Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

Summary and Commentary from Frank Cross

Home Previous: 36-49
Current: 50-56
Next: 57-61
Back to Reader's Guide

George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher


Section 2. Doctrine of God. The Divine Attributes Which Are Implicated in the Religious Self-Consciousness so Far as It Expresses the Relation between God and the World

If, as has been pointed out, the feeling of absolute dependence, which is the essence of religion, is implicated in the specifically Christian consciousness, and if this consciousness of immediate relation with God arises only in connection with the consciousness of having a place in that universally interrelated whole which we call the world, then Christian dogmatics involves a doctrine of God and a doctrine of the world which arise from that fundamental religious feeling, apart from those doctrines which express the experience of redemption, which is specifically and exclusively Christian.

Such a doctrine of God is not to be viewed as a description of God in himself, for we possess no objective knowledge of God; and even if such were possible, it could not become a part of our discipline; because, as it does not spring out of the religious feeling but stands in an external relation to it, such knowledge, if introduced into dogmatics, would constitute an alien element destroying its unity. The usual method followed in the discussion of this subject has produced confusion and a contradiction of the religious feeling. The various experiences of the religious spirit which have been expressed in poetry or popular discourse have been handled by the dogmaticians in a speculative way, as if they constituted a sum of knowledge about God. The necessity of divesting such expressions of their figurative and anthropomorphic form by a critical process before they can be utilized as material for a scientific statement has produced a skepticism in regard to religion, because it has become plain that in those ways no actual scientific knowledge of God was furnished. And when by a speculative process (e.g., via eminentiae, negationis et causalitatis) various classes of divine attributes are set forth (e.g., the natural or metaphysical and the moral, or the active and static, or the absolute and relative, or the original and derivative), it is made to appear that our knowledge of God is made up of a composite of mutually independent attributes, and hence that the object himself of this knowledge is a composite being. In this way the unity of the religious life in mankind is destroyed because the nature of the religion each individual enjoyed is made to depend upon that special attribute of the divine nature to which he subjects himself.

Instead of such "natural" or "rational" theology, we must found our science upon the simple fundamental feeling of absolute dependence which (since man is receptive in this experience) furnishes us with the divine causality as the principle of dogmatics. Hence the attributes that may be ascribed to God will be those which express the various ways in which the feeling of absolute dependence is referred to God as the absolute causality. We necessarily posit absolute causality in God as that from which the feeling of absolute dependence is the reflection in our self-consciousness. There are various modifications of this feeling, that is, it is referred to God in various ways; and hence arises the necessity of positing in God attributes which correspond to the various ways of referring the fundamental religious feeling to God. Now these modifications arise from our relation to the universally interrelated totality of Nature in which we are. The range of our experience (or of the consciousness of our relations) is limited to this world, and hence the feeling of absolute dependence is experienced only within the world-whole (world-order) and through it. That is to say, for us the absolute divine causality finds its full expression in the totality of the forces of Nature. But since, on the other hand, our interrelations with the world-whole itself furnish us the feeling of relative freedom and relative dependence toward it, whereas along with the world we are absolutely dependent on God, our relation to God is the antithesis of our relation to the world; that is to say, the infinite, divine causality and finite, natural causality are antithetical. Hence the divine causality as corresponding in range to the totality of natural causality may be called the divine Omnipotence, but as the antithesis of finite and natural causality, the divine Eternity. But as these are mutually involved, it were better perhaps to say, God is the Eternal Omnipotence, or the Omnipotent Eternal. The attributes of omnipresence, and omniscience are simply another way of saying the same thing, through a comparison with the finite.

To carry out more fully the comparison with the finite, we may represent the absolute divine causality from the religious standpoint as follows:

1. God is eternal--that is: because no moment of time can be disconnected with God, the religious consciousness relates the world to God as the power which, itself out of time, conditions all that is temporal and time itself. This is more than to say that God is without beginning and without end. "Immortability" adds nothing to this conception and is objectionable.

2. God is omnipresent--that is: the religious spirit, because it admits no place in the whole world to be destitute of a religious stimulus, declares that the causality of God is absolutely unspatial but conditions all that is spatial and space itself. It cannot be said that there is a difference in the degree of his presence in different places, as, e.g., the spirit of man compared with dead forces; the only difference is in the receptivity of various existences. "Immensity" is objectionable, for it imports spatiality into the being of God.

3. God is almighty--that is: the articulated totality of nature with its universal connection of causes and effects is grounded in the infinite causality of God and is a perfect expression of it, and consequently all actually happens to which there exists a causality in God. What has not happened could not have happened. To make a distinction between the actual and the possible, or between God's power and God's will is to create confusion.

4. God is omniscient--that is: the divine omnipotence is to be conceived as absolute spirituality. We cannot speak of the divine perception, experience, comprehension, or vision, for these involve a sensuous element and therefore put God within antithesis. To ascribe contemplation, memory, foreknowledge, mediate and immediate knowledge, or pure thought to God in doctrinal statement is open to the same objection: they transfer human activities to God and implicate him in human imperfection. His causality is living, absolutely spiritual. He relates himself to the object of knowledge in an eternal omnipresent way. As God knows every individual in the whole, so he knows the whole in every individual thing.


Unity, infinity, and simplicity are commonly classed with the four above-named attributes of God, but they can be admitted only if they possess dogmatical content.

a) As to unity.--Numerical unity is an attribute of nothing; the unity of existence and essence, like that of the individuals and the species, belongs to speculative thought. For the religious consciousness the expression "unity of God" signifies that the unity of all pious excitations is given with the same certainty as these excitations themselves. Accordingly unity is not so much a single attribute as it is the mono theistic canon which underlies all investigation into the divine attributes and is as little capable of proof as the divine existence itself.

b) As to infinity.--This means negation of limitation. To predicate infinity of God amounts to a precaution against attributing anything to God which can be thought under limitation, and thus it is only mediately an attribute of all divine attributes.

c) As to simplicity.--It is used to negate materiality in God, to exclude the idea of parts or combination in him, in short, divine participation in anything whereby we designate the finite as such. As infinity is an attribute of all attributes, so simplicity expresses only the unseparated and inseparable mutual involution of all divine attributes and activities. As infinity guards against the predication of anything in God that is thought within limits, so simplicity is a precaution against attributing to God anything which essentially pertains to the sphere of antithesis (50-56).

The information on this page is copyright 1994 onwards, Wesley Wildman (basic information here), unless otherwise noted. If you want to use text or ideas that you find here, please be careful to acknowledge this site as your source, and remember also to credit the original author of what you use, where that is applicable. If you have corrections or want to make comments, please contact me at the feedback address for permission.