Protestantism was a step—a step on which hung weighty consequences—in the progress of that “acceptance of the world”
|November 7, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter seventeen||
Yet more. It is the primal fact, the starting-point of a process which manifests itself, indeed, in Christianity, but cannot fully work itself out even here, of a movement in the direction of inwardness which brings all religious magnitudes into the one indivisible spiritual present, and which Christian dogmatic has not ventured to carry to its completion. The Messianic consciousness of the uniquely great Man of Nazareth sets up a struggle between the present and the beyond, and introduces that resolute absorption of the beyond by the present, which in looking back we recognise as the history of Christianity, and of which we are conscious in ourselves as the essence of religious progress and experience—a process of which the end is not yet in sight.
In this sense Jesus did “accept the world” and did stand in conflict with Judaism. Protestantism was a step—a step on which hung weighty consequences—in the progress of that “acceptance of the world” which was constantly developing itself from within. By a mighty revolution which was in harmony with the spirit of that great primal act of the consciousness of Jesus, though in opposition to some of the most certain of His sayings, ethics became world-accepting. But it will be a mightier revolution still when the last remaining ruins of the supersensuous other-worldly system of thought are swept away in order to clear the site for a new spiritual, purely real and present world. All the inconsistent compromises and constructions of modern theology are merely an attempt to stave off the final expulsion of eschatology from religion, an inevitable but a hopeless attempt. That proleptic Messianic consciousness of Jesus, which was in reality the only possible actualisation of the Messianic idea, carries these consequences with it inexorably and unfailingly. At that last cry upon the cross the whole eschatological supersensuous world fell in upon itself in ruins, and there remained as a spiritual reality only that present spiritual world, bound as it is to sense, which Jesus by His all-powerful word had called into being within the world which He contemned. That last cry, with its despairing abandonment of the eschatological future, is His real acceptance of the world. The “Son of Man” was buried in the ruins of the falling eschatological world; there remained alive only Jesus “the Man.” Thus these two Aramaic synonyms include in themselves, as in a symbol of reality, all that was to come.
If theology has found it so hard a task to arrive at an historical comprehension of the secret of this self-designation, this is due to the fact that the question is not a purely historical one. In this word there lies the transformation of a whole system of thought, the inexorable consequence of the elimination of eschatology from religion. It was only in this future form, not as actual, that Jesus spoke of His Messiahship. Modern theology keeps on endeavouring to discover in the title of Son of Man, which is bound up with the future, a humanised present Messiahship. It does so in the conviction that the recognition of a purely future reference in the Messianic consciousness of Jesus would lead in the last result to a modification of the historic basis of our faith which has itself become historical, and therefore true and selfjustifying. The recognition of the claims of eschatology signifies for our dogmatic a burning of the boats by which it felt itself able to return at any moment from the time of Jesus direct to the present.
One point that is worthy of notice in this connexion is the trustworthiness of the tradition. The Evangelists, writing in Greek, and the Greek-speaking Early Church, can hardly have retained an understanding of the purely eschatological character of that self-designation of Jesus. It had become for them merely an indirect method of self-designation. And nevertheless the Evangelists, especially Mark, record the sayings of Jesus in such a way that the original significance and application of the designation in His mouth is still clearly recognisable, and we are able to determine with certainty the isolated cases in which this self-designation in His discourses is of a secondary origin.
Thus the use of the term Son of Man—which, if we admitted the sweeping proposal of Lietzmann and Wellhausen to cancel it everywhere as an interpolation of Greek Early Church theology, would throw doubt on the whole of the Gospel tradition—becomes a proof of the certainty and trustworthiness of that tradition. We may, in fact, say that the progressive recognition of the eschatological character of the teaching and action of Jesus carries with it a progressive justification of the Gospel tradition. A series of passages and discourses which had been endangered because from the modern theological point of view which had been made the criterion of the tradition they appeared to be without meaning, are now secured. The stone which the critics rejected has become the corner-stone of the tradition.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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