It is the 22nd of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1775.
Recently on this show, we've been making the important distinction between "the Reformation" and "reformations." It is important to recognize the 16th century Reformation as a historically significant movement. Still, whichever aspect of that Reformation you are keen on, please remember it is only a part of a church whose history is one of constantly reforming.
While not our topic today, it is also worth noting that when you say "Renaissance," you probably mean 15th century Italian Renaissance? Or maybe later 15th and 16th century Northern European Renaissance? But we remember that "renaissance" simply means "rebirth." The Carolingians of the 9th century would like a word with anyone who uses the term "Renaissance" to reference Leonardo and his pals…
And then there is that post-16th century Reformation movement we call "The Enlightenment." And the chances are that if you grew up in the church, this movement was painted as secular, skeptical, and worldly.
But perhaps you wouldn't be surprised to hear me, hearing the complaints about the Enlightenment, say "not so fast… there was no singular Enlightenment". Even in the 18th century, there were distinctions between English, French, and German.
Today we focus on the German Enlightenment. The "Aufklärung," as the Germans called it, was, as Immanuel Kant inaugurated it, an exploration into the limits of reason and revelation. The context and the questions are different, but there are many ways to recapitulate the questions about reason and revelation from Augustine to Anselm to Aquinas and beyond (there are all those "A" names again).
In the 19th century, Catholic Germany knew that it could not afford to dismiss the Enlightenment but rather sought to make an important distinction to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In this context, I'd like you to meet Georg Hermes, a Catholic Priest and University professor whose life brings us inside the story of Catholics and the Enlightenment in 19th century Germany. The story of Georg Hermes's life is extraordinarily simple. He was born in 1775 and went to school at his local gymnasium and his local university, the University of Münster. He then taught at both his alma maters, the gymnasium and then Münster. In 1820 he was called up top the big time as a professor at the University of Bonn. He taught there for 11 years until his death in 1831. He wrote one major book, and his second work was completed by former students who used class notes to finish his work posthumously. These works were swiftly condemned by the Pope, who put Hermes's works on the index of banned books.
But this short story is not a simple one.
Hermes published his “Untersuchungen über die innere Wahrheit des Christenthums” or “an investigation concerning the internal truth of Christianity”. This was followed by his "Einleitung in die christkatholische Theologie" or "Introduction to Christian Catholic Theology." The famous professor sought to answer three essential questions, they were:
- Is there truth?
- Does God exist?
- Is Supernatural revelation possible?
Hermes was working in the context of the German Enlightenment and the deconstruction of traditional beliefs about the supernatural. The question some were asking was, "what is the basis for believing in anything we can't see or test?". Some in the German church, especially those in the University, considered this to be a futile line of questioning at best and dangerous at worst.
And this is where Hermes is branded as a kind of Kantian heretic. That is, by addressing the skepticism of Kant and others, Hermes was lumped in with him. "Hermesianism" came to mean rationalism, despite Georg making very clear that he did not believe that intellectual affirmation was the same as saving faith.
The controversy was not helped because it has been noted that Hermes was challenging to work with. He was a famous professor who also got in trouble for lecturing in German instead of Latin. One record makes a note of the troubling behaviors of his followers.
[I'm not sure what we do with this, but one of the most vociferous critics of Hermes mentioned how attractive he was]
Hermes was part of a tradition that sought to understand their faith in the light of contemporary thought about the nature of faith itself. His short career and (possibly hasty) addition to the index of the banned book dampened enthusiasm for his particular life and thought. Still, he is a prime example of a Christian in the German Enlightenment who, like Anselm before him, sought a faith seeking understanding.
Georg Hermes died in 1831 at the age of 56. He was born on the 22nd of April in 1775.
The reading for today is a poem entitled "The Empty Tomb" by Tania Runyon.
That woman was the first word spoken
must have taken even the angels by surprise,
who were used to bringing their fiery glory
down to the clanging swords of battlefields,
to priests tugging at their beards
in lamentation, to voices thundering in temples
and muscles hefting stones from mountaintops,
not to a trembling woman whose hair clung
to her neck with tears, who for a moment
held the souls of the nations like a basket of figs.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who knows something about Banned Books, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis a man deeply skeptical of figs. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.