Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

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real evil." Schmieder wrote to Perthes from Schulpforta : —
" Swedenborg is chiefly remarkable as exemplifying how a truly
regenerate and enlightened man, when he m'stakes the symbols,
under which God has conveyed the essence of truth, for that
essence itself, and the originality of his own perceptions for
inspiration, can confound the false and the true, and put the
false under the aegis of the holy.''

The following letter shews that Perthes could perfectly well
understand how a man might come to think himself favoured
with divine communications, without being, for that, a mere
madman. " Frequently, at night, I feel my whole corporeal
nature slain, as it were, and the mind wonderfully free and
clear. This is not the nightmare which works from without


inwards, but an energy working from within outwards. It
may be connected with a disturbed circulation of tlio blood, a
bad digestion, and the like, but it is accompanied with visions
and flashes of thought, which must have some other origin
than the blood or the stomach. Between sleeping and wak-
ing, in the border-land of consciousness and unconscious-
ness, I have not only made important discoveries in the
inner-world, but obtained clear intelligence about external
matters; and, in fiict, have been more indebted throughout life
to suggestions, coming I know not whence, than to deliberate
reflection. The older I grow, so much the more do man, the
world, and nature become to me a riddle ; and just in propor-
tion as a man penetrates into the intimate relations of being,
whether by study or experience, or by both, does he become
convinced of his utter ignorance as to their essential nature.
Only the shell of things is in our hands, and it is right to ex-
ercise our powers in getting thoroughly acquainted with it ;
but whoever, not content with this, insists on handling the
kernel also, must, unless he stop half way, become either a
materialistic ratiocinator, or a fanatical theosophist ; and, in
the pride of our age, which, instead of bowing reverently before
the unknowable, insists on giving an explanation of everything,
there will be many wayfarers in both these paths."

Again : " By wonderful ways, indeed, is our age endeavour-
ing to get back to God. Think only what we ourselves have
survived. Voltaire and Rousseau teaching the world, then
Frederick the Great and Lessing, freemasonry and the illumi-
nati; Reimarus, Nicolai, Engel, and Blester; the German
Library, and the Berlin Monthly, Bahrdt and Herder, exegesis
and the higher criticism, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, a priori


natural pliilosophers, and poets, from Klopstock, Goethe, and
Scliiller, down to the Romantic School. The French Revolu-
tion threw a pall over all this throng of thought and feeling,
but it thronged on still beneath ; and, when the liberation
wars threw oif the pall, the felt necessity of re-possessing the
Eternal appeared mightier and more urgent than before. But
this spiritual tendency was led on by sympathy and impulse,
rather than by thought and learning ; and it is, consequently,
no wonder that devout men should have built pleasure-houses,
according to their several fancies, on the strong foundation of
Scripture. These, however, cannot stand before the youthful
vigour of our scientific theology.''




ScHLEiERMACHER gavc sucli ail impulse to scientific theology
that, in spite of Rationalism and Separatism, it promised to
become the ruling poAver in Christianity. A theologian wrote
to Perthes : " Sacred learning is indispensable to the piety
of our age. Men are no longer content with a vague revelry
in the elements of religion, such as attended the re-discovery
of them after a long night, nor with unsteady feelings depen-
dent on particular passages of Scripture ; everywhere there is
a healthy appetite for real food from above, for solid and fruit-
ful knowledge. This is a demand worthy of the gospel ; and
whoever would accomplish anything may not overlook it."
Another theologian to I*erthes : " What avail these everlasting
appeals to pious instincts in an age when, opposite the para-
dise of emotions, sits that cold calculator, the understanding,
pretending to have built up its theological stone edifice on the
firm foundation of history critically ascertained? Dialectics
and experimentalism are to such a degree paramount, that the
scientific Rationalist is more afraid of the supernaturalist
Steudel with his grammar and history, than of Olshausen
with his versatile and teeming imagination — more afraid of
Schleiermacher's Dogmatics than of Neander's Church History.




A theologian wlio would defend the faith of his fathers no\v-a-
days, should have both a Herder's baptism in oriental biblical
lore, and a Schleiermacher's in western dialectics. Science is
religion's only defence against science."

A friend of different views wrote to Perthes : " The many
treatises now appearing on theology, seem to me but theologi-
cal luxuries. Tliey prove at large what every Christian, just
because he is a Christian, believes already ; but they can make
no headway against unbelievers, because the root of unbelief
lies in quite another direction. Many of the latest works, in-
stead of edifying, confuse ; and, instead of removing doubts,
awaken them. Whoever thinks it necessary to drag the divine
mystery from its sacred obscurity into the light of our where-
fore and therefore, if he really prove what he aims at, can hardly
avoid blasphemous, or at least unseemly prying into the In-
finite." Perthes answered : " To stop half-way in scientific
investigation woiild be fatal to theology and the theologian. It
will not do to recede, or, declining inquiry, to hush all up in
pious phrases : theology and the theologian must onwards, at
whatever cost. Only by dint of fearless courage will theo-
logy either attain its end, or, what is more likely, become aware
that its end is unattainable in that direction ; in which case,
she will lay down her weapons, cease relying on her own strength,
and throw herself into the arms of God's grace and revelation."
Again :" It is to be regretted that our pastors are men of
thought rather than of action ; theologians rather than pastors.
As theologians, they are expected to have a decided opinion on
many things which, as pastors, they might very well let alone ;
and thus they run a risk of losing Christianity over their


In these years Perthes formed or renewed connexions with
many distinguished representatives of scientific theology. In
1824 he held intercourse in Bonn with Liicke, Sack, and Nitszch,
and in 1825, in Berlin, with Schleiermacher, Tholuck, Neander,
Strauss, Theremin, and Marheineke. " These," wrote Perthes
from Berlin, " are six theologians who have nothing in com-
mon hut their enmity to Rationalism," Though Perthes fre-
quently expressed a fear that theology was becoming too much
a mere science in the Church, yet, on the other hand, the ear-
nestness and spiritual depth of those who represented scientific
theology, inspired him with confidence. " For forty years phi-
lology and history, criticism and exegesis, have been diligently
cultivated among us Germans, only to be employed as weapons
against Christianity ; the theologians of the present day in-
herit these rich treasures of the past, and employ them in the
service of our Lord. They cannot, indeed, create either Chris-
tian truth, or Christian life ; but the enemies of Christianity
must give way before the intellectual artillery of such men.
Christianity can no longer be derided as a toy of the weak-
minded ; a stumblingblock it may remain, but foolishness it
can no longer be to men ; and that is no small gain which we
owe to our theologians."

The victories of scientific theology, in the field of thought,
were soon followed by external successes. In 1826 Tholuck
was invited to Halle, which had long been a stronghold of Ra-
tionalism. Perthes thus expressed his views in regard to this
appointment : " Tholuck is fitted to exercise a powerful influ-
ence on the religious life of Germany, not only by his talents,
but by being a true child of the age, who has fought his own
way through all that is now interesting and disturbing the minds


of men. A baptism of fire awaits him in Halle, for I know his
adversaries there ; they go about in sheep's clothing, but are
bold and cunning withal : he must refuse to be provoked,
and remain true to Christian simplicity and power, which lie
in humility and composure."

Whether scientific theology was going to have an ally or an
opponent in philosophy, seemed to many uncertain. Schel-
ling remained silent, and fell under suspicion. In 1825 he
wrote to Perthes : " The difterence between me and these gen-
tlemen is simply this, that they speak even where they confess
themselves incompetent ; and I have hitherto remained silent,
even where I feel my competency to sjieak. It would be more
modest of these young men to consider that the author of
the work against Jacobi, and of the treatise on freedom, to
whom they are indebted for their own present standpoint, may
very well see farther than he has yet thought proper to com-
municate." In Berlin, Hegel's appointment was the signal of
a movement, apparently hostile to Christian theology. In 1 827,
a serial of scientific criticism appeared, which was understood
to be the work of his disciples, and of which a friend in Berlin
wrote to Perthes ; " The shoe pinches here very decidedly, but
great pains are taken to overlay the tender parts with the salve
of scientific phraseology. The Protestantism of this absurd
philosophical jargon is, undoubtedly, a worse form than the
dogmatism of Quenstedt and Calovius — for those men knew
at least what they meant ; but what these would be at, Avho
now fill reviews with their obscure talk, is a mystery to all but
the initiated."

In 1829 Perthes wrote: "To estimate the philosophical
value of Hegel's system is not my business, but I cannot shut


my eyes to its practical working-. Hegel's disciples and ad-
mirers have formed a literary and social circle, wliicli promises
to lead the fashion, till the fashion changes, but from which I
can augur no good, as long as men like Savigny and the Ilum-
boldts, Niebuhr and Ritter, Schleiermacher, Nitszch, and Ne-
andcr discountenance it. The grandiloquence of this circle, the
system of mutual laudation which it has organized, its secta-
rian exclusiveness and censoriousness, and its aim at supreme
authority both in society and in the government, are all so
many perils for the intellectual life, and the character of the
rising generation ; and I am mistaken if the religion, too, of
our people be not endangered by this philosophy which, slowly
but surely, will descend from the professor and privy-councillor
to the schoolmaster and government-clerk."

At the same time, Hengstenberg took up a very bold posi-
tion in defence of Christianity. In 1826 the minister Alten-
stein endeavoured to remove him from Berlin, by offering him
a capital situation in Konigsberg, but in vain : and in 1827,
Hengstenberg commenced the publication of an evangelical
magazine which was destined to exert a far greater influence
than could have been anticipated on ecclesiastical affairs.
Neander wrote of it to Perthes : " A periodical has been com-
menced here, which is devoted to practical Christianity rather
than to scientific theology, and addresses therefore a numerous
public. It belongs to a society, but Professor Hengstenberg is
the editor. I had no hand in its establishment, but I learned
with great pleasure that it was intended to be made a centre
for the collection and diffusion of information regarding the
kingdom of God in all parts of the world, and, being asked, I
promised my co-operation, as far as time and ability would


permit." In 1827, Perthes wrote : " Christianity needed an
organ that should be powerful both for attack and defence ;
for it is unworthy of Christianity to skulk about in the domain
of literature like a barely tolerated thing. The permanent
establishment of such an organ must be attended with great
difficulty, and the editor must be prepared for inveterate party

Tlie importance of the Evangelical Magazine lay not only in
its defence of positive Christianity, but also, and still more
perhaps, in its influence on the ecclesiastical differences among
Protestants. All devout Protestants had united as one man
to stem the tide of hereditary infidelity and rationalism ; but
they were by no means agreed as to the relation in which the
religious conviction of the individual should stand to the
authorized doctrines of the Church. All agreed, indeed, in
giving free scope to scientific inquiry, and individual light on
the one hand, and in recognising the authority of the Bible
and the symbolical books on the other ; but in detail, and in
practice, some maintained freedom at the expense of authority,
others authority at the expense of freedom. What was at first
only a question of more and less, became at length a question
of Yes and No : and devout Protestants, in whom conscious-
ness of sin, and faith in the Redeemer were equally alive, were
divided into two parties, reproaching each otlier, the one with
bondacre under the letter, the other with renunciation of God's
word. Tlie animosity of these two parties was stimulated in
the spring of 1830 by certain articles in the Evangelical Maga-
zine, which were commonly attributed to Gerlach. These arti-
cles noticed the low jests on sacred history, the attempts to
explain miracles by natural causes, and the rationalistic treat-


mciit of Christian doctrine, in wliicli Gesenius and Wegsclieider
used to indulge in the Halle University : they connected ra-
tionalism with demagogy, warned divinity students against
attending a university where such doctrines were taught, and
called upon all, whom it concerned, to prayer, speech, and ac-
tion, in order to heal the wounds made by infidelity. These
last words were interpreted as invoking the interference of the
civil magistrate, particularly of the king. In February 1830,
Neander wrote to Perthes his disapprobation of this gossip and
unscrupulous denunciation in the Evangelical Magazine : " It
can only give new life to rationalism, which was carrying about
the sentence of death in itself It is bad enough that mere
linguistic acquirements, without any vocation for divine things,
should have made Gesenius a theologian, but a remedy applied
from without can only make matters worse." Perthes' disap-
proval was equally decided : " Even with the strongest deter-
mination to avoid backbiting, the Evangelical Magazine would
have been betrayed into unfair statement soon enough, since
ecclesiastical news can hardly be kept free from malicious gos-
sip, in an age of discord and parties. But now it has delibe-
rately kindled the fire ; the die is cast, and adversaries, just as
inveterate in spirit, will not be wanting. ' By their fruits ye
shall know them' will be quoted ; and no doubt the Christian
character disappears in vigorous measures and severe language,
when humility, meekness, and kindness do not evidently dwell
within." Again: "I have no objection that a man of intel-
lectual powers and acquirements should seek to rule others ;
but when he is made rancorous by resistance, and utters harsh
denunciations, he betrays a want of Christian charity and
humility. I am particularly grieved to see men of penetration


and learning become hard and stony in the discussion of re-
ligion, the very thing- which should keep the temper sweet, or
make it so, if it be naturally otherwise. Truly we may well
smite upon our breasts every day, ay, every hour, and inquire
whether humility and gentleness be really there, or whether
the doctrine of Christ be only on our lips."

By insisting one-sidedly on the authority of the Church for-
mulas, the Evangelical Magazine aroused attention to the atti-
tude of opposition in which almost all distinguished theologians
stood to these formulas, and much of Perthes' correspondence
relates to this matter. Already, in 1827, he had written to
Ullmann of Heidelberg : " I thank you from my heart for your
excellent treatise on the sinlessness of Jesus. It is in vain now
to insist upon dogmas, and to press their acceptance. Some few
individuals may arrive at faith by profound inquiry, since
sound philosophy must lead to truth ; but confidence founded
on facts, though a childlike, is yet the only way, by which men
in general can be led to love Christ, and give themselves to
God." Again : " I can very well understand how a particular
age should express its faith in a series of orthodox proposi-
tions ; but I cannot understand how such a system, after hav-
ing been rejected, should become a fit instrument for convert-
ing unbelievers, and expressing the faith of another and sub-
sequent believing age. Whoever believes in the Redeemer is
himself redeemed, and a man can express this simple faith in
a great variety of thoughts and words, every one of which will
have a side or sides liable to question ; for man can think and
speak of heavenly things only by images, and human language
is inadequate to express the infinite wealth of Divine truth.
The orthodox propositions are truth, but not the whole truth ;


rather tliey are signs or aspects of truth which, at a certain
stage of the Christian life, were vividly conceived and ex-
pressed. Whoever in our age would have an inward Christian
life, cannot be what the orthodox of former centuries were ;
and it is just because some insist on being the same still, that
a fratricidal war is at hand, while the common enemy is not
yet overcome. One thing I know, that if, as the Evangelical
Magazine would have it, the dogmas, set forth in propositions
immediately after the Reformation, are to be held as the fun-
damental truths of Christianity, without the literal acceptance
of which no one may be called a Christian, then I would rather
follow tradition and the Pope, than stone tables of the sort,
which do not come even from Sinai." Again : " To insist on
carrying out a principle to all its logical results, is almost
always a highway to error. Every truth, even a sacred truth
of revelation, when defined by a formula, and carried out to the
utmost by the human understanding, becomes an untruth. A
rigid consistency is in fact one of the mainsprings of Rational-
ism ; and Hengstenberg's tendency seems to me liable to the
same objection, for logical consistency is his banner too."

A theologian wrote to Perthes, " I am a halter between two
opinions, according to men of the letter, because, though I be-
lieve in Jesus Christ, I do not believe that Balaam's ass spoke
Hebrew. It requires no great art in dogmatic theology to
cobble up an orthodox system, but, when tried by Scripture, it
cannot be made to answer ; and the system-maker has no other
resource but to twist Scripture into conformity with his sys-
tem, or discredit the truth of whatever refuses to be so con-
formed. I can be pious in spirit, and humble before God and
Jesus Christ, and at the same time free in science, and cheer-


ful in life. I stand therefore equally aloof from Paulus' and
Wegscheider's wooden theology of the understanding, and
from the gloominess and forced consistency of tlie Evangelical

The common antipathy of devout theologians generally, and
of Rationalists to the Evangelical Magazine, was liable to a
dangerous misinterpretation, since opposition to the Magazine
and advocacy of Rationalism, were equivalent in the eyes of
many. So early as the summer of 1830, Perthes perceived
this danger. " If the Evangelical Magazine should conquer,
which cannot be at any rate for a long time, Christianity
would be crystallized indeed, but not destroyed ; Rationalism,
however, would upturn the ver}'- foundations of Christianity.
If, therefore, I exclaim on the one hand, Catholicism rather
than Hengstenbergism ! on the other hand, I say with equal
truth, a thousand times rather Hengstenbergism than Paulus-
Bcihr-Wegscheiderism ! But our devout theologians are, it ap-
pears, of another mind. When the Darmstadt Ecclesiastical
Magazine was profaning Christianity in every page, and when
many of the public j)rints were denouncing Schmieder in
Schulpforta as a pietist and a mystic, and demanding his re-
moval from a situation where he was corrupting, the youth, our
Christian theologians were grieved no doubt, but not I'oused
into public opposition. Now, however, that the Evangelical
Magazine has denounced two professors as teachers of infidel-
ity, and demanded their removal, our Christian theologians
are so indignant that nothing can keep them from crying out.
This seems to me neither fair nor safe ; the Evangelical Maga-
zine dashes on with uplifted visor, but who can trace the
crawling fanaticism of the Rationalists in all their serpentine


windings V Again : " Our tlieologians imagine that not infi-
delity, but the Evangelical Magazine, is the great enemy of
Christianity, and accordingly they fall foul of Hengstenberg,
letting Bohr and Wegscheider go free. I suspect that the Pro-
fessor has got the' better of the Christian in these theologians.
Such is their dread of Hengstenberg endangering the freedom
of the professorial chair, that they see not how the freedom of
Christianity is endangered by Bohr, Wegscheider, and Co.,
and they would rather run the risk of being thought infidels
themselves, than incur the suspicion of desiring to encroach on
professorial freedom." Some weeks later : " Things have come
to such a pass that Neander, and many other pious men, on
whom, as pietists and mystics, public opinion has cast dirt for
many years, are now high in favour, because they have spoken
out roundly their disapproval of the Evangelical Magazine, and,
for the time at least, are letting Rationalism alone. Neander
is doubtless the same as ever, yet the Rationalists now claim
him as a sort of ally, and many devout persons are beginning
to fear that he must be otherwise related to Christianity and
to Rationalism than they supposed. Neander, and others simi-
larly compromised, are certainly bound to express their un-
changed hostility to Rationalism, with unmistakable clearness
and emphasis ; Neander, particularly, who has always ex-
pressed his views with an unsatisfactory vagueness. The
tumultuous joy at the supposed accession to the ranks of Ra-
tionalism of him and his like, is too rudely expressed, not to
disgust the truly pious among Hengstenberg's opponents, and
make them break company at once, and decidedly, with their
unnatural confederates."

Notwithstanding all these divisions, the Protestants were


able to unite, on 25tli June 1830, in celebrating the third cen-
tenary of the Augsburg Confession. At Dresden and Leipsic
there were disturbances on that occasion, but they did not arise
from religious differences. To a friend who had animadverted
on these in a letter, Perthes answered : " We must turn away
our eyes from the debates and battles of the day, if we would
not spoil our eyesight for the great course of history. Our age
is, indeed, extraordinary. In almost all the countries of Eu-
rope a fresh inner life is growing up in men from amid the
rubbish of last century ; in the east, the Greek Church is
slowly, but inevitably, coming under the influence of civilisa-
tion ; on the frontiers of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Christian
element is percolating into Mahommedan life ; the African
coasts are being opened up, and a way will be found into regions
which have been closed for thousands of years. Individuals
quarrel and strive, pushing one another, and one another's little
interests, backwards and forwards, but, for all that, the king-
dom of God moves on with mighty step through the world."




Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 36)