'Jesus, as Problem, Teacher, Personality, and Force' 4 Lectures (1907-10)


My theme expresses the fact that the person of Jesus does not mean for us a dogma that is clearly fixed for all time and set forth with divine infallibility; what that personality suggests is that it is a problem. By this is meant that Jesus in the days of his earthly activities as well as in the entire subsequent spiritual history up to the present has suggested something unsettled, and that this was not alien to his purpose and was in the very nature of things. Moreover we are convinced that a Jesus who first of all is realized by the earnest conscience as a difficulty and a question is for the individual, as for mankind at large, more fruitful and richer in blessing than the Jesus of early church Dogma, though this dogma was supposed to have removed completely all occasion for question and for doubt.

Goethe, when he was at odds with Lavater, on September 4th, 1788, wrote to Herder as follows: "It is indeed true that the story of Jesus is one of those primitive causes of such a kind that the world may exist for ten thousand years and then no one will come to a right understanding of it; for it takes as much force of knowledge and understanding, and as high power of conception to defend it as to assail it." As an old man, less positive and less bold, he expressed the same idea in a discussion with Chancellor Müller, June 8, 1830, in the words: "Christ remains for me ever an extremely significant but extremely enigmatic being." More intelligibly still has Rudolph Eucken characterized the situation*:
From the point of view of the total impression, Jesus is more thoroughly transparent and familiar than any hero of world-history. But this sense of nearness and familiarity persists only so long as we take that total impression absolutely and as a unity; as soon as we analyze it, as soon as we would explain and understand the state of fact, his personality withdraws to a far distance, question rises upon question, riddle upon riddle obtrudes, and secure possession is transformed into toilsome search.