1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Rothe

Richard Rothe
German theologian

RICHARD ROTHE (1799-1867), theologian, was bom at Posen, January 28, 1799, of parents in a good position. After passing through the grammar schools of Stettin and Breslau, he studied theology in the universities of Heidelberg and Berlin (1817-20) under Daub, Schleier-macher, and Neander, the philosophers and historians Hegel, Creuzer, and Schlosser, exercising a considerable influence in shaping his thought. From 1820 to 1822 he was in the clerical seminary at Wittenberg, and spent the next year in private study under his father's roof at Breslau. In the autumn of 1823 he was appointed chaplain to the Prussian embassy in Borne, of which Baron Bunsen was the head. This post he exchanged in 1828 for a professorship in the Wittenberg seminary, and hence in 1837 he removed to Heidelberg as professor and director of a new clerical seminary; in 1849 he accepted an invitation to Bonn as professor and university preacher, but in 1854 he returned to Heidelberg as pro-fessor of theology and member of the Oberkirchenrath, a position he held until his death, August 20, 1867. Rothe's mental and religious development was one of continuous progress. As a youth he was the subject of deep religious feeling, with a decided bent towards a supernatural mysticism; his chosen authors were those of the romantic school, and Novalis remained his life through a special favourite. In Berlin and Wittenberg he came under the influence of Pietism as represented by such men as Stier and Tholuck, though the latter pro-nounced him a " very modern Christian." He afterwards himself confessed that, though he had been a sincere, he was never a happy Pietist. In Rome, where he enjoyed the intimate friendship of Bunsen, and studied church history under the broadening influence of classical and ecclesiastical art, his mind broke loose from the straitened life and narrow views of Pietism and he learned to look at Christianity in its human and universalistic aspects. From that time he began to develop and work out his great idea, the inseparable relation of religion and morals, finding in the latter the necessary sphere and the realiza-tion of the idea of the former. He began then, and particularly after the revolution of July 1830, likewise to give a more definite form to his peculiar view of the relations of church and state. In consequence of this enlargement of his ideas of the world, religion, morals, Christianity, the church and the state, Rothe gradually found himself out of harmony with the Pietistic thought and life of Wittenberg, and his removal to Heidelberg in 1837 and the publication of his first important work (Anfánge der christlichen Kirche) in that year coincide with the attainment of the principal theological positions with which his name is associated. During the middle period of his career (1837-61) he led the life of a scholastic recluse, taking no active public part in ecclesiastical affairs in any way. During the last six years of his life (1861-67), partly owing to his liberation from great domestic cares and partly to the special circumstances of the church in Baden, he came forward publicly and actively as the advocate of a free theology and of the PROTESTANTENVEREIN (q.v.). This important change in Rothe's practice was preceded by the publication of a valuable series of theological essays (in the Studien und Kritilcen for 1860), afterwards published in a separate volume (Zur Dogmatik, Gotha, 1st ed. 1863, 2d ed. 1869), on revelation and inspiration more particularly. These essays were a very searching examina-tion of the relation of revelation to Scripture, and pro-voked much hostile criticism in quarters previously friendly to Rothe, where the relation was usually treated as almost one of identity. In consequence of this publica-tion, and his advocacy of the programme of the Pro-testantenverein, he was classed at the end of his life amongst the more decided theological liberals rather than with the moderate orthodox party, amongst whom so many of his personal friends were to be found.

Rothe was one of the most if not the most profound and influential of modern German theologians next to Schleiermacher. Like the latter he combined with the keenest logical faculty an intensely religious spirit, while his philosophical tendencies were rather in sympathy with Hegel than Schleiermacher, and theosophic mysticism was more congenial to him than the abstractions of Spinoza, to whom Schleiermacher owed so much. He classed him-self amongst the theosophists, and energetically claimed to be a convinced and happy supernaturalist in a scientific age. A peculiarity of his thought was its systematic completeness and consistency; aphoristic, unsystematic, timidly halting speculation was to him intolerable. Though his own system may seem to contain extremely doubtful or even fantastic elements, it is allowed by all that it is in its general outlines a noble massive whole, constructed by a profound, comprehensive, fearless, and logical mind. Another peculiarity of his thought was the realistic nature of his spiritualism : his abstractions are all real existences; his spiritual entities are real and corporeal; his truth is actual being. Hence Rothe, un-like Schleiermacher, lays great stress, for instance, on the personality of God, on the reality of the worlds of good and evil spirits, and on the visible second coming of Christ. Hence his religious feeling and theological specu-lation demanded their realization in a kingdom of God coextensive with man's nature, terrestrial history, and human society ; and thus his theological system became a Theologische Ethik. It is on the work published under this title that Rothe's permanent reputation as a theo-logian and ethical writer will rest. The first edition, in three volumes, was published in 1845-48, and remained twelve years out of print before the second (1867-71, in five volumes) appeared. It was the author's purpose to rewrite the whole, but he had completed the first two volumes only of the new edition when death overtook him. The remainder was reprinted from the first edition by Prof. Holtzmann, with the addition of some notes and emendations left by the author.

This work begins with a general sketch of the author's system of speculative theology in its two divisions, theology proper and cosmology, the latter falling into the two subdivisions of Physik (the world of nature) and Ethik (the world of spirit). It is the last subdivision with which the body of the work is occupied. After an analysis of the religious consciousness, which yields the doctrine of an absolute personal and spiritual God, Rothe proceeds to deduce from his idea of God the process and history of creative development, which is eternally proceeding and bringing forth, as its unending purpose, worlds of spirits, partially self-creative and sharing the absolute personality of the Creator. As a thorough-going evolu-tionist Rothe regards the natural man as the consummation of the development of physical nature, and obtains spirit as the personal attainment, with divine help, of those beings in whom the further creative process of moral development is carried on. His theory leaves the natural man, without hesitation, to be developed by the natural processes of animal evolution. The attainment of the higher stage of development is the moral and religious vocation of man ; this higher stage is self-determination, the performance of every human function as a voluntary and intelligent agent, or as a person, having as its cosmical effect the subjection of all material to spiritual existences. This personal process of spiritualization is the continuation of the eternal divine work of creation. Thus the moral life and the religious life coincide, and when normal are identical; both have the same aim and are occupied with the same task, the accomplishment of the spiritualization of the world. " Piety, that it may become truth and reality, demands morality as its fulfilment, as the only concrete element in which the idea of fellowship with God is realized ; morality, that it may find its perfect unfolding, requires the aid of piety, in the light of which alone it can comprehend its own idea in all its breadth and depth." Rothe follows Schleiermacher in dividing his ethical system into the three parts of the doctrine of moral ends (Giiterlehre), or the products of moral action, the doctrine of virtue (Tugendlehrc), or of the power producing moral good, and the doctrine of duty (Pflichtenlehre), or the specific form aud manner in which that power obtains its results. The process of human development Rothe regards as necessarily taking an abnormal form and passing through the phase of sin. This abnormal condition necessitates a fresh creative act, that of salvation, which was, however, from the first part of the divine plan of development. As a preparation for this salvation supernatural revelation was required for the purifying and revivification of the religious consciousness, and the Saviour Himself had to appear in human history as a fresh miraculous creation, born of a woman but not begotten by a man. In consequence of His supernatural birth the Saviour, or the second Adam, was free from original sin. By His own moral and religious development He made possible a relation of perfect fellowship between God and man, which was the new and highest stage of the divine creation of mankind. This stage of development inaugurated by the Saviour is attained by means of His kingdom or the community of salvation, which is both moral and religious, and in the first instance and temporarily only religious—that is, a church. As men reach the full development of their nature, and appropriate the perfection of the Saviour, the separation between the religious and the moral life will vanish, and the Christian state, as the highest sphere of human life representing all human functions, will displace the church. " In proportion as the Saviour Christianizes the state by means of the church must the progres-sive completion of the structure of the church prove the cause ol its abolition." The decline of the church is therefore not to be deplored, but recognized as the consequence of the independence and completeness of the Christian life. It is the third section ol his work—the Pflichtenlehre—which is generally most highly valued, and where his full strength as an ethical thinker is displayed, without any mixture of theosophic speculation.

Since Rothe's death several volumes of his sermons and of his lectures (on dogmatics, the history of homiletics) and a collection of brief essays and religious meditations under the title of Stitle Stunden (Wittenberg, 1872) have been published. See F. Nippold, Richard Rothe, ein christliches Lebensbild (2 vols., Wittenberg, 1873-74); Schenkel, "Zur Erinnerung an Dr R. Rothe," in the Allgemeine kirchliche Zeitschrift, 1867—(18 ; Hollzinann, " Richard Rothe," in the Jahrbuchdes Protestantenvereim, 1869; Schwarz, Zur Geschichte der neuezten Theologie (4th ed., Leipsic, 1869, pp. 417-444); Ffleiderer, Religionsphilosophie auf geschichtlicher Grundlage (2d ed., Berlin, 1884, vol. i. pp. 611-615). (J. F. S.)

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