Prof. ERNEST RENAN:
Now let us make mention of a French man of ideas: Ernest Renan was born in 1239 [C.E. 1923] in the Treguier city of France. His father was a captain. He was five years old when he lost his father. He was raised by his mother and by his elder sister. Because his mother wanted him to be a man of religion, he was sent to the church college in his hometown. Here he was given an efficient religious education. His strong interest in the oriental languages won him a full command of the Arabic, Hebrew and Syrian languages. Later he entered the university, where he studied philosophy. As he made progress in educational areas and carried on very minute comparative studies on the German philosophy and the oriental literature, he observed some flaws in Christianity. By the time he was graduated from the university in 1848, at the age of twenty-five, he was entirely defiant towards the Christian religion, and he compiled his thoughts in his book titled ‘The Future of Knowledge’. Yet, because the book was of a rebellious nature, no printhouse dared to print it, and it was only forty years later, in 1890, that the book was printed.
Renan’s primary objection was against the belief that Issa a.s. was the ‘Son of God’. When he was appointed as a professor of philosophy in the university of Versailles, he began to gradually explain his thoughts on this subject. However, it was not till after he was appointed as a professor of the Hebrew language for the university of College de France that he voiced his most vigorous protest. By the time he finished his first class he had had the courage to say, “Issa a.s. was a respectable human being superior to the other human beings. Yet he was never the son of Allahu ta’ala.” This statement had the effect of a bomb. All the Catholics, and especially the Pope, rose up. The Pope officially excommunicated Renan before the entire world. The French government had to dismiss him from office. Yet the world was already resounding with Renan’s statements. Great numbers of people sided with him. He wrote books, such as ‘Essays on the History of Religions’, ‘Studies on Criticism and Morals’, ‘Discourses on Philosophy’ and ‘Life of Jesus’, and his books sold like hot cakes. Upon this the French Academy accepted him as a member (in 1878). Also, the French government invited him back to office and appointed him as the director of college de France.
Renan observed Issa a.s. as a human being in his work ‘Life of Jesus’. According to Renan, “Issa a.s. is a human being like us. His mother Maryam (Mary) was betrothed to a carpenter named Yusuf (Joseph). Issa a.s. was a superior human being, so much so that, the statements that he made when he was only a small child were a source of astonishment for many a scholar. Allahu ta’ala deemed him as worthy of prophethood and gave him this duty. Issa a.s. never said that he was the ‘Son of God’. This is a slander fabricated by priests.”
The contention between Catholic priests and Renan continued for a long time. While the Catholics accused him of blasphemy, he in his turn indicted them for their mendacity and hypocrisy. Renan was saying, “The real Nazarani religion is based on the belief that Allahu ta’ala is one and that Issa a.s. is only a human being and a prophet.” Before Renan had died, he had prepared a written will enjoining from a religious ceremony in the church and prohibiting priests from attending his funeral procession. So, when he died in 1892, a crowded congregation containing only friends who loved him and people who admired him attended his funeral procession.
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