of the mortal king from the body of his realm (p. 18).    As is evident, the medieval jurists were seeking to imitate their constructions of kingship from Christological truths.   That is nothing new, nor is there anything wrong with it.  The Eastern Romans already were doing that for hundreds of years.   The problem arose when other theological currents changed the way the Church in the West did Christology, and thus changed the way it did politics.

In the early middle ages Western Europe was similar to the Eastern Romans in terms of using Christology to shape kingship.  Both civilizations shared a common faith and used that common faith to understand politics.   They saw the King as imitator of Christ (47).  It should be noted, however, that the Eastern Romans did not use the phrase “King’s Two Bodies” as extensively (at all?) as the West did.  While the phrase wasn’t heretical, per se, it was always attended by many possible dangers.  In either case, both sides saw the King as the representative, not of God the Father, but of Christ.  This reflects the ancient reading of the Old Testament as a revelation of God the Son.   A moment’s meditation on this point will make it obvious:  political theologies are almost always based on the Old Testament simply because it deals with politics more than does the New Testament.  Therefore, one’s reading of the Old Testament will shape the way one does political theology.

The West’s grammar changed, though.   Previously, kingship was done in the context of liturgy.  The King represented Christ’s rule in a mystical way.  He was anointed with oil for the sake of the realm.   He was, in short, an ikon of popular piety.

The watershed mark demonstrating the transition best is the reign of Otto II, and the best way to illustrate this difference is in the ikonography surrounding Otto.  Otto is important for he represents the intersection between the Byzantine East and Frankish West, including the best and worst elements of both.   Kantorowicz contrasts two ikonographic paintings which portray rulers:  the Aachen miniature over against the Reichenau painting of Otto.   The former portrays the Charlemagnic king as the representative of God the Father whereas the Reichenau painting places Otto in the foreground of a Byzantine halo, suggesting he represents Christ (77).

The above is an important point and I suspect the larger part of it is lost upon Kantorowicz.  This ikonography reflects a shift in theology, which probably reflects a shift in the way sacred texts are read.  It was mentioned earlier that the Old Testament was now read, no longer as a revelation of God the Son, but of God the Father.   One could probably take it a step further—it was seen as a revelation of God-in-general.

The Corpus Mysticum

In many ways it is the concept of a “Mystical Body” that contributed to the secularization of Western political thought.   One must avoid, however, overly simplistic reductions regarding the phrase.  The phrase “Mystical Body” originally connoted the interplay between the Eucharist, the body born of the Virgin Mary, and the Church itself.   While the phrase is not Pauline, if left at this stage there is no problem.   As Kantorowicz, drawing upon the work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, notes, the distinctions between the two bodies hardened into oppositions.   Therefore, the body of Christ per the Church was separated from the body of Christ the Son of God.  While small at first, this opened the door for a secularization of concepts.

The King as Corporation

One suspects that the idea of the “corporation” arrived in the West coterminous with the sharpening of the “King’s Two Bodies.”  Indeed, even if not chronologically accurate, it is logically consistent.  Jurists were puzzled over the problem of whether the king’s other body—his realm—died when he died.  The short answer to this problem was that the king’s other body did not die.  The people were in-corporated into this body and outlived the king.  The canon lawyers coined a phrase for this:  dignitas non moritur—the dignity does not die.

One cannot avoid noticing throughout this work, and if the argument holds then throughout Western history, a progression of concepts regarding political theology.    Like its Byzantine cousin, Western political theology began with liturgical roots (59).  After the Ottonian period, these liturgical roots were translated into secular terms (115).  Therefore, when the King is called a “corpus mysticum,” this cannot be interpreted in early liturgical Christian categories.  Rather, it can only reflect the ongoing secularization.   Because of the hardening of “the King’s two bodies,” jurists had to account for the fact that the second body, the realm, did not die[i], and they could only do this by introducing the idea of the corporation.  Therefore, one can trace the movement of Western political theology along the following line:

Liturgical Kingship à Law-based Kingship à Corporate Kingship à Corporation à The State


This book is a genealogy of political theology.  It traces the rhythm of Western politics through the lens of a highly disputed phrase.   Further, it traces the nuances later attributed to that phrase, and the earth-shattering consequences.  Our only regret is that this was the only book of its kind that Kantorowicz had written.

There are some difficulties with the book, though.   Kantorowicz does not always identify his main point in each chapter, or he might wait until some random moment in the middle of the chapter before he informs the reader of his argument.   Further, there are some portions of the book which do not seem relevant at all (e.g., his extended discussion on medieval English fiscal rights).   On top of all of this is the rather dense style in which he wrote, coupled with the numerous (usually un-translated) sentences and paragraphs in Latin.  One suspects that many of these phrases are indeed central to his main argument, but if one’s grasp of Latin is not on a post-graduate level, the argument will be lost on the reader.


Thirdly, one suspects that a key point in Kantorowicz’s central thesis is likely lost on the average reader, for Kantorowicz mentions it in passing.  He notes that the phrase “The King’s Two Bodies” has Monophysite tendencies (e.g., the heresy that Christ has only one nature, which is akin to a divino-human hybrid).   For those schooled in church history, this appears counter-intuitive.   “Two Bodies” seems to suggest “two persons,” which is Nestorianism (which is indeed the route many thinkers to the phrase when they referred to the ‘twin-personed’ king).   Further, Western Christologies often have Nestorian tendencies; therefore, it seems odd that a culture operating on a Nestorian Christological structure would employ a Monophysite structure in its political theology.    On the other hand, this might not be too odd.   One should recall St John of Damascus’ dictum that all heresies deconstruct on the same point:  they confuse person and nature.

Regardless, Kantorowicz rightly notes the connection between theological heresy and political theory.   One is reminded, again, of another Patristic father on this matter, St Gregory of Nazianzus.  In his Third Theological Oration St Gregory notes the three opinions about God: monarchy, polyarchy, and anarchy.  St Gregory notes the latter two opinions deconstruct to the same end—chaos.   This leaves monarchy as the only viable option.   English-speaking students are going to miss an important point.    The suffix arche denotes a principle of order for both social and theological ethics.   Therefore, one’s position regarding the Trinity will affect one’s position on politics.

[i] One cannot help by notice the Nestorianism here:  there are two bodies that are separated from each other.  Interestingly, we see that the Monophysite structure of “The King’s Two Bodies” has deconstructed into the dialectically opposite heresy—Nestorianism.

Rushdoony gets it…sort of

When I was first becoming Reformed the guy I mainly read was RJ Rushdoony (and many would say that’s a problem; that he is not a real Calvinist, and I should have spent years reading Berkhof instead; perhaps, though that would only have deferred the problematic issues and not removed them).

I was so excited to read Rushdoony’s book on the early church councils.  Admittedly, it was a terrible introduction to the early church.   Even where Rushdoony did not get it wrong, he often missed the main point (e.g., Athanasius was fighting Arius, not Karl Barth; reading Rushdoony one often got that impression).   That said, it was a fun read.

I get annoyed when Calvinists say doctrine is important, but the Filioque is simply trifling over words (cf Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).  To be fair, what difference can  three words make to your spiritual life (or to your social order)?

Now that I think of it, Rushdoony was onto something.    He believed there is a direct relation between Triadology and social order.   So did St Gregory Nazianzus:

The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia. The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.

Rushdoony upholds the Filioque, and he tries to show how it is important.  On p. 189ff (I think; I am quoting this from memory.  If I am  off on the pagination, it is only by a few pages) he says the addition of the Filioque destroyed the remaining vestiges of subordinationism in Christian theology.  Further, it reduced the power of the State in the West and saw the triumph of the Church.

My thoughts:

The Filioque destroyed a form of healthy subordination by negating the monarchia of the Father (and all must admit this is a new move in theology). The only way one can remove all forms of subordinationism in the Trinity is to opt for something like Calvin’s autotheos, the Son (and presumably Father and Spirit) is God of himself.   But one must then ask, “given the denial of the monarchia, and what autotheos entails, how can one affirm a personal source of unity in the Trinity?”  One can’t.  One is left with “God popping up all over the place.”

The problem is that Rushdoony gets the best and worst in one swoop.  He removes the healthy form of subordinationism by moving away from the monarchia of the Father, and with his emphasis on autotheos he does have the persons of the Trinity fully God–even if he can no longer show how they are connected, something the monarchia safeguarded–but even with the Filioque one must admit subordinationism is not yet gone.

This is a point that is rarely seen.   If the ancient view of the monarchia is subordinationist because it has the Son and Spirit deriving from the person of the Father, and the Filioquists say that the Filioque destroys this subordinationism of the Son, how can one avoid the conclusion that the Spirit is now subordinate to the Son and the Father?   The Spirit has been made the Son’s lieutenant.  It won’t do to say as Berkhof that the Spirit receives the entire divine essence.  That’s not the issue under contention–the monarchia of the Father said the same thing.

The Social Order

The above are arguments and counters- you will find in any Filioquist discussion.  Rushdoony makes a number of correct observations if wrong conclusions.  He notes that one’s view of the Trinity is directly tied to one’s view of social order.

  • Rushdoony noted a connection between subordinationism in the Trinity and the development of the Byzantine state.   Actually, he used more loaded terminology, but let’s look at it.  I think he (correctly) assumes a correlation between the monarchia of the Trinity and political monarchy.   Of course, he sees that as statism and “developing the Byzantine state.”  While the Byzantines were autocrats in a certain sense, this is still far removed from the “state” in any modern sense.
  • Rushdoony (correctly) says the Filioquist West saw the rise of the Church above everything else in society.   He’s not entirely accurate on this point.   It’s not so much that the Filioque let to the rise of the Church–especially not in the free, volunteer church that Rushdoony espoused!–but to the rise of the papacy.   The East said that the Holy Spirit is the principle of unity in the Church.   While the West may affirm that, too, one more likely sees the papacy as the principle of unity in the Church.    That’s what Thomas Aquinas said,

“The error of those who say that the Vicar of Christ, the Pontiff of the Roman Church, does not have a primacy over the universal Church is similar to the error of those who say that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son. For Christ himself, the Son of God, consecrates and marks her as his own with the Holy Spirit, as it were with his own character and seal, as the authorities already cited make abundantly clear. And in like manner the Vicar of Christ by his primacy and foresight as a faithful servant keeps the Church Universal subject to Christ. It must, then, be shown from texts of the aforesaid Greek Doctors that the Vicar of Christ holds the fullness of power over the whole Church of Christ.