Essays Hegelian and Ecumenical: What has been at stake

Scientific Essay, 2008
275 Pages




































When we question the reality of time we do so in favour of something richer, measuring more fully up to experience, not something poorer. Timelessness, therefore, signifies indeed an absence of time, but in favour of something else which will be more and not less dynamic. We could not, for example, accept a view which represented us vibrant human beings as like immobile statues.

One reason for our confidence in saying this is that, contrary to popular assumption, the doctrine of God was never one of immobility, even where it was one of immutability. In Western and Christian thought God is necessarily a Trinity, a universe of relations, that is to say. Here the Father speaks the Word, the Word proceeds, their mutual love pours forth (spirates) perpetually. Such uttering, equated with begetting or generation, is what the Father is. He was not, is not, anything prior to this generating.

Therefore any event that we experience, be it our own perception of something, or any event at all, is so to say undercut and supported by, as having at its heart, this eternal utterance or generation of the Word in which all things are contained. The very newness of things reflects eternal novelty and freshness, and thus time is eternal reality's image and cipher, not its negation merely.

If therefore anyone would replace this religious view with, as in absolute idealism, a universe of immortal spirits, ourselves, in perpetual mutual relation, then should he or she not say, as preserving the insight of theology, that we in some way generate one another perpetually? We do not just find ourselves passively there. How could we? But nor is the individual alone responsible for all else. Rather, we must be as necessary to the whole community as the community is necessary to us. It could not exist without me, or you, and nor could I without it. We are "begotten" from one another, yet each has his own energy which is yet one with that of the whole.

In a way this is symbolised by the two births, of nature and spirit (baptism), which in reality, however, are not successive, or births at all. We are in ourselves and we are in all the others, as a whole. We are necessary, not born, not dying.

Yet we appear to come out and return, ceaselessly, so ceaselessly that our coming out is one with our returning and vice versa. Our life is the world's life, is life itself. To be alienated is, typically, to feel oneself contingent, from another exclusively. Lucifer or Satan knew or felt this. Yet this figure disappears when we understand, as in the realisation that God is himself the atman, my deepest self, "closer to me than I am to myself" (Augustine).

So the eternal perceiving of McTaggart's spirits is more profoundly their eternal begetting and breathing forth (of one another). More perfectly than in a still hierarchical if egalitarian Trinitarianism, their begetting is their breathing forth. There is just one, unitary action to each one's being. So there is no multiplicity of disparate processions, begetting, "spirating", being begotten and "spirated", seemingly at odds with the divine simplicity. If there is plurality then it is only of the persons who proceed, each in the same way and with no first or Adamic person. Each of us is passively active and actively passive, begetting (all) the others in the very act of being begotten by them. Each and all, that is, are equally necessary to the whole and to one another.

What about the Trinity then? Well, either it foreshadowed this as a historical conception, our first guess in time at such a reality, heralding the overcoming of religious alienation, or there is in truth an antecedent or divine Trinity (as in Paul's "In him we live and move and have our being") which we should now be seen as somehow explicating. Perhaps we need not choose, may affirm both.[1]

Our own birth, our newness, on our first day, this defines the character of each and every day, of each and every moment indeed, as eternal, ever new, not ageing in temporal process, each contained in all and all in each (the principle of music). Birth, which causes time, is yet eternity's deepest symbol, symbol of a world without decay. So also death, death as required for every particular seen on its own, not seen in the All, where each is "as having nothing yet possessing all things". Non moriar sed vivam and yet, media vitae in morte sumus. Life is an imperfect and still contradictory category, in other words. "Oh life that is no life at all", exclaimed the mystic of Avila, a Hegelian before her time.

To find ourselves simply there, passively, this would be a constraint, unfree, less than infinite. Rather, the Whole, and so we, wills to be. Even the most abject suicide wills this, per definitionem. There is a primordial will, spirit moving on the face of the waters as foundation for the formation of things, necessity within their necessity, whole in each part. Here, in the end, necessity is freedom and freedom is necessity.

Satan as protest-figure is produced by religious alienation. In a true philosophy of identity in difference he has no place. The centre is everywhere, in each. Catholicism expressed this by seeing the local church as the whole Church, even the total universe of spirits. This is the positive rationale for the much decried "private" Mass able to be celebrated by a solitary person.

So all is eternally accomplished, not as in some primordial past, but as ceaselessly or in each moment definitively accomplishing itself beyond all movement or change. Movement after all is defined in philosophy as imperfect act merely, i.e. as long as the movement is still going on and is hence incomplete. It is incomplete for as long as it still exists as movement. Time itself, as cyclic, or as viewed whole, is beyond such motion, itself supra-temporal, a flaming wheel. It does not "return". Rather, an eternal return is the unbroken sempiternity of each and all.


So birth and beginning, all that we seem to remember, simply is our forgetting our eternal begetting and being begotten. When we love we fragmentarily remember our eternal partners. The time-series upon which we are launched, precisely at birth, is the signum formale we have simply to see through (as we see past the image on our retina). It is thus the symbolic mode of perception proper to us as finite-in-infinite, as parts which are one with the whole, the universal in the particular and, which is more easily forgotten perhaps, vice versa.

Obviously we cannot without contradiction proceed beyond or after time itself. We have rather to "go out of" time, and that daily or continually. This is effected by awareness. It can be helped by symbolic or even sacramental presentation, by art or participation in some religious or dramatic action.

This continual "going out of time" is life's acknowledgement,again, of its own categorial finitude, due to which it is accordingly bounded by death, its end. This end, death, is present in every fibre of life's essence, upon which actual physical death, always beyond our experience however (since it is as unreal and finite as life), sets the seal. We acknowledge where we have always been as we return to what we never left, and so do not return, do not "go away" (where to?). No birth no death, say the Buddhists.

The contradiction we mentioned, eternity after time, reappears in creation-narrative. Human beings are not really given earth, sky, gardens, any more than they are given their own being as if existing before it. Our necessary milieu is not external to us, except by the metaphor of sensation.

Man is nothing without earth, sky, air and so on, which he projects in symbol as outside of him, or as if he were formed from a pre-existent dust. The outside is the inside. These are also defective categories of thinking. For there is no such duality in concreto. We should see that it is our symbolic form of representation merely. Yet more intimately, we individuals do not exist before or independently of one another. As I am nothing without air, a milieu, so that milieu is pre-eminently the Whole composed of spirits, i.e. a spiritual whole which is more essentially a whole than are the precarious organic wholes of sense-experience. Each and every individual is, like the milieu (since they are this), essential to my being and to my being me, just as I am essential to this milieu. For if some are essential then all must be so. The difference would otherwise be too great and definite.

I cannot be given, as an extra, as a gift, what is already essential to my being. Nor can I be given my being as if being there already to receive it.


The basic insight here was the replacing of perception with begetting or even a yet more dynamic conception as better approximating to the relation between the persons making up absolute reality. If we posit begetting exclusively of the individual subject, myself, we get solipsism. Solipsism, however, in so far as proposed, had always entailed a web of inter-related solipsisms, thus appearing to cancel itself out by internal contradiction. Its genuine attraction and merit, though, was practical. One should live as if begetter and lord of fate and of the universe. This though is the contradiction within, the impotence of the Kantian practical philosophy. Living "as if" is pretence and unbelief.

Hence our solution. We do indeed beget, as affirming and willing, our environment, our companions. This is the ultimate ground of the exhortation to accept in gratitude life and its gifts, as if from a purely yet infinitely Other, though this is contradiction since otherness by itself is a finite category as bounded by the non-other, ourselves. Hence the further exhortation, in the tradition, to be free, to be master of one's destiny in eternal terms at least. This freedom is itself then explained as grace and ordination ("fore"-ordination is mere figure, the temporal within the timeless). This, however, is the familiar coincidence of opposites, making even or especially of Augustinian man a crypto-absolute, the atman.

But now, if all and each beget in this way then has not begetting itself collapsed back into mere perception again? One should rather say that we have uncovered perception's own truth, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder precisely because beauty is in the power and will of the beholder. Yet if all others are not more in my power than I am in theirs as we spring forth eternally together, by free but by no means contingent choice, then power is so to say reduced to perception just as much as perception is promoted to power. Will, that is to say, volition, is saved from its (practical) separateness, is assimilated to cognition precisely as in the Hegelian dialectic.

This then is the meaning, the import, of our begetting one another. It is the truth of perception, and insofar as we are what we behold we beget ourselves too in one another. There is no limit to the identity in difference. This goes no further than, was implicit in the position that each of the divine ideas, according to which all things were said to be made, was identical with the divine essence. Two things identical with a third thing are identical with one another. The truth of identity in difference does not abrogate the basic logical law of syllogism. Otherwise discourse would have come to an end, if it could ever have begun.


The physicists are now coming round to thinking space and matter as one, made up indifferently of quanta, as has already been mooted with light, for example. Space is as granulated as matter at the micro-level, the continuous mere appearance, as with moving film. The structures of quanta (ribbons, strings, membranes, webs) are not in space, they are space.[2] In the same way we have found that man, spirit, is not to be thought of in separation from nature. He is within nature, rather, since he is not thinkable apart from nature. His body, the primary symbol of his spirit, of himself, is continuous with it, the outside is inside and so the inside is found projected outside.

Clearly the assimilation of space to matter, or vice versa indifferently, removes all reason for treating time in isolation. Space has now finally lost its absoluteness for the scientists, an event presaged in Kant's analysis, and time must follow suit. For Kant, held back by the Newtonians, space and time had retained a reduced autonomy as a priori forms of understanding. Nobody, except the absolute idealists, knew what to do with this result, least of all the physicists and astronomers in the field. Now, however, the trajectory, of central importance for contemporary man's self-awareness, of the history of modern philosophy comes into full and clear view.

Space and time are matter, it now appears. Yet matter is no longer herself as we knew her. She is never perceived in herself, that much may be retained from quantum physics, with the clear conclusion to be drawn that there is no in-herself. Hegel drew this conclusion long ago, however, making use of Kant's results. It is, at least, one view of the recently enunciated anthropic principle in cosmology and physics. The common-sense objectivities must at this final level be discarded as misperception or, less harshly, as a symbolic view of things, like our art-products. They are forms of spirit's self-consciousness, of self in other, or other in self indifferently. This is the super-organic unity signified in religion but here demonstrated, or at least proposed as demonstrable hypothesis.

There is a similar coming together of disparate strands in anthropology and related sciences. After Aristotle had left us with the dualism of soul and body ("The intellect comes from outside" he tells us in De partibus animalium), we see-sawed between materialism and spiritualism for a long time. With the advent of a monist evolutionary theory theologians tried to maintain an archaic notion of an "infused" soul (from outside?) in total divorce from the system into which it should be infused. This has gradually given way, helped along by such insiders as Teilhard de Chardin , on all sides to a notion of the world becoming conscious of itself. Nothing more radical can be thought so long as temporality is retained as objective determinant. This notion has now received strong encouragement from palaeontological discoveries showing that the (it was assumed) unsouled homo erectus laid the foundations, of course through intelligence and associated virtue, for man's domination of the globe and of the world's life when he pursued the larger prehistoric mammals into less than temperate regions and successfully hunted them, a million years or more before homo sapiens is recorded as appearing. An idealist philosopher would of course relate this insight, as coming at the right time, to the progress in dialectical thinking already going on, as here too in our becoming historically aware of it.

Man, in this way, can begin to be seen as taking his place as the embodiment, the realisation and incarnation, of the whole, with the outside as his inside, his inside fully at home with the supposed outside, as it should be once these categories begin to be cast aside.

I mentioned the history of modern philosophy. We should now understand better what was at stake in the period from Descartes on to Kant and up to Hegel. It is superficial and worse to speak here of German philosophy, as if discrediting by this particularising what is no less than the human advance. It is equally dishonourable to fasten upon Descartes' supposed vanities and failings in the neoscholastic manner, and to throw scorn upon the very concept of reform (Maritain). Scientific method was here born, and with it the power to penetrate beyond appearance. One should say reborn, in view of the Greek achievement. Yet here, more aware, after centuries of theological seriousness, of the need not to believe lightly, it gave birth simultaneously, to increased self-consciousness, the seed of idealism. This, and not the simplistic dualism, is the mark and merit of Descartes. There is no question but that the doctrine of creation, however open in itself to constant reinterpretation, has served as a bar at times to progress in knowledge of reality.


In a sense the primacy of consciousness is obvious, once thought. This was the advance of the philosophers of the early modern period, to bring this into the open, whence it might be read back into Aristotelian and other earlier texts. This is why we find the physicist Smolim, who feels as it were professionally bound (he need not) to be a realist about time and matter, raising the question about the observer of the whole, the universe, who is within the whole. His solution is to try to devise a theory which would be manifestly observer-neutral or the same for all possible observers. This though opens the way for coincidence with the view he would oppose, a universe of pure consciousnesses operating with a common cypher or, more harshly, illusion, viz. matter, time and change.

Smolin speaks of studying "a system that by definition contains everything that exists." But this, quite plainly, would be the system, reality as a whole. We ask, in virtue of what would it be a system. Answer, nothing! This means, plausibly at least, that ultimate reality cannot be a system, must be simple, as Aquinas long ago so trenchantly argued. Aquinas went on, however, in apparent contradiction of simplicity, to claim that this reality formed a Trinity of "persons" who were one with their relationships with one another. In similar vein Smolin quickly deduces that there can be no "absolute properties" of the parts of his ultimate system. Rather, all properties will and can only be relational, such as to "define and describe any part of the universe only through its relationships to the rest." This is precisely the situation of Trinitarian theology. The Father simply is the eternal begetting of the Son, the Word, which he perpetually and self-constitutively utters. The Holy Spirit is perpetual procession, in "spiration", from Father and Son, so that Aquinas says that he is Gift, donum, as name.

Aquinas is able at least to indicate the compatibility of this Trinity with the necessary simplicity, beyond system, of the First Principle. He argues that the more perfectly a thing proceeds from its origin, the more it is to be identified with it, backing this up by what is more than an analogy with human cognitive processes. The case is similar, if different, in McTaggart. The most perfect unity of all, that between spirits, who are persons, is that where the unity "has no reality distinct from" the individuals but is somehow in each of those it unites. This follows once we grant, analytically, that "it is the eternal nature of spirit to be differentiated into finite spirits", though this view differs in some respects from Christian Trinitarianism. As overcoming hierarchic differentiation more perfectly it might seem less at prima facie odds with the necessary simplicity, even though the persons are maybe so many more than three (they might be just one in the end though). There is a real identity in difference here.

Just as the Father begets the Son, so, we claimed, must these persons beget one another, ceaselessly, in an existence of truly mutual support. In the illusory temporal series this is reflected by the ceaseless self-begetting of the human race. Like God the Father, it is plain that we would beget ceaselessly, given the requisite opportunity and physique. For the female such begetting includes the childbirth cycle, as genuinely erotic, therefore. Here we have the true reason for the centrality of sex, the urge of libido, beyond any doctrine of a deformed or "sinful" concupiscence. The urge is to do it again and again, as aping eternity, each satisfactory erotic act embodying in intention the whole, as if each time wanting to be the last or final act before dying. And each offspring too is the same, is the whole world begotten by itself, an individual person who is one with the unity, the Whole, which he or she has constitutively within himself, as his biological and mental development, death apart, will witness.


The view might seem bizarre. Consider, though, the alternative, contingency in time and a contingency apart from the other contingency of the created world. In an earlier paper I argued for a divine fiat as only possible explanation of one's experienced contingency.[3] Now I rather question the experience as misperception, calling out to be resolved but not in that way. What it shows, the perplexity at one's self-being, is that one cannot be contingent. The postulation of a quasi-extrinsic divine and everlasting love or even "election" is a historic attempt at an explanation, not indeed to be rejected but to be itself more perspicuously presented, as mystics or people in mystical mood have indicated. We thus have the Augustinian tag I quoted in 1985 ("there is one closer to me than I am to myself") at the heart of almost the most normative text of the tradition. Whatever is thus closer, one may claim, is I and not another. The empirical, seemingly contingent self is not the true or real self that we are urged to know, a truth which believers in reincarnation also can find strong indications for embracing.

In the paper I had suggested that the ancient belief in an eternal, non-evolutionary world, implying at least on some premises an infinite multitude of individuals, in fact prevented appreciation of the self as person, unique, subject. I was forced to admit the paradox, the greater difficulty, in admitting a finite number of men coming late in time and yet aspiring to understand the whole, as if by right. "All nature is akin, and the soul has learned everything" (Meno). Conditioned to an evolutionary perspective Plato might well not have come so far, so far, that is, as the presupposition of all science, viz. that nature is intelligible in terms of our human intelligence. Intelligence, that is, is human. In fact Plato already overcame the conditioning, not of evolution but of similar materialist views.

This brings us, all the same, to this question of the differentiation of infinity, should we deny now the contingency of this finite number of men of which we are used to think we form part by a certain creative election. The three of Trinitarian philosophy can be made to wear a certain necessity in relation to the infinite One. This will hardly apply to McTaggart's finite but timelessly necessary spirits, whatever number we might assign. So shall we make them infinite in number? There seems no reason not to from the side of science, since the absoluteness of the finite temporal perspective has been rejected. This will apply even though the number of micro-particles be finite and unchanging, since the ban on infinite divisibility does not apply to spirit and the world seen in a grain of sand can itself be the world of this infinite number of spirits.

Alternatively we might replace three with one, analogously at least to the Pauline "You are all one person in Jesus Christ". In the 1985 paper I referred to the evasiveness of "monopsychism", thinking mainly of some medieval Aristotelians but also of Hegel. That is, we might still think of the finite number of consciousnesses as making up this One, as they do the Christian Church, sacrament of the human race as a whole for its supporters. However, it is possible to dispense with the individual self, as Hume, though not McTaggart, had thought. Notions of collective and indeed "egoless" consciousness are common currency in many cultures, and awareness of this can embody the term or outcome of experiences typically classed as mystical.[4] Be this as it may, the point is that we need not be saddled with the surd of an absolutely finite number where necessity and freedom meet. If, for example, we admit with McTaggart the possibility of reincarnation within an illusory time-series, then this way of viewing ourselves might just as well, it seems to me, be extended over the equally illusory extensions of space. That is, my (or "my") consciousness might here and now be extending to what might seem to be other persons, some or all of them, though this be as unbeknown to me as my "previous" incarnations. Then, it might seem, the universe "has no grain".

This, however, was precisely the objection felt by the early quantum physicists as they were forced, for reasons later codified by Bell's theorem, to admit a universe no longer consisting of separate parts locally joined. Measurement of one particle "will instantly determine the direction of the other particle's spin, thousands of miles away." This has nothing to do with physical signals, unable to travel faster than light. Rather, we deal at any moment with an indivisible whole.[5] The connections are non-local since in fact the particles (and why just they?) are the connections, the relationships, from which, since they are practically endless, we can in a sense choose which ones to highlight for this or that purpose. The world is not lawless, but it is fundamentally one, as perfect a unity, it seems, as McTaggart's community of persons. Yet he thought that only persons, spirits, could be united in this way and in fact one can see the opening to idealism offered by the stress upon the observer in the new formulations, as Niels Bohr and others were well aware. Some scientists are scandalized by this readiness to abandon the physical, as they see it, as unscientific. Yet many of them, like perhaps David Deutsch, then go on to reinterpret the physical in a way that is indistinguishable from an idealist approach, like Hegel before them, e.g. if one affirms that whatever one can envisage or think is "somewhere" real (the "multiverse").

Idealism, that is, as Wittgenstein said of philosophy as a whole, leaves everything just as it is. It is only that we now see how to think it. Any scientific development whatever is and was compatible with an idealist framework. If I suppose with Paul Davies that aliens have inserted messages in my DNA, if I admit the reality of evolution, yet all this reposes within a conception precisely of reality, which is interpretable according to the parameters of absolute idealism. Thus Findlay, it seems to me, misinterprets Hegel's cautiously negative reaction to the first discoveries of fossil bones understood for what they were.[6] Empirical phenomena are not as such absolute, since they are conditioned by the nature of the observer, as Quine, a philosopher certainly friendly to physics, has acknowledged. What Hegel would not have admitted would be the causal evolution of a power, spirit, thus dependent upon our present evolutionary state, which might without further ado give a scientific explanation of that very state, or maybe of anything else.

So did we or did we not descend from the apes, i.e. from earlier now extinct primates? We should note first that any concept of development, such as we have, entails such intermediary creatures, and the very term "creatures" is significant, whether they be creatures of our own or some other mind or minds. In either case they are in some sense ideal, they proceed from or as an idea. Development, indeed, for one such as McTaggart, is cipher for a certain order within the supra-temporal C-series, while the concept of dialectic similarly frees development from temporality. So primates and dinosaurs will be as much or as little creatures of our consciousness as is any of our surrounding milieu here and now. Alternatively, they are part of us and, as such, may be persons (which alone exist, it is claimed), Hegel's articulated spirits and shapes of eternity. Here though we may recall our starting-point, that it must be that we beget one another. Similarly, I create the beings from which I come or descend, since this is just my symbolic way of thinking. In reality I have no beginning, am eternally necessary to an eternal reality. But as we beget one another, so we have a collective consciousness, which may be seen as more important, the domain of science. It is here that our common public past is generated.

Is not this though just a way of speaking, collapsing the concept of truth into that of warranted assertibility merely, as MacIntyre diagnoses the forms of "internal realism"?[7] We answer no. There are those who would reduce or collapse truth in this way, not noticing or ignoring the fact that it leads them to self-contradiction "in performance". Yet the avoidance of such contradiction, e.g. in relation to a supposed evolution of our cognitive powers, motivates adoption of idealism in the first place. Absolute idealism, anyhow, is not recognisable under MacIntyre's description here. He comes close to admitting this when he stresses that "we" is "a keyword in the formulation of this kind of internalism in respect to truth and reality". Yet he misses the essential in his analysis of this when he sees it as confining philosophy to a particular "community of enquiry", instead of enhancing the role of the subject universally. What is essential is that absolute idealism absolutizes the subject. That is, it is seen as true, in the time-honoured old way, and not just "internally", that the subject is theoretically normative, that the self, the conscious subject, is the first and fundamental reality. This is the reason for Hegel's identification of the person with the universal, making of the thinking subject the antithesis of the particular individual. This situation leads to the discovery of the principle of identity in difference. As MacIntyre says, "it is only insofar as we understand what follows from those premises that we understand the premises themselves." It is not, anyhow, that truth is reduced, to warrantable assertibility or to anything else, though Putnam might be interpreted in that way. Rather, truth is expanded to fuller stature by a so-to-say material inclusion in it of the thinking consciousness as fundamental. Thus Aquinas himself says that the first reality to fall into the mind is being, i.e. mind is prior and being should not therefore be played off against it. Hence it is mind, nous, that provides "the terminus for all understanding" and which crowns Hegel's dialectic as the Absolute Idea, thought thinking itself. This is the absolute category or, rather, the final transcendence of categorial limits by something that "necessarily… is whatever it is" (MacIntyre), which is itself, rather, necessity, though use of this term casts us back into a phase of the dialectic now overcome. God, any God, such as MacIntyre is referring to here, must be beyond necessity as he is beyond cause.

The sense in act is the sensible in act. The intellect in act is the intelligible in act (in actu), and vice versa in each case. These Aristotelian and scholastic realist tags will also bear an idealist interpretation. Indeed they call out for this. For how will the sensible become the sense, the knowable the knower, unless the reality (sensus est de re) is in essence a function of those who sense and know (sensus est quaedam ratio) ? Also the scholastic doctrine was that omne ens est verum, understanding by verum a quality in mente. This was understood realistically (in accordance with a certain type of correspondence theory). Thus understood, however, it is incompatible with our evolutionary paradigms and to that extent, as evoking an "infused" soul or similar dualisms incompatible with a scientific view, archaic . One can, however, preserve the correspondence theory intact and simply claim that we do not know what we thought we did, viz. "common-sense" objects, as in fact Aquinas would agree. For Hegel too common-sense knowledge belongs within the sphere of essence, antithetical to being, with which it is not yet synthesised in the final and true sphere of the notion, which transcends common-sense. A really evolving cognitive power, anyhow, would have no claim on true knowledge of any sort (the Lewis-argument against "naturalism"). Both realists and idealists admit that we know. What we know, however, we also generate, it is argued here, as Aquinas said exclusively of the divine knowledge as causing its object. Now divine knowledge must be knowledge absolutely speaking or archetypally. Doubts may arise about the integrity of the self as subject of such consciousness, for instance, as compared with accounts of collective or "egoless" experience. All the same, however, we need not commit ourselves to mutual generation, but simply say, with McTaggart (and science), that in many cases of apparent perception we misperceive. What we rightly perceive, according to him, is a spiritual world of persons only.

What is at stake in both cases, viz. self and world, is the identification of ens, of that which, as object or subject, is verum. For idealists the world consists of mind or minds. This is the normal form of being, of a being, one which can be exchanged for the other as other while remaining itself, where the part can be one with the whole, where there is an identity in difference. Also Thomist thinkers will point out that spiritual reality, God, angels, souls, preponderates massively over the material, temporal and changeable. This they reduce to a vanishing point as far as their principles will allow, to the point of paradox indeed.

If we grant that evolution, taken as part of a realist or physicalist-materialist scheme, is in contradiction with any claim of knowledge, even knowledge of evolution, then the idealist solution, which leaves science as it is (even within science people claim now to find support for it) appears practically mandatory. A version of idealism was rejected by Aquinas at Question 85, article 2, of the First Part of his Summa theologica. This was often hailed by neo-Thomists as having ruled out in advance the later idealist development in philosophy in toto. Yet what Aquinas rules out there, as it were analytically, is simply the endless regress of saying that the idea or image of some entity is what the subject apprehends (id quod) and never that entity itself by means of this "intentional species" (id quo). For absolute idealism, however, ideas are simply not intentional at all and there is no doctrine of representative perception (of a Ding an sich). Again, for Aquinas, this is the situation absolutely or in regard to God who, he claims, has no knowledge of us "in ourselves". For him we are not, since he has no relation to us (as we, by contrast, have to him), and so he "only" has knowledge of us in his ideas of us. The clear conclusion is that the "we" should drop out of the picture, though this conclusion is by no means clearly drawn and is even denied. McTaggart, accordingly, will say that we make no judgements, but only appear to do so under the illusions of time and change. A judgement, as mental act, would be intentional of what is judged (second logical operation).

Under such conditions the collective activity of investigative science can be pursued as well, at least, though we claim better, than under realism. The sceptical questions about collective consciousness are if anything better guarded against in absolute idealism, where each is somehow identical with the whole, thus rendering perspicacious the Aristotelian insight that anima est quodammodo omnia. This confirmed Plato's dictum that "the soul has learned everything", including the root knowledge that "all nature is akin" (Meno). This though is only explicable if nature comes from soul, is ensouled, whether we see it as "petrified intelligence" (Schelling) or, with the philosopher-poet, as "the workings of one mind…. Types and shadows of eternity." The oneness of this mind is also best explained by the coincidence of all persons in the whole, which they somehow have within them in a more than organic unity such as is reached at the end of the dialectic in Hegel's Logic, the absolute idea beyond the categories. Nature, on this view, is under a certain mode (quodammodo) what the soul is. Aquinas reached this conclusion in regard to angels, who can only be such as having the species of all things (but not of course all things themselves) concreated within each of them. This innateness reappears with Descartes in the human case, inspiring Maritain to dismiss his philosophy as a displaced angelism. Angels, however, more likely represent a displaced idealism within a realistic scheme.

Do we, on the other hand, identify the soul, souls, human persons rather, with God, with "the absolute source" in Merleau-Ponty's words? Hegel, in the tradition of Nicholas of Cusa, asserts an identity in difference here, presenting to that extent a philosophy of prima facie contradiction, a feature he himself found in Leibniz's thought. Nothing other than this, however, can lie behind Eckhart's statement that "The eye with which God sees me, is the eye with which I see Him, my eye and His eye are one," quoted by Hegel.[8] Behind this, in turn, is the Augustinian "There is one closer to me than I am to myself", mentioned above, recalling the atman or true self of Indian philosophy. The religious tradition, indeed, seems the most likely source for the doctrine of identity in difference.


Religion, indeed, would typically make the difference greater, infinitely greater, than any closeness of identity. "My thoughts are not your thoughts", we read in Isaiah, while the Fourth Lateran Council specifies the primacy of unlikeness over likeness in any doctrine of analogy between God and creatures. This, however, is merely consistent, bearing in mind our own remarks above concerning divine knowledge of anything other than what is identical with himself (the ideae divinae). He has no relation to it; and the only possible reason for this seeming lack is that there is nothing with which he can be related.

A great deal of religious effort, typical of those burdened with what Hegel has called an "unhappy consciousness", though he takes great pains to show that this is not a sufficient or even correct reflection of Christianity as the religion of freedom, has been expended upon the search for union with the absolutely Other. The plain fact is though that insofar as union is achieved this will not be Other, which suggests, if that is the normative end-state, that it never was so. Thus St. Paul told the faithful that they sit with Christ in the heavenly places, here and now. McTaggart's philosophy perfectly replicates this. If we were fully conscious we would know that we were in eternity, each of us one with the whole system in an all-embracing relation of love, succeeding to knowledge just as St. Paul described. Knowledge is in itself imperfect, which is why we only seem to make judgements. This is McTaggart's conclusion after a long and rigorous chain of argumentation. My concern here is simply to illustrate the general appositeness of idealism.

There is a fear that without the transcendence identified with Otherness the reality of God, of the Absolute, will be lost. "Shall We Lose God in Outer Space?" was the title of a pamphlet by C.S. Lewis. One understands why he feared that, though one may not perhaps share the fear. Lewis, as popular but learned apologist, stressed transcendence above all else, and in apparent tension with his romanticism, one might think. God was not an idea, a figure in a type of discourse, but a real other, real because other. There is a certain pathology, a "gut reaction", in this, sometimes called the sense of sin. The transcendent is approached, if at all, by grace and faith, both gifts, like one's creation itself and indeed the whole world. One needs someone to say thank you too, Chesterton asserted, and who could object to that? All the same, there is now increasing awareness, in Western religious circles, prompted by psychoanalysis maybe, though present in pre-Freudian sources, e.g. Dostoyevsky, even the Gospels, that one needs to forgive oneself! One would be stretching religious language in the same immanentist direction merely if one spoke further of thanking oneself. There the verb would more strongly oppose reflexivity, so that one who spoke so would automatically be understood as posing a duality within the self, typically of the empirical and true self or atman, who is also God or the All. At the end of the process, again, "all things are yours", and of course the ascesis is as much a purification of knowledge as of will. A valid cognition comprises both. Thus Aquinas defined will, mutatis mutandis, as nothing other than the natural inclination of consciousness to its object.

Just as idealism leaves science untouched, though it modifies the philosophy of science, so here the wonder and sheen of being is not lost because we are freed of our eternal alienation from it, in accordance indeed with religious and mystical promises. "You would not seek me if you had not already found me." Being is indeed the first idea.

Concerning grace, it was always the prime function of grace, as indeed of a postulated created freedom, to make a man's actions his own, as the lumen gloriae of the beatific vision shall make God's own sight of himself a man's own. "I live yet not I". This not-I, in fact, never was I. The empirical world, our necessary starting-point indeed, is yet misperception, analysis will show. It is the ladder one must kick away, along with empty time and space, as Kant already saw and Einstein and later physicists increasingly confirm, and along also with that unreflective notion of matter which was never even Aristotelian and which was denied by Plato and Parmenides. One of the Psalms of David refers to creation as a veil with which God covers or hides himself.

Grace, today's theologians will stress, is everywhere. Do yourself a favour, we say. For McTaggart each person is as necessary to the being of the whole as the whole is to each person, a doctrine already in Eckhart: "If God were not, I should not be, and if I were not, He too would not be." One might indeed say that here the dilemma between theism and atheism is blown away with the wind, the wind, we might wish to add, which can "blow where it will". The Christian incarnation-doctrine was already interpretable in this sense, as much by its uniquely divine subject as by anyone else. "Who sees me sees the Father…. I and the Father are one". Aquinas argues over many articles that any number of individuals, why not all, could be God incarnate, even though he did not consider that this was so. In contrast to McTaggart Hegel can be read as retaining this exclusivity, where the one Lifted Up (on the Cross) has drawn all to him and lives in them. But still, in the sources themselves we read "You are all member one of another" or, again, "I in you and you in me". This argues a perfect reciprocity which the speaker has first glimpsed, as the Buddha once preached that he was present from the beginning and would be so until the end, caring for and teaching and helping those who suffer. The Catholic saints do no less. One might argue, a trifle ad hominem, that if the mystical body or Church is not inessential to, makes up the "whole" Christ and is indeed "predestined" to do so, then McTaggart's and Eckhart's doctrine is confirmed. If what this leaves us with should no longer be called God, as McTaggart prefers against Hegel, well, this is a merely nominal preference.

In theology one worked with "foreseen" merits, all grace coming from Christ. Although one focussed here upon the eternal Mind and its effects in time, yet what one in fact launched was a concept of causality in reverse direction, future to past, which there is no reason not to generalise if it is valid at all. The idea, as encapsulated in the anthropic principle, is proving useful in physics and cosmology particularly, though not without conservative resistance. Generally applied, however, it means that all the past is generated in this instant and, I have argued, all other persons in one and the same act with their generation of me. The future, on this scheme, however, appears more than ever dark, since no causal lines stretch forward from the present.

This very present, on the other hand, testifies to a future now causally operative. This, in fact, converges with McTaggart's finalized C-series, finalized not temporarily but in fully operative perception, not forgetting our interpretation of this series as ceaseless mutual generation rather than some type of "static time". It is beyond all illusion of time.

Backward causality, that is, does not give us reversed time but eliminates time altogether. To a certain extent it remains a way of speaking in bondage to an imperfect or finite and to that extent untrue category, if we accept the Hegelian dialectic whereby causality at a certain point eliminates itself in self-contradiction, in favour of the Absolute Idea. For we have to realise that our true existence is one with the C-series viewed as a whole or all at once. Ultimately we are that series, Randrup's work with collective and egoless consciousness, with an impressive array of evidence from other thought-cultures, might seem to suggest. This is allowed for in McTaggart's thought by the identity in difference of the part with the whole, with the whole "system". "I live yet not I", as St. Paul put it, supplies the cultural ancestry here.

Randrup's endorsement of the Now as alone real might seem to exclude as an opposite vision an existence including (but transcending) all times. His endorsement, however, of Rubin's research into the nature of the Now, psychologically viewed, opens a window upon convergence for these two idealist schemata. For there need be no empirical limit to a psychological Now. For us it is, at "present", three or four ticks of a clock, maybe, but for the Lord, or ourselves in some more perceptive state, "one day is as a thousand". Thus St. Peter consoled the early Christians for the unexpected delay in the Second Coming of Christ. Yet on the scheme we are considering any departure and return are simultaneous, as, again, the old resurrection crucifixes collapsed passion and exaltation together.[9] Aquinas, indeed, conceives his whole theological system of creation and "redemption" as exitus and reditus of the eternal and immutable, in a processio beyond that of " process theology", where this applies time to the Absolute. The ultimate being itself is seen in terms of (Trinitarian) processions. It is this vision, I have suggested, which Hegel raised to a kind of crisis as between theism and atheism, a crisis, however, which one might claim was inherent in Israelite religion, or non-religion, from the beginning. Thus the Psalmist records that the heathen cry reproachfully to him all the day long, "Where is thy God?" Where indeed?


Happiness… Happiness and contemplation was a favourite topic. Anyhow, here I start off, for orientation's sake, by noticing a difference between Hegel and McTaggart. Or one might ask, what has Hegel to say about happiness? Whatever it is it is hidden, discrete, not to the fore. With McTaggart, on the other hand, it is manifestly the motor of his thought. It is why he is called mystical, why too, maybe, he says that Hegel's philosophy is more mystical than perhaps Hegel himself realised. This is because the happiness factor is just what McTaggart himself wants to bring out in it.

McTaggart connects the setting of mankind towards happiness, i.e. towards fulfilment and perfect flourishing, with rationality. The world is perfect and has to be so, as Leibniz and others, the whole of philosophy in fact, had stressed before him. All manner of thing shall be well, as one "mystic" or more or less illiterate thinker put it, with just the emphasis, all manner of thing, proper to a rational insight.

If we agree with Hegel that life is a finite concept, including or going over to its opposite, naturally productive of death, if we see death as irrational, contradicting rational nature, then we will place our reality beyond life and even perhaps beyond being and existence. "The life that I live now I live, yet not I…" Any subjectivity is absolute subjectivity. We have no distinctly perceptible right to speak an absolute terms of an absolute subjectivity, such that we might ask "How many?"

Hegel places absolute knowledge at the summit of the dialectic. McTaggart demurs, pointing to the imperfect reciprocity of "cognition", whether as knowledge or as will. He argues for a further category, one might call it love, perfecting or harmonising knowledge and will. The Biblical "knowing as I am known" is assimilable to this. The phrase crowns a passage praising love as alone abiding when knowledge, like "faith", shall have vanished away.

McTaggart concedes that Hegel might or might not be in agreement with him. He is sure, he says, that Hegel believed in personal immortality[10] since this, McTaggart thinks, is manifestly needed for happiness. I would agree, while leaving open the degree of identity between the personal and the individual, a possibility of all being "members one of another", in one another, as the figurative religious expressions have it.

We should not see McTaggart's use of the name "love"[11] as signalling an especiaaly "ethical" happiness. Even in religion charity modulates into delight (delectatio). He insists on the significance of the emotions, repressed under dualism as explained by the weaknesses of a fleshly constitution not yet glorified. Mystics such as John of the Cross wrote and thought with the aid of the dualist paradigm.

We should admit that a felt or longed for happiness is a main motor of any genuine philosophising. The face or person, the piece of music, the water lapping at the boat gives joy. Which one seeks, not just to have again as it was, but to wrest from it its secret. The emotions, then, are important. Hegel too, it can be shown, preserved a lasting respect, despite criticism, for the "emotional" school of Jacobi. Finally, for these reasons, "music is a greater revelation than the whole of religion and philosophy" (Beethoven), as giving rise to them. This judgement, furthermore, anticipates the thematisation of the category of revelation in The Phenomenology of Mind as belonging within the philosophy of religion and not as dualistically robbing philosophy of its natural absoluteness, this being that very connaturality of reason with immortality to which we adverted above. It elicits further interpretation of the potentia obedientialis invented by the "supernaturalists". Nothing is above rational nature.

Not only so but it is the same content, Hegel ever repeats, which art, religion and philosophy equally embody, though the form of philosophy, of knowledge, be, as perfect, the abiding one having, therefore, the other two within itself. Aesthetic delight, adoration, these emotions belong with perfect knowledge. Therefore the "sons of God shouted for joy" at the creation, beings far removed from those "pure" spirits a dualist philosophy conceives.

As for immortality and infinity, for Hegel the other, constituted as I am, only at first limits me. The other is a self, like myself, to whom I indeed am the other. Both are self and other, so there is no limit. We pass over into one another. So I am infinite, in and through the others.

The reconciling Yes, in which the two I's let go their opposed existence, is the existence of the I expanded into a duality, and in it remaining identical with itself…: it is God.[12]


The promise that He, the Spirit, Holy or holy, "will lead you into all truth", is precisely a promise that our wisdom will "accomplish" religion, that "revelation" will cease to be seen as coming from "an alien dark power", that divine knowledge is "closer to ourselves than ourselves". This was recognised by many Church Fathers, a progress from blind faith to enlightened understanding. This is and was the true Enlightenment, Aufklärung, Illumination.

Again, and in illustration, the truth of an absolute predestination is a figurative presentation of our eternal reality. We are not contingent, since the free will we depend upon is absolute and necessary, this being the final and dialectical perfection of freedom. The whole posits itself in what, therefore, is more than "part" and, contrariwise, the part posits itself in what transcends any notion of a composite whole. The contradictions, the mutual repulsions, are relative, the final truth is an identity, of "all in all", i.e. all in each (as each is in all). Sumit unus sumunt mille, writes Aquinas, in a poem, of the communicant at Mass and this is just what the professedly atheist McTaggart describes in that second chapter referred to in our Note 1. "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God see me," wrote Eckhart, drawing the thread at least equally tight. The All, that is, is in each "part".

This being taken up into absolute freedom, in self-transcendence, is our true and supra-temporal state, represented in religion by a necessary bestowal of the lumen gloriae. In arriving at the end, the "promised land", we come home to ourselves. Philosophy, and the love it embodies (incarnates), accomplishes this.

It was always impossible that we, that I, should be contingent. Every and any I can only be absolute. Can we show this?

One, any "one", can ask him or herself, "Why should I be one of those who exist?" Why should I form part of a world? A question admitting of no answer is an invalid question. Therefore there is no world apart from my, your or his or her consciousness, taking each and any such consciousness individually and absolutely. So, again, we beget one another and from all eternity, neither born nor dying. This again entails the dialectical destruction of life. Life neither is, was nor can be. Viventibus esse est vivere is a simple refusal of philosophical truth. Esse is esse or it is nothing, and we have still to ask if existence is itself worthily predicated of God, of the Absolute Idea which thinks itself. What has been called necessary being could be superseded insofar as an egoless consciousness, as infinite, is rather the norm, each in all and all in each, "members one of another". Here "though he be dead yet shall he live" takes on a deeper sense than promised resuscitation, as of one who "sits in the heavenly places", predestined, unshakeable, necessary. "By faith!" This remains the condition and philosophy asserts, from Socrates to McTaggart, that this a holding to the truth that "The world is rational", since reason cannot rationally deny itself and outside reason, the known and knowable, there can, necessarily, be nothing.

The content appears in religion as one in whom we should believe. This is one presented as "the man", identified with any other, "I in you and you in me", "members one of another". What you do to any other you do to me. This truth is presented in terms of consideration for the poorest or "least". There is no special viewpoint here, however, since it has to be so if each has all within him, the unity, and this unity includes all without difference. This is the truth which stress upon "the least" would preserve, and not some sickly preference or election of the weak and damaged, such as revolted Nietzsche. Again, though, there is no one who is not the poorest and least, since he is nothing without the whole, the "system". Yet the converse, again, is equally true.

So the simile of vine and branches has universal application, whether or not this would exhaust its meaning. Each is vine to all the branches, making each branch vine in turn and not a vine, which is mere collectivism or "communism", but the vine. "He that has seen me has seen the Father." This enunciates a principle of universal application. Ecce homo.

This again is not betrayal of religion but its accomplishment, by thought itself, not by this or that thinker in his putative finitude. It comes in the fullness of time, as prepared by religion's development and with no denial of its role. In eternity, called the heavenly Jerusalem, the seer saw no temple, just as he saw no sun. There was no question, then, of a material world purified in its materiality by being shorn of religion. Idealism, identified by Hegel as the philosophic consciousness, is the converse of this, achieving unity not by negation, but by negating negation.

Where one receives then a thousand, indeed all, receive. Sumit unus sumunt mille. This is our liturgical crisis, its real ground, that living now in this intuition we can no longer say why we meet, those who do, to celebrate sacramentally. The veil of sacramentality, of ritual symbolism, is ever being more fundamentally torn apart. Devices such as house masses, liturgical "reform" itself, are all attempts to accommodate a system itself superseded in the widening of philosophical consciousness. This lay behind the Reformation, as subsequent history showed, itself prefigured in Eckhart and others called mystics, in an Augustine, convert philosopher conscious of duties to "the people" (populus christianus). The principle of democracy, however, while protecting religious conscience everywhere, exponentially requires that the right to a reasoning consciousness be developed by all, that there be no "people" or "masses" (no pun intended) but community, and this is the salvation of Chrstianity itself. The people who should be taught only in parables were a passing phenomenon merely. No one, be they good Samaritan or mother or grandmother, wants or ought to want to remain such simpletons. Thus the absolute religion does not refuse transcendence of its inherently imperfect form (as religion) towards philosophic wisdom, the being led into all truth.


Regarding liturgy Thomas Aquinas admits as much, conceding that the theory of sacramental signs applies to any and every finite appearance, which is therefore dialectically transubstantiated, as we might for a moment put it. On this see the main Summa, IIIa 60, 5, i.e. the whole article with objections and replies, especially the third reply, where a positivist or fideist stance has to counter the whole weight of what we are developing here. Man has after all, it is there implied, to be restricted (arctari) by divine law (Legem divinam). This is Aquinas's fourth type of law[13]. It corresponds to a positive and hence miraculous divine intervention in history distinct from the normal providence (Hegel's "cunning of reason") and decreeing through the mouths of chosen human representatives, in the first instance one personally (hypostatically) identified with the intervening divinity as no one else is. If any other representative were thus identified, a possibility that Aquinas admits, he or she would then after all be the same divine person as the one first revealed or manifested.

Such an approach, however, illustrates the imperfection of religion, even the "absolute" religion, qua religion. It obscures the "content" which philosophy must bring to light and "accomplish". Revelation is thus the very movement of thought effecting this, the highest motion of Spirit and not some extrinsic constriction of it. The appearance of constriction is due to the magical or exclusively religious mentality of those first receiving the more enlightened teaching, which by its own power and beauty is destined to sweep the world. In itself it is sovereignly free as coming from within, as having the very form of spirit, of love. The outside, or how it appears, is so very much transcendent just inasmuch as it is innermost and most intimate, recalling us to a half-remembered joy or hope. It is in no respect alien. It thus corresponds to the (Platonic) account of knowledge as being a remembrance, anamnesis. Thus the revelation presented itself as knowledge and knowledge of knowledge, knowing as one is known, knowing God, the Absolute, and, just therein, "the one he has sent". This phrase, again, concludes a whole tradition of a mission or sending of prophets in a pre-philosophical culture. Everyone, however, is equally necessary to the totality in unity and so must say, or aspire to say, "The words I speak… are spirit and life." This after all is the only reason for speaking as such, communication with one another. Intercommunion is itself spirit's essence and ingestion. Sumit unus sumunt mille. This inspired line bears much repeating.

That which was true, known from the beginning, this we are declaring. We are ever at the beginning or born anew and there is no world grown old. Alpha is omega. The snake swallowing his tail turns himself inside out in contradiction of all forms but the forma formarum, absolute identity of all with all.

This joy, then, is not ultimately something we have never had. It is our own ultimate ground and positing, with which philosophy, our constitutive love of wisdom, is ever and anew making contact, our window upon the timeless and heavenly where ideally and thus indeed really we sit. In that sense we would not seek if we did not possess. In a curved space the rectilinear is impossible, a "fragmentary" perception merely.

Questions of revelation and transcendence, and even those of beauty and glory as their own arguments for realities grasped with both intellect and will in one cognitive faculty, are posterior to consideration of the "I" and the "we". I and we: the "we" is the attempt to merge subject and a world. We do have a world, have the other as other, that is, but we have all of it within self, necessarily. Such absoluteness is the very meaning of consciousness, though there is here a deeper question, regarding not merely what is necessary to consciousness but the absolute necessity of consciousness itself, that there cannot be a contingent consciousness.

We speak here of thinking, of spirit. As for animal consciousness, we know nothing of it from the inside, which alone is how consciousness is known. We may venture to say, however, that if there were an inside animal consciousness, an animal subjectivity, then it too would be absolutely necessary. That would be "what it is like to be a bat".

"I" names the unity which we make up. It is not "the ego", which is third person, but I. It is not even I who write, veering again to third person, nor I who am conscious, necessarily "personal", as we say, subject. Now how can this be, how can I be, unless as necessary, hence timeless, not here or there in a space, unconditioned? The gap between me, subject, and any phenomenal description of my particular nature, history, parentage or genetic make-up is infinitely unbridgeable. I, subject, ask myself how or why I might be one of this number of others, other subjects even (though I make no commitment here) and there is no possible answer, i.e. the question is impossible. I am indeed "absolute source", this being the sense or definition of "I". There is and can be only one I. I am absolute. But this is not a question of language merely. "The community" is a construction. I was never a baby waking to consciousness. Time itself, after all, is phenomenal, how things appear to our "fragmentary" perception. This baby could be described in infinitesimal detail and still nothing would be shown and not a step taken in the direction of showing how I come to be (and not, say, someone else), how I can possibly have become concerned in this. If I could not, then it is all my construction, as I myself am reciprocally constructed by others or even by the others that I myself construct. But then all are one, in absolute need of one another to be at all. The self, that is to say, is an ambiguous and paradoxical construction.

In proportion therefore as I am discovered to myself the world, where each thing is itself and not another thing, is negated simply.[14] All is I, who am, in identity. If I were produced by something outside myself I would not be myself. Putting it differently, if I were not a baby then I am not now a man or a woman. We are, rather, the angels of tradition, of whom Aquinas felt forced to conclude that they were created with the cognitional species of all things within them, proto-version of the Cartesian innate ideas. This was because he could not in any other way preserve difference between them and an infinite and hence omniscient creator. The plain inference, all the same, is that they are uncreated, are necessary in the Leibnizian sense (Aquinas countenances created necessary beings, e.g. angels, souls, prime matter). Otherwise they are below the human, their knowledge not being got by their own powers.

The salient point is that there is no reason to struggle with this obscure matter, these hypothetical big brothers and guardians in an alien but ever so real world, except on a particular deficient interpretation of monotheism. In a philosophy of identity there is no hierarchy of beings. Insight into the humanity of Spirit evokes the spirituality of any and every consciousness, the taking (assumption) of it into the absolute and infinite, "thought thinking itself". Life "runs away" as having "the germ of death" within it but, and therefore, we, as subject, are not alive, absolutely speaking, but more than that. We are not indeed we as we spontaneously think it, but "members one of another", each possessing the unity of all.

This entails, further, that all such thinking, propositions or making judgements, is itself as illusory as our babyhood or our being found under a cabbage leaf (though this image all the same would confirm at least our backward immortality). It all belongs to that fragmentary skein we call consciousness, overcome partially sometimes in music or dreams, their content at one with that of art, religion and philosophy. There is an Australian tribe who believe firmly and soberly that their ancestors created the world. Here we say we are our own ancestors.

If the content should transcend consciousness we can only represent this as a fulfilment and overcoming of fragmentation, as every judgement strives to identify or de-fragment, in copulation, subject and predicate. Here we evoke sexuality and its own brand of striving, at once desperate and joyful. So we might note the claim often surfacing in the homosexual sub-culture that the indiscriminate loving or coupling there encouraged, not so much bi- only as pan sexuality, is a release into spirituality taken as identity, as with our sumit unus sumunt mille.[15] The wind blows where it will and it is a constant of research that beneath what we may find repellent and unnatural constants of value may yet be found, as promiscuity recalls, mutatis mutandis, love of enemies.

A realist philosopher such as Maritain might here object to a "confusion of the orders" but it is just this principle, of not confusing them, that is in question all along the line. We can deal similarly with the objection against judging that we make no judgements, this step which, like the ontological argument, takes us out of and away from "the world" in "sovereign ingratitude".

The absolute primacy of self, for whom and in whom are all things, conditions without removing realities of religion such as revelation and prayer, though we may also say it sublates them in the Hegelian sense. God and I are one, and the latter, when understood, is prior, without taint of alien hostility or a finite patriarchalism. In religious history God, the concept, is refined towards identity of self. This is revelation or, as it is called in theology, the history of salvation. Yet it is this unveiling of God, the Absolute Idea, which unveils self to self as absolute universal, first and total.

It is this self, the true but trans-empirical, closer than close in identity, which is approached in prayer, spontaneous or more deliberate. Prayer is confession of these truths, in praise or petition, authentic talking to self or, finally, silent meditation or contemplation. All that is written down proceeds from this, in proof of the unity there of all with all. Hence it was taught, again, that the soul is only known in the knowing of others (Aquinas), never self-perceived as isolated particular. It is rather identified with the concrete universal in Hegel's logic. Bare particulars, it is easily shown, are in the end abstractions, lacking all quality.

For in the end everything is left as it is and we but "work upon the trunk", as Confucius puts it. The timeless eternity of the self is represented in the Augustinian-Platonic divine ideas, such that any act of creation of temporal or finite entities is itself necessarily atemporal and atemporally necessary. Such necessary or irrevocable emanation is itself the perfect freedom, without shadow of doubt or turning. The Word, indeed, is one with its utterer in an interchangeability of concept. Hence there is but one Word, one going forth and returning in recapitulated Spirit, holding all things in one, the Concept. Non moriar sed vivam. "But you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God." As immortal, then, we have passed beyond both life and death, music ever returning.


Election or necessity consists in being or having been or being about to be one of the actual number of beings (or number of actual beings). All such beings are, qua beings, rational, which is to say conscious. This position therefore either excludes the rationality of computers or affirms their subjectivity, their subjectivity, whether individually or generically. Such a computer would be a spirit. "I will put my spirit into them."

One says one of a number, yet one has to transcend number here, as infinity has to be infinitely differentiated. One transcends existence as well. The mystical body, even if proportioned, cannot have limits. How else explain that I, just I, sit here and think and breathe? Outside of me all is nothing, since all that is within me is outside of me, in apprehension. I am that relation, that identity of outside and inside, in which alone the whole unity is realised, is actual, is thought (as thinking itself). "The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him" and Eckhart prays to God to deliver him from talking about God.

It is in thinking that the Trinity, the Absolute, is manifested and it is in the Absolute, therefore, that thinking has its seat. It does not then arise within nature, since this is phenomenal, where we might seem to encounter it as an evolutionary development. Thinking itself situates evolution, rather. Thinking is I; I am thinking, consciousness. So all thinking is within me and I in all thinking. This thinking, moreover, finds its unity in just one thought of itself, one Word, which is thus silence. I am myself, absolute universal. Such a universal can only be found, realised concretely, as individual, "personal".

"Whom he foreknew…" The Absolute is the choice of just those persons who are, who choose one another. Yet there is no choice or decision as to who is a person, who, on our part, shall be accorded this right. Any "who" has it as such. Conversely, one cannot imagine a person. The personal just is the actual. If one would succeed in imagining a person then that person would be.[16] Personality, rationality, is prior to being, more formal, as all that is (or is not) is relational, having the other, all others or all that is other even back to the otherness of self, as other. It has no parts, all in each and each in all. Thinking does not exist, thinking thinks. One of the things that thinking thinks is existence. Act, not being, is paramount and so being, our notion of it, is resolved into act, not actus essendi over again but actus purus.

The mystery we call God is found to be one with self. This is not self-evidently atheism so much as it is, rather, the denial of self as finitude. This was and is the basic truth of absolute religion, as its main symbol, the Cross, makes plain. "In order to come to that which you are not you must go through that which you are not" (John of the Cross). There are many ways of doing that, self-denial, "as having nothing yet possessing all things." This symbol, this Golgotha, is fearsome to nature and yet, in its presentation as "grace", perfective of it in the sense of a total transcendence. For nature itself as a whole, along with death, is mere phenomenon. Regarding grace, the prayer of St. Francis is explicit: "it is in loving that we are loved." This again illuminates those other sayings, "When I am weak then I am strong", "Dying we live". In its denial the self is affirmed as universal and divine. "It is in giving that we receive." If this is definition, then we do not initially receive a power to give. Yet "we love because God loved us." This is that primary election in which we mutually participate. This identity of elicitation and reception destroys both together as anything other than interim concepts.

In this sense the self derives from all history and "a person is a person through persons" (Bantu proverb). History then is entirely dependent upon the self in equal measure and the self can read off its necessity there. So God, it is confirmed, essential to the world, which is none other than his Word incarnate. That is, there is no word, no nature, only the unities of Spirit "thinking itself". The American presidential candidate, when asked challengingly if he believes in God, should reply that he believes in no God fashioned or conceived by the thought of man and that that is belief in God as the Bible understands it.

If there is question as to why or how we, just I, any I, can exist, then here than question finds its ground and possibility as question. There is no proportion or possible link between the self-consciousness through which all is mediated and the objectivities or objectivisations called nature. The same though applies to positive or, rather, positivist theology. Only philosophy can give the key to, as it has learned from, the vital practices of religion. It is in this sense alone that it can be called the handmaid (ancilla) of faith, being in fact its living and self-perfecting substance, not separable from "mysticism". Experience of God means just this thinking become knowing and not anything else. In this sense no one who thinks errs as and when he or she thinks, however stationed in history or in the development of his or her life. Thus to read, to study, think, is to remember, to see one's own knowledge unfold in rational understanding.

As Platonism must pass over into sceptism and the Sophism into the medieval transcendence, so must every thesis contain the germ of its contradiction, until thinking passes from judgement to perception, perceiving itself as perceiving. There indeed it may "keep silence". The esoteric is the exoteric, as the transcendent is the most immanent. These are not clever paradoxes but sober truth, were not truth itself inebriate, like the fat man on a donkey, drinking wine, entering Jerusalem, head and tree colliding.


The theory of the "multiverse" in physics implicitly identifies possibility and necessity, as in idealism. Expounding the via tertia Aquinas remarks that in endless time "what can happen at some time does happen". Similarly though, what does not happen could not happen. The superseding of life by ideal rationality, which is final subjectivity, finds illustration in Luciano Berio's "Rendering" of the unfinished piano sketches left by Franz Schubert for a further symphony. Berio's orchestration of these sketches alternates with composition in his normal trans-narrational style. Yet the work forms a unity such that with repeated hearings the orchestrations, so close to Schubert's own when in life, are more and more heard in clear awareness of the calm and passionless interpolations. We thus life at its loveliest itself opening on to the Idea transcending it.

Here we might recall Findlay's suggestion[17] that Hegel's philosophy is finally an aesthetic. It renders a vision of reality taken as a whole, as we find in Poe, Goethe, Blake or Joyce, while clearly conscious, again, that thus, thinking the whole or thinking "with the Concept", we arrive at and have arrived at the inebriate truth.


So in philosophy one grasps the unity of all things, as is prefigured within the frame of art, the picture, building or circumscribed piece of music. The identity can be called egoless, which means the same as that all is ego, I, myself. I am that; this is I. Or we might say, as well, this is thou. "This also is thou; neither is this thou." The other I apprehend is within. Without is within, "closer than self".

Can one then say one is necessary, that subjectivity has infinite value? Hegel derives this from the saying that "God wills that all men be saved", a saying from the "pastoral" epistles variously explained away in much pastoral and religious writing. What, one might rather ask, are men? What bounds them, or any one of them, or me? The intuition, issuing in the question of how I, just I, can be one of the finite number of selves one sees walking about, is explained by a gratuitous creation. A seemingly impossible gift of self to self is postulated, demanding I be there beforehand. Or we must say that creation, as we would expect after all, transcends gift. Gifts are a part of our language within creation. Again, an "external" power could not give inwardness, consciousness. There is then no external. Rather, "I and the Father are one." We should not exclude previous meditation from the speaker, whoever he may be. So it has to have wider, universal application. "Before Abraham was, I am." Yet we hear of the God of Abraham as a God of the living, the ever-living. Yet we can as well say that Abraham never lived, that life itself "runs away" in our attempt to conceive of it.

I, my idea, which is not simply another's idea of me, cannot have begun. My idea is I in self-consciousness. The other is the same, self, beloved. We beget one another as it is "in loving that we are loved". The saint here enunciates the plain and dialectical truth, as the cause is the effect. If I cannot not be I am thus in my vanishing, into other, as being is non-being. Here is the background to thinking God as love.


Idealist accounts of reality are often rejected as improbable. Here we forget that the immediate sense-object is internal and that the act of sensing is cognitional, "mediate" in Hegel's language. This does not contradict Aquinas's thesis[18] that this immediate sense-object or species (appearance, one might translate) is (not id quod but) id quo, that by which the res (sc. "common-sense" reality) is cognised or perceived. For it is part, indeed the whole point almost, of idealist philosophy too that what is immediate is not itself perceived, does not form part of the common-sense or unreflected world. It is, as species intentionalis, argued for from common experience, as signum formale on the retina or elsewhere on "the body". Body itself though, in all consistency, must then equally be a construct. Theologically we say that God, Reason, created"the world".

If we do not make this improbable move which, claim Hegel or Parmenides, is the philosophical move, then we have the unexplained common-sense world, the latest attempt to explain which on its own terms, or leaving the first mediated data in place, is evolution. This hypothesis not merely improbable, statistically and in other ways, such as how it stands to the general reciprocity observed in nature, but self-contradictory. The brain, say, has evolved so as to "explain" its own evolution.

A loss of philosophical nerve, I mean a desertion of (or by) reason, easily occurs. Thus Peter Geach, after well explaining McTaggart's Hegelian account of reality, says that we "had better" go on believing in the common-sense world of space and time, though here he equally deserts contemporary natural science.[19] This seems to be because he thinks that the theological doctrine of creation demands, as part of it, a "realist" view of common experience. But there is no reason to think this. It is like thinking that Hebrew or Latin are "absolute" languages or the speech of heaven.

Geach merely see-saws here. Such see-sawing is disservice to religion, which requires internally that philosophy "accomplish" it, as the existence of theology developed from initial commentary and interpretation or "prophecy" itself shows. What philosophy adds is a reflexive situating of this "sacred" practice itself.

Involved here is a deconstructive interpretation of the paradigm or category of revelation, similar to that made by K. Rahner upon the basic notion, but not the thesis itself, of "inspiration" (of, say, Scripture). Trinitarian theology is another example. Yet this theologian complains, in Sacramentum Mundi (1968), that there has been no Trinitarian theology since the fourteenth century, not seeing that in Hegel's work it has returned with all the vigour it had in the mind of St. Augustine, who had single-handedly explained or "accomplished" the mystery previously.

The theologian, that is, does not explain or accomplish the ground-category of revelation, upon which he makes his or her "science" parasitic, though it thus remains only halfway between fundamentalism and rational explanation, equivocally see-sawing in fact. Similarly Newman had proposed a doctrine of development without noting that this must in logic require development too of the doctrine of development he thus initiated. Nor can bounds be set to ecumenism, once admitted as method or modus operandi. In fact it is simply dialectic, in which everything finite is consumed as if, or rather because, it never was or is not.

Rahner speaks of believing the Apostles. This is his account of "the faith of the Church". It includes an unexamined or unthematised notion of such faith as might apply if the Apostles stood here in front of us, though even here epistemological queries abound. Belief is not knowledge, for example. Volition is at work in it, even choice. He "saw and believed". A compelling illumination is implied, which is yet a personal interpretation, called "grace", a revelation from the "heavenly father" or Absolute.

But if the Absolute is itself Reason (Vernünft), is Reason itself, then the distinction "grace" would make seems merely fancied. Hence Rahner went on to say that everything is grace. Similarly, for Hegel absolute necessity is freedom. The mysterious, here, is not the irrational but, rather, the mystical, knowable to Spirit that "judges all things". This though is no longer mediation, since Spirit effects all that it beholds and, hence, is. Knowledge is dialectic process, not a transition from one real state to another. It is attainment of the singular or infinite reality which "ungratefully" negates the way thither since it is knowable not merely to us but alone absolutely knowable in itself. This is the same as to say that it alone knows itself. There is no subject which is not subjectivity or absolute.


"Whoever listens to you listens to me," since all utterance is verbal or of the "Word". All done to another is done to all, as each is "all things to all men", as subjectivity is necessarily form of forms, as love is the "bond of being" in universal sympathy. To take any one of these texts in restrictive literalness while leaving the others from this source in their infinitude is but to repeat the incomprehension of "Lord here are two swords", eliciting the weary reply, "It is enough". Yet a choice is indeed at work, a refusal to be taken up or transcended, the error of Simon Magus, seeking to reduce understanding to power relations. We receive everything, the All, the whole, from one another, in reciprocated Gift, donum, a name for Spirit.

One should overcome "the letter" everywhere, quite apart from questions of interpolation, discrepant versions, textual corruptions. All these phenomena, after all, may well be instances of that "cunning of reason" of which Hegel speaks. This simply means that reason is reality, as death is life's only possible outcome. Time itself is a figure of dialectic as a whole, though but one category within it. The present, the Now, is the result, negating all that has gone before and "produced" it, to the point where it "no longer" is and hence never "was".

Thus the tu es Petrus, though referred to time and space, belongs in Scripture to a contemplative pattern within which talk of a rock, petrus, ends and climaxes the deeply mystical "Sermon on the Mount", the latest three-chaptered summary of Judaic wisdom and an extended manifestation of Spirit. One is well-founde, built on a rock, if one "hears" this teaching, as having nothing yet possessing all things, no longer making judgements. One has passed from death to life in love, self in all. This is at once revelation and true philosophy, overcoming "the world" of common-sense and practical prudence.


In the film Reunion (2002) a mother cannot accept the death of her child. She believes she sees him bodily, embraces him and believes that at least one other, his sister, sees him. He says that he has to go away and asks her to go with him. As she prepares to do this, by suicide, the sister tells her she, for her part, only pretended to see him. This restores the mother to continued life enriched with positive memory of the departed one whom she believes will "see her again". "If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you." He will teach you all I have said unto you. Similarly with the lingering around the grave. "He is not here, he is risen," as Hegel loved to quote, and indeed the Resurrection is extended theologically into eternal glorification beyond Ascension, in the "heavenly places" where we "sit with Christ", we who "are dead". The Marcan climax, "Why seek you the living among the dead?", seems to know nothing of a tomb emptied of its corpse, or at any rate to attach no transcendent significance to this possibility. A possible decision among the Marcan group not to report "appearances" ("and they said nothing" etc.) gets explained by the theory of a "lost ending". An "ending" is indeed supplied by a later hand, discrepant in style and outlook, but treated now as "inspired", which it may well be. We "interpet spiritual things spiritually", thus "accomplishing" the figurative representations of religion and not "reducing" it. The Gospel urges us to understand (believe) without signs and wonders, which are a concession to "this generation". The appetite for them embodies a defect in virtue and understanding.


Evangelical faith is represented in the Gospel as a removal of a mountain, i.e. as an action both powerful and self-chosen (we need not call it arbitrary, since moving a mountain might on occasion have its point). Here I plead for faith to move itself, a mountainous task indeed. Such self-transcendence, however, is a theological constant. As knowledge shall vanish away, it is said, in what has still to be a higher wisdom, so faith too passes insensibly to the same goal, a theme to which the second century Alexandrian Church Fathers in particular were alert. What for them, however, belonged to individual askesis, has now, and indeed, as I contend, for some time, become imperative for all concerned. While this development, it is important to see, leaves the natural sciences unaffected it yet provides a more unitary holistic way of thinking about science at just the time when science is inclining towards its own form of holism.


Before passing to the specific topic adumbrated above I want here to give the metaphysical setting for the study of the contemporary problem which follows. The view is personally styled only in the sense that is proper to a liberal "art", i.e. it is not private or, again, arbitrary but to the best of my ability rationally grounded. So then, it is customary to begin with being. Being, though, is an intractable problem for thought, as Heidegger has noted. "Why is there anything?" Postulating a necessary being, as "pure" act, viz. act qua act, seems to do no more than posit the problem anew. Nothing is solved thereby. Act, in fact, in our thought, is prior to being. For pure act, act qua act, may or not be an existent. As necessity it is more likely a formality (as use of "is" here, which seems to signify being over again, cannot be assumed to be more than a formality of our Indo-European predication system).

Thus any thought, once thought, or even just thinkable, is indestructible, that is, necessary. And thought, taken just in itself (and forgetting how we ever came to know about it), thinks first, or above all, itself. What else should it think? Hence all else, if it is or is thought at all, is included in that "absolute idea". There is no "ontological discontinuity". God as creator of being just cannot mean that, and all the mystics in chorus insist upon it. So this absolute idea, in turn, is the ground of any thought or phenomenon whatever. Ground is a nearer relation than cause. A thing's ground is what it ultimately is. Ultimately, I or you are each the divine absolute idea, and so, thus related, identical with each other too. These truths which ecclesiology (whole church in the local church, I in you etc.) reaches at the end it does so because they are there from the beginning in the eternal designs, beyond either compulsion or contingency.

Once the primacy of act over being is seen then logic stands at the centre. Logicus non considerat existentiam rei, said Aquinas, meaning to put the logician second to the metaphysician, but if existence is a finite category merely then the logician, who has seen this, is himself the true metaphysician. Thus for Hegel, and he is our first name here, metaphysics meant the dogmatic systems of the early modern period which just his logic would replace. Aristotle too opposed substance to logic but Hegel posited substance as a category to be overcome within logic, within the doctrine (and category!) of essence more specifically:

The truth of substance is the Notion, - an independence which, though self-repulsive into distinct independent elements, yet in that repulsion is self-identical, and in the movement of reciprocity still at home and conversant only with itself (Encyclopaedia 158).

"This also is thou, neither is this thou." Hegel adds a little later:

The Notion is the principle of freedom, the power of substance self-realised. It is a systematic whole, in which each of its constituent functions is the very total which the notion is, and is put as indissolubly one with it (Ibid. 160).

The notion, unlike being, waits upon no act of arbitrary creation which would merely remove the problem a step further from us. The necessity, which the notion inherently is, itself renders it beyond all dilemma of being or non-being. It is quite other than being. In line with this, Hegel speaks of "spiritualization, whereby Substance becomes Subject" (The Phenomenology of Mind, Harper Torchbooks, New York 1967, p.782).

If esse were "the act of acts" (Aquinas) then there would be no actus purus. Pure act, as necessary, cannot not be, but it cannot be either, speaking univocally at least. It acts, as thought. It is a thinking, verb which as verb is not substance, whereas being is substance. Esse could indeed be an act, but not act of acts, not unless an act has to have esse before it can be an act. But that is just what is in question, nor may thought unthinkingly enslave itself to our system of predication in this way and call it metaphysics. Sartre's view, in which nothingness as freedom triumphs over being, might be thought to preserve the prejudice in favour of being, the density of the chestnut tree's roots, when he puts things in that way. Yet he might also be seen as overcoming the prejudice against negativity, essential for Hegel's liberating doctrine of self in other, identity in difference (when he puts things in that way). As Hegel himself says, "The Nothing which the Buddhists make the universal principle, as well as the final aim and goal of everything, is the same abstraction" (Enc. 87). The "definition" of God as being is "not a whit better than that of the Buddhists."

The conclusion would seem to be a synthesis of being and nothing which is not therefore nothing as mere negation (ouk on) but as other than being (me on), to use an ancient distinction. This, with McTaggart, we may regret that Hegel called Becoming (Werden), as if setting forth a process-philosophy merely. It is well known that the names of his categories, though taken from ordinary discourse, receive their own precise, often different meaning in the dialectic and so it is with Becoming, since this must be compatible with the transcending of common-sense temporality. It stands rather for the "utter restlessness" of dialectic. Like Being and Nothing, which "vanish" into it ("and that is the very notion of Becoming"), so Becoming "must vanish also" (Enc. 89).

In fact Becoming, as appearing with Being and Nothing at the very beginning of the dialectic, is destined, along with these common-sense notions, to vanish from serious thought. Thus thought thinks in the end only itself, an Infinity, however, which is necessarily differentiated, not, of course, into those elements of our finite thinking which the dialectic successfully surmounts, but into ourselves, as persons. This, of course, will require revision of the notion of thinking itself as itself taken from common life merely, and so McTaggart will postulate beyond it, as more fully reciprocal, as the system requires, than knowledge, what he finds is best called Love. Knowledge if absolute must pass over, "vanish into", love, thus, mutatis mutandis, as it may be, strikingly confirming the Christian revelation that "God is love", albeit from this avowedly atheist standpoint (where McTaggart at least is concerned).[20]

In retaining a subject the cogito of Descartes continued in reduced form the limitation set by Aquinas's "It is evident that it is this man that thinks", asserted against those maintaining a common intellect, as it was called (we might call it collective or, ultimately, egoless consciousness). What though is self-evident is not the cogito but that thinking is going on. There is thinking. No subject is evident here (Cf. Frege's Der Gedanke or Geach's roulette wheel in his God and the Soul[21], determining the occurrence of thoughts).

Aquinas himself says that what falls (cadit) first into the mind is being (ens), not the subject, though he appears to miss the import of his own formulation, viz. the primacy of thought even over being, so that, in Aristotle's words, thought thinks itself. What else should it think? This primal awareness ("we" or "our" are posterior constructs), requires as first task that thought, as known to us in interplay with experience, be allowed to unfold itself for itself, so to say. Thus is reached the clear and justified or demystified vision of thought thinking itself as the absolute idea by and in which all, the whole, is known, and known again as a knowing or as Spirit knowing us. What is thinking? This is a genuine question, the main question, pace Heidegger.

The situation is echoed in religion. Thus symbolic views of reincarnations filling up the whole apparently temporal series or, which is more in line with our evolution-paradigm, of ourselves as present within a common parent, find their rationale under absolute idealism. The original sin doctrine could never justify the imputation of culpability, that "in Adam all die". The priority of Adam (and the name simply means "man") is rather that of the Idea, ultimately of Spirit, the first or infinite. Infinitude is an abstract idea of ours. Real infinity is necessarily differentiated into individuals, as idea is realised in nature and synthesised in spiritual relations of perfect community, the prototype of which in our thought is the Trinity.

The idea is metaphysically prior and time is subjective or illusory. We are born, and hence die, in our idea. The "sin" of Adam is the awakening or "self-sundering" of spirit, as temporally represented in narrative. Each of us is identical with this "ancestral" idea. We are as necessary to it as it is to us, this being the anatomy of the perfect unity which thought requires, as monotheistic religion bears witness.

Such religion, however, contradicts itself, superficially, in a doctrine of creation as it most often is presented. "Let us make man in our image." Later, this image will be re-identified with the Absolute in the Incarnation. Man, that is, or, rather, Dasein, is ultimate, as consciousness. "We know not what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like Him." This, in fact, is knowing what we are, there being no need for likeness, however, when identity is to hand. Thus the duplication which is Adam's emanation as likeness and our reduplication as Adam's progeny must give way to that New Man, in seeing whom we see "the Father", and in whom all are "members one of another". But just as this religious teaching is narrative representation of timeless Spirit as thinking itself, so at the summit of the dialectic which is the Idea earlier representations fall away, or are only seen in its light, the "true light".

Dialectic here parallels the medieval discussion as to why the new and perfect "law" was not rather given from the beginning. The answer is that the dialectic is necessary for self- or reflexive knowledge, for the transparency without which consciousness cannot be itself. For this reason too the doctrine of angels as beings created, out of time, with the species of all things innately given to them, is incoherent. One cannot represent eternity as bounded by the temporal. Thus the angels are ourselves. We have here an indication of the truth of temporality as necessary representation of the eternal, real and spiritual. Here too the negative or Other must be presupposed as moment of the Whole, since this whole is in essence the reconciliation of all otherness.

In positing man as absolute, as Spirit, we do not become atheists. There is more kinship with Spinoza's "acosmism". Rather, the dilemma of theism or atheism, as seen by today's religious militants, for example, is transcended, and this is presented as the meaning of our historical experience, itself in reality a dialectic, wrapped in the bosom of thought thinking itself. If it comes to that, we are not claiming man as man either, but as Spirit ever blowing where it will. We know not what we are, since spirit transcends, in fact "sublates", substance. Substance as imagined is not and never was. It is a question of how much reality humankind can let in.


Thirty to forty years ago now Pope Paul VI brought out a document called The Credo of the People of God. He prefaced it, somewhat jarringly, with an assertion of the necessity of believing (though not as part of the ensuing Credo) that the human mind is natively capable of attaining truth. It is indeed, but it is increasingly evident that this confidence is in contradiction with the facts of evolution taken absolutely and cum praecisione. An infused soul is therefore postulated as divorced from and unaffected by the evolutionary paradigm, thus making out of our intellectuality something unnatural and miraculous within nature's own field.

Much unnecessary perplexity is thus engendered, stemming from obstinate adherence to the Moderate Realist theory of our knowledge as permitting continued belief in a universe of material substances wrongly identified as necessary object of the dogma of divine creation. Idealism, however, as sketched above is clearly the more natural pendant to any assertion of the primacy, the all-sufficiency, of Spirit. This is indeed the truth which we must believe Spirit capable of knowing. As Spirit it thinks itself, purely, while each of us, its differentiations, are one with this indivisible because necessarily perfect Whole in an identity in difference. This is the truth which Mind can attain, as the history of philosophy demonstrates, let there be doubt or hesitation over this or that point. Mind as containing all is outside of itself, a state they used to call intentional. The inside is the outside and vice versa.


The document of the Church leadership referred to here indicates a wish to draw back from post-medieval philosophical perspectives, which undoubtedly treat "moderate realism" as a form of naivete. Attempts have been made since the nineteenth century to portray this perspective itself as a form of naivete on the part of the Enlightenment (one thinks of books such as E.Gilson's On Being and some Philosophers or the treatment of Descartes in Maritain's Three Reformers) and these attempts might have offered synthetic reintegration of philosophy's history on the Hegelian model, were it not that the idealist antithesis of the Enlightenment period is merely there rejected in toto, a "pilgrim's regress" indeed. But there can be no such regress, no refuting of Berkeley, say, in a mocking paragraph merely. The nature of both time and experience forbid it.

Hegel, in his day, which was as much "a day" as any day in the thirteenth century, engaged with Christian doctrine with all the resources he had to hand, as of course, a little later, did J.H. Newman with his. They might seem to have come to opposite conclusions. This appearance is deceptive, however.

Newman wrote of The Development of Christian Doctrine. So too did Hegel and both were free of the narrowness of many of their followers, orthodox or "liberal". But Newman's treatment was more historical than philosophically systematic. Had this not been so then he would have been compelled in logic also to treat of a possible development of his own doctrine of development. His conclusion was that development had led doctrine up to the point then reached by the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Newman's own later difficulties with that leadership ought though at least to make us modify such a judgement, even if we are not going to end by seeing him as a crypto-Hegelian.

This perspective of the open Church, however (which we here open up) as much on pilgrimage in the sphere of doctrine, that is to say in the sphere of the optimal expression of the substance of faith, as it is in all other spheres, is one more suited to emerge at the end of this study. Here we merely indicate, our subject being Hegel and not Newman. Nonetheless, we find that the same pattern of opposition within a more fundamental unity, as between these two, when they write of development, is repeated among Hegel's interpreters (one might ask if this is so with Newman's, or even with Aquinas's!), as we shall now see. In itself this is evidence that Hegel might be right in making his overarching conception one of reconciliation.

So we take two interpretations, that of Georges Van Riet (1965)[22] and that of McTaggart (1901), theistic and atheistic respectively. Our task is to declare what they are and then to try to determine whether and how far they are compatible, or not, as the case may be. Since one interpretation is professedly theistic, and indeed Catholic, while the other is professedly atheistic we already make a statement in raising this question. We admit, that is, to a possibility that the understanding of the Christian message, the substance of it, might be indifferent to a choice to express oneself in theistic or atheistic terms. At the very least we admit to an initial openness to the question once raised.

McTaggart's view of Hegel seems on the whole the simpler of the two. He points out that God in Hegel is no more and no less than the ultimate reality, whatever it is. He adds that what Hegel finds to be this ultimate reality differs too much from the general notion of God to retain the name without causing confusion. For reality, Hegel claims, is, as pure Spirit, a whole consisting of all finite-infinite spirits or persons, each one of whom is in some way identical with this whole and therefore indispensable to it, without beginning or end. It is not therefore created.

Regarding Jesus and incarnation, if we should now consider Hegel's specifically Christian credentials, McTaggart finds that for Hegel Jesus is simply conveniently fastened on in popular religion as God-man because of the "immediate" way he himself understood and taught the reality of this identity, the absoluteness, that is to say, of rational personality, which he of course had no hesitation in identifying with the observably human, whatever the final truth may be. Incarnation thus understood is true of us all, since we are all manifestations in the misperceived milieu of matter and time. We are not truly incarnate because matter is unreal, but we all appear to one another. McTaggart adds that he cannot finally judge whether or not this might prove compatible with something one can call Christian.

Thirdly, McTaggart finds Hegel's Trinitarian thought totally incompatible with orthodox teaching. This is because for Hegel, he rather convincingly shows, Spirit, dwelling in the community, is understood as the synthesis between the thesis which is the Father and the antithesis which is the Son. Both of these latter are therefore imperfect conceptions absolutely requiring synthesis in the absolute notion of Spirit. I must add that it is not so clear to me that this is not compatible with orthodox Trinitarianism, where, too, the Father has no reality without the Son, nor both without the Spirit uniting them. Even if revelation take a historical form, this does not of itself entail a realist philosophy of history and what is gradually disclosed at the end may all the time have been the sole and complete reality, in which the rest is contained.

One may add to this that McTaggart has a section showing systematically how he thinks Hegel's moral teaching is virtually the antithesis of Christian ethical attitudes. This, however, might again be seen as a replay of the Jesus versus the Church antithesis celebrated, if that is the word, by Dostoyevsky or "liberation theology".


We pass to the Van Riet, the Catholic Blondel specialist from Louvain. It is more detailed and differently nuanced. We may begin with some comparisons of his treatment of the points from McTaggart just mentioned.

Van Riet answers McTaggart's query about compatibility with Christianity with a cautious affirmative. He thus asks, like McTaggart, if Hegel's God is "personal", and the quotation marks are his own, as if, unlike McTaggart, he might be ready to find this a false dilemma. Personality, he remarks, "is not a major category" for Hegel.

As for God, he is conscious and free; under this heading, if you wish, he is "personal" (95).

In saying this he does not, as one might think, contradict McTaggart's apparent atheism, where the latter makes the community of all persons the absolute. For Van Riet adds that God "is the society of men" (McTaggart is somewhat more cautious about who or what the spirits are; so here Van Riet's Christianity paradoxically makes his Hegel more humanist).

To this Van Riet, showing more theological awareness than McTaggart, adds that "this whole question is full of ambiguity", and for the reason that "for Hegel as for Christian teaching, God is not personal but tri-personal in his unity."[23]

The "personal" character of the "Spirit animating the community" is perhaps not more (and not less) difficult to conceive than the personal character of the Holy Spirit. In the end, Hegel's atheism would not be bound up with this question.

Not more and not less! He is saying that "subjectivity as such" (Hegel), the Spirit in the community where each has the whole within him, the Whole which is thus not separable from human beings ("if God and man are distinct, they are also bound together"VR95), is as much or as little like a person as is the Holy Spirit of tradition, indwelling and independent. This would mean, if he would accept McTaggart's assessment that the whole is "for" the parts but not vice versa, that Van Riet's move (above) from personal to tri-personal as much modifies this attribute "personal" beyond the normal as McTaggart, say, thinks that Hegel modifies the term "God", i.e. beyond due proportion.[24] This consideration, though, and it is important to stress this, would not as such rule out a future more conscious development of general Christian doctrine in this direction. It is anyhow quite clear that this is what Van Riet is pleading for.

Even McTaggart refers obliquely to this eventuality when he explains the obscurities of Hegel's philosophy of the Christian religion by pointing out that at one and the same time Hegel treats of other religions in the full positivity of their concrete reality while he explains Christianity, the absolute religion, in terms of what he thinks it ought to be. Well, it would not be "absolute" otherwise. Thus the medieval phenomenon he, Hegel, simply writes off as "the unhappy consciousness", along with the mistake of the Crusaders, stemming from their and their contemporaries naive (or "moderate") realism, of seeking after earthly relics of Christian beginnings as a means of closer unity with their source.

Indeed what is at issue with "the unhappy consciousness"? Essentially this: In it Hegel wants to show the failure of a realist consciousness (Van Riet, p.94).

So much for the first point, the doctrine of God. We come now to Jesus and the incarnation. Surely here McTaggart's forthright attitude as described above must diverge from any "Christian" interpretation of Hegel, we will want to say. As Van Riet puts it (p.82), "Jesus is the God-man… He is the other of the Father, reconciled with him in the Spirit. For the unbeliever he is only a wise man, a new Socrates… For religious consciousness… He is God incarnate…."

Perhaps the phrase "religious consciousness" supplies a key to reconciliation. McTaggart points out that in calling Christianity the absolute religion, for whatever reason, Hegel does not depart from his essential subordination of religion to philosophy. The religious consciousness deals in symbols and thus far falls short of direct or philosophical encounter with reality. It was necessary, Hegel claims, in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, that one man should present himself, in all "immediacy", as divine, not attempting to prove this, while in the Sermon on the Mount he teaches our own divinity, that the pure in heart shall see God (Hegel's example), the peacemakers be the children of God, the kingdom of heaven be ours (we are then kings, even if we should receive it as might a child) and so on. But he insists that the "incarnation" shows what man is, essentially, and not what he shall contingently become.

Van Riet seems able to agree, saying "Man is God's image, God's son, reconciliation" (p. 82). Man is God's son, and not only Jesus.

He knows that not only the history of Jesus, but also his own history, grasped in all the depth of their meaning, are the manifestation of the eternal history of the Trinitarian God.

Here there seems to be a bit of backtracking. It would be more consistent to say, to add, that he knows that not just the Trinitarian life of God, but also the life of his own spirit, were it to be fully grasped, manifests, is one with, the absolute. This, indeed, or the inner lives of all person whatever, just is "the eternal history of the Trinitarian God", according to Hegel. What is Trinitarian is the triadic form it takes in each, not an over-arching system of necessary persons, since these finite-infinite persons, our own subjective consciousnesses, are themselves necessary and timeless, without beginning therefore. We have already found McTaggart pointing to the dialectical character of Hegel's Trinitarianism, whereby the persons are not equal so much as that the Holy Spirit synthesises the thesis of the Father and his antithetical negation in the Son, with which Nature is at least analogous. But in orthodoxy too Father and Spirit are nothing apart from their mutual relation. Ipsae relationes sunt personae may contain depths not yet plumbed. Dialectic, for example, might help us overcome the brute either/or of economic and metaphysical Trinity as we have them now, as the relativization of time rids us, as we noted above, not only of those angels and their aevum, but of the mirage of a pre -existent Christ.[25] All is eternal. Therefore the angels cannot be made eternal over against a real temporality somehow bounding eternity.

Similarly, the incarnation in one or several chosen individual natures entails a regime, a class of real beings over against or excluded from as bounding the sphere of the infinite, among which God would choose or prepare candidates for union. Even the most jejune doctrine of an analogy of being(s) would exclude this scenario, where God is not God, a situation not saved by inventing the phrase "ontological discontinuity", which names rather the scandal. Instead, every finite thing is God incarnate, as everything affects everything else. Sound philosophy forces this conclusion and the corresponding interpretation of the Biblical data, that the Son of Man stands in this way for all men. They are all and each one with the Whole. This, of course, is totally against Jewish exclusivism (as it is incompatible with any realist doctrine of sin, not however to be remembered in eternity, the prophet intimates), in terms of which St. Paul expounds an exclusivist Church (Romans 9-11, balancing the first two chapters of that document). St. Peter, however, learned in a vision to let the Spirit blow over Cornelius and where it will. He did not have to be "grafted in", a complicated operation at best.


It will be fruitful to make an additional comparison of the more specific treatments by the two thinkers of Hegel's view of the relation between religion and philosophy, in order finally for ourselves to pronounce upon this.[26] We have already sketched McTaggart's view, and Hegel's own approach can indeed be read off in the closing pages and layout of The Phenomenology of Mind, culminating in the section on absolute knowledge, which comes after as perfecting religion. We might call it an Alexandrine, though not thereby narrowly Hermetic, view. But what of Van Riet?

Van Riet refers several times to what Hegel "wants", and it seems to me that this is the operative word. Men, and women, desire to think what they practice or believe, since this is quite naturally an irritant to their minds. Nothing less, in fact, is the project of theology. But, as Van Riet points out, theology today takes to itself, as it must in order to be itself, all the freedom of philosophy. Wherein then can there be a difference? For Aristotle his metaphysics was theologia and claiming that there is a "sacred" theology in the same breath as we acknowledge and allow for doctrinal development is scarcely meaningful. There was merely a theology more or less monopolized by people "in holy orders". Hegel too develops his philosophy from Christian doctrine, in part, and all development is in part in this sense.[27] Thus some of the Thomistic development too comes from pagan sources brought into contact with the Christian ones. Besides this, we must allow for lateral development, where we take insights not only from earlier experience but from present insights evolved beyond the pale of orthodoxy, as Catholicism learns from Protestantism or from modern science.

To put this in another way, we have found that Van Riet's "Catholic" interpretation of Hegel, which he as it were pleads be taken over by the Church and her teachers, coincides in large part with the "atheist" account of Hegel given by McTaggart. Atheist or not, McTaggart leaves open the possibility of its being reconcilable with Christian teaching. There is a larger question here. What is at stake, namely, is a possible rethinking of the nature of (religious) faith. It is this question that our investigation of Hegel's thought and its interpretation is meant to help clarify, insofar as it is quite clear that this is the question which Hegel himself faced. Our method, that is, is philosophical and not historical. We do not seek to know what really happened, Newman's "realist" mistake insofar as he was ready to take such putative happenings (this is comparable to a naive interpretation of exceptional occurrences or miracula as "miracles") as normative. We seek to understand what finds itself in our consciousness, having come there by whatever route.

Philosophy is reflection on experience. And Hegel knows very well that the notion of a Trinitarian God is born of the experience of Christianity (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, tr. Speirs and Burton Sanderson, London 1895, III, p.99). But for him the experience is not contingent. As with reflection, it is the work of Reason, the manifestation of Spirit in history. Each philosophy, as each religion, comes in its time… Also, in his eyes, the affirmation of the Trinitarian God is neither a "theological" affirmation (in the sense of Saint Thomas), nor a thesis of "Christian philosophy" (improperly rational, because inspired by faith), but it stems directly from the philosophical order, and the task of showing the truth of it belongs to philosophy. (Van Riet, p.81)

As we saw, in McTaggart's view the truth Hegel finds here does not correspond to orthodox teaching. Van Riet scarcely considers this possibility or, rather, we can take him as meaning that Hegel's Trinitarian thought, as it surely is, has as much claim not to be rejected out of hand as does anyone else's. It is now accepted that doctrine develops. We have here a development of a doctrine otherwise worked out more or less fourteen centuries earlier. What in fact was soon to be somewhat idiotically called "modernism" by its detractors, who went to the hysterical lengths of imposing an "anti-modernist" oath upon certain classes of the faithful, was simply a working out of Newman's principle, by which each new generation should develop the substance of tradition according to its inherently superior lights. The principle of progress, after all, has been conceded by those attempting to guard orthodoxy at least since Paul VI's Populorum progressio of 1967.

We cannot say with certainty that human philosophy at any time whatever was capable of reaching precisely this Trinitarian conception. A particular experience maybe needed to be supplied first. But after this Christian religion which Hegel calls the absolute religion, at least as properly interpreted by philosophy, has reached maturity then philosophers are bound, indeed compelled, to "reflect on human experience in its totality"(Van Riet). To pretend that this is only to be done as if receiving from a superior other, an authority, what one does not experience oneself is all too easily in fact a kind of inauthentic division in the self which prevents one being any kind of philosopher whatever, even if one acquire the skill of expounding Aristotle backwards, let us say. This was in fact the scholastic error, an error of form which, in the scholastic period itself, only the genius of an Aquinas might hope in part to overcome.[28] So much for "the rule of faith". What we believe is what each of us, like St. Paul, "received of the Lord", i.e. from within and out of ourselves, of course in union with all others, since this is what it is to be a self at all. As Hegel says, further to this, the truth is never a mystery, for

What is directed towards rationality is not a mystery for it; it is a mystery only for the senses and their way of looking at things (III, 17).

Here we touch precisely the problem of the understanding of faith, not of things believed but of faith as a form of apprehension. A prophetic intuition of the error involved is given in the Fourth Gospel where the Samaritans, after going out to see Jesus at the well, say that now they believe in him and his claim, not because of what the woman he spoke with has told them but because they have seen for themselves, just as she once did. We may need to start off relying on someone else, but we certainly don't want to stop there and it seems dishonest or perverse to continue to take one's stand upon the witness, however exalted, once one is seeing for oneself, Joan of Arc's problem, one might say. There is, all the same, a certain ecstasy of faith in which people emphasise such perversities, precisely because for them at that moment they seem to promise a contact with the transcendent, as when Newman states in effect that the basic doctrine of Catholicism is the infallibility of the teaching Church, surely a strange view of things. Such a putative privilege must needs rest upon something greater in the very nature of things. There is indeed argument for blind belief being on occasion rational, and Naaman (not Newman) the leper had this argument supplied to him by the servant-girl before he went and washed in the scruffy little Palestinian river to which the prophet had scornfully directed him. That is not what we are talking about here. We are discussing the making of such belief into the form of all sure knowledge necessary for salvation, as they used to say, in the way that one "believes in" God.[29] Our thesis is that they started to say this in a bad moment, a somewhat "inquisitional" moment indeed.

What Hegel declares by his philosophy, and declares, be it noted, precisely for Christians, is an end to viewing the religious and symbolical form of apprehension of ultimate and "saving" realities as absolute. Christianity, ideally interpreted, may be the absolute religion, but precisely because it is still religion it cannot be absolute absolutely, so to say. Absolute knowledge belongs to philosophy and the philosophical mode of "mediation". McTaggart in fact will question Hegel's right to maintain the absoluteness of Christianity, even taken thus absolutely, since, he says, whether it is to be succeeded by a superior religion (as it always can be since the religious mode as such is imperfect) is an empirical matter only knowable when it might occur.

Another approach, perhaps not envisaged by McTaggart, is closer to Hegel's mind, it would seem. It is possible to interpret Christianity, as did the Pharisees or the ancient Roman persecutors, as hostile to the religious principle as such. In saying that whoever sees him sees "the Father" the man Jesus promulgates an absolute humanism, whereby man is God incarnate precisely because man is himself absolute spirit. (Cf. Christianity without God, Lloyd). On this view Christianity has been misunderstood as long as it has been seen as a religion, and not simply as The Way, a philosophy simply, though first presented in prophetic and religious terms alone available to the Semites, as was later the case with Islam.

From the outset every Christian soul feels the shift there is between Hegelian discourse and the language of the Bible along with traditional theology… Hegel is perfectly aware of this… In his eyes, it is the divergence which fatally separates speculative thought and religious representation. In a word… according to him man is divine rather than divinized, or more precisely, he is only divinized because in himself and for himself he is divine. His concrete essence or his concept… is to be and know himself as a "moment" of God, whereas according to the Christian tradition man's essence is to be a contingent creature, set in being by a free decree of God and, in relation to this essence, his condition as sinner and his divinization are accidental. The first befalls him by the fault of the first man, the second is added by virtue of God's gracious decisions (elevation to the supernatural order, redemption by Christ, real sanctification by the gift of the Holy Spirit). Hegel understands man's divine filiation as essential rather than accidental, seeks an intelligible meaning for what is realised in fact… raises religious "content" to the "form" of speculative thought. Must all this be the same as radically contesting God's transcendence, offending his sovereign freedom or completely distorting the Christian message? (Van Riet, p.96).

Whether it must or not, Van Riet considers, there is a way of presenting such transcendence that is no longer acceptable as Good News. One wonders if indeed transcendence can be separated from such presentation. Can we so state this Good News without betraying it, asks Van Riet, writing as a Christian, and goes on immediately to ask if we entitled or obliged to make reason the criterion of everything in this way.

It comes to this, that any and all self-transcendence is and can only be transcendence of self by self. Alienation, accepting things externally, is incompatible with the infinity of what naturally seeks and grasps the universal, in that immaterialitas which is radix cognitionis, we might say. Immateriality is in fact spirit, and not merely the absence of matter. For spirit transcends matter in its notion. Matter in this sense is part of the dualist illusion. But it is dualist also to make of God the other of the self. God, as Augustine understood, is closer to self than is self to itself. This is transcendence. In the same way it is crude anthropomorphism to think of revelation as God speaking within history as a man might. This would be no infinite "lordship" of history. Spirit rather assumes its new forms, shows more of itself, at the right time and place in accordance with a logic, a rationality, in principle able to be descried by the human spirit seeking to understand. Mystery, that is to say, is not a surd and in transcending the analytical understanding (Verstand) faith directs us to the employment of speculative reason (Vernünft). Such reason, however, is Spirit at work in the world, as it worked in those who composed the Biblical texts.

One has to notice though that here one in some sense flogs a very dead horse. Theology today, that is to say, is not distinguishable from Hegel's philosophy of religion. One understands that one has to "surpass the thought of the biblical author". There are no principles to be fixed by positive theology independently of reason itself, since one cannot prevent these from being revisable dialectically, this being contained in all that we mean by "paradigm shifts". The Wittgensteinian image of kicking away or as it were dissolving the ladder (to mix metaphors) by which one has ascended is appropriate here too, just as I do not have perpetually to recall the long transcended accidents whereby I fell in love with whom or what I now love. The intentions of contemporary theology and of Hegel's religious philosophy are one and the same.

We touch here, it would seem, upon politics, even though the issue is a transcendent and spiritual one, a fact which in itself raises politics above the way it is more usually conceived. It is often said that the Church is not a democracy. By this is meant that there are those who teach, with an infallibility that the notion of teaching taken absolutely, but only so, must require and there are those who learn, again with an exceptionless obedience only proper to learners taken absolutely. But there has always been question as to whether or how, in what sense, "one man can teach another" (Aquinas), just as it is not clear whether it is the doctor (teacher) or the sick man's own nature which heals him. There is, rather, a time to listen and a time to speak, though I listen in saying that, in teaching that, to the method of The Preacher.

Thus, or nonetheless, there were in the first times of the Church, as if on an equal dignity of standing with one another, both teachers and prophets. The office of prophet is fulfilled in our culture by the philosopher. The philosopher does not say "Thus saith the Lord" because he knows now that this is a crude anthropomorphism, though in early Semitic milieus the crudeness of concept may have been open to refining interpretation of its nature. Spirit, rather, issues in philosophy (as philosophy issues in sophia, one hopes) of which the thinking human being remains as it were the scribe. Jewish Old Testament prophecy, all the same, was conducted under the sign of alienation, from which Christ came to liberate us, as foretold by Jeremiah when he said that no one will tell others to know the Lord, because all will know him, which returns us to politics.

For those in power this has been called, simply, laicism (or modernism, liberalism and so on where clergy were themselves on the wrong side) and we even have an analogy from the philosophical establishment itself (and such "inner rings" are ever forming) from where such active freedom of thinking, where all proceed as if they knew "the Lord" or have direct understanding of all things, even though they are not in universities, say, is occasionally dismissed as a "rebellion of the masses" or some such. But these masses are an abstraction, or at least they do not refer to man as thinking, but as ideologized, which is thinking's opposite and its denial. Such a state, however, of ideologization is a deformation of the individual's nature as a thinking person.[30] This is why we should not have a laity, even a laos, in this sense and he who once had compassion on the multitude expressed it by meeting men, and women especially, individually, i.e. really, whenever this was possible for him.

It is however no longer the pharisees or even the popes, unless as servants of the servants of God, who sit in the seat of Moses. That piece of furniture is presumably no more sacrosanct than the torn up old veil of the Temple and the fondness for speaking of a cathedra is thus implicitly "Judaizing". For the form is supposed to have changed, isn't it? It is important to see how a correct understanding of the relation between faith and reason is interwoven with this political and social but simultaneously philosophical, that is to say anthropological question.

It is in fact the same with faith as with logic. There, in order to take part in the life of reasoning, one has to see for oneself that the various logical laws one employs hold, either immediately or mediately. It is not possible to think according to externally imposed rules and believe in what one is doing, believe that one is thinking. One might be dutifully performing some other procedure, but one is not thinking. Similarly, in order to take part in the life of faith, one has both to understand the truths proposed to one and see that they are true. Usually people don't see that they are true (they may profess them nonetheless) just because they don't understand them. It is not possible to profess what one does not understand and draw any kind of life from it whatever. You must at least have confidence that you will understand because of your confidence in the, it may be, wonder-working proposer. One's mystification, that is, will be cleared up. Such theology, or philosophical scholasticism by proxy, does not express faith. So what is faith? It is something that philosophy perfects or "accomplishes" since it exists in order to that. As proper to man in via, subject to temporal process, faith is the reverse of sitting still and is rather a movement that can only be dialectical, not losing truth already won, perhaps taught by another initially, but only initially, but continually refining and perfecting it and in the process seeing it more and more for oneself. In this sense one may approve the saying that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". What the fear of the Lord will mean in a Christian or Jewish milieu will correspond in more secular milieus to a readiness to "prove all things" and to "hold fast that which is good", starting, that is, from a listening to tradition, the child's position in life.

In this way it is quite clear that whether or not the statement that "the Church is not a democracy" says anything to the point the members of the Church, at least like everyone else but hopefully better, have to behave democratically, as free human beings serving the freedom of one another, that is to say. No one is to be told that he or she is not to try to understand or "judge" initial beliefs imposed by the social and family milieu. All judgement worthy of the name is private and personal anyway, so the phrase "private judgement", an in its time Orwellian "newspeak", was never anything but invidious. General Councils should not therefore be seen as declarations as to what is to be believed but statements as to what the promulgators, say rather publishers, of these declarations, believe, or, in the case of a Pope, what he believes, infallibly or not. If he is speaking as a teacher and magister then he will be teaching and not, impossibly, telling people what they must believe. He can at most say "Believe me when I tell you…", which is not a declaration as to what is to be believed. There is no law or rule in it in other words and in any case different people believe the same thing in different ways, as the internal heterogeneity even of the canonical Gospels illustrates. Someone denying the reality of matter will understand Christ's resurrection differently from a materialist like St. Augustine at the time when, he tells us, he could not conceive of a spiritual substance. It is in fact almost Hegel's main point that a realist philosophical epistemological outlook, as we find in "common sense", disqualifies us from understanding the religious mysteries and creates, in fact, the celebrated "unhappy consciousness" of specifically medieval Christianity (i.e. not of every medieval person), in his view.

One needed to be yet more radical to escape the medieval nemesis. One said, this is what we believe. Believe the same if you want to be with us, otherwise you are cursed. In fact the first so-called Council of Jerusalem (actually it does not really belong in that series imposed from the tormented future) said nothing as to belief, giving practical directives only, a tradition rejoined in part by the "pastoral" intent of Vatican II. All the same, this was the line taken in the first preaching and it is important to see that, given certain politico-religious conditions bound eventually to occur for some while, this approach leads quite naturally (and just like Serbian nationalism) to the crimes and persecutions of later times in the name of this "faith".

What this means is not that the content of faith is false but that its form of presentation was defective. Truth itself, for that matter (since faith is truth's apprehension), is not something that just some group gets possession of so as to exclude those thinking differently. Sumit unus sumunt mille, implicit prescription for an open Church. There was, that is to say, a dose of "sociomorphism", to use Berdyaev's immediately intelligible neologism, from the beginning, the rule of faith corresponding to a universalizing law in other fields. It is permitted though, and indeed mandatory, to rectify this defect of form, a process actually begun among Catholics, and thus encouraged in the world at large, by the original Vatican II declaration (unhappily still called a decree; the illusion that one can impose democracy dies hard) on ecumenism of over forty years ago now.

To see that the medieval crimes necessarily follow from the earlier stance, of the regula fidei, is to understand the duty of enacting this process of purifying the form of believing, going over to what can only be a philosophical form. Realisation of this form coincides with the democratic movement, according to which all are called upon to become literate and thus philosophical, to prepare a civilization of philosophers in accordance with Porphyry's rather optimistic assessment of the ancient Jews as a nation of philosophers, because, precisely, of the form of their believing.

So it is not a question of "proving" the mysteries of faith, for Hegel, but of showing their meaning in so far as they accord with a true philosophy. In the process people come to accept them because they are reasonable. This is why divine interventions in history, as contingently imagined by the half magical Semitic mentality (or not only Semitic) of ancient times, cannot be left uninterpretedly in the form in which they are delivered to us. Neither divine action nor divine freedom can be contingent. Therefore, to show the necessity and rationality of faith and its truths is not to change their content but to present them in a more perfect form, and this was ever the task of theology, whether in the time of Aristotle or in the developed Christian time in which Hegel found himself. Again, "the spiritual man judges all things".


These considerations might strike some as not particularly novel. Liberal Catholicism goes back to the days of Hegel himself, after all, and Gregory XVI appears to have perceived, already in 1832, the depth of the challenge, when, in the Encyclical letter Mirari vos he wrote that what was being called liberalism "overthrows the nature of an opinion". This was of course a biased and alarmist way of saying that our way of viewing the phenomenon of opinion becomes here the matter of the discourse. This too, however is, as it ought to be, as old at least as Plato, when he suggested in The Republic that the things concerning which we hold opinion, doxa, "both are and are not". That is to say, the dialectic of thesis and antithesis which Hans Küng and others today find essential to theological method, as the post-modernists (or Nicholas of Cusa) find it in philosophy, is dictated pro parte objecti, from the side of the object, of experience, that is to say. The process of putting together in a judgement what our abstractions separate extends right up to the final vision, the "last" judgement which is the absolute idea. Ecumenism, one has long suspected, is not compatible with finding the "separated" partner absolutely mistaken. It is a question of bringing his or her and also our truth to light, where they will be seen not as identical but as complementary or even, and typically, forming a contradiction for the understanding which is resolvable for speculative reason in synthesis.

This might seem to afford no firm ground for beginners, no starting-points. One can indeed suspect that the dogmas and rules of history have functioned as easier substitutes, or at least as shorthand, for faith properly so-called. Whatever the function of the so-called Apostles' Creed the Creed proper was elaborated at Nicaea, like all subsequent definitions, as a way of taming the endless mental life that faith, faith proper, evoked. What else but this kind of faith, and not a mere subscribing to documents, could have been called the principle overcoming the world. It overcomes the world precisely because it never rests content with the finite but ceaselessly proceeds towards that which is absolute and perfect, in philosophy, in social life, in prayer and all over. "Greater things than I shall you do."

This is not a mere basic trust, though that be a great part of it, enabling the main activity it names. It is a pressing on, in the confidence that a wall of separation has been broken down, that precisely the transcendent acts in our own actions and free decisions. Here we see the fundamental importance of the Thomistic doctrine of praemotio physica and how through it alone a future was guaranteed to Christian thought such as the Molinist alternative would have closed off, despite the superficial association of the Jesuits of that time with humanism and despite, for that matter, their preventing the Pope of the day from courageously affirming the grand Thomistic principle (Congregatio de auxiliis). Such was the price for keeping Venice Catholic, threatened as it seemed to be by the preaching of one Paolo Sarpi, otherwise forgotten. Thus we got deism and Kant. But the future of Thomism lay with Hegel. Yet even this was too alarming for the guardians of orthodoxy at a time when the Dominican and classical Augustinian spirit was in virtual eclipse (though of course everyone fancied himself as Augustinian). And so, especially when faced with a creative application of Hegel's thought even in Italy, ontologism, the papacy and its advisers hit upon the ingenious expedient of reviving the thirteenth century intellectual world in toto, instead of continuing to develop and perfect ontologism! But life has indeed been breathed into these dry bones and so, with new appreciation of not merely praemotio physica but of the truth that God has no real relation with the finite world, in other words that the finite world is untruth. In praemotio physica the whole of Hegelianism lies coiled, something one could hardly expect St. Thomas to come out with in his own immoderately realist day, or even in those days when condemnation, of liberalism, of "modernism", "laicism" and God knows what else followed one another. Here then, today, we have the beginnings of the demystification of faith, so that it can indeed overcome the world. This process indeed is part of its continually doing so. The dialectic proceeds, like evolution, that time-bound symbol it has in the fullness of time invented for itself.

Briefly, God, the absolute, initiates all my initiations. So I am not I. My freedom is freedom itself. God has no relation to me, just for that reason. I am that one, the All, though I be part. The world exists entire in my knowledge of it. Each one, each part is as necessary to this perfect unity as I am myself, as necessary that is, though differently, as it is to us. This alone is why, or how, there can be one closer to me that I am to myself (Augustine), or how one can dwell in me in whom I dwell. "There is a time when God dwells in the soul and a time when the soul dwells in God" (De Caussade). The tradition is constant. "The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him" (Eckhart). Knowledge, finally, of subject and object, "will vanish away".

Whether this was Hegel's view or what Hegel ought to have said, if anyone is not sure, we may leave open, following the medieval praxis of sympathetic interpretation of authorities, which is really idealist. We would not fall into the realist trap (of seeking the living among the dead) when considering just absolute idealism.


One watches a TV-series where the plot turns upon plates of a brain-scan showing, it is claimed, that a patient cannot now have the memory-loss he has been professing. Peter Geach, in his book on McTaggart, Truth, Love and Immortality, calls such brain-mind claims "bluff". They are comparable to the Pythagorean assertion that justice is the number four, where we cannot understand what is being said. There is no point of contact, namely, between such brain-references and "my sudden recollection that I must go to the bank".

One might suspect equal bluff in what Geach is saying, however. The whole presumption, after all, behind our common understanding of the widespread Alzheimer's disease is that there is measurable correlation between such ability to recollect and the observable state of the brain. This correlation can always be further filled in, in confirmation of the original presumption which, going back at least to Aristotle, was always more than a mere well-founded guess. For him, indeed, any knowledge at all requires the reality known to be present and not merely remembered, i.e. both object and subject must have a material base.

Endocrinology too, like neurology, encompasses personal affective life in a quite natural, so to say internal aspiration. To add "to some degree", as disclaimer, is like falling back on a "god of the gaps" in religious apologetic. Here God becomes just the name for these gaps, or for the "implicit" on the far side of finite understanding. Yet hormonal research continues to explain more and more, narrowing the gaps.

"Hormones rule, O.K." is one reaction to this. But do we want merely to replace one restrictive explanation with another? We cannot, I suggest. To rule, hormones must be more, or less, than themselves. They must be a language, a way of "naming" experience as given in our knowledge, in consciousness, as God (in Adam) named the creatures, whether one by one or in groups indifferently for our purposes here.

So if one says "the brain" determines, as source, all conscious life (either from itself or from what it "makes" of sense-experience indifferently) then one cannot retain the common-sense apprehension of the brain as part of the human or animal body. For this too is a pure deliverance of the brain in that case, while if I cannot know that the body exists then I cannot know that the brain exists either. Here materialism and idealism in "critical" form coincide.

In place of existence we have now, in this situation, to speak of conscious act, since this is unmediated, what corresponds immediately to "the living brain", as existence does not. This act, activity, might be ours or no one's. Brain activity cannot guarantee or support, cannot reach through to knowledge of substance, its own or any at all. In speaking like this, therefore, in assuming entitlement to make judgements, even as to an all-determining brain's situation, we reject the thesis implicitly. Together with substance, nature falls away as intrinsic object of investigation. This though quantum physics might seem to confirm. We investigate ourselves in inseparable correlation with "the object". The outside is inside and vice versa, indifferently since there is no longer either outside or inside. It becomes a figure of speech, as does speech itself, if we would hand all over to the brain.

For our consciousness it is plainly natural to construct such a correlate object, to "objectify", independently of verification. So predication is, as such, untruth, says Hegel, conscious though of the self-contradiction.

It is not a choice between flesh and spirit, as on the old scheme. They coincide. The brain paradigm, that is, was just that; nothing more. We do not reduce spirit to flesh, to "our" mode of apprehension. Nor is flesh reduced to spirit, as in some idealist scheme. It is its textual expression, rather. There is a background in the history of dogma, where the manhood (of the incarnate God) is "taken into" the Absolute so that the latter is not "converted into" the flesh, as if into a restricting medium (Athanasian Creed). Flesh is not a restriction but a manifestation standing for itself, as, in eucharistic theology again, a sign can be what it signifies.

So what the all-determining brain would give us would be something like "the world as will and idea", purely. To say that the brain determines me to think the brain need not be inadvertent contradiction but the signal, rather, that something else is aimed at, obliquely necessarily. As when one asserts the purest voluntarism one might just as well deny what one is saying. This was Aristotle's reason for safeguarding predication by affirming the law of non-contradiction, and of bivalence as between true or untrue. It was also, this voluntarism, the premise from which Hegel overturned this philosophy of substance within a world of change.

Today though, in view of what we have said above, it becomes possible to view materialism as a stage on the road to idealism. In idealism the self spins the world from itself as much as would an all-determining brain. I, any I, am universal on both systems. Predication is mere vehicle and finite categorial condition, as is language itself, for infinite creativity. It thus gropes its way to the Hegelian notion and beyond, where all predication is nullified. The old balance is gone, irreparably, as it had to. Matter, for its part, is non-thinkable and with this materialism agrees, since it makes matter prior to thought. The materialist thinks materialism all the same. For this is a consciousness, of brain as source of brain, though this is not more than pure I, pure subject. He knows, that is, that materialism is a text, a way of speaking, ideology ultimately.

One cannot though be subject without being essentially related, correlated. This correlation, what makes subject to be subject, is world, its contrary, however we construct it. We make the others and they make us, without beginning or end. Each is necessary, therefore, as each is all in his all-determining brain or consciousness indifferently. This necessity we merely call his being, in memory of the lost balance. Being is necessity linguistically viewed. We have no real need of it. We are or are not, indifferently, as we are spirits or brains. Spirit, that is, is the overcoming of ontology and not, therefore, some "soul-thing". Aquinas said rightly that the being we know is the changeable being of nature. Any other being is extrapolated analogy, and now we see that we do not know the being even that he thought we knew. We know, rather, that it is not. Similarly, the necessary cannot be, have being, since then we could ask, self-defeatingly, why it is necessary or why any proof of necessity should hold. Asking why seeks the "reason of being". Without being there is no such reason, as indeed there was not, by definition, for God. We thus find ourselves to be "absolute source".

The project here, necessarily implicit, is to subvert language, its rigidity, as stultifying dialectic. Dialectic first ascends through language. At some point though, perhaps the penultimate, perhaps in its earliest stage, it must call language in question, exposing its insufficiency, which is the insufficiency of knowledge, from the absolute or only true viewpoint. This critique of knowledge, of saying something about something, focuses on the illegitimate construction of objects, which is constitutive of knowledge and which, in W. Benjamin's terms, goes beyond the "naming of the animals", meaning by naming something transcending the linguistic or objectifying as constitutive of other-reality, as creation.

Knowledge, therefore, is not reciprocal. It is a finite category, hindering the exchanges of reciprocal love, where there is no place for speech and any appearance of predication, e.g. "I love you", is necessarily illusory. "I love you" is an expression of a caress; but my caress is not the pre-linguistic expression of the truth that I love you. It is post-linguistic.

Thought of course is not destroyed. Only a certain thought or conception of thought is destroyed. We come to see that thought, consciousness, is closer to the reciprocities we call love, harmony. As when we say that to think of God, of the Absolute, is to be in relation with it, even to bring it about. This though would mean that we have always been thinking (if this is what brings God about), each one of us who thinks at all. Any thinker is thus a necessary being (or non-being) as mutually brought about in this way. To be posited is to be, at this level. A possible thinker is a real thinker. A real thinker is an ideality nonetheless. Hence Hegel says that the truths of Christianity have only to be "imagined" or postulated to take effect and so we find Blake writing that the imaginations of today are the realities of tomorrow. This in turn, though, shows how time, its idea, functions, in ordering purpose or possibility (they are the same) to deed, themselves the same or merely one. For time is species, appearance, of eternity. We must see, with Traherne, or St.Paul, that we sit there now, in "the heavenly places". In this non-reductive but rather ampliative sense it is right to contemn an "after-life". "The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?" Indeed, or make the pulp so sweet and the question remains the same in structure, while which is pulp and which is rind is indifferent again, depending upon whether we wish to pass from time to eternity or, in creation, go the other way. It is a circle and so "there is a time when God dwells in the soul and there is a time when the soul dwells in God."[31]

This is the point, or should and could be, of Nietzsche's circle. It transcends repetition because it is an eternal return, like the exitus and reditus of theology. I do not live my life again, as I get up each morning again. My life, rather, seen as circular, is eternal. In absolute terms, I was neither born nor do I die. To say it ever comes back is to say, in a figure (the circle), that it, the moment, never went away. Again, what "comes back" is the moment itself, not its repetition or simulacrum. In just this way is the death or resurrection of Christ represented in the liturgy. In just this way is each and every moment the uttering of the undivided Word. The Father is this uttering, the Son this returning, the Spirit their in-spiration. All is within while, to paraphrase Eckhart, how this thinks me is how I think this and vice versa. I and the Father are one, said the man. I and the Spirit are one, a woman might prefer to say, though we must conceive a father's motherhood and a mother's fatherhood. In seeing me you see everything or, again, being has no parts. Conversely, where the parts are of infinite number, as in perceptions of perceptions, the whole is in each of them. Only thus is it infinite.

One might ask, is this really the way to go? This self-dismantling of thought of which such as Chesterton or Pope Paul VI complained? Yes, if this is produced necessarily out of and by thought itself. Just this was the point of the Carmelite mystic's distinction between silver (dogma) and gold (a "dark" knowledge) and we do here enter into an "unknowing", having suggested, but actually within the dialectic, that there is a final category beyond absolute knowledge, or that such knowledge is best called something else. Mysticism and epistemology coincide in one search, equally practical and theoretical, existential rather. Such self-consciousness, knowing oneself in knowing another, is of the essence of thinking, the identity in difference. Deliberately to ward it off is falsity, bluff indeed.

Actually it is upon this self-interrogation that freedom and democracy rest, the periodic "Have it your way", recognition of truth as in the subject. Veritas est in mente, and mind is not a universal. There are styles of thinking. Hence we suggested a freedom from restraint, a creativeness, as absolute source, not to be reduced to a "voluntarism" still staying within the old essentialist paradigm. What can happen at some time does happen, it was said, even within that absolute subservience to the temporal mode. Every musical combination possible is destined to fall upon the ear, every disharmony, as seeking resolution. The drama of sonata-form, for example, is nothing else, a finite infinite, an infinite finite, each new face launching every ship that ever was or could be, as every pair of eyes, every mutual looking, is an absorption, to recall the song, into the essence and nectar of a Jovian absolute. That too is liberalism, the affirmation of each by all, of all by each. This is what acceptance of an ecumenical principle takes on, reserve oneself how one will.

Woman, perhaps, is most apt for this, as feeling herself one with Spirit, since spirit especially is an all in each, in its very concept, though this be true too of a principle of common origin (Father) or manifestation and self-return (Son). The wish to be everything for someone is especially strong in woman, easily leading to a sense that she could be everything for whomever she chose. Bitter indeed then is the final casting off, seen as man's inability to love. He should rather have died first, she cannot help but think. And indeed the lover too, the male especially, desires to die then, in love's moment, if he might but die without losing his life finally. In her arms he wants to die, never go somewhere else, as his body's action which is passion, or passion in action, love-making, expresses. For here he returns to the womb which, it is a simple fact, he and anyone never wished to leave. For the woman though it is life anew, again a circle. It is then a circle for both and life and death are, surprisingly, the same, fulfilled in one another, ying and yang. The woman died already in giving her heart.

This is what men call the mystery in woman or, in bitterness or incomprehension, pseudo-mystery and pretence. It is though a natural consciousness and cause of being woman, when it is especially strong. For the difference between the sexes is in degree and not specific. Men have their mystery too, and women their infidelity, which, however, is but a name, apart from its own specific context, for the wider view. Each knows that he or she bears all as being necessary to this all. She would bear the all, for her part, even if she were indeed but "fair creature of an hour", impossibly.

So in these rounded contours, which a Picasso might draw as an arrangement of circles, an apotheosis of circularity, Spirit finds its definitive shape and unique text, sought and brought forth by the creative arrow and sufferingly triumphant cross-bow, one with his works, which is man. Yet man is woman, woman is man, in double and relational identity, each within the other.

In loving woman we, if men, enter the cave which brought us forth, adoring with the Magi, while she, again, brings forth each beloved as her firstborn. This that we adore then, in her, is ourself, absolute, atman. We have only to look, each reflected in each other's, one another's, eyes, infinitely. This is the cause of eyes, to be only had, eventually, for each other, for "you" as the song says. To reject "eye-contact" in principle is to prefer the empty security of blindness. Eyes are the doors to love's hidden kingdom, when or, after, as we say, knowledge has vanished away. Only in that sense it is hidden, as by the insufficiency, the finitude and falsity, of knowledge of the objectual non-world and its unmatured subject. When I have become what I am I will no longer be what I was, no longer, because I was never other than that which I am. It is hate which feels most the pain of love approaching. "Why then, oh hating love, oh loving hate, oh anything of nothing first create." Love, that is, is blind, muffled, but only as seen from the standpoint of knowledge. It finds the pathways to its and our desire, with "eyes wide shut" as it were. In another's eyes we drown to the cold, comfortable illusion, are buried and immersed away from it, as one finding newness of life, in reflection upon reflection for ever. This then was the mystery as shown above all in man and woman together. But by mystery here we mean truth and the absolute, implicit as unconceptualisable in its infinitude of positivity, comprehensible though to itself and in this sense comprehended, tasted, absorbed by and absorbing each person.

Here we rejoin, we take up and do not shun, the poetry of the ages. It was Solomon the wise man who had a thousand and one wives. His wisdom issued in that and each one of them is she, his wisdom. The three wise men, too, are one, adoring this that they are, all in each. Love, in the end, can only love love, itself, than which, therefore, a person is nothing other. Love speaks, love bids welcome, love sits and eats. The most foolish little dog is and brings the love which he is and the weight of the whole world, vehicle of spirit. The text though can in no sense intend itself, as if in suppositio materialis. We must see through the veil, which is thus as if ever being rent asunder, while in all that one says the whole is said over, and over again, revolving in time's mimicry of eternity returning.


The harmony of faith and reason is often one-sidedly viewed as a restriction upon reason, such that where reason is shown to contradict faith then the reasoning at issue is ipso facto erroneous. Of course this is a matter of reasoning rather than of reason, though the fallibility of reason itself is sometimes proclaimed.

All the same we do feel uneasy with this situation. It resembles all too much an ideological directive, telling us that when we come up against such a contradiction with faith we are to find an error in our reasoning by hook or by crook, i.e. whether there is one or not. We feel that faith is preventing us from being "open-minded". Is that really faith's function, its result. Many would say yes. Faith, after all, is a virtue and to virtues, it is argued or at least assumed, correspond precepts. This entails that at least practical reasoning cannot be open, cannot admit trangression of these precepts. Thus to faith there corresponds precepts such as, at least, not to deny credal propositions, not to blaspheme, to fulfil, perhaps, certain religious acts and so on. There are then, it is clear, certain theoretical or speculative options the asserting of which is not open.

But still we feel, as we think history shows us, that anything not open might one day be questioned, as to whether it belongs to the class of forbidden assertions we had thought, all too hastily, that it belonged to. Well, those upholding this restrictive view of faith and reason might well allow this. By and large they do, under the rubric of development (of doctrine). So why do we feel uneasy?

I answer, on this interpretation reason is not being treated fairly. It is not even being given credit for the role it plays and has played in, say, the formulation of credal statements, in the interpretation of what has been called "the deposit of faith". It is because taking this phrase to refer to an assemblage of propositions (in which language?) is a form of crass materialism, unconsciously seeking to enslave the mind, that interpretation is needed, at every stage of the way. Thus even this phrase, "deposit of faith", requires interpretation, an interpretation indeed which nothing forbids might lead to a new and better formulation of what is intended.

Interpretation, however, is always a work of reason. Hence, since there is no stage at which interpretation is not operative, the harmony of faith and reason, in virtue of what faith itself is and is not, must be reciprocal. Faith too, that is, may not contradict reason. Thus it is our responsibility to have a faith that does not contradict reason. Otherwise we will not be reasonable in our behaviour. That is, we will be dominated by ideology, by a jumble of jargon and of rallying cries serving a system we have not thought through.

It would be wrong to think that this is an attitude fit only for professors. It is the right and duty of every believer and there is in concrete reality no "common man". At a minimum it entails distinguishing paradox from contradiction. Faith believes, understands rather, that what seems, for the moment, contradictory is in reality consistent, as it is the task of thought, in theology as much as in philosophy to show. Anyone is able to see and admit when he has not thought about something sufficiently. He has perhaps not had time or, even, finds it too difficult and wearisome. We are all able to know our weaknesses and determine our attitudes and opinions accordingly. There are of course possibilities of shock and scandal, such as when it was first suggested to conventional Jews that there might be three persons in God, or that a man might be God, though these are the basic doctrines of Christian faith. They were not always so, explicitly, not for centuries. It was precisely reasoning about earlier experiences, of what had been heard and seen, which led to their indeed shocking formulation.

Once admit so much, however, and we have to grant that earlier formulations can in principle be badly formulated, since they are later improved upon. That Mary is the mother of God, theotokos (Ephesus, 431), does not prevent her equally being the mother of a man, as was "defined" twenty years later. Bad formulation, however, is not in principle distinguishable, finally, from at least material falsity. Yet only this admission will protect us from dishonest mis interpretations. Thus we might pretend and urge that a truly new or modern interpretation is not new, not "modernist" (sic), but was actually in the minds of those putting forward the formulation now found objectionable, e.g. extra ecclesiam nulla salus, defined in council in the fifteenth century. A growth in understanding cannot take place without rejection, though this may be urged as fulfilling rather than destroying the measure of insight to be found in the earlier, superseded positions. These considerations, however, constitute development of the doctrine of development itself, as it is only logical to expect will occur, once the principle is admitted.

Admitting as much, however, opens the way, should it be found requisite, to unfettered reinterpretation. It is thus fitting that the modern Roman Church, precisely through or by means of its seemingly conservative absolutism, arrived at a position whereby its leader and supreme representative, more than the part for the whole (l'église c'est moi), can "change the face of the Church". Progressives were enthusiastically demanding just such a transfiguration in the days of Pope John XXIII, as do many today. The transfigured church, however, will be found upholding communion with, i.e. communing with, Moses and Elijah. This is its faith, i.e. the position is not Marcionite, however we might insist that Marcion had a point. Who does not (have a point)? It is up to philosophy to think this through and so justify (or "accomplish") this faith before reason universally.

What is still called theology does precisely this. That is, theology and the philosophy of religion have become, have been found to be, indistinguishable. For just as elucidating tradition has developed into interpretation of it, so enlightened reason has developed into this same interpretation, interpreting the history of philosophy, for example. Even the old proverb "All roads lead to Rome" had a secular before it got a religious interpretation. Similarly, the dialectic which leads to the thought which thinks itself as sole and infinite reality is a road which all necessarily follow whatever their starting-point, whatever highways or byways they follow. The conception of "sacred theology" cannot therefore ignore the historical transformation and simultaneous transcendence of the category of the sacred, symbolised in kerygmatic narrative by the ripping asunder of a "temple veil", thus admitting and transforming the profane as such. "What God has cleansed call not thou common".

Insistence on a sacred theology, however, is the same insistence as that upon the "clerical" privileges of a sacred order whose members alone may practice it, as they alone may judge, instruct and correct the rest, the laos or people. Yet their claim and special dignity, whatever we may want to say about the historical "apostles", was always based upon a claim to interpret the faith of just that people. Therefore it gives way by immanent necessity to the fuller view of believers, ultimately the human race in general, as a kingdom of priests and prophets where the last are first, the first last. There are ultimately no laymen, since there are no professional Christians. Paul's only profession, for example, was that of tent-maker. Nor could he have been so sarcastic about spurious claimants to wisdom from among his following at Corinth (II Cor.) if he had not foreseen their eventual maturity in the Spirit, calling no man father (Matthew 23), whatever his apprehensions about a time when they "will not endure sound doctrine". Christianity has to be a total life for everyone concerned, equally. Thus the faith and commitment of the one preached to must be as great or greater than the one first proclaiming it. All these notions, if it comes to that, were first evolved in societies for whom anything other than an absolute or uninterpreted hierarchy, with slaves at the bottom, was unthinkable. We should expect therefore that the categories to hand at first for the new wine would get progressively discarded.


If we survey the history of theology we see that it has indeed been devoted to showing the reasonableness of faith, thereby interpreting or thinking the tradition in ways that are reasonable. This is the deeper meaning of credo ut intelligam. If you believe something, you think about it. You have no rest until you understand it. More controversially, what we have come to understand, in a Christian culture, we have attained to precisely through an initial commitment to the belief. Thus if humanism is not in continuity with the preaching of the incarnation then why has it appeared and flowered precisely within a Christian culture, one might ask? In ethics too the abolition of slavery, what many are calling the rights of man, occurs where there is first respect for the human person as such, in its universality, and consequently for universal freedom. There is here an equality of dignity, while notions of civic friendship are now replaceable by those of universal brotherhood, the united nations, hardly known in antiquity or, for that matter, outside of the ancient Christian area or wherever those descended from it have founded societies. But once it is presented this notion is hard for anyone to refuse with conviction, though many wish to do so, being naturally attached to their own often self-aggrandising traditions.

Self-aggrandisement is found everywhere, however, and is largely responsible for failures of creative development within the Christian body itself, adhering obstinately to plainly outmoded views and traditions, often inhumanely, like the pharisees of two millennia ago. Like the poor it is always with us and so, as with the poor, we must preserve care for those thus "hung up", even be ready to listen to and talk with them. Theirs, in Hegel's words, is an unhappy consciousness, after all. Thus felt St. Paul about his countrymen, the unbelieving Jews.

But it is part of my claim here that it does not lie on the surface who is or is not a believer. We have already alluded to a possible ideological corruption of faith, something once also identifiable in the Action fran caise movement. On the other hand, but often from this ideological viewpoint, justified interpretations of tradition were often for long vilified as corruptions. Into this situation Newman introduced the idea of opportuneness (though only of "definition") but here, surely, he did not speak as a philosopher but pastorally rather. There is no escaping a true idea, however, once it has been conceived. All the same, however, "everything finite is false" and so all conceptions have their day, their limit. The truth, the "all in all", is one, simple and unutterable, at least in any predicative system. This motivates both constant freshness of interpretation and a modesty concerning the whole enterprise which can lead us to add, in seeming paradox, that "all philosophies are true." Let us now see how admitting that faith has to be reasonable even as reason has to follow faith can more suitably open up the field of interpretation than has been the case in traditional Thomism, for example.


Where he treats of the incarnation of God as man in Part III of his Summa of theology St. Thomas raises a host of hypothetical questions as to what is possible to God. He can assume a created nature as individual or as universal and "abstract", he might assume a non-rational nature but a rational one, as capax Dei, is more suitable. He might assume more than one individual human nature and, it follows, every individual human nature that might ever exist, though those he assumed would all be one divine if multilocating person. Some of these variants he considers "unfitting", though his reasons for this are all somewhat defeasible. What he does not ask is whether God might assume an individual feminine human nature, no doubt because that follows from what has already been conceded. As to the person assuming, any one person might assume any or all of these variant natures.

All of these options then are reasonable, i.e. they can be thought. So the third or any person of the Trinity might assume the individual nature of Mary the mother of God, from the moment of her conception (or later). This might be the case without its ever being proclaimed or known in just these explicit terms, even by her.

We might want to say that if it might be the case then it is the case, for all the difference it makes. To that we might add that if she is thus divine, one being with God, then why not all we others? All that stands in the way is a traditional legal, originally ritual notion of sin as absolute offence, from which just these two, mother and son, are declared free, though the one by the merits of the other. But sin, it turns out, is not identifiable, has no definite being. Not only so, but further analysis will cast doubt upon notions we have of self and person as belonging in the category of substance. Thus what in the Trinity, the prototype after all, we call persons are identified with relations (of origin), though relations belong in the category of accident, not that of substance. Basing ourselves upon that, we can also wonder about the defining limits of a self or person, remembering how Jesus says that what is done to the least one is done to him, not by moralistic substitution but in reality, it is plain. He speaks of being in one another, even being members one of another, St. Paul will add, saying we are "all one person in Jesus Christ". So how can incarnation be so restricted as our realist consciousness has been taught to restrict it? Might it not be time to overhaul and restructure here, as suitable for a deeper penetration into what is under consideration?

Let us return to our first move, saying that if it might be so then it is so. We can, that is, reasonably conceive these eventualities, just as we have conceived the world as usually seen with Christian eyes, the caesura of divine revelation or epiphany breaking it up into before and after the unique incarnation. But this religious understanding of "revelation" is uninterpreted, unthematised, magical even. For God, for reason as divine or infinite principle, nothing is contingent. This belongs with created, finite freedom. In absolute terms freedom and necessity coincide, since the notion of freedom loses all connection with uncertainty as that of necessity transcends all compulsion (as is already the case, for example, with our notion of moral obligation as a necessity). So we have to pass from the contingent narrative form of religious tradition to the rational necessity there symbolised, recognising that revelation has been communicated in an imperfect form and that this circumstance also demands further interpretation and situating of revelation itself as a category of our thought. Thus the form and the content of affirmation here are not the same.

Can the same content be expressed not only in different languages, but also in literary genres, schemas, categories of thought, different philosophies?… if one has recourse to a sacred history, understood as a succession of God's interventions which would only have God's unfathomable wisdom and absolute freedom as its sole reason, and consequently could only be manifested to man as contingent data, is this by virtue of the very "content" of revelation or of the "form" which it actually has? Is it the essence of the Christian message or only a mode of expression?[32]

Modern theology in its praxis implicitly accepts this, and with it a need to surpass the thought at least of the Biblical author, recognising all the same that one could not have done this without his or her original inspiration. Such revelation, however, was bound to happen, happens necessarily to man who is in himself self-transcendent, who negates or interprets his particularity in the universal, i.e. he is incarnate reason. This is why we said that what might be must be. Thus it was wrong, in the doctrine of the divine ideas, anthropomorphically to distinguish ideas of the merely possible from the actually chosen and created. God as infinite does not deliberate. Thus being is simply that which God thinks or wills indifferently. Thus we affirm that God does not know evil, except as he knows it as a human and finite conception (in what McTaggart called the D-series). Or, as Aquinas says elsewhere (via tertia), what can happen at some time does happen. Hence we said that if divine assumption of all human natures might be the case then it is the case. This is what is in fact portrayed in religious symbolism as man's progressive deification through the sacraments and other means or, we might say, portrayed as a progressive becoming within the whole a priori temporal mode, itself illusory. It is also the ultimate meaning of revelation itself, an epiphany indistinguishable from a real union and identification.


God is often now equated with final explanation. This seems better than asserting that God is "self-explanatory", needed for the validity of explanations everywhere. Also, as final explanation or ultimate reality God is not something to be proved. He is just the name for this ultimate, whatever it is. The question then is not "Is God?" but "What is God?" This, anyhow, was Hegel's view, which McTaggart, as professed atheist, faulted. He thought it caused confusion to use the same name for the Absolute and for the God of religion. Well, there he ignored the long witness of neo-Platonism for which religion and philosophy were the same, as famously illustrated in the "theurgy" of Iamblichus and the emperor Julian, but witnessed to also by Christians such as Boethius and Eriugena. Also Augustine considered that the Platonists could have well included the divine self-humiliation of the incarnation in their philosophising, as was done later by Nicholas of Cusa. Religion, that is, can revoke its choice of retiral to the preserve of "sacred theology", while philosophy can never be enslaved so as to follow advance instructions.

Thus McTaggart has the right to profess atheism though he himself indicates here that this momentous debate might not involve more than linguistic choice at bottom. He and Hegel both effectively deny the principle that "each thing is itself and not another thing", preferring "identity in difference". Whatever is conceivable is possible, Hume had said, merely developing the old Scotist postulate of a distinctio formalis a parte rei causing any legitimate nuance in thinking. One should not confuse this with "the picture theory of meaning", since the distinction in re is a different one from that in mente, even granted that like causes like. Everything is alike at some point, after all.

One may well claim that the Christian movement, as monotheist, and even the older Jewish tradition containing it, possessed a developing quality of which atheism is a true variant. Both Jews and Christians have been seen by others as atheists, asking daily "Where is thy God?", as the Davidic psalm has it. The Christian movement brings this tendency to a head, as prelude to completion, it might be thought, when God becomes man, whether by assumption or descent. "Not by conversion of the godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God…" The "Athanasian Creed", in a hieratic age[33], here tried to head off the fancied danger. Yet if God is man then man is God, given that no such conversions have ever or ever will take place. The potential for atheism is clear.

One can multiply examples from the Pauline writings, from the doctrine of the mystical body ("Christ lives in you", "members one of another") to the final and hence eternally actual state of God being "all in all". "All things are yours" and John of the Cross, orthodox as he is, speaks by preference (and like Spinoza or any philosopher) not of God but of the All, beside whom is nothing. This and not some Puritan Jansenism or whatever is why the "creatures" are treated as tiresome distractions merely in typical monastic mystical writings. Well-meaning pietism then of course gets it all wrong. We do not "please" God by lives spent in such dreary behaviour, though it may please us for a time, fools that we are.

From Augustine we can take the insight of the "one closer to me than I am to myself", which cannot but dovetail with the doctrine of the true self or atman. Yet closer than self can suggest removal of this the very last differentiation, viz. self, the principle of personality being indeed universality, in Hegel's often misunderstood words. Thus one is freed of the burden of self, when "all things are yours", "casting all my cares away" and so on. The parallel is with that potential identification of monotheism and atheism mentioned above. "The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see Him…" declared Eckhart, adding that "If God were not, I should not be, and if I were not, He too would not be."A fortiori, I and the finite others are reciprocally dependent too, I mean for their being. Such selves cannot but be eternal and thus necessary, known from all eternity as religion has it. So it might seem necessary too that they replace the Trinity as the differentiated Absolute, an Absolute which is then for each part but not vice versa. McTaggart asserts this to avoid slavery to an impersonal Absolute, which he would find irrational. Would one not feel a corresponding need to say the divine nature is for the Trinitarian persons without reciprocity in this relation either? The nature is surely only in the persons, the relations. The truth would then seem to be that the Absolute only exists in this or that person, or in the relation of two or more persons.[34] The persons are anyhow relations (McTaggart´s "determining correspondence"), as in the Trinity, and there is no one privileged relation of everybody loving everybody, say. If the persons are not for this (the corpus mysticum as an as it were quantitative totality) then this is ipso facto not the Absolute. Why should it be? Thus in religion the whole Church is present in the smallest congregation, or even a "private" Mass, and there is no other or over-arching mystical body, whatever the "juridical" realities. Just this is what is mystical. The Pope, we might say, is a misperception, humanly or contingently necessary(!) as he may be, along with potatoes, propositions and so on. In heaven we make no judgements, says McTaggart, the spiritual man judges all things, says St. Paul.

On Hegel's account of the Trinity the Holy Spirit lives essentially in the community, and we are saying that the community is present in each one of us, as in each assembly. Under this aspect of containing the whole I am this Spirit. The threeness then can be in me wholly who am one of its many differentiations (i.e. of the Absolute, which threeness, Trinity, as a term, is intended to exhaust). Yet it is just in my knowing myself as other, projecting myself, speaking my Word, as in a mirror, that the other(s) come to be at all, as do I through them or him or her. We have not to decide as between the Trinity and the McTaggartian differentiations. They are two ways of representing the same reality of which Eckhart and all tradition speaks. Nor has tradition stopped at some point (or place). It is essential to spirit, all spirit, to be same in other.

So as in the tradition we have two categories of persons, viz. created and uncreated, so here we would have two senses of uncreated persons (if we retained the Trinity) which yet coincide in their denotation. Each one contains the unity of all, so that many Absolutes, many infinities, are one infinity and one Absolute. The principle of number is suspended (as it is in classical Trinitarianism). But we should not insist on "uncreated". The spirits beget one another and this, like the creation, takes place outside time. Thus in the older theology creatures are begotten in the Word's begetting. If the creatures proceed freely yet no one surely will say that God is somehow submitted to the strictly divine processions, natural though we may have been content to call them.

Thus Aquinas's demonstration of the absolute simplicity of God can be equated with demonstrating this of ultimate and so to say inclusive reality. This ought not to surprise anyone. What do they not see who see God, Gregory the Great had asked, and one might recall Aquinas's identifying of intellect with forma corporis for a similarly apparent transcendence of common sense. In Hegelian terms philosophy deals with the "doctrine of the notion", which overcomes the "doctrine of essence" where common sense belongs. For Aquinas, in any case, such absolute simplicity is (as it has to be) compatible with the Trinitarian differentiations which are also, he makes plain, absolutely real and not entia rationis.

It follows that this simplicity can just as well or without more difficulty, since no less counter-intuitively, be compatible with the necessary differentiation of the Absolute as charted by McTaggart or in yet other systems. As the Word spoken is one with the Father, without composition, so the mutually begetting spirits are one with one another, in simplicity, at the same time as they make up a universe of real relations. Sunt processiones in Deo. We should remember that for Plotinus the One, this term, did not stand univocally for bare unity. This would be beyond being as lacking it. Rather, "the One" is the closest we can come to a differentiated whole which transcends differentiation in that such differentiations, real enough, yet serve to render the Absolute a more perfect unity, beyond all notion of composition, than could the mere citation of the first numeral understood univocally. D.T. Suzuki makes a related point about divine omniscience. Although of all things this knowledge can and must be simple, as must the divine omnipresence or ubiquity (i.e. he would not “know” all things as we know them, but in a more perfect and hence simpler way),

God knows all when he knows what he is, as he is, in himself. In him, knowledge and being are one… The same thing can be said for his omnipresence. He does not divide himself.[35]

That is to say, we do not understand this divine or absolute simplicity which we "try to mean" when speaking of ultimate reality. It is as unknown and, as term, as "analogical" as anything else we might say here, and significant in just this analogical way.[36]

We saw above how also the concept of a person, still after all a finite concept (as all concepts are) as being of this or that person, can be applied in at least two ways when discussing divinity. We can apply it to those personal relations which are persons within or making up the Absolute in Trinitarian theology. We can also apply it to this possibly tri-personal Absolute itself as necessarily, in its whole nature, differentiated into persons of indefinite number who again, though differently, are within or make up the Absolute, each one both part and whole, though differently. Each one would then have the Trinity within himself, as in the doctrine of grace. Christian belief combines exactly this divine Trinitarian indwelling with the mutual indwelling in one another, "members one of another". We will not then be parts of God (McTaggart's objection to a "personal" God), any more than we are parts of one another. In fact no one is a part at all. All are in all, even as God shall be, and therefore is, "all in all". From what we have said though it should be clear that there is a question as to whether we are not duplicating reality here.

It is not primarily a matter of analogy in the use of a word, though, as with "unity", we do incidentally have to use the same word for similar realities in an at least quasi-causal relation. There is possibly, too, a real indeterminacy of personality as such, already suggested by McTaggart's system of "determining correspondence" (we exist in each other's perception but also, necessarily, in our perceptions of one's another's perceptions ad infinitum) just as it is by the Pauline "members one of another". One may question therefore whether the limiting concept of personality is truly preserved in such thinking, just as one may question the content of our concept of the divine unity (analogy versus plain equivocation, of which analogy is after all said to be a species) and as McTaggart questioned Hegel's concept of God.

To repeat the argument. The Trinity seems contingent, as a set of ideas. We believe, if we do, that it is not. The assemblage of human spirits, like the thousands upon thousands of scriptural angels, seems contingent. We may claim that it is not, that it, like the thinking self, cannot be other than necessary. Also we may claim, against how things seem, that both visions are of something ultimately simple, if we accept Aquinas's argument against an absolute compositeness.

There is then, it seems, no final limit upon our choice of mode for representing ultimate reality. Much has been made of a "personal" God, yet even McCabe finds this not straightforwardly signifying. There is a "beyond personality". It has been claimed that the real God of religion is distinguished from "non-existential" theory by being a real "thou", with which an "I" can be in personal relation. This though is merely to absolutise a feature of human life univocally, which can even be questioned on its own level, as by the ancient poet's nunquam minus solus quam cum solus. Augustine and the whole tradition render questionable this fashionable attempt to undermine philosophy "under the influence of religious sentiment" (Hegel, Enc. 5) and Aquinas forthrightly states that God has no real relation with his creatures which, it is plain, do not exist in the same way as does God.

Augustine's assertion of the "one closer to me than I am to myself" shows how the I-thou relation, which was meant to liberate the solitary ego and indeed in finite (and hence illusory) life functions in this way, in the end transcends itself by returning us yet more deeply into our subjectivity. Anything else is alienation, division, conflict. Aquinas argues cogently that one is totally fulfilled in union with this intra-subjective divinity. Other friends, however appropriate, are not necessary.[37] The distinction we often wish to make between union and unity cannot be applied here, any more than within the Trinity. "I and the Father are one."

In fact we see here how union in the soul with God, so that "all things" are yours, functions just like the later absolute idealism. For McTaggart too "heaven" (visio beatifica) is having the all, the unity, within oneself. This is the striving of all lovers, of eros, here on earth, the wound that only death can heal, and it can indeed be treated as a figure of the death on the Cross (or conversely) of man's lover, who wished to live within us as we in him. This was perfectly understood by many English medieval lyricists of love, for example, long before Coventry Patmore's "mixing amorousness with religion" which so alarmed Newman.

This is why the tradition speaks of "the peace of God which passes all understanding" or why acknowledged masters of the "spiritual life" concur in saying that those contemplatives reaching a certain point are "meant to cease all thinking". This is not, as is sometimes imagined, technical advice for some specialised "venture of prayer" within ecclesial institutions only, as if the hotline to God, to the All, were to be found just there. It implies a view of reality as identity in difference, i.e. as union of just what analytical understanding (Verstand) constitutively keeps apart, saying "Each thing is itself and not another thing". No, "I in them and they in me" and I am with you always and everywhere. This that is a part is yet the whole, the saving cup of tea (in Zen), a movement of a symphony, a face, a touch, simple fireside warmth or the smell of snow, the hearty laugh or, why not, the tear or blackest night. If I show you fear in a handful of dust or if you see the world in a grain of sand, it is the same. Have we received good at the Lord's hand and shall we not also receive evil, asks Job simply. What is being said then? That all is well, merely, as it is proper to consciousness to know. Become what you are and, as part of this, age quod agis. Again, those who seek shall find or, they say, you would not seek if you had not found or, again, to those who have shall be given. These as it were playful utterances of religion get their authenticity from the original pure play that is philosophy, "the notion", contemplation, thinking. Ut omnes unum sint, as also omnia.

This, in Roman Catholic terms, is the significance of the promulgation of a decree on ecumenism at the second ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-4). Here, after two thousand years, Council defines and becomes itself, in its entire idea. It might seem the inevitable synthesis after the extreme separation, no doubt valid on its own terms, between dogmatism and "relativism" of the papal letter Mirari vos of the 1840s. So-called modernism was an earlier if at times clumsy version, not yet knowing itself, of ecumenism. The great ecumenist was Hegel, who said that all philosophies "worthy of the name" were true, and he emphatically did not mean that only his own was thus worthy. Greater things than I shall you do, said another, and so should we all say and think. All religions, similarly, are open to endless restatement or doctrinal development as, it follows, is this very doctrine of development itself.

This in fact is the reconciliation which is God and why God, the infinite, matters. It is also what is wrong with identifying God as the self-explanatory. God is rather the overcoming of all need for final explanation, which seeks to control and dispose of life and even love, of which life is the analogue merely. "I live, yet not I." "Oh life that is no life at all." "This is eternal life, to know…", a knowing, however, which context shows is not propositional or as if content of an explanation. If to understand is to forgive, it is more absolutely true that to forgive supersedes understanding as act of one already knowing, seeing, having. The one who forgives no longer needs to know. A bit more of evil is always possible, after all. Again, do fish understand the water they swim in? We who live in and are of the spirit must have a yet more harmonious and immediate relation, even an identity, with what is no longer medium merely, as water for fish, but our own self-production, our inside outside and, in boundless sympathy, vice versa, our differentiation in identity.


We are speaking then of reconciliation, mutual acceptance, of the silent and mystic gold which is a currency, a standard of living, beyond the silver of dogma. All the great religions, the religious philosophies, acknowledge or in practice allow for this, namely for a constant dialectical sifting of their tenets to the point where opposites are affirmed and held in tension. This perhaps was the core of Newman's insight, and not his alone, that orthodoxy stands or falls with the mystical interpretation of Scripture[38], where things can even happen"as in a figure".[39] One might expect the opposite, a use of such interpretation to prove just one way of seeing the mystery believed. But what is declared, rather, is that orthodoxy is itself many-faceted, paradoxical, mystical. Otherwise why would it depend upon just mystical interpretation? Of course someone might think that Newman merely means that one can't believe the individual dogma of the inspiration of Scripture without taking much of it mystically or allegorically (which is not the same), but then the general term "orthodoxy" would be inappropriate.

Is there then a difference, at this point we have reached, between saying that God and the self are one, i.e. the self is self-transcendent, and saying that God transcends the self? Is it perhaps a mere choice, as of mood? "There is a time when God dwells in the soul and a time when the soul dwells in God."[40] We might ask, what does it mean that a man is made in God's image? Must it not also mean that God is made, conceived, in man's image? "Myself and God", wrote Newman again, unconscious maybe of the Eckhartian echo, of, here too, standing or falling together, this being the mystery, the centrality rather, of subjectivity in all its necessity, while subjectivity, of course, is the last thing to be objectivised, though we have to try, are trying, to "thematise" it.

The difference is that we feel, indeed we think that we know, that any man began a finite time ago, i.e. he began, from nothing, dependently upon some cause. Yet this cause is surely like him, a likeness of him in whose likeness he is himself then postulated, if only because any other type of cause, viz. an alien cause, would be unbearable, like the nightmare of "gods" (or genes) who created men to be their slaves. Such an imaging or imaged cause would be infinite and omnipotent, all the same, qualities not impossible to find in man himself.

Here one wants, maybe, to speak of the world becoming conscious of itself. It would surely only do that, however, if it were there for just that reason, if reason were anterior or, let us rather say, logically prior. But if it is only there at all on such a condition we have the idea of nature as itself alienated reason, a "petrified intelligence" (Schelling). What is important here, however, is that we ourselves, our phenomenal selves, are part of that nature, appearing with it, indubitably. Therefore, on such premises, our phenomenal selves are alienated, are not our selves as we really, that is, eternally are, "unsundered spirits transparent to themselves".[41]

The world, that is, would not become conscious of itself unless it were itself reason, a mode at least of the Absolute, identical in difference. And it only becomes conscious in me or you, concrete universals, indifferently but subjectively, since that is what consciousness is. All the laws of logic only hold good insofar as the subject sees them and this is a truth anterior to any doctrine of the substantial self. We speak for convenience of the subject when we might rather propose a transcendent subjectivity, of substances, relations or the whole indifferently. Similarly, though not entirely just by the way, the term "incarnation" is anterior to any doctrine of the dualistic reality of flesh. What is proposed more essentially is a becoming like us in all things, the antithesis of docetism.

So it is this role of the subject, of subject, that must engage us at this point. No reason can be given why I, this subject, am part of the finite scene. Yet it belongs to subject, to all subjects, to be this subject. Even if they be created out of nothing it is beyond all probability that I would find just myself so created. I would have to have existed, been there, before, either as an idea identical, like all divine ideas, with the divine essence or as God himself. This, once called by K. Rahner Hegel's "mad and secret dream", is just fearless investigation of subjectivity, and incidentally, or just thereby, of the Gottesidee.

Nothing is "made" out of nothing. "Created", on the other hand, simply means "out of nothing" or, rather, out of self, as in "begotten not made". Self, that is, projected into an other while remaining self. This state of alienation, of self from self, is a stage, dialectical rather than temporal, a part of what it is to be self-conscious or self-possessed, possessed of self as only thereby, therein, being self.

It is thus that outside is inside and vice versa, an ecological insight also. You may say that when God created he ceased to exist or, indifferently, he began to exist. For Boehme he is before or "without" creation a kind of blind or suspended will, but this, taken literally, would only be because Boehme would here seem not to think timelessness, where there is no "before". This, however, is required if time is created, and thus we already have the dialectic in our hands, long before Hegel, as religion and mystical philosophy showed themselves aware. Boehme's insight is that God is a relation to reality, like the "God of Israel" of the prophets. Aquinas urges that God has no real relation to a creation outside himself. There though he need not have included "the rational creature", a phrase we are suggesting is contradictory or at least part of a self-alienation itself a prelude to returning to itself in spiritual self-realisation, represented in religion as regeneration or redemption, two originally highly figurative terms.

The question must arise, how far does this difference of presentation between the theologica germanica and the letter of Greco-Latin orthodoxy continue from the "original" Arian controversy? We know little of the first Arians, history's losers, but one only needs to remove the assumption of a common realism as to the material world and things wear a different face. Thus if there are no human creatures anyhow then making Jesus the first of creatures and not a divinity above them is no longer denying his divinity. What is then meant is that we all share it. "I have called you friends", and what is presented in religion as a promotion within the narrative of "salvation history" becomes rather, from the standpoint of wisdom, dialectical advance "from shadows to reality" (Newman's motto, as it happens). Again, in saying that God is a relation to reality one means that "reality" is a prism of God and not a second or "ontologically discontinuous" alternative to God, the All. God as appearing to us is just God, and we with him (cf. Eckhart again). We, ipsae personae, are this relation to one another, but each time as being one with the all, as having the unity of the whole in each of us (McTaggart), so that we too have no real relation with the others, as God, for Aquinas, has no real relation with us. What this means, though, is that all the others are known in and only in our own limitless subjectivity, as united to the all within us which is still, as in Augustine, closer than close. In knowing ourselves we know, love and possess all. The oracle spoke true there.

The more massive the mountains, mighty the sea, vast the sidereal distances, the more they challenge thought to be, to think itself. The whole story, again, of being "thrown" into existence is not merely improbable. It is beyond all probability. Why should just I be there to be thrown? How could I be, if I was not or am not anteriorly? Rather, I have an incoherent illusion of a beginning, as of a coming end, as I seem to observe in the case of others, though each one of them fails to observe it in his or her own case, which is the only authentic case.

No story of such thrown beings can include the self, or any selfhood at all. Selves are not in stories, in narratives, since they are, just qua selves, necessities, as what is prior. I cannot be contingent, nor can any other I, any other subjects, that there might be, indeed need to be, since I am known in the other as is the other in me.[42] Yet all are in me. I have the unity within myself. I am the universal of universals, so it is a false step to want to abstract the I, the ego, here. The coincidence of solipsisms is the first identity in difference and entails perfect reciprocity, this alone permitting the absolute exclusivity of I. I possess the unity of all those who possess me and one another. It is unity of self, since this is in fact self-in-other, or negation of negation . Further negation as entailed in the very concept of negation is not mere retreat to the previous position (double negation) but genuine reditus, first giving being to the original posit. This is why all is self or selves. To exist is to be self, subject, necessary, divine, uncreate. Such divinity, as real, is necessarily differentiated. This is less a logical truth than the truth that there is a differentiation into necessities, necessary spirits, though the details of their individuation may not be clear to us. In each of them nonetheless, each consciousness, the whole is present, so that the more they differ the more they are the same, showing forth the same principle or that which we call a face, cara, Angesicht. A face is not a substance. In the face of the other I find my own confirmation in being, which none can withhold forever since he or she is essentially that begetting relation with the others. There is a co-inherence of all in all.

If we have come so far then we have to consider again some more of our presuppositions. Thus in the famous article of his Summa[43] where St. Thomas assumes a mediating representation or intentional species which he then argues is not that which (id quod) is perceived but that by which (id quo) the thing or res, any reality, is perceived he seems to be assuming the inside-outside metaphor or at least not to be free from it.[44] Two things suggest this. Firstly, the argument is applied with small modification to both intellect and sense indifferently, the background premise here being that even sensation is quaedam ratio, a kind of cognition, let us say. Secondly, the picture he gives us leaves us with an infinite regress, in that whenever we think about anything we have to form a concept of it through which we know the object, e.g. on reflecting back upon our own thought we must form a thought (concept) of that and so on for ever. This is reflected in the later theory of types, for example.

The ground of this second phenomenon is that intellect is essentially dualist or non-reciprocal in that it has to make everything it bears upon into an object for the cognising subject. Such "objectification", however, is clear systematic falsification, even though the intellect itself, as I here exemplify, can become conscious of and allow for this. The point is though that allowing for it ought to carry us beyond this particular paradigm. In McTaggart's philosophy this is done by arguing to the final category-transcending reality of love, as in much Christian thought, while in Buddhism one appeals to prajna intuition (a Sanskrit term for a deeper intuition than that of intellect itself as itself making possible intellect) along with karuna, a form of love again.

In these perspectives the instruments (organa) of reason identified in Aristotle's De interpretatione, say, and considered under logica docens, get their explanation. One always wonders, that is, why there should be such instruments. God does not have them, after all, though here a reconsideration of the divine ideas doctrine is called for, as even of a too literal taking over of logos into Trinitarian speculation. The first such instrument is the concept, apprehensio simplex, and this is all too clearly what we are calling objectification, a sign of which is the opaqueness of the concrete or differentiated universal (into individuals) for intellect. We need to see how each thing thinks and knows itself and all else in itself more truly than we can know it, unless indeed we know it as we are known, unless we might have it within ourselves as much as without us, so that in knowing it we love it, we are it. This though is to pass beyond, to overcome knowledge.

In the field of sense we are anxious to distinguish perceiving from seeming to perceive, in dreams or hallucinations. But this was always a side-issue. Such things are not typical and dreaming finds its own explanation. What is sensed is not outside of the self in any meaningful sense, as Kant's discovery of space as an a priori form of sensation more than suggests and as ecological awareness has made us more aware. We and our so-called environment are one reality, as in sociology the individual is not divorcible from society. We have tried to show how this does not reduce individuality but rather raises it to a higher power, so to say.

Instead of explaining the logical organa in terms of "abstraction" consequent upon a dual constitution of soul and body (substantiae incompletae), which is incomprehensible, we should rather see nature as itself the work of the objectifying intellect (Schelling's "petrified intelligence"). This is misread if taken as absolute. Such intelligence is rather creative and representational, making nature itself rather an id quo through which the reality may be perceived or intuited. In this way intellect too, Verstand, can understand itself, its place.

Just as I am object for you, so then you are object for me. So then neither of us are objects and this is why true thinking is "letting being be", in Heidegger's phrase. Each thing rather understands itself and all infinity within itself and whatever does not so understand is no thing at all. The centre is everywhere, that is nowhere, since there is no where, just as there is no outside and inside absolutely speaking and one is the path one treads. Esse est percipi is after all a profound intuition.

So, to return to the earlier discussion, when God said let us make man in our own image the sacred writer was not describing a mere step within evolutionary development (if we were to imagine him with our own scientific background). He would rather have been developing that development itself beyond its original notion, though this is itself in accordance with that notion. With the appearance of the incarnation, however, as new creation, we should not think of development as taking a further such step of the same kind only as this latter, from beast to man. Rather, the one necessary step of nature's transcendence is here completed or made fully manifest. Man is himself fully shown, the "figure" deciphered, grace perfecting nature as taking it out of its own contradictions as an intermediate and finite notion merely.

Extensionalist accounts of thought, of science or knowledge, are "contradictions in performance". Thought can only be prior, as for Aquinas being (ens) is what first falls into the mind (in mentem), i.e. mind is prior. Whether or not we call this God is, in view of what we have said above, almost without interest.

Mind is, however, as ultimate, subject and the effort of science, as of religion, is to unite with that subject, to know the whole, the universe. If this empirical self we are conscious of does not do that then we find it is a false self and to be left behind, at least in our thinking, as when W. Sellars and others contrast the manifest and the real or scientific image of man.[45]

We may ask, am I brought into existence by another? I do not think so. I do not think I could be. Hume told Boswell he no more regretted ceasing at death than beginning at birth and there is a great truth here. Once here, transcendentally, we cannot think that we began, as from something alien (whereas if it is not alien then it is not other), and death too, however viewed, is change more than it is annihilation, though there may be a measure of oblivion involved nonetheless. In fact nothing is annihilated; even misperceived appearances lie within the reach of memory, like the timbre of the voice of Julius Caesar or some legionary or other. Else he never spoke, there are no voices. In fact the ideas of all and each thing are one with the divine essence[46] and that essence is a fortiori one with my subjectivity.

Religion has a doctrine of guardian angels. We are warned in the Gospel against harming children because "their angels behold the face of my Father in heaven" (what face is that?), eternally quite obviously. The guardian angel is both an other and not an other, since he too is close to the self as having no other function or being but to guard it. He, or she, is like the face of a flower in children's illustrations that is not the flower, and yet it is. His guardianship is not accidental to him; he is more identified with it than is the prophet with his mission, or he is himself the deep self of the child. For on the McTaggartian philosophy or the Hegelian intuition of the blessed shapes ("articulated groups") of eternity[47] these angels would indeed be our true eternal selves. We are in fact more like the angels of tradition than we are like the animals we represent ourselves as being or coming from, though animals too, as archetypal projections, may bear angelic traces (in so far as they be our self-representations), seen as it were inwardly and as our artists and fabulists would capture them.

Angels, however, are fluctuating and uncertain in regard to their contours of self. In many accounts (e.g. in Genesis) the one sending and the one sent (angelus) appear to fuse together, as indeed in incarnation above all. The Buddha, it is taught, is not a self. Self is not-self, the burden of intentionality. Borges felt that Shakespeare was no one in particular but a mirror of all. As Hegel puts it, the principle of personality is universality. Self-in-other must have no limit to be truly self, and so infinity is realised in limitless subjectivity.

World without subject is an absurd notion. Subject comes first. But I cannot just happen to be subject, not even by another's will and choice. From where would he choose me? Or by his choice he is I and I am he, so it is still my choice, a strength of choice which cannot but equal necessity. I was never born and I will never die, as the angel which is I looked on, like the Psalmist, while "my mother conceived me", if I remember it or not. In religion we are told not to grieve our guardian angels, as Thomistic ethics urge us to "Become what you are", by the grace of self-transcendence.

There is a question: shall I, can I, abase myself before myself? What have I that I have not received? Nothing? Everything? Something? Humility, it is said, is the virtue of truth. Does this mean the lowliness is incidental, to a certain view of things here superseded, that humilitas is in essence veritas or veracitas, rather, or a species thereof, as are both of justitia ? Or is it rather that the one whom we have worshipped first as other appears more and more as deep self? One can worship, adore and be humble before oneself. Why not? The lover feels his beloved is his true self and just therefore adores her.


"What is man?" asked K. Wojtyla once while Pope, without answering. What, even, is woman? According to a tradition implicit in Aquinas and still carried on and even refined by Boehme she was originally meant to stay within man (Adam) as making up the complete human being (as we find in Plato too), thus bypassing the (it was felt) unseemly burning of the sexes for one another, the pitching of love's tent in the place of excrement, as W.B. Yeats has it. This in turn derives from woman's being taken from man's body as in Genesis, after Adam's sleep as Boehme mysteriously comments:

[48] With sleep, time became manifest in man. He fell asleep in the angelic world, and awoke relatively to the external world (Mysterium, xix, 4)… The terrestrial world had conquered him and ruled over him. (Menschwerdung, i. 5).

This tradition seems to attempt more than the simple ying-yang postulate, though maybe seen through the eyes of an existing patriarchal system.

The momentous-seeming question whether man is created or uncreated, is God or not, is relative to the intrinsic indeterminacy of self which we have identified. Still, the search for knowledge does seem to become a kind of chasing one's own tail if all, as spirit's self-alienation, is not after all a human projection, but a projection and partial misrepresentation therefore of whatever self, subjecthood, eternally is. This is the basis for the claim that knowledge must be superseded, by love or something similarly reciprocal, as "the nature of existence", overcoming "objectification", the tragedy of knowledge[49] as killing or "subjecting" the other in the act of apprehending it, as does the cat's patent curiosity for its prey. The lack of reciprocity in knowledge comes from this projectedness, which represents what is to be known as object out there, projected, thrown. This again, however, shows the inappositeness of the relative term "subject" for what is absolute, which we define and hence limit therefore in the very act of trying to understand it, I, ego, universal of universals and hence infinite.

There can be no objective I, no the I, any more than there can be a non-existent person, but only myself, yourself, himself, herself, each of whom are for themselves I and hence one (in all). I am in Adam and Adam is in me, not by physical seed merely but by deepest sympathy, which is identity, or two in one, of which the logical "relation" of identity is a mere shadow.


[1] From Hegel's idealist standpoint such conceptions are self-validating, not requiring witness or empirical confirmation (the mistake of the Crusaders in seeking the empty grave at Jerusalem). But suppose the conceptions too admit continuous improvement or development….

[2] Lee Smolin, Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Canada, as reported in Focus, Nr. 21, 23 May 2005, p.79, by Michael Odenwald.

[3] Stephen Theron, "Other Problems about the Self", Sophia, Australia, 24,1, April 1985, pp.11-21.

[4] Cf. Axel Randrup, CIRIP, "Idealist Philosophy: What is Real?", the three middle sections, at

[5] Cf. F. Capra, The Turning Point, Fontana, London 1983, II,3, "The New Physics".

[6] J.N. Findlay, The Philosophy of Hegel, Collier, New York, 1966, pp. 274-5.

[7] A. MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Notre Dame 1988, p.169.

[8] Phil. of Religion, I.

[9] At the Catholic mass believers without effort conceive themselves as present at the event of two thousand years ago there commemorated, when the God-man saw each and every one of them individually, since he was dying for each of them personally. By the same token, he himself saw without effort all persons past or future or contemporary as equally present to himself. The tradition itself encourages generalisation of this situation, be it imaginary or real, and philosophy has taken the hint, however theologians may drag their feet.

[10] J.M.E. McTaggart, Studies in the Hegelian Cosmology, CUP 1903, ch.2.

[11] E.g. at the end of his Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic, CUP 1896.

[12] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, Haper Torchbook, New York 1966, p.408.

[13] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theol., Ia-IIae 90.

[14] Cf, Hegel, Encyclopaedia 70: "But it is stupid not to see that the unity of distinct terms or modes is not merely a purely immediate unity, i.e. unity empty and indeterminate, but that - with equal emphasis - the one term is shown to have truth only as mediated through the other; - or, if the phrase be preferred, that either term is only mediated with truth through the other."

[15] Cf. Daniel Gaborró, "Nuestros besos salvan al mundo", Zero, Madrid, No. 102, pp. 118-120. The "gay" community appears here to want to take over the Messianic role of, say, the proletariat in Marxism. Absurdity or development? Both groups, anyhow, were "despised and rejected of men", a constant for saviours in our culture, from Jesus to the mythical Frodo.

[16] Cf. the story "The Circular Ruins", Labyrinths, by J.-L. Borges.

[17] J.N. Findlay, Hegel: a Reexamination, Collier Books, New Yory 1966 (Macmillan 1958).

[18] Summa theol. Ia 85 2.

[19] Cf. P.T. Geach, Truth, Love and Immortality, Hutchinson, London 1976.

[20] J.M.E. McTaggart,S tudies in Hegelian Cosmology, Cambridge University Press, 1901, final chapter. See also, on Becoming, A Commentary on Hegel's Logic, Cambridge University Press, 1910. Some find this interpretation of Hegel misleading, as happens too with Aquinas's Aristotle. But the later thinker may still be preferred in either case, though one need not concede the criticism.

[21] RKP, London 1969.

[22] Georges Van Riet, "The Problem of God in Hegel", Philosophy Today, especially Parts II-III, Vol. XI, No. 2/4, Summer 1967, pp. 75-106 (Part I in the Spring 1967 issue of this journal). Translated from the original French version in Revue Philosophique de Louvain, Tome 63, August 1965, pp. 353-418.

[23] P.T. Geach makes much of McTaggart's ignoring of the divine tri-personality in Christianity (Truth, Love and Immortality, Hutchin son, London 1970. But he adverts to it frequently in his Hegelian studies, if not in The Nature of Existence. Since the three persons are not taught in Christianity as acting separately (tritheism) his objection to an all-inclusive person is not fully met by Trinitarian considerations.

[24] Cp. The Pauline "You are all one person in Jesus Christ."

[25] Cf. Herbert McCabe on this topic, in criticism of Raymond Brown, in God Matters.

[26] On Hegel and "religion" see also Msgr. André Léonard's "Fé cristiana y reflexion filosofica", Spanish version accessible on the Internet. The Bishop refers to Van Riet's "amiable" criticism of theologians (in his Philosophie et réligion, Louvain 1970) from his philosophical viewpoint. Elsewhere in his text though he complains of "human" solutions being substituted for "the rule of faith" when he might have treated these rather as interpretations, even of the "form" of faith, precisely Van Riet's point (see below).

[27] See, as an example of the continual openness of Newman's doctrine of development itself, necessarily, to further development, Dom Wulstan Peterburs "Newman's Essay on Development as a Basis for Considering Liturgical Change", The Downside Review, January 2008, pp.21-39.

[28] Cf. Our "Faith as Thinking with Assent", New Blackfriars, January 2005, pp. 101-114.

[29] Yet according to classical theology, one is supposed to take this "doctrine" too, of God, after conversion, rather on the word of the Church alone, taking distance from one's "private" theological musings. What is private is matter for the confessional merely. Whatever truth lies hidden here lies, indeed, pretty deeply hidden!

[30] Hannah Arendt's great insight in her work on totalitarianism, its origins and nature.

[31] Cp. J.-P. de Caussade S.J., Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence.

[32] G. Van Riet, "The Problem of God in Hegel" (Part III, "What of the Hegelian Concept of Religion?"), Philosophy Today, Vol. XI, 2/4, Summer 1967, p.102, French original in Revue philosophique de Louvain, Tome 63, aout 1965, pp. 353-418.

[33] It may have been composed at Rome around the ninth century, so not by Athanasius.

[34] Cf. the Gospel "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I…" What though is "in my name"? Not, surely, their sitting in a parish pew simply. It is incidentally not without interest here that it is only with the Western introduction of the filioque that we have in the Trinity too a relation univocally between more than two (“two or three”).

[35] D.T. Suzuki, The Field of Zen, New York 1970, p.63.

[36] On trying to mean, cf. Herbert McCabe, Appendix 6, "Analogy", in Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Volume 1, "The Existence of God" (English translation), General Editor Thomas Gilby, O.P., Image Books, New York, 1969, pp.293-4. See also McCabe's "The Logic of Mysticism - I" in Religion and Philosophy, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 31, ed. Martin Warner, Cambridge University Press 1992, pp.45-49.

[37] Aquinas, Summa theol., Ia-IIae, treatise on the finis ultimus humanae vitae.

[38] J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845, Chapter VI, I, 1, "Scripture and its Mystical Interpretation" (Pelican Classics, ed. J.M. Cameron, 1974, pp. 336-342).

[39] Galatians 4, 24.

[40] J.-P. De Caussade, Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, cp. the remark of Eckhart's cited above.

[41] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, Dover, New York 1967, p.452.

[42] Compare our The Recovery of Purpose, Peter Lang, Frankfurt 1993, for a critique of the idea of a merely possible person.

[43] Ia 85, 2.

[44] On dispensing with intentional species, see further our "Beyond Thinking", The Downside Review, 2007, and chapter 14 above.

[45] W. Sellars, Science, Perception and Reality, RKP London 1963.

[46] Cf. Aquinas, Summa theol. Ia, 15 esp. 1 ad 3: idea in Deo nihil est aliud quam Dei essentia. Aquinas is here at one with the philosophical tradition we have been exploring. Far from compromising divine transcendence, as those seeking to save orthodoxy (it does not need "saving") are wont to assert, the only transcendence that is infinite and hence transcendent indeed is the transcendence which transcends nothing, since there is nothing outside itself to transcend. I.e. only that is transcendent being. Transcendence, that is, transcends "immanence" in its very concept, or dialectically. "I am that." All other concepts of God fail at the bar of analysis, which means that belief in God is inseparable from God's worship, is nothing if not practical, like a shout from a "psalm of David".

[47] Note 8.

[48] Quote in Jacob Boehme, Personal Christianity (ed. F. Hartmann), Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York (undated), LCCC 57-12318, p.164f. It is interesting to see how Augustine's sober estimate of marriage as remedium concupiscentiae becomes in Boehme a mystical estimate of woman as being as such a remedy to man's more generalised lust for the terrestrial: "Therefore woman… is and will always be the saviour of man" (p.165). He even suggests she was made out of the more refined and spiritual essences of man, before the rib-bone had hardened on its descent from the previously angelic or heavenly state! It is the parallels with absolute idealism that are of interest here.

[49] N. Berdyaev's phrase in his Spirit and Reality.

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Essays Hegelian and Ecumenical: What has been at stake
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