Friday, November 26, 2010

Hölderlin and his education

During the Reformation, England destroyed its monasteries. Hölderlin's homeland turned them into schools. At Kloster Denkendorf and Kloster Maulbronn, young Hölderlin was prepared for the prize, Tübingen Seminary. A holy caste of pastors, caretakers, educators and officials had grown up to be as much of a state within a state as the Catholic Church had ever been. Hölderlin, as a member of this caste, was expected to take his place where and when it was assigned to him. His education at Tübingen was free, but if he ever defaulted on his state church obligations, he would be obliged to pay it back in full. This he was never in position to do, since, like Baudelaire, his mother and her financial advisors controlled his inheritance throughout his life.

Gottlieb Christian Storr (1746-1805) was Hölderlin's professor of theology at Tübingen. He gave a nod to the Enlightenment, which enraged the traditionalists, but in the eyes of the students secretly reading Kant, he did not go far enough. This "Old Tübingen School" recognized the validity and possibility of divine revelation, but did not believe that Divinity spoke today.

So what did Hölderlin learn from his religious education? Well, if we accept that divine revelation was possible in Bible times, then why is it now now possible? And if it is possible today, who within our society is best equipped to receive the word of God? Not the clergy, with their rigid adherence to dead forms, and the belief that Jesus had been the best and last revealer. Not the government, who know it was dangerous to have unrestricted access to divine things. The other half of Hölderlin's education gave him the answer--the Classical World. Since the time of Augustine and Jerome, the Church was tied to the great pre-Christian models of the liberal arts. Hölderlin says to us that divine revelation is still possible and the poet is the one who is best equipped to reveal divine words to the community. Thus his education proved both his making and his undoing. Like many students of theology and the Classical world, he was pulled in two directions: to see the Dantean Christian Kosmos and be a part of it and to see that humans had once lived another way in a time when they knew neither Jesus nor the Bible. Hölderlin found his path, but did not find his community to be receptive. While Storr's pupils continued to focus on God's Biblical communication through His chosen messengers, Hölderlin tapped into the wellspring of divine life, and in the doing found the ecstasy and emptiness that accompany the office of divine messenger.

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