Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

Summary and Commentary from Frank Cross

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George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher


The Christian consciousness presupposes and involves the consciousness of absolute dependence on God. But in that peculiar modification of the religious consciousness which is experienced in Christianity the exaltation of the God-consciousness from a condition of repression to a position of dominancy over all the sensuous impulses is referred to Christ, so that there can be no reference (relation) to Christ in which there is not also a reference to God. The pain which is felt at being unable to realize the supremacy of the God-consciousness is attributed to a want of communion with the Redeemer, while the satisfaction experienced in the opposite state is contemplated as an impartation which has come to us out of this communion; so that there is no religious activity or potency within the Christian communion in which a reference to Christ is not involved.

It has been pointed out already that the religious feeling is never experienced in isolation from other experiences but always in connection with a world-consciousness; and that the perfection of the God-consciousness is dependent upon the perfection of the world-consciousness. In other words, we find ourselves, as part of a world-whole, relatively free and relatively dependent. But over against this unity of a world organized and possessed of perfect interrelations in which we have our own definite place, there stands a higher unity upon which we feel ourselves and the world-unity absolutely dependent. The obliteration of the distinction between these separate unities annuls either the feeling of absolute dependence or the feeling of freedom, and contradicts human experience. Both of these two antithetical unities are therefore involved in the Christian consciousness.

The experience of this feeling of absolute dependence is not contingent on any peculiar circum stance in human life, as though it were accidental and not absolutely constituent of human nature, nor does it vary in its character in different men, but is the same in all. The difference in degrees of perfection among men does not consist in a distinction in the quality of this feeling but is to be referred to the degree of development of the intellectual functions. (See above.) Supposed instances of a human self-consciousness which is destitute of the God-consciousness disappear on close analysis, except in those individuals whose intelligence is entirely undeveloped.

But even if our contention that the feeling of absolute dependence and the God-consciousness involved in it constitute a potency essential to human nature were successfully impugned, we should be under no compulsion to formulate in our dogmatics a proof of God's existence, for such "proofs" would only issue in an objective consciousness of God's existence which could have no place in a system which is based on immediate inner certainty. Moreover, experience has shown of how little avail are such demonstrations in the face of theoretical atheism. It is not the business of dogmatics to secure an admission of the God-consciousness but to develop its content.

To resume: Since the Christian religious consciousness is connected with a consciousness of unity with the world on the one hand and involves the feeling of absolute dependence on God on the other, Christian dogmatics will naturally begin with a description of the religious consciousness so far as the relation between God and the world is expressed in it; it will proceed further to describe the qualities of the world and the attributes of God so far as these are involved in that relation. It may be repeated also that such a doctrine of God and of the world is not supplementary to, or to be supplemented by, a scientific or philosophical doctrine of God and the world. Christian dogmatics rests upon its own basis, namely, the Christian religious consciousness, and it is complete in itself. Whatever cannot be evolved from the religious consciousness cannot be admitted to a place in dogmatics, because it lies outside the sphere of religion.

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