Hegel Thought on Martin Luther Article Concerning Christian Liberty


Hegel always explains things by using three basic categories: the universal, the particular (or “determinate”), and the singular. The universal is the most inclusive category, the particular is one of the things that fall within this inclusive category, and the singular is the special particular that actually shows what the inclusive category is in a full and complete way. Here’s an example: 

+“All men are mortal.” In this statement, you see the universal category “Man” and that it is essentially connected to the other universal category “Mortality” (being something that dies).

+“Socrates is a man.” In this statement, you have a particular, Socrates, presented to you.

+“Socrates is mortal.” In this statement, you see the singular person, Socrates, as someone who shows you what the universal category “Man” being “mortal” really means: it means that one person is singled out and confronts his death personally and by himself. The point that Hegel would make is that “Man” does not really die, but a singular person dies. It is true that “Man dies” but you only really understand that when you consider a single person. Each person relates to his death and realizes that he’s mortal. And that’s what the real truth is behind “Man is mortal.” So the universal category is one aspect of the truth, but it is only completed with the singular.

Now let’s apply this to the concept of religion. Religion is Thought at the universal level, Hegel says. He means, Religion is what thinks about nothing that is an object of your senses. No one ever thought that a thing like a stone or piece of wood or even an animal was a god. God was always thought to be something “beyond” such things. Even if “Bear” was divine, it wasn’t exactly the same thing as a specific bear. So Religion is Thought. That the universal aspect of Religion.

And then Religion as a particular involves one thinking person and the abstract universal God. One thinker is always finite, but the Thought is infinite (God is greater than any specific object, therefore He is infinite).

Finally, the particular thinker becomes singular when he realizes that he includes within his finite thinking an object that is infinite. He includes in his thinking both a finite side and an infinite side. Hegel writes “I am not one of those taking part in the strife, but I am both the combatants, and am the strife itself. I am the fire and the water which touch each other, and am the contact and union of what flies apart, and this very contact itself is this double, essentially conflicting relation, as the relation of what is now separated, severed, and now reconciled and in unity with itself.”

Ok, so that’s the singular point where the universal and the particular are realized in one being. But not everyone who thinks about god feels that he is binding together the god and the individual person in one, tying up two “combatants” in a single thought including two sides. For example, a person who thinks that god is Bear doesn’t really have a full awareness of how his thought connects the infinite with the finite (Bear with each bear). So, religions are different, depending on how clearly they show what they really are. Hegel says, that what they all really are is the unity of infinity and the finite. Then he says that the unity is what Spirit creates. Spirit unites infinity and the finite. It is thought that thinks infinity and finite together, and this thought is aware of itself doing this. Imagine an Eskimo suddenly becoming aware that when he thinks that a bear in front of him is Bear, the Great God of his clan, he also thinks that Bear sees him thinking this thought and therefore doesn’t let the bear eat him, and then the Eskimo realizes that he and Bear share one and the same thought and that each side—him as a thinking person and Bear as thinking Great God—is really one Thinker in two places, and that each needs the other. Now you have Spirit. Spirit holds both the Eskimo and Great Bear together but also separates them apart (since Spirit is thinking from two sides, one finite and the other infinite, both thinking about the other side. Hegel talks about how it’s necessary to show respect for every religion, even the religion of the Eskimo I just described, because it includes Spirit, although (like the Eskimo in his thinking before he had the sudden realization about how Bear and he were one Spirit in two places) the religious believer isn’t always aware of this fact. Hegel writes: “In like manner the moments of the notion or conception are actually present in the definite religions, in mental pictures, feelings, or immediate imagery; but the consciousness of these moments is not as yet evolved, or, in other words, they have not as yet been elevated to the point at which they are the determination of the absolute object, and God is not as yet actually represented under these determinations of the totality of the conception of religion. It is undoubtedly true that the definite religions of the various peoples often enough exhibit the most distorted, confused, and abortive ideas of the divine Being, and likewise of duties and relations as expressed in worship. But we must not treat the matter so lightly, and conceive of it in so superficial a manner, as to reject these ideas and these rites as superstition, error, and deceit, or only trace back their origin to pious feeling, and thus value them as merely representing some sort of religious feeling without caring how they may chance to be constituted. The mere collection and elaboration of the external and visible elements cannot satisfy us either. On the contrary, something higher is necessary, namely, to recognize the meaning, the truth, and the connection with truth; in short, to get to know what is rational in them.”


Hegel wants to find the “rational” element in religion, but he does not think that you need to reject all religions as “false” except Deism. You need to find the truth in all religions. No religion is “false.” But one religion, according to Hegel, does come close to understanding that the believing person discovers God by discovering how God and the person are one Spirit in two places. The religion that Hegel thinks comes closest to the truth is Luther’s Christianity. Based on what we have learned about Luther’s ideas so far, can you in your own words try to explain why Hegel would think that Luther’s religion is the closest to the truth?


This question belongs to religion and discusses about Hegel’s thought on Martin Luther’s article “Concerning Christian Liberty”.

Word count: 415


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