Monday, 20 June 2016


(From the London Daily Telegraph.)

A telegram which we received last night, announces that Dr. David Frederich Strauss, the author of the Life of Jesus, died on Sunday morning at Ludwigsburg, in the sixty-sixth year of his age. Thus has passed away a writer who was, in his department, one of the most influential men of his day. The news of his death will be a message to all the world this morning. In every English parsonage the details of the elections and the grand victories of the Bible and of Beer will he neglected for  a moment while the reverend head of the family announces that Strauss is dead, and minutely calculates what mischief Strauss has done. Every Scotch manse will find the news a theme for talk Cavinistically fierce. The religious communities of America and the English colonies will take up tale that Strauss is no more. Next Sunday it will point a few pungent or mournful sentences in all the sermons which aspire to be intellectual. The religious papers will treat the event in the way peculiar to themselves. Meanwhile, the reading class of Germany, France, Russia, and England knows that one of the chief disintegrating forces of the time has ceased to exist. There are greater writers among the contemporaries of Strauss ; there are men of more piercing faculty and of higher brilliancy; but it would be difficult to name one who has so distinctly been the pivot of theological thought. For good or for evil, he has been a mighty disturber of old beliefs. Seated in his quiet library at Tubingen, he laid his hand on the orthodoxy of Oxford and Cambridge, on the grim Calvinism of the Scottish Kirk, on the quiet, easy going theology of English rectories, and he raised a storm of protest, indignation, and conviction. Some men he helped to drive into Rome by filling their mind with the wild dread that nowhere else could they be safe from the pursuing vengeance of his terrible criticism. Some thundered out that he was a feebler and a duller Voltaire. He was refuted in hundreds of books. The volumes that were written against him would form a small library, and another could be made out of the books which were suggested by his labours. More than any other man of his time is he responsible for the heterodoxy which is fighting a fierce battle in the theological literature and the pulpits of England. He, if any one, was the parent of Essays and Reviews and the tutor of Bishop Colenso.
 David Frederick Strauss was born at Ludwigsburg, which was also the place of his death, on the 27th,of June, 1808. After leading the simple and studious life of many Germans, he decided that he should become a clergyman, or at least a professor of theology.  He was a Lutheran and there is no reason to believe that his parents taught him any heterodox opinions. But after studying at the small town of Blaubeuren, he went to finish his ecclesiastical course at Tubingen, which was the most dangerous school of theology in Europe. In such a university a professor may deal with the most cherished or the most profound points of the Christian faith as freely as he would criticise a passage in the Koran, or as impartially as he would expound the dynamical theory of heat. He lectures, not as a partisan, but simply as a student. Religion is to him not a thing to be believed, but a series of phenomena to be sifted, weighed, examined, classified, rejected as false, or accepted as true with certain qualifications. Such a method of treatment is a far more powerful solvent of faith than any direct denunciation of orthodoxy, or even than the epigrams of mere irreverence, for it begets a habit of mind which is fatal to all enthusiasm of assent when the matter under review lies beyond the ken of the senses. We may presume, therefore, that Tubingen at least helped to launch him on that shoreless ocean of inquiry over which he was henceforth to sail. Indeed, the theological system which made him famous must have been largely formed when, leaving Tubingen at the age of twenty-two, he entered the ministry, and became a professor at Maulbronn. He had not, however, finished his ecclesiastical course, and he next went to Berlin to study under Hegel and Schleiermacher. The one was then by far the more famous philosopher in Europe, and the other was the greater of theological mystics. Hegel was applying to existing systems even a stronger solvent than Kant and Fichte had done. In the minds of enthusiastic young Germans, the sole drawback to his greatness was the obscurity of his style, which was like Egyptian darkness to all mankind save a few devotees whose eyes had been purged by the euphrasy and zeal of tremendous study. He it was who said on his death bed, " there is but one man in Europe understands me, and even he doesn't understand me." Heine, who was one of his pupils, and who did not laugh at him until he began to laugh at everything, once declared that Thiers had such a power of lucid statement as to be able even to make Hegel plain. Strauss, however, was no jester, but a sober, hard-working student, and on him the influence of Hegel's philosophy was profound. Seen in his first book and in his last, that influence strikingly proves how the shadowy subtleties of metaphysics can shape theologies and sanctities— the beliefs by the light of which men live and die. Strauss also learned much from Schleiermacher, who called himself a Christian, but taught so dim a creed as to defy classification among the lists of dogmatic tenets. The great mystic helped Strauss to leave the old paths. After studying under Hegel and Schleiermacher he went back to Tubingen, where he taught theology, and also went on  with his philosophical studies. His name was quite unknown to the world at the time, and he did not seem to have the slightest chance of becoming the most noted theologian of his day. But all the time he was elaborating a great book, which was published in 1835, when he was only twenty seven years old.  It was the Life of Jesus. Many books had been published under the same title, some being pious exercises of faith, some mere narratives, some criticisms on the texts of the Evangelists, and others coarse pieces of irreverence; but Strauss produced a work so bold and so original that it startled even the Germans, and speedily made Europe ring with amazement, indignation, or triumph. He laid down the thesis that the personality of Christ and his Apostles; such as they are pictured in the Evangelists — that the chief events in the life of each, such as they are recorded in the sacred records—indeed, that the whole fabric of the Christian faith were myths. They were not fictions, they were not false-hoods; but neither were they objectively true. On a slender basis of fact the imagination, the devout language, the superstitions, the fears and the beliefs had built up generation by generation a high superstructure of mythical story, which revealed, indeed, what manner of men were the Jews, the uneducated Greeks, and the untutored Romans, which gave a glimpse into the soul of these people, and told us what they wished to believe ; but had no such foundation of fact as would bear the scrutiny of reason. In order to make good his dogma, Strauss subjected the text of the Evangelists to a merciless criticism, and showed, as he thought, that it was full of inconsistencies and impossibilities. But the novelty in the book lay in the process by which he sought to explain how the wondrous fabric of the Christian faith grew into life, and had exercised an unparalleled influence on the destinies of mankind for eighteen centuries.

 The book was translated into every European language. The French version was done by M. Littreé; the English, we believe, by the author of Adam Bede, at that time altogether unknown. Amid the indescribable storm which followed the publication, Strauss suffered somewhat from the law of orthodoxy ; but the governing body of the Zurich University had the boldness to offer him the chair of Church History. A shout of protest went up from every part of Protestant Europe against such an  attempt to desecrate a town which had been a cradle of the reformation, and Strauss did not dare to accept the post. Going back to his studies, he produced in 1840 another great work, intended to show how the dogmas of Christianity had been developed. He has never ceased to study and write on the favourite themes of his youth. A few years ago he collected a series of essays, partially theological and partially personal, which cast a pleasant light on the scholar's own life. One was full of biographical details. Another was an eloquent plea for Protestantism, not because Strauss held it to be dogmatically true, but because he thought that it set man on the way to truth. The book was translated into French after the termination of the war, and commended to the notice of France in a beautiful preface by M. Renan, who proud of being the disciple of Strauss, besought his countrymen to forget their enmities in presence of such a man, and to remember that science is of no country. But a far more important work was The Old and the New Creed, which was published about a year ago, and had the honour to be eloquently denounced by the prime minister in a lecture at Liverpool. That book showed how Strauss had travelled beyond even the advanced post which he had occupied when he wrote the Life of Jesus ; for it revealed him bereft of all faith in a personal Deity or in the after life of the soul. His Hegelianism had at last met final deliverance of Comteism itself. It is not our province to say one word of criticism on such teaching. We merely record it as a sign of the times. We give it prominence because the teaching of Strauss has exercised a prodigious influence on the thought of the age.
 Strauss was a politician as well as a philosopher and a theologian. Strange to say, so radical and reckless an innovator was a Tory in politics. He would have voted with the church party and Mr. Disraeli if he had lived in England. Living in monarchial Germany, he was an ardent royalist, and a sturdy foe of all radical change. During the war with France he ardently flung his pen into the strife of polemics, and he drew forth an eloquent apology for France from his friend and disciple Rénan. His life, however, continued to be that of a student, and now he has passed away in the Wurtemburg town where he was born. Behind him he leaves an enduring memory, crowds of foes, a literature fashioned after the model of his great book, and another literature denouncing him as the most mischievous blasphemer since Voltaire.

Wagga Wagga Express 3 June 1874

No comments: