Eduard Osvald Geismar (1871-1939)

Professor of systematic theology 1921-39, MA theology 1894, reverend in Veggerslev and Villersø 1899-1908, in Randers 1908-17 and in Copenhagen 1917-21.

As a liberal theologian Geismar willingly faced the religious challenge raised by radicalism and the natural sciences around 1900. He published a comprehensive study of evolution entitled Kristendom og Udvikling [Christianity and Evolution] (Copenhagen: Gads Forlag, 1903). In this work, which was the most detailed religious response to Darwinism in Denmark in the period 1859-1920, Geismar reinterpreted Christian doctrines in the light of evolution. He accepted the theory of common descent and explained the development of ethics by emphasising the role of cooperation in the evolution of man. In his discussion of the evolutionary process he integrated Darwinian and Lamarckian factors and combined these with an element which transcended naturalism, namely the Kantian concept of a moral law within each individual person pointing to divine values. He thus made a clear distinction between the natural development of morality and its absolute validity. Geismar’s liberal views on Darwinism was criticised by fellow Lutherans, who clearly thought that he had given far too much credit to the views of freethinkers and Darwinian naturalists. At the Faculty of Theology he found himself in an isolated position when new theological trends inspired by Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth gained ground in the late 1920s. Although Geismar was among the first Danish theologians to discuss existential theology, he was not willing to draw the same radical conclusions as a group of young theologians who took to heart the idea of an absolute separation of Christianity from cultural life as advocated by Barth.     

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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