Friedrich Christoph Oetinger’s Speculative Pietism

Sean J. McGrath

Abstract


The influence of Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-82) on Schelling’s work is even deeper than that exerted by Jakob Boehme, deeper, not because Schelling devoted more scholarly attention to Oetinger than he did to the study of Boehme (he did not), but because Schelling was very likely first introduced to Boehme, theosophy and Protestant mysticism by reading Oetinger. Both Schelling’s father and grandfather were pastors in the Wurtembergian Pietist tradition. Schelling most probably first read the works of Oetinger in his father’s study as a precautious boy eager to make his way in knowledge both natural and divine. Oetinger’s Biblical Dictionary (Biblisches Wörterbuch), a compendium of theosophy and Biblical theology, was written for lay people as a study guide to the reading of Scripture, but this does not fairly describe it. Concerned as he was with a non-mechanistic philosophy of nature that would be not only consonant with Biblical revelation but also to some degree confirmative of it, Oetinger jammed the encyclopedia with natural scientific and esoteric and occult material one would not expect to find in such a text. It was likely a staple of Schelling’s catechetical education. At the age of ten, Schelling received an intense immersion in Oetinger’s theosophical pietism, when he was sent to live in Nürtingen while he attended Latin school. He lived for a time in the house of his uncle, who was known as a “fiery disciple of Oetinger’s.” Here he met Phillip Matheus Hahn, the most important follower of Oetinger’s, who impressed Schelling so deeply that the boy was inspired to compose his first poem on the occasion of the great theologian’s death.


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