Spalding, Johann Joachim

Spalding, Johann Joachim a rationalizing theologian of Germany, was born Nov. 1, 1714, at Tribsees, in Swedish Pomerania, and was educated at Stralsund and Rostock (1731) at the time when the Wolfian philosophy and pietism were the subjects of controversy. He studied the current philosophy in the Writings of Wolf, Ballinger, and Canz, and defended its principles until association with the professors at Greifswald, which he enjoyed in consequence of his having accepted the position of private tutor in that town, caused him to doubt their correctness. In 1745 he went to Halle, and came under the influence of J.S. Baumgarten (q.v.). He afterwards became the friend of Sack (q.v.) at Berlin, and of the poets Gleim and Kleist. In 1748 he published his first work, on the destination of man (Gedanken über d. Bestimm. des Menschen), which was characterized by great simplicity of thought and diction, and secured an immediate popularity. His aim was the popularizing of philosophy after the example of English works then appearing; and he succeeded in bringing the moral truths to which alone that age was yet accessible, after its breach with orthodox religion, within the reach of the common apprehension. In 1749 he became pastor at Lassan. His ministry was at first hindered by his renunciation of the ordinary pulpit phraseology and his adoption of a direct, clear, and simple style; but he received, none the less, many encouraging proofs of a growing appreciation of his labors and of dawning success. He continued his literary labors also, devoting himself largely to the study of the Deistic and anti-Deistic literature of England, and translated some of the current works on either side into German, among them Butler's Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion. From Lassan Spalding was transferred in 1757 to Barth (in Pomerania) as provost and chief pastor. The pietistic tendency, emanating principally from Mecklenburg, induced him to commit to writing his Thoughts on the Value of the Feelings in Christianity (Gedanken über den Werth der Gefuhle im Christenthum [1761 and often]). The purpose of this work was to distinguish true religious feeling from that which is false and artificial; but the execution of that purpose is marred by the inability of the author to clearly apprehend the profound nature of his subject. His conception of religion continued to be the one-sided apprehension by which morality takes its place. At this time ne was visited by Lavater, Fussli, and Felix Hess, and entered into friendly relations with the former, which continued unbroken despite the difference of views and temperament existing between them. In 1764 Spalding was once more transferred to a new post. He became provost and chief preacher at the Church of St. Nicolai in Berlin, and at the same time high-consistorial councilor. His sermons proved very acceptable to cultured minds, a feature which he declared to be "a doubtful evidence of their utility." He now published (1772) an anonymous work on the utility of the pastoral office, etc. (Ueber die Nutzbarkeit des Predigtamtes u. deren Beforderung), which reappeared, bearing his name, in 1773, and was sharply criticized by Herder (An Prediger funfzehn Provinzialblatter.). Spalding had stripped the pastoral office of every ideal quality, while Herder took his position with the Scriptures, and asserted a priestly and prophetical character for the ministry. The inception of the work was occasioned by the desire, then generally prevalent, to bring Christianity into harmony with the culture of the age, and to protect it against the attacks of a frivolous infidelity. The intention was to give up all unessential matters and preserve only what is really essential. This spirit led Spalding to compose a further work, Vertraute Briefe die Religion betreffend (Familiar Letters pertaining to Religion), anonymously published in 1784 and 1785, and with the author's name in 1788. The accession of Frederick William II, in 1786, was signalized by the publication of a rigid decree in favor of orthodoxy, and Spalding was thereby induced to resign his position. He preached his last sermon Sept. 25, 1788, after he had in vain sought to obtain some modification of the obnoxious edict. His last work was published by his son, Georg Ludwig, in Berlin, 1804. It is entitled Religion, eine Angelegenheit des Menschen (Religion, a Concern of Man). He died May 26, 1804, leaving behind a reputation for sincere piety, according to the standards of his time, and modified by a constant endeavor to secure for it the clearest possible expression. If a rationalist, he was certainly one of the noblest and most pious representatives of that tendency. His pure theism, moreover, affords an attractive contrast to all pantheistic conceptions of the idea of God.

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