The series published as The Reality of God brings together the lectures which would have been given by Baron Friedrich von Hügel between 1924 and 1926, aptly summarized by the complete title “Concerning the Reality of Finites and the Reality of God: a Study of their Inter-relations and their Effects and Requirements within the Human Mind.” Ill health, however, prevented von Hügel from holding the lectures. This volume, then, includes the edited – in greater or lesser detail – outlines of 13 (of the original 20) lectures. Initially, three sections were planned, “dealing with the subject from the standpoint of Epistemology, Ethics, and Institutional Religion respectively” (v-vi). The edited publication mainly consists of notes on the first section, as well as some remarks on the planned content for sections II and III.
In The Reality of God, we encounter these – at times heavily edited and reordered – outlines based on notes, as they were left at the time of von Hügel’s death in 1925. The Introduction is not only the most extensively preserved chapter, but it also hints at the grand vision that von Hügel had for these lectures. In the first section, von Hügel planned the examination of the existence of God through engaging with key thinkers of the last centuries. His starting point is St. Thomas, and the driving force behind this beginning is whether, and if so, how, we have a better and more precise insight into the reality of God, acknowledging that the subject itself will always be beyond our full grasp. The section was also planned to engage with other figures such as Kant, Hegel, and Darwin. Kant would have also featured prominently in the second – likely to be quite critical – section which focuses on Kant and the way he has influenced ethics. Some of the notes on this section are included in Chapter XI. The third section was planned to engage with the world of religion, yet no substantial part of this portion of the series is preserved. Chapters on ‘The Need of Body and Soul in the Emotions,‘ as well as on ‘The Need of Institutional Religion,’ which would have formed a core part of the second section, conclude the publication.
Overall, it is reason of great lament that the lectures were never held and that the manuscript was not completed. The Reality of God, as it is available to us today in published form, allows the reader a glimpse into the engaged thought of a great scholar, undertaking this project with intellectual rigor and wisdom. It is, within the limitations of the publication, clearly articulated and, instead of arguing for the existence of God, unashamedly takes this as a starting point. The traces of God’s existence “are thus not of our own making, but they proceed from His action and His being – they are real evidences of the reality of God.” (36) This is the motivation that underlies this series and it successfully offers a few engaging avenues into this topic.