Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Th.M.

From: JASA 6 (December 1954): 17-18.

It is without hesitation that I interrupt the series of columns I was planning on faith and culture to give honor to a great figure in Christian scholarship, Dr. Josef Bohatec of Vienna.

I shall never forget the evening I had the privilege of attending the exercises for the 70th anniversary of the Free University of Amsterdam, where Bohatec, long known for his profound and extensive erudition, received another degree, the honorary doctorate in law. In Holland the honorary doctorate is not achieved as easily as here. Though it is not always given as the direct reward for scholarly work, it is really much harder to attain than an "earned" degree. One who is considered for a degree honoris causa must be a person of great accomplishments. Knowing what a scholarly reputation belonged to this man, I was deeply moved to hear the expression of deep Christian faith which pervaded and exalted his every statement. This was not the tinny blasting of a calliope but the fullthroated peal of a great organ.

Bohatec was born on January 26, 1876. He studied at the university of Vienna, Prague, Halle, Rerlin, and Erlanger. His fields of interest were many, for he studied in theology, philosophy, classical and German philology, and jurisprudence. In 1916 he became professor ordinarius at the University of Vienna. He died on June 6, 1954.

Though from the very first Bohatec showed the signs of universal learning, his major field of study was the original sources concerning Calvin's life and work. Here his natural gifts as a historian and his wide knowledge combined to earn him the reputation of being the best informed person on Calvin in our time.

Bohatec's work was pursued with broad sympathetic understanding, with strong methodological rigor, and with minute examination of the original sources. For this reason he was able to throw many well studied subjects into a new light. His scholarly reputation became very widespread with the publication of his Calvin's Lehre von Staat und Kirche. Here he showed the defects in the foundations of Troeltsch's The Social Teachings of the Christian Church, where Troeltsch deals with the social views of Calvin and the other reformers.

Bohatec was not an original philosopher, though be did publish some works in that field. His approach to philosophy was, however, largely through his own f ield of history. As an example of his philosophical work is the massive, Die Religionsphilosophie Kants in der Religion innerhalb der Grensen der bloszen Vernunft. With his typical thoroughness he was able here to throw new light on the development of Kant's thought.

In the field of jurisprudence in addition to smaller works he published his well-known, Calvin und das Recht, and in 1938 his "Calvin et la proc6dure civile i Geneve," Revue historique de droit francais etranger. In his juridical work he showed a tremendous grasp of the complicated situation in law in Calvin's time.

Of special interest to Bohatec was the relationship between evangelism and humanism in the development of modern Western thought. In his studies he approached humanism with openness of spirit, but without eliminating or weakening the great antithesis of principles that exist between it and Christianity. One of the results of this study is the volume, Bude und Calvin, which Bohatec dedicated to the Free University in appreciation for the honorary doctorate.

The primary question this book seeks to answer is that of the influence on Calvin of the humanism of his day, a question one cannot miss, especially when studying Calvin's early life. This is not a new field of study, but once again Bohatec enriches the knowledge of the reformer. He traces Calvin's idea of an inner connection between the knowledge of God and of the self to influence from Bude, who precisely here sought the essence of Christian philosophy. In this Bude was partly dependent upon others, e.g., Erasmus; but when he says there is an inner connection between divine and human knowledge he is expressing his own position.

I believe that this idea of the analogy between knowledge of God and of the self is one of the most fruitful approaches for the combatting of atheistic humanism. Any light that can be thrown on it either historically or philosophically is most welcome.

That Calvin had intellectual stimulus from humanism and that he in some sense can be called a humanist, does not mean that he did not strike at the root of the paganizing element in it. In summarizing his work Bohatec says the following: "Calvin war Humanist, nicht blosz, weil er bei der Wurdigung der freien Wissenschaften und Kunste in seiner 'christlichen Philosophic' die Grundgedanken der christlichen Humanisten fortsetzte, berichtigte und ergknzte, sondern auch unmittelbar auf die Antike und ihre Quellen zuruckgriff, deren Ideen, Denkmittel und Grundbegriffe (er), soweit es moglich war, namentlich in seiner Ethik und Staatslehre, dem christlichen Gedankengehalt anzugleichen versuchte. Da er den Geist und die Ideen des damaligen Hurnanismus kannte, konnte er die paganisierenden Bestandteile des letzteren im Licht der unaufgebbaren Werte des 'wiedergeborenen Evangeliums' bekampfen."

One of Bohatec's latest works was a treatise on Dostoyevsky, Der Imperialismusgedanke und die Lebensphilosophie Dostojewskis. This is also a work of philosophic importance, interesting to us in connection with the influence of Lebensphilosophie and existentialism. It is also interesting for light it can throw on the opposition of East and West. Dostoyevsky believed in the "mission" of the Russian people, who were more able, he thought, to create a powerful organism of brotherly union of peoples, a living union of love, instead of the rationalistic unions of the West. The East was the religious source; the West was the rational, external civilization. According to Bohatec, Dostoyevsky's ideology is founded in his Lebensphilosophie.

Rockmont College
Longmont, Colorado
November 6, 1954