Friedrich Nietzsche

Authored by: Bruce Ellis Benson

The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782173
eBook ISBN: 9780203387856
Adobe ISBN: 9781136677922


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Friedrich Nietzsche was not only the son of a Lutheran pastor but part of a long line of pastors going back nearly 250 years. His father had a theology that was deeply affected by the revivalist movement and his mother lived a life of constant prayer. As a child, Fritz was known as the “Little Pastor,” since he would often cite long passages from Scripture or sing hymns with great fervor. His father died when he was five years old. While Nietzsche never seems to have fully recovered from that blow, it did strengthen his faith. When he was fourteen, he began attending Schulpforta, a school where he was able to study with Robert Buddensieg, who was also a revivalist and had a great influence on Nietzsche. In 1861, Nietzsche read Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, in which Feuerbach argues that the concept of God is merely the product of wish projection, and thus God is essentially anthropomorphic. While studying at the University of Bonn, he read writers like David Strauss, who had published Life of Jesus, a text in which Strauss denies the divinity of Jesus. Exactly when Nietzsche lost his faith is unclear, though it was sometime around leaving Schulpforta. Nietzsche went on to become a philologist (someone who studies classic texts) and was given the chair in philology at the University of Basel in 1869 (even though he had never finished a proper doctorate, nor had written a Habilitationschrift – in effect, a second doctorate that qualifies one for a professorship). But in 1879 he was forced to give up the chair, due to poor health. For the next ten years he lived a life of rootlessness in Swiss and Italian rooming houses. It was in these years that he wrote his greatest texts. On January 3, 1889, he came out of the place where he was staying and saw a man beating a horse. Overcome with compassion, he rushed to hug the horse. At that point, he collapsed both physically and mentally. He remained in this state until 1900, when he died.

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