Indulge me: I want to write an entire post about two footnotes. But only because these footnotes are illustrative of the unique challenge for reading the history of philosophy in an increasingly secularized philosophical academy. For all our advances in philosophical knowledge and insight, we are also collectively forgetting things, and that forgetting becomes a screen that obscures texts in the history of philosophy.
The case in point is actually one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, Robert Pippin. Alongside Charles Taylor and Martha Nussbaum, I consider Pippin an exemplar of what I would aspire to be: a rigorous philosopher, steeped in the history of philosophy, who exhibits an uncanny ability to expound difficult texts, but also clearly embodies his own constructive philosophical program. Pippin, a scholar of German idealism, and particularly Hegel, is the sort of commentator who can make you believe that you could read Hegel! (His book on Hegel's Practical Philosophy, for example, is the perfect companion/entrée to the Philosophy of Right.) But he's also someone who brings all the power of a Hegelian outlook to contemporary challenges of our own cultural moment, such as his masterful essay, "Capitalism at Dusk," in The Point which, to my mind, should be required reading for any philosopher who aspires to be a so-called public intellectual. Plus, Pippin has also written widely on the arts. Honestly, he's kind of my spirit animal.
Because I have such a deep appreciation for his brilliance, I'm always kind of baffled when he seems so flat-footed when it comes to theology. But this is less and less surprising. We are in a second generation of scholars and intellectuals who have been able to avoid any serious wrangling with theology as an intellectual endeavor that deserves their attention if they are going to understand the world and culture. So Pippin can range thoughtfully across history, the arts, modern science, and politics, demonstrating real learning. But then he makes off-hand comments about theology that would make me cringe if I saw them in an undergraduate paper.
What's disappointing about this is not that he doesn't care about something I care about, but that it genuinely impedes what interests him, which is understanding Hegel. So let's take a look at two cases, not just to point out the error, but to see how a more sophisticated understanding of theology might deepen our understanding of Hegel.
Both of the instances that interest me are in his marvelous new book on aesthetics, Philosophy by Other Means: The Arts in Philosophy and Philosophy in the Arts. It is a fantastic series of studies in which Hegel figures prominently (I hope to write on the aesthetic questions more substantially elsewhere).
The first instance, on p. 53, is in the context of explaining Hegel's sense of how we "find" ourselves by actually "sacrificing" our subjectivity--that, to suggestively paraphrase, he who seeks to save his soul will lose it, whereas as the one willing to lose their Subjectivity will find it, in and with others. Pippin comments: "as in many other examples of Hegel's Christian imagery, the experiential Bildung can show that by this loss of a false independence and mastery, one has gained true independence, referred to in the Rechtsphilosophie [Philosophy of Right] as "being oneself in another." Pippin then adds a curious footnote, noting that, for Hegel, he would see this "logic" of losing oneself to find oneself as related to "the major events in 'both' bibles" [the Old and New Testaments].
First, the OT "event," in Pippin's retelling: "The story of creation in the Hebrew Bible represents the insufficiency of a God merely contained within himself, and so the need for him to 'empty' (entäussern) himself in creating the world." There is, of course, a way to think about creation as akin to a kind of kenosis on God's part (see Moltmann), but even in that case, it is not compelled by "need." Kenosis, emptying, giving away, is not the act of a being compromised by insufficiency but rather the donation of a superabundant Being. The giving away is a mark of plenitude (of love), not need or insufficiency. And Hegel knows this, which is why it is precisely a "logic" for him that works in a way that Pippin seems not to appreciate.
But then we turn to the "second" event, which is where things get interesting: "There is little doubt," Pippin says, "that Hegel accepts the Lutheran take on this word [entäussern, to empty]--Luther's translation for kenosis--and goes farther, claiming as a meaning for the image that God has to empty or lose or externalize himself in what appeared other than him in order to finally be God." Again, Pippin introduces a dynamics of need/necessity here that is more Neoplatonic emanation than Christian creation.
Then this remarkable comment from Pippin: "in the New Testament the imagery is even more Hegelian." Well, let's pause here and instead remark: wouldn't it be more correct to say that, in fact, we recognize how Christian Hegel's move is here? But back to Pippin:
And in the New Testament the imagery is even more Hegelian. god the Father had to become his own son, externalized in the world and lost to him (lost to himself), preparing the way for reconciliation, or der Heilige Geist, the Holy Spirit. The deeper point here is also, I would argue, ultimately politico-ethical: Christ's iconic status as both Master and Servant, his own father and his own son, at the same time.
I was kind of gobsmacked when I read this: how does an esteemed and brilliant philosopher at the University of Chicago not understand even the most basic lineaments of Trinitarian theology? (If you're keeping score at home, Pippin's alleged "summary" of the Trinitarian dynamics here is a weird mashup of the Trinitarian heresy known as modalism.)
The second footnote kind of continues on this theme. On p. 59 he appends this note: "In Hegel's unusual [?] theology, both the account of creation in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian doctrine of Incarnation are 'images' of the 'logical' necessity of such Entäusserung [emptying]." But of course there's nothing "unusual" at all about this! Indeed, John 1 is classically read as an Incarnational rearticulation of the creation narrative, an echo of Genesis one in Christological fullness. That Pippin thinks this strange or unusual is jarring.
There's a part of me that doesn't even want to blame Pippin for this. I take it more as an indictment of the state of liberal arts education in our generation that a senior scholar, who has spent a lifetime engaging a Christian thinker like Hegel, has not had to master some of these basic theological concepts.
But there's also an expositional concern, namely, that a more orthodox understanding of the Trinity actually shores up Hegel's point and underwrites his "logic," as Pippin rightly describes it (dare I describe it as the "logic of incarnation"?! ;-).