1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Strauss, David Friedrich
STRAUSS, DAVID FRIEDRICH (1808-1874), German theologian and man of letters, was born at Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, on the 27th of January 1808. In his thirteenth year he was sent to the evangelical seminary at Blaubeuren, near Ulm, to be prepared for the study of theology. 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 professors of philosophy there failed to interest him, but he was strongly attracted by the writings of Schleiermacher, which awoke his keen dialectical faculty and delivered him from the vagueness and exaggerations of romantic and somnambulistic mysticism. In 1830 he became assistant to a country clergyman, and nine months later accepted the post of professor in the high school at Maulbronn, having to teach Latin, history and Hebrew. 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 Leben Jesu and the Christliche Dogmatik. 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 Leben Jesu (1835). The work produced an immense sensation and created a new epoch in the treatment of the rise of Christianity. In 1837 Strauss replied to his critics (Streitschriften zur Verteidigung 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 Zürich. 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 1841 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 Thron der Cäsaren, 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 Württemberg 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 (Schubarts Leben, 2 vols., 1849; Christian Märklin, 1851; Nikodemus Frischlin, 1855; Ulrich von Hutten, 3 vols., 1858-1860, 6th ed. 1895; H. S. Reimarus, 1862). With this last-named work he returned to theology, and two years afterwards (1864) published his Leben Jesu für das deutsche Volk (13th ed., 1904). It failed to produce an effect comparable 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, and in 1870 published his lectures on Voltaire (9th ed., 1907). His last work, Der alte und der neue Glaube (1872; 16th ed., 1904; English translation by M. Blind, 1873), produced almost as great a sensation as his Life of Jesus, and not least amongst Strauss's own friends, who wondered at his one-sided view of Christianity and his professed abandonment of spiritual philosophy for the materialism of modern science. 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 on the 8th of February 1874.
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. His 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 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 F. C. Baur complained, his critique of the Gospel history had not been preceded by the essential preliminary critique of the Gospels themselves.
Authorities. — Strauss's works were published in a collected edition in 12 vols., by E. Zeller (1876-1878), without his Christliche Dogmatik. His Ausgewählte Briefe appeared in 1895. On his life and works, see E. Zeller, David Friedrich Strauss in seinem Leben und seinen Schriften (1874); A. Hausrath, D. F. Strauss und die Theologie seiner Zeit (2 vols., 1876-1878); F. J. Vischer, Kritische Gänge (1844), vol. i., and by the same writer, Altes und Neues (1882), vol. iii.; R. Gottschall, Literarische Charakterköpfe (1896), vol. iv.; S. Eck, D. F. Strauss (1899); K. Harraeus, D. F. Strauss, sein Leben und seine Schriften (1901); and T. Ziegler, D. F. Strauss (2 vols., 1908-1909).