« Prev Preface to the First Edition. Next »


IN the Preface to my Representation of the Christian Religion and Church in the Apostolic Age, I assigned my reasons for the separate publication of that work, and stated its relations to my General History of the Church. It remained for me to treat of that which formed the ground of the manifestation and existence of the Apostolical Church itself, viz., the Life and Ministry of the Divine Founder of the Church; and I have, moreover, been urged from many quarters to execute this necessary portion of my work. I was made to pause in the former undertaking by the lofty sacredness of the subject and its many difficulties; how much more, then, in the latter! But the signs of the times (to which, as a historian of the Church, I could not but take heed), the uncertainty of human affairs, and the opportunity afforded by a pause in my General History, have overcome my scruples, and led me, trusting in God, to go on with this work.

Yet well may he hesitate who undertakes to write the life of CHRIST! “Who, indeed (as HERDER finely answered Lavater), could venture, after John, to write the life of Christ?”1010   “I write the life of Christ—I? Never. The Evangelists have written it as it can and ought to be written. Let us, however, not write it, but become it?” (Beiträge zur näheren Kenntniss Lavater’s, von Ulrich Hegener: Leips., 1836.) May the good Zurichers, who have lately shown themselves so worthy of their sires in their resistance to revolutionary violence and their enthusiasm for the faith (dogma Christianum dogma populare, Augustin. opus imperf. c. Julian, ii., 2), erect a Christian national memorial by an edition, as complete as possible, of Lavater’s correspondence. Who will not agree with ANNA MARIA VON SCHURMANN, that such an attempt is “to paint the sun with charcoal: the life of a Christian is the best picture of the life of Christ?”1111   Cf. Reinhard, Plan Jesu, 1; Heubner’s Anm.

Yet why should not history (though assured that its description must be far behind the reality) occupy itself with the highest manifestation that has appeared in humanity—a manifestation which sanctifies, but does not spurn, the labours of men? The artist, inspired xxiiby devotion, paints a picture of Christ without any aid from history, merely from intuition of the idea of Christ. But we have the lineaments of the historical Christ, in fragments at least; and there is wanting only insight into their connexion to frame them into a harmonious whole. We feel the necessity of calling up vividly before our minds, in our own stage of life and scientific progress, this realized Ideal, which belongs to all ages; and at particular epochs in the mutations of time this necessity is always felt anew. The image of Christ, not of yesterday nor to-day, ever renews its youth among men, and, as the world grows old, penetrates it with a heaven-tending youthful vigour. What PHOTIUS says of the various ideas of Christ among different nations may be applied to different periods of time, viz., “that each, by a new representation, must make itself familiar with the image of Christ.” Obviously, however, the peculiarities of different periods must be distinguished. Some periods mark a new creation in the Christian Church and in humanity, as already appeared; others, by dissolution and crisis, prepare the way for it. Our age belongs to the latter class: we stand between the old world and a new one to be called into being by the ever old and ever new Gospel. For the fourth time Christianity is preparing a new epoch in the life of humanity. Our labors can only be preparatory to that new creation, when, after the regeneration of life and science, the great acts of God shall be proclaimed with new tongues of fire!1212   Most keenly does the author feel (as did his late friend, B. Jacobi, who has left behind him a blessed and honoured memory) that his work bears the marks of its production in an age of crisis, of isolation, of pain, and of throes.

But it may be questioned, also, whether it is possible, from the authorities in our hands, to exhibit a connected description of the life of CHRIST? Christian consciousness will be satisfied with nothing less than an intuition of Christ’s life as a whole; and, therefore, science must undertake to free it from all alloy, and to found it on a substantial basis. It is by means of the Christian consciousness that we feel ourselves allied to all Christianity since the outpouring of the Holy Ghost—Christian consciousness, the living source from which every thing in life and science, which has really enriched the Church, has proceeded and must proceed; a far different thing from the changeful culture of the day, which, without it, must ever be ephemeral and transitory. To serve this last is the most wretched of servitudes. It is, indeed, time for a new beginning of Biblical criticism, of New Testament exegesis, xxiiiof inquiries into the formation of the canon. There are great difficulties, indeed, especially in the chronology,1313   Wherever I have not sure grounds for decision, I say “perhaps:” nor am I ashamed of it, unfashionable as “perhaps” is, nowadays, in matters of science. Would that our young votaries of science would lay to heart the excellent words of NIEBUHR, on the degrees of confidence, in the “Lebensnachrichten,” ii., 208. in the work which we have to do. But this, instead of deterring, must only stimulate us to greater efforts. We must only guard against relinquishing our hopes too hastily, and keep aloof from all prejudices either of antiquity or novelty; and then this undertaking may be one of the preparations, however trifling, for a new epoch in this part of history.

As for those who deny that our field is properly historical, and place it in a pre-historical and mythical region, I need say nothing here, as I have sought to refute them in the course of the work itself.

In regard to my relations to the various theological parties of the age, I must refer to the Preface to the first volume of my “Apostolic Age;” and to my letter to DEWAR, chaplain to the British Embassy in Hamburg. Whatever appears to me to be true, or most probable, after candid and earnest inquiry, with all reverence for the sacredness of the subject, I utter, without looking at consequences. Whoever has a good work to do must, as Luther says, let the devil’s tongue run as it pleases. There are two opposite parties whom I cannot hope to please, viz., those who will forcibly make all things new, and fancy, in their folly, that they can shake the rock which ages could not undermine; and those who would retain, and forcibly reintroduce, even at the expense of all genuine love of truth, every thing that is old; nay, even the worn-out and the obsolete. I shall not please those hypercritics who subject the sacred writings to an arbitrary subtilty, at once superrational and sophistical; nor those, on the other hand, who believe that here all criticism—or at least all criticism on internal grounds—cometh of evil. Both these tendencies are alike at variance with a healthful sense for truth and conscientious devotion to it; both are alike inimical to genuine culture. There is need of criticism where any thing is communicated to us in the form of a historical tradition in written records; and I am sure that an impartial criticism, applied to the Scriptures, is not only consistent with that child-like faith without which there can be no Christianity or Christian theology,1414   But the theologian must have more than a merely critical mind and critical aims: he needs a spiritual mind, a deep acquaintance with divine things; and he must study the Scriptures with his heart as well as head, unless he wishes his theology to be robbed of its salt by his criticism. but is necessary to a just xxivacuteness1515   Not too sharp, so as to be notched. and profoundness of thought, as well as to that true consecration of mind which is so essential to theology. The childlike faith of the theologian who cannot violently rid himself of the critical element of his times or of human nature, is thus proved, as it were, in the fire of temptation; this is the tentatio (particularly in this age of scientific struggle) which must go along with oratio and meditatio, in the depths of the earnest and humble spirit. Without this priestly consecration, there can be no theology. It thrives best in the calmness of a soul consecrated to God. What grows amid the noisy bustle of the world and the empty babble of the age is not theology.

God reveals himself in his word as he does in his works. In both we see a self-revealing, self-concealing God, who makes himself known only to those who earnestly seek him;1616   This is the pervading thought of Pascal (the sage for all centuries) in his Pensées, though blended with many errors of Catholicism and absolute Predestination. Great thanks ate due to Faugere for the edition of this work (1844) in its original form. in both we find stimulants to faith and occasions for unbelief; in both we find contradictions whose higher harmony is hidden except from him who gives up his whole mind in reverence; in both, in a word, it is the law of revelation that the heart of man should be tested in receiving it; and that, in the spiritual life as well as in the bodily, man must eat his bread in the sweat of his brow.

Berlin, July 18, 1837.

« Prev Preface to the First Edition. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection