1902 Encyclopedia > David Friedrich Strauss

David Friedrich Strauss
German Biblical critic

DAVID FRIEDRICH STRAUSS (1808-1874), author of the Leben Jesu, was born at Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, January 27, 1808. He was the son of a small tradesman who loved literature and thought more than business, and his mother was a bright intelligent woman whose piety was practical rather than meditative, while she had an open eye for the beauties of art and nature. In his thirteenth year the boy was sent to the evangelical seminary at Blau-beuren, near Ulm, to be prepared for the study of theology. Amongst his school-fellows were youths destined to become equally distinguished with himself, of whom he has given sketches in his Christian Märklin. Amongst the principal masters in the school were Professors Kern and F. C. Baur, who infused into their pupils above all a deep love of the ancient classics. In 1825 Strauss passed from school to the university of Tübingen. The course of study was two years of philosophy and history and three of theology. The professors of philosophy failed to interest him, and he accordingly followed pretty much his own devices in this field, devoting himself especially to Schelling, the writers of the romantic school, Jacob Böhme, and even to somnambulistic and other modern superstitions. In 1826 his previous teachers, Kern and Baur, removed to Tübingen, and the latter introduced him to the writings of Schleiermacher, which awoke his keen dialectical faculty and delivered him from the vagueness and exaggerations of romantic and somnambulistic mysticism, while for a time he found satisfaction for his religious nature in Schleiermacher's idea of religion. In the last year of his stay at Tübingen he read with Märklin Hegel's Phänomenologie, which was the beginning of his abandonment of Schleiermacher for Hegel. In 1830 he passed his examination brilliantly, and became assistant to a country clergyman, and was greatly beloved as preacher and pastor by the parishioners. After nine months in this position he accepted the post of professor in the high school at Maulbronn, having to teach Latin, history, and Hebrew. Here also he was most successful and highly valued. But in October 1831 he resigned his office in order to study under Schleiermacher and Hegel in Berlin. Hegel died just as he arrived, and, though he regularly attended Schleiermacher's lectures, it was only those on the life of Jesus which exercised a very powerful influence upon him. It was amongst the followers of Hegel that he found kindred spirits. Under the leading of Hegel's distinction between "Vorstellung" and "Begriff," he had already conceived the idea of his two principal theological works—the Life of Jesus and the Christian Dogmatics. In 1832 he returned to Tübingen and became repetent in the university, lecturing on logic, history of philosophy, Plato, and history of ethics, with great success. But in the autumn of 1833 he resigned this position in order to devote all his time to the completion of his projected Life of Jesus. In a year the manuscript was finished, and in 1834 the first volume and in 1835 the second were given to the world. The work produced an immense sensation and created a new epoch in the treatment of the rise of Christianity. The chief replies to it were by Tholuck, Neander, A. Schweizer, Ullmann, and Bruno Bauer. In 1837 Strauss replied to his critics (Streitschriften zur Vertheidigung meiner Schrift über das Leben Jesu). In the third edition of the work (1839), and in Zwei friedliche Blätter, he made important concessions to his critics, which he withdrew, however, in the fourth edition (1840, translated into English by George Eliot, with Latin preface by Strauss, 1846). In 1840 and the following year he published his Christliche Glaubenslehre (2 vols.), the principle of which is that the history of Christian doctrines is their disintegration. Between the publication of this work and that of the Friedliche Blätter he had been elected to a chair of theology in the university of Zurich. But the appointment provoked such a storm of popular ill-will in the canton that the authorities considered it wise to pension him before he entered upon his duties, although this concession came too late to save the Government. With his Glaubenslehre he took leave of theology for upwards of twenty years. In August 1842 he married Agnes Schebest, a cultivated and beautiful opera singer of high repute, but not adapted to be the wife of a scholar and literary man like Strauss. Five years afterwards, when two children had been born, a separation by arrangement was made. Strauss resumed his literary activity by the publication of Der Romantiker auf dem Throne der Caesaren, in which he drew a satirical parallel between Julian the Apostate and Frederick William IV. of Prussia (1847). In 1848 he was nominated as member of the Frankfort parliament, but was defeated. He was elected for the Würtemberg chamber, but his action was so conservative that his constituents requested him to resign his seat. He forgot his political disappointments in the production of a series of biographical works, which secured for him a permanent place in German literature (Schubart's Leben, 2 vols., 1849; Christian Märklin, 1851; Frischlin, 1855; Ulrich von Hutten, 3 vols., 1858-60, 4th ed., 1878; H. S. Reimarus, 1862). With this last-named work (see REIMARUS) he returned to theology, and two years after-wards (1864) published his Leben Jesu für das Deutsche Volk (4th ed., 1877). It failed to produce an effect com-parable with that of the first Life, but the replies to it were many, and Strauss answered them in his pamphlet Die Halben und die Ganzen (1865), directed specially against Schenkel and Hengstenberg. His Christus des Glaubens und der Jesus der Geschichte (1865) is a severe criticism of Schleiermacher's lectures on the life of Jesus, which were then first published. From 1865 to 1872 Strauss resided in Darmstadt, where he made the personal acquaintance of the princess Alice and the crown-princess of Germany, receiving from both ladies many marks of esteem. In 1870 he published his lectures on Voltaire (3d ed., 1872), which were written for the princess Alice and delivered before her. In the works of these years it seemed that the truth of Christianity had become still more problematic to Strauss, and this was more obvious than ever in his next and last important work, his confession, and final summary answer to the four great questions—Are we Christians? Have we still religion? What is our conception of the world? How are we to regulate our lives? (Der Alte und der Neue Glaube, 1872, 11th ed., 1881, English translation by M. Blind, 1873). The work produced a greater sensation than his first Life of Jesus, and not least amongst Strauss's own friends, who wondered at his one-sided view of Christianity, his professed abandonment of all spiritual philosophy, the strange inconsistencies of his thought, his scientific credulity, and the offensive form of his negations. To the fourth edition of the book he added a Nachwort als Vorwort (1873). The same year symptoms of a fatal malady appeared, and death followed February 7, 1874. Though his last book renounced in almost frivolous lan-guage the hope of immortality, he read Plato's Phaedo in the Greek during his last days, and Zeller says "his friends bade him adieu with feelings such as Plato has described at the end of that dialogue."

Strauss's mind was almost exclusively analytical and critical, without depth of religious feeling, or philosophical penetration, or historical sympathy. His work was accordingly rarely constructive, and, save when he was dealing with a kindred spirit, he failed as an historian, biographer, and critic, strikingly illustrating Goethe's profoundly true principle that loving sympathy is essential for productive criticism. His first Life of Jesus was directed against not only the traditional orthodox view of the Gospel narratives, but likewise the rationalistic treatment of them, whether after the manner of Reimarus or that of Paulus. The mythical theory that the Christ of the Gospels, excepting the most meagre outline of personal history, was the unintentional creation of the early Christian Messianic expectation he applied with merciless rigour and mechanical inconsideration to the narratives. But his operations were based upon fatal defects, positive and negative. He held a narrow theory as to the miraculous, a still narrower as to the relation of the divine to the human, and he had no true idea of the nature of historical tradition, while, as C. F. Baur complained, his critique of the Gospel history had not been preceded by the essential preliminary critique of the Gospels themselves. With a broader and deeper philosophy of religion, juster canons of historical criticism, with a more exact knowledge of the date and origin of the Gospels, his rigorous application of the mythical theory with its destructive results would have been impossible. In his second Life of Jesus, though conceding something to C. F. Baur, he adheres substantially to his mythical theory, while he seeks to make good one defect of the first Life by supplying a previous examination of the Gospels. But this examination shows little independent research, being scarcely more than the adoption of the conclusions of C. F. Baur and his earlier disciples. Another advance on the first work is the addition of a sketch of the historical facts of the life of Jesus and of his religious character, but he adheres to his early limited and shallow view of the relation of the divine and the human, and still fails to apprehend the true mission of the founder of the Christian religion. But the estimate of the religious mission of Jesus, and of the historical trustworthiness of the Gospels, is far higher in this Life than the final one in Der Alte und der Neue Glaube. As in his philosophical development he exhibited waver-ing uncertainty, so it is impossible to reconcile his views of Christ and Christianity at different periods of his life. Some of the expressions of his last book in this respect are in glaring contrast with the positions he maintained in earlier years.

Strauss's works are published in a collected edition in 12 vols., by Zeller, Bonn, 1876-78, without his Christliche Dogmatik. On his life and works see Zeller's David Friedrich Strauss in seinem Leben und seinen Schriften, Bonn, 1874; A. Hausrath's D. F. Strauss und die Theologie seiner Zeit, 2 vols., Heidelberg, 1876-78; his own essay on Julius Kemer; F. J. Vischer's Kritische Gänge, i. 3. Karl Schwarz, Zur Geschichte der neuesten Theologie, 4th ed., 1869; Heinrich Lang, Religiöse Reden, vol. ii.; Dorner, Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie, 1876; Nippold, Handbuch der neuesten Kirchengeschichte, 1868; J. H. Scholten, "Strauss and Christianity," in Theological Review, 1874, Jan. and April; Hase, Geschichte Jesu, 1876, give critiques from different points of view of Strauss's theological works, particularly his Lives of Jesus. (J. F. S.)

The above article was written by: Rev. J. F. Smith.

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