Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

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George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher, ESTIMATE (of Influence)

A clear apprehension of the value of Schleiermacher's theological system is not to be obtained apart from an examination of the manner in which the treatment of religious questions by the Christian scholars of modern times has been affected by his views, and a consideration of the extent to which his doctrinal discussions supply a solution of the difficulties that confront faith at the present. The amount of attention that is now being given by German students to this subject is significant of the large place he has secured among his countrymen, and a broad survey of the direction of religious thought in the world at large indicates the prophetical character of his insight into the religious needs of our own day. All that will be attempted in the present connection is to offer a few suggestions respecting the worth of his system that may be of some use to the reader whose acquaintance with recent theological speculation is limited.

There were some among Schleiermacher's contemporaries who saw that the publication of his mature views in Der christliche Glaube constituted a notable landmark in Christian thought. His friend Gass wrote (see the entire letter in Schleiermachers Briefwechsel wit Gass, Berlin, 1852, pp. 193 ff.) in November, 1822: "On this point no man shall dispute me, that with thy dogmatics a new epoch will begin not only in this discipline but in the whole of theological science." The truth of this prediction soon began to appear. A succession of notable German theologians received their theological impulse from him, and while scarcely any one of them can be called a mere disciple of his, for he founded no school of thought strictly speaking, an important part of their contributions to theology consists in the development of the fruitful ideas found in germ on almost every page of his great work. Men like Nitsch, Twesten, Schweizer, Hofmann, Julius Mueller, the famous present-day thinkers of the Ritschlian school, such as Harnack, Kaftan, and Herrmann, gladly admit their indebtedness to him, while Albrecht Ritschl, who gave to this school its name, owes a large portion of the fabric of his system to Schleiermacher. Even during his lifetime Schleiermacher's influence was powerfully felt in Germany. No doubt the peculiar charm of his personality had something to do with it, but the warmth of his piety and the vigor of his thinking are the chief reasons. For the impression made by his views has increased with the passage of time and the interest in them continues unabated to the present. No school of religious thought in that country is without elements of theology derived from him, not even the school that seems the most opposed to him, the Hegelian. By his recognition of the originality of the religious endowment and his insistence on its basic relation to all the forms of religious expression, by his admission of the full right of biblical criticism and at the same time his demand for a religious interpretation of Scripture, and by his tendency toward free-churchism as opposed to state-control he became the head of a liberal movement which adopted his free attitude toward the creeds. On the other hand, by taking his stand distinctly within Protestantism and seeking to find in the accepted creeds and confessions an inner connection with the Christian religion in the wide sweep of its implications, he imparted a stimulus to those conservative "confessional" theologians who aimed at maintaining the authority of the standards of the Lutheran and Reformed churches. At the same time the school of mediating theologians found a fore runner in him. The general dependence on Schleiermacher is evident in the attempts of men of all schools to solve the problems of theology along the lines suggested by him and to clear his system of what seemed to them defects. What is true of Germany is true in an appreciable degree of England and America. Modern theology is in no small degree a development of the ideas of Schleiermacher.


In his Outlines of Theological Science (Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Stadiums), to which reference has been made in an earlier part of this work, Schleiermacher had presented a scheme of the treatment of the science of theology as a whole, exhibiting its various disciplines as expressive severally of a fundamental religious principle and as; constituting in their mutual relations and their inner unity an organism of the Christian consciousness. In his Glaubenslehre (the systematic presentation of the Christian faith, which has been set forth in the body of this work) this conception of theology was carried out more in detail and at great length in the section on dogmatics. Instead of the haphazard treatment of the common theological disciplines which, unfortunately, is still very general among theologians and in which the arrangement and method of treatment are determined largely by empirical considerations, with the result that each of these disciplines holds a purely contingent place in our religious reflection, their very existence and their integration in a system are made dependent on their fundamental relation to a determinate mode of faith. For example, apologetics, church history, practical theology, are not to be brought to the service of Christianity from without or borrowed from philosophy or science, but they spring out of the very nature of the Christian spirit as it seeks to express and propagate itself. Accordingly their value is always to find its main test in their faithfulness to the religious attitude of mind out of which they spring. In consequence theology is pre served from degenerating into a cast-iron system of doctrine or a system of mechanical rules which cramp and paralyze the spirit. Instead, there arises the necessity of the free development of theology pari passu with the free activity of the spirit of religion. In this way Schleiermacher helped to save Protestant theology from the withering effects of an orthodox despotism and a dry scholasticism and made it live again. Notwithstanding his inadequate apprehension of the nature of religion in general and his defective view that theology arises out of church needs and finds its aim in church guidance, it is to his lasting credit that he pointed out that the value of theological science and the direction of its development must al ways be determined by its relation to practical religious needs--in the case of Christianity to the imperative propagation of the Christian faith. That is, Christian theology serves its end only when it becomes a support and a guide to Christian evangelism.

Closely allied to this service is another of like kind. Before his time an assumption common to the orthodox and the rationalists was that theology presents to our minds a sum of objective facts or truths, whether the knowledge of them came by external communication or sensible observation or by philosophical reflection aided and supplemented by inference. Religious faith was a consequence of receiving this objective knowledge. It requires only a little reflection to see that in any instance the theory makes the scientist, the philosopher, or the theologian an authority in religion to which the consciousness of the common man is subject. When, as is sure to happen with progress, portions of this supposed knowledge turn out to be unreliable or even bogus, faith is shaken or shattered and the spirit is kept in terror of losing its hold on reality by the discovery of new facts that contradict the system of knowledge out of which its religion came. Schleiermacher's insistence on the original relation of the religious experience to theology and doctrine elevates the life of the common man, curbs the proud spirit of the intellectual aristocrat, and gives to faith its rightful place as the root rather than the product of the progress of knowledge.

Schleiermacher's influence contributed to introduce a new treatment of several of the theological disciplines, particularly the Philosophy of Religion, Apologetics, Church History, and Dogmatics.


The earlier sporadic attempts at a philosophy of religion proceeded according to a wrong method and on false assumptions. The opponents of orthodoxy attempted to adjust the facts of religion to an abstract doctrine of the world or of human nature arrived at independently of an analysis of the religious consciousness or of its actual history. The orthodox theory, in turn, was rather a philosophy of revelation or of the "plan of salvation." Both sides proceeded in ignorance of the facts when they assumed that the history of religion was a history of the increasing corruption of the original pure religion. Schleiermacher compelled theologians to approach the matter from a new viewpoint: First, by emphasizing the historical character of Christianity and placing it in a definite relation to the progress of religion in general, he drew attention to the basis of fact, without which a philosophy of religion is a worthless speculation, and gave a profound significance to it. By thus supplying an impulse to the comparative study of religions he forced the abandonment of the customary contrast between Christianity as the exclusively true religion and all other religions as exclusively false, which, as Professor Brown (Essence of Christianity, p. 175) points out, had been characteristic of Christian thought on the subject from Barnabas to Kant. While the state of the knowledge of the history of religions at the time rendered his own philosophy of religion of little lasting worth his conception of the subject anticipated modern methods.

Second, holding religion to be an essential element of our self-conscious existence and viewing man whether in the individual or in the race as a unity, he pointed out that the unfolding of the religious life is bound up with the whole of our symmetrical human progress from the lower plane of the flesh to the higher plane of the spirit. There are inklings of this view in Lessing and Hume, but Schleiermacher was the first to present it in a well-thought-out form. In no other way can we attain to a philosophy of religion worthy of the name. A fine statement of his service in this field is given by Bender (Schleiermacher's Theologie mit ihren philosophischen Grundlagen, Vorwort, iv): "Schleiermacher's greatest service is the fruitful application of the analytical method to the investigation of the religious process in itself and in its relation to the whole spiritual (intelligent) life; and as a complement to this ever one-sided subjective method he emphatically postulated the comparative investigation of positive religions: that has been the firm starting-point and central viewpoint of all succeeding theology."


Apologetics has been recast. The age that closed with Hume and Kant was prolific in apologies for Christianity, but they all were cumbered with the false assumption that was held in common by the orthodox and the rationalists, that religion consists of doctrines to be believed. The difference between them was in the quantum of the credenda. Dependence on external authority turned apologetics into a collection of "evidences." With his usual keen discernment of the problems of his time Schleiermacher saw that the first need of the apologist was a new definition of that which was to receive its theoretical justification, a new statement of the essence of Christianity. Herein he recognized the historical relation of apologetics to dogmatics: it is the prius of dogmatics.

There were two contentions urged by him: first, that religion is an integral and necessary element of our self-consciousness and hence our recognition of this fact must be distinguished from our estimate of its value; second, that Christian faith is related fundamentally to the person of Jesus Christ. It is to be admitted, of course, that he did not himself realize fully the value of a historical study of our religion. His own view of Christ was speculative rather than historical. In this he shared the defects of his time, and yet it remains to his credit that, as Brown says (op. cit. p. 176): "Schleiermacher was the first modern theologian to write a definition of Christianity in which the name of its founder occupies the central place." Here again he prepared the way for modern developments. The Life-of-Jesus movement is a part of the new tendency he inaugurated.

The battle on behalf of Christianity has been fought on side-issues too long. The scattered and ill-ordered defense which till very recent times has been characteristic of English and American apologetics must at length make way for an analysis of its fundamental nature, a valuation of its traditional elements and a philosophy of its beliefs, if the needs of our times are to be met.


Apart from the consideration that Schleiermacher's view of the teleological nature of the Christian religion and his emphasis on the cardinal relation of its Founder toward it strengthened the new interest in church history, this department of theology was influenced by him in a special way. It was mainly through reading the Discourses (Reden) that the great Neander was led from Judaism to a warm Christian faith. The peculiar stamp of his great teacher can be detected in Neander's treatment of church history as history of the Christian religion. In our times the value of Schleiermacher's insight into the relation of religion to the origin and life of the religious community appears in the gradual displacement of ecclesiastical history by the history of religions.


It is most of all in the department of dogmatics that Schleiermacher's theological influence has been manifest. His principles lead to the annihilation of dogma in the old sense of a formal doctrine necessary to salvation. Dogma in that sense is promulgated by authority. Its truth is independent, and it is to be received independently, of experience; it is a law to faith rather than an utterance of faith. Christian dogmas were a determination of the course the Christian religion in man must take, rather than a description of the course it actually does take. The Christian religion was at the bottom statutory and its experiential character a matter of secondary importance. The whole Roman Catholic system rests on this assumption, and Protestant theology unfortunately followed, the difference between them being in degree. The difference that was most in evidence was in the authority obeyed. Hence traditional Protestantism held to certain doctrines as authoritatively revealed truths. When their unification was not accomplished the doctrines of the faith appeared as so many membra disjecta. This was the form in which theology appeared in Melanchthon's Loci Communes and which German dogmaticians inherited from him.

By exhibiting Christian doctrine as the expression of a distinct type of religious life Schleiermacher inaugurated a revolution in the conception and method of Christian theology. He elevated the conscious inner life above formal doctrine and subjected the latter to the test of conformity to the former. He made theology a descriptive rather than a normative science. Doctrinal forms become fluent rather than static. They become symbols of a progressive religious life and at the same time a means of its further development, which again reacts upon the doctrinal statements, so that they become in time evidently inadequate and must submit to reconstruction.

His position involved a radical change in the common view of the source and authority of Christian doctrine. The Bible was regarded as a body of divine legislation or pronouncements. The proof-text method of handling the Scriptures was a consequence. The violence thereby done to the Scriptures and to Christianity itself is plain to us today.

Schleiermacher saw that within and behind and beyond the Bible there was a power of spiritual life of which our Christian doctrines become such interpretations as the human mind at any stage of its progress is capable of giving to this vital reality. The various doctrines arise out of the manifold relations of the spirit of Christianity to the world of experience which itself is ever changing. This interpretation of the place of doctrine connects Schleiermacher with the Anabaptists and the early utterances of Luther rather than with the confessional booths.

We may claim, therefore, that Schleiermacher has not only liberalized Protestant theology and paved the way for a new basis and a new method of treatment, but he has also spiritualized and Christianized it. For the liberalism of Schleiermacher was not the liberalism of the rationalists and the "free-thinkers" who have reduced the content of religion to the limits of their boasted "reason"; but it was a liberalism that grew out of the consciousness of a life in communion with God which is unutterably rich and cannot submit to limitation by the forms of thought or worship or organization that have arisen at any period of its history. Me has Christianized theology. For by positing the essence of Christianity as the basic principle of any system that can claim to exhibit Christian truth, and by finding in the person of Christ in his redemptive relation to us the root of all that is Christian, he pointed out the means of differentiating the truly Christian from the pseudo-Christian doctrines.

Many objections have been made to the general principles of his dogmatics. Of these objections we may notice three: First, it is said that his conception of theology is subversive of the authority of all doctrine. It is true that the separate authority of all doctrinal formulae is destroyed. Authority is transferred to the religious spirit--let us say, the Spirit of God, Authority, nevertheless, remains, not legal, but dynamic.

Second, it is said that Schleiermacher's view makes religion individualistic and subjective and does away with its normative character. There is no space here to answer this objection at length, but this may be said in reply: Religion that is not a matter of subjective experience is not religion at all, and doctrine that does not express subjective conviction is meaning less or worse; while it is also true that every man must be his own theologian, whatever the consequences. At the same time Schleiermacher has indicated a way of escape from mere subjectivism by emphasizing the communion-forming power of Christian faith. Through the continuity and development of the Christian communion a continuous and normal and therefore normative character is secured.

Third, objection is made to his classification of dogmatics under the head of historical theology, and with reason. For the aim of dogmatics is to set forth the doctrines that are essential to Christianity, that is, to arrive at a final and complete statement of Christian truth. Yet it is to be remembered that final truth or truths can only approximately be known by us, All dogmas indicate simply stages in our approach to this goal and must be arranged in an order of succession upon earlier attempts to do the same thing. Our dogmas may have final value for ourselves, but for coming generations their value will be historical.

We conclude this part of our estimate by saying that Schleiermacher has rendered a priceless service to theological science by compelling the Christian thinker to recognize the vital relation of the inner life to all fundamental doctrinal formulation and the necessity of testing the value of it by the worth of its ministry to that life.


It is in the actual working out of his theological scheme that Schleiermacher's defects as well as his virtues as a theologian become most evident. A few of the most important elements of his system are here selected for comment with the aim of suggesting lines of criticism that may be carried out through the body of his theology.


The first thing to notice in Schleiermacher's definition of religion is his method of reaching it. True to the tendency of those times to seek for an explanation of the nature of all the forms of human knowledge in psychology, Schleiermacher discovers religion to be an ultimate element of the self-consciousness. Accepting the common division of ultimate psychic facts into feeling, thought, and will, he finds that religion is a universal human experience in the form of feeling. This he regards as no inference but an immediate result of introspection. The analysis of individual experience is supplemented and confirmed by a survey of the inner nature of historical religions of all grades.

This union of the results of an examination of personal experience and of historic fact is certainly necessary in order to obtain an adequate view of the nature of religion, but on both sides of his investigation Schleiermacher was cumbered by doubtful pre suppositions.

In the first place, he assumes that religion is an elemental fact and the discovery of the form of the elemental experience in which it is seen establishes its universality; whereas it is certain that the religious experience is very complex and is interwoven with all our human experience. Besides, the nature of religion is not more truly ascertained by an examination of our inner experiences than it is by the survey of the activities which it brings into effect. Schleiermacher's method as carried out by him seems to make religion itself an effect.

In the next place, objection must be made to his method of using the historical material. To seek for the common element in all the. religions as constitutive of their essence is to treat the lower forms as if for purposes of definition they were as valuable as the higher. The true method is to discover the inner character of the highest religion and to interpret the lower forms in the light of it, to wit: that it is to be understood as the final expression of that which can now be seen in the lower in germinal form. For it is only in so far as the spirit of the higher form can be discovered operating in the lower forms that they are really of any value for the purposes of definition.

We notice, next, the definition itself. Religion is described as a form of feeling rather than of thought or will. I think the reasons for his attempt to find religion in feeling are not difficult to discover. There was the reaction in his mind against the traditional orthodoxy and the rationalism that made religion a matter fundamentally of the intellect and disparaged emotion, with the consequence that religion became dry doctrine or abstract morality with a dependence on authority. There was also a reaction in his mind against Kant's theory that religion is tributary to the demands of the categorical imperative, its source being in will. On the positive side, however, his definition of religion is a result of his own deep emotional experience in the devotional meetings of the Moravians, which never lost their worth to him, combined with the influence of the Romanticism that helped to banish the alien rationalism from his mind.

His more complete determination of the nature of religion as the feeling of absolute dependence indicates to us the source of the definition. In the religious experience there is a rich and varied play of emotion. Why select the feeling of absolute dependence as fundamental and solely constitutive? The answer is that this definition of it coincided with his world-view and is an inference from it. Spinoza's self-differentiating Substance expressing itself in an infinity of forms, Calvin's God the absolute Will, Leibnitz' monads each mirroring the universe in its individuality, the scientific principle of Causality as the final explanation of all phenomena, combined to impress on his mind the conception of religion as the expression of the unity of the universe in the human soul or, as otherwise expressed, the effect of which God alone can be predicated as the Cause. Here God is Causality, or, as he says in one place, God is the Whence of our religious experience. Schleiermacher thinks God is given in and with the feeling of absolute dependence, but if so it is only as Causality he is given--he is no Personal Being. I think it is plain that his definition of religion is an inference from his conception of the world. He appears to have fallen into the common fault of the theologian, that of drawing his religious doctrines from his metaphysics instead of evolving a world-view that is a product of religious faith.

His account of religion is also too meager. For religion embraces all the activities of the human spirit. It is at the root of the noblest, most elevated, most refined feeling and also of the purest morality and the keenest and most comprehensive mental action. Schleiermacher vindicates a place for religion alongside of intelligence and morality, whereas it is superior to them, since it supplies the impulse to the cultivation of them and therefore in the best sense embraces them. His definition of religion makes it aesthetic and destitute of moral quality, and seems logically to make progress in religion itself impossible.

Notwithstanding, he has rendered valuable service to theology in this definition of religion by insisting on the worth of the emotions, so much disregarded by the theologians of the day. For it is certain that there has never been a far-reaching revival of faith apart from deep emotional experience.

More than this, Schleiermacher has himself supplied the corrective of his own defective view in his declaration that Christianity, the highest religion, is teleological in character. Religion is to be defined from the point of view of the end that it seeks. This is to deny that religion is essentially feeling, for the latter sort of religion would be aesthetic in character and not teleological.


Any theory of religion that finds it in a simple psychological experience will meet with difficulty when it tries to relate this experience to other fundamental activities of our nature. It is incumbent on the theologian to show that his view of religion issues in a view of the world and in a morality that satisfy the claims of our intelligence and our conscience. The first of these is our present concern. If religion does not bring us into a knowledge of reality not otherwise attainable its professions remain unvindicated.

The great question is whether in the religious experience we come to know that God exists. If that experience be simply feeling, it can surely lead us nowhere beyond itself. But Schleiermacher affirms that in the feeling of absolute dependence God is immediately given to the religious man. This feeling being original and fundamental to human nature, religion is freed from a dependence on a knowledge of God obtained beforehand by purely intellectual processes and from seeking its justification in the acceptance of a God whose existence is a postulate of the practical reason. He is not to be understood as declaring that the speculations that arrive at a predication of God's existence are useless or invalid, but that the knowledge so obtained is not religious knowledge and that it can constitute no part of dogmatics. We do not proceed from a knowledge of God to a religious experience, nor do we reason from the religious experience to the knowledge of God, for the religious experience and the God-consciousness are one and the same. It is not to be assumed that the God given in religious feeling is identical with the God whose existence is predicated as the outcome of speculative processes. That remains a problem to be solved. Thus far his position is sound.

When Schleiermacher goes on to say that we are aware of God as the Whence (Cause) of our religious self-consciousness, it is difficult to see in what respect this statement differs from the affirmation that the being of God is for us an inference from the experience of dependence. If this be so it is not clear why an inference from the other forms of our experience may not be equally valuable for our needs. If religion is independent of science it must surely be unprogressive, for there is no impulse to knowledge in an unqualified feeling. If, however, the religious experience be more comprehensively stated and is made to embrace the moral and the intellectual, the defect indicated may be overcome and the statement may still hold good that it is in the religious experience that we are truly aware of God.

If this be not granted, then we are shut up to one of two alternatives. Either we have only the experience of a unique feeling or at least an idea which we objectify and project into a realm beyond all phenomenal existence, so that God becomes only a name for a certain reflection of our consciousness; or else for our knowledge of the existence of God we are ultimately dependent on the information which a competent authority communicates to us.

With regard to the second of these, even if it be true that we first came to believe in the existence of God through the affirmation of some trusted human friend and to that extent we obtained a knowledge of God's existence as a supposed fact in the same manner in which many other facts are made known to us, still the competency of any person or body of persons to witness to the existence of God as an objective fact cannot be admitted. Mere "information" can only avail to place his existence among the complex of observable facts, but a God whose existence can be so described is no God. The statement, "There is a God," can have meaning to anyone only on the condition that it appeals to some want of his nature and makes him aware of himself in relation to his higher destiny.

Turn to the other alternative. According to Schleiermacher's account, the predication of the existence of God may be nothing more than a psycho logical function. This is to leave us without any adequate explanation of the invincible tendency of the human mind to attach universal validity to its idea of the existence of God and at the same time to attach to it infinite worth. The difficulty arises out of his defective view of the religious consciousness. It does remain true that it is in the religious experience God is given. We become aware of him then. The existence of God is a dogma of religious faith.

God is an object of religious knowledge; not that herein we have a positive addition to the sum of our knowledge, any more than in the affirmation of a moral judgment we introduce the knowledge of an additional collection of facts. Moral reality is given in and with moral experience. The certainty that we have moral knowledge is found in the moral experience. Just so is it with religious knowledge. It springs out of religious experience and is implicated in it. That there is a specifically religious experience Schleiermacher abundantly established.

The question is, Wherein does this religious knowledge consist? I apprehend that it is unnecessary to assert that knowledge about the objects of sense-perception, whether one's own or another's, cannot be called religious knowledge. The knowledge of events recorded in the Scriptures, the knowledge of ante-mundane or post-mundane facts, the knowledge of facts which angels or inspired persons are supposed to communicate to us, the knowledge of the state of departed spirits which the Society for Psychical Research may announce--none of these things, vary as they may from the absolutely sure and sublime to the absolutely ridiculous, can be designated as religious knowledge for us unless they have their source in a religious experience. We may be made neither more nor less religious by getting this information. Neither is knowledge of a moral law and its operations in itself religious knowledge. Thus far Schleiermacher's contention must be granted.

But in his description of the nature of religion he misses the essential point. The religious experience is governed by the consciousness of personality. In it the man conies to true self-consciousness. He knows in it his own worth because in it he comes to know another personality in whom he finds the fulfilment of his longings and the end of his being. It is this recognition of and self-commitment to a personality in whom the desires of his soul find satisfaction that constitute his religion. Some of its forms are very crude but it is universal. In many people it may appear first in absolute trust and devotion to a father or mother, or it may reach its climax in faith in Christ, but everywhere it consists in a personal--thinking, willing, feeling--relation to a dominant personality.

In this religious experience there is religious knowledge. It is the knowledge of personality. In religion I become aware that there is a personality to whom I may yield myself absolutely, to whom, accordingly, I owe everything. This personality we call God. The relations in which I find myself with him are most fitly described in the terms of human, personal relation ship. From this point onward we enter upon the task of reinterpreting the world of sensibility and the world of moral conduct in terms of this personality. This is to give a religious interpretation of the world. In the knowledge of God there is given, therefore, a knowledge of the world; not that new facts are added, but all facts are made new. In the capacity of religious experience to furnish this new interpretation of the world the claim that we know God finds its final vindication.

It is plain that Schleiermacher's view of religion in relation to knowledge involves a new construction of the idea of revelation. Kaftan (Dogmatik, S:4) complains, and rightly, of the obscure place he allows it. From his apprehension of religion as subjective condition rather than objective truth this is to be expected. At the same time here also he has offered suggestions that go far beyond his own views. One of these is that, for the Christian, revelation is not to be considered apart from the person of Christ. An other is that it inheres in his personality. A third is that it affects us not merely as knowing subjects but practically, that is, it is inseparable from the experience of salvation. This means, substantially, that revelation is religious in its nature, not merely that it concerns religious matters, but it is not to be posited in any case where the religious consciousness is not an element in the communication of that which is revealed. Revelation can occur to any man only in so far forth as he is religious. Revelation is saving. To say that we have a revelation from God is to say that we have come into a consciousness of blessedness in relation to him.

This seems to carry with it the acceptance of Schleiermacher's contention that revelation is to be posited of a personality and the impression he makes on our minds. For the Christian, therefore, Christ is revelation, not merely a revealer. What he said and did constitute revelation to us only in that his deeds and words are the manifestation to us of a personality whose advent into the sphere of our activity effects a change in our relations with God. If all our relations Godward find their determination in him, then he is the whole of revelation to us. That which is said about him is revelation in a secondary sense, No statement of objective fact can itself be revelation, for revelation is never mere information.

The bearing of this conception of revelation on the import of the predictive clement of the Scriptures is obvious. The references in the New Testament, for example, to the things to come appear less in the character of descriptions of events and conditions yet future, than as utterances of the assurance of faith. That is, our future relations to God and the course of affairs cannot be in opposition to our present state of blessedness. On such an interpretation a discovery that an apostolic writer was mistaken in regard to actual matters of fact in the present or the future would give no shock to faith. It seems even to imply that inspired men have no knowledge of the future in the same sense in which we have a knowledge of any fact. This is the view that is brought out in Schleiermacher's Prophetical Articles. All eschatological representations become symbols of a spiritual hope, not forestatements of events. Their value consists not in any positive knowledge they convey but in the inspiration they give to faith and hope. For the times when Schleiermacher wrote this was a revolutionary interpretation of prophecy, and even in our own day it makes progress slowly, but it underlies the whole of the new movement in biblical interpretation.

At the same time it must be maintained that there is a knowledge of the future given to faith. For the believer the gospel of Christ brings a guarantee of the ultimate character of future events--they can bring him nothing but good. A forecast of the future issues out of faith. It is impossible for the Christian to believe that he will be abandoned by God, The future cannot bring his Blessed relation to God to an end. The Christian knowledge of the future is a faith-knowledge. It is knowledge of a higher order than that which sense-perception or a philosophy of being can produce. It is a knowledge of our eternal relations with God without which all other knowledge evaporates in phantasy. Without this knowledge all thought of the future is bound to end in despair. It is the only knowledge that enables us to say that for men there is any future whatsoever. This is what gives a deep solemnity to the forecast of the future found in the New Testament. That forecast is based on the confidence that "whether we live or die we are the Lord's." Had we nothing more than this we might well rest content.


The order in which the above words occur is indicative of the method of Schleiermacher's approach to the theological treatment of history. The merit of having been the first of modern theologians to frame a definition of Christianity in which the name of its Founder appears central is subject to qualification. The governing principle of his theological construction does not readily make room for the activity of a historical personage as a factor in religion. His whole system is rooted in a conception of religion rather than in an apprehension of personality. In keeping with this viewpoint he proceeds from a conception of the nature of Christianity to such a representation of the person of Christ as shall be in harmony with it. Consequently one of his chief problems is how to relate Christ to Christianity. The difficulty of the problem increases in ratio with the growth of the historical spirit and our progress in the knowledge of the actual events of Jesus life. The modern aptitude for historical study had been so far aroused in his time that he felt the seriousness of the problem and tried to point the direction of its solution. In an examination of his speculations on the subject we are to keep in mind that, consistently with his mystical habit of mind and his relative depreciation of personality, Christ (i.e., Jesus) could scarcely be to him a basis of theology but rather a problem for theology. If some of his statements may be taken to represent an opposite view they are in consistent with his more fundamental doctrine or they must be interpreted in the light of the latter. It is significant that he says it is open to the theologian to choose without disparagement either one of two courses: either to proceed from a doctrine of the person of Christ to a doctrine of his work or from a doctrine of his work to a doctrine of his person.

Schleiermacher's representation of the manner in which Christ relates himself to the Christian is two fold. At one time he says that everything in Christianity is to be referred to the historical fact of Christ's advent into the sphere of our activity and the original impression his person made. That impression, he says, is retained in the Christian communion and perpetuated in the world through being communicated by this communion to those persons who come within it.

His other statement on the subject is to the effect that Jesus possessed a unique God-consciousness and that his God-consciousness, being communicated to believers, becomes redemption to them. The former view is connected with the idea that faith is a personal act directed toward a personal object. The latter view is more consistent with the idea that Christ is simply the first in an unbroken succession. In the one case Jesus seems to hold the God-relation to believers; in the other case he seems to stand in an archetypal relation to them. In the one case Christianity is an attitude toward Christ; in the other Christ is Christianity.

Again, it is noteworthy that our theologian continually uses the name Christ instead of the name Jesus. This is not accidental. It indicates the point of view from which he construes the extant materials relating to the historical career of Jesus. It is well known also that he makes the Gospel of John rather than the Synoptics the main scriptural source of his doctrine of the person of Christ. This preference for John's Gospel is similarly significant of his method of determining what elements of the gospels are of value for the dogmatician. The narratives are evaluated on the basis of a standard derived from another source. Only those portions are esteemed to have interest for the dogmatician which serve to set forth the character of Jesus as Redeemer. He goes even farther and decides on the same basis what sort of affirmations may be made concerning his mental and physical life: for example, that his physical, mental, and moral growth must have been normal. He makes the perpetuation of Christ's own self-presentation in the consciousness of the historical Christian communion the ground for the affirmation of a historical personal life corresponds to it, for otherwise, he says, this consciousness could never have arisen.

In keeping with this method of construing history he dismisses the accounts of the resurrection on the ground that faith in Christ is independent of them. Hereby he exposes himself to the charge which Schweitzer (Von Reimarus zu Wrede, (1-66) against him: "Schleiermacher did not seek the Jesus of history but the Jesus Christ of his Glaubenslehre, that is, the historic personality who is fitted to the self-consciousness of the Redeemer which he presents. The empirical reality simply does not exist for him. . . . . Historical questions relating to the life of Jesus are for him only momenta in his dialectic."

The point is well taken, though overstated. It finds illustration in his classification of the heresies relating to the person of Christ. They are described, not according to their use of material alien to the character of Jesus as it is depicted in the narratives of the evangelists or according to their neglect of essential facts in his career, but according to the manner in which they annul the redemption as Schleiermacher conceives it. That is to say, his conception of Christianity determines his doctrine of the person of the Christ and this again becomes the criterion of the worth and, to some extent, of the trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts of Jesus. But in this respect Schleiermacher was not a "sinner above all the other Galileans." Both Catholic and Protestant theologians have been led to substitute a metaphysical concept, a hypothetical personage, for a historical personality. Not until the Life-of-Jesus movement began in modern times was the loss realized. Hegelianism with its Christ was just another case of the substitution of an abstract idea for a concrete person. Transcendental philosophy gave us an intellectual concept christened with the Redeemer's name, but left us to discover that in place of Jesus we had only an abstraction, stone instead of bread.

The criticism that Schleiermacher failed to avoid the a priori method of construing the personality of Jesus is to be modified, however, by reference to the emphasis he placed on the religious experience as a source of knowledge. He said that the Christian consciousness is a continuation of the God-consciousness of Jesus. This should lead to an examination of the self-consciousness of Jesus, but Schleiermacher failed here to follow his own clue and fell back on the dogmatical reconstruction of the person of Christ.

The error is a serious one from the point of view of history as well as religion. Our conception of Christ and of the salvation he brought must ever submit to the test of historical research if either he or his salvation is to be a factor in the lives of men. To express the same idea, in axiomatic form, the Christ of theology must agree with the Jesus of the gospels. Nay more, that conception of salvation which is truly Christian, if Jesus of Nazareth is the founder of Christianity, must always represent such a salvation as could arise out of the deeds and words, the personal character, of Jesus. The inner certainty of a moral renewal coming to us in connection with our objective examination of the historic facts is an indispensable factor in our estimate of him, but it stands in the second rank. Otherwise we should never be. certain that the being we call our Christ is the same with Jesus of Nazareth, and we might have to seek the historical origin of our religion in another direction.


Schleiermacher's distinction between Protestantism and Catholicism has become famous: "Protestantism makes the relation of the individual to the church dependent on his relation to Christ; Catholicism makes the relation of the individual to Christ dependent on his relation to the church." It has been severely criticized by Ritschl. He says:

This formula, however, is inconsistent with the very principle with which Schleiermacher enters upon the doctrine of redemption, namely, that the consciousness of redemption through Christ is referred to the mediation of his religious fellowship. It was only because Schleiermacher was unable to develop this idea that he lapsed into the opposite formula in his Glaubenslehre. This formula, however, is false. For even the evangelical church's right relation to Christ is both historically and logically conditioned by the fellowship of believers; historically, because a man always finds the community already existing when he arrives at faith, nor does he attain this end without the action of the community upon him; logically, because no action of Christ upon men can be conceived except in accordance with the standard of Christ's antecedent purpose to found a community. This position, however, is distinguished from the Catholic view by the fact that it pays no attention to a legal organization of the community of believers. . . . . Schleiermacher's formula, moreover, is merely the reflection of the pietistic disintegration of the idea of the church. [15]

On the question of Schleiermacher's consistency Ritschl is undoubtedly in the right. The basis of Schleiermacher's theology is non-churchly. So also is every system of thought which regards the religious experience as the expression of immediate relationship with God, or, transferring it to the Christian realm, with Christ. Now if there is any single force whose creative influence in the Reformation is more marked than others it is the spirit of individualism. It is true that this principle was imperfectly grasped and only partially recognized by the Protestant thinkers who erected the Protestant church systems and the Protestant creeds. The full admission of its claims would have clothed the specter of Separatism (a sort of nightmare to Ritschl himself) with flesh and blood and apparently have allowed free play to the combination of revolutionary forces known as "Anabaptism." The spirit of religious freedom consequently was confined within very narrow limits, and whenever it be came too self-assertive it was crushed. But individualism revived in the eighteenth century, and now at length it has won on all sides a recognition of its surpassing moral vigor, evangelistic zeal, and social firmness. The future seems to be its own.

Though Schleiermacher belonged to this modern movement his theological position was compromised by the necessity he felt of avoiding a breach in church relations. The attempt he made to mediate between individualism and churchism is in some respects admirable. But it forced him to use the word church in a double sense, the religious sense and the corporate sense. The most signal instance of this is seen in his treatment of the doctrine of baptism, where he views the baptismal act as the exercise of the church's will to receive the baptized into that communion from which all the operations which affect the new birth issue, so that the act is to be considered as in some sense the communication of the Holy Spirit. Baptism becomes the final act in the series in which the church expresses its will to extend itself, which it does by receiving new members. That is to say, the act of baptism becomes efficacious, not because of the will of the recipient, but by virtue of the will of the church which to all intents and purposes is to be regarded as identical with the will of Christ. Plainly the term church can refer here only to the corporate organization whose officials administer the "sacrament."

This position is substantially the same as the Roman Catholic. When Ritschl tries to clear away the non-churchly features of Schleiermacher's theology at this point he only succeeds in making it more Roman Catholic in tone. [16]

So far then as concerns the issue between these two theologians we must takes sides with Schleiermacher. The two mutually contradictory attitudes represent the two inconsistent momenta in Luther's movement, the churchly and the evangelical.

Schleiermacher's statement is nevertheless open to serious objection. In the first place, his method of arriving at the distinction is defective, namely, by ascertaining the principal grounds urged by each for rejecting the other's view. The basis of attack in controversies is sure to reflect the prevailing ideas of the time, but after all it may indicate a mere side-position, because the parties to the strife may have failed to apprehend the full significance of what is attacked or defended. A better method of reaching the bottom principles of the two movements would be to trace historically the process of their differentiation from a common beginning.

In the next place, the form of Schleiermacher's statement is open to objection because in saying that, for the Protestant, the relation of the man to the church is dependent on his relation to Christ the church is apparently treated as the end to which Christ is the means. It is difficult here again to tell what he means by the church, whether the spiritual fellowship of the saved or the ecclesiastical organization. .If it be the latter, then the statement is not true to the practice of those Protestant churches that admit to member ship many who are: confessedly without conscious relation to Christ. If by church he means the spiritual fellowship of the saved, his statement is substantially true, but it is still exposed to the criticism that it makes this fellowship of a higher character than the relation to Christ which is a means to it. These two relations ought to be regarded as one in principle.

The trouble with this whole attempt is that it introduces into dogmatics an artificial factor. The starting-point of theological activity is not the consciousness of an ecclesiastical body but the consciousness of the individual. The fact is that the great doctrinal systems have sprung from this source and have afterward been adopted by some church as an approximate expression of common convictions. Otherwise theological freedom would be crushed at the beginning. The. unsuccessful efforts of Schleiermacher to make out an inner connection between his views and the creeds show how he was hampered by this artificial rule. He, as well as Ritschl, was afraid of Separatism.

His opposition to the idea that each man holds a personal relation to Christ was reinforced by his philosophy: the universe is a unity; the creative will of God had reference to the world, not to individuals; the redemption has to be interpreted as the purification of human nature universally, not as individual purification. According to this we may well ask, How can there be any recognition of the individual whatever? Can he be anything more than a temporary eddy in the ceaseless stream of personal life? The whole work of redemption becomes the transmutation of the universal sin-life into a new life-whole. It seems then that it is not the man who is lost or saved but human nature, and ultimately salvation becomes a world-process.

Naturally enough, when Schleiermacher tries to justify the Protestant practice of infant baptism he falls back into the realism of the Catholics: the children are within the church and stand in an ordered relation to the operation of divine grace; the church extends salvation to the individual by propagating its religious consciousness in him, by extending its fellowship to him. The radical defect in Schleiermacher's theology is found in his essentially erroneous views of human personality.

We are not precluded hereby from a recognition of the value of his contention that the religious life is a community life. It is true that there is a necessary connection between faith and the communion of the faith. A church, as an association of believers, is the organism in which faith seeks its full expression, The isolated believer cannot rise to the full assurance of the objective truth of his faith, or propagate it, or realize its ethical character, without the community,

But while the believer and the community of faith are mutually involved, the primacy belongs to the former. Faith is an attitude Godward of the personal, individual consciousness. It is an act in which the man, in response to the self-revelation of God, devoted himself to the end of his being. The opposite view would render true human progress impossible. It would make each man, so far forth as he is religious, merely a product of the community life. Personal initiative, the prime factor in all great revivals of religion, would fall away. For in all ages the impulse to religious progress lies in a new consciousness of personal Nation with God. Thus the man is truly greater than the church. Roman Catholicism must yield to the spirit of the true Protestantism.


By the application of his powerful dialectic to the varied spiritual material at his command Schleiermacher succeeded in producing a system which for religious warmth and inspiration has never been surpassed in the history of theology. But this system is superior to the fundamental conception of religion that he placed at its base. For the feeling of absolute dependence comes short of a constructive principle of theology and has no meaning apart from the theory of the world and of man from which it originates. Some of his followers have endeavored to discard the aid of philosophy and metaphysics in the unfolding of a doctrinal system, with no greater success than he.

Notwithstanding, it remains the imperishable honor of Schleiermacher that he grasped the whole problem of theology in a new way and compelled theologians of all schools to follow him. He vindicated for the religious life the claim to utter supremacy in any theory of the relations of God, man, and the world, lie has gradually forced modern theology to attempt the radical reconsideration of every traditional doctrine. The truth is that he has revived and enforced the standpoint of many of the Anabaptists of the Reformation period and prepared the way for the rejection of the mediaeval scholasticism and the ancient Catholicism which the Reformers dared not abandon. Moreover, his whole treatment of the problems of theology is so rich in suggestion that every theologian of the present day is his debtor and many of his most stimulating ideas are still awaiting development.


[15] Justification and Reconciliation, 549 (2d ed., English transl.).

[16] Ritschl's views on the subject are strongly brought out in his Unterricht in der christlichen Religion, par. 89.

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