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Hegel’s view, as stated in his Religionsphilosophie, may be briefly summed up thus:—


1. Evil exists by a metaphysical necessity. “The notion must realise itself. . . . Man is essentially spirit; but spirit does not arise in an immediate way. It is essential to spirit to be for itself, to be free, to oppose itself to naturalness, to raise itself out of its state of immersion in nature, to set itself at variance with nature, and first through and by this variance to reconcile itself with nature, and not only with nature, but with its own essence, with its truth.”—Vol. i. p. 268.

2. As respects his original condition, man exists first in a state of pure naturalness. It is hardly correctly named even a state of innocence, for innocence implies moral ideas, whereas this is a state “in which there is for man neither good nor evil; it is the state of the animal, of lack of knowledge, in which man knows nothing of either good or evil, in which what he wills is not determined either as the one or the other; for if he does not know evil, neither does he know good....In truth, that first state of mere existence in unity with nature is not a condition of innocence, but of rudeness, of appetite, of barbarism generally.”Vol. i. p. 269.

3. As respects man’s essential nature in this state, two opposite definitions are to be given—Man is by nature good; and man is by nature bad. To affirm “that man is by nature good, is essentially to say that man is spirit in himself, is rationality; he is created with and after the image of God. . . . The other statement arises from what has been said, that man must not remain as he is immediately, but must transcend his immediateness. . . . His being-in-self, his naturality is the evil. . . . He is evil for this reason, that he is a natural being...The absolute demand is that man shall not remain as a mere natural being,—not as mere natural will. Man has indeed consciousness; but he can, even as man, remain a mere natural being, in so far as he makes the natural the aim, content, and determination of his will.”—Vol. ii. pp. 258–260.

4. That through which the transition is effected from the natural to the moral state is knowledge. With the awakening of consciousness, man recognises that he is not what he ought to be; hence arises the sense of sin, the pain of discord, of contradiction with himself. As the Bible has it, man becomes evil by eating of the tree of knowledge. “In this representation lies the connection of evil with knowledge. This is an essential point. . . . Man’s nature is not what it should be, and it is knowledge which acquaints him with this and sets before him the fact of his being as he ought not to be. . . . It is not that consideration (knowledge) has an external relation to evil, but the consideration itself is the evil. Man, since he is spirit, has to proceed to this opposition, in order to he altogether for himself,” etc.—Vol. ii. pp. 263–265.

It is the annulling of this self-redemption in man—represented as an essential stage in his development—which constitutes, according to Hegel, the atonement.

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