Gott in Der Geschichte: Zweiter Theil

BUNSEN’S (God in History.) (Second Part.) Leipzig. 1858.

THERE is, probably, no philosophical author at the present day in Germany whose works are welcomed by so wide a circle of readers in America as those of Chevalier Bunsen. Though often more theoretical than exact in scholarship, and allowing his historical instincts to take the place of scientific conclusions, he not unfrequently anticipates thus the laborious efforts of scholars, while his peculiar suggestiveness of thought and his scope of view interest extremely the common student, and lend a charm to his works such as no other writer in the same field possesses. He has the art of making other men work for him, and, perhaps, has thus been tempted to write too much for his own fame.

The great service for which posterity will thank Chevalier Bunsen is, that, in an age of bigotry and of skepticism, he has especially represented the union of Philosophy and Christianity, and has shown that the freest historical criticism and the most open recognition of the moral principle through all faiths and races are harmonious with the most devout belief in the divine manifestation of Christ. This book, “ God in History,” is written from his most advanced and religious stand-point, and seems to us the best fruit, thus far, of his studies. It is compact, consistent, and not marred by his usual defect,—a certain mysticism or indefiniteness of thought,— but is clear and philosophical to the close. It is not to be looked upon as a complete philosophical history, but rather as a suggestive and introductory treatise on that grandest of all themes, the Progress of the Instinct of God through Human History. His own definition of his subject is, that it is a history of the “ Consciousness of God in Mankind ” ; but, as he unfolds bis idea, it is evidently not always the consciousness, but the unconscious instinct of God, whose progress he is describing.

The first part of the present volume—the Third Book—is occupied with a brief, but exceedingly instructive investigation of the development of this instinct in the Aryans of Persia and of India; and in this inquiry the two prominent historical figures are Zoroaster and Buddha, or, as our author might have named them, the Moses and the Luther of the early Aryan religions,—the one the Lawgiver and the Founder of a pure monotheism in the place of a slavish belief in elementary powers, and the other the great Reformer of a corrupted faith in behalf of an oppressed people.

The illustrations which Bunsen gives of these two wonderful expressions of the instinct of God in the remote past, the religions of Zoroaster and Buddha, are exceedingly fresh and original. They are contained mostly in sacrificial and festal hymns and songs which have not hitherto been much known, even to scholars.

As an introduction to and historical preparation for these two great forms of belief, he describes also the instinct of Deity as it had developed itself among the Turanians, the Chinese, and the Egyptians.

The period embraced in the Third Book is about 2500 years, from the supposed epoch of Zoroaster (3000 B. C.) to that of Buddha (541 B. C.).

The Fourth Book treats of the instinct of God among the Greeks and Romans, “from the singer of the Iliad (900 B. C.) down to the Baruch of the Roman world, the prophet of the downfall of the Aryan Ante-Christian civilization,—Tacitus.” This God-consciousness is found first in the Grecian feeling of the Commonwealth,

—the idea of a common good surpassing a personal good ; then in the conception of the Epic, which assumes a political as well as a physical Kosmos, or order; then in the grand moral ideas lying at the basis of the Mythology, — the myths, for instance, of Prometheus, and the picture of Nemesis and the Fates. Next, the deep sense of God speaks out in Grecian Tragedy and the great works of Grecian Art; and in the highest degree, in the Philosophy which culminated in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

The Roman expression of these profound instincts is placed by Bunsen far below the Grecian. It is manifested especially in their idea of Law, and even in the doubts and despair of their leading thinkers in the time of the Emperors.

The closing portion of the volume terminates the history of the progress of the idea of God before Christianity, among the Aryan races, by a description of the religious instincts of the Teutonic tribes. In their respect for woman and for marriage, in their political commonwealths, in their worship of one God, and their belief in a moral Kosmos, Bunsen beholds the expression of the Divine idea within them, preparing for the more full development which is to come through the ideas and spirit of Christianity. The book closes fitly with the grand prophecy of the Völuspa in the Scandinavian Edda.

We regret that want of space should prevent us from giving extracts from this most eloquent and philosophic work. Its glory is, that, breaking through the formulæ of creeds and the external signs of religious faith, it has the courage to listen to the voice of God all along the devious course of human history,— hearing that mysterious tone, not alone in the chants of the Hebrews or the confessions of the Christians, but in every smallest utterance of truth, every syllable of unselfish patriotism, every groan of offended conscience, every myth springing from the moral sense, every song, every speech which would exalt the True, the Beautiful, and the Good over the selfish and false and base. In Bunsen’s philosophy, these, even more than all outward confession and ceremonial, are the true expression of the workings of the Divine Spirit in Human History.