Oetinger, Friedrich Christoph
Oetinger, Friedrich Christoph a noted German theosophist and religious psychologist, celebrated as a mystical exponent of the sacred writings, was born of pious parentage at Goppingen, in Wiirtemberg, May 6, 1702. He studied at the University of Tubingen, where he came in contact with some of the Inspired; and his studies thereupon took a decidedly mystical turn. He also devoted himself to the study of the philosophical writings of Leibnitz and Wolf, and was "altogether immersed in the doctrine of the monads." He studied Malebraiche, too. After the completion of his course at the university he became intimately related to Bengel, corresponding with him and visiting him frequently. His whole object now was to impregnate the Wolfian philosophy with a deeper Biblical element, and to ascertain therein the final principles, and highest unity of all thought. He read the Church fathers industriously, especially Augustine, and pored over the Rabbins and their cabalistic speculations. He visited Jena and Leipsic, and there made the acquaintance of Francke, Spangenberg, and Zinzendorf, with the last of whom he spent some time in Herrnhut. He also made many other journeys. He saw Leipsic, Berlin, and the large places of the Low Countries. He finally returned to Tilbingen; and after having acted awhile as tutor there, and assisted count Zinzendorf in his project for translating the Scriptures, he was appointed reader in theology in the University of Halle. This post he resigned however in order to travel, and especially to consult some of the eminent theologians of Holland. Returning to Wurtemberg, he was, in 1738, appointed pastor at Hirschau. He had now fully adopted the views of the Pietists, whose sentiments were then obtaining the approval of many of the most learned and pious men in Germany, while they found very general acceptance among persons of a devotional temperament, with whom Oetinger's purity of life, earnestness of manner, extensive theological acquirements, and perhaps his mysticism of style, all combined to give him great influence, so that he soon came to be regarded as the Pietistic leader in that part of Germany. Oetinger was an earnest student of the writings of Jacob Bohme; and he became an ardent disciple of Emmanuel Swedenborg, some of whose works he translated into German. His teaching of these mystic doctrines having called forth some remonstrances from his ecclesiastical superiors, he announced his resolve not to publish any more of his writings. but he continued to furnish such of his followers as applied for spiritual advice with his written instructions. He was nominated in 1752 to the superintendence of the churches in the district of Weinsberg, and afterwards in that of Herrenberg, and subsequently bishop of Murrhard. He died February 10, 1782.
During his life Oetinger was regarded with respect approaching to reverence by his co-religionists as a philosopher and theologian, and he is still held in some estimation. He sought to elucidate the Christian system by the speculations of Bohme and Swedenborg; and he was fond of comparing and contrasting the received systems of secular philosophy with Christian philosophy, as so explained. It is only recently that attention has been excited towards his almost forgotten works. He was the theosophist of his age. His contemporaries called him the Magus of the South. He says: "I have made the idea of life which prevails in the Bible the chief feature of my theology. The Bible treats of life: 1, God as the source of life; 2, man as the conservatory of the breath of life; 3, sin as the estrangement of life from God; 4, grace as the communication of new life; 5, the Church as the society where the spirit of life works; 6. the last things as the end and issue of life." 'Magic,' says the fantastic old man, "is the science of the friends of God. It is of secret wisdom. But it is the sublimest magic to separate yourself from yourself by means of the cross of Jesus Christ, and to bring the multitude of your thoughts into harmony with the love of Christ.' "In antagonism to the sceptical and volatilizing tendency, he sought," says Hagenbach, "to old firm the concrete individual, the real and the vigorous in all their picturesqueness, vividness, and sensuousness, so as to make the deeper and stronger impression upon the mind. Instead therefore of regarding scriptural descriptions of the kingdom of God and of the new birth as mere figures, and of dissolving them into abstract conceptions, as was done by the later translators of the Bible,... Oetinger regarded them as realities and facts; and while skepticism believed that it must translate the Biblical language into Western form, which could not easily happen without a diminution of the original meaning, Oetinger believed, on the other hand, that we must return to that Biblical view of things, and live in the very heart of it. His language is therefore sometimes dark, mysterious, and not comprehensible by every mind. He strives by it to represent everything in a new and original light, and in this effort he confesses that by the confusion of philosophic language it would be hard for one who is illuminated as by lightning to speak with new tongues. Men must sometimes be satisfied with only small and weak beginnings, until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waves of the sea" (1:39, 1, 39).
Oetinger was very fruitful as a mystical author. His works amount to seventy in number, the titles of which betray his effort to combine supernatural and natural things in their higher unity; or, as he himself expresses it, "metaphysics in connection with chemistry." Of these numerous works we notice Die unerforschlichen Wege der Herunterlassung Gottes (Leips. 1734): — A briss d. evangelischen Ordnung z. Wiedergeburt (ibid. 1735, 8vo): — Erklrung d. Psalmen nach
dem historischen Wortverstande (Esslingen, 1748, and Heilbronn, 1756, 8vo): — Inquisitio in sensum comnunem et rationern pro judicandis philosophorum theoris ad normam Scripturce Sacrce (Tiibingen, 1753, 8vo): — Dreyfache Sittenlehre nach der Natur, nach der heiligen Sclhrft, nach Jesu Christo (Heilbronn, 1753, 8vo): — Die Eulerische u. Frickische Philosophie uber die Musik-:(Neuwied, 1761): — Die Philosophie der Alten wiederkommend in der g.iidenen Zeit (Francf. 1762, 8vo): — Swedenborg's u. anderer irdisce u. hinmlische Philosophie (ibid. 1765, 8vo): — Theologia ex idea vitce deducta (ibid. 1765, 8vo; transl. into German, Stuttg. 1852, 8vo); it is the best work of the author:Beurtheilung der Lehre von dem Zustande nach dem Tode (1771, 8vo): — Liber aurece catenae Homner-i de transmutatione metallorum (1771, 8vo): — Inbegrig'der Grundweisheit aus den Schriften Jcakob Bohms (Francf. 1774, 8vo): — Gedanken von den Fdhigqkeiten zu enmpfinden u. zu er- kennen (ibid. 1775, 8vo): — Biblisches u. emnblematisches Worterbuch dem Tellerischen entgegengesetzt (Francf. 1776; Stuttg. 1849). He translated also into German and annotated the work of Swedenberg on the inhabitants of the earth, planets, and other stars (1771, 8vo). Oetinger's complete works were published at Reutlingen in 1852 sq., and his theosophical writings have been brought out at Stuttgard as follows: Simnmtl. theosophische Schrifte-u, Theologie a. d. Idee des Lebens (1865).
See Neues Gelehrtes Europa, vol. xv; Moser, Wiirtembergisches Geleh- ten-Lexikon, s.v.; Hirsching, Handb.; Meusel, Lexikon, s.v.; Hurst's Hagenbach, Ch. Hist. of the 18th and 19th Centuries, 1:388-39, 481 sq.; Kahnis, Hist. German Protestantism, p. 108; Selbstbiographie, published by Hamberger (Stuttg. 1845); Auberlen, Die Theosophie Fr. Ch. Oetinger's nach ihren Grundzugen (Tubing. 1848).