Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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THE reception of this work among the opposing theological parties of the age has been such as I anticipated in the Preface to the first edition. It is, therefore, the less necessary for me to vindicate myself against special accusations on any side. I am satisfied that the principles of my theological procedure are in the main correct, and that their claims will finally be justified. To answer the revilings or false inferences of fanatical prejudice on either hand, or to enter into purely personal controversy, forms no part of my purpose. Yet, in order to leave no room for doubt as to my own theological stand-point, it appears necessary that I should notice a few of the opinions that have been passed upon the work.

A review from the pen of Consistorial Counsellor SCHULZ has appeared in the Allgemeine Darmstädtische Kirchenzeitung, which opposes me merely by dictatorial decisions; and, by isolating various passages1717   The reviewer has been able to point out but one oversight—certainly no proof of careless haste in a work on such a subject. The mistake was one which might have happened to any one in an unlucky moment, which could not fail to be noticed by any one, and which, in fact, was noticed by myself as soon as I glanced again at the passage. of my work from their connexion, ascribes to me opinions which are foreign to my whole theological system. What I say will not be disputed by any one who candidly examines that review and compares it with my work. I have called the attention of my readers in this edition to these perversions of my words; perversions in which SCHULZ shakes hands with men of a school directly opposite to his own. Were I not satisfied of his integrity, I should be under the necessity of calling them dishonest perversions; as the case is, I see in them only the prejudice of that enthusiasm of reason so admirably characterized by JACOBI in his remarks upon “Reason which is not Reason” (ii., 492). Of those who are enslaved by this enthusiasm, he says: “Their belief is always reason, nor can they recognize another’s reason except in his belief. They inquire not how he feels, perceives, observes, or infers, but only what his opinions are—whether they agree with their canon or not; and that decides the matter.” This stand-point as surely generates a prejudice which precludes all just judgment of the opinions of others, and leads (though unconsciously) to falsehood, as does the enthusiasm for an absolute system of doctrines which lays down, as a standard, a definite number of articles of faith, or principles therewith connected, and makes this standard a criterion of every one’s claim to Christianity. In the judgments formed of my work, as well as in many other matters of our time, these two sets of prejudices have led to similar results.

“What,” inquires SCHULZ several times, “will the believers in creeds say to this?” Now, as to the opinion of this or that set of men, I am indifferent; it concerns me only to know how far my statements accord with truth, especially Christian truth. It is proper that I should say, however, that I go along with those who oppose “creed-believers” (to use SCHULZ’s term) so far as this viz., that I could not subscribe to any of the existing symbols (except the Apostles’ creed, which testifies to those fundamental facts of Christianity that are essential to the existence of the Christian Church) as an unconditional expression of my religious convictions.

I believe that our path lies, through the strifes and storms of the present time, to a new creation in the Church, when the same Holy Spirit1818   The Holy Spirit going out from faith in Christ, who was crucified for the sins of men, who truly rose from the dead and ascended to heaven; the Holy Spirit, which has proved itself the same since the first Christian Pentecost, at all times, among all people, learned or unlearned; not the changeful spirit of the times, which corresponds more nearly to what is called in the New Testament the spirit of the world, and whose manifestations stand opposed to those of the Holy Spirit. that works in the life of the Church, and produces all truly Christian creeds as expressions (defective, indeed, as all human representations of the Divine must be, and stamped with the varying culture of the time) of Christian truth, will produce a symbol adapted to the new stage of the Church’s developement, if it become necessary that such an expression of the animating faith of the Church be given in a new literal form. But I go along with the theologians (so called creed-believers) in what I believe to be the fundamental principle of the Reformation and of the Evangelical Church; the doctrines, viz., of the corruption of human nature (not, however, excluding, but presupposing, an element of affinity for God [Gottverwandte] in human nature); and of justification by faith in Jesus as the Redeemer. The essential part of the Evangelical Confession (the Augsburg Confession and its Apology), so far as it is an exposition of this doctrine, together with the unchangeable verities to which the Apostles’ Creed bears witness, seem to me the irrefragable basis of the Evangelical Church; which, on this basis, protests against all popery whether the Roman or any other impure spirit of the age; against human statutes, no matter of what kind. Dr. SCHULZ reproaches me for speaking of the sinfulness of human nature. On the other hand, I cannot but be astonished that this truth, so clearly revealed in the Scriptures, nay, lying at their basis, and so plainly written upon every human heart, should be denied by any man. He wishes, moreover, that the terms “natural reason” and “self-righteousness” may hereafter not appear in my writings. In this respect I cannot possibly gratify him. These terms have a well-established right in the Evangelical Church; the conceptions which they express are closely connected with its fundamental principle; they are, moreover, firmly founded in Biblical Anthropology.1919   It is a trick of Jesuitism (which is by no means confined to one form, but often assumes the shape of the fanaticism of reason or understanding) to protest (in form) against the tendencies of the journal called the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, while, in fact, the protest is not meant to bear against those tendencies—not against antiquated dogmas—but against the unchangeable fundamental truths of the Church of Christ; truths which can appear to be antiquated dogmas only to the shallow and superficial spirit of the times; a spirit as contracted as it is conceited. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the one-sidedness, the exaggerations and multiform sickliness of the tendencies referred to may have contributed to produce a reaction. We say this sine ira et studio, with a full sense of the sincere and earnest zeal, and the true Christian endeavours and results (if those tendencies which find an organ in the Kirchenzeitung. They are not the offshoot of a “new Evangelical” Theology, but of an old Evangelical faith. It is a mere pretended “enlightenment” (which, notwithstanding it may, by destroying, prepare the way for better things, is yet in its positive elements a source of darkness) that can object to those conceptions.

I have to thank Dr. HASE for the kindness with which he has spoken of my work in the Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik; but it would take more space than a preface will allow to come to an understanding with him upon the points in Apologetics and Dogmatics on which he touches in his review. I can only remark, that a description of the life of Christ (although it must proceed from the Christian consciousness, which alone can afford a living intuition of it) does not necessarily demand for its foundation a complete and well-defined theory of the person of Christ. On the contrary, it would be one of the excellences of such a work, that various doctrinal tendencies (if supranaturalistic) could be satisfied with it. It must deal with facts, which are more weighty than men’s conceptions, changeful as they are. All dogmatical theories except those which are willing to do violence to history must agree in acknowledging certain facts. What I have said of the human developement of the life of Christ harmonizes well with the consequent doctrine of a status exinanitionis; without this, in fact, the human life of Christ can have no reality. As to my views of the Ascension, I must adhere to them, until I can be convinced that without them the full import of Christ’s resurrection can be asserted. Nor is it simply strength of faith that leads me to these results; from the beginning my religious life has been too much affected by the culture of this age to allow me to glory in such a faith—to compare myself with those men of child-like simplicity, those heroes whose Divine confidence is exalted above all doubt.2020   Truth before all things. I would not seem to be what I am not. This book, which could only have arisen in this age of strife and discord, is itself a mirror of the progress of my mind. I have adopted them from consecutive reasoning upon the principles of the Christian faith. There is no middle ground here; unless, indeed, in order to avoid admitting a limit to all explanation, without, at the same time, affirming the opposite, we cover up the difficulty in phrases and formulas.

To all those who consider the Socratic ignorance as folly, and who have settled beforehand the highest questions—questions whose right answers the great MELANCTHON placed among the beatitudes of the intuition of a better life—my dogmatical system must appear weak and unsatisfactory.

In the reviewer of my work in the Halle Literaturzeitung (Church-counsellor SCHWARZ of Jena), I am happy to recognize a worthy man, who can acknowledge with congenial spirit, even amid differences of opinion, the work of an earnest mind and of serious study—a phenomenon every day becoming rarer in this age of selfish and excited party spirit. I am gratified, though not surprised, to find, from the beautiful notice of my book by Dr. LÜCKE, that that old and worthy friend agrees with me in all essential points.

To find ourselves at one in the recognition of certain truths with men whom we must admire and honour on many accounts, ever. though our convictions, on important subjects, may be opposed to each other, cannot be otherwise than gratifying. I have no sympathy with that narrowness of mind which refuses to do justice to the advocate, however able, of opinions which we ourselves must reject. That is an unworthy arrogance which, in its zealous defence of a holy cause (a cause which, above all others breathes humility, and teaches us more and more that all our knowledge is but fragmentary), deems itself authorized to look down haughtily upon its opponent, however superior in scientific ability; or even seeks to cover the weakness of its own arguments by what is intended, according to the sickly taste of the age, to pass for wit and humour.

I cannot, therefore, but rejoice to find that my treatment of the subject, with that of others engaged in the same controversy, has induced Dr. Strauss to soften down his mythical theory of the life of Christ in various points, and to acknowledge the truth of several results arrived at by my historical inquiries. In his public acknowledgment of this I recognize a candour and love of truth which is far more honourable than mere intellectual greatness. At the same time, I am grateful to him for the kindness with which he has spoken of me personally. A certain degree of harmony, then, may be attained by the application of those fundamental principles of historical criticism which all sound thinkers must acknowledge to be correct. Yet it is only a certain degree; it is easy to be understood how the harmony thus reached is interrupted by the wider differences which lie at the foundation of the subject.

The chief points of controversy turn upon essential differences of religious thought and feeling. These fundamental differences are clearly set forth by Dr. Strauss in the closing dissertation of his third edition, and in his essay on the Permanent and the Transitory (das Bleibende und Vergängliche) in Christianity. They are to be found chiefly in opposing views of the relation of God to the world, of the personality of spirit, of the relation between the here and the hereafter, and of the nature of sin. The controversy, to our mind, does not lie between an old and a new view of Christianity, but between Christianity and a human invention directly opposed to it. It is nothing less than a struggle between Christian Theism and a system of world- and self-deification. This system (by a relative historical necessity) had to unfold itself in theological and philosophical rationalism, in order to be overthrown by the power of Christian truth in the natural progress of life and thought. Symptoms of it can be detected in the sects of the Middle Ages, and in many of the manifestations that preceded the Reformation; and it would have broken forth at an earlier period, had not the Evangelical enthusiasm of the Reformation suppressed it for a time. We may apply here the words of MELANCTHON, uttered, with his deep historical insight, in a connexion akin to this: Dogmatum semina, quae longe graviora tumultus aliquando excitatura fuerant, nisi Lutherus exortus esset ac studia hominum alio traxisset (Corpus Reformator., tom. i., f. 1083). Far be it from me to judge the heart of any man; in this regard each must be his own accuser. A man that knows he serves a truth above the range of the human mind knows, at the same time, how far below it he himself stands, and how high, on the other hand, others, whose individual culture modified by the spirit of the age may have laid them open to error, may in heart be raised above their error. Whoever has entered into the struggles of his age will be willing, at the same time that he judges himself, to be mild in his judgments of others, who, although they may have been further carried away by those same struggles, have preserved a seemly and becoming moderation. It is the principle alone that is in question, and that cannot be judged too strictly.

I conclude with the golden words of one of the greatest men of modern times in testimony of the truth, and in opposition, not only to the vain attempt to amalgamate Christianity with the principle of modern mis-culture, but also to the spirit which seeks to reduce all minds to one mode of doctrinal conception—to the stand-point which strives to make the piece-work of human knowledge absolute. “The man who does not hold Christ’s earthly life, with all its miracles, to be as properly and really historical as any event in the sphere of history, and who does not receive all points of the Apostolic Creed with the fullest conviction, I do not conceive to be a Protestant Christian. And as for that Christianity which is such according to the fashion of the modern philosophers and Pantheists, without a personal God, without immortality, without an individuality of man, without historical faith—it may be a very ingenious and subtle philosophy, but it is no Christianity at all. Again and again have I said that I know not what to do with a metaphysical God; and that I will have no other but the God of the Bible, who is heart to heart. Whoever can reconcile the metaphysical God with the God of the Bible, may try it, and write symbolical books to suit all ages; but he who admits the absolute inexplicability of the main point, which can only be approached by asymptotes, will never grieve at the impossibility of possessing any system of religion.”2121   Leben Niebuhr’s, Thl. ii., 344. We cannot be too grateful to the publishers for putting forth this treasure of sound feeling and profound truth. May the man who, with rare world-historical insight, was able to explain the signs of the times, be heard of many!

Berlin, May 6, 1839.

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