the history of Christianity beyond the life of Jesus
|November 8, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter sixteen||
If we are to speak of the present it must be fully admitted that even historical science, when it desires to continue the history of Christianity beyond the life of Jesus, cannot help protesting against the onesidedness of the eschatological world of thought of the “Founder.” It finds itself obliged to distinguish in the thought of Jesus “permanent elements and transitory elements” which, being interpreted, means eschatological and not essentially eschatological materials; otherwise it can get no farther. For if Jesus’ world of thought was wholly and exclusively eschatological, there can only have arisen out of it, as Reimarus long ago maintained, an exclusively eschatological primitive Christianity. But how a community of that kind could give birth to the Greek non-eschatological theology no Church history and no history of dogma has so far shown. Instead of that they all—Harnack, with the most consummate historical ability—lay down from the very first, alongside of the main line intended for “contemporary views” traffic, a relief line for the accommodation of through trains of “non-temporally limited ideas”; and at the point where primitive Christian eschatology becomes of less importance they switch off the train to the relief line, after slipping the carriages which are not intended to go beyond that station.
This procedure has now been rendered impossible for them by Weiss, who leaves no place in the teaching of Jesus for anything but the singleline traffic of eschatology. If, during the last fifteen years, any one had attempted to carry out in a work on a large scale the plan of Strauss and Renan, linking up the history of the life of Jesus with the history of early Christianity, and New Testament theology with the early history of dogma, the immense difficulties which Weiss had raised without suspecting it, in the course of his sixty-seven pages, would have become clearly apparent. The problem of the Hellenisation of Christianity took on quite a new aspect when the trestle bridge of modern ideas connecting the eschatological early Christianity with Greek theology broke down under the weight of the newly-discovered material, and it became necessary to seek within the history itself an explanation of the way in which an exclusively eschatological system of ideas came to admit Greek influences, and—what is much more difficult to explain—how Hellenism, on its part, found any point of contact with an eschatological sect.
The new problem is as yet hardly recognised, much less grappled with. The few who since Weiss’s time have sought to pass over from the life of Jesus to early Christianity, have acted like men who find themselves on an ice-floe which is slowly dividing into two pieces, and who leap from one to the other before the cleft grows too wide. Harnack, in his “What is Christianity?” almost entirely ignores the contemporary limitations of Jesus’ teaching, and starts out with a Gospel which carries him down without difficulty to the year 1899. The anti-historical violence of this procedure is, if possible, still more pronounced in Wernle. The Beginnings of our Religion” begins by putting the Jewish eschatology in a convenient posture for the coming operation by urging that the idea of the Messiah, since there was no appropriate place for it in connexion with the Kingdom of God or the new Earth, had become obsolete for the Jews themselves.
The inadequateness of the Messianic idea for the purposes of Jesus is therefore self-evident. “His whole life long”—as if we knew any more of it than the few months of His public ministry!—”He laboured to give a new and higher content to the Messianic title which He had adopted.” In the course of this endeavour He discarded “the Messiah of the Zealots”—by that is meant the political non-transcendent Messianic ideal. As if we had any knowledge of the existence of such an ideal in the time of Jesus! The statements of Josephus suggest, and the conduct of Pilate at the trial of Jesus confirms the conclusion, that in none of the risings did a claimant of the Messiahship come forward and this should be proof enough that there did not exist at that time a political eschatology alongside of the transcendental, and indeed it could not on inner grounds subsist alongside of it. That was, after all, the thing which Weiss had shown most clearly!
Jesus, therefore, had dismissed the Messiah of the Zealots; He had now to turn Himself into the “waiting” Messiah of the Rabbis. Yet He does not altogether accept this role, for He works actively as Messiah. His struggle with the Messianic conception could not but end in transforming it. This transformed conception is introduced by Jesus to the people at His entry into Jerusalem, since His choice of the ass to bear Him inscribed as a motto, so to speak, over the demonstration the prophecy of the Messiah who should be a bringer of peace. A few days later He gives the Scribes to understand by His enigmatic words with reference to Mark xii. 37, that His Messiahship has nothing to do with Davidic descent and all that that implied.
The Kingdom of God was not, of course, for Him, according to Wernle, a purely eschatological entity; He saw in many events evidence that it had already dawned. Wernle’s only real concession to the eschatological school is the admission that the Kingdom always remained for Jesus a supernatural entity.
 Tübingen-Leipzig, 1901, 410 pp.; 2nd ed., 1904. Paul Wernle, now Professor of Church History at Basle, was born in Zurich, 1872.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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