Die Jesusfrage im neuzeitlichen Judentum; ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung / Gösta Lindeskog. Almqvist & Wiksell 1938, p. 125-6. Translated by Barrett Pashak.
Jesus as the atheistic mystic
In a class of its own within the Jewish Jesus literature stands the weighty tome (715 pages!), Our Christ, or the essence of genius, by the lately immortalized philosopher, Constantin Brunner (Leopold Wertheimer). Only some essential passages of the content-heavy book can be indicated here. Christ is a mystic, and in order to understand him, we must understand the essence of mysticism. "Mysticism is essentially nothing other than the result and the soul of philosophy." As an example of the typical mystic, Brunner names Meister Eckhart. Now, it is the principal thesis of the author that real mysticism is atheistic. "God is an egoistic-thingly, materialistic concept, the concept of a thing—likewise the highest God of monotheism, who creates and receives the world and reveals himself, is... a thing, and thus no different in nature to the gods of polytheism... All religion is materialism and egoism, comes entirely from below, not from above. Only the cogitans in us, that expression of the spirit is the non-relative, the Absolute. Religion, metaphysics and moralism are superstition; art, philosophy and love are Spirit. Now, mysticism is godless; But it does not know that; the mystic, in his being in love, does not notice at all that he is different from others; he also does not notice that he thinks godlessly, speaks godlessly, attempts to lead a godless life, and disdains pious practices." Now, Christ is "the genuine, the wholly, wonderfully perfect mystic."
How is this to be defended? Brunner answers: Christ sat himself upon the seat of God, therefore he is godless: "You believe in God, believe also in me." Precisely because Christ was godless, he had to die. The distinctive feature of his atheism is that it was imbued with an entirely unheardof self-awareness. Christ is the genius. The genius is original, but what is original in Christ, in view of the fact that most of his statements are good Old Testament and rabbinic expressions? Answer: Genius is spirit, is the spiritual being-in-itself, and therefore Christ is the greatest genius. Spirit is however also love, "the absolute consciousness of Oneness;" which also fits with Christ. Christ did not understand Christianity, however; Christianity is "the most terrible lie of all the world's lies wherewith the world lies to itself." How does Christ relate then to Judaism? Prophetism and Pharisaism are opposed. The prophets are mystics, and therefore Jesus belongs with the prophets, he is "the mystical prophetic genius in all its perfection." The prophets represent the real Judaism that is in accordance with its primordial mystical character. But prophetic Judaism is no religion. Christ is the incarnation of this atheistic Judaism: "Christ was the embodiment of Judaism: the Judaistic principle, its striving for historical importance, its enthusiasm, its love, its depth of feeling, its wrath, the power of its speech. Christ feels himself to be the idea of Judaism, as the locus of Judaism." But Christ is more than a prophet, in that, firstly, he had no connection with politics, secondly he is "genuinely godless" (with him one finds no religious formalism), thirdly he "preaches no coming kingdom, neither on earth nor in heaven... The kingdom... is the spirit of inwardness." Christ as representative of the spirituality of the Jewish race, the protest against all religion, is "the central genius" of humanity. "You Christ, you lived among us the age-old, the ever-burning truth, you living Christ; there is nothing dead of you but your body, you eternally living Christ: Jesus Christ heri et hodie, ipse et in aeterna!" The book ends with a Hymn to Jahwe echad, the last words are the "Shema," but this Jahwe echad is not the God of popular Israelite folk belief, but rather the one Spirit, that permeates humanity. The book of Constantin Brunner is the work of a mystic. Here we are confronted with an entirely singular phenomenon: the Judaism of Christ-mysticism. From love of Christ this confession speaks with exalted tones, warm like the glowing adorations of the medieval Christ-mystic. But it is an entirely different Christ and an entirely different Judaism than we usually know. The Judaism of the author is his principle based on an atheistic mysticism, a doctrine of the Echad, the great Being, that encompasses us all. Christ understood this like no other Jew, and therefore he is the greatest prophet of his people. Christ is himself godless: I and the father are one. "God, that am I," speaks Christ. An extraordinary book, one must say, a new, singular testimony to the fascinating power that flows from the figure of Jesus. That "Christ is a genius" is what the author demonstrates with the evidence presented in this book. Here a philosopher of atheism composes a beautiful hymn to Christ; here a Spinozist makes available the entirety of his shrewd speculation in order to prove the paramount grandeur of the phenomenon of Christ. The book provides much food for thought, and can in no wise be rejected as a literary curiosity. For in this singular reinterpretation of classic Judaism and classic Christology, the problem of the typology of religion steps to the fore, which is the very question that is supposed to be illuminated in the present investigation: the actual dividing line between Judaism and Christianity. In the background, yet another question poses itself: What logical affinity connects the pure monotheism of Judaism with "Spinozist" atheism?