I was seeing a documentary on Christianity, in it many times the word "Holy spirit" was mentioned with subtext that it was something written in the bible. I had previously heard Hegel came up with a related sounding idea of the >>Heiliger Geist<<. Do these two ideas have any relation to each other? What exactly are the differences?

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    Relevant: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/14533/…
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 20, 2022 at 11:18
  • The Holy Spirit in Christian theology is an aspect of the triune God along with Jesus and the Father (this is trinitarianism, which most Western Christians are. I'm not sure what roll the Holy Spirit plays in unitarianism, but it's probably similar). The Holy Spirit is said to indwell Christians and to be responsible for communicating between God and man and is responsible for prompting the conscience. Mar 20, 2022 at 17:29
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    See Geist: Hegel: "Geist is a central concept in Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit. According to Hegel, the Weltgeist ("world spirit") is not an actual object or a transcendental, Godlike thing, but a means of philosophizing about history." "Hegel's description of Napoleon as "the world-soul on horseback" (die Weltseele zu Pferde) became proverbial. The phrase is a shortened paraphrase of Hegel's words in a letter written in 1806: 'I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance.' " Mar 21, 2022 at 8:40
  • We can hardly assert that Napoleon was an incarnation of Holy spirit... Mar 21, 2022 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


First taking a look at the meaning of Holy Spirit.

From Take Our Word For It

Holy Ghost is used interchangeably with Holy Spirit today and is a much older term. It dates back to Old English, where the form was hálga gást or hálig gást, composed of two distinct words, as today. The first record of the term comes from about 900 in Halsuncge in Durham Ritual: "Ic eow halsige on fæder naman, and on suna naman..and on ðæs halgan gastes." ...

The etymology of holy, spirit, and ghost are also of interest as a part of this discussion. Holy is, as might be expected based on the etymology of Holy Ghost, an Old English term. Its form in about 1000 A.D. was halig and it derives from the Indo-European root hailo- or kailo- "free from injury, whole", whence comes also English hale as in "hale and hearty".

... spirit was initially used to translate Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah, starting in about 1250, and all versions of the Bible from Wyclif onward use spirit in translation of the Greek and Hebrew.
Prior to the Middle Ages, however, ghost was used. It comes from the Indo-European root gheis- "fear or amazement", and there are descendants of that root in most of the Germanic languages, all of them possessing similar meanings.

From Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question by J. Derrida, page 98, translating Martin Heidegger

The burning up is the radiance of a reddening glare. What burns itself up is Being-outside-itself (das Ausser-sich) which illuminates and makes shine, which also, however (indessen auch), can devour tirelessly and consume everything up to and including the white of the ash (in das Weisse der Asche verzehren kann).

"The flame is the brother of the palest" is what we read in the poem Verwandlung des Bösen (Transmutation of the Evil One). Trakl envisages "spirit" on the basis of this essence which is named in the originary meaning (in der ursprünglichen Bedeutung) of the word "Geist," for gheis means: to be thrown (aufgebracht), transported [or transposed, deported: entsetzt, again -- and I believe this is the most determining predicate], outside itself (ausser sich).

So here we have a process like a burning, a shine, a transport outside itself. What might be interpreted as a shock, out of one's mind (a transport), a gasp (same root), a very much spirited emotional state. Definitely a lot going on, in a process.

And then we have Hegel taking this idea of process to the scale of the Absolute.

From Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, page 239

Both [Hegel and Nietzsche] postulated a single basic force whose very essence is to manifest itself in diverse ways and to create multiplicity—not ex nihilo, but out of itself.

Hegel found the prototype of such a creative force in the Christian conception of the Holy Spirit, which he interpreted in his own characteristic fashion: God the Father must, without any external compulsion, become incarnate, embody himself, and thus become God the Son; in the Holy Spirit, however, God the Father and God the Son are one. Thus the spirit is a unity that is not an “inert simplicity,” nor an “unstained self-identity,” but essentially a process.

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    The quote from Take Our Word For It doesn't add anything to the answer. The etymology of the word tells nothing about the concept. Mar 20, 2022 at 17:23
  • @DavidGudeman I guess I'm focusing on the process aspect, as dynamic intelligence or burning life force. The Catholic encyclopedia says the Holy Ghost is a Person, which relates less easily to the idea in the Hegel quote. Mar 20, 2022 at 18:32
  • But the question was about the difference between Hegel and the Holy Spirit, so if a quote from the Catholic encyclopedia suggests that the two ideas aren't relatable, that's the answer. Mar 20, 2022 at 23:04
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    My problem with this answer is rather that a secondary source which makes claims about what Hegel might have thought about the holy ghost in relation to father and son is not quite adding something to the difference between the Catholic holy ghost and Hegelian absolute Geist or world spirit.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 21, 2022 at 10:01
  • @DavidGudeman Inasmuch as a person is/has a spirit it make the two ideas relatable. Mar 22, 2022 at 13:37

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