Boehme, Hegel, Schelling, and the Hermetic Theology of Evil

Philosophy and Theology 18 (2):257-286 (2006)
Abstract
Building on recent research exposing Hegel’s debt to esoteric Christianity (both Gnostic and Hermetic traditions), the aim of this paper is to show how Hegel and Schelling resolve an ambiguity in Boehme’s theology of evil in opposing ways. Jacob Boehme’s notion of the individuation of God through the overcoming ofopposition is the central paradigm for both Hegel’s and Schelling’s understanding of the role of evil in the life of God. Boehme remains ambiguous on the question of the modality of evil: Is it necessary to God’s self-unfolding, or is it rather an anarchic act that God permits in the interest of preserving the autonomy of finite freedom? If the former, Boehme becomes much more closely aligned to Gnosticism by identifying finitude with evil. This identification is shown to be exactly Hegel’s solution to the ambiguity, one Hegel opts for in the interest of maintaining the absolute rationality of the system. Hermeticism opposes Gnosticism on this point: for the Hermeticist, finitude / material being / nature is not evil but ‘of God,’ the means of his individuation. This conflict in interpretations of Boehmeilluminates an often overlooked but essential difference between Gnosticism and Hermeticism. Schelling remains faithful to the Hermetic tradition by sacrificing system for the sake of preserving the contingency of evil, and disidentifying finitude and evil
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