David Friedrich Strauss, 1808 - 1874

David Friedrich Strauss was a famous German theologian who not only impacted the New England Transcendentalists, but, through his impact, served to demonstrate a crucial distinction between transcendental spirituality and religious spirituality.  His book The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835), perhaps the most controversial theological work of the nineteenth century, exploded the conceptions of the Christian gospels prevalent at the time.  According to the supernaturalists, as well as most ordinary Christians, the gospels were literally true.  According to the rationalists, however, the gospels contained some accounts that were not completely historical--such as the miracles--but instead were exaggerations or misinterpretations of natural events.  Strauss, on the other hand, absolutely demolished both positions.  He persuasively argued that either view necessarily involved contradictions or absurdities; instead, the gospels were mainly a collection of myths modeled upon the messianic expectations of first-century Jews.
Among the Transcendentalists, Strauss had the greatest influence probably on Theodore Parker, whose famous sermon A Discourse of the Transient and Permanent in Christianity (1841) drew upon the brilliance and bravery of Strauss.  It is this radical intellectual honesty that marks the Transcendentalists, who well knew that the heart cannot worship what the mind rejects, and that the authentic way to holiness is through questioning everything.