On the Death of God

Hegel on Revealed Religion


¶748. Through the religion of Art, Spirit has advanced from the form of Substance to assume that of Subject, for it produces its [outer] shape, thus ,making explicit in it the act, or the self.consciousness, that merely vanishes in the awful Substance, and does not apprehend its own self in its trust. This incarnation of the divine Being starts from the statue which wears only the outer shape of the Self, the inwardness, the Self’s activity, falling outside of it. But in the Cult the two sides have become one; and in the outcome of ~he religion of Art this unity, in its consummation, has even gone right over at the same time to the extreme of the Self. In Spirit that is completely certain of itself in the individuality of consciousness, all essentiality is submerged. The proposition that expresses this levity runs: ‘The Self is absolute Being.’ The essence, the Substance, for which the Self was only an accident, has sunk to the level of a predicate; and in this self-consciousness over against which there is nothing in the form of essence, Spirit has lost its consciousness. 

¶749. This proposition: ‘The Self is absolute Being’, belongs quite obviously to the non-religious, actual [or secular] Spirit; and we have to remember which shape of that Spirit it is which expresses it. It will contain the movement, and also the conversion of it, which degrades the Self to the level of a predicate and elevates Substance to Subject; and in this manner, that the converse proposition does not in itself or for us make Substance into Subject, or, to put the same thing another way, it does not reinstate Substance in such a manner that Spirit’s consciousness is led hack to its beginning, to natural religion; on the contrary, this conversion is one that is brought about for and by self-consciousness itself. Since self-consciousness surrenders itself consciously, it is preserved in its alienation and remains the Subject of substance, but since it is likewise self~ alienated, it still has the consciousness of the substance; or, since self-consciousness through its sacrifice brings forth substance as Subject, the substance remains self-consciousness’s own Self. In the first of the two alternative propositions, the substantiality of the Subject merely vanishes, and in the second, Substance is only a predicate, and both sides are thus present in each with contrary inequality of value. Here, however, the result achieved is the union and permeation of the two natures in which both are, with equal value, essential and at the same time only moments; so that Spirit is simultaneously consciousness of itself as its objective substance, and simple self-consciousness communing with itself.

¶750. The religion of Art belongs to the ethical Spirit which we earlier saw perish in the condition of right or law, i.e. in the proposition: ‘The Self as such, the abstract person, is absolute Being.’ In the ethical life, the Self is submerged in the Spirit of its people, it is the universality that is filled. But simple individuality raises itself out of this content, and its levity refines it into a ‘person’, into the abstract universality of right or law. In this, the reality of the ethical Spirit is lost, and having lost all content, the Spirits of national individuals are gathered into a single pantheon, not into a pantheon of picture-thought whose powerless form lets each Spirit go its own way, but into the pantheon of abstract universality, of pure thought, which disembodies them and imparts to the spiritless Self, to the individual person, a being that is in and for itself. 

¶75 I. But this Self has, through its emptiness, let the content go free, it is only within itself that consciousness is essence; its own existence, the legal recognition of the person, is the unfilled abstraction. What it possesses, therefore, is rather only the thought of itself; or in other words, in the mode in which it immediately exists and knows itself as object, it is something that is not actual. Hence it is only the Stoic independence of thought, which passes through the dialectic of the Sceptical consciousness to find its truth in that shape which we have called the Unhappy Self-consciousness.

¶752. This self-consciousness knows what the validity of the abstract person amounts to in reality and equally in pure thought. It knows that such validity is rather a complete loss; it is itself this conscious loss of itself and the alienation of its knowledge about itself. We see that this Unhappy Consciousness constitutes the counterpart and the completion of the comic consciousness that is perfectly happy within itself. Into the latter, all divine being returns, or it is the complete alienation of substance. The Unhappy Consciousness, on the other hand, is, conversely, the tragic fate of the certainty of self that aims to be absolute. It is the consciousness of the loss of all essential being in this certainty of itself, and of the loss even of this knowledge about itself-the loss of substance as well as of the Self, it is the grief which expresses itself in the hard saying that ‘God is dead’. 

The statues are now only stones from which the living soul has flown, just as the hymns are words from which belief has gone. The tables of the gods provide no spiritual food and drink, and in his games and festivals man no longer recovers the joyful consciousness of his unity with the divine.

Phenomenology of Spirit ¶753
Apollo of the Belvedere
(Livio Andronico 2013)

¶753. In the condition of right or law, then, the ethical world and the religion of that world are submerged and lost in the comic consciousness, and the Unhappy Consciousness is the knowledge of this total loss. It has lost both the worth it attached to its immediate personality and the worth attached to its personality as mediated, as thought. Trust in the eternal laws of the gods has vanished, and the Oracles, which pronounced on particular questions, are dumb. The statues are now only stones from which the living soul has flown, just as the hymns are words from which belief has gone. The tables of the gods provide no spiritual food and drink, and in his games and festivals man no longer recovers the joyful consciousness of his unity with the divine. The works of the Muse now lack the power of the Spirit, for the Spirit has gained its certainty of itself from the crushing of gods and men. They have become what they are for us now—beautiful fruit already picked from the tree, which a friendly Fate has offered us, as a girl might set the fruit before us. It cannot give us the actual life in which they existed, not the tree that bore them, not the earth and the elements which constituted their substance, not the climate which gave them their peculiar character, nor the cycle of the changing seasons that governed the process of their growth. So Fate does not re store their world to us along with the works of antique Art, it gives not the spring and summer of the ethical life in which they blossomed and ripened, but only the veiled recollection of that actual world. Our active enjoyment of them is therefore not an act of divine worship through which our consciousness might come to its perfect truth and fulfilment; it is an external activity—the wiping-off of some drops of rain or specks of dust from these fruits, so to speak—one which erects an intricate scaffolding of the dead elements of their outward existence—the language, the historical circumstances, etc. in place of the inner elements of the ethical life which environed, created, and inspired them. And all this we do, not in order to enter into their very life but only to possess an idea of them in our imagination. But, just as the girl who offers us the plucked fruits is more than the Nature which directly provides them—the Nature diversified into their conditions and elements, the tree, air, light, and so on-because she sums all this up in a higher mode, in the gleam of her self-conscious eye and in the gesture with which she offers them, so, too, the Spirit of the Fate that presents us with those works of art is more than the ethical life and the actual world of that nation, for it is the inwardizing in us of the Spirit which in them was still [only] outwardly manifested; it is the Spirit of the tragic Fate which gathers all those individual gods and attributes of the [divine] substance into one pantheon, into the Spirit that is itself conscious of itself as Spirit. 

¶754. All the conditions for its production are to hand, and this totality of its conditions constitutes its coming-to-be, its Notion, or the production on it in principle. ‘The Circle of the creations of Art em braces the forms in which absolute substance has externalized itself. Absolute substance is in the form of il1.dividualityas a Thing, an object of sensuous consciousness that simply is—as pure· language, or the coming-to-be of a shape whose existence does not go outside of the Self, but is purely a vanishing object; as immediate unity with the universal self-consciousness in its inspiration, and as a mediated unity in the act of the Cult; as a beautiful, self-like corporeality; and lastly, as existence raised into an ideational presentation and the expansion of this existence into a world which finally collects itself together into a universality which is at the same time a pure certainty of itself. These forms, and on the other side, the world of the person and of law, the destructive ferocity df the freed elements of the content, as also the person as thought in Stoicism, and the unstable restlessness of the Sceptical consciousness, constitute the [audience or] periphery of shapes which stands impatiently expectant round the birthplace of Spirit as it becomes self-consciousness [ie. round the manger a t Bethlehem]. The grief and longing of the Unhappy Self-consciousness which permeates them all is their centre and the common birth-pang of its emergence—the simplicity of the pure Notion, which contains those forms as its moments. 

¶755. Spirit has in it the two sides which are presented above as two converse propositions: one is this, that substance alienates itself from itself and becomes self-consciousness; the other is the converse, that self-consciousness alienates itself from itself and gives itself the nature of a Thing, or makes itself a universal Self. Both sides have in this way encountered each other, and through this encounter their true union has come into being. The externalization [or kenosis] of substance, its growth into self-consciousness, expresses the transition into the opposite, the unconscious transition of necessity; in other words, that substance is in itself self-consciousness. Conversely, the externalization of self-consciousness expresses this, that it is in itself the universal essence, or-since the Self is pure being-for-self which in its opposite communes with itself-that it is just because substance is self-consciousness for the Self, that it is Spirit. Of this Spirit, which has abandoned the form of Substance and enters existence in the shape of self-consciousness, it may therefore be said—if we wish to employ relationships derived from natural generation—that it has an actual mother but an implicit father. For actuality or self-consciousness, and the in itself as substance, are its two moments through whose reciprocal externalization, each becoming the other, Spirit comes into existence as this their unity. 

Works Cited

Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

G. W. F. Hegelian

I was a German philosopher and key figure of German idealism, becoming primarily influential in the continental tradition of philosophy—although the analytic tradition has begun to open itself to my way of thinking, namely, the dialectical method.

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