Ferdinand Christian Baur’s thought about religion focuses on the idea of Gnosis in close connection with the notion of history, but rather than favor a traditional approach, he prefers a different path: a “new” understanding of religion which draws quite heavily on Hegel’s philosophy, promoting the idea that history is the realm where God and man exist and work together.
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In Baur's thought, Gnosis is connected with the field of religion which must be investigated through he mediation of philosophy. This is why, in Baur, the notion of Gnosis is an aspect which pertains to the philosophy of religion, rather than theology. The proof for this particular reading of Baur's idea of Gnosis is provided by his evident connections with Hegel's philosophy as well as what he himself calls Böhme's theosophy, a sort of theological philosophy which is really a philosophy of Christianity seen as religion. A proper understanding of Baur's idea of Gnosis, however, cannot be achieved unless the importance of history is given full attention as the context for the development of Gnosis. These three fundamental aspects — the idea of history, Hegel's philosophy, and Böhme's theosophy — are the key issues which constitute the foundation of Baur's perspective on religion as Gnosis. One of the most obvious facts emerging from a careful reading of Baur and his view of Gnosis has to do with his lack of originality concerning how he sees Gnosis. When it comes to delving into the field of Gnosis and how it relates to the reality of religion, Baur finds support in Hegel and Böhme but not in order for him to produce something distinctively new as compared with Hegel and Böhme. What he does, in fact, is use Hegel for his understanding of religion and then focus on Böhme to illustrate his Hegelian view of religion, as well as of Gnosis as a religious phenomenon. Despite his lack of originality concerning Gnosis and his heavy reliance on Hegel and Böhme, Baur does establish the foundation for what is known in later decades as liberal theology and in doing so he also decisively contributes to the development of non-traditional approaches to Christian theology.
Corneliu C. Simuţ (Ph.D. 2003, University of Aberdeen; Th.D. 2005, University of Tilburg; Dr. Habil. 2012, The Reformed University of Debrecen) is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Theology at Emanuel University of Oradea, Romania, and its Rector. His most recent books include Essentials of Catholic Radicalism: An Introduction to the Lay Theology of Vito Mancuso (2011) and Secularization in Contemporary Religious Radicalism: An Introduction (2013).