« Bagshawe, Edward Gilpin Bahrdt, Karl Friedrich Baier, Johann Wilhelm »

Bahrdt, Karl Friedrich

BAHRDT, bɑ̄rt, KARL FRIEDRICH: A caricature of the vulgar rationalism of the eighteenth century; born at Bischofswerda (20 miles e.n.e. of Dresden), Saxony, August 25, 1741; died at Halle April 23, 1792. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor who afterward became professor at Leipsic, and commenced his studies at Leipsic when quite young. In spite of his many pranks he was promoted as magister and appointed catechist at St. Peter’s. Being devoted to Biblico-exegetical studies under the influence of the learned Ernesti, he was made extraordinary professor in Biblical philology 1766, but was dismissed in 1768 for immoral life. At the same time he abandoned the orthodox standpoint, which he probably never had held seriously. From now on his life is that of a dissolute adventurer. He appears first at Erfurt, afterward at Giessen (1771), where he managed to obtain a theological professorship. Here he published (1772) a silly “Musterrevision" of the Bible, entitled Neueste Offenbarungen Gottes in Briefen und Erzählungen, which even Goethe ridiculed (in his Prolog zu den neuesten Offenbarungen Gottes). The enlightener was dismissed from his office in Giessen in 1775. He then tried his luck as director of a philanthropicum in the Grisons, then as superintendent-general in the Palatinate, finally as privat-docent at Halle. That he was received here, was due to the liberal government of King Frederick II of Prussia, whose free-thinking minister of ecclesiastical affairs and of public instruction, Zedlitz, procured for Bahrdt the venia legendi. He attracted great attention, not so much by his lectures as by his surprisingly prolific literary productivity. With reckless brutality he attacked every kind of belief in revealed religion. His System der moralischen Religion (Berlin, 1787) advocates open naturalism; Christ is to him the greatest naturalist. Having ruined his religious and moral reputation, he finally opened an inn in a vineyard near Halle, and thus sought to attract the interest of students of the university. Meanwhile the Prussian government had taken a different course; Frederick II was succeeded by the reactionary Frederick William II (1786-97), whose minister of worship, Wöllner, in 1788, endeavored to restore orthodoxy. Bahrdt did not hesitate to ridicule (anonymously) Wöllner’s religious edict in a comedy. For this he was imprisoned in the fortress of Magdeburg in 1789. During the year which he spent here he wrote smutty stories and his autobiography, a mixture of falsehood, hypocrisy, and impudent self-abasement. In 1790 he again opened his inn, fell ill in 1791, and died of disease induced by a too free use of mercury in the attempt to effect a self cure. In Halle the report was spread that he died of an unclean disease. Highly gifted, Bahrdt never yielded to moral discipline, and thus sunk into the deepest baseness; in his later years he seems to have lost every trace of decency; the flood of writings which he sent out into the world is altogether worthless; he is in every respect merely a representative of a wholly demoralized rationalism.

Paul Tschackert.

Bibliography: D. Pott, Leben, Meinungen und Schicksale des C. F. Bahrdt, aus Urkunden gesogen, 4 parts, Berlin, 1790-91; G. Frank, in Raumers Historische Taschenbuch, ser. 4, vol. vii, 1866, 203-370, especially 346 sqq.

« Bagshawe, Edward Gilpin Bahrdt, Karl Friedrich Baier, Johann Wilhelm »
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