Clement Theodore Perthes.

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

. (page 28 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ancient peculiarities are rapidly disappearing. Fifty years
hence the theatrical poets will have to draw upon the many-
coloured time of our youth for their characters ; and our sons,
then old, will say : ' In our childhood we heard of tyrants and
cavaliers, of pedants and geniuses, of frenzies mild and violent ;
but now all is one level, all old and cold.' "

Thougli the Diet, as appears by its ordinances, regarded the
universities as the source of the evil, it also endeavoured


to dam up the stream by laying an embargo on the writings of
Young Germany. This was clone in December 1835, and so a
temporary stop was put to the growth of this branch of litera-
ture ; but the tendency which it indicated could in this way
neither be changed nor rendered innocuous ; on the contrary,
it grew apace, and, in the beginning of 1 838, appeared once
more publicly in the periodical edited by Ruge and Ecliter-
maier, first as the Halle, and since 1841, as the German An-
nual of Literature and Art. This time, however, it assumed
not so much a literary as a fine-spun philosophical garb,
and, on that account, attracted general attention. It Hegelized
and Straussized too much, but was allowed, on all hands, to
display learning and acutcness, with an intimate knowledge of
things and persons. To a friend, who was deeply involved in
the discussion to which the German Annuals gave rise,
Perthes wrote : " Hegel must have had a strong character as
well as a great intellect, else he could not have trained such a
band of combatants, A profound meaning must lie hid in the
formulas of his philosophy to account for its ever-growing influ-
ence ; for it has penetrated into all sciences, and all branches
of literature, and even its most determined opponents are not
proof against its influence. Now, too, a squad of youths have
taken up the arms of Hegelian philosophy, and are using them
to cover their own proceedings, and carry out their own ends ;
and they are gifted enough to befool even scientific men.
They have opened the campaign with great tact, the chief
battle-ground being the Halle Annuals, the Berlin Literary
Journal, and Mundt's Free Port occupying the wings as skir-
mishers, and the somewhat antiquated Berlin Annuals bringing
up the rear ; then spies and correspondents have been ap-


pointed for all the public prints, even for the Hamburgh
Correspondent. The whole movement cannot be better char-
acterized than in Niebuhr's words : ' It is a philosophy under-
taking to justify the materialistic tendencies of the multitude.'
I have seen the same game played with the Kantian philosophy.
Youngsters became dealers in Kantian terminology, learned
nothing, looked down with contempt on Christianity and the
sciences, turned out insipid creatures, the most wretched
clergymen, and government officials. That brood has passed
away, but the merits of Kant are still duly honoured. I pro-
phesy a much shorter term for the young Hegelians, because
the elements are worse : licentiousness and audacity are self-

VOL. II. 32




As Young Germany strove to emancipate the individual
horn all restraints, whether of the spirit or of the flesh, it could
not but see in Christianity an irreconcilable foe ; and, at the
same time, tlie power of Christianity for defence was greatly
weakened by its divisions, especially by those within Protest-
antism. Cotemporaneous with the publication of the " Madon-
na" and similar works, there appeared, in circles where a true
Christian life existed, a disposition to blend the carnal with the
Christian, and discuss matters about which it is better to be
silent. As Young Germany had done its utmost to desecrate
the holy, so these persons in Northern Germany attempted to
sanctify the unholy. Traces of such an aberration appear in
many letters received by Perthes. He was proof against every-
thing of the sort, and, by his determined opposition to the ten-
dency, succeeded in restraining some from giving way to it,
and others, who had been carried away, from imprudently
coming out with their views in public. The Church question,
however, was the chief subject of discussion.

In 1817, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches had been
united in Prussia, and several other states ; and such had been
the current of opinion in tlie succeeding twelve years, that^


even in the states where the union had not been accomplished,
as in Hanover, Saxony, and Mecklenburg, the condition of
the Lutlieran Church did not essentially differ from that of tlie
United, or Evangelical. The resistance, so far as it still con-
tinued, was not so much against the Union itself as against
its eifectuation by the State ; but there certainly were indivi-
duals who resisted the Union itself, and maintained the exclu-
sive authority of the Lutheran symbolical books. From 1830
the feeling against the Union gained ground, and in Silesia a
number of non-united Lutheran congregations formed an asso-
ciation, claiming to be regarded as the true national Church of
Prussia. No one then imagined that tlie Old Lutherans would
ever acquire the influence which, in tlie course of other ten years,
they did. A theologian, who was an acute observer, wrote
thus to Perthes in 1835 : '' Silesian hyper-Lutheranism, if un-
wisely interfered with by the government, may come to form
a party, but it cannot last, because it makes a comparatively
unimportant peculiarity the centre of the whole Christian sys-
tem. One swallow does not make a summer ; neither can a few
Silesian congregations make a schism in the Church. I have
been greatly delighted with Tlioluck's declaration, that he
would rather build than battle in theology— rather take rank
among the producers of food than among the bearers of arms."
About this sametim.e, the "Evangelical Cliurch Magazine," and
its supporters, shewed a disposition favourable to tlie Old
Lutheran movement. How this came about in the case of
liighly intellectual men will appear clearly from tlie following
letter: "How, from being a malapert heathen, did I come to
have the fear of the Lord, and to desire ardently that my
whole being were penetrated by the leaven of Christ ? It began


in literal fear, in trembling and horror. For sins in my own
life, and that of others, which the world cannot reach, I saw
punishment to be inevitable by so clear a spiritual necessity,
that I knew not what to do for dread. From myself, and other
individuals, I then turned to look at whole nations and cen-
turies ; and the recognition not only of a nemesis, but of a
divine providence in all the vicissitudes of history, attached
me more decidedly to the Church than I had ever been before.
This attachment was strengthened by perceiving the fearful
blank in our whole life created by the absence of a power, such
as the Church formerly exercised, the power, viz., to punish the
scoundrel who is just cautious enough to keep out of prison,
and to raise up again the good man who may, once for all, have
committed a crime. Granting the possibility of the individuals
representing the Clmrch abusing their power, I still long for a
Church morally strong, and, much to the wonderment of my
old friends, frequent the circles of the so-called pietists. The
rivalry of dominant Protestantism with the intellectual culture
of ancient heathenism, and its coldness, or its fondling unctu-
ousness in communion with the Lord, disgusted me, and drove
me to Catholicism, till in horror at its legality, and in dread of
it as a grim and ghastly power, I discovered, for the first time
in my life, what Luther meant by a living faith. I now know
that, besides the politico-moral institution, called the Church,
there is quite another kingdom of God in the heart. From
my Romanizing era, however, I retain a conviction that the
Catholic Church was and is, in many places, the thing needed,
and that the external form of the Church is not indifferent to
the preservation of God's kingdom within. Everything is in
God's plan ; and if He so guided the minds of men that they


spoiled the Church for a time, why may I not consider the
strong belief I have in the necessity of a Church-power, as also
from Him, and so do my utmost to win for the Church free-
dom, and a powerful organization ? I am not deterred by the
fear of abuses, since every living thing is capable of abuse ;
only what is mechanical and dead, like a watch-wheel, does
its work infallibly."

One of Perthes' correspondents writes : " The letter of Scrip-
ture is authoritative, and the symbolical books of the Lutheran
Church give a voice to what it commands, and we ought to
obey. This is now called intolerant and fanatical, and those
are called tolerant who want the power and zeal of conviction.
We are to let every one follow his nose, but just tliat every
man may lead all others by the nose, at pleasure." Among
Perthes' correspondents many animadverted strongly on a ten-
dency which seemed likely to make Luther the sole represen-
tative, and the mutual toleration of Protestants and Catholics
the final attainment of the Reformation. Thus one of them :
" A man is now suspected almost of Rationalism if he quote the
Saviour's words, or rest his salvation on anything but the letter
of the Augsburg Confession. The generation of zealots let no
Scripture pass their lips now, save the harsh language of the
Old Testament, or the obscure of the Apocalypse." Another : " I
know no form of Christianity which might not become a bene-
ficent institution to the world ; but the enclosure, within which
our theologians would pen it up, is so narrow that hardly any
one can gain admission to the table of the Great King : such
at least is the impression made upon me by those haughty gen-
tlemen, who, without pity, but with a fiery sword, stand before
the sanctuary, and demand festal raiment such as none of those


who would enter have. But the Lord intended his feast for all
without exception, even for those who reject and despise it ;
and these do, after all, derive some benefit from it. Christ's
spiritual kingdom surrounds us like an atmosphere : Chris-
tianity so permeates the spirit and culture of our age, that
even the infidel and the Jew come under its influence." Re-
ferring to Neander, and to his grief at the attempted petrifac-
tion of the spiritual life in Church forms, Perthes wrote in
1836: — "The exquisite spiritualism of Neander's invisible
Church will lead to pride in all who are not Neanders. Indi-
viduals arc guided immediately by God ; but, for the guidance
of nations and mankind, he established the Church, whose
function is to preserve and teach the truth revealed. Perhaps
we should be nearer a solution, if the conservative and training
aspect of the Church were more clearly brought out."

When, in 1837, the controversy about the nature of the
Church received a new direction from the publication of Rothe's
" Beginnings of the Christian Church," Perthes wrote : " Rothe
is a man of mark ; and has originated a new controversy which
will make sad havoc among the parties. How Church and
State, if both were perfect, i.e., contained only men, not only
born again, but absolutely saints, would stand to each other, —
whether, as Rothe will have it, they would form but one insti-
tution, or continue to exist apart, is an important scientific
question. But it is not my business to seek for an answer to
it, and I should be satisfied if I knew how Church and State
ought to be related, both being imperfect, i.e., containing men,
as men are — miserable sinners. But to this question I get a
hundred different answers from theologians ; in other words,
no answer at all."


In a letter to a friend, Perthes thus states the result to
which his corresj^ondence with theologians had led him : " The
system of the Catholic Church, universally and strictly carried
out, leads to evil, because it makes human ordinances divine :
Neandcr's invisible church, consistently maintained, exalts the
few whose religious endowments are high, and, leaving those
who are not so favoured without guidance and instruction,
gives them up to infidelity. To intrust absolutely the religion
of Christ to the civil jDower, is simply putting it into the hands
of the gendarmes ; and although Protestant theology can frame
all sorts of churches, it cannot realize one ; it speculates on the
relation of man to God, and looks upon the Church rather as a
religious school, than as a religious institution. A rushlight
is no substitute for God's light, and the name ' Evangelical
Church,' has no real significance. What is to be done then ?
Above all, let us refrain from carrying out any human principle
to all its logical consequences in things divine ; let each do the
best he can, improving and building up piously and prayer-
fully the individual, and let us wait patiently till God in
his mercy come with his principle, and make us a present of
what we never can work out for ourselves." Again : " When
the plague of party has once infected an age, individuals must
be otherwise judged than in a century when the doctrine and
order of the Church stand firm and unquestioned. Whoever
is convinced of sin, and believes in redemption through Clirist,
is a Christian, no matter what be the colours of his party ;
wherever Christians are divided into parties, truth and untruth
are mingled in them all ; no outward struggle can solve the
contradiction, for right and wrong are on both sides, and a
victory on one side would be a defeat to what of truth and right


there is on the other. The solution must come from within,
from the power of truth and love reconciling all things. That
all should repent and humble themselves sincerely before God,
is the thing needed, not the battle-cry of embittered parties."

In 1838, Rist wrote to Perthes; "The Church was built up
in an age when the wants and thoughts of men were simple,
when the masses were in one block, as it were, and implicitly
followed their leaders ; and the Church is grown weak and
rickety from within. She totters now, because every man
would make suggestions and conditions, and turns away if
his views are not held forth and enjoined. It cannot be other-
wise in an age when all things are put into the testing cruci-
ble, when one professor of theology outbids another in subtle
distinctions regarding even the simplest doctrines of faith, and
when the clergy go through life with winkers on, which the people
very well see, if they themselves do not. For a long time now
neither the Catholic nor the Protestant Church has had any ex-
istence for me ; not the Catholic, because it rests on palpable
untruth, which a man can put up with only by dint of self-de-
ception ; and not the Protestant, because it rests on indepen-
dent personal inquiry, and on a book which is susceptible of
various interpretations. As many as are convinced of sin, and
of their need of reconciliation with God, can and must search
till they find a suitable guide and shepherd ; they can and do
form a little church among themselves. But whence we are to
get the universality of the Church, I know not. This only I
know, that, in spite of all sophistry, the void is greater than
ever, a void in the hearts of men, and that a heart conscious of
its wants can attain spiritual health, resignation, humility,
and love, even under rationalistic preaching ; for not what


enters the ear, but what is awakened in the heart begets faith.
For that reason we may not violently interfere with God's
mysterious way, but simply work out, each liis own cares and
doubts, to a solution, cleaving the wliile to what of the Church
remains. I have no sympathy with tlie cry of honest weak-
lings, in the pulpit and elsewhere, for a new reformer who
should restore all things ; for the power of the greatest is
limited by the spiritual condition of his contemporaries, and
what better gospel could there be than that of humility and
love, which we have? The new teacher miglit be prince,
bishop, elder, or sexton, but, unless he knew more than we do,
he could not found a church, and we should not believe him
unless he had risen from the dead, and brought certain intelli-
' gence from beyond the grave. Far be from me the supposition
that God will send a new messenger to make new announce-
ments ; we must lay our hands upon our mouths, and be silent.
You are always regarding Christianity as a necessarily univer-
sal something ; I, on the contrary, fix my eye on its wonderful
adaptation to all degrees of intelligence, and to the wants of
every individual. Tlie universal visible Church was always to
me an unexpected and unwelcome phenomenon, the apparent
completeness of which was eifected merely by the aid of fictions
and postulates. The Church, with all its apparatus, ceremo-
nies, orders, and tithes, was never anything but, as the Emperor
Alexander said, un heureux accident ; nor has it ever been
really one and universal What we give up then is not a
reality, but only a prospect, a very noble, and indeed almost
indispensable one, but still only a prospect : what we retain is
the spirit of the gospel, which walks the earth in all manner
of forms. As for church power, the letter of the confession,
VOL. II. 33


and the security of rulers, to whom fealtv is sworn on a parti-
cular confession, I know not what is to become of them."

The attention of theologians was called away from all ques-
tions about the form and constitution of the Church, to the
essential one of doctrine, by Strauss' Life of Christ, the first
jjart of which appeared in 1835. In the end of that year
Perthes wrote : " I have not yet seen Strauss' book, but I un-
derstand that lie denies the actual occurrence of what is nar-
rated in the New Testament. According to him, the thoughts
of certain pious and profound theologians passed into the po-
pular mind, and by the poetically creative power of the Jewish
people, were ultimately transformed into quasi-actual persons
and occurrences. The thought of redemption, excogitated by
some profound thinker, became in the people a longing for
redemption, and begat the expectation of a Messiah ; and thus
the sacred histories of the Annunciation and of Christ's birth
are poetical incorporations of the national feeling about the
appearance of a sinless man." Again, in January 1836 :
" Strauss' work will give a shock to all who have not been led
by personal experience and inward struggle to Christ, to all
who imagine that scientific theology is the basis of faith in the
truth of the gospel narrative." About the same time : " The
appearance of so mighty a foe to Christianity as Strauss, will
have the happy eifect of uniting Christian theologians. Three-
fourths of the German Protestants still adhere to Rationalism,
but it has been vanquished for all that, and is in fact dead ;
the conquerors, however, who, till the hour of victory, were in
firm alliance, have fallen out on tlie battle-field. Thus the
bibliolaters exclaim that he is a lost man who considers only
the meaning, and not also the letter, of Scripture to be of divine


inspiration, and that the Church must have a system of doc-
trine, when, in fact, we have not yet a Church at all. The
Old Lutherans sigh for the restoration of the two tables of the
decalogue, and say that, even if every letter of Scripture were
accepted, yet, if the symbolical books are rejected, notliing has
been gained. No, that is not the way, the pietist maintains ;
but the beginning and the end of faith is the consciousness
that man is of himself incapable of attaining not only the spi-
ritually good, but even what is naturally noble. The mystic,
again, not content with recognising divine mysteries where
they are, seems to take more pleasure in finding them where
they are not : the Christian philosopher would arrive at a defi-
nite thought about what cannot be excogitated at all ; and the
men of erudition regard any sort of Christianity, which is not
the fruit of learning, as too light a ware. These arc all Chris-
tians, and, as such, should study liumility and love towards one
another. The merely human controversies they waged, had
driven them far apart ; but Strauss' book, like the appearance
of a common foe, will unite them again.'"

Perthes was not mistaken, for, within a short time, theolo-
gians from the most varied stand-points stepped forth to do
battle with Strauss. Neander wrote to Perthes on 20th
May ISStl: "I have long thought of crowning my histori-
cal work with a Life of Jesus ; but the sublimity and greatness
of the subject deterred me. Recent discussions naturally
tempt me to undertake it by way of a declaration of my own
faith, the critical element being subordinate to the positive.
My Life of Christ would thus be the first volume, and my
Apostolic Age the second of a history of primitive Christianity."
Perthes answered, encouraging Neander to carry out his


idea, and added : " It seems to me almost a duty on your part
to give us a positive history of the Apostolic age in addition
to the critical one. Your explanation of the pentecostal
miracle has, in fact, shaken many, though not me ; and an
apostolic history, which should be the offspring not of your
science, but of your faith, would produce a mighty impression
just now, for your declared opinion of Strauss' book has opened
the ears and hearts of many that were shut to your voice be-
fore." Neander wrote again, on 3d June : " When I said in
my previous letter, that I would keep the critical element sub-
ordinate in my Life of Jesus, I merely meant that, instead of
a detailed and express refutation of Strauss, the refutation
would be found in the positive exhibition of the truth, critical
justifications being introduced only on occasion. I mean, there-
fore, to follow the same plan of treatment for the Life of Jesus
as for the apostolic age. The spirit of our age, and the fact
that certain prejudices must be removed, in order to open the
way for a more ample and many-sided contemplation of the
subject, require the critical element in every treatment of the
sacred history, demand, in fact, that the tenable be distin-
guished from the untenable ; but faith, and the views proceed-
ing from it, must stand by the side of criticism, which should
be the child of humility and veneration, and of a conviction
how limited man is, and how great his need of divine illumi-
nation. I have, therefore, no intention of publishing a new
history of the apostolic age, but only an improved edition
of the old one. I could not occupy a stand-point different
from my own ; and as in me the critical and intuitive elements
coincide, they cannot but coincide also in my compositions.
What I have found it necessary to deny or to doubt, has no


connexion with the essence of Christianity, and my treatment
of it can perplex only those who are already a prey to the cri-
ticism of the age, and who must, once for all, go through the
process of scientific inquiry, in order to arrive at firm convic-
tions ; such, for exaniiile, are young theologians." Perthes
answered : " For a century the prevailing element in powerful
minds has been the critical ; it then passed into those of an
inferior order, and now there is no man of intellectual culture
but must go through the fiery ordeal. Indeed, I regard the
audacious infidel criticism which we have survived, as God's
way of leading us back to the truth revealed ; for criticism will
not be long in showing that he who rejects revelation, and yet
believes in God and immortality, wants spiritual depth, has
stopt half way, has built upon sand. It will shew tliat the
only alternative is between Pantheism and the Christian faith,
and this will be the turning-point for many individuals, perhaps
for the whole generation. Christian theologians are agreed
that the present duty is to overthrow the audacious and infi-
del criticism which proceeds from and leads to pantheism.
But I do not think that much would be gained by discovering
scientifically the weak points of Strauss, Vatke, and the like ;
for, as these are merely the successors of Paulus of Heidelberg,
though more thorough-going and more talented than he, soothers
will follow them still more thorough-going and more talented,