Otto Pfleiderer

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Not to return to the old … can be the task of our time, but to clothe the spirit of Christianity, its religious-ethical principle, which lay as a compelling force at the basis of all preceding developments, in the fitting and intelligible form for our age.

Otto Pfleiderer (1 September 183928 July 1908) was a German Protestant theologian.

Quotes[edit]

Evolution and Theology (1900)[edit]

As published in Evolution and Theology and Other Essays (1900)
  • The fundamental error of the theologians of the new faith of the present day consists in this, that they think one can without hesitation acknowledge the validity of the same scientific method in the realm of nature which they refuse to apply to that of history. ... What consequence now will follow the application of the doctrine of evolution to the theological consideration of history? First of all, it is evident that it excludes miracles in every sense of the word—not merely the nature-miracle (this the men of the new faith drop without pain) but also just as much the spirit-miracle, i.e. the intervention of a foreign power in the human soul, whereby conditions are produced in it which do not result from the causal connection with antecedent conditions. If it is the methodic cardinal proposition of the science of today that we have to explain every condition as the causally determined development out of a preceding one, this excludes on principle the appearance of a condition, event, action, or personality which is not explicable out of the factors of the preceding conditions.
    • pp. 8-9.
  • Here is the basis of the modern critical biblical science, which treats the documents of Christianity and Judaism according to the same principles of historical investigation which are valid in all other historical domains, particularly in that of the history of the ethnic religions.
The attempt has been crowned with brilliant success. Everywhere, where formerly miracles and oracles, the activity of supernatural persons, and the appearance on the scene of supernatural beings were thought to be discerned, there shows itself now a constant succession of events that are natural, i.e. in accord with the universal laws of human experience. The prophets appear no longer as media of supernatural oracles, but as men whose works and words are perfectly explicable from the character regarded in connection with the conditions of their age and environment. They stand, indeed, in a certain respect above their contemporaries, so far as they contest the modes of thought and action of the latter, and hold before them higher ideals of purer piety and morality; yet these ideals were not communicated to them from without by supernatural revelation, but sprang from their own spirit as products of an especially powerful and happy religious-moral nature, which, under the influence of historical relations, had been so developed that they saw clearly what was perverted in the mode of thought of others, and gave to the better a potent expression.
  • pp. 10-11.
  • Especially do the evils of the times, the folly and blindness of the masses, the injustice of rulers, the perversion of religion in unfruitful ceremonialism work upon the souls more finely attuned as a stimulus and spur; the feeling of the evil stirs their moral judgment or conscience to the criticism of the existing situation, and out of the criticism there grows for them the new ideal which impresses itself upon them as the truth that has the power to save from the corruption of the time; and while they first raise themselves to this ideal, they also win power and courage to draw others toward it. Thus they become the proclaimers of a higher truth which, over against the antecedent error, appears as something wholly new, as a revelation from above, but which is, indeed, nothing else than a higher development of the impulse toward truth and righteousness that is a natural quality of the human mind.
    • p. 11.
  • What has here been remarked in general of the prophets as the champions of religious progress is also true in particular of him who as the most perfect blossom of the religious development of Israel constituted also the essential force of the new Christian religion—Jesus of Nazareth. Against this logical conclusion of the evolutionary view of history the representatives of the new faith present the most obstinate resistance.
    • p. 12.
  • The divine in Jesus does not denote a violent rupture of the course of human history with the exclusion of all causal connection and all human personality, but it lies at the basis of all this history from beginning to end; it dwells in it as the divine Logos, as the rational aptitude of human nature, as impulse to the true and good, as God-consciousness. All progress in the development of mankind from the lowest grades upward, every achievement of culture which makes rude nature the servant of reason, every formation of higher ethical ideals, and every clarifying and deepening of the God-consciousness, is an effect and a revelation of the divine Logos dwelling in our race.
    • p. 18.
  • It is a hyperbole excusable in poetic language, but not scientifically valid, when he [Jesus] is identified with the ideal of humanity. The ideal is the unconditioned, the absolute, but every phenomenon in time and space is conditioned and limited, and cannot therefore coincide with the ideal. This hyperbole of pious faith may grow out of noble feelings, but for all that it remains essentially false, and is harmful when seriously regarded as dogma.
    • p. 19.
  • The apostle Paul … was conscious of the new in his apprehension of the gospel over against the primitive Jewish-Christian Church, and based the right of his apostolic preaching not upon human tradition, but upon the revelation of the Spirit of Christ in his heart. ... The “Christ according to the Spirit,” as Paul preached him, was certainly not identical with the “Christ according to the flesh,” as he lived in the recollection of the Primitive Church. For Paul had stripped off the Jewish in this individual phenomenon, in order to bring forth and exalt as an object of faith to gentiles and Jews alike the universal religious principle alone. His Christ is the ideal Son of God, i.e. the personification of the religious idea as it lived in the soul of Jesus, of the love of God and men as it had been the impelling principle of his life-work.
    • p. 21-22.
  • Paul abstracted this universal principle from the concrete phenomenon in the man Jesus, in whom it was interlaced with Jewish presuppositions and strivings, which as such would have been a hindrance to the universal and abiding effectiveness of that principle.
    • p. 22.
  • The religious principle of Jesus was thus certainly freed by Paul from its original Jewish and national husk, but only to be immediately clothed again in a new supernaturalistic envelope, the origin of which likewise lay in the historically given ideas of Hellenism and Pharisaism. Therefore the Pauline Christ can just as little be for us a binding object of faith as the Jesus of history.
    • p. 23.
  • Not to return to the old … can be the task of our time, but to clothe the spirit of Christianity, its religious-ethical principle, which lay as a compelling force at the basis of all preceding developments, in the fitting and intelligible form for our age.
    • p. 24.

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