Heinrich von Treitschke.

Treitschke's history of Germany in the nineteenth century (Volume 5) online

. (page 62 of 67)
Online LibraryHeinrich von TreitschkeTreitschke's history of Germany in the nineteenth century (Volume 5) → online text (page 62 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

experiences, serve merely to prove the limitations of the human
intellectual faculty. But Feuerbach's simple conclusion was
that the idea of God is an illusion, that all theology is
anthropology, and that theology will promptly vanish as soon
as this is recognised. '.' The idea " is not revealed in God,
but in the human species. The marvellous history of the
church, which has filled so many centuries with spirit and life,
was to him no more than a terrible disease ; and since no
man can live without faith, all that remained open to the
complete atheist was to believe in the state, the true humanity,
which would indeed first attain perfection in the republican
form. In all these colossal fallacies there was no word that
did not flatly conflict with Hegel's teaching, but every one
of them was discussed with the aid of the Hegelian dialectic,
and they were adduced with such cordial enthusiasm that it
was easy for them to lead the rising generation astray, and
to lead astray in especial the young and ambitious students
of natural science.

By far the most important work of the Young Hegelians,
the only one to exercise a notable influence, was The Life
of Jesus by David Friedrich Strauss, which in the momentous
year 1835 burst' like a thunderclap upon the religious
world. Though there were some able men among the
theologians, the general condition of theology was one of
insincerity which could not possibly endure. Rationalism,
having become senile, had declined almost unnoticed to a
crude worship of the letter. Clinging to the words of holy
scripture, its idealism had been undermined by dull and foolish
methods of interpretation ; the rationalists believed in the
descent of the dove while doubting the descent of the Holy
Ghost. The conservative Hegelians, on the other hand,
endeavoured to deduce dogma from the idea, whilst the
followers of Schleiermacher attempted no less fruitlessly to
demonstrate the facts of gospel history as utterances of the
Christian consciousness. By concealing contradictions, by tender-
ness to the unhistorical, and by the interweaving of conflicting
reports, the endeavour was made to achieve a harmony which


History of Germany

could be satisfactory neither to believing sentiment nor to
critical understanding. The venerable Daub's work, The
Dogmatic Theology of Contemporary Times, published at
Heidelberg in the year 1833, was purely scholastic in form
and content ; dogma was first assumed as a datum, and was
then established on speculative grounds with a great display
of sterile learning. When, therefore, Strauss applied to the
opening period of Christianity the strict methods of historical
criticism which had long been utilised in the treatment of
pre-Christian ages and of the later centuries of religious history,
the effect was one of spiritual enfranchisement. Little that
he said was new, but he supplied a comprehensive survey of
the contradictions in the gospel narratives, contradictions which
had been recognised since the days of Lessing and the
W vlfcnbiittcl Fragments, but had again and again been artfully
concealed. The shattering effect of his book was due to
the unsparing way in which he gave utterance to what countless
readers had been secretly thinking.

Strauss had grown up in petty-bourgeois surroundings,
and remained throughout life a Swabian philistine. Having
endured the stultifying discipline of the theological seminaries
in Wiirtemberg, since his proud spirit was unable to tolerate
the oppression of this Protestant cloistral life, he had, like
young Schiller in earlier days, become imbued with ardent
enthusiasm for liberty. By the time he was twenty-seven
years of age his mental equipment was extensive and thorough.
He was endowed with extraordinary critical insight ; his literary
style was invariably vivid, attractive, and lucid ; whilst a
number of thoughtful poems show that he was not entirely
devoid of imaginative gifts. But he lacked the power which
his blind admirers attributed to him, the power of an elementally
great and therefore continually growing individuality. He was,
on the contrary, one of those unfortunate men of talent whose
development displays a progressive decline ; and when his
orthodox opponents, including the gentle Perthes, prophesied
that he would come to a bad end, these vaticinations were
justified by the result. With youthful audacity he ventured
upon an undertaking far beyond his strength and his whole
life suffered from this defect. Amid all his sagacious utterances,
it is impossible to find a single word which can move a man
to the depths, impossible to find any manifestation of that
natural force of genius which compels the reader to exclaim,


Young Germany

" Such was he, and thus alone could he speak." His mind,
essentially critical, was devoid of a genial understanding of
human destiny and human activities ; he lacked the plastic
energy of the creative historian, who cannot rest until, from
scanty or troubled sources, he has acquired a vidid picture
of past happenings.

He made no attempt to picture the character of him who
(from the purely scientific outlook) was the greatest man that
ever lived, or to show why this brief and marvellous life
has divided universal history into two portions and has exercised
an absolutely incomparable influence upon the destinies of
mankind. Instead of a life of Jesus he furnished no more
than shrewdly critical detached observations which, amid
incessant repetitions, serve in the end to demonstrate but one
thing, that the gospels are not works of pure history a poor
result, a truth which no thoughtful historian has ever questioned.
The motive force of all history, the might and the living
creative work of individuality, was incomprehensible to this
critic. For him these influences were replaced by a doctrinaire
" mythopceic principle," which was supposed to have created
something out of nothing and was therefore far more marvellous
than the miracles recorded by the evangelists. His inves-
tigation, presenting a semblance of irrefutability, was in
truth extremely superficial. It was a criticism of gospel history,
not of the gospels themselves. The questions to answer were,
What was the relationship between the gospel of St. John
(hitherto regarded by theologians as the purest source of initial
Christian history) and the synoptic gospels, and when and by
whom these different books had been compiled ; but these
decisive questions were never even mooted by Strauss. Ceasing
where he should have begun, he imagined his work to be
finished when he had discovered the undeniable contradictions
in the gospel narratives and had deduced therefrom the crude
conclusion that the whole matter was mythical. He never
grasped that the idea of the god-man is implanted in our
souls by an inborn and ineradicable impulse, and is therefore
a demand of the practical reason ; he never recognised that
all love, everything which brings happiness to the human heart,
rests upon the conception that somewhere the ideal must be
realised. For this reason he denies the certain and maintains
the uncertain. He refuses to admit that the ideal of humanity
can be incorporated in a single man, whilst giving positive


History of Germany

assurance that men, sinful individually, are blameless as a
species and are in a state of continual progress, whereas it
is obvious to all that a Homer or a Phidias is never reproduced ;
that the civilised tongues, while becoming richer and more
reasonable, lose beauty in the process ; and that consequently
the boasted progress of our race is at best no more than
conditional and limited.

This perspicacious theologian had absolutely no inkling
of the essence of religion. Like all the Hegelians, he saw in
religion no more than inchoate thought, although the history
of thousands of years has proved that intuitive woman has
ever been more religious than reflective man. Thus all
unawares he arrived at the opinion of those orthodox theologians
of the seventeenth century, the men whose faith was in the
letter, and who believed that the essence of religion was to
be found in the acceptance of a few dogmatic formulas. He
imagined that he had overthrown Christianity because he had
proved that certain elements in the gospel narratives are
mythical. How tragical was the contradiction in the life of
this talented man. In the struggle, in the justified struggle,
against the theological coercion exercised by the learned teachers
of the Tubingen seminary, he had acquired what he termed
freedom of spirit ; and yet his own book was a true child
of that wisdom of the study which is unable to understand
that theological criticism is null in comparison with the practical
duties of the spiritual consoler, who must bring comfort to
those that labour and are heavy laden, and who must be
fully aware that before the majesty of the living God the
hair-splitting professor is just as poor a creature as the simplest

This valiant campaigner did good service, however, in
that he laid his finger upon an open sore in German theology.
This was why his book aroused an indignation almost without
parallel in the case of any learned work. Within a few weeks
after the publication of the first volume he was deprived of
his position at the theological seminary of Tubingen and was
assigned a subordinate teaching post. Now Eschenmaier,
whose visionary speculations upon natural philosophy had
influenced Strauss in earlier years, published a work against
The Iscariotisw of our Days, a fanatical book which curtly-
denied that there was any justification whatever for the
scientific discussion of theology. Paulus likewise arose from


Young Germany

the easy-chair of rationalism to attack the heretic who absolutely
refused to recognise that the Jews of Christ's day had had
the unpleasant habit of burying their relatives alive, and that
this practice afforded a perfectly natural explanation of the
raisings in the New Testament ; nevertheless Paulus' language
was more moderate than that of Steudel, the old supernaturalist
of Tubingen. The Wiirtemberg pietists who held their prayer-
meetings in Calw and Kornthal, took up the cudgels, and in
their name Strauss' former fellow-student Wilhelm Hoffmann
entered the field against his sometime friend. Hengstenberg's
Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, published in Berlin, voiced its
wrath, and the ministers of state were already deliberating
whether the dangerous book ought not to be prohibited in
Prussia when Johann Neander, in an admirable Opinion,
declared that in accordance with Protestant custom reasons
should be attacked by reasons alone. Unfortunately, however,
The Life of Christ, which this pious author issued shortly after-
wards as a counterblast to the Swabian's book, was a work
rather of love than of critical insight. Strauss defended himself
against all his opponents in a series of contentious writings.

So great was his scientific reputation and so widespread
was the admiration felt by the academic children of this world
for the unaff righted champion, that it would hardly have been
possible in the long run to refuse him a professorship of
philosophy. But the obstinate Swabian wanted a theological
professorship although he had already questioned almost all
the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It was as if Martin
Luther had demanded that, accompanied by his wife Catherina,
he should be appointed general of the Augustinian order. There
were actually a few academic hotspurs ready to support this
remarkable claim. The new radical government in Zurich
had recently founded a university, which speedily summoned
a number of vigorous professors from among the crowd of
German demagogues and malcontents. Lorenz.Oken, who, after
his manner, had embroiled himself with the authorities in
Munich, was the first rector of the university of Zurich, where
he wrote the Natural History, his best work. Why should
not this new Athens on the Limmat, which looked down with
infinite contempt upon the Germans enslaved to princes, entrust
the chair of dogmatics to the , best hated man in the German
theological craft ? Some of the Zurich radicals were already
hoping that the completed political revolution would be followed


History of Germany

by a new religious reformation. After violent opposition, the
invitation was confirmed by the cantonal council, and Strauss
promptly declared his willingness to accept it (1839). But it
was impossible that the home of Zwingli should quietly tolerate
such a lapse from all its ancient traditions. In the easy-going
anarchy of this democratic system, every young goatherd
considered himself entitled to express a reasoned opinion upon
the competence of professors of theology. A few orthodox
zealots raised the cry of "religion in danger"; Hurter and
the ultramontanes in neighbouring cantons hastened to
participate in the fray ; all the peasantry round the lake rose
in protest ; and the moderate party in the town, led by
J. C. Bluntschli, the young liberal freemason, joined the popular
movement. The government became alarmed, rescinded its
resolution, and offered to compensate for the cancellation of
the appointment by the payment of an annual pension of
one thousand francs, which Strauss, standing upon his rights,
did not hesitate to accept, but applied to benevolent uses.
To the thrifty lake-dwellers, however, the handing over of
this thousand francs to a foreigner seemed criminal extravagance
since their canton never paid pensions ; they clamoured against
" the Straussen," and did not rest until, by a riot locally
known as the " Ziiriputsch " they had overthrown the radical

This tragi-comical revolution brought the name of the
Swabian theologian into utter disrepute, so that no German
philosophical faculty now ventured to think of offering the
much-abused man a suitable sphere for the exercise of his
brilliant gifts as a teacher. He was personally embittered by
his unhappy experiences and was driven into unmitigated
radicalism. His second great work, The Christian Faith (1840),
in point of form even abler than the first, contained an open
declaration of war against Christianity, and proved that its
author, though a perspicacious critic, was neither philosopher
nor historian. In an epoch when the power of the Roman
church was again becoming pugnacious, he maintained the
doctrinaire opinion that the opposition between Protestantism
and Catholicism was now unmeaning in comparison with the
struggle between orthodox and speculative theology. No less
narrow in his partisanship than Rotteck or Hengstenberg, he
could see nothing in the world beyond the two nations of
believers and unbelievers, the servile and the free. To quote


Young Germany

his own distinctive phrase, he considered himself able to draw
up the balance sheet of the commercial house of Christianity,
and arrived at the simple conclusion that this old firm had
long been bankrupt. Like Hegel, he looked upon dogmas
as abstract ideas, never noticing what Schleiermacher had
already proved, that this view annihilates Protestant freedom,
seeing that it gives the sapient, the men of learning, a papal
authority over the ignorant, who are as a rule the most pious.
Thus step by step every dogma was " dissolved " as an idea
belonging to an obsolete outlook. Revelation was to him
merely a cortex which had formed of old around the tree of
humanity, but had now become lignified and was peeling off.
He knew nothing of the power of devotion and exaltation, and he
therefore considered prayer to be a form of self-deception,
admitting only the reasonableness of " contemplation which
immerses itself in the cooling depths of the one reason of all

All the articles of faith having been thus dissolved, there
remained nothing for the modern church to do, and it would
be swallowed by the state as soon as people were able to bring
themselves to the complete abandonment of the Catholic position.
Not even Hegel, who was an adept in the knowledge of state
life, had been willing to draw this ultimate conclusion from
the premisses of his philosophy of religion. Hegel's Swabian
disciple had no hesitation here, for in his student existence
he was remote from the world, and failed to perceive that
the coercive authority of the state necessarily becomes tyrannical
should it assume control of the affective life. In theology,
therefore, he could see nothing but " the science of the ignorant
and idiotic consciousness." Whoever really knew theology
must perforce abandon it as empty chatter an astonishing
admission in the mouth of a man of learning who had so
recently been at work as a professor of the idiotic consciousness.
" Religious idiots and theological autodidacts," he exclaimed,
" these will be the priests of the future " ; but till the future
was realised, it was true that " the souls of many poor boys
will be allured into the theological mousetrap by the bacon
fat of the endowments."

As a result of five years of severe contests, this brilliant
man had fallen prey to a mood of blind frenzy no whit inferior
in intensity to the fanaticism of Eschenmaier. If his enemies
termed him Iscariot, he for his part abused them as idiots.


History of Germany

From the abundance of his reading he endeavoured to prove
that all great modern thinkers had in essentials shared the
same opinion about Christianity, and in cases where the proof
of this contention was difficult he condescended to sophistry.
Lessing had said, " Notwithstanding all the doubts inspired
by the understanding, religion persists unshaken in the hearts
of those Christians who have acquired an inner conviction of
its truth " one of those splendid and elemental sayings which
show us how high stood Lessing above the vulgar enlightenment
of his day. But Strauss declared that the utterance had not
been seriously meant, and had been a mere dialectical passado.
Having thus proved with the utmost minuteness that
Christianity was a nullity, he held aloof for twenty years from
theological work. In this negative critic there was no trace
of the constructive energy, the moral earnestness, of the
reformer who spends his heart's blood to force his ideas on
a reluctant world. He threw down his pen as soon as he
believed himself to have discovered that the history of eighteen
richly endowed centuries had been nothing but a gigantic error.

The influence of these writings upon contemporaries was
two-edged, being in part beneficial and in part disastrous.
Strauss awakened theology from a false quietism, and he made
natural explanations of miracles and artificialised attempts at
harmonising differences for ever impossible. His Tubingen
teacher, Ferdinand Christian Baur, a man of less scintillating
intelligence than Strauss, but far stronger and more profound,
and one who, despite the boldness of his scientific explanations,
never doubted the eternal truth of Christianity, was led by
his pupil's controversial writings to continue the historical
researches into the origins of Christianity on which he had
been engaged for a number of years. Baur devoted himself
to a subject that had hitherto been ignored ; to a critique
of the gospels, and was led to the conclusion that Christianity,
which had primitively been a Judaic religion, was first raised
to the status of a world religion through the work of the
apostle Paul. His views were supported by a number of
vigorous young professors, such men as Zeller, Schwegler, and
Kdstlin. By its perspicacious researches this new Tubingen
school paved the way for a scientific presentation of the earliest
era in Christian history, but the writers showed little under-
standing for the force of individuality in history, and many
of their opinions have long since been refuted.


Young Germany

The pietists and the orthodox, on the other hand, and
those above all who were chiefly interested in revelation or
were mainly animated by the corporative spirit of professional
theologists, were of necessity embittered by Strauss' onslaught
upon the Christian idiots. This unmeasured polemic practically
compelled them to condemn scientific criticism altogether, and
' to inscribe on their banner the motto credo quia absurdum.
From the first, too, they had taken up so strong and intolerant
a position towards the new tendency, that it was impossible
for them to draw back. Public opinion, guided by the liberal
newspapers, was wholly on the side of the persecuted Swabian,
although Strauss was a man of moderate political views. Voss,
in his Luise, had long ago written a kindly account of the
Protestant parsonage, describing it as a centre of peace and
culture, while in the Teutonising Burschenschaft of earlier
days Sand, Riemann, and other men " diligent on behalf of
religious learning," had invariably been the leaders. Very
different was now the state of affairs. It almost seemed as
if henceforward the Christian faith were to be separated from
modern culture by a yawning abyss. In the favourite novels
of the day every pastor was represented as either knave or
fool, and at the university the prevailing attitude towards
theology was one of mockery and contempt. The human
weaknesses of the religious minded were spied out with ill-
natured pleasure, it being overlooked that the mockers
who said " the man is extremely religious and nevertheless a
rascal" were in the very phrase testifying to the moral
superiority of the religious mood for no one had ever thought
of saying " the man is utterly irreligious and yet a rascal."
Contempt for religious matters, which had been the issue of
the peculiar development of our classical literature, 1 now regained
dominance in cultured circles. Since such prejudices could
be overcome only by actual experience of life, they maintained
their power to all appearance for an entire generation, until
in a epoch of world-transforming destiny the Germans suddenly
learned that their strongest and wisest men were all sincere
Christians, and that their heroic youths went out to face
death inspired by faith in God.

Since all the radicals took up the cudgels on behalf of
speculative theology, it was inevitable that the governments
should espouse the cause of orthodoxy. Altenstein, quite

1 Vide supra, vol. II, p. 273.

History of Germany

without positive faith and yet permeated with the conviction
that it was his official duty to maintain the ancient creed
of every church, was placed in a position of hopeless perplexity
by these theological struggles. Consequently the crown prince,
a man of rigid religious views, but hardly entitled to interfere
in questions of European policy, acquired so much influence
over the suggestible minister of education and public worship
that before long even the Old Hegelians ceased to receive
preferential treatment, and all important posts in the Prussian
state church were rilled henceforward by men of orthodox views.
At the crown prince's suggestion, Hahn of Leipzig, a deadly
enemy of the rationalists, was summoned to Breslau. 1 By
the same influence, Hengstenberg, at an exceptionally early
age, was appointed professor in Berlin. It was owing to the
prince, too, that the much persecuted Father Johannes Gossner
at length secured a suitable sphere of activity in Berlin.

Gossner was a born preacher, and a man of ardent faith
and childlike simplicity. In Bavaria, in earlier years, he had
been influenced by the mystical primitive Christianity of Bishop
Sailer. Later, having worked on behalf of the Bible societies,
he was expelled from Russia, and had then become a member
of the Evangelical church. But at this period rationalism still
exercised so unchallenged an influence in Berlin, that among
all the divines of that city Schleiermacher was alone willing
to allow the convert the use of his pulpit. At length, however,
Moblank, pastor at the Luisenstadt church, appointed Gossner
as locum tenens for some months. The result was, as the
crown prince wrote, that a church which had been empty for
half a century now proved too small to hold its devout congre-
gation, " because a martyr for Protestant truth as it was
preached by Luther " was there expounding God's word. But
the consistory forbade the interloper to use the pulpit,
demanding proof of competence, though he was an ordained
priest and fifty-five years of age. " To what a pass have we
come," said Gossner sadly ; " it is one to move God's pity.
I, an old beast of burden, must submit to the questions of
five examiners, and after I have preached for thirty years all

Online LibraryHeinrich von TreitschkeTreitschke's history of Germany in the nineteenth century (Volume 5) → online text (page 62 of 67)