Reinhard’s “System of Christian Ethics”
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter three||
Reinhard’s work is on a distinctly higher level. The author was born in 1753. In 1792, after he had worked for fourteen years as Docent in Wittenberg, he was appointed Senior Court Chaplain at Dresden. He died in 1812.
“I am, as you know, a very prosaic person,” writes Reinhard to a friend, and in these words he has given an admirable characterisation of himself. The writers who chiefly appeal to him are the ancient moralists; he acknowledges that he has learned more from them than from a “collegium homileticum.” In his celebrated “System of Christian Ethics” (5 vols., 1788-1815) he makes copious use of them. His sermons—they fill thirty-five volumes, and in their day were regarded as models—show some power and depth of thought, but are all cast in the same mould. He seems to have been haunted by a fear that it might some time befall him to admit into his mind a thought which was mystical or visionary, not justifiable by the laws of logic and the canons of the critical reason. With all his philosophising and rationalising, however, certain pillars of the supernaturalistic view of history remain for him immovable.
At first sight one might be inclined to suppose that he frankly shared the belief in miracle. He mentions the raising of the widow’s son, and of Lazarus, and accepts as an authentic saying the command of the risen Jesus to baptize all nations. But if we look more closely, we find that he deliberately brings very few miracles into his narrative, and the definition by which he disintegrates the conception of miracle from within leaves no doubt as to his own position. What he says is this: “All that which we call miraculous and supernatural is to be understood as only relatively so, and implies nothing further than an obvious exception to what can be brought about by natural causes, so far as we know them and have experience of their capacity. A cautious thinker will not venture in any single instance to pronounce an event to be so extraordinary that God could not have brought it about by the use of secondary causes, but must have intervened directly.”
The case stands similarly with regard to the divinity of Christ. Reinhard assumes it, but his “Life” is not directed to prove it; it leads only to the conclusion that the Founder of Christianity is to be regarded as a wonderful “divine” teacher. In order to prove His uniqueness, Reinhard has to show that His plan for the welfare of mankind was something incomparably higher than anything which hero or sage has ever striven for. Reinhard makes the first attempt to give an account of the teaching of Jesus which should be historical in the sense that all dogmatic considerations should be excluded. “Above all things, let us collect and examine the indications which we find in the writings of His companions regarding the designs which He had in view.”
The plan of Jesus shows its greatness above all in its universality. Reinhard is well aware of the difficulty raised in this connexion by those sayings which assert the prerogative of Israel, and he discusses them at length. He finds the solution in the assumption that Jesus in His own lifetime naturally confined Himself to working among His own people, and was content to indicate the future universal development of His plan.
With the intention of “introducing a universal change, tending to the benefit of the whole human race,” Jesus attaches His teaching to the Jewish eschatology. It is only the form of His teaching, however, which is affected by this, since He gives an entirely different significance to the terms Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God, referring them to a universal ethical reorganisation of mankind. But His plan was entirely independent of politics. He never based His claims upon His Davidic descent. This was, indeed, the reason why He held aloof from His family. Even the entry into Jerusalem had no Messianic significance. His plan was so entirely non-political that He would, on the contrary, have welcomed the severance of all connexion between the state and religion, in order to avoid the risk of a conflict between these two powers. Reinhard explains the voluntary death of Jesus as due to this endeavour. “He quitted the stage of the world by so early and shameful a death because He wished to destroy at once and for ever the mistaken impression that He was aiming at the foundation of an earthly kingdom, and to turn the thoughts, wishes, and efforts of His disciples and companions into another channel.”
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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