III THE LIVES OF JESUS OF THE EARLIER RATIONALISM
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter three||
THE LIVES OF JESUS OF THE EARLIER RATIONALISM
Johann Jakob Hess. Geschichte der drei letzten Lebensjahre Jesu. (History of the Last Three Years of the Life of Jesus.) 3 vols., 1400 pp. Leipzig- Zurich, 1768-1772; 3rd ed., 1774 ff.; 7th ed., 1823 ff.
Franz Volkmar Reinhard. Versuch über den Plan, welchen der Stifter der christlichen Religion zum Besten der Menschheit entwarf. (Essay upon the Plan which the Founder of the Christian Religion adopted for the Benefit of Mankind.) 500 pp. 1781; 4th ed., 1798; 5th ed., 1830. Our account is based on the 4th ed. The 5th contains supplementary matter by Heubner.
Ernst August Opitz. Preacher at Zscheppelin. Geschichte und Characterzüge Jesu. (History of Jesus, with a Delineation of His Character.) Jena and Leipzig, 1812. 488 pp.
Johann Adolph Jakobi. Superintendent at Waltershausen. Die Geschichte Jesu für denkende und gemütvolle Leser, 1816. (The History of Jesus for thoughtful and sympathetic readers.) A second volume, containing the history of the apostolic age, followed in 1818.
Johann Gottfried Herder. Vom Erlöser der Menschen. Nach unsern drei ersten Evangelien. (The Redeemer of men, as portrayed in our first three Gospels.) 1796. Von Gottes Sohn, der Welt Heiland. Nach Johannes Evangelium. (The Son of God, the Saviour of the World, as portrayed by John’s Gospel.) Accompanied by a rule for the harmonisation of our Gospels on the basis of their origin and order. Riga, published by Hartknoch, 1797. See Herder’s complete works, ed. Suphan, vol. xix.
THAT THOROUGH-GOING THEOLOGICAL RATIONALISM WHICH ACCEPTS ONLY so much of religion as can justify itself at the bar of reason, and which conceives and represents the origin of religion in accordance with this principle, was preceded by a rationalism less complete, as yet not wholly dissociated from a simple-minded supernaturalism. Its point of view is one at which it is almost impossible for the modern man to place himself. Here, in a single consciousness, orthodoxy and rationalism lie stratified in successive layers. Here, to change the metaphor, rationalism surrounds religion without touching it, and, like a lake surrounding some ancient castle, mirrors its image with curious refractions.
This half-developed rationalism was conscious of an impulse—it is the first time in the history of theology that this impulse manifests itself—to write the Life of Jesus; at first without any suspicion whither this undertaking would lead it. No rude hands were to be laid upon the doctrinal conception of Jesus; at least these writers had no intention of laying hands upon it. Their purpose was simply to gain a clearer view of the course of our Lord’s earthly and human life. The theologians who undertook this task thought of themselves as merely writing an historical supplement to the life of the God-Man Jesus. These “Lives” are, therefore, composed according to the prescription of the “good old gentleman” who in 1829 advised the young Hase to treat first of the divine, and then of the human side of the life of Jesus.
The battle about miracle had not yet begun. But miracle no longer plays a part of any importance; it is a firmly established principle that the teaching of Jesus, and religion in general, hold their place solely in virtue of their inner reasonableness, not by the support of outward evidence.
The only thing that is really rationalistic in these older works is the treatment of the teaching of Jesus. Even those that retain the largest share of supernaturalism are as completely undogmatic as the more advanced in their reproduction of the discourses of the Great Teacher. All of them make it a principle to lose no opportunity of reducing the number of miracles; where they can explain a miracle by natural causes, they do not hesitate for a moment. But the deliberate rejection of all miracles, the elimination of everything supernatural which intrudes itself into the life of Jesus, is still to seek. That principle was first consistently carried through by Paulus. With these earlier writers it depends on the degree of enlightenment of the individual whether the irreducible minimum of the supernatural is larger or smaller.
Moreover, the period of this older rationalism, like every period when human thought has been strong and vigorous, is wholly unhistorical. What it is looking for is not the past, but itself in the past. For it, the problem of the life of Jesus is solved the moment it succeeds in bringing Jesus near to its own time, in portraying Him as the great teacher of virtue, and showing that His teaching is identical with the intellectual truth which rationalism deifies.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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