when Semler rose up and slew Reimarus in the name of scientific theology.
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter two||
Still more remarkable is his eye for exegetical detail. He has an unfailing instinct for pregnant passages like Matt. x. 23, xvi. 28, which are crucial for the interpretation of large masses of the history. The fact is there are some who are historians by the grace of God, who from their mother’s womb have an instinctive feeling for the real. They follow through all the intricacy and confusion of reported fact the pathway of reality, like a stream which, despite the rocks that encumber its course and the windings of its valley, finds its way inevitably to the sea. No erudition can supply the place of this historical instinct, but erudition sometimes serves a useful purpose, inasmuch as it produces in its possessors the pleasing belief that they are historians, and thus secures their services for the cause of history. In truth they are at best merely doing the preliminary spade-work of history, collecting for a future historian the dry bones of fact, from which, with the aid of his natural gift, he can recall the past to life. More often, however, the way in which erudition seeks to serve history is by suppressing historical discoveries as long as possible, and leading out into the field to oppose the one true view an army of possibilities. By arraying these in support of one another it finally imagines that it has created out of possibilities a living reality.
This obstructive erudition is the special prerogative of theology, in which, even at the present day, a truly marvellous scholarship often serves only to blind the eyes to elementary truths, and to cause the artificial to be preferred to the natural. And this happens not only with those who deliberately shut their minds against new impressions, but also with those whose purpose is to go forward, and to whom their contemporaries look up as leaders. It was a typical illustration of this fact when Semler rose up and slew Reimarus in the name of scientific theology.
Reimarus had discredited progressive theology. Students—so Semler tells us in his preface—became unsettled and sought other callings. The great Halle theologian—born in 1725—the pioneer of the historical view of the Canon, the precursor of Baur in the reconstruction of primitive Christianity, was urged to do away with the offence. As Origen of yore with Celsus, so Semler takes Reimarus sentence by sentence, in such a way that if his work were lost it could be recovered from the refutation. The fact was that Semler had nothing in the nature of a complete or well-articulated argument to oppose to him; therefore he inaugurated in his reply the “Yes, but” theology, which thereafter, for more than three generations, while it took, itself, the most various modifications, imagined that it had finally got rid of Reimarus and his discovery.
Reimarus—so ran the watchword of the guerrilla warfare which Semler waged against him—cannot be right, for he is one-sided. Jesus and His disciples employed two methods of teaching: one sensuous, pictorial, drawn from the sphere of Jewish ideas, by which they adapted their meaning to the understanding of the multitude, and endeavoured to raise them to a higher way of thinking; and alongside of that a purely spiritual teaching which was independent of that kind of imagery. Both methods of teaching continued to be used side by side, because there were always contemporary representatives of the two degrees of capability and the two kinds of temperament. “This is historically so certain that the Fragmentist’s attack must inevitably be defeated at this point, because he takes account only of the sensuous representation.” But his attack was not defeated. What happened was that, owing to the respect in which Semler was held, and the absolute incapacity of contemporary theology to overtake the long stride forward made by Reimarus, his work was neglected, and the stimulus which it was capable of imparting failed to take effect. He had no predecessors; neither had he any disciples. His work is one of those supremely great works which pass and leave no trace, because they are before their time; to which later generations pay a just tribute of admiration, but owe no gratitude. Indeed it would be truer to say that Reimarus hung a mill-stone about the neck of the rising theological science of his time. He avenged himself on Semler by shaking his faith in historical theology and even in the freedom of science in general. By the end of the eighth decade of the century the Halle professor was beginning to retrace his steps, was becoming more and more disloyal to the cause which he had formerly served; and he finally went so far as to give his approval to Wöllner’s edict for the regulation of religion (1788), His friends attributed this change of front to senility—he died 1791.
Thus the magnificent overture in which are announced all the motifs of the future historical treatment of the life of Jesus breaks off with a sudden discord, remains isolated and incomplete, and leads to nothing further.
 Doderlein also wrote a defence of Jesus against the Fragmentist: Fragments und Antifragmente. Nuremberg, 1778.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
|Also in print from Barnes and Noble
As an E-book at: