The critical study of the life of Jesus has been for theology a school of honesty.
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter one||
But it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus; each individual created Him in accordance with his own character. There is no historical task which so reveals a man’s true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus. No vital force comes into the figure unless a man breathes into it all the hate or all the love of which he is capable. The stronger the love, or the stronger the hate, the more life-like is the figure which is produced. For hate as well as love can write a Life of Jesus, and the greatest of them are written with hate: that of Reimarus, the Wolfenbüttel Fragmentist, and that of David Friedrich Strauss. It was not so much hate of the Person of Jesus as of the supernatural nimbus with which it was so easy to surround Him, and with which He had in fact been surrounded. They were eager to picture Him as truly and purely human, to strip from Him the robes of splendour with which He had been apparelled, and clothe Him once more with the coarse garments in which He had walked in Galilee.
And their hate sharpened their historical insight. They advanced the study of the subject more than all the others put together. But for the offence which they gave, the science of historical theology would not have stood where it does to-day. “It must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” Reimarus evaded that woe by keeping the offence to himself and preserving silence during his lifetime—his work, “The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples,” was only published after his death, by Lessing. But in the case of Strauss, who, as a young man of twenty-seven, cast the offence openly in the face of the world, the woe fulfilled itself. His “Life of Jesus” was his ruin. But he did not cease to be proud of it in spite of all the misfortune that it brought him. “I might well bear a grudge against my book,” he writes twenty-five years later in the preface to the “Conversations of Ulrich von Hutten,” “for it has done me much evil (‘And rightly so!’ the pious will exclaim). It has excluded me from public teaching in which I took pleasure and for which I had perhaps some talent; it has torn me from natural relationships and driven me into unnatural ones; it has made my life a lonely one. And yet when I consider what it would have meant if I had refused to utter the word which lay upon my soul, if I had suppressed the doubts which were at work in my mind—then I bless the book which has doubtless done me grievous harm outwardly, but which preserved the inward health of my mind and heart, and, I doubt not, has done the same for many others also.”
Before him, Bahrdt had his career broken in consequence of revealing his beliefs concerning the Life of Jesus; and after him, Bruno Bauer.
It was easy for them, resolved as they were to open the way even with seeming blasphemy. But the others, those who tried to bring Jesus to life at the call of love, found it a cruel task to be honest. The critical study of the life of Jesus has been for theology a school of honesty. The world had never seen before, and will never see again, a struggle for truth so full of pain and renunciation as that of which the Lives of Jesus of the last hundred years contain the cryptic record. One must lead the successive Lives of Jesus with which Hase followed the course of the study from the twenties to the seventies of the nineteenth century to get an inkling of what it must have cost the men who lived through that decisive period really to maintain that “courageous freedom of investigation” which the great Jena professor, in the preface to his first Life of Jesus, claims for his researches. One sees in him the marks of the struggle with which he gives up, bit by bit, things which, when he wrote that preface, he never dreamed he would have to surrender. It was fortunate for these men that their sympathies sometimes obscured their critical vision, so that, without becoming insincere, they were able to take white clouds for distant mountains. That was the kindly fate of Hase and Beyschlag.
 D. Fr. Strauss, Gespräche van Ulrich von Hutten. Leipzig, 1860.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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