Schleiermacher: Life and Thought. By Martin Redeker. Translated by John Wallhausser. Fortress Press, 1973. 221 pages. $4.50.

Review by Jaeho Jang, 2011 | Review by Jong Wook Hong, 2009

The book Schleiermacher: Life and Thought was written by Martin Redeker in 1973. The reason why he wrote this book is that he assented to Dilthey’s opinion that “The philosophy of Kant can be understood fully without a further concern for his life and character. Schleiermacher’s significance, outlook, and works require a biographical presentation in order to be fully understood (1).” He believes that we can understand Schleiermacher’s life and thought if we look into his way of life as well as the circumstances that influenced his ideologies and shaped his life. Through this biography, Redeker tried to present the cultural and historical analysis of Schleiermacher’s thinking with the view to illuminating the fundamental problems which reach beyond Schleiermacher’s day and still afflict us in new and different ways (4).

The book is divided into six chapters. In the first chapter, Redeker discusses Schleiermacher’s childhood, youth and student years. He divided this chapter into two major parts based on Schleiermacher’s life and work. [1] the intuitive-creative period during his first stay in Berlin from 1796 to 1802, and [2] the systematic period of his thought which already begins in Stolp after leaving Berlin, shows itself clearly for the first time at Halle, and finally culminates with continued clarification and refinement in Berlin from 1811 to 1834 (6). Schleiermacher was born in November 21, 1768, a second child. He entered the Moravian school in Niesky (1783) and he became a Moravian outwardly and inwardly. He traveled to Berlin in 1970 to take the first theology examination before the Directorate of the Reformed Church. His stay in Schlobitten from 1790 to 1793 as a private tutor in the home of Count Dohna brought a strong intellectual and spiritual recovery. In 1796 he obtained his first post as the pastor of the Charite Hospital in Berlin.

In the second chapter, Redeker explains Schleiermacher’s books in conjunction with his life. With On Religion, composed when he was thirty, Schleiermacher gave religion and theology a new importance for many young men. This book is not an academic book. It is addressed to non-theologians, the “cultured despisers of religion (34).” In the Solioquies Schleiermacher underscored the complete independence of religion from morality in a radical one-sidedness as a defense against Kant’s and Fichte’s postulates. At the same time he posited the continuity of religion and ethos in this internal bond between intuition of the universe and self-intuition (55). In the Confidential Letters on Lucinde, Schleiermacher was meant to express the romantic conception of marriage. He criticized above all the marriages of the Enlightenment which were contracted for the sake of external interests, containing only the form but not the spirit of marriage (65).

Redeker devotes over half of this book to the third chapter “The Period of System Building.” In 1802 Schleiermacher began his pastoral duties in Stolp which was a provincial city in Pomernia. While at Stolp Schleiermacher was invited to be a professor in ethics and pastoral theology at the newly established University of Würzburg. He devoted himself on his lectures on ethics, dogmatics, and hermeneutics. The outlines of his later philosophical and theological systems emerged in these lectures. He also did decisive roles in the founding of the University of Berlin, and was named the first dean of the theological faculty. He published The Christian Faith in the two editions of 1821/22 and 1830/31. The main part of the book is dualistic and arranged around the antithesis of sin and grace (109). According to Redeker, there has been no system in Protestant theology which has attained the status of Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith, aside from Calvin’s Institutes (102). Moreover, Schleiermacher published two editions of his theological encyclopedia, Brief Outline of Theological study, in 1810 and 1830.

In the forth chapter, Redeker expounds Schleiermacher’s contribution within the republic of letters. Schleiermacher’s extensive and determined work on the translation of Plato’s writing was a scholarly activity that occupied him for many most years. Redeker values the significance of his translations of Plato as follows. “Schleiermacher made possible a reinterpretation of Plato on the basis of the new philosophical situation produced by the metaphysics of objective idealism. He made Plato’s world of thought significant for the German transcendental philosophy of that time (183).” Schleiermacher belonged to the Philosophical Division of the Berlin Academy of Sciences from the spring of 1810. His many papers for the Academy made valuable contributions to the areas of classical philology and philosophical ethics.

In the fifth chapter, Redeker illustrates Schleiermacher’s service in the evangelical church. Schleiermacher was an impassioned participant of several unpleasant disputes as an ecclesiastical administrator from 1814 to 1829. Three problems of Prussian church politics were: [1] the union of both Protestant confessional churches; [2] a new liturgy for the Prussian church which the sovereign as the highest bishop wished to institute; [3] the constitution desired by many members of the Evangelical church but only reluctantly conceded by the Prussian government (187). In addition, Schleiermacher was a touching preacher, and occupied the pulpit nearly every Sunday from 1970 to 1834. Redeker valuates Schleiermacher’s sermon after the following manner. “His sermons signify as much a new start in the history of preaching as his theology did within the history of theology (201).”

In the sixth chapter, Redeker states Schleiermacher’s home and family, personal life and death. Schleiermacher married the widow of his friend, Army Chaplain von Willich in 1809. Because of the difference in their ages, approximately twenty years, their spiritual and religious attitude differed greatly. He preached his last sermon February 2, 1834 and died February 12, 1834. When he felt his end coming, he called his household to him to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Redeker says that “for him death was the fulfillment of life because communion with Christ and its completion was the fulfillment of his own life (212).”

In this book, Redeker does not just merely present Schleiermacher’s life and thought chronologically but went beyond the scope by providing a more extensive description. Hence, this book is helpful for the readers who want to understand and know Schleiermacher more. Schleiermacher was a professor, a founder, a translator of Plato, a political figure, and a philosopher of culture. However, theology remained Schleiermacher’s major concern. As Redeker said in the Introduction, “Schleiermacher ushered in a new period of systemic theology by applying to theology the method of transcendental philosophy (5).”

Jaeho Jang
Boston University

Understanding a person’s thought in depth sometimes requires a deep understanding of that person’s life journey. Martin Redeker begins his book Schleiermacher: Life and Thought with this premise, and Redeker is certainly right that Schleiermacher was the type of theologian and philosopher whose thought and life are integrated together. Redeker’s detailed and commentary-like account of Schleiermacher’s life and books lead readers to the best possible understanding of Schleiermacher, the person and the thinker.

Based on the development of Schleiermacher’s thought, Redeker divides Schleiermacher’s life into two parts: ‘New Insights’ and the ‘Period of System Building.’ These two periods can be represented by two major books, Speeches on Religion and The Christian Faith.

In the first period, fearlessly challenging the status quo, the young Schleiermacher presented Speeches on Religion with shocking and yet brilliant insight. He rejected the deistic God of rational religion and also the personal theistic God of popular religion in that book. Schleiermacher’s interpretation of God, as well as of religion and Christianity, brought the criticism of being ‘pantheist.’ It is true that he was influenced by Spinoza, but he was hardly pantheistic in the sense that God and the universe are the same. Rather, Schleiermacher rejects a supernaturalistic view of religion. This is exceptional at the time because even the enlightenment theologians would have thought that the enlightenment was sent by God (78).

Redeker finds the connection between Speeches and The Christian Faith in some of Schleiermacher’s other books: Christmas Eve, Soliloquies, and Brief Outline of Theological Study (102). In these books Schleiermacher tries to address the essence of Christianity for Christian Church and also for himself. Schleiermacher considers Christ to be the archetype of humankind, which embodies true humanity in community. Each book has its own characteristic emphases, and yet collectively they show the line of Schleiermacher’s thought developing under the influence of the political and academic situations around him.

Schleiermacher's concern for theology is “the nature and truth of the Christian faith and life” (105). He knew that theology is under the influence of contemporary philosophy of science. This naturally leads to a concern with the plausibility of Christian doctrine, which is the object of The Christian Faith. In Christian Faith, he drops the ‘intuition’ language of Speeches, and develops his famous concept of ‘the feeling of absolute dependence,’ which comes from immediate self-consciousness. This is “the fundamental relationship between God and men” (114). The Christian Faith contains Schleiermacher’s theological analysis and interpretation of God – more accurately God-consciousness – Christ, and the Christian’s religious self-consciousness.

Schleiermacher lived as a scholar, founder of a major university, ecclesiastical administrator, and preacher. Until he died of pneumonia on February 12, 1834, he actively delivered his sermons and lectures as he wished. “I have always wished to die while in full possession of my faculties, seeing death surely and irrevocably approach, without surprise or deception” (212). Within these varied activities, he succeeded in integrating his thought into life by maintaining his pietism, devotion, and Christian faith. In fact, this was his life goal, as he once asked himself ‘what a man should be’ and answered, “Your obligation is to be what the consciousness of your being bids you to be and to become” (22).

Redeker explains Schleiermacher’s books extensively in detail. Thus, this book is helpful for someone who wants to understand Schleiermacher’s overall developing arc of themes such as his concern for the Christian faith and doctrine, his ecclesiastical interests, and his fascination with immediate feeling. Unfortunately, Redeker's extensive description of the contents of Schleiermacher’s writings tends to diminish the depiction of Schleiermacher’s life.

Jong Wook Hong
Boston University

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