Strauss, David Friedrich

Strauss, David Friedrich, a notorious German theologian, was born at Ludwigsburg, in Würtemberg, Jan. 27, 1808. He was educated at Blaubeuren and Tübingen; in 1830 was appointed curate, and in 1831 professor's assistant in the seminary at Maulbronn; after which he proceeded to Berlin to study the Hegelian philosophy and to hear Schleiermacher. In 1832 he became under teacher in the Theological Institute at Tübingen, and delivered lectures on philosophy in the university. While acting in this capacity, he wrote his great work, Das Leben Jesu, which occasioned his dismissal from his situation. He accepted the position of teacher in the Lyceum at Ludwigsburg, which he resigned in 1836 to become private tutor at Stuttgart. While there he prepared a reply to his opponents in his Streitschriften (1847), and in his Zwei friedliche Blätter he sought to place his case in the most favorable point of view. He was appointed, by the Council of Education of Zurich, professor of divinity and of Church history in the university, February 1839, but the appointment gave such dissatisfaction that Strauss was dismissed from office, with a pension, however, of a thousand francs. In 1848 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Frankfort Parliament, but was elected to the Diet at Stuttgart, from which he withdrew in December on account of the unpopularity of his political conservatism. After a long residence in Darmstadt, he returned in 1872 to his native town, where he died of cancer, Feb. 9, 1874, and was buried, by his own direction, without any Church service. Strauss was unhappy in his domestic life. In 1841 he married a formerly beautiful and celebrated actress, Agnes Schebert, who admired his talents; but after five years of incompatible living together, the fruit of which was a daughter, they separated by mutual consent. Besides the above productions, Strauss published an attempt to resolve theology as a whole into philosophy (Christl. Glaubenslehre [Tub. 1840, 2 vols.]), and later devoted himself to romantic, political, and general literature, with occasional articles on theology, for which see Zuchold, Bibl. Theol.

The early training of Strauss, in the light of which the genesis of his principal work must be explained, is described by the author himself in the art. "Justinus Kerner" in the Hall. Jahrb. 1838, No. 1, and more fully by Vischer in the same journal, 1838, p. 1081-1120. On the relation of Strauss to the philosophy of Hegel, compare No. 3 of his Streitschriften and the biography entitled Christ. Marklin, etc. (1851). He manifested at the beginning of his studies a fondness for the fogs of transcendental romanticism, but also for the nature philosophy of Schelling and the theosophy of Bohme. The influence of Schleiermacher aroused in him the dialectical spirit, the exercise of which resulted in urging him beyond the limits of the accepted faith. Under the teaching of Baur, sporadic doubts had risen in the mind of Strauss with respect to the credibility of the Gospel, even before his student years had come to a close, and they were confirmed by the reading of Hegel's writings, of whose influence over him he remarks that they "had freed him from certain religious and philosophical prejudices." He now felt himself called to undertake a philosophical task which neither Hegel himself nor any of his followers had attempted to perform, namely, to carry forward with logical consistency, and to its ultimate consequences, the application of the Hegelian philosophy to the Gospel histories. The adherents of that philosophy were, as a general thing, disposed to claim for their system a triumph in relation to Christianity as the religion of the Spirit, which had never been achieved with regard to any other religion --an alleged harmonizing, namely, of its form and substance, of the expression and the idea, so that Luther's catechism, for example, and the Hegelian logic and metaphysics should be related to each other as the form is to the contents. This claim Strauss overthrew as being wholly unfounded (Streitschr. No. 3; Glaubenslehre; Introd. § 2). From the position to which he had now attained, Strauss was obliged to condemn the dogmatic method of the old Hegelians, as illustrated in Marheineke's Dogmatik. He demanded, as the first step in a scientific method, that the conception underlying a scriptural statement, as it existed in the mind; of the writer, should be ascertained; that this should then be followed through the various heretical perversions until it becomes crystallized into a Church doctrine; and that the doctrine should be passed through the crucible of deistic and rationalistic polemics in order to its purification and ultimate restoration to the form of the original idea. In the light of this new conception of the relation between the idea and its apprehension, he came to regard a study of the life of Jesus as the most important work to which he could devote his powers. His celebrated book accordingly grew up on Hegelian ground, and not, as has been frequently assumed, on the ground of Schleiermacher. The book produced a universal sensation. It was discussed, printed in numerous editions, popularized, and translated into French and English. Its significance, in a scientific point of view, lies in the fact that it closes the epoch of undecided criticism in the field of Gospel history, and begins the epoch of radical philosophical rationalism. The effect produced by the book is primarily to be explained by the fact that this rationalism pronounced clearly and confidently the final words of negation which its predecessors had timidly withheld; to some extent also by the skill and acumen displayed in its pages; and lastly by the utterance of a confident expression of victory on the part of criticism at the very time when the Church was awaking to new life and was no less confident of victory than her antagonist. The "enlightenment" of the period had brought down the supernatural elements of the Scripture narratives to the level of ordinary occurrences. It had discovered a relationship between the myths of classical antiquity and the histories of the Old Test., and it held that the myths originated prior to the composition of the Old Test. books. All the wonders of the Old Test. were incontinently classed as myths, and so many of the New as had not been directly witnessed by the apostles. This was the position upon which Strauss found the vulgar rationalism entrenched. He saw that its weakness lay in the admission of Christ's resurrection, and he refused to be content with what seemed to him a half light, making the surrounding darkness more intense. He entered the way opened by the anonymous author of Offenbarung und Mythologie (1799), and sought to bring the entire life of Jesus under the mythical theory. As the most important objection to his views, he regards the composition of two gospels by eye witnesses of the incidents they record, and the improbability of the intrusion of unhistorical elements into writings of so undeniably early a date as the two remaining gospels. This he endeavors to refute, though in a manner totally inadequate when contrasted with the consequences to which its removal would lead; and after this preliminary he conceives himself warranted to subject the narrators to an examination of character as furnishing the test by which to determine the historical claims of the gospels, with the result that he finds in the latter no testimony derived directly from eyewitnesses, but only effusions from the impure source of oral tradition. The predispositions with which a writer approaches a work of such profound and far reaching consequence for religion and the Church are of vital importance, and Strauss brought predispositions to bear upon the criticism in which he engaged. He did not, as some reviewers have asserted, claim "entire freedom from predisposition," but "only that philosophical study had delivered him from certain religious and dogmatical assumptions," and he stated (3d ed. p. 97 [Germ. ed.]) the assumptions by which his critique would be guided. These were an invariable sameness of nature in all that comes to pass, and a consequent impossibility that supernatural facts should occur in the course of history. In the progress of his inquiry, he shows from Spinoza that the laws of nature are simply the will of God in the course of constant actualization, and that a miracle therefore involves a contradiction in the Deity. He asserts, against Nitzsch, that the distinction between a higher and a lower nature is without meaning, "since the higher nature is still nature." The miraculous history of the Redeemer is reduced to a narration of natural events. Jesus, a pious Jew, was attracted by the preaching of the Baptist, made the usual confession of sin, and was baptized into Him who was to come. Subsequently he attained to the consciousness that he was himself the promised Messiah, and through the energetic assertion of that consciousness, his high moral principles, and his bearing, he impressed many people favorably, especially among the lower classes, and gathered about him a number of enthusiastic adherents; but having incurred the hatred of the Pharisees, he fell before their hostility, and ended his life on the cross. The miracles with which this simple history was embellished in the Church had their origin in the fancy of his devoted disciples, and came in time to be received as facts. A conclusion was appended to the book, in which the author endeavored to replace the historical with an ideal Jesus. He advanced the idea that the God man finds his actualization, not in the individual, but in the human race as a whole. Later publications showed that under the force of adverse criticisms the author had modified his views so far as to regard the life of Jesus as extraordinary and Jesus himself as a religious genius, endowed with power to control the minds of men, and perhaps with powers of physical healing; and the concessions were carried so far (in pt. 2 of Vergangliches und Bleibenes) as to compel the recognition in Jesus of the highest "that can be known or thought in religious things," and the acknowledgment that without him present in the mind no complete piety is possible, "so that the substance of Christianity is in him preserved to us." The earlier position was, however, eventually reassumed by Strauss. In the preface to Studien und Charakteristik, written in August, 1839, he recalls the opinion he had expressed in favor of the authenticity of the Gospel of St. John, and in the 4th edition of the Leben Jesu he expresses regret at having nicked his sword, and returns to the negations of the 1st edition. Strauss had been charged with having given too little attention to the authenticity of the gospels in grounding his work. He made no reply, but when Baur's tendency-theory was published, he professed entire assent to its principles. It would seem that in this utterance he had not only hacked, but broken into pieces, his sword; for the tendency criticism has no place for the mythical theory; the "primitive idea of Christianity in historical garb" cannot be harmonized with "legend invented without purpose." This, however, did not hinder him, when celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the issue of his Leben Jesu, from expressing the opinion that the teachings of the book had been absorbed into the culture of the day and into the veins of science. He asserts, moreover, that during those years not a single line has been written on the topics of which it treats in which its influence may not be seen. Such an illusion respecting the state of the Church and of theological science can be explained only in view of the "isolated life" to which he was, as he complained, condemned. The speculations of the book have passed away from Germany and left no trace behind; and in but narrow circles in other lands can their influence be observed. Of responses to Strauss we notice Ullmann, Historisch oder Mythisch? (1838); id. Noch ein Wort über d. Person Christi, etc., in Stud. u. Krit. 1838; Tholuck, Glaubwürdigkeit d. evangel. Geschichte (2d ed. 1838); Hug, Gutachten über d. Leben Jesu von Strauss (1844); Wurm, Leben Luther's (Tüb. 1839); and Neander, Leben Jesu, 1837 (English, N.Y. 1848).--Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v. SEE MYTHICAL THEORY.

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