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Hegel and the Spirit: Philosophy as Pneumatology.

A terrible doubt afflicts modern subjectivity and religious sensibility in particular: the thought that what we normally designate as spiritual experience of the divine is ultimately nothing more than the manifestation of our own finite and worldly selves. Writing in the wake of the Enlightenment's rationalistic rejection of traditional belief, Hegel transformed the romantic longings of his contemporaries for this lost transcendence into the principal intellectual motivation of his philosophic system. Addressing the neglected issue of the influence of religious belief and piety on Hegel's thought, Olson argues that Hegel's concept of spirit, far from being a merely abstract metaphysical postulate, is Hegel's deeply felt religious answer to the dilemma of modern consciousness; indeed, O. claims that Hegel's system and the entire development of German Idealism are unintelligible when removed from the theological context of Luther's understanding of the Holy Spirit. In adopting an explicitly theological framework to explicate a philosophical theory, O. has set himself firmly against the main current of contemporary Hegelian scholarship, which is not only strongly antimetaphysical, but decidedly antitheological. Although I find O.'s identification of absolute Spirit and Holy Spirit problematic, his book is certainly the most significant and lucid account of Hegel's theological interests since Fackenheim's The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (1967).

According to O., Hegel's philosophy of spirit is a "speculative pneumatology," by which he means the conceptual reinterpretation of the classical trinitarian doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit's sanctification of the human person. Hegel sees in the all-encompassing life and power of the Spirit the conceptual model by which to unite the finite subject with divine reality. He achieves this purpose by replacing the function of immediate feeling with a philosophical theory of the Holy Spirit, interpreted as absolute Reason. By thinking of the Spirit in terms of the logical structure of thought, Hegel avoids the persistent threat of madness which, O. suggests, Hegel associated with Holderlin's attempt to transcend the bounds of finite subjectivity by a passionate intensification of poetic self-consciousness.

O.'s treatment of Holderlin's quest for transcendence and how his subsequent tragic descent into madness contributed to the development of Hegel's dialectic constitutes his most original and though-provoking chapters. The sections in Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit dealing with insanity and the struggles of consciousness to overcome corporeal determinateness, which had heretofore seemed both obscure and oddly out of place, now emerge in O.'s refreshing perspective as important revelations of the structure and logic of absolute Spirit. Madness, defined as the subject's self-willed enslavement to the pure immediacy of self-feeling, distorts the natural development of consciousness precisely by substituting illusion for reality. Hegel perceived that a

religious life of transcendence based exclusively on the feeling of divine presence would inevitably reduce the objective truth and reality of the divine to the formal or material structures of the finite self. O. argues persuasively on behalf of the merits of Hegel's attempt to reintroduce theological content and objective criteria of truth into religious discourse and reflection.

The individual's capacity to listen to the call of the Spirit to overcome the temptation to remain secure in the world of self-feeling and sense-certainty constitutes the authentically religious center of Hegel's theory: "[T]he soul also has the neo-Platonic destiny, as in Augustine's cor inquietum, precisely as Spirit, to reach out beyond itself to the self that is its Absolute Other ... in the realization of absolute self-consciousness" (103). Thus, O. rediscovers in the historical development of Spirit a classic truth about human freedom: It is neither the absence of restraint nor the immediacy of feeling that makes an action free, but the rational and spiritual determination of the object of choice as necessarily good in itself as seen in the light of the Holy Spirit.

The principal weakness of O.'s thesis stems from his lack of intellectual attention to the philosophical roots of Hegel's mature theory of spirit in Kant's theory of self-consciousness and the methodological implications such as speculative theory of subjectivity might hold for theological reflection. Having been inspired by the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying and elevating the soul of the believer, Hegel quickly abandoned theological categories (such as grace, redemption, and revelation) in favor of a purely rational reconstruction of absolute reason within self-consciousness. If this is the case, then one can legitimately ask if it is possible to return to theology as an autonomous discipline once the Absolute has been thought by reason? I think not. This is a serious animadversion, one overlooked by O.'s otherwise excellent book.
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Author:Walsh, Terrance G.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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