Thursday, April 21, 2011

Natural Law/Aquinas...Why Not Hegel?

Some recent conversations and readings i have been exposed to seem to be saying the same thing that what we need now in Christian theology in light of postmodern relativism and religious fundamentalism is a return to the natural law tradition especially seen in Thomas Aquinas. It is a leap backward that is trying to ground a "religious" tradition (I believe) without sounding all that religious. It is just "philosophical" theology or political thought that has worked and will keep us grounded.

There is obviously a place for philosophical theology. We are doing it anyway whether we try to temper it with a little Barthian withdrawal or not. So a number of writers are trying to update Barth's work via Aquinas especially in the realm of ethics. My response is...why not Hegel?

Hegel is more suited for this than Aquinas. He does theology AFTER THE ENLIGHTENMENT! There is (according to Zizek) a certain sense where philosophy hits the road with Kant and Hegel (not with Plato and Aristotle). I just don't buy into the whole we need to go back before the nominalists took over theory (see Radical Orthodoxy). And besides, Hegel does a lot of theology (theology that is rather heterodox but theology nonetheless).

Bruce McCormack has noted how much more Hegelian Barth becomes since CD II:2 and especially in CD IV:1. Still, Barth does not go all the way. Yet, some Hegelians will claim Barth wants his cake and to eat it to when he argues for the freedom/necessity of God's acts.

When it comes to ethics I am beginning to see the wisdom of framing them in the McCormack/Nimmo school via on God's act of election and of thus being a Being-in-act. It is via Christ's act as a Real Human that we know who God is because of what Christ did in History as mediated by the Spirit. Does not our ethics flow from the victory of Christ as revealed by the Spirit? The calling of us as being in Christ (The Elector/Elected) illustrates that the Spirit is mediating between us and God and between each other. The command ethics are first framed by the gospel of grace in Christ. Again, following Zizek, Christ did the work!-that's revelation. Now you who know your election, act by this command.

Barth himself in his Hegel essay claims that Hegel is the Protestant Aquinas, and I am starting to think if we want to continue in the protestant stream we need Hegel as a guide.


  1. Michael,

    Have you read Martin De Nys's Hegel and Theology book with Continuum? He recently came to LMU and gave a paper on Hegel. I talked with him a little after his paper. He knows Hegel as good as any Hegel scholar out there, and he takes seriously Barth's view towards Hegel. Though I claim to be a Kierkegaardian, which sort of immediately puts me at odds with Hegel, I wrote a paper on Hegel's God and Transcedence in which I give a close reading of his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. I think Hegel was trying to be as faithful as a monist can be to Christianity. However, I still maintain my reservations: (1) theology/religion is always a step that is to be aufgehoben (sublated), that is both overcome while at the same time being preserved in some way; (2) his monism, like Spinoza's, is problematic because if everything flows from one substance, how can we differentiate that which flows out from the source of the flow. This latter concern is a perpetual Hegel problem.

    All that said, I do enjoy Hegel. I'm just not sure how far we can go with Hegel and maintain any kind of orthodoxy.


  2. Harris,

    Those are interesting points (actually they seem to be the main points of the certain Continental turn). I find the Spinoza/Hegel/Deleuze/Negri mode of monism/pure immanence real intriguing but like Ken Surin recently wrote-how can that view fit with Christianity? Answer is that it cannot.

    Part of my attraction to Hegel is his connection to Zizek's work and then his view of taking history seriously. Zizek is my guilty pleasure! Via Zizek and others there does seem to be a return to Hegel that might open a way outside of Thomism to do theology.

    Yeah, I have read through the De Nys book before and reviewing as of late. It is a pretty good rundown of his thought. I would have loved to hear the lecture. I would also love to read your paper on Hegel. I also am probably a Kierkegaardian at heart (along with Barth).