Brunner, Emil

Publié le 16/05/2020

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« Brunner, Emil (1889-1966) Emil Brunner was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the twentieth century.

He was a minister of the Swiss Reformed Church, a professor at the University of Zurich, and held distinguished lectureships in England, the USA and Japan.

He joined the 'dialectical school' early in his career, but tried to rehabilitate natural theology, which led to a rift with Barth.

His works were widely read and often served as basic texts in Reformed and Presbyterian seminaries.

He rejected the historicist reduction of Christ to a wise teacher figure that was characteristic of neo-Protestantism.

He was also critical of modern philosophical anthropologies - as propounded by Marx or Nietzsche, for example - because he felt that they reduced human essence to a single dimension.

Only theological anthropology can fully interpret human essence; and of central importance here is the 'I-Thou encounter' , whereby the fulfilment of the human 'I' is achieved through a relationship with the divine 'Thou' .

Brunner also unfolded an original view on the relation of theology to philosophy.

Reason, he argued, is essential for the elucidation and communication of faith.

Philosophy, in so far as it indicates the limitations of reason, can serve to prepare us for the revelation of the Absolute. 1 Theology of crisis Emil Brunner was born in Winterthur in Switzerland.

His religious and theological education was marked by three main influences: a socio-eschatological, a historico-critical and a phenomenological.

The first of these was mediated through his father, who was acquainted with religious socialism and especially enthralled by Christoph Blumhardt's eschatological message.

He also read Hermann Kutter and Leonhard Ragaz and studied Herknew's and Sombart's socio-economic works.

At the University of Zurich, Brunner received a solid training in the historico-critical method.

His teachers were liberals, and one of them, Walter Köhler , was a disciple of Ernst Troeltsch .

In 1911, he spent a semester in Berlin, where he attended Adolf von Harnack's lectures.

The phenomenological influence manifested itself when Brunner, searching for a rigorous formulation of Christian belief, read first Kant, and then discovered Edmund Husserl. After a year in England (1913-14), where he frequented the Christian Labour Movement and the Brotherhood Movement, he received his doctorate in theology in Zurich.

His dissertation examined the use of symbol in religious knowledge.

Brunner took his theme from Kant and Bergson and his method from Husserl (§§2, 6) .

As knowledge of a higher world, religious knowledge is inherent in the consciousness of ethical norms.

In the wake of Kant (§11) , Brunner's theologizing process proceeded from ethics to faith. The First World War destroyed Brunner's hopes for a better world.

Blumhardt's belief in the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, to which Brunner had held, was shattered dramatically.

Like Karl Barth, Brunner turned back to the foundations of Christian doctrine and action.

He spent a year of research at Union Theological Seminary in New York (1919-20), then, in 1921, defended his Habilitationsschrift at the University of Zurich, which led to his. »


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