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Born in Lexington, Mass., 1810; died in Florence, 1860.
From “A Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion.” Third ed. Boston, 1847, p. 275 ff.
Theodore Parker adopted, with trifling exceptions, the mythical theory of Dr. Strauss on the gospel history. He speaks of “limitations of Jesus;” says that Jesus “shared the erroneous notions of the times respecting devils, possessions, and demonology in general;” that he 342“was mistaken in his interpretation of the Old Testament;” that he was an “enthusiast,” at least to some extent,—all of which, however, he regards as mere trifles, not affecting in the least his moral and religious character. Then Jesus denounces his opponents in no measured terms; calls the Pharisees “hypocrites,” and “children of the devil.” “We can not tell how far the historians have added to the fierceness of this invective; but the general fact must probably remain, that he did not use courteous speech.” But that, he thinks, considering the youth of the man, was a very venial error, to make the worst of it. This is what Parker calls “the negative side, or the limitations of Jesus.” He then considers, p. 278 ff, the “positive side, or the excellences of Jesus.” From this chapter we make the following extracts:—
“In estimating the character of Jesus, it must be remembered that lie died at an age when man has not reached his fullest vigor. The great works of creative intellect, the maturest products of man, all the deep and settled plans of reforming the world, come from a period when experience gives a wider field as the basis of hope. Socrates was but an embryo sage till long after the age of Jesus: 343poems, and philosophies that live, come at a later date. Now, here we see a young man, but little more than thirty years old, with no advantage of position; the son and companion of rude people; born in a town whose inhabitants were wicked to a proverb; of a nation, above all others, distinguished for their superstition, for national pride, exaltation of themselves, and contempt for all others; in an age of singular corruption, when the substance of religion had faded out from the mind of its anointed ministers, and sin had spread wide among a people turbulent, oppressed, and down-trodden. A man ridiculed for his lack of knowledge, in this nation of forms, of hypocritical priests, and corrupt people, falls back on simple morality, simple religion; unites in himself the sublimest precepts and divinest practices, thus more than realizing the dream of prophets and sages; rises free from all prejudice of his age, nation, or sect; gives free range to the Spirit of God in his breast; sets aside the law, sacred and time-honored as 344it was, its forms, its sacrifice, its temple, and its priests; puts away the doctors of the law, subtle, learned, irrefragable, and pours out a doctrine beautiful as the light, sublime as heaven, and true as God. The philosophers, the poets, the prophets, the Rabbis,—he rises above them all. Yet Nazareth was no Athens, where philosophy breathed in the circumambient air: it had neither Porch nor Lyceum; not even a school of the prophets. There is God in the heart of this youth.” (p. 278, 279.)
“That mightiest heart that ever beat, stirred by the Spirit of God, how it wrought in his bosom! What words of rebuke, of comfort, counsel, admonition, promise, hope, did he pour out! words that stir the soul as summer dews call up the faint and sickly grass. What profound instruction in his proverbs and discourses! what wisdom in his homely sayings, so rich with Jewish life! what deep divinity of soul in his prayers, his action, sympathy, resignation!” (p. 281.)
“Try him as we try other teachers. They 345deliver their word; find a few waiting for the consolation, who accept the new tidings,- follow the new method, and soon go beyond their teacher, though less mighty minds than he. Such is the case with each founder of a school of philosophy, each sect in religion. Though humble men, we see what Socrates and Luther never saw. But eighteen centuries have passed since the tide of humanity rose so high in Jesus: what man, what sect, what church, has mastered his thought, comprehended his method, and so fully applied it to life? Let the world answer in its cry of anguish. Men have parted his raiment among them, cast lots for his seamless coat; but that spirit which toiled so manfully in a world of sin and death, which died and suffered and overcame the world,—is that found, possessed, understood? Nay, is it sought for and recommended by any of our churches?” (p. 287.)346
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