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Franz Overbeck: The Life History of Asceticism

Franz Overbeck: The Life History of Asceticism

(p.52) 2 Franz Overbeck: The Life History of Asceticism
The Moral Meaning of Nature
Peter J. Woodford
University of Chicago Press

Franz Overbeck was a historian of Christian origins of some note, one of Nietzsche’s closest friends, and one of his first critical interpreters. This chapter shows how Overbeck adapted Nietzsche’s concept of life in order to understand the cultural evolution of Christianity in the context of the ancient world. It shows how Overbeck assessed the genealogy of “otherworldly” Christian values and ascetic practices through research into the historical development of early Christian writings. It further examines Overbeck’s narrative of how a genuinely “scientific” perspective on the world emerged from originally religious origins. It examines Overbeck’s rejection of the teleological character of life’s evolutionary development by analyzing his work in conversation with Nietzsche, with the tradition of German academic theology that he inherited, and with the modern scientific culture of his time.

Keywords:   teleology, asceticism, theology and science, Christian origins, science and religion, vitalism, philosophy of history

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