The Hegel Dictionary

Rarely do you find a book that covers a dense topic in a remarkably lucid manner. This is such a book. The book is, as it says it is, a dictionary. It covers *some* terms in Hegelian studies. It does not cover all of them (being around 300 pages). Further, it is aimed at undergraduates, not specialists. With that said, I have found this the most useful introduction to Hegel. Below are some of the highlights.


Overview of Hegel’s Thought

“For Hegel human beings are the self-consciousness of existence itself” (Magee 2). Hegel inverts Aristotle’s chain of being. The lower gives way to the higher. The highest form of consciousness will include self-reflection. The goal of the Absolute is to posit enough in order for it to be an “idea of an idea,” all previous ideas having been sublated.

Earlier philosophers used absolutum to mean “God,” but god defined as a “coincidence of opposites” (Magee 19). Hegel: when the Absolute is conceived as the transcendent unity of all things (cancellation of differences), it is really an empty concept. The Absolute is the whole.
existence exists in order to achieve consciousness of itself (20). Perpetually gives rise to conditions for it to overcome. The final moment is when self-relatedness is achieved through self-consciousness.

For Hegel universals and particulars are not separate “things.” Nor are universals “in” particulars. Rather, “particulars are within universals” (61). The universal has no reality apart from its concrete realization.

Spirit as self-consciousness has a dual object: the thing out there (given in perception) and itself, which is in opposition to the thing. The subject is moved to transform the object out of the desire to confront itself. When a subject wishes to know itself, it must split into a subjective side (which knows) and an objective side (known). Since we desire total self-reflection, this means transforming the object into a mirror of myself (70). This leads to postmodern violence.

Analysis and Conclusion:

Magee focuses on Hegel’s key works (each book given at least a two page treatment), with *most* of the key terms in the book. Key philosophers (Kant, Schelling, Marx) receive substantial treatment.

There is some repetition, but I suppose that can’t be help. Magee concludes with a short but useful bibliography.

Frame: Hegel

I’m always skeptical when people talk about “Hegel” for the large reason they have no clue what they are saying.  He isn’t an easy philosopher and his system has been sidetracked by facile interpretations.

Frame does a good job, though.


Hegel asks “if we cannot know anything about the noumenal, then on what ground should we affirm its existence” (Frame 270)?

Frame is further correct in noting, contra to conservative bloggers, that Hegel never said “Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis.”  What he means is that whenever you posit or examine something, it will always be somehow contradicted by another facet of reality, thus making way for a new positing.

The key terms here are aufheben (passive participle) and aufgehoben, which can mean something like “canceling” or “sublimating.”


The dialectic means God’s own coming to consciousness.  God himself is being, but whenever we think of being we also think of non-being.  To know being we have to distinguish it from nonbeing.  So to posit being (God) is also to posit nonbeing (God’s shadow).

Thus, God’s thought leads inevitably to a self-alienation (Frame 275).  When God announces “I Am” he divides his subjectivity from his objectivity.  Thus, God always has a negative side. (Frame doesn’t mention it, but this is why Hegel is an occultic thinker).

Risk and Intellectual Maturation

When people look at my reading lists, they usually get very nervous.  They see “dangerous” authors and ask why I am abandoning the gospel.  Such motives are always news to me.  But I think I understand the point of the question.  There is a legitimate reason for the question–a wrong one, to be sure–but understandable, nonetheless.  People who read nothing but dangerous literature usually become dangerous.  I hope that isn’t me.  We shall see.

Another assumption behind the question, one that is almost never identified, is the problem of the Other.  In other words, modern Reformed theology–especially the crude internetskii–needs an Other to maintain its own identity.  There is an identity and difference between “You” and the “Other.”

Self-consciousness is confronted by an Other. It perceives this other as an object and probably a negative moment.  Self consciousness exists in being acknowledged (Hegel sec.178).   They recognize themselves as being mutually recognized (185).  Yet, each seeks the negation (death) of the Other.  When self-consciousness first confronts the Other, it loses its simple unity.

Master/Slave Analogy

Master: consciousness that exists for itself (190), but it mediates this existence through another consciousness.  It sees the other as a thing.

Bondsman: self-consciousness in general.  It relates negatively to the Other.  

The master sees the bondsman as something unessential.

Man can only be self-conscious when he abstracts himself from the world.  But when he does that, he severs himself from the organic unity of life.  Reason and Life are thus opposites.  But they are opposites which can’t exist without the other.The ego posits the non-ego. The subject must be set against the object.

Conclusion to all of this:  Modern day Reformed theology lives upon negation and needs a bad guy in order to do theology.  Without Barth or NT Wright or R2k or Theonomy or Arminianism, Reformed theology wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

But enough of them.  My reading habits are diverse simply because…why the hell not?  Whenever I read a guy who is acknowledged to be an authority in the field, I usually go to the bibliography at the end and start working through some of those works.  This means I read scary stuff.   But God wants us to mature into Christ and not be babes.

But someone will say, aren’t you throwing away your Reformed heritage?  I don’t think I am, but if a person says that, he is free to make a logical argument to the effect.  I’ve learned not to hold my breath, however.  But here is my background in theological reading, if it matters.  These texts are generally recognized as the standards in the field.

  • Calvin, John.  Institutes.   I’ve read them at least 3x through.  I’m working on some of his commentaries, too.   Btw, a lot of them were edited by TF Torrance.
  • Bavinck, Herman.  I’ve read through Reformed Dogmatics volumes 1-3, and volume 2 at least three times.
  • Muller, Richard.  His book on Arminius, volumes 1-3 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, his Dictionary at least several times through.  And most of his scholarly articles.
  • Berkhof, Louis. Reads like a Dutch and German language dictionary.
  • Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology.
  • Shedd, WGT.  About 400 pages of his theology.
  • Church Fathers.  Somewhere between 10,000-15,000 pages.
  • Dabney, Robert.  Systematic Theology, along with volumes 3-4 of his discussions.  And now a bunch of Internet Covies start have nervous breakdowns.  And I’ve read his bio on Jackson and his Sensualistic Philosophy.
  • Berkouwer.  Man the Image of God and The Person of Christ.
  • Turretin, Francis.  Volumes 1-2.
  • Bucer, Martin.  De Regno Christi.
  • Luther, Martin.  Bondage of the Will.  Three Treatises.  First volume of his commentary on Genesis.
  • Owen, John.  Communion with God.
  • Van Til.  Almost everything he has written.
  • Watson, Thomas.  A Body of Divinity.
  • Edwards, Jonathan.  Religious Affections, The End for which God created the world, The Nature of True Virtue.


Through Hegel, Fire, and Sword

(With proper acknowledgments to Lewis Ayres for the title).

Consistency in life and doctrine is a mark of the gospel.  The godly man  does not flit from doctrine to doctrine.   That represents an unstable mind.  However, consistency of doctrine is not the same thing as sameness of thought.  God expects us to grow in knowledge.  And there is the danger.  Growing in knowledge means opening ourselves to new situations.  The future is no longer controlled by us.

Have I been consistent in doctrine over the last decade?  Yes and no.  The best way to explain it is by way of an “autobiographical bibliography.”  Books and lectures have more of an impact on me than anything else.   To answer my question I have changed in some ways.  I want to say I stand within the Reformational tradition. Some might question how Reformed I really am.  Fair enough.  

Focal Point #1: N. T. Wright

When I was an undergrad I majored in history and minored in New Testament and Languages.  My school, Louisiana College, was still in captivity to Theological Liberalism.  This is what led me to read N.T. Wright.  In many ways N.T. Wright remained the anchor for the next ten years.  I will go ahead and advance my conclusion:  N.T. Wright and Karl Barth (by means of Bruce McCormack) kept me from fully converting to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately brought me back to the Reformational tradition.  

Several points should now be obvious: I was a student of N.T. Wright before I was Reformed.  Therefore, I didn’t leave the Reformed faith for N.T. Wright.  But please do not label me as “New Perspective on Paul.”  It’s a lot more complex than that and there are areas where I think Wright is open to serious critique.  

I graduated from LC in 2005 and went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.  It was underwhelming.  I’ve criticized it fairly severely in the past and see no reason to do so again, except to say I learned very little and didn’t begin to read seriously until after I left.  However, I did come across Oliver O’Donovan.

Focal Point #2: Oliver O’Donovan

O’Donovan was by far the most challenging author I have read.  He wrote in dense but glorious prose. But he was a rigorous thinker, bringing the whole of Western ethical reflection to bear upon any single project.  He was also an Anglican steeped into the High Tradition of the church.  

Exile to the Orthodox Lands

I left seminary disillusioned.  While I had made a lot of intellectual mistakes there, academically it was not the best (in terms of actually doing scholarship).  I didn’t want to say that the Reformed faith was wrong, despite RTS’s best efforts to make it so, but I knew there was something more.

For reasons I don’t entirely remember, I was reading Thomas Aquinas as I left seminary.  I had one foot in the door for medieval and patristic theology.  I am not sure how I first heard of John Milbank.  I do remember reading about him in James K. A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.  This was late 2006, early 2007.

There is a lot wrong with Radical Orthodoxy, but there is a lot right–and a lot that is just plain fun.  So what that they over-interpreted Aquinas as a Neo-Platonist?  They got all the right people in academia angry, and that is good.  For me they introduced me not only to a wider world of theology but also to ask different–deeper–questions of church history.

I dove right in.  And made mistakes.  But I also latched on to key points: how Christology shapes everything.  (Some Eastern Orthodox guys played that card as a front to justify going to Eastern Orthodoxy when in reality they wanted smells and bells, but that is another story).  Anyway, I realized that Systematic Theology didn’t have to follow the outline of Berkhof (Berkhof is useful but limited to a certain context, namely a seminary classroom).

Before continuing on the RO line, I should probably address a common criticism:  Did RO read Reformation metaphysics correctly, namely that Western theology took a nominalist turn with Scotus and the Reformation crystallized it?  Obviously, anyone who advances that reading today will be laughed at. So we can say RO was definitely wrong on that point.  Further, not all of Milbank’s criticisms in “Alternative Protestantism” hold water (or at least they might attack Reformation ontology but not where Milbank thinks they do).

This was around 2008-2009.  I was able to read the Fathers without pretending that the Fathers were a complete deposit who taught a unified, identifiable theology across time and space.  Moreover, I was able to honestly say, “St ______ is wrong here.  That’s okay.  I can still benefit from what he says elsewhere.”  Side note:  Remember that stupid facebook meme that has the Nicene Fathers pictured and the caption reads, “So these guys are right about the canon but wrong about everything else?”  The epistemological howlers in that statement are too painful to mention.

Back to the Fathers.  Since I didn’t (at the time) believe the Fathers taught a unified, ahistorical body of truth, that meant I didn’t have to play East and West against each other.  I could say guys like Anselm, Aquinas, and Wycliff were good guys.  And I could benefit from the modern John Wycliff, Oliver O’Donovan.  While some Ecumenist Orthodox guys will speak kindly of the aforementioned gentlemen, technically speaking they are heterodox (or heretics!), so good luck with that one.  The harder-line folks will say that they (and by extension, you and me) are deprived of grace.

Towards the end of 2010 I moved into a harder, Eastward direction.  I never officially became Orthodox.  It wasn’t viable for a number of reasons.  While this meant I accepted Orthodox doctrines like anti-Filoque and icons, the main problem is I had to cut off my theological past.  Another problem is I had to place the Fathers within the received tradition of the church.  This implied a number of cognitively dissonant positions:

  • The Fathers are part of Holy Tradition but I must interpret which Fathers are speaking Orthodoxically by Holy Tradition.  I couldn’t square the circle.  All of the Orthodox problems with Sola Scriptura would come crashing down on Tradition.
  • This meant that the Fathers probably didn’t disagree about “big stuff.”  
  • So what was I supposed to do when I came to issues where the Fathers sounded “Western” or were plain wrong?  

The dissonance was building up.  Move on to the end of 2011. I was beginning to be more “Western” in terms of cultural outlook.  I just didn’t feel right “negating” my Western heritage.  I know that no one was “making” me to do that, but the cultural enclave mentality among a certain denomination is just too overwhelming.  I was by no means Protestant, of course, but possibly Western.

My daughter was born in 2012.  My life was turned upside down and I really had to put theology on the side.  And life was hard–all of which made me reevaluate everything.

By May of 2012 I was firmly in the Protestant, even Reformed camp (again).  From 2012-2015 (now) I have been in the Protestant camp and plan to stay there.  There are problems with Reformed theology–some big ones actually.   But there are also key gains that outweigh the problems and the Reformed tradition can be the Reformational Tradition.

The Federal Vision Problem

One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas.  Compounded with that  is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents.  If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.

The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices.  Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically.  What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.

On one hand that’s healthy.  We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding.   The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues.  Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”

Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.”  Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism.    I’ll deal with that claim later.

And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters.  One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition.  Of course I had read Calvin.  Three times, actually.  All the way through, even.  Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics.

I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be?  The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers.   Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.  

Taking the Scholastics Seriously

When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd.  The problem, though, is that I started to see several things:   a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal).

The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background.   Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura.  I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them.   Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.

Corollary of the above point:  how many convertskii have read Richard Muller?  Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.  Corollary #2:  How many “Calvinists” in the Gospel Coalition or TG4 have read Muller? Probably the same number.  

The Institutional Problem Reasserted

It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography.  Unfortunately, most remain unaware.  Bakerbooks should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course.  First year seminarians, even the better-read ones, are woefully unprepared.

Barth and Speech-Act

I need to bring this to a close.  So here is where I am now.  I hold to Barth’s view of election.  I hold to it for ontological reasons, though I can point out some exegetical problems with the traditional Reformed and Arminian readings.  But I don’t want to say I am a Barthian.  Why should I?  

Something else happened around 2014:  I discovered Kevin Vanhoozer’s speech-act ontology.  This allowed me to combine the best of traditional metaphysics with Barth’s exalted view of preaching.

I have wandered a bit in my “journey.”  But I never let the anchors. N.T. Wright was too superior a theologian and exegete for me to dismiss him in my hyper-Eastern days.  EO simply had no exegete who could compare with him.  That meant whenever I compared Wright’s analysis with some EO scholars, I usually defaulted to Wright.  That was true in 2008, 2010, and 2015.  

So where was Hegel in all of this?  I’ve been reading Hegel for about six years now. He is so very wrong on so many points, but more people are influenced by him than they realize.  I think Hegel’s discussion of self-positing and self-posited can serve Trinitarian terminology at least on a definitional level.  

Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Was Hegel a Hermetic occultist? Maybe. Glen Magee takes us on a tour of Hegel’s writings, but unlike other Hegel scholars, Magee places Hegel against the occultic backdrop of his homeland and upbringing. This allows Magee to take seriously the Hermetic references Hegel makes.

But before we can answer that question, we must define Hermeticism. It is a broad tradition of thought that grew out of the writings of Hermes and was expanded and further developed through the infusion of other traditions: alchemy, Kabbalism, mysticism, etc (Magee 1). Magee argues that there are striking similarities and correspondences between Hegel’s thought and theosophic hermeticism: Masonic subtext of initiatory mysticism in Phenomenology, A Boehmian subtext to the Preface of Phenomenology, Kabbalism in his doctrine of Objective Spirit, and Alchemical images in Phil. of Right.

Hegel’s journals included diagrams which could only be found in hermetic grimoires. Later in life he began to publicly identify with occultic figures (4). Hegel knew that men like Boehme and others were tagged as hermetics and if he publicly identified with their teachings, he knew he would be seen as a hermeticist.

Magee, following Dame Frances Yates, gives a brilliant overview of Hermetic history in the Renaissance.


While we have no evidence that Hegel was a Masonic initiate, he collaborated with Masons, wrote Masonic poetry to Masons, and otherwise breathed the hermetic and theosophic air of Swabia.

Whatever else one may think about Freemasonry, and regardless of which conspiracies are true (and no doubt they all are), Freemasonry became a repository for hermetic ideas (53). Unlike their Scottish counterparts, German lodges “were teeming with magical, theosophical, mystical ideas” (56).

We know that Hegel was influenced by Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise (55) and Lessing was a Mason.

Mythology of Reason

Hegel thought a completed philosophy should be accessible to all, albeit in different degrees.

Memory as Occultic Practice

“Philosophy establishes nothing new; what we have brought forth by our reflection is what everyone already took for granted without reflection” (Hegel, EL, 22, quoted in Magee 85).

Hegel acknowledges he is within the mystical tradition (EL, 82).

Memory mediates a society’s passing down of Absolute Spirit (Magee 87).
Magee posits the Mythology of Reason as the key to unlocking Hegel (88).
Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).
Hegel’s thought seeks to unify conceptual thinking with mythopoetic thinking (91).

Hegel’s Magic Words are the categories of his philosophy. Our access to recollection/Memory is through Imagination (93). Hegel does not seek to tell us what “Substance” or “Absolute” is; it seeks to bring it into being.

This brings us back to the Hermetic Art of Memory. “Imagination” is to evoke from memory the Perennial Philosophy. In other words, to echo Jung, it draws out from within the unconscious.

Kant and the Triads

Hegel said Kant rediscovered (wiedergefundne) the teaching about triads, the triadic form (100, PG 29, 37), thus implying it is a perennial idea. Most importantly, Hegel says Kant rediscovered it, not that it derives from Kant.

Hegel saw Hermetism and Alchemy as manifestations of a collective subconscious and that is how he could take them seriously (Magee 103).

The Divine Triangle

A triangle of Triangles, where each center was also a perimeter. The triangle also has planetary and alchemical symbols. Then there is a letter Hegel wrote to the magician Windischmann on the latter’s mental torments (116). Magee argues that the triangle represents a turning point, a “nocturnal contraction of his essence.”

Aristotle had made a connection between aether and pneuma (Generation of Animals 736b29-737a1). The element in the stars is aether. Insofar as we are capable of receiving that form, we have astral substance.
Hegel drew upon the implicit Hermetic and Boehmian influences of his upbringing in writing PG. We can see a Hermetic Structure:
A = A; All is one (hen kai pan). This is the mystical doctrine of “coincidence of opposites).

Alchemical Elements

Hegel floods his works with alchemical references like “the foaming chalice.” This allows Hegel to identify Spirit with the Infinite, thus avoiding a bad infinity (147). At the end of this Grail Quest Hegel has claimed to attain “Absolute Knowing.”

Hegel holds that the Infinite and the Eternal must be knowable (152).

Moments of the Absolute:

1.Categories of the real and categories of Human Thought
2. The Totality of Conditions is itself the Unconditioned.
3. This is the ding-an-sich.
4. If we can know the totality of conditions, then we can know the thing in itself.
5. The finite things that appear to us are manifestations of the Infinite.

“Mutating the categories”

Magee suggests that these categories–based on certain passages–correspond to Minds (EL, sec. 24 passim). Hegel refers to Logic as “the realm of shades” (Science of Logic, III:47). Could we then read these “minds” as “hypostases”? In any case, is Hegel seeing them as Archetypes, or perhaps shadow-archetypes?

As they stand, these categories/ideas are empty and abstract. Hegel’s concept of the Ungrund corresponds to the ancient idea of aether. It is an ultimate, dynamic ground of all being. It is God as unrealized. This is Pure Indeterminacy.

Hegel sees “Essence” as the abstract caput mortuum (165). It is the negated definition of the Absolute Idea. It “dies” and “falls away,” yet it is the material used for further stages in the dialectic. Thus, there is a parallel between dialectic and alchemical transmutation.

The Kabaalah

We can take our earlier identification of Ungrund = aether and add a new term:

Undgrund = aether = En Sof.

It is from En Sof that the flame begins.

En Sof can parallel Ayin (or Nothing). So Absolute Infinite = Absolute Nothing. This is the primal unity that transcends subject-object distinctions. It’s telos is to develop into a true Subject.

Ayin is to become Ani (Hebr. “I”)

The Sepiroth in Kabbalah delineates the stages of God’s self-realization (169).

The Four Elements

When Hegel speaks of the square he generally has in mind the four elements (192). The triangle is the symbolic form of spirit, the square of nature. Hegel is saying that man’s consciousness exists within these four elements. And by Hegel’s time, Magee notes, the “four elements/square” had become so connected with alchemy that one couldn’t dissociate the images (193). Further, magicians and alchemists routinely made tables where the elements of one sphere corresponded to the elements of another. Hegel makes such an association in Phil. Nature, sec. 280).


Is Hegel a Hermetic? While we don’t have any journal that says, “Today I embraced Hermeticism,” we can see that he came from an occultic background, utilized occultic symbols, identified with occultic figures in public at the end of his career, and otherwise followed the same Occultic path.