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  • 11/15/2003

Friedrich Schleiermacher


Friedrich Schleiermacher, a German Protestant theologian and philosopher, was born at Breslau in 1768. He was a lecturer and professor at Halle and Berlin. He died in 1834. His most representative works areReden uber die Religion (Sermons on Religion) andDer christliche Glaube (The Christian Faith).
With Schleiermacher, the Romantic idealism of Schelling takes the form of manifestations of interiority, religiosity, and sentiment. The perfect identity of the Absolute, and, at the same time, our absolute dependence upon the Absolute can be grasped only in these interior activities.
According to Schleiermacher, theAbsolute is an actual reality, the immanent content of our consciousness, and the perennial source of the life of our spirit. Neither thought nor will can arrive at the Absolute and comprehend it as perfect unity. Theoretical thought is possible only in so far as a limited perceptible world is presupposed; and likewise, will is possible only in so far as there is presupposed a limited end to be attained. In both cases the ego must have a relationship to something which is different from itself. Some kind of communication between the finite and the infinite must be established.
If we are recollected and place our ego in relation to itself, this self-consciousness orsentiment makes it possible for us to comprehend the absolute unity of Being, God. During such a period of recollection, we feel, on the one hand, that we are submerged in the infinite Being and, on the otherhand that the infinite Being seems to be concentrated in one point of our consciousness.
In this sentiment man does not lose consciousness of himself but is aware that he and his being are rooted in God. Thus man comprehends the absolute dependence of his being upon God, of the finite upon the infinite. The sentiment of theDivine in ourselves is religion, in which the entire series of particular and determined acts of our lives find their motive.
The most influential German theologian of the 19th c., F. E. D. Schleiermacher is generally regarded as the father of modern Protestant thought. A Calvinist by heritage, he was educated in Moravian & Lutheran schools, studied the philosophy of Kant and became a protégé of F. von Schlegel, leader of the Romantic literary circle at Berlin.
Schleiermacher was the first Calvinist invited to teach at the Lutheran University of Halle (1804) & the first theologian appointed to the newly founded University of Berlin (1810). An ardent ecumenist, he championed the Prussian union of Lutheran & Calvinist churches.
In an era when religion was identified with creeds & dogmas which many intellectuals rejected, Schleiermacher defined religion as "feeling & intuition of the universe" & Christianity as the individual's personal "feeling of dependence" on God, a definition that influenced Protestant liberals & pietists alike. His major works ---On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799) &The Christian Faith(1822) --- are still referred to in Protestant seminary curricula, in spite of critiques by prominent 20th c. scholars, such as Karl Barth.
Schleiermacher held that Jesus was a real human being in the full sense, but was distinct from other humans in his consciousness of the immediacy of God's presence within him.
Thus, from 1819-1832 Schleiermacher shifted the focus of his lectures on Christology from dogmas to the portraits of Jesus in the gospels. These lectures were delivered extemporaneously. But 30 years after his death they were reconstructed from students' notes and published asThe Life of Jesus.
More than most biblical scholars of his time, Schleiermacher stressed the irreconcilable historical differences between the synoptic gospels & the gospel of John. But unlike most biblical scholars before or since, he argued that John provided better insight into Jesus than the synoptics:
The Gospel of John everywhere presents itself as one originating from an immediate eyewitness. In contrast with this the others' compilation [of their narratives] from single elements is subject to comparable doubt. All three,without exception, are seen as coming to ussecond hand. /note/

Schleiermacher's conviction that the canonical gospel of Matthew, like Mark & Luke, depends on earlier reports was based on his own research "On the Witness ofPapias about our First Two Gospels" (1817). He was the first scholar to draw a distinction between the Greeknarrative ascribed to Matthew and the Hebrewsayings collectionthat Papias ascribed to that apostle. He concluded that both were given the same name because the author of the narrative used Matthew's collection of sayings as a primary source.
Schleiermacher also distinguished the canonical gospel of Mark from the source that Papias ascribed to an associate of Peter. Thus, for him the synoptic gospels were all composed of stories & sayings that were formed by previous tradition rather than by eyewitness reports of events. Laterform critics &redaction critics confirmed this insight. But very few scholars shared his conviction that the gospel of John preserved reliable first hand testimony. While Schleiermacher himself retained the traditional view that Matthew was the earliest synoptic gospel, his contention that synoptic gospel writers had access to two primitive sources --- one a narrative & one a sayings collection --- paved the way for C. H. Weisse to formulate the Two Source hypothesis.

*Note: citation from D. F. StraussThe Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History: A Critique of Schleiermacher'sLife of Jesus (1865; ET Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 41 (italic mine)

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