In the first volume of Cyril O’Regan’s work, The Anatomy of Misremembering : Von Balthasar’s Response to Philosophical Modernity, the author deals with Balthasar’s response to the modernity represented by Hegel, although his effort includes much, much more. It is, in effect, a guided tour through the whole of 19th and especially 20th century theology, Protestant and Catholic, Jewish and Agnostic. And O’Regan is an excellent Cicerone. It is not a tour through an Inferno, even though theologians of the age were sometimes forced to react to the “slaughter-bench of history,” to use Hegel’s phrase, which was a good portion of the 20th century. In no sense is the work an apocalyptic that ends in Paradiso. Rather, the period for the theologians, as the author portrays it, is more like a Purgatorio made up of a couple of centuries of quarantines.
The Hegel that O’Regan picks up on is largely the one he has been struggling with since his early piece The Heterodox Hegel (1994). As he says, “Hegelian thought […] houses ghosts and especially the ghost of Gnosticism” (p. 110). In this connection he notes that the Valentinian Gnosticism which taints Hegel’s philosophy is essentially of the pre-Nicene variety (p. 247). Though it needs to be noted that relative to the Valentinian apocalypsis instantiated in the modern period (p. 398) that it is found more in the later Schelling than in Hegel as such.
When it comes to Hegel’s personal religious stance, O’Regan notes that he was “putatively” Lutheran (p. 190). At various points in the volume the issue of Hegel’s “pantheism” comes to the fore. Though one could hardly put Hegel in the same category as a Spinoza. A card-carrying pantheist might be willing to say that nature is the other of God, but could not countenance saying, as does Hegel, that nature (as estranged Spirit) is other than God. Further, Spinoza is a mechanist ; Hegel clearly is not. O’Regan points out that Balthasar demurs when it comes to the view of those 20th century theologians who asserted that Hegel traded in Parmenides (the metaphysics of being) for Heraclitus (the metaphysics of becoming, p. 335). After all, the dialectic with which Hegel begins the Logik is an indeterminate being pairing with an indeterminate non-being to give rise to an indeterminate becoming.
In the Afterword/Foreword O’Regan considers Balthasar with respect to “what is alive and what is dead in Hegel” from his aesthetics to his views on apocalyptic (p. 519-528). The author concludes that there may be some continuity when it comes to their respective views on aesthetics, but a definite discontinuity relative to apocalyptic. Further, Hegel and Balthasar while they may be close to one another when it comes to their respective Christologies, they are far distant from each other when it comes to their views on the Trinity, above all, according to O’Regan, given Hegel’s Sabellianism (p. 523). For Balthasar, influenced by Bonaventure, the unity of the Trinity is founded in the Father (p. 636, n. 81). Needless to say, for Hegel Spirit, above all communal Spirit, looms large.
In the matter of aesthetics it should be noted that Hegel’s is not all that special. The better parts of it derive from Schelling, who is much more original on the subject. Speaking of aesthetics the author pursues an interesting interchange between Balthasar and Walter Benjamin regarding the relative merit of dramas in the Baroque period. Balthasar prefers the Spanish Baroque (Calderón and Lope de Vega) over German Romantic drama (p. 491-493), as distinct from Benjamin. “Benjamin favors the Protestant dialectical, Balthasar the Catholic analogical world-views” (p. 497). However, the argument between the two, he says, is as much about apocalyptic as it is about aesthetics relative to the apocalyptic (p. 498).
What O’Regan’s book is about is not simply the theologians that populate the intellectual world after Hegel, it is about modernity, above all, the species of modernity the author sees in Hegel and the efforts expended by Balthasar to counter it. So what is modernity ? The easy answer is to say that it is what comes before post-modernism. Or, one could say that modernity is what Pio Nono was against in the Syllabus Errorum (as focused in the Anti-Modernist oath). So is Hegel modernity ? One could easily argue that he is, in many respects, post-modern. After all, he is against Rationalism, as also the Enlightenment that it spawns. Still, on the other hand, he is pro-France, both the source and the fruit of the Enlightenment, and would have liked to see the German lands follow the French suit. And he is equally against Romanticism. He cannot abide Fichte’s subjective idealism with its negative (that is, with its unfinished, if not, indeed, unfinishable) infinity. So what is the version of modernity that Hegel would favor ? Again, there is an easy answer : his.
Reading papal encyclicals is an acquired taste. The style alone is off-putting. Nevertheless, I did read John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio, and found in it a solution to the age-old, long-standing argument regarding the relation between faith and reason. The curious thing about the encyclical is that the resolution of the issue is fundamentally Hegelian. Well, one may say, the Polish pope did, after all, live under a Marxist regime for many years, and may very well have picked up some Hegelian dialectic subliminally. O’Regan, however, indicates that Cardinal Angelo Scola apparently had a major hand in the 1998 document. He further notes that Scola is a Balthasar scholar. So if that is the case, then why does the encyclical seem so Hegelian, that is if Balthasar is anti-Hegelian (p. 134, 559, n. 44) ? Something does not quite jibe here.
Again, one can only marvel at the command O’Regan displays in dealing with the theologians and thinkers especially those of 20th century Europe as they individually and collectively confront the powerful philosophical force that is Hegelian thought. Though I do have a couple of animadversions regarding his account of Hegel, one minor, one more serious. O’Regan often speaks of the Hegelian triad of art, religion and philosophy (e.g., p. 509). However, in addition to art and religion, among the forms of objective Spirit there is also the state. Philosophy, on the other hand, is the “circle of circles.” The more serious concern is with the author’s view of Hegel as absorbing religion into philosophy (p. 132). At the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel does not say that Christianity or religion is taken up into philosophy but, rather, that it is the difference between the two that is aufgehoben, that is, not just canceled and preserved — for they remain distinctly what they are, faith and reason — but also and, indeed above all, they are raised to a higher level — the third meaning to Hegel’s Aufhebung. And the higher level to which both are raised is the reconciliation (Versöhnung) of the two in the Truth. It would be absurd, on Hegel’s or anyone’s view, to suggest that one would need to be a philosopher in order to be religious.
One final note. O’Regan, likely Balthasar, and certainly Schelling and Kierkegaard, are (or were) aware that the thought that would contest the system gets swallowed up by the system, in the case of Schelling and Kierkegaard, “both of whom acknowledge the tendency of the Hegelian system to absorb even or especially what contests it” (p. 637, n. 88). Whether the author’s work is doomed to suffer a similar fate or, instead, cause the Hegelian system to have a severe case of acid reflux, cannot be known.
In any case, one can only look forward to volume II with Balthasar, and the author, ready in the wings to take up the misrememberings in Heidegger. There are hints, already in this first volume, regarding what may be on the menu.
Huisking Professor of Theology
History of Christianity
B.A., 1974, and M.A., 1978, University College Dublin
M.A., 1983, M.Phil., 1984 and Ph.D., 1989, Yale University
Research and Teaching Interests
O'Regan specializes in systematic and historical theology. He has specific interests in the intersection of continental philosophy and theology, religion and literature, mystical theology, and postmodern thought. He has written The Heterodox Hegel, Gnostic Return in Modernity, and Gnostic Apocalypse: Jacob Boehme's Haunted Narrative. He has published numerous articles on such topics as the nature of tradition, negative theology, the sources of Hegel's thought and Hegel as a theological source, and on figures such as John Henry Newman and Hans Urs von Balthasar. O'Regan is currently working on books on Romanticism and Gnosticism and on Han Urs von Balthasar and postmodern thought.
2014. Anatomy of Misremembering (1): Balthasar's Response to Philosophical Modernity. Vol. 1: Hegel. New York: Crossroad.
2009. Theology and the Spaces of the Apocalyptic. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
2002. Gnostic Apocalypse: Jacob Boehme's Haunted Narrative. Albany: SUNY Press.
2001. Gnostic Return in Modernity. Albany: SUNY Press.
1994. The Heterodox Hegel. Albany: SUNY Press.
2015. “The Impatience of Gnosis” in The Philosophy of William Desmond, ed. Ben Simson. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
2015. “Kierkegaard: The Rule of Chaos and the Perturbation of Love” in Kierkegaard: A Christian Thinker for our Times. Waco: Baylor University Press.
2015. “Newman’s Religious Epistemology” in Oxford Handbook of Religious Epistemology, ed. William Abraham and Fred Aquino. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2015. “Heidegger and Christian Wisdom” in Christianity and Modern Culture, ed. Francesca Murphy and Kenneth Oakes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
2015. “Fear of God in Newman and Kierkegaard,” in Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe, ed. Ann Astell. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
2015. “Reception of Newman as Saint.” Receptions of Newman, ed. Benjamin King and Fred Aquino. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2014. “Reordering the Trinity: Kasper’s (Dis)continuity with Rahner.” In Kasper the Theologian, ed. Robert Krieg and Kristen Colberg, pp. 110-26. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.
2013. “The Brazen Contours of Philosophical Anthropology,” in The Human Voyage of Self- Discovery: Essays in Honor of Brendan Purcell, ed. Brendan Leahy and David Walsh, pp. 27-43. Dublin, Ireland: Veritas.
2013. “Aesthetic Idealism: Theological Implications and Reception,” in The Impact of Idealism. Volume 4. Religion, ed. Nicholas Adams, pp.143-66. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University press.
2013. “Theology, Art, and Beauty,” in The Many Faces of Beauty. Ed. Vittorio Hoesle, pp. 445-471. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
2013. “Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion.” In Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Edited Meister Chad, pp. 27-37. London and New York: Routledge.
2012. “Eckhart Reception in the Nineteenth Century,” in A Companion to Meister Eckhart, Ed. Jeremiah Hackett, pp. 629-667. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
2012. “Answering Back: Augustine’s Critique of Heidegger,” in Human Destinies: Philosophical Essays in Memory of Gerald Hanratty. Ed. Fran O’Rourke, pp. 134-184.Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
2012. “Benedict the Augustinian.” In The Theology of Benedict XVI. Ed. John Cavadini, pp. 20-60. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
2012. “Kant: Blind-Spots, Boundaries, and Supplement.’ In Christianity and Secular Reason. Edited by Jeffrey Bloechl, pp. 87-126. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
2011. “The Trinity in Kant, Hegel, and Schelling,” in The Oxford Handbook on the Trinity, ed. Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, pp. 254-66. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2010. “Balthasar and the Unwelcoming of Heidegger,’ in The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition, and Universalism, ed. Peter Chandler and Conor Cunningham, pp. 264-98. Oxford: SPC.
2010. “Voegelin and the Troubled Greatness of Hegel,” in Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought, ed. Lee Trepanier and Steve McGuire, 44-63. Columbia: Missouri University Press.
2016. ‘The Quiet Claim of the Ordinary: David Kelsey and Catholic Theology,’ in The Theological Anthropology of David Kelsey, ed. Gene Outka (Eerdmans, 2016), 55-89. (no. 53 in CV)
2016. ‘Heidegger and Christian Wisdom,’ in Christian Wisdom Meets Modernity, ed. Francesca Murphy and Ken Oakes (Bloomsbury, 2016), 37-57. (no. 63 in CV)
2016. ‘Response to Readers of Anatomy of Misremembering,’ in Nova et Vetera (Summer) 2016, 1015-25. (no. 61 in CV)
2016. ‘Thomas More: Saint in a time of Cultural Crisis,’ in Living Word (Spring) 2016 (10 pp)
2014. “Žižek’s Meontology: An Inflected Hegel and the Possibility of Theology,” in Modern Theology, 2014 (Fall): 600-611.
2013. “Hegel, Sade, and Gnostic Infinities.” In Radical Orthodoxy: Journal of Theology, Philosophy, and Politics, September 2013: 383-425.
2012. “Newman and the Argument of Holiness.” In Newman Studies, vol. 9 no. 1 (Spring): 52-74.
2012. “Girard and the Spaces of Apocalyptic.” In Modern Theology 28.1 (Spring): 112-140.
2012. “Naming God in God and the Between.” Louvain Studies, 36: 282-301.
2011. “Newman’s Apologia: A Classic Text? In The Lonergan Review, no. 3 (Fall): 88- 101.
2010. “Žižek and Milbank and the Hegelian Death of God,” in Modern Theology, Spring (2010), pp. 278-86.
2010. “Philosophy: Modernity: Calibrating Revolution,” in Perspectives on Political Science, ed.Peter Lawler, vol. 39 no. 3: pp. 127-33.
439 Malloy Hall