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Primary Definitions

Today the term messianism is understood to mean any religious and, for this reason, also political-social expectation of salvation, which at the end of history puts the coming of a savior and redeemer. Furthermore, a primarily secular philosophy of history is assumed, which is linked to religious ideas. This then results in the transformation from belief in a personal messiah to the idea of ​​a historical end that aims to fulfill political and social hopes.

  • According to JM Hoëné Wronski (1776–1853), messianism has "the aim of leading mankind to its true destiny". He divides this introduction into three historical periods. The first epoch spans the period from Egypt to the French Revolution, when nature and man were still in harmony with one another. The time of the French Revolution heralds the end of this harmonious relationship and thus the second epoch. This is characterized by the fact that feeling and knowledge diverge, ie every kind of moral bond, philosophy and religion were dissolved by the French Revolution and it is part of the task of messianism to initiate a moral-spiritual rebirth. A process should arise in which all earthly obstacles are overcome and at the end of which there is the realization of the Logos in man. This makes it possible to see that the Christian content of revelation corresponds to reason and for this reason there is a reconnection of philosophy and religion. Thus the present forms the last historical epoch, at the end of which messianism brings about the realization of absolute reason.
  • For Moses Hess , a mentor of Karl Marx , messianism became the basis of a philosophy of history. However, he does not use the term “messianism”, but rather speaks of a “ messianic movement ”. The “Messiah era” of the present began with Spinoza , with the French Revolution it entered “world history”; with it begins the “rebirth of the peoples”. The last epoch is formed by the messianic epoch, in it the achievements of modern science are applied to social conditions and thus religion can also be redesigned.
  • F. Huet sees in Jesus the last and purest representative of the messianic idea of ​​Israel, who proclaims the social kingdom of God at the same time as the religious one . By combining spiritual and material goods, “a revolution should be brought about”.
  • While Max Nordau limited his explanation of the term to Judaism, because for him Zionism and messianism were identical terms for almost two millennia, Hermann Cohen expanded the term messianism beyond the Jewish religion. His historical-philosophical consideration lies in the future, in bringing about the "rule of the good" in the world. He does not focus on eudaemonism and utopianism , but rather “the basic features of ethical socialism” and “the creation of the future is the true political reality”.
  • Walter Benjamin picks up on Cohen's impulse and even goes beyond it. He does not seek the announcement in the infinitely distant future, but in the now, i.e. in the respective present. From this thought springs the idea that every moment carries its “revolutionary chance with it” and Marx can be named as the founder of the secularization of the messianic age.
  • Martin Buber notes that Marx adopted this transformed messianism from Hegel and then made it his faith. The transformation of the concept of messianism lies in Hegel's transferring messianism from the world of faith to the world of evident convictions.
  • Max Scheler sees in the Marxist idea of ​​the classless society a "scientifically trimmed and underpinned hope".
  • For Leszek Kolakowski , every kind of revolutionary ideology is firstly a misguided "secular variant of religious messianism " and secondly, the hopes are only incomplete representations of religious eschatologies.

Secondary definitions

In addition to Marxism , there are other types of political belief in salvation, which also fall under the term “messianism”. Both the idea of nationalism and the special Russian and Pan-Slavic sense of mission, which some see resurrected in Bolshevism, should be mentioned.

  • Jacob Talmon described messianism as "a harmonious final state full of individual self-realization and social integration at the same time". It can also be seen that political messianism with Fichte and Marx as well as with the European national movements is always an expression of the tension between abstract, universalistic belief and the opposed resistance of reality.

Furthermore, the term messianism is also understood as a religious studies category. In it the different Messiah ideas are summarized in order to then compare them historically and critically with one another.

  • Franz Rosenzweig called the redemption of Christianity a spiritual reversal of the individual, “a secret transformation of the soul”, whereas he spoke of a “messianic policy” with regard to Judaism .
  • According to Gershom Scholem , what is special about Jewish messianism lies in the fact that it takes place “in public, on the scene of history and in the medium of community”. In Jewish messianism, life “postponed,” waiting and hoping for the coming of the Savior, forms both strength and weakness, so waiting is paid for with a life of the provisional and provisional.
  • For Theodor W. Adorno , the highest premise is not formed by waiting for redemption, but rather by anticipation, because it is the philosophy that "is only responsible in the face of despair". Adorno means trying to look at all things as they would appear in the “Messianic Light”.

See also


  • Reinhold Mayer, Inken Rühle: Was Jesus the Messiah? History of the Messiahs of Israel in three millennia. Tubingen 1998.
  • Aharon Oppenheimer: Messianism in Roman times. On the plurality of a term among Jews and Christians. In: Yearbook of the Historical College 1997, pp. 53–7 ( digitized version ).

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