Hegel puts science far above religion in the final chapter of Phenomenology of the Mind.
Why? Because only science is capable of true knowledge.
What is true knowledge ? It is the knowledge that the mind has of itself.
« As long as the spirit has not been fulfilled in itself, fulfilled as a spirit of the world (Weltgeist), it cannot reach its perfection as a self-conscious spirit. Thus in time, the content of religion expresses earlier than science what the spirit is, but science alone is the true knowledge that the spirit has of itself ». i
Today, we are nearing the end of the Hegelian « system ». We are at the end of the book. But there are still a few crucial steps to be taken…
First of all, the spirit must be « self-fulfilling », that is to say, it must be « fulfilled as the spirit of the world ». After this accomplishment, we could say that it has reached its perfection.
This perfection can be measured as follows: it has become a self-conscious mind.
But how can we be aware of this accomplishment as « spirit of the world », of this accomplishment of the mind as « self-awareness »?
How can we get some knowledge about the mind becoming self-aware?
By religion? No.
Religion does not yet express true knowledge about the spirit. Religion expresses what the spirit is, when it is finally fulfilled as « spirit of the world ». But this is not enough. What religion expresses (by its content) is not yet true knowledge.
So what is true knowledge about the self-conscious mind?
True knowledge is not what the mind is, but what the mind has, – true knowledge is the knowledge that the mind has of itself.
Religion, by its content, can give an idea of what the mind is, but it remains somehow outside the mind, it does not penetrate the essence of the mind.
In order to really know, we must now enter into the spirit itself, and not be satisfied with the content of religion, which gives only an external image of it.
To reach true knowledge, one can only rely on « science alone ».
How does this « science » work?
« Science alone » makes it possible to go beyond the content ofreligion and finally penetrate the mysteries of the mind.
By entering the mind itself, « science alone » accesses what the mind knows of itself, it accesses the knowledge that the mind has of itself, which alone is true knowledge.
That is the goal, the absolute knowledge: the mind knowing itself as mind.
Given the emphasis thus placed on « absolute knowledge » as the final goal, one might be tempted to describe the Hegelian approach as « Gnostic ».
Gnosis (from the Greek gnosis, knowledge) flourished in the first centuries of our era, but it undoubtedly had much more ancient roots. Gnosticism was intended to be the path to the absolute ‘knowledge’ of God, including the knowledge of the world and of history. Ernest Renan noted incidentally that the word ‘Gnostic’ (Gnosticos) has the same meaning as the word ‘Buddha’, « He who knows ».
Some specialists agree on Simon the Magician as being at the origin of Gnosticism among Judeo-Christians, as early as the first century AD. Who was Simon the Magician? Renan, with a definite sense of provocation, but armed with considerable references, speculates that Simon the Magician may well have been the apostle Paul himself. Adolf von Harnack, more cautious, also puts forward this hypothesis but does not settle the question.
Was Paul a « Gnostic »? Or at least, was his doctrine a Gnostic one, in some respects?
Perhaps. Thus, as Hegel will do later, long after him, Paul used a formula with Gnostic resonances : the « spirit of the world ».
But unlike Hegel, who identifies the « spirit of the world » (Weltgeist) with the « accomplished » spirit, the « self-conscious » spirit, Paul radically contrasts the « spirit of the world » (« pneuma tou kosmou ») with the spirit of God (« pneuma tou theou »).
« We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which comes from God, that we may know the good things which God has given us by his grace »ii.
Not only is the « spirit of the world » nothing like the « Spirit that comes from God, » but the « knowledge » we derive from it is never more than the « knowledge of the blessings » that God has given us. It is not, therefore, the intimate knowledge of the « self-conscious mind » that Hegel seeks to achieve.
One could infer that Hegel is in this respect much more Gnostic than Paul.
For Hegel, the « spirit of the world » is already a figure of the fulfillment of the « self-conscious mind, » that is, a prefiguration of the mind capable of attaining « absolute knowledge ». One could even add that « the spirit of the world » is for Hegel a hypostasis of Absolute Knowledge, that is, a hypostasis of God.
However, the idea of « absolute knowledge » as divine hypostasis does not correspond in any way to Paul’s profound feeling about the « knowledge » of God.
This feeling can be summarized as follows:
On the one hand, people can know the « idea » of God.
On the other hand, men can know the « spirit ».
Let’s look at these two points.
– On the one hand, people can know the « idea » of God.
« The idea of God is known to them [men], God has made it known to them. What He has had unseen since creation can be seen by the intellect through His works, His eternal power and divinity ». iii
Men cannot see God, but ‘His invisible things’ can be seen. « This vision of the invisible is the idea of God that men can ‘know’, the idea of his « invisibility ».
It is a beginning, but this knowledge through the idea is of no use to them, « since, having known God, they have not given him as to a God of glory or thanksgiving, but they have lost the sense in their reasoning and their unintelligent heart has become darkened: in their claim to wisdom they have gone mad and have changed the glory of the incorruptible God against a representation. » iv
The knowledge of the invisibility of God, and the knowledge of the incomprehensibility and insignificance of our lives, do not add up to a clear knowledge. In the best of cases, this knowledge is only one « light » among others, and these « lights » that are ours are certainly not the light of « Glory » that we could hope to « see » if we had really « seen » God.
It is as much to say then that these human « lights » are only « darkness », that our intelligence is « vain » and that our heart is « unintelligent ». We are limited on all sides. « Empty of meaning, left to his own resources, man faces the forces which, empty of meaning, reign over the world (…) Heartless, understanding without seeing, and therefore vain, such has become thought; and without thought, seeing without understanding, and therefore blind, such has become the heart. The soul is alien to the world and the world is without a soul when they do not meet in the knowledge of the unknown God, when man strives to avoid the true God, when he should lose himself and the world, in order to find himself and the world again in this God. » v
The only sure knowledge we have, therefore, is that we always walk in the night.
– On the other hand, men can have a knowledge of the mind.
Here, two things:
If the spirit has always been silent, if it is still silent, or if it has never just existed, then there is nothing to say about it. The only possible « way » then is silence. A silence of death. There is nothing to know about it.
But if the spirit means, if it speaks, however little, then this sign or word necessarily comes into us as from someone Other than ourselves.
This sign or word is born in us from a life that was certainly not in us until then, not in the least. And this life that was not in us could even die, before us, and like us.
Words, writings, acts, silences, absences, refusals, life, death, all of this always refers us back only to ourselves, to extensible « I’s » whose tour we make indefinitely, – a potentially cosmic tour (in theory), but really always the same (deep down).
Only the spirit has the vocation to burst in, to suddenly melt into us as the very Other, with its breath, its inspiration, its life, its fire, its knowledge.
Without this blatant breath, this inspiration, this living life, this fire of flame, this knowledge in birth, I would never be but me. I would not find, alone, helpless by myself, any clue whatsoever, from the path to the abyss, from the bridge over the worlds, from Jacob’s ladders to heaven.
It is certainly not the man who enters of himself into the knowledge of the Spirit « conscious of himself », on his way to « absolute knowledge ». It is rather the opposite, according to testimonies.
It is the Spirit, « conscious of itself », which enters, of itself, into the spirit of man to make itself known there. Man, if he is vigilant, then knows the Spirit, not as a « self-conscious » Spirit, but only as a « grace », – the grace of « knowing » that there is an « Other consciousness ».
Another name for the « Other » is « truth ». The Spirit is « Other » and it is « truth » (in this, Hegel is no different). But it is not we who can see the truth, who can consider it objectively. It is the opposite. It is the truth that sees us, from its own primal point of view. Our own point of view is always subjective, fragmented, pulverized.
But the true cannot be subjective, exploded, pulverized.
As for what the true is, one can only say (negatively) that it is hidden, unknown, foreign, unfathomable, beyond all knowledge.
The true is beyond life and death, beyond all life and death. If truth were not beyond life and death, it would not be « true ».
It would be life, and death, that would be « true » instead of the « true ».
We don’t know what the True is. We do not know what the Spirit is.
We can only hope to find out one day.
Hoping for what we don’t see is already a bit like knowing it.
And we are not necessarily alone in this expectation.
If the Spirit is not pure nothingness, it is not impossible to hope for a sign of it one day.
If it is « breath », some breeze can be expected (as the prophet Elijah testifies):
« And after the hurricane there was a hurricane, so strong and so violent that it split the mountains and broke the rocks, but the Lord was not in the hurricane; and after the hurricane there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire there was the murmur of a gentle breeze. »vi
From the Spirit, we can always expect the « unexpressed »:
« The Spirit also comes to meet our weakness. For we do not know what we should be praying for as we should. But the Spirit himself, in his overpowering power, intercedes for us with unspoken sighs, and he who searches the hearts knows what the Spirit’s thought is (‘to phronèma tou pneumatos’), andthat his intercession for the saints corresponds to God’s views. » vii
Even prayer is useless in this waiting, in this hope. You never know how to pray.
Man does not know how to get out of himself, he does not know the way out of what he has always been.
He knows nothing of the encounter with the living God.
And even if he met Him, he knows nothing of what the Spirit thinks.
But that doesn’t mean that man can never get out of himself. He can – if the circumstances are right, or if he gets a little help.
We don’t even know that yet. We are only waiting without impatience.
We look into the distance. Or beyond. Or within. Or below.
There are in us two men, one from the earth, the other from heavenviii.
And it is the latter, the man from heaven in us, who can feel the light breath, and hear the murmur.
iHegel. Phenomenology of the mind, II. Trad. J. Hyppolite. Aubier, 1941, p.306
ii1 Co. 2.12
iiiRm 1, 19
ivRm 1, 21-23
vKarl Barth. The Epistle to the Romans . Ed. Labor and Fides. Geneva, 2016. p. 53
vi1 Kg 19, 11-12
viiRom 8, 26-27
viii1 Co 15.47