Brief Outline of the Study of Theology, Drawn up to Serve as the Basis of Introductory Lectures. By Friedrich Schleiermacher. Translated by William Farrer. 1850. Reprint, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007. 220 pages. $20.00.
Brief Outline for the Study of Theology was first published in William Farrer’s translation in 1850, not twenty years after Friedrich Schleiermacher’s death. That 1850 publication is what one finds when they open the pages of Wipf and Stock’s 2007 re-print of Brief Outline. Farrer had included “Reminiscences of Schleiermacher” by Dr. Friedrich Lücke by way of introduction, in addition to his own prefatory remarks regarding the strategies and values of his labors as translator. Following Lücke’s Reminiscences is the full text of Schleiermacher’s Brief Oultine of the Study of Theology in its first and second editions. The portions pertaining only to the first edition are in a larger font, and the portions Schleiermacher added for clarification in the second edition are in-set between them in a smaller font. The full sum of the book adds a “Tabular Sketch” timeline of Schleiermacher’s lifetime and a table of contents.
Farrer felt Lücke’s reminiscences capable of uniting “to the warm feeling and lively interest embodied in them... a sober judgement” (viii), and in this estimation, he was quite correct. Lücke guides us through Schleiermacher’s career with an obvious enthusiasm for his friend’s work and influence, but is equally willing to acknowledge short-comings, complications and/or out-and-out failures on Schleiermacher’s part. In some places, he acknowledges these as vindicated by Schleiermacher’s further efforts and the unfolding of history, as with accusations of pantheism that accompanied Speeches on Religion (23). In others, Lücke, while not excusing some short-coming or mistake, identifies in it some dynamic or impulse in Schleiermacher’s work which is not doubt admirable, as in the case of the “Critical Letter concerning the so-called First Epistle of Paul to Timothy” in 1807 (25-27).
Lücke’s tour is not limited to Schleiermacher’s corpus, however. He takes equal time to give a sense of Schleiermacher the pastor, the administrator and the polemicist. It is this multi-faceted history of Schleiermacher’s career that most commends a reader to forgo skipping ahead and read the book from the beginning. Most relevant to the later content, of course, is the context offered regarding Brief Outline of the Study of Theology. Even more than the praise of Farrer in the preface, Lücke’s comparisons to previous epochs of German theology give one the sense of how towering a figure Schleiermacher must have been (35). The accounts of Schleiermacher’s responses to those who threatened the unification of the Lutheran and Reformed churches reveal a man, while at once interested in harmonious polity and piety, willing to be severe for that same unity’s sake (68). It is only Lücke’s recollections of Schleiermacher as a friendly colleague and of his final moments that lack this balance and rigor. These have the air of, perhaps, how Lücke would like to remember his lost friend and colleague and less the air of historiography (82-86). On the other hand, the accounts of how Schleiermacher came to deliver his sermons extemporaneously, by omitting to write first the conclusion, then the conclusion and the final section, and so on, rings true in a revealing manner of a gifted mind and pastoral heart (57).
If the multiple facets of Lücke’s account mirror a multi-faceted effort in Schleiermacher’s works, it ought be little surprise, then, that Schleiermacher’s Brief Outline of the Study of Theology sets out not just from the “determinate mode of faith” that is Christianity in general, but from the academic formation of those who are responsible for the guidance of the Church (92). Certainly, Schleiermacher acknowledges, a whole host of heterogeneous academic disciplines will be brought to bear on the theological enterprise, but if they are not connected by an interest in Christianity and a concern for the guidance of the church, they are not properly theological (93). With this theological orientation in mind, Schleiermacher sets the variety of disciplines under three headings: Philosophical Theology, Historical Theology and Practical Theology. Philosophical Theology proceeds by “criticism” or analysis of “historically given” in Christianity in reference to the Idea of Christianity (105). Out of this flows Apolegetics, where the criteria by which historical instances of Christianity are included under its idea are determined, and Polemics, in which the criteria of exclusion of worked out. Historical Theology is broken up into A) Exegetical Theology in which the texts of “primitive Christianity” are examined and a critical work similar in structure to apologetics and polemics is performed, determining what reasonably ought to be include and what ought to be excluded, B) Church History, which is more properly concerned with development between movements, epochs, changes, etc. and C) History of “the Present Condition of Christianity,” both in the aspect of Dogmatics (i.e. the development and extent of present doctrines) and “Ecclesiastical Statistics” or what we might now call institutional ecclesiology. What problems for Church Guidance are thus apprehended by these foregoing disciplines are brought before Practical Theology to determine the “proper mode of proceeding” (188).
It is worth noting that structural themes related to the interest of 20th century hermeneutical philosophy in Schleiermacher (as in Gadamer, Hans George. Truth and Method. [Continuum, New York, Ny., 2004]. or more recently in Westphal, Merold. Overcoming Onto-Theology. [Fordham University Press, New York, NY, 2001].) show through in Brief Outline if one has an eye for them. The infinite task of the hermeneutic circle lives in the background of Schleiermacher’s warning that no one can be versed in all the particular disciplines that constitute theological study, because they are infinite in their details, but also that a grasp of their total relatedness is necessary to make sense of the theological significance of their relatedness (96). In fact, one might view Brief Outline as an attempt to sketch that whole in the service of each particular discipline, insofar as it has a theological orientation, properly speaking. The Philosophical theologian faces this difficulty in discerning the idea of Christianity from the given historical Christianity. The Historical Theologian faces it in trying to determine the contours of development constituted both by discernible wholes but also an infinity of details. The Practical Theologian faces it in trying to determine how the significance of the whole of the present Church will be effected through the decisions made regarding this or that particular church. Further research in the historical preparation for 20th Century hermeneutics might look to Brief Outline as a source in identifying de-regionalized hermeneutical thinking in Schleiermarcher’s work. A cursory glance through Gadamer and Westphal’s footnotes suggests an oversight of this text in even their research.
In short, Brief Outline of the Study of Theology offers insight into the historical significance of Schleiermacher for his contemporaries and the broad outlines, in his own words, of his views on how the disparate disciplines taken up in modern theology coalesce into a concerted effort for the sake of the Church. The lack of critical apparatus or contemporary commentary does, however, relegate it to a historical artifact in some respects. Nonetheless, if one has an eye for other points of connection with contemporary discussions, in theology, philosophy of hermeneutics, or otherwise, it might be a fruitful and otherwise under-studied source.
In Napoleon’s wake, a wedding ceremony, and a commission to aid in the founding of the University of Berlin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, in 1811, penned Brief Outline (the contexts is described in Stephen Sykes's succinct description of Schleiermacher’s life and thought, Friedrich Schleiermacher (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1971), 11-12). As a faculty member of the new University, Schleiermacher was partaking in the traditional practice of providing students with a syllabus that detailed the structure and content of the introductory theological courses he would teach. What was a traditional task, in the hands of genius, became an innovative occasion.
The Wipf and Stock reprint is of William Farrer’s translation of Brief Outline that appeared in 1850. Farrer translates the second edition of Brief Outline which was published in 1830. The prefaces of both editions are wisely included, and from these one gains insight into Schleiermacher’s purpose, audience, and editorial alterations. Farrer also includes Friedrich Lücke’s essay, “Reminiscences of Schleiermacher” which serves as the formal introduction to the translation. Lücke, being a “friend and disciple” of Schleiermacher, wrote this essay soon after his death (viii). Farrer hoped that the intimacy between Lücke and Schleiermacher would hasten his British audience’s understanding of the relatively obscure German giant. Lücke’s “Reminiscences” remain a boon for the contemporary reader. Beyond encountering the admiration and warmth expressed therein, one benefits from Lücke’s historical proximity. Lücke contextualizes three key writings of Schleiermacher: On Religion, Brief Outline, and Christian Faith. He describes the settings that gave birth to the texts, tersely reviews their content, and, most importantly, offers summaries of their receptions. Through these summaries, one gains a sense of how Schleiermacher’s legacy was being interpreted in light of the period’s pressing issues. The interpretation of legacy is poignantly illustrated in the discussion of On Religion. Lücke details the social context, deflects charges of Pantheism, and proclaims Schleiermacher’s commitment to the Christian Church. Regarding Brief Outline, Lücke booms, “his outline contains a theology of the future rather than the present … it is … a truly prophetic text” (Farrer’s emphasis, 36). Lücke claims that Schleiermacher’s conceptualization was revolutionary as it acutely dissected, separated, and delineated the fields of theological inquiry while simultaneously unifying their aim as the service of the Church. Lücke notes that Brief Outline was influential in shaping the theology department of the burgeoning University of Berlin, but was criticized by some for its “epigrammatic brevity” (37). The euphemistic charge of dogmatism was dismissed by Lücke as the characteristic style of such a piece. One may dismiss or agree with Lücke’s assessment, but awareness of the historic objection is advantageous for the contemporary reader. After reading Brief Outline, anyone familiar with modern theology and modern theological education will recognize Lücke’s perspicaciousness.
Brief Outline is a tightly organized text that has three primary divisions. The first is a statement on the nature of Philosophical Theology followed by a second on Historical Theology. The third, and concluding statement, covers Practical Theology. The hermeneutical key, however, is found in Schleiermacher’s introduction to Brief Outline. In this introduction, Schleiermacher defines the nature of theology, the theological task, and the theologian. He conceives theology to be a constructive endeavor that finds its purpose and goal in the development and well-being of Christianity. Theology is an “organic” unity that may be effectively pictured as a wheel with spokes that join at a hub. Each spoke is a field of academic inquiry or ministerial engagement that gains its value where it joins and serves the hub. The hub, for Schleiermacher, is the “guidance of the Church” (92). As a principle, theory and practice must mutually inform one another with the ultimate goal of masterfully tending to the Church’s fecundity in history.
Schleiermacher conceives the theologian as one who is motivated by an “inward calling” (96). The skillful theologian has a trenchant grasp of the “essential features,” that is, the driving questions, resources, and methods, of each spoke (in this case, Philosophical, Historical, and Practical Theology) and is perpetually oriented toward the hub (Church governance). The purpose of Brief Outline is to provide Schleiermacher’s tyro theologians with knowledge of the essential attributes of each spoke and how each relates to the hub. These proclamations, though provocative when written, no longer express a progressive position in a period when theologians may be individuals who do not have commitments to religious communities or who may adopt the appellation “atheist” or “agnostic.”
The introduction discloses Schleiermacher’s philosophy of history as well. The philosophy presented reflects the ethos of his time, and is, therefore, anchored to inevitable progress. Schleiermacher asserts that the “essence of Christianity” has been spreading, developing, and maturing throughout history and will similarly continue. In order to maintain a view of progress, the divisions that litter Christianity’s history are seen as never having imperiled the essence. Since it is the task of theology to facilitate the natural growth and geographic extension of Christianity, the divisions will be evaluated, purified, and reconciled through theology’s efficient employment. Reconciliation consists of the divided communities embracing the “essence of Christianity” combined with the broader Church accepting the particular manifestations of the essence within these distinct communities. For Schleiermacher, the reconciled community is the future state of Christianity.
The relevance of the content contained in the primary sections of the text depends upon one’s starting point. If one is a historian interested in the formation of theological education, or if one is seeking a scholastic understanding of Schleiermacher’s theological evolution, mining the entire text will be worthwhile. If one is a student of theology, a future constructive theologian, the introduction to Brief Outline and the introductions to each primary section will be of most use. These passages present a form and structure that may help shape one’s instructional paradigm. The detailed analysis of each field of theology will be most profitable for those who share Schleiermacher’s commitment to Christianity and sympathize with his philosophy of history.
As the early critics of Brief Outline observed, the text is written in a declaratory style that may easily be construed as dictatorial dogmatism. One may acknowledge the propositional style as traditional, but this traditional vehicle carried radical content. Viewed within its historical context and taking into account its pedagogical purpose, the charges of dogmatism may be mitigated. Schleiermacher’s theological generosity is witnessed in his appreciation for the individual’s distinct manifestation of the religious impulse coupled with the intention of enveloping such particular expressions into the broad Church community. When reading Brief Outline one encounters Schleiermacher mid-way between his incipient piece, On Religion, and his mature system, Christian Faith. Brief Outline bears striking continuity with his early work, yet with increased theological clarity. From the vantage point of the contemporary reader who seeks to understand Schleiermacher, one sees in Brief Outline a flower that is fully grown, but has yet to open its pedals. It possesses vibrancy and latent beauty, but must wait until Christian Faith for its full glory to appear.
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