Review by Mark C. H. Shan , 2008
Schleiermacher, Friedrich D. E. The Christian Faith. English translation of the second German ed. of 1830-1831 by H. R. Machintosh and J. S. Steward. First German ed. published in 1820-1821. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928.
Schleiermacher summarizes the Introduction to The Christian Faith briefly by saying “the purpose of this Introduction is, first, to set forth the conception of Dogmatic which underlies the work itself; and secondly, to prepare the reader for the method and arrangement followed in it.” The following are the brief abstracts of each chapter.
According to Schleiermacher, one must understand what Christian Church is before one can understand Dogmatics, which is a theological discipline dealing with propositions borrowed from Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Apologetics (5).
1. Propositions Borrowed from Ethics
Schleiermacher claims that “Church is nothing but a communion or association” relating to piety, which is “neither a Knowing nor a Doing, but a modification of Feeling, or of immediate self-consciousness.” Here Feeling used in a scientific sense to describe a clear mental phase with self-consciousness excluding unconscious states. Feeling, not Knowing or Doing, is the essence of piety (10). Knowing and doing do pertain to piety, which is a state that combines them with feeling (11). Still, piety remains unique essentially a feeling, unique among all others feelings, as “the conscious of being absolutely dependent,” or, “of being in relation with God (12).” The feeling of dependence “expresses a receptivity affected from some outside quarter,” and the feeling of freedom “expresses spontaneity and activity (14),” yet only the feeling of dependence is absolute. Schleiermacher says that feeling of absolute dependence on God is the highest grade of immediate self-consciousness, and is also an essential element of human nature (26). Moreover, “every essential element of human nature becomes the basis of a fellowship or communion, and can only be fully explicated in the context of a scientific theory of morals (27).”
2. Propositions Borrowed from the Philosophy of Religion
Among all the forms of religious piety, the monotheistic forms stand at the highest level, and all others, including Idol-worship (Fetishism) and polytheism, are lower level forms (34). Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the only three monotheistic traditions in history, and only they are in the form of real piety. All other religions are superstitious (38). Each particular form of communal piety has both an outward unity and an inward unity (44). Outward unity refers to the distinctive origin of each religion, and inward unity refers to “the peculiar form which the religious emotions and their utterances take in each communion (47).” According to Schleiermacher, “any proclamation of God which is to be operative upon and within us can only express God in His relation to us” because of human limitedness in relation to Him (52).
3. Propositions Borrowed from Apologetics
Christianity is a monotheistic faith distinguished by the fact that everything in it is related to the redemption accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth (52). There is no other way of obtaining participation in the Christian communion than through faith in Jesus as the Redeemer (68). According to Schleiermacher, there is no intermediacy between faith and participation in the Christian communion, and faith is “accordingly to be taken as directly combining the two, so the faith of itself carries with it that participation.” In addition, faith depends not only on “the spontaneous activity of the man who has become a believer,” but also on “the spontaneous activity of the communion (Church), as the source from which the testimony proceeded for the awakening of faith (70-71).”
4. The Relation of Dogmatics to Christian Piety
Schleiermacher defines Christian doctrines as “accounts of the Christian religious affections set forth in speech (76).” He distinguishes between dogmatic propositions and Christian Preaching, defining the former as “doctrines of the didactic type”, and the latter as “chiefly the utterance and presentation which have a directly rousing effect (87).” One can become a master of Dogmatic propositions yet a non-believer, but possession of the relevant piety is necessary to mastery of Christian preaching (88).
Dogmatic methodology consists of selecting the dogmatic material which “eliminates from the total mass of dogmatic material everything that is heretical while retaining only what is ecclesiastical (95),” and formation of the dogmatic system (112). According to Schleiermacher, “all propositions which the system of Christian doctrine has to establish can be regarded either as descriptions of human states, or as conceptions of divine attributes and modes of action, or as utterances regarding the constitution of the world; and all three forms have always subsisted alongside of each other (125).” Moreover, in keeping with his emphasis on piety as a feeling, three forms always and everywhere are based upon the direct description of the religious affections (127).
According Schleiermacher, the essence of religion is piety, a feeling of immediate self-consciousness of absolute dependence on a divine entity. The Church of Christianity is the pious communion among believers. Dogmatics is the verbal expression of piety within a frame of descriptions, conceptions and utterances. As some one criticized, Schleiermacher’s anthropological approach shifts away from Christianity’s traditional epistemology, in which faith begins with Knowing and accepting an objective divine revelation and a historical divine-human encounter oriented toward transcendence. Instead, he focuses on an immanence-oriented, inward-directed human subjectivity and self-consciousness (similar to Kant’s morality). Nonetheless, he still believed that humans subjectively react to something, to a divine reality that exists. From the perspective of neurophysiology, piety is simply a mental state assumed when confronting the unknown, a conclusion with which Schleiermacher would disagree.