Schleiermacher is not in search of the historical Jesus, but of the Jesus Christ of his own system of theology
|November 22, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter six||
Schleiermacher is not in search of the historical Jesus, but of the Jesus Christ of his own system of theology; that is to say, of the historic figure which seems to him appropriate to the self-consciousness of the Redeemer as he represents it. For him the empirical has simply no existence. A natural psychology is scarcely attempted. He comes to the facts with a ready-made dialectic apparatus and sets his puppets in lively action. Schleiermacher’s dialectic is not a dialectic which generates reality, like that of Hegel, of which Strauss availed himself, but merely a dialectic of exposition. In this literary dialectic he is the greatest master that ever lived.
The limitations of the historical Jesus both in an upward and downward direction are those only which apply equally to the Jesus of dogma. The uniqueness of His Divine self-consciousness is not to be tampered with. It is equally necessary to avoid Ebionism which does away with the Divine in Him, and Docetism which destroys His humanity. Schleiermacher loves to make his hearers shudder by pointing out to them that the least false step entails precipitation into one or other of these abysses; or at least would entail it for any one who was not under the guidance of his infallible dialectic.
In the course of this dialectic treatment, all the historical questions involved in the life of Jesus come into view one after another, but none of them is posed or solved from the point of view of the historian; they are “moments” in his argument.
He is like a spider at work. The spider lets itself down from aloft, and after making fast some supporting threads to points below, it runs back to the centre and there keeps spinning away. You look on fascinated, and before you know it, you are entangled in the web. It is difficult even for a reader who is strong in the consciousness of possessing a sounder grasp of the history than Schleiermacher to avoid being caught in the toils of that magical dialectic.
And how loftily superior the dialectician is! Paulus had shown that, in view of the use of the title Son of Man, the Messianic self-consciousness of Jesus must be interpreted in accordance with the passage in Daniel. On this Schleiermacher remarks: “I have already said that it is inherently improbable that such a predilection (sc. for the Book of Daniel) would have been manifested by Christ, because the Book of Daniel does not belong to the prophetic writings properly so-called, but to the third division of the Old Testament literature.”
In his estimate of the importance to be attached to the story of the baptism, too, he falls behind the historical knowledge of his day. “To lay such great stress upon the baptism,” he says, “leads either to the Gnostic view that it was only there that the log?V united itself with Jesus, or to the rationalistic view that it was only at the baptism that He became conscious of His vocation.” But what does history care whether a view is gnostic or rationalistic if only it is historical!
This dialectic, so fatal often to sound historical views, might have been expressly created to deal with the question of miracle. Compared with Schleiermacher’s discussions all that has been written since upon this subject is mere honest—or dishonest—bungling. Nothing new has been added to what he says, and no one else has succeeded in saying it with the same amazing subtlety. It is true, also that no one else has shown the same skill in concealing how much in the way of miracle he ultimately retains and how much he rejects. His solution of the problem is, in fact, not historical, but dialectical, an attempt to transcend the necessity for a rationalistic explanation of miracle which does not really succeed in getting rid of it.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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