Supplementary Appendix: Kuno Fischer on Bavarian Catholic Opposition to Schelling

Kuno Fischer
Catholic opposition to Schelling in Bavaria 1803–6 [*]

1. Ecclesiastical Catholicism

Schelling’s circumstances in Würzburg did not remain as untroubled as they had seemed to him when he arrived. Although at his appointment he had indeed promised to refrain from polemics, there was something in his activity as such that simply would not let his adversaries rest.

It was to be anticipated that the initial resistance would emanate from the representatives of ecclesiastical Catholicism in close proximity to Schelling himself, nor, given the circumstances [with the reorganization of the university and divestiture of various previously Catholic institutions], could it really be otherwise.

The theological seminary belonged to the bishop, while the department of theology, as part of the university, belonged to the state, and through the reorganization of the university had been transformed into a “section for the learning necessary for the education of religious teachers”; this appellation alone shows that no one was quite sure just what the nature of this department was supposed to be, in which Protestant philosophers and rationalists assisted in training the future clergy. The bishop accordingly carefully guarded the boundaries between the seminary and university and prohibited his own seminarians from attending certain lectures, especially those of Schelling and Paulus.

2. Enlightened Catholicism

Enlightened Catholicism, which was well-disposed toward the government, exercised a certain influence on public opinion, and viewed itself as representative of contemporary neo-Bavarian philosophy, behaved quite differently than ecclesiastical Catholicism, which was interested solely in excluding from the sphere of its own teachings any alien or otherwise inadequate influences.

The educational reforms and lesson plans that had divided public education into straightforward subjects and sections were quite to the liking of this particular version of Enlightenment thinking and were praised as such in the daily press as works of wisdom; it was, of course, in part the Enlightenment thinkers’ own wisdom that sat in the councils making such decisions on educational reform in the first place. They were always eager to make much of education for the common good, of practical philosophy and morality, and warned against Jesuitism, obscurantism, mysticism, overly systematic inclinations, etc.

Hence they made quite different distinctions than did the Bishop of Würzburg, who saw no difference between Paulus and Schelling; Enlightened Catholics viewed the former as their intellectual compatriot and friend, and the latter as their opponent, and quickly turned him into the target of their attacks.

Moreover, Schelling did indeed clearly unite in his teachings and person features that the neo-Bavarian Enlightenment viewed with hostility: a system that claimed sole validity for itself and was presenting that claim with an abrupt, brusque, and exclusive attitude, spoke in a language that was the absolute opposite of “generally comprehensible,” and whose conceptions and mode of thinking had begun to exhibit mystical inclinations, mixing materialism and mysticism, leaving no room for talk about morality, indeed haughtily dismissing the latter — the philosopher’s own personality, moreover, was hardly suited to softening the brusque expression of his teachings, preferring instead to make things worse by wielding the sword of “divine coarseness.”

This Schelling was not merely a thorn in the eyes of his Bavarian opponents, but an entire thorn bush, and not even a native Bavarian. One had to battle mysticism [an inclination toward which had emerged in Schelling’s most recent publication, Philosophie und Religion (Tübingen [spring] 1804)] and materialism, obscurantism and atheism in one and the same person, an opaque amalgam of contradictory conceptual modes, a weave of poesy and metaphysics, — in a word: a particular type of sophistry and publicly detrimental philosophy.

Nor did this polemic contra Schelling want for an organ in the daily press. What a short time before the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung had brought to bear contra Schelling in Jena, the Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung now did in Munich. Attacks appeared in isolated pieces as well, in connection with which two adversaries especially emerged, both of whom waged war against Schelling in part individually and in part with a united front, the one more by way of satire, the other more by way of gentle and sentimental displeasure: Kajetan Weiller and Jakob Salat, the former the rector, the latter a professor at the lyceum in Munich.

Salat was concerned with morality, and it was for the sake of morality that he praised Kant, Fichte, and Jacobi, and was horrified at Schelling; every other word was “dignified”: he spoke as a “dignified person” in a “dignified fashion” about “dignified things.” His works included Ueber den Geist der Philosophie mit kritischen Blicken auf einige der neuern und merkwürdigern Erscheinungen im Gebiete der philosophischen Literatur (Munich 1803) and Ueber den Geist der Verbesserung im Gegensatze mit dem Geiste der Zerstörung: Ein Versuch, mit besonderer Hinsicht auf gewisse Zeichen unserer Zeit, 2 vols. (Munich 1805). He viewed celibacy in the church as destructive, as also sophistry and the lack of attention to morality in philosophy. In his view, the primary sophist was Schelling, who mixed mysticism and materialism , poesy and metaphysics, in the process utterly surrendering all true morality, religion, and philosophy. Pieces directed specifically against Schelling included Salat’s Die Philosophie mit Obskuranten und Sophisten im Kampfe (Ulm 1803), and Weiller’s Anleitung zur freien Ansicht der Philosophie (Munich 1804).

Franz Berg [1]

The most important among Schelling’s adversaries lived in Würzburg itself, namely, Franz Berg, professor of church history, with whom we have already become acquainted as the anonymous author of that particular malicious pamphlet that the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung had used as its final outburst. [2] This man, not without influence and respect, was nonetheless void of all character, and had assimilated just enough Enlightenment thinking without any genuinely serious conviction to make it easy enough for him to abide in rather close proximity to ecclesiastical Catholicism. That a philosophical system with the power of precisely such conviction had appeared and exerted its influence aroused his envy. . . .

Just as he had finished his own system, Schelling appeared in Würzburg, and Berg immediately saw in him not merely an adversary of his own philosophical views, but also the kind of original philosopher he himself longed to be, and at once also a rival to his own philosophical renown with the added advantage of an enormous head start, namely, the acknowledgement of the world. Hence all the more energetically would he have to fight him. Formally, too, he sought to compete with Schelling.

The latter had just published his dialogic Bruno oder über das göttliche und natürliche Princip der Dinge. Ein Gespräch (Berlin 1802), so Berg similarly published a dialogue contra Schelling, Sextus oder über die absolute Erkenntniss von Schelling (1804). The dialogue partners are Sextus and Plotinus, the skeptic and mystic, the former Berg, the latter Schelling or one of his followers, who speaks just as the dialogue’s author wishes him to speak.

Nowhere, of course, is victory more certain that when one can tailor one’s adversary to one’s own liking. Sextus-Berg, of course, attains a cheap victory. After demonstrating to his opponent that the Schellingian doctrine is full of contradictions, and that its pillars, namely, absolute knowledge, infinite thought, and intellectual apperception are nothing but deceptive imaginary figures consisting in coarse sleights-of-hand, he triumphantly has the last word.

Würzburg students took Schelling’s side, but in the wrong way, trying to ridicule Berg publicly in a foolishly petty satire posted on the academic announcement board. Now, of course, Schelling’s adversaries tried to cast suspicion on Schelling himself for having initiated this demonstration. Schelling, however, considered it unnecessary to defend his doctrines against Berg, leaving that task instead to others. The most thorough defense was provided by Pastor Götz in Absberg, who published a specific piece against the Würzburg Sextus, namely, Antisextus oder die absolute Erkenntniss von Schelling (Heidelberg 1807).

The Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung and the Educational Plan

This protracted skirmish against Schelling was carried on incessantly in the Munich Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung, which delivered a jab to Schelling at every opportunity. “As everyone knows,” one passage remarks, “the most recent version of the philosophy of identity is nothing other than an uncommon completion of the former, common doctrines of the Rosicrucians and cabalism.” On the occasion of an article on the “scholarly scientific disciplines,” the editors look forward in an anticipatory fashion to the effect it will have, remarking that “this article will, we hope, detonate an idealistic powder keg.”

A declaration “On Herr Schelling” (Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung [1805] 28 [5 March 1805], 44, 74) which was to be the last, unloads a furious onslaught from an anonymous private letter: “Never has even the most self-conceited cleric behaved in as exclusory, presumptuous, anathema-mongering, obscurantist, obsessively shadowy-mystical a fashion, hypocritically distorting the name of God and the title of religion in order to conceal egoism, as has this High Priest of Reason, Schelling, at once simultaneously also Lama (whose excrement devout pupils kiss) and God.” This outcry exemplifies the typical voice of Schelling’s adversaries in the neo-Bavarian Enlightenment.

These non-stop attacks eventually influenced persons higher up in the administration, where they also enjoyed an extremely welcome reinforcement. Although even the mere notion of appointing a counter-philosopher signaled growing ill-feeling, things went further. The Bavarian “pedagogical plan” Lehr-plan für alle kurpfalzbayrischen Mittel-Schulen, oder für die sogenannten Real-Klassen (Prinzipien), Gymnasien, und Lyceen: Vom Kurf. General-Schulen- und Studien-Directorium entworfen und von Sr. Kurf. Durchlaucht gnädigst bestätigt, 27 Aug. 1804 (München 1804) [i.e., for schools between elementary schools and the university] presented an ordinance governing educational instruction that, point for point, admonishes teachers to beware of a certain philosophical direction that unmistakably refers to Schelling.

The textbook prescribed for philosophical instruction in schools was a piece written by Kajetan Weiller and directed specifically against Schelling, the Anleitung zur freien Ansicht der Philosophie (Munich 1804). Joseph Wismayr, a friend of Weiller’s who shared his beliefs, drafted the plan, which the administration then approved. All the familiar platitudes contra Schelling concerning the antithesis between Schelling’s school philosophy, on the one hand, and healthy human understanding and philosophy, on the other, concerning cognitive rumination and compulsive speculation, etc., were incorporated here into an official publication that bore the imprimatur of the public authorities. The Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung, of course, was delighted at this educational plan and was especially effusive in its praise for the wise ordinances regarding philosophical instruction [Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung (1805) 20 (14 February 1805)].


[*] Kuno Fischer, Schellings Leben, Werke und Lehre, 3rd ed., Geschichte der neuern Philosophie 7 (Heidelberg 1902), 107–14, in his chapter “Conflicts in Würzburg. Adversaries and Friends.” Back.

[1] The omitted material recounts Franz Berg’s background and philosophical development. Back.

[2] The Encomium for the Most Recent Philosophy. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott