Baur, F. C.

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BAUR, F. C. (17921860) was a German Protestant theologian, biblical scholar, and church historian. Ferdinand Christian Baur is best known as the leader of the "Tübingen school" and the practitioner of an allegedly Hegelian historial method. He was perhaps the most important German theologian between Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl. Over the years he has suffered from caricature and neglect, but reappraisal was made easier in the 1960s when selected works by him began to reappear in a new edition.

Baur was born in Schmiden, near Stuttgart, and educated mainly at Blaubeuren seminary and the University of Tübingen. In 1817 he returned to Blaubeuren as a teacher, and his thinking changed radically from the supernaturalism of the so-called Old Tübingen School to the conviction, learned from Schleiermacher, that Christianity cannot be studied in isolation from other religions, as though it alone had a divine origin. He moved in 1826 to a chair at his old university, Tübingen, where he remained until his death.

At Tübingen Baur led the secluded life of a dedicated academic. But he became embroiled in two famous literary debates. The first was occasioned by the attempt of Johann Adam Moehler, of the Catholic theological faculty, to specify in his symbolics (1832) the doctrinal differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants. The second erupted when David Friedrich Strauss, one of Baur's former students from Blaubeuren, published his notorious Life of Jesus (1835) and was dismissed from his lectureship at Tübingen. Baur protested against the dismissal, but he endorsed neither Strauss's method nor his conclusions.

Unlike Strauss, Baur did not believe that criticism had proved the books of the New Testament to be virtually worthless as sources for reconstructing Christian origins. The documents themselves, according to Baur, give plain evidence of the historical situation through which they should be interpreted, namely, the clash between Jewish Christianity and gentile Christianity, which was later to be harmonized in the old Catholic church. The historical worth of the sources can be appraised by determining each author's "tendency," or theological proclivity, against this background of conflict. Baur concluded that John's gospel must be set aside in any serious attempt to write the history of the primitive church, that Matthew's is the earliest of the Gospels that have come down to us, and that Paul most likely wrote only four of the letters attributed to him (Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans). Further, while he rejected Schleiermacher's belief that in Christ the ideal became actual, he thought it possible, against Strauss, to trace the way in which the Christ of ecclesiastical dogma developed out of Jesus' own self-consciousness.

His critics read Baur's New Testament work as a doctrinaire application of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Similarly, in his series of learned works in the history of dogma they discovered more speculation than history. Baur replied that objective history can be written only by one who first determines history's objectthat is, what it is all about. The historian who is interested in something more than a senseless jumble of facts must take his point of departure from the thinking of his own day, and that meant, for Baur, the Hegelian vision of history as the progress of Mind through time in the medium of ideas. Church history, in particular, must start from the idea of the church, which is the idea of the reconciliation of God and man.

Whatever the merits of his Hegelianism, Baur was a scholar of massive erudition and a highly sophisticated methodologist. He held that history without philosophy is "eternally dumb," and that the only way to understand Christian doctrines is to trace their development in a process that has already begun within the New Testament itself. History, philosophy, constructive theology, and New Testament studies, Baur believed, belong together in a single grand enterprise.


Baur's literary output was enormous. Of his greatest work, Geschichte der christlichen Kirche, 5 vols. (18531863; reprint, Leipzig, 1969), only the first volume was translated into English: The Church History of the First Three Centuries, 2 vols., translated from the third edition and edited by Allan Menzies (London, 18781879). The second edition of his major study of Paul (18661867) appeared in English as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, His Life and Work, His Epistles and His Doctrine: A Contribution to a Critical History of Primitive Christianity, 2 vols., translated by Allan Menzies and Eduard Zeller (London, 18751876). Baur's survey of the epochs of church historiography (1852) and the introduction to his posthumously published lectures on the history of dogma (18651867) are translated in Peter C. Hodgson's Ferdinand Christian Baur on the Writing of Church History (New York, 1968). Hodgson's The Formation of Historical Theology: A Study of Ferdinand Christian Baur (New York, 1966) is a comprehensive guide to Baur's life and work. For the debate with Moehler, see Joseph Fitzer, Moehler and Baur in Controversy, 183238: Romantic-Idealist Assessment of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (Tallahassee, Fla., 1974).

New Sources

Evans, William B. "The Tübingen School: A Historical and Theological Investigation of the School of F. C. Baur." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (1993): 247249.

Morgan, Robert. "Ferdinand Christian Baur." In Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West, edited by Ninian Smart et al., vol. 1, pp. 261289. Cambridge, UK, 1985.

B. A. Gerrish (1987)

Revised Bibliography