Apologetics According to Maximus, Hegel, and Lonergan

The apologetic proofs such as the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the moral argument, or historical arguments, “proving” Christianity may have their place, but traditional apologetic arguments are also guilty of misconstruing the very nature of Christian truth. Christianity is the proof – the incarnation of meaning, the enactment of inner truth, and the realization of historical truth. Incarnational truth is the truth revealed. To imagine we must prove the incarnation, miracles, or resurrection, is to miss that this is the proof. Christianity contains meaning, otherwise lacking. This truth is the beginning of true philosophy, true speculation, and true experience. The notion that the resurrection, the life of Christ, the incarnation, and the existence of God, rest on proofs so as to know them, is to trivialize the Truth. This is to get the cart before the horse. These “proofs” rest on a foundation of sand in a propositional and tautologous logic (on the order of mathematics) which is itself lacking in the substance of truth. We might argue for the truth of Christ on the basis of logic, or we might enter an alternative Logos and logic, in which truth is the system, the presumption, the realization, and the end.

Christ as the truth means truth is embodied and thus experienced in mind, body, and spirit such that the experience of love, virtue, self-sacrifice, and even faith is an imitation of Christ in which the Christian embodies the truth, making truth part of experience and bodied forth in and for the experience of others. Christianity is a realization of the truth. Proofs for Christianity, while they may serve some function, by their very nature, fall short of the immediate first-order realization of truth. As John writes, “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (I John 5:10, NASB). So too all that goes with believing, such as obedience, imitating Christ, agape love, the transformation of the mind, are entry into the truth.

This does not mean truth by-passes the mind, any more than it by-passes the body, the will or human intention. The truth of Christ residing in the heart must be accessed, uncovered, practiced, willed and intended. As Maximus puts it, “In Him we live and move and have our being for he comes to be ‘in’ God through attentiveness, since he has not falsified the logos of being that preexists in God.”[1] The truth shows itself for the Christian in being true to the logos of Christ. The incarnate meaning of Christ requires an imitative alignment with Christ, as the truth is personal and centered on this particular Person. One can be true to this word or one can falsify the truth in his life. Note that Maximus speaks of attentiveness to the truth. As in the work of Bernard Lonergan, this truth requires intelligent judgments, evaluative deliberations, decisions and actions, with the continual guidance, model, and goal of Christ drawing along the process. To fail in this attentiveness is a failure to embody the truth. This following, discipleship, and faith is not a blind search for meaning, nor is it an attempt to establish meaning or logic, but it is an entry into discovery, realization, and insight, which provides a phenomenological, fully embodied intellectual coherence (intelligibility).

But to undertake this entry into truth requires a willing deference, a conscious mimesis, or a faith whose pathway is prearranged by the interior structures of intelligibility (what Maximus calls the logoi) entailing the cosmic order. “In honoring these logoi and acting in accordance with them, he places himself wholly in God alone, forming and configuring God alone throughout his entire being, so that he himself by grace is and is called God, just as God by His condescension is and is called man for the sake of man.. . .”[2] Maximus carries on the work of Origen, in describing apocatastasis or divinization as the point or goal of humanity, but also as the purpose of creation. In Maximus’ formula, “The Word of God, very God, wills that the mystery of his Incarnation be actualized always and in all things”[3] This is the path of discovery laid before humanity. All stand before Christ, faced with the question, “Who do you say that I am.”

 As in all modes of discovery, the inquiry exceeds the understanding. The questioner has already begun to feel the force of meaning before the fulness of that meaning dawns. According to Maximus, the Christian “‘moves’ in God in accordance with the logos of well-being that preexists in God, since he is moved to action by the virtues; and he ‘lives’ in God in accordance with the logos of eternal being that also preexists in God.”[4] Jesus’ embodied meaning attracts through a mimetic force, which like every meaning exerts a pull, but this force is a divine gravity. The good, the true and the beautiful embodied in Christ is a perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect understanding of the Father, which brings peace, healing, and reconciliation, and this exerts a pull beyond acquisitive, rivalrous, jealous, mimetic desire, which in Maximus and Lonergan would amount to being inattentive or untrue.

Of course, one can fail in the task of truth, which in Maximus explanation is to abandon one’s own origin and is to be swept away toward nonbeing, and in this state one experiences instability and suffers from fearful disorders as he has traded truth for what is inferior and nonexistent.[5] The untruth is a form of suffering as it entails a loss of meaning, a loss of agape love, and a failure to be fully human, in falling short of the interpersonal truth of love. It would seem that to prove this on some other basis is already a loss of love and meaning.

In short, as Maximus describes, this meaning carries the weight of divinity. He “draws near to us in his humanity” while bearing the fulness of his divinity, and “having given the whole of Himself, and assuming the whole of man” he witnesses to perfection of humanity and deity “bearing witness within His whole self—by the perfection of the two natures in which He truly exists—to the unchangeable and unalterable condition of both.”[6] For Hegel, “God becomes man generically, universally, essentially.”[7]  In Hegel’s explanation, the hypostatic union lies at the base of all human religion and all seeking after truth. As James Yerkes explains, for Hegel “the reconciliation of God and man universally longed for in all religious traditions and only implicitly understood by thought, is now in Christianity concretely fulfilled and made explicit to and for thought.”[8] According to Hegel, “It was Christianity, by its doctrine of the Incarnation and of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers, that first gave to human consciousness a perfectly free relationship to the infinite and thereby made possible the comprehensive knowledge of mind [Geist] in its absolute infinitude.”[9] Incarnational truth, is the truth revealed. “Hegel is arguing that the entire event of Jesus of Nazareth is a religiously central paradigmatic event by which the truth of what ultimately is and the truth of the meaning of human existence are disclosed to human consciousness.”[10]  To imagine we must prove the incarnation, miracles, resurrection, is to miss that this is the proof. Hegel describes this knowing as the most concrete reality.[11]

Likewise, in Matthew Hale’s explanation of Maximus, the Christian embodiment is dependent upon the incarnation of Christ (two concrete realities): “First, Jesus Christ is the content of what is revealed by the embodiment of the Word in the Christian. Second, Jesus’s own way of revealing the divine Word to humankind has a normative, exemplary force for the way in which the Word is revealed in the Christian.”[12] The virtue and knowledge of Christ embodied in the Christian is the Word in bodily form. Christ is the content revealed in and through the Christian. Hale argues that for Maximus, the embodiment of the Word in the Christian aligns with what Lonergan calls the “incarnate meaning” of Jesus Christ, so that the Christian bears the meaning of Christ in her life.  The hypostatic union of Christ (fully divine and fully human) is one that occurs through the Word for the Christian. Christ initiates what Maximus calls “the beautiful exchange,” which renders God man by reason of the divinization of man, and man God by reason of the Incarnation of God. For the Logos of God (who is God) wills always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of His embodiment. Such a one is a “‘portion of God’ insofar as he is God, owing to the logos of his eternal being that is in God.” According to Yerkes, “Religion is the existential starting point of philosophical reflection in dealing with the truth of reconciliation as an accomplished fact, and not as a mere yearning which is forever unrealizable. And this is why Hegel constantly can insist philosophy is the truth of ‘what is.’”[13] Truth or the “notion” is consummated in Christianity as Christ is the incarnation of the divine idea or notion. Here the mind of God is enfleshed. “In Christianity the nature of the religious consciousness itself is central, and thus the Hegelian conviction that Christianity is the “revealed” religion also implies that the form and content of human religious consciousness in the Christian religion for the first time adequately mirrors the form and content of God’s consciousness of himself as living Spirit.”[14]

For Hegel, as for Maximus, the incarnation of Christ is the reality upon which human thought and philosophy depend. “The content, it is then said, commends itself to me for its own sake, and the witness of the Spirit teaches me to recognise it as truth, as my essential determination.”[15] Apart from “eternal reconciliation” there would be no concrete or lived experience of the truth. Apart from the “incarnational principle” human experience flies apart between the finite and infinite or between the divine and human. The recognition of these poles is necessary but inadequate apart from the one who incarnates their synthesis. Reconciliation or synthesis is actualized in Christ and made available to the Christian. “The antithesis of subjective and objective” of infinite and finite is a realized redemption in the fact that God is “known as love.”[16] As Hegel states succinctly, “the truth exists as actually present truth.” It is, through the Holy Spirit, an appropriated truth: “the Holy Spirit comes to be in them as real, actual, and present, and has its abode in them; it means that the truth is in them, and that they are in a condition to enjoy and give active expression to the truth or Spirit, that they as individuals are those who give active expression to the Spirit.”[17]

In Maximus and Hegel, the truth is known and experienced directly in Jesus Christ. According to Hegel, “this is the inward, the true, the substantial element of this history, and it is just this that is the object of reason.”[18] This is not an object obtained according to reasonable proofs, or human reason, but is the object of reason, the ground and experience of meaning, which is its own proof. The New Testament, Maximus and Hegel, speak of a certainty grounded in Christ, and not in the biblical text, not in the authority of tradition, and not in rational proofs. There is a direct and immediate certainty realized in the Spirit, bearing witness to Christ, that God is revealed in the God/man.

(Sign up for the next PBI class, Imaginative Apologetics which will run through the first week of July to the week of August 23rd. Go to https://pbi.forgingploughshares.org/offerings to sign up.)

[1] Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua Vol. 1  Edited and Translated by Nicholas Constas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014) Ambigua 7, paragraph 22. 

[2] Ambigua 7:22.

[3] Ambigua, 7.22.

[4] Ambigua 7:22.

[5] Ambigua 7:23.

[6] Maximus, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, trans. Maximos Constas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2014), vol. 2: Ambigua 31: paragraph 8.

[7] James Yerkes, The Christology of Hegel (State University of New York Press, 1983) 120.

[8] Yerkes, 112.

[9] G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind: Being Part Three of the”Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences” (1830). Translatedby William Wallace, together with the Zusdtze in Boumann’s Text(1845) translated by A. V. Miller, with a Foreword by J. N. Findlay. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) 2. Quoted in Yerkes, 112.

[10] Yerkes, 123.

[11] Philosophy of Mind, B 2.

[12] Matthew Hale, “Knowledge, Virtue, and Meaning: A Lonerganian Interpretation of Maximus the Confessor on the Embodiment of the Word in the Christian” (PhD Faculty of the School of Theology and Religious Studies Of The Catholic University of America, 2022) 310.

[13] Ambigua 7:24.

[14] Yerkes, 119.

[15] G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures On the Philosophy of Religion: Together With a Work on the Proofs of the Existence of God vol. 1, Trans. By E. B. Speirs, and J. Burdon Sanderson, (London:  Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co. Ltd., 1895) 151.

[16] Yerkes, 116-117.

[17] G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Together with a Work on the Proofs of the Existence of God vol. 3, Translated by E. B. Spiers and J. B. Sanderson (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1968) 124.

[18] Lectures On the Philosophy of Religion, vol. 1, 146.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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