1902 Encyclopedia > Ferdinand Christian Baur

Ferdinand Christian Baur
German theologian
(1792-1860)




FERDINAND CHRISTIAN BAUR, the distinguished leader of the Modern Tubingen School of Theology, was born in the neighbourhood of Cannstadt on the 21st June 1792. The son of a Wurtemberg pastor he entered, at the age of thirteen, the well-known seminary at Blaubeuren, to which his father had some years before been transferred as deacon. Thence he passed, in the year 1809, to the university at Tubingen. Solid and somewhat reserved in character, he was indefatigable in his studies, but did not come prominently to the front till near the close of his academic career. His intellectual development proceeded slowly from step to step. For a time he was attracted and considerably influenced by the study of Bengel, the great head of the preceding orthodox school, which had given

Tubingen its reputation in tbe 18th century. Both Bengel himself in his noble personality, and the historical character of his critical labours on the New Testament, remarkable for their time, had a charm for the youthful student of the ] 9th century. With historical interest Baur combined a special interest in the philosophy of religion, but as yet without betraying any opposition to the supernatural stand-point of the older theology. His earliest literary produc-tion—a review of Kaiser's Biblical Theology (Bengel's Archiv fur Theologie, ii. 656) in 1817—shows nothing of this opposition. It required a change of circumstance, as well as a new impulse of intellectual excitement, to direct his thoughts into the bolder current, in which they were destined to run, and in their course so largely to affect the stream of contemporary thought.
In 1817 he was called as professor to Blaubeuren, which he had left as a pupil eight years before. It was bis business here to direct the historical and philosophical studies of the youth, and his keen and comprehensive genius soon found a congenial subject of investigation in the relations of Christianity to preceding modes of thought. The result of his investigations appeared in his Symbolik und Mythologie, in 1824. This was his first elaborate work, the precursor of all his special studies in religious history and the development of religious thought. Ani-mated by a thorough and enlightened spirit of learning, and valuable as a contribution to the knowledge of classical antiquity, it was yet dominated by a theological interest, and showed how truly this was the prevailing bias of the author's mind. It showed, moreover, how from this early period he combined, in almost equal force, the three great elements of culture—philological, philosophical, and theological—which his later works discovered in such maturity.
This publication drew attention to Baur's marked abilities, and, on a vacancy occurring in the theological faculty at Tubingen, he was promoted after some hesitation to the chair of historical theology in that famous university, destined from his labours to acquire a yet more notable reputation. This took place in 1826; and for thirty-four years Baur's life was passed at Tubingen in an unceasing round of academic work,—while his name continued to gather from his successive writings an increasing lustre and influence. All accounts agree in testifying to his mar-vellous industry and unceasing toil of research, his con-scientiousness and self-sacrifice as a teacher, and the unobtrusive enthusiasm and dignity with which he dis-charged all the duties entrusted to him, not only as a pro-fessor, but as for some time the head of the Stiff, or college of residence for the Protestant divinity students. His theological opinions, trenchant and alarming as they must have sometimes appeared, never made any separation betwixt him and his colleagues in the theological faculty. All acknowledged his power and earnestness; and the multitudes who thronged his lecture-rooms carried the impulses of his thought throughout Germany and Switzer-land. His manner was somewhat reserved and silent; all his enthusiasm was put into his work, and was felt more as an underglow animating his lectures and writings than as a demonstrative power creating a temporary noise. He lived for theological science: nothing else seems to have occupied him or drawn him aside. When we add to this the fact that any faith in supernatural religion, with which he began his labours as a professor, ere long dis-appeared, and that the great aim of all his studies and researches was to find the natural factors or principles out of which Christianity arose in the world, there is presented to us a strange picture of theological enthusiasm It may seem an inconsistent and unhappy picture. Yet there is something heroic if also pathetic in such intense application
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to the study of Christian phenomena, and such thorough and earnest aims to reach the truth regarding them, with-out the faith which witnesses to the reality of a personal divine life, behind the phenomena and revealed in them
Baur at first, like almost all his contemporaries, owned the influence of Schleiermacher. The Olaubenslehre of the latter, which appeared in 1821, is said to have affected him deeply, and moulded his thought for some time. But there was too little affinity betwixt the men,—the one mystic and spiritual, the other intellectual and objective, —to permit this influence to be permanent. From Schleiermacher Baur passed to Hegel, whose commanding genius laid its spell upon him as upon others. The Hege-lian philosophy became the permanent and pervasive element of his intellectual life. Its great doctrine of opposites, or of extremes finally terminating in a conciliation, is found more or less to underlie all his thought, and to furnish the key to his most daring speculations on the origin and growth of Christianity.
It was not, however, till nearly ten years after his settle-ment at Tubingen that his theological views underwent a decided change, and that the special tendency known as that of the Modern Tubingen School was fully developed. The earlier period of Baur's academic life was not unfruitful, but did not mark him off in any striking manner. Even his treatise on the Christ-party in the Corinthian Church and the Antagonism betwixt the Pauline and Petrine Chris-tianity, which appeared in 1831, and which may be said to contain the germs of his future system, was published peaceably (in the Tubingen Zeitschrifi) along with the effusions of Sleudel, one of his co-professors most devoted to supernaturalism. His answer to Mohler's famous Sym-bolik (1833) attracted a widespread reputation, and fixed attention upon him as one of the ablest defenders of German Protestantism. Masterly and ingenious as Mohler's book was, it was felt that Baur had not only fairly met but overthrown its chief position. But with all his reputation as a powerful writer and controversialist, he had hardly as yet made his mark as a new thinker.
The second and distinctive period of his intellectual development is dated from the year 1835, when Strauss's Leben Jesu appeared, and spread commotion in the theo-logical mind of Germany. In the same year Baur pub-lished his great work on Gnosticism, in which he had obviously quite passed beyond the influence of Schleier-macher. A brief work on the So-called Pastoral Epistles in the same year showed him at work in an independent critical direction, and ready to take a new start in theo-logical inquiry. This start, or at least the lengths to which it carried him, have been by many attributed to the effect of Strauss's work. But he has himself plainly denied this, and claimed an independent origin for his own specula-tions. "I had begun," he says (Kirchengeschichte des 19 Jahrhunderts, 395), " my critical inquiries long before Strauss, and set out from an entirely different point of view. My study of the two epistles to the Corinthians led me first to seize clearly the relation of the apostle Paul to the other apostles. I was convinced that in the letters of the apostle themselves there was enough from which to infer that this relation was something very different from that usually supposed,—that, in short, instead of being a relation of harmony it was one of sharp opposition, so much so that on the part of the Jewish Christians the authority of the apostle was held everywhere in dispute. A closer investigation of the Pseudo-Clementine homilies, to whose significance in reference to the earliest period of Christian history Neander first drew attention, led me to a clearer understanding of this opposition; and it always became more evident to me that the contrast of the two parties in the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic age must be traced

not merely in the formation of the Petrine tradition but as having exercised an important influence upon the com-position of the Acts of the Apostles."
This supposed conflict betwixt Petrinism and PauHnism, or, in other words, betwixt Jewish and Gentile Christianity, lies at the foundation of all Baur's critical labours. His speciality as a New Testament scholar and critic was the firmness with which he laid hold of what he believed to be the only genuine foundation of historical Christianity in St Paul, and his tour great epistles to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, and to the Romans. These epistles were to him alone unchallengeable as the authentic writings of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and the antagonism of which he made so much appeared to him everywhere to pervade them. The epistles to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, and to the Philippians, and the short letter to Philemon, were at the best doubtfully genuine. They seemed to him to bear traces of a later Gnosticism in many of their expressions, while he altogether rejected the apostolical character of the Pastoral Epistles. These letters, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, were to him writings not of the 1st but of the 2d century, proceeding not from the Pauline School, but from the Catholic and Concilia-tory School, which towards the middle and end of the 2d century sought to adjust and harmonize the earlier conflicting elements of Petrinism and Paulinism. This impress of conciliation and compromise appeared to him to be specially stamped upon the Acts of the Apostles, and to be the true explanation of the relations there depicted betwixt St Peter and St Paul.
Such were the views advocated by Baur in a succession of writings on the Pastoral Epistles (1835) and the Epistle to the Romans (1836); but especially in his great work on the Apostle Paul (1845), which may be said to sum up the result of his critical labours on the Pauline writings.
Then in a further series of critical investigations he turned his attention to the Gospels. He dealt with them as a whole, " their relation to one another, their origin, and character," in a treatise which appeared in 1847, and in 1851 he devoted a special volume to the gospel of St Mark. The result of his investigations in this direction was to satisfy him that all the Gospels owe their origin more or less to the same tendencies or traces of party design, which he everywhere discovers in the first Christian age. Our present Gospels are not, in his view, the most ancient documents of the kind possessed by the church. Before them there was a primary cycle of evangelical tradition, known by various names—as the gospel of the Hebrews, of St Peter, of the Ebionites, of the Egyptians, &c. In the existing canon the Gospel of St Matthew resembles those earlier narratives most closely. It reproduces most com-pletely the character of the primitive Jewish Christianity, yet not without important later modifications. The Gospel of St Luke is, of course, of Pauline origin, yet also retouched with a view to the conciliatory tendencies of the Church of the 2d century and the influence of the Petrine tradition. That of St Mark is of later date than either, and bears the most evident traces of adaptation. Of all the gospels it is the most suspected by the Tubingen School. The Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, is a definite work, but of the 2d, not of the 1st century. An examination of its contents, its mode of composition, and its general plan clearly reveals its dogmatic and idealistic character. The historical data are merely a background to the speculative ideas which it unfolds. The prologue by itself is sufficient proof of its logical method and purpose, while the contrasts which everywhere pervade it betwixt light and darkness, life and death, the Spirit and the flesh, Christ and the children of the devil and the dramatic force and propriety with which these contrasts are handled throughout, point to
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the same conclusion. Further, the differences betwixt the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel are held to show con-clusively that they could not have proceeded from the same author.
In addition to these critical labours Baur distinguished himself by a series of elaborate historical monographs on special doctrines of Christianity, for example his History of the Doctrine of the Atonement in 1838, and his History of the Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation, in 3 volumes, in 1841-3. His unceasing activity further produced a Handbook of the History of Dogma in 1847, an interesting tract on the Chief Epochs of Ecclesiastical History (1852), an admirable digest of his general views on the origm and growth of the early church under the title of The Christian Church of the First Three Centuries (1853). A further volume of general Church History from the 4th to the 6 th century, appeared from his pen just before his death (1859), and subsequently three volumes containing the History of the Church of the Middle Ages (1861), the History of the Church of more recent times (1863), and the Christian History of the 19th century (1863). Finally, in 1865, appeared Lectures on the History of Christian Dogma.
His death took place on the 2d December 1860. He lies buried in the cemetery at Tubingen, not far from the poet Uhland, with the simple inscription on his tomb, "F. C. Baur, Theolog."
Such an amount and variety of authorship sufficiently show Baur's indefatigable industry and enthusiasm as a theologian; and when it is remembered that all his works are of a strictly scientific character indicating everywhere original research, and a penetrating and systematic intel-ligence which never slumbers, however it may be mistaken, it is evident that there are few names in the recent history of theology that claim more significance than that of Ferdinand Christian Baur. Of the value of his labours and the extent to which his theological views may be said to have verified themselves in the modern mind which has continued profoundly agitated by the problems which he started, this is not the place to speak. It need only be said that, while many of his opinions are strongly contested, and some of the most enlightened recent investi-gations prove that he has greatly exaggerated the anta-gonisms of the early church, and post-dated most of the writings of the New Testament, it is at the same time admitted by all advanced scholars that he has, even, in his exaggerations, contributed to a clearer view of the great principles at work in the 1st and 2d centuries and the lines of spiritual movement along which the Christian church moved to its historical formation and development. No student since Baur can fail to recognize the distinctive influences of Jewish and Gentile Christianity, and the extent to which this distinction, and in some cases anta-gonism, are impressed upon the New Testament writings. To him also and his school must be attributed the modern idea that the surest historical foot-hold of Christianity is in the four great Pauline epistles. These, more than any other New Testament writings, he in the clear dawn of the sun-rise which enlightened the world. The Gospels remain, not indeed in a mist of unauthentic story, but in comparative shadow. They come only gradually into the light after a long dim undergrowth in the rich soil of Primitive Christianity. There is much to be said against Baur's views of their later origin in the 2d century. The more this century is studied the less does it seem capable of originating such marvellously fresh products of spiritual intelligence. But it is not the less certain that the Synoptic Gospels took their present form only by degrees, and that while they have their root in the Apostolic Age and the Apostolic mind, they are also fashioned by later influences, and adapted to special wants in the Early

Church. They are the deposits, in short, of Christian tradition, handed down first of all, and probably for a con- siderable period, in an oral form, before being committed to writing in such a form as we now have them. This, which is now an accepted conclusion with every historical school of theologians in England no less than in Germany, conserva- tive no less than radical, is largely the result of the Tubingen investigations. It may have been understood before, but its historical significance was not appreciated. In short, if we distinguish Baur's method from his special opinions it is hardly possible to overrate his influence as a theologian. His professed method was to seek for the solution of great spiritual as of great intellectual phenomena in a closer and more minute study of all the documents and data purporting to record or explain these phenomena, and to run out such lines of fact as he found to their true consequences. His great genius and learning enabled him to read the meaning of certain features of Primitive Christianity hitherto imperfectly discerned, and to point future inquirers along the true road of discovery. Un- happily, his own opinions were influenced not merely by his study of facts, but by a great speculative system which dominated his intelligence, and prevented him from seeing what still seems to most minds not less informed than his own the only credible explanation of the vast spiritual movement whose forces and developments occupied his lifelong study. (J. i.)






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