for all Strauss’s awkward, arbitrary handling of the history he is greater than the rival
|November 16, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter fourteen||
For a popular book, too, it lacks that living interplay of reflection with narration without which the ordinary reader fails to get a grip of the history. The first Life of Jesus had been rich in this respect, since it had been steeped in the Hegelian theory regarding the realisation of the Idea. In the meantime Strauss had seen the Hegelian philosophy fall from its high estate, and himself had found no way of reconciling history and idea, so that his present Life of Jesus was a mere objective presentment of the history. It was, therefore, not adapted to make any impression upon the popular mind.
In reality it is merely an exposition, in more or less popular form, of the writer’s estimate of what had been done in the study of the subject during the past thirty years, and shows what he had learnt and what he had failed to learn.
As regards the Synoptic question he had learnt nothing. In his opinion the criticism of the Gospels has “run to seed.” He treats with a pitying contempt both the earlier and the more recent defenders of the Marcan hypothesis. Weisse is a dilettante; Wilke had failed to make any impression on him; Holtzmann’s work was as yet unknown to him. But in the following year he discharged the vials of his wrath upon the man who had both strengthened the foundations and put on the copingstone of the new hypothesis. “Our lions of St. Mark, older and younger,” he says in the appendix to his criticism of Schleiermacher’s Life of Jesus, “may roar as loud as they like, so long as there are six solid reasons against the priority of Mark to set against every one of their flimsy arguments in its favour—and they themselves supply us with a store of counter-arguments in the shape of admissions of later editing and so forth. The whole theory appears to me a temporary aberration, like the ‘music of the future’ or the anti-vaccination movement; and I seriously believe that it is the same order of mind which, in different circumstances, falls a victim to the one delusion or the other.” But he must not be supposed, he says, to take the critical mole-hills thrown up by Holtzmann for veritable mountains.
Against such opponents he does not scruple to seek aid from Schleiermacher, whose unbiased but decided opinion had ascribed a tertiary character to Mark. Even Gfrörer ‘s view that Mark adapted his Gospel he needs of the Church by leaving out everything which was open to objection in Matthew and Luke, is good enough to be brought to bear against the bat-eyed partisans of Mark. F. C. Baur is reproached for having given too much weight to the “tendency” theory in his criticism of the Gospels; and also for having taken suggestions of Strauss’s and worked them out, supposing that he was offering something new when he was really only amplifying. In the end he had only given a criticism of the Gospels, not of the Gospel history.
But this irritation against his old teacher is immediately allayed when he comes to speak of the Fourth Gospel. Here the teacher has carried to a successful issue the campaign which the pupil had begun. Strauss feels compelled to “express his gratitude for the work done by the Tübingen school on the Johannine question.” He himself had only been able to deal with the negative side of the question—to show that the Fourth Gospel was not an historical source, but a theological invention; they had dealt with it positively, and had assigned the document to its proper place in the evolution of Christian thought. There is only one point with which he quarrels. Baur had made the Fourth Gospel too completely spiritual, “whereas the fact is,” says Strauss, “that it is the most material of all.” It is true, Strauss explains, that the Evangelist starts out to interpret miracle and eschatology symbolically; but he halts half-way and falls back upon the miraculous, enhancing the professed fact in proportion as he makes it spiritually more significant. Beside the spiritual return of Jesus in the Paraclete he places His return in a material body, bearing the marks of the wounds; beside the inward present judgment, a future outward judgment; and the fact that he sees the one in the other, finds the one present and visible in the other, is just what constitutes the mystical character of his Gospel. This mysticism attracts the modern world. “The Johannine Christ, who in His descriptions of Himself seems to be always out-doing Himself, is the counterpart of the modern believer, who in order to remain a believer must continually out-do himself; the Johannine miracles which are always being interpreted spiritually, and at the same time raised to a higher pitch of the miraculous, which are counted and documented in every possible way, and yet must not be considered the true ground of faith, are at once miracles and no miracles. We must believe them, and yet can believe without them; in short they exactly meet the taste of the present day, which delights to involve itself in contradictions and is too lethargic and wanting in courage for any clear insight or decided opinion on religious matters.
Strictly speaking, however, the Strauss of the second Life of Jesus has no right to criticise the Fourth Gospel for sublimating the history, for he himself gives what is nothing else than a spiritualisation of the Jesus of the Synoptics. And he does it in such an arbitrary fashion that one is compelled to ask how far he does it with a good conscience. A typical case is the exposition of Jesus’ answer to the Baptist’s message-“Is it possible,” Jesus means, “that you fail to find in Me the miracles which you expect from the Messiah? And yet I daily open the eyes of the spiritually blind and the ears of the spiritually deaf, make the lame walk erect and vigorous, and even give new life to those who are morally dead. Any one who understands how much greater these spiritual miracles are, will not be offended at the absence of bodily miracles; only such an one can receive, and is worthy of, the salvation which I am bringing to mankind.”
Here the fundamental weakness of his method is clearly shown. The vaunted apparatus for the evaporation of the mythical does not work quite satisfactorily. The ultimate product of this process was expected to be a Jesus who should be essential man; the actual product, however, is Jesus the historical man, a being whose looks and sayings are strange and unfamiliar. Strauss is too purely a critic, too little of the creative historian, to recognise this strange being. That Jesus really lived in a world of Jewish ideas and held Himself to be Messiah in the Jewish sense is for the writer of the Life of Jesus an impossibility. The deposit which resists the chemical process for the elimination of myth, he must therefore break up with the hammer.
How different from the Strauss of 1835! He had then recognised eschatology as the most important element in Jesus’ world of thought, and in some incidental remarks had made striking applications of it. He had, for example, proposed to regard the Last Supper not as the institution of a feast for coming generation, but as a Paschal meal, at which Jesus declared that He would next partake of the Paschal bread and Paschal wine along with His disciples in the heavenly kingdom. In the second Life of Jesus this view is given up; Jesus did found a feast. “In order to give a living centre of unity to the society which it was His purpose to found, Jesus desired to institute this distribution of bread and wine as a feast to be constantly repeated.” One might be reading Renan. This change of attitude is typical of much else.
Strauss is not in the least disquieted by finding himself at one with Schleiermacher in these attempts to spiritualise. On the contrary, he appeals to him. He shares, he says, Schleiermacher’s conviction “that the unique self-consciousness of Jesus did not develop as a consequence of His conviction that He was the Messiah; on the contrary, it was a consequence of His self-consciousness that He arrived at the view that the Messianic prophecies could point to no one but Himself.” The moment eschatology entered into the consciousness of Jesus it came in contact with a higher principle which over-mastered it and gradually dissolved it. “Had Jesus applied the Messianic idea to Himself before He had had a profound religious consciousness to which to relate it, doubtless it would have taken possession of Him so powerfully that He could never have escaped its influence.” We must suppose the ideality, the concentration upon that which was inward, the determination to separate religion, on the one hand, from politics, and on the other, from ritual, the serene consciousness of being able toa ttain to peace with God and with Himself by purely spiritual means—all this we must suppose to have reached a certain ripeness, a certain security in the mind of Jesus, before He permitted Himself to entertain the thought of His Messiahship, and this we may believe is the reason why He grasped it in so independent and individual a fashion. In this, therefore Strauss has become the pupil of Weisse.
Even in the Old Testament prophecies, he explains, we find two conceptions, a more ideal and a more practical. Jesus holds consistently to the first, He describes Himself as the Son of Man because this designation “contains the suggestion of humility and lowliness, of the human and natural.” At Jerusalem, Jesus, in giving His interpretation of Psalm cx., “made merry over the Davidic descent of the Messiah.” He desired “to be Messiah in the sense of a patient teacher exercising a quiet influence.” As the opposition of the people grew more intense He took up some of the features of Isaiah liii. into His conception of the Messiah.
Of His resurrection, Jesus can only have spoken in a metaphorical sense. It is hardly credible that one who was pure man could have arrogated to himself the position of judge of the world. Strauss would like best to ascribe all the eschatology to the distorting medium of early Christianity, but he does not venture to carry this through with logical consistency. He takes it as certain, however, that Jesus, even though it sometimes seems as if He did not expect the Kingdom to be realised in the present, but in a future, world-era, and to be brought about by God in a supernatural fashion, nevertheless sets about the establishment of the Kingdom by purely spiritual influence.
With this end in view He leaves Galilee, when He judges the time to be ripe, in order to work on a larger scale. “In case of an unfavourable issue, He reckons on the influence which a martyr-death has never failed to exercise in giving momentum to a lofty idea.” How far He had advanced, when He entered on the fateful journey to Jerusalem, in shaping His plan, and especially in organising the company of adherents who had gathered about Him, it is impossible to determine with anv exactness. He permitted the triumphal entry because He did not desire to decline the role of the Messiah in every aspect of it. Owing to this arbitrary spiritualisation of the Synoptic Jesus, Strauss’s picture is in essence much more unhistorical than Renan’s. The latter had not needed to deny that Jesus had done miracles, and he had been able to suggest an explanation of how Jesus came in the end to fall back upon the eschatological system of ideas. But at what a price! By portraying Jesus as at variance with Himself, a hero broken in spirit. This price is too high for Strauss. Arbitrary as his treatment of history is, he never loses the intuitive feeling that in Jesus’ self-consciousness there is a unique absence of struggle; that He does not bear the scars which are found in those natures which win their way to freedom and purity through strife and conflict, that in Him there is no trace of the hardness, harshness, and gloom which cleave to such natures throughout life, but that He “is manifestly a beautiful nature from the first.” Thus, for all Strauss’s awkward, arbitrary handling of the history he is greater than the rival who could manufacture history with such skill.
 Strauss’s second Life of Jesus appeared in French in 1864.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
|Also in print from Barnes and Noble
As an E-book at: