Early Theological Writings Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Philosopher Herman Nohl sorted Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s manuscripts into five groups: “Folk Religion and Christianity” (Volksreligion und Christentum), “The Life of Jesus” (Das Leben Jesu), “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” (Die Positivität der christlichen Religion), “The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate” (Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal), and several fragments including “The System Fragment of 1800” (Systemfragment von 1800). This arrangement of Hegel’s unfinished works may not have pleased the philosopher.

Hegel’s decision never to publish any of these works is significant. His first published book, Differenz des Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie (1801; The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Philosophy, 1977), reveals that by then he had already gone beyond Immanuel Kant and toward Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, from whom he was shortly to break as well. Yet, through all the essays and fragments that Hegel wrote up to 1800, Kant can easily be seen as the dominant influence on Hegel’s thought.

The two most valuable essays in Nohl’s collection are “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” and “The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate.” They form the centerpiece of the 1948 English translation, which does not include either “Folk Religion and Christianity” or “The Life of Jesus” because the translator, Thomas Malcolm Knox, considered the former too disorganized and the latter a clumsy attempt to portray Jesus Christ as only a preacher of Kantian ethics.

“The Positivity of the Christian Religion” criticizes the legalistic and worldly aspects of the Church. Because Hegel worked on it sporadically for about six or seven years, its method is inconsistent and its quality is uneven. Yet its overarching theme is clear. In philosophy, the term “positivity” refers to whatever exists, as it directly...

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Early Theological Writings Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Adams, George Plimpton. The Mystical Element in Hegel’s Early Theological Writings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1910. Among the first and best studies of these texts, published only three years after they appeared in German and thirty-eight years before they appeared in English, it identifies an important theme of Hegel’s philosophy of religion.

Althaus, Horst. Hegel: An Intellectual Biography. Translated by Michael Tarsh. Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 2000. The original German title, literally “Hegel and the heroic years of philosophy,” better describes this book’s content, the philosophical upheaval that occurred in Germany between the publication of Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason, 1838) in 1781 and the political revolutions of 1848.

Harris, Henry S. Hegel’s Development: Toward the Sunlight, 1770-1801. Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1972. The standard biography of the young Hegel.

Luft, Eric v. d. “On the Religious Roots of Hegel’s Rechtsphilosophie.” M.A. thesis, Bryn Mawr College, 1977. Traces the influence of “The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate” and “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” on the development of Hegel’s political and social philosophy.

Pinkard, Terry P. Hegel: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A monumental study, offering stiff challenges to many legends and preconceptions about Hegel.