Rationalist Theology

If Kierkegaard was in doubt about the foundations of orthodox Christianity, he was even less satisfied with the rationalist theology to which he was introduced in the lectures of Professor Henrik Nicolai Clausen (17931877) (SKS xix/1. 1-8).30 Theological rationalism was a product of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which sought to subject everything to rational criticism, making reason the primary criterion for determining truth.31 Philosophically, modern rationalism had its genesis in the thought of Descartes (1596-1650), Leibniz (1646-1715), and Spinoza (1632-77), and its terminus in the scepticism of Hume (1711-76) and the recognition of the limitations of theoretical reason by Kant (1724-1804). Theological rationalism received its impetus in the thought ofJohn Locke (1632-1704), whose book The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) gave expression in its title and content to the central tenet of the movement, and Christian Wolff (1679-1754), a Leibnizian thinker whom Kierkegaard's father especially admired and read.32 Through the pioneering work of Wolff's successor, J. S. Semler (1725-91), and other biblical scholars such as Hermann Reimarus

29 Lowrie (1962: i. 164). See also Ringleben (2006). 30 N. Thulstrup (1982).

31 Welch (19 72 : 32). 32 Hannay (2001: 37); Welch (1972: 32).

(1694-1768), theological rationalism also gave birth to modern biblical criticism.33

In general, theological rationalists viewed morality as the essence of religion and rejected the orthodox doctrine of original sin, believing in the basic goodness of human nature and the possibility of human progress through enlightenment and understanding. Over against positive or revealed religion they espoused natural religion, the knowledge of God through nature and the moral law within, and regarded it as being either in harmony with (Wolff) or in opposition to (Reimarus) revelation. They rejected the possibility of miracles and called into question the literal truth of the Bible by subjecting it to the emerging historical-critical methods of examination and interpretation of the time.34 Clausen, the Danish biblical scholar under whom Kierkegaard studied, espoused a moderate form of rationalism which Kierkegaard regarded as 'second-rate' and inconsistent inasmuch as its formulations were based on scripture 'when they agree with it but otherwise not' (JP v. 5092; KJN i, AA 12). Kierkegaard also objected to the union of philosophy and Christianity,35 particularly the notion of a 'reasonable Christianity', which in his view did not take into account the defectiveness of human cognition due to sin nor how Christianity appears to those outside of faith (JP iii. 3245-7; KJN i, AA 13, 17, 18).

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